Creative Writing Class – Week 7 (Revision of a Piece)

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This week (okay, last night after the rest of my family was in bed), I revised a two-paragraph scene from earlier in the semester.  It still needs some work, but I’m fairly pleased with what emerged from my exhausted brain so late last night.  The first part is the original idea; the second is last night’s revision.

(Original)

“The Sign”

Jeremy’s mother, in a text message, asks if he’ll be sleeping there tonight.  Without responding, he sighs, unintentionally expelling a pushpin of saliva.   Twenty-nine years old and running a plastic packing tape dispenser along the final crinkled box, he remembers that Sara and Sara have been in Milwaukee for six-and-a-half days.   He kneels, then watches his hands as the tape dwindles to that eerie end where adhesive becomes lifeless cardboard.  There’s not enough to finish sealing this box, which is partially filled with typical junk-drawer inventory: opened battery blister packs, flip phones, and creased concert tickets.  It’s midday; a narrow tower of sun blasts through the opening of the curtains he and Sara picked out the night she told him she was pregnant.  He watches the dust dance within the new bright avenue that splashes on the empty hardwood floor they argued about.  Carpet, he’d told her years earlier, made more sense with a kid.  Couldn’t we just tear it up when she’s older?

Leaving the dispenser perched atop its flimsy brown castle, Jeremy realizes his feet are numb from being hunched in this position so long.  Pressing his fingers into his eye sockets–one of Sara’s ever-growing list of pet peeves–he runs his dry, dusty fingers down his face and across his week-long scruff, and stands.  This hollow domicile, eight years earlier, had been a blank canvas for a young and crazy married couple to make into a home.  Now, perhaps, another would try.  Slowly, he lets the blood flow, mix, and return to normalcy within his unsocked feet before he turns around.  Then he sees it.  Had she purposely left that damn iron sign between the windows?  The one that read This Home Knows Love that he hated for its hokeyness?   His pocket vibrates again; Jeremy lifts the box, leaves the door unlocked for the realtor, and drives to his mother’s.

(Revision)

“All That’s Left”

When some of these smartphones are on vibrate, they tend to do so without revealing an explanation or notification.  He hates those phones, but he was told it was time to update by the snarky college kid at the Verizon store whose appearance was obviously not as important to the employer as was his knowledge of the shit he was asked to sell.  Jeremy removes the sleek phone from his non-walleted back pocket to find nothing indicating a call or text from Sara or anyone else who might be privy to why his wife and child are now in a smoky suburb outside of Milwaukee.

Jeremy, after passing over a snow-dusted walkway in southern Illinois, slides his key into the door only for it not to unlock with a turn.  He’s forgotten about Sara’s sudden locksmith job five nights earlier and remembers the right key is in the front shirt pocket. It’s a yellow Arrow dress shirt he’s chosen to leave untucked.  Sara had picked it out for him last Easter but always hated it when he unflapped the bottoms from within his stretch-waisted dress pants.

He enters and the smell has remained.  What did she do, he asks himself.  Spray that intoxicating perfume here just before shutting the door on their dream house and their marriage?

He wants a drink but knows neither the kitchen- or garage fridge will have any of his beer left.  There is no doubt that she has left him with nearly empty two-liter bottles of the generic clear soda she loved though.

This morning had been the first time the house was to be shown, he was told in a rather brief conversation two hours earlier.  His realtor, a frantic, jittery woman whose voice matched that of an cartoon character Jeremy couldn’t quite pinpoint, had said, “I was there last night, and there are some cabinets not emptied and a box here and there.  Oh, and unless you want to leave any wall hangings, take those down too.  I can sell staged homes, and I can sell move-in readies.  But the in-betweens make it aesthetically unpleasing.”

Jeremy replayed those final two words over and over during the car ride from his mother’s house to his own this morning.  The words, he mused, were never meant to be so close to one another, but he loved the rhythm of them.  Seven syllables in all, he said to his steering wheel.  It may be too long, but it sounds like a great band name.

“Hello, Sioux City!!  We are Aesthetically Unpleasing!” followed by roars from wiry youth who all seemed to wear thick-framed eyeglasses.

Jeremy opens his eyes and sees not a single screaming teenager around.  Rather, he stands in his kitchen and tries to guess which cabinets still have contents instead of just opening them all.  It is like he’s on some type of distorted daytime game show and has the chance to win the contents of the cabinet as long as he never opens an empty one.  Meticulously, he opts for the one above where he used to rest his cooling coffee every morning for the previous eight-plus years.  It holds nothing but brittle dust flakes and a slight manufacturing flaw that might have provided his errant hand with a splinter if he had lived out his thirty-year mortgage.

Ultimately, he finds the single cabinet containing nothing but eight or ten giveaway mugs and foam aluminum can holders.  The only one not upright bears the exhausting advertising phrase of a start-up local restaurant that never saw its third year:  Carpay Dee-Yumm!!

There is no reason to look upstairs.  Two days earlier–the last time he’d been by–he stood at the top of the stairs amazed they had cleaned out so much so fast  Eight years was long enough to leave the slightest hint of fresh paint underneath the family photos they had hung, and he didn’t want to see those empty spots ever again.  If his closet still held some old shoes or ties, he didn’t care.  The realtor would do her job up there.

So, he goes to the living room to find a single unsealed cardboard box.  He had known this one would still be here.  The plastic blue movers tape dispenser balances wishfully atop its arched cover.  A mouse might have seen this plain brown container (which bore nothing but tattered and/or slightly gaping corners) as a church.  If he spoke of his awe at this corrugated cathedral, he would misrepresent his race as silent.  “Church Mice” was an even poorer attempt at a band name, and he hated himself for thinking it might be even mildly humorous.

He opens the church-box, again, knowing full well of the majority of its contents:  concert tickets, unpackaged batteries, and dried-up logo pens.  There are other items inside, but the point is she didn’t want any of it.  Jeremy presses down on the top flaps, holds them with a denim knee, and fumbles with the edge of tape in the dispenser to get it going again.  A full moment passes as life drifts from below the bent knee.  He’s got it.  It unrolls quite noisily in this empty twenty-six by fourteen living room.  Just past the halfway point from the opposite edge toward his shaking knee, the spindle is exhausted.  He cannot keep from hearing the squeaky halt where adhesive becomes lifeless cardboard.

It’s midday; a narrow tower of sun blasts through the opening of the curtains he and Sara picked out the night she told him she was pregnant.  He watches the dust dance within the new bright avenue that splashes on the empty hardwood floor they argued about.  Carpet, he’d told her years earlier, made more sense with a kid.  Couldn’t we just tear it up when she’s older?

He stands.  The dispenser limps slowly and rests atop the box of memories and unusable freebies.  Pressing his fingers into his eye sockets–one of Sara’s ever-growing list of pet peeves–he runs his dry, dusty fingers down his face and across his week-long scruff, and stands.  This hollow domicile, eight years earlier, had been a blank canvas for a young and crazy married couple to make into a home.  Now, perhaps, another couple would try.

Slowly, he lets the blood flow, mix, and return to normalcy within his unsocked feet before he turns around.  Then he sees it.  Had she purposely left that damn iron sign between the windows?  The one that read This Home Knows Love that he hated for its hokeyness?   His pocket vibrates again; Jeremy lifts the box, leaves the door unlocked for the realtor, and drives to his mother’s.  He thinks she’d said something this morning about making macaroons.

Creative Writing Class – Week 4 Assignments

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Below is this week’s journal entry:  1) a three-paragraph story beginning with a Mad-Libs type character identification.  2) two paragraphs where a character’s garbage is analyzed, and 3) a free-verse poem about someone who is older but is still a kid at heart.  Lucky for me, quality is not scrutinized on these journals–but I have some new things to work with for later projects!

Scotty Rodriguez is a mischievous sixty-three-year-old sanitation employee who wants closure.  “It’s the worst timing, Scotty,” Earl said as he squeezed his friend’s flimsy shoulder.  The two men inhabited the cold, detached waiting room on the third floor of Jennings County Hospital.  Four hours earlier, Scotty had driven his wife of thirty-nine years to the Emergency Room after he had found her limp on their paisley sofa.  Their only accompaniment was the whirring of the generic soda machine.  The clock above Scott Rodriguez’s bowed head informed the otherwise empty room that the new day was ninety-six minutes old.  Earl glanced up at the clock and grimaced.  His eyes settled down on the apex of his friend’s head and examined the pale patch of uncovered skin.  A small island of bumps within the patch suggested the retarded recovery of a seemingly painful strike to that tender area.

Scotty wiped his nose with a yellowed handkerchief and sniffed.  “Can you believe we were just talking about taking a trip to South Carolina to look at property?”  His voice cracked at the final word, and Earl assumed there had been more planned.  Janitors, even those who served in Vietnam, did not typically have a bundled savings that would allow them to retire south.  Earl knew Scotty’s income because they’d been hired at the same time over a decade ago and have never been given anything but the same minimal raise each year since. . That said, it would have been in poor taste to contradict the possibility of moving.

“Look, Scott.  Sheesh, I don’t know what to do here, ya know?”  Earl attempted to lighten the mood–something he did at the lab every Monday through Friday evening.  “You know, Libby and I don’t have much, but I gotta say,” he trailed off.  His mouth was announcing things faster than he could control them.  Suddenly, before Earl could continue, a short lullaby played overhead, announcing a birth.  “Huh,” he continued.  “Another life comes into the world.”  He turned to Scotty, who was staring blankly at his handkerchief.  “Listen, it’s not much, but I’d like to help you.”  He withdrew several crisp twenties from his ragged wallet and did not count them.  “Go the Carolina on this.  Just go right after the funeral.  Libby and I can help take care of all the other stuff until you come back.”  He shoved the cash in his friend’s hand and remembered it had been intended for groceries the following day.  Without speaking–without even nodding–Scotty Rodriguez stood, shoved the handkerchief into the back pocket of his faded blue coveralls, and left the hospital.  When he reached the beachfront sixteen hours later, he knew he was not returning to bury his wife.

2.

The top layer of Larry Markum’s garbage does not surprise me at all.  Apple and banana peelings prove that he continues his habitual fruit intake to this day.  Pushing these aside, I notice a cigar catalog that bears his address but not his name.  This has been his residence for over three years, but he must have been too lazy to contact the distributor to inform them of the change.  The first really bizarre item here is a browned, cracked tennis ball.  When we were kids, Larry played catch with these with our dogs Frankie and Lizzie, but his building boasts a firm NO PETS policy on the front window.  Several wadded up paper towels and three granola bar wrappers only show me that he has yet to venture beyond his longtime affinity for the types of snacks that allow multi-tasking.  Digging a little further in I see two rather disturbing items that must have been tossed out at the same moment:  a child’s toy and a half-empty milkshake from a local eatery.  My brother does not have children, and he’s lactose intolderant.

Larry has been posting some very odd things online lately.  There was a time when we emailed one another once or twice a week, but that has all but subsided and been replaced with social media.  Nowadays, I learn things about him at the same time as the rest of the world.  Sadly, what he’s been posting could very well be misconstrued and even criminal.  He dodges my calls, and, well, here’s something interesting: his phone.  Like the rest of us, he’s abandoned a land line, but this old cell phone was in his hands all last Christmas at Mom’s.  Sure, it could have been replaced, but I remember my daughter and her friend Denise telling me that Uncle Larry’s phone was even nicer than hers.  The face is cracked.  Oh, my!  Here’s something I didn’t expect to see.  One, two, oh my God five pregnancy tests.  There’s no indicator readout, but who takes so many of these in a single setting?  And why is Denise’s senior picture torn in half?

3.

“Uncle Bob”

 

For years, my brother and I were told

That our humor must have come

From our Uncle Bob,

Our mother’s brother,

Because wittiness isn’t achieved over time.

It’s ingrained in our blood.

 

My uncle was a teenager

When his little sister,

Our mother, was brought into the world.

Just as the Second World War was beginning.

Their relationship only really began

When they were both adults.

 

I’m told, however, that only my mother grew up.

 

Once, when we visited them in Louisiana,

my uncle took us in his car

to get drive-through chicken.

He would have been in his sixties.

With the order complete, and his old Dodge humming loudly,

he informed the teen on the other end

That our order was “To go.”

It’s over two decades later,

And I remember our backseat laughter

As well as I imagine

His happiness in being a part of it.