Monday, March 18, 2013

Sometimes we look behind - repost

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: Lifeguards

At her blog, Pattinase invited readers to create flash fiction, 1,000 words or fewer, based on a painting by social realist Reginald Marsh. For each entry, she pledged a donation to Union Settlement. My first flash fiction challenge.

Reginald Marsh, Lifeguards, 1933

“Rainwater collects in the dents of my car hood. That is, the ones that don’t slope. A few, perhaps three, remnants of a fearsome hail storm, are perfect little craters. Yet I believe tomorrow will be sunny.” Yr. friend, Warren.

For more than three years, Warren had sent a postcard each month, the card always arriving on the day of the full moon. He wrote letters, pages of precise and immaculate self-taught calligraphy. If he had illuminated the first capital on each page, she could imagine them as work from an ancient monastery. His stationery was rich without opulence, creamy in color, high rag content, a good tooth yet smooth enough to cause no unevenness in his penmanship. She savored and saved each bit of mail.

The postcards began with this message:

“Though Morris died 41 years ago, I have the feeling I need to find some place where I can go and talk about him. That he is gone does not unwind the tangle in which he left my life. As I am the only one remaining, it seems up to me. The other knots will not be undone. Perhaps some of mine will.” Yr. friend, Warren.

His cards, which she pictured him choosing even more carefully than he selected a peach at the farmers’ market, were photos of writers or actors or scenes with bodies of water, if a river may be called a body of water. She thought that really described a sea or a lake, something that stayed in place. She wasn’t sure that bodies meandered. Other months, he chose the reproduction of a painting, something she would lean on her desk where she could look at it, turning it over occasionally to study what he’d written. It wasn’t hard to memorize the few sentences.

“As I hear the stories other family members tell in these meetings, I am relieved to know I was not alone with such thoughts. Yet I still struggle to keep hold of a belief in love that can emerge from the wreckage I know. Perhaps I will ruminate upon a word that could rename a love so battered.” Yr. friend, Warren.

Of course every postman who ever brought one of his cards, and every post office worker between him and her mailbox, read what he wrote. She could never leave that sort of information out for her neighbors to see or for her mailman to know. Warren mentioned that he always delivered them to the post office. It allowed him to hold on to some of his anonymity. Still.

“They have ceased the manufacture of my writing paper. It feels like having to find a new therapist, something perhaps more trouble than it is worth. Though I do not believe I am so fixed in my ways that change is not an option, to weigh the balance of cost and quality, to search and experiment, holds no thrill. Would you recognize me in drugstore ballpoint on a lined yellow pad?” Yr. friend, Warren.

She wrote to him in response to all his letters. There was not one specific product she preferred to another, though she could not abide a pen that skipped. At times, she sensed her handwriting was becoming less legible. Even she was unable to decipher notes written quickly. She thought, “I am becoming my father,” whose brief addenda to long-ago typed letters remained mysteries unsolved.

“It is a fellowship here, as they describe it, in these community rooms and church halls. Transgressing what I presume to be written and unwritten rules, I have identified favorite speakers whose words invariably echo recent awareness of mine. I feel less like a dazed fish who flops on the pier, less like one whose lungs cannot draw enough from the atmosphere to sustain me.” Yr. friend, Warren.

Left to make whatever she wished of the coinciding post cards and full moons, she saw it as a way of keeping track, for someone who found no beauty in dates or weeks or ordinary measures of one’s life. Where she once noticed the moon’s phases by the light cast through her east window, she now sensed the rhythm of time, felt more aligned with its flow. It did flow, as those pictured rivers, not taking its own pulse constantly.

“After speaking of Morris last night, our final moments, my helplessness and despair, a young woman touched my shoulder as I was leaving. I recognized her but could not remember the sound of her voice, which must mean I had not heard it before. The word she chose to call me was lifeguard, one who watches over those for whom the water becomes too turbulent. After tonight, she told me, I know I will be able to stay afloat.” Yr. friend, Warren.

19 comments:

Isabel Doyle said...
Dear Marylinn
What an intriguing correspondence you've hinted at, with glimpses of full-bodied characters waiting to revel and hide.

This could be turned into a longer piece - have you considered that?

Hardly a 'flash'.

Best wishes, Isabel
Isabel Doyle said...
er, ... reveal ...
susan t. landry said...
one of the challenges in flash fiction is to give every word layers of resonance, like a minimalist dinner in a fancy-pants restaurant, the few meaty bits hinting at a hearty meal.

i think you have done this beautifully, marylinn; the clever dialogue, the language that illuminates the two people, whom we get to know just enough.

brava! what fun! and you are so skillful ...
pattinase (abbott) said...
This was such a lovely flash piece, Marylinn. Thanks so much for adding it to our challenge.
JeannetteLS said...
HOW on earth do you writers do this? I meander and wander through stories, and while I try to have each word count, in rhythm, if not substance... I cannot seem to write flash fiction. I cannot write poetry on a regular basis. My mind doesn't do it.

YOU did it here, moving my mind through a story as well as moving my heart through the pain and beauty.
Yvette said...
I thought immediately of poetry when I read your story, Marylinn.

Just gorgeous. Such imagery. Really wonderful. This has a definite tone and 'feel' to it.

Something you can almost touch. Would want to touch.
Jayne said...
Marylinn- As one who savors and saves each bit of mail, I just loved this piece. What a joy to read your fiction--the voices resonate and I want to know more! :)
Rob Kitchin said...
Like the prose and the mystery in this. Kind of tangible and intangible at the same time.
Marylinn Kelly said...
Isabel - Thank you. At the moment I don't know about a longer piece; that has never been a strength of mine, that sort of expanding. I would say I feel more comfortable with stories not-quite-told. We shall see. xo
Marylinn Kelly said...
Susan - Thank you. It was great fun and I feel more than fortunate if I managed to meet some of the genre's challenges without having known what they were. Ignorance of the rules can be a blessing. xo
Marylinn Kelly said...
Patti - Thank you. I so enjoyed participating. Marsh made a great springboard.
Marylinn Kelly said...
Jeanette - Thank you. All I know to say is that sometimes a piece comes together, more in spite of me than because of. I would say alchemy but that is too precise a formula. Which, I suppose, is why we who write and want to write keep showing up, putting words on the page. xo
Marylinn Kelly said...
Yvette - Thank you, and thank you for the introduction to this challenge. That fiction has not abandoned me causes quiet jubilation. I enjoyed doing this so much.
Marylinn Kelly said...
Jayne - Thank you. It fascinates me, the way the imagination - or the mind - gathers familiar, seemingly unconnected elements and weaves them into something new. One is writer and reader, equally surprised by what appears. xo
Marylinn Kelly said...
Rob - Thank you. Perhaps it is an expression of my peculiar notions about what is real or true belonging to a state whose language we have just begun to learn.
beth coyote said...
Holy wow, I loved this.
Marylinn Kelly said...
Beth - Thank you. Thank you.
Antares Cryptos said...
I hope there is a second installment.

Wouldn't I love to see and read those cards and stationery.
Marylinn Kelly said...
Antares - Wouldn't I, too, love to read those messages. Thank you for the thought of another "episode."

4 comments:

Claire Beynon said...

How glad I am we/you 'sometimes look behind', Marylinn, and that you reposted this compelling, exquisitely-nuanced story. Thank you xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Claire - Thank you. I noticed that people had been reading this - I hadn't for some time - and it felt like something thought lost was found, though it hadn't been lost, just overtaken by daily life. Yes, I'm glad I looked behind. xo

toomuchaugust said...

wow- glad you reposted this. i love pieces that slant through time and yours did that wonderfully. magically.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Sherry - Thank you. Re-reading it made me want new fountain pens and high rag content paper, too. xo