human, being

Writing exercises: Six short-shorts
March 7, 2009, 1:00 am
Filed under: life | Tags: , , ,

I intended to write a blog about coyotes, and to post a poem I wrote in 1999 about coyotes. But I couldn’t find the poem on my new computer. What I did find is this: 1,393 words of unedited writing exercise responses I wrote back in 2004, during my divorce, when emotion was creativity fueled by fire. I can’t remember what book I found the prompts in–I believe it was something about “fast fiction.” I haven’t opened this file in forever. Did I actually write this? Did I lift it somewhere? You be the judge.

The Spy 5

He wasn’t your typical spy, all shady and thin, chain smoking cigarettes. He was more of the innocent sort, the type you’d overlook as he stood in the doorway. Cute, but not handsome, blonde but not towheaded. Not quite angelic, not devilish either. Young but not old. So when she finally passed him on the street, she didn’t even turn her head to glance at him. He simply innocuously faded into the brickwork of the LoDo building. She was carrying a satchel, the old fashioned kind, made of a patterned fabric of burgundy and green flowers. Inside, a gold satin, slightly frayed. He could see a bit of the lining poking from the weathered gold clasp that held the bag tightly shut. He knew what she carried. He assumed she did not.

He stepped away from the building, his Rockies baseball cap helping him fit into the Saturday crowd. The June sun beat on his shoulders as he followed her, watching her sway in her breeze like new laundry.  She too was innocuous, almost invisible to others. They would make the perfect pair, she of the nondescript brown hair, he of the nondescript blond. They could blend together into the perfect shade of gray.

She turned the corner into the alley between Wynkoop and Wazee. He could see another man, this one broad as the dumpster. A man who stood out. A man you notice in a crowd. She handed the bag. He handed her an envelope.

The spy stood across the street, next to the parking meter, hand in his pocket as if searching for change or fumbling for his keys. His hand emerged holding the remote control to a car. As the brunette cleared the alleyway like a wisp of smoke, he gently fingered the panic button, and the large man incinerated into an explosion of flame.

The brunette crossed the street, heading straight toward him. She pocketed the envelope. He straightened, and jingled the keys. She brushed by him, meeting his eyes with a smile.

The Wedding 6

It rained on their wedding day. Rain is said to bring good luck, but for them, it was the beginning of a slow tragedy. First, the canopy that draped over their ceremony overflowed with the fall downpour-so needed at the end of this five-year drought-drenching the entire bridal party. Then the minister called him Bill, when his name was Ralph. Bill was the name of the man she almost left him for, six months prior. It was a bad gaffe. Then the flower girl, who unbeknownst to anyone was allergic to bees, got stung below her left ear and puffed up like an adder, causing panic by all. The fact that they wound up married at all was a miracle, just like the sun that peeked through the heavy clouds right as they said I do.

Fifteen years later, as she packed her bags to move in with Bill, she wondered if the minister’s gaffe that day had been a mistake after all.

Evil 8

She had shaved off the part of her hair where her bangs ought to be, the stubble ugly and taupe against her ruddy skin. Next to her slanty squinty eyes, the negative space made her look particularly crafty. Her nasal voice soared as she swung above the three prepubescent boys on the black rubber swing. They shifted around in the sand, all at once uncomfortable with and drawn to the black cloud that hung about her like a cloak. She was only 13, but already well developed. They ogled her breasts, swinging free under her tight t-shirt. “Are you ready for the daredevil challenge?” she asked them. The boys, all with messy crew cut hair, all in jeans and t-shirts, looked at each other. “What’s the daredevil challenge,” the one with a moon face and dark eyes and freckles asked. “I tell you what to do, and you do it if you dare. If you don’t you are a chickenshit.”

The boys scuffed at the sand with their sneakers. One hung on the teepee of metal bars that made the swingset. She swung up parallel with the top bar, down and back.

“I want you to take that little girl over there on the playground, throw her to the ground, and kick her in the stomach,” she said, her voice completely level.

“I’ll do it,” the moonfaced boy said.

The hike 7

He called her from the summit. She answered on her desk phone, and shut her eyes as he described what he saw, the smoky hills rambling off into the distance, the rock outcropping on which he sat. This, he said, is my favorite place in the world and I wanted to share it with you. She felt her heart untie like a package and knew at that moment that she loved him.

The train ride 10

It was only the zoo train, a slow, lazy circle around the flamingo pond, passing the elephants, the birds of prey, the carousel. He had always loved the train. Every time they came to the zoo he’d rush past the lions, the giraffes, the hippopotamus to get in line for his tickets. He’d save his dollar-a-week allowance for a month so that he could ride four times in a row. Sometimes his mother fronted him an extra dollar simply to see the delight travel across his face. Sometimes she fronted him three.

Some might say that a boy of 8 was too old to love the zoo train, that he ought to have moved on to full-sized locomotives, or at the very least, a model zipping around a make believe landscape set up in his attic. But this boy never believed he was too old. He simply loved the zoo train. The worn metal cars, the paint, faded off by thousands of hands, all sizes of hands, as they smoothed over the backrests. The smell of the diesel engine, its black exhaust puffing into the blue sky. The conductor calling ‘all  aboard’ and blowing the whistle. He even loved the conductor’s scripted banter, had it memorized, would say it under his breath as the train rocked him and rocked him, past the roses of Sharon and cottonwoods, beyond the signs that pointed to the great ape exhibits. He never dreamed of riding the train anywhere but in a circle. Never imagined it jumping the tracks to take him on an adventure, to the water buffalo habitat or to buy an ice cream or to the moon. He loved the completeness of the zoo train’s track, of ending up exactly where he started. Perhaps he knew when he was two, the first time he rode the train, that his life would be a circle. Perhaps he knew, his mother thought.

The boy’s mother handed the conductor the round green token and selected the first car, his favorite. The conductor called ‘all aboard’ and blew the whistle. She reached inside her handbag, placed the plastic container gently on the floor. With great care, she removed the lid, slipped her hand inside, and handful by handful, let his ashes funnel out of her fist, tears streaming like exhaust from a smokestack, the dust of her son becoming part of the wind.

The church 6

She leaned against the tree, hugging her legs, feeling the cool mountain sunshine licking her exposed skin. The pinetrees towered over her like the arches of a cathedral. She began to chant, to rock a little, her buttocks abrading the forest floor in her nylon hiking shorts. God is, I am. God is, I am. God is, I am. This exercise is leaving me cold, she thought. No connection here. No flow. She stopped and stood, stretched her arms over her head, shook out her legs, bent from side to side. A tiny brown bird fluttered on a branch above her causing her to look up. The bird caught her eye, dead on, and she stopped in mid breath. God is, I am, the bird said. God is, I am, he chirped again. She shook her head, her hair catching in her eyelashes. God is, iam, the bird roared, and transformed into a phoenix, burst into flame, catching the tree, the ground, her hair on fire. And then she knew. Then she understood.


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