Writing From Headlines: Hawaii Emergency Alert

The Hawaii emergency alert. I read about this and maybe a day or two went by and I was still thinking about this because it makes your stomach funny to think about such a horrible thing happening, to spend a very long short time supposing you might die imminently. I am morbid enough to think about these things even when there isn’t a supporting current headline. Around the world and throughout history, men women children are put right next to their cut from life to death, made to see it, think it, wait for it. So when I read about Hawaii, of course I thought what I would do. And then I very quickly put me out of my mind because it’s really awful to think about.

Instead, I made a writing exercise. I want to create a full piece with different voices to tell the story of not quite an hour. I avoided reading personal accounts of those terrifying/ surreal/ unsettling minutes until I had a few ideas drafted in note form. Below are the first two of five situations. Finished, the five parts contribute to one piece.

Writing fiction is one way I think about who I am. My notebooks are almost entirely filled with journaling and prayer, notes, lists. The Hawaii emergency alert reminds me of my own fears and I might have written an essay about those specific fears but I’m bored of or over or far away from those fears. I know those fears very well. What I don’t know is what it’s like to find out you may die or breathe radiation this morning. I think we should all take time to be a lot afraid of terrible things but not live in that fear for very long, just long enough to be glad when you breathe where you are again.

One more note on the following. The first piece, “Do That Thing,” is about honeymooners. They have sex. They waited until they were married to have sex and now they are on their honeymoon and a ballistic missile is headed their way and, really, I think this is a nightmare scenario for any purity pledging young person even if they believe God is good. I actually really like this piece because it was tragic and funny and tragic to write but sex happens in the story and if that is uncomfortable to read, skip ahead to “Basketball Camp.”



One Situation, Three Flash Fiction Pieces

I’ve been working on one school’s application for two weeks and I wish that was an exaggeration. The application is made up of tough questions I can’t answer in the space provided, questions that would meet a pause before answering in an interview. I understand the thoroughness of the process – the school is Christian in deed, not just name, and administrators want to know not only what kind of teacher I am but also how my faith works. And in between drafting and revising the application for this school, I’m writing cover letters to other places too.

This is not a post about job search stuff though. This is a post about how I missed writing fiction and joined a class for one of my favorite exercises from What If? which is to write five mini-stories of a single situation. 

Situation examples:
Mom walks into her daughter’s room
Two strangers next to each other on a plane
Someone takes something from someone else

I stole the last idea from a student (apropos) but only managed three mini-stories. Even so, what fun and challenge to step away from cover letter land.

Some Of Us Know
The sophomores were stealing again. Mr. Shannon already talked about it at the grade level assembly in October, then again in December. Don’t leave your bags around, he said, but the kids all left their bags in heaps outside the canteen or strewn like dots on the outside of the track. Security and maintenance staff had to show their backpacks, turn out their pockets at the end of a shift. Then the scholarship kids got called in one by one. A girl named Valentina laughed when Mr. Shannon asked if she knew who was stealing. You think it’s me, she said, Because I wear sandals from Bata?

It was too easy, Eduardo found. And fun, to slow his breathing and steady his pulse. The first time he stole on a dare. He took the slim phone to a booth in Unicentro, swapped the sim card and sold it for the cost of a good sushi dinner to a taxi driver. Now, in history class, Eduardo saw a rose gold line under a paperback on Catalina’s desk. He hadn’t stolen from a girl before. He had a small collection of black and silver devices at the back of his wardrobe that he almost wanted his maid to find, for the relief of contrition and repentance. Daniel and Santiago hadn’t stolen since right before winter break. Eduardo wasn’t sure anyone else was still in the game.

Catalina looked up then. Eduardo didn’t look away. She bent over her notebook, one hand cupped around what she wrote. Then she tore the page from its spiral and folded it over twice. Catalina held the note in her hand. Eduardo got up and walked over to her, took the note. His heart was wild. He sat at his desk again and unfolded the paper. Some of us know. Eduardo swallowed. He could feel Catalina waiting. He looked up but she was only bent over a book, her finger following the lines.

I Give You
For a week I do not put you in a bassinet or crib. I hold you against my breast, let you suck. I have no milk yet. I have only white pain at your strong suck. For a week I wait for my milk to come and you pull at the nipple, turn away, sleep, wake to pull again while I believe all the literature I read about colostrum nourishing you until my body decides the milk comes. I drink a beer. There is something about the malt. I remember a woman saying a beer relaxes the mother, reminds her body to let go. I hold you and wonder what I need to let go. Women carry emotion in their hips, I read.

My hips sink into the sofa. Paper dolls come with little skirts or shorts that fold over the abdomen, the upper thigh. That’s what hurts, the middle band of my body, like my hips opened all their doors and everything fell out. Your suck tightens my uterus. I know this is good. I read it was good.

I haven’t held a baby in years but now, you fit my arms. You snug against my belly. You flop over my shoulder. When you are nursing, I watch your jaw work. I touch the nape of your neck. This is the most delicate we are, together, and I have this surge that goes up my body that makes me say out loud, Be careful. I am so tired. For a week I have dozed and started, afraid to let go of you. But now I am tired and make a little nest for you on the floor next to the sofa and I stretch my legs out and close my eyes. We sleep for a long time.

When I wake, my breasts are engorged. I read this might happen. How the milk comes fast and fills the soft tissue to bursting. I sit up. I need you more now. I pick you up and hold you to my breast, help you latch because the nipple isn’t slipping easily into your mouth. I watch your jaw work. My breast is like a firework, warm sparks of milk letting down and you choke, pull away. My breasts are leaking and I help you again. You find a steady suck and I think of the empty cradle of my hips, the better weight of you in my arms, and I wonder what we will hold together as we make our way.

What I Can Do
Tasha’s daughter came down the stairs one morning with her hair combed in a slant across her face. Tasha said, “Lizzi, I can’t see your eyes,” and reached a hand to brush aside the curtain but Lizzi ducked away, went to the cupboard for a bowl. “You look mysterious,” Tasha said but Lizzi only hunched over her cereal. When the style lasted a few days, Tasha suggested they go to the Cut ‘n Curl next weekend, have the fringe done like that actress that’s everywhere, what’s her name. Lizzi didn’t answer. “Would you like that?” Tasha asked. Lizzi said she guessed so. A year ago, Lizzi dyed a pink streak in her hair. She’d worn a red cape to school most of spring semester. Now in seventh grade, Lizzi didn’t know if she wanted her hair cut.

That Saturday, Lizzi sat in a salon chair while Tasha watched her daughter from a fake leather couch, flipping through a magazine. The stylist was a woman in her early twenties who asked questions about school and favorite bands. Lizzi was quiet. The stylist got quiet too. She took her time, pulling lengths of hair to check evenness and snip strays before blow drying the cut, showing Lizzi how to work a bit of gel through her hair for texture. “There,” the stylist said, “You look great. This cut suits you.” Lizzi looked at her reflection and smiled. Tasha wanted to hold her daughter, kiss her forehead. They bought a bottle of gel and a round brush. Tasha hugged the stylist.

On the sidewalk, Tasha reached for Lizzi’s hand and for a couple of blocks, it felt like nothing invisible had shifted, like Tasha had only imagined the tremor. Tasha suggested a pastry or hot chocolate. A trio of girls was walking toward them. Lizzi’s grip tightened. All three girls smiled. “Hi Lizzi.” “Hi Lizzi.” “Hi Lizzi.” Lizzi ducked her head. “You must be Lizzi’s mom,” said one of the girls.

“I am,” Tasha said.

“Lizzi is in my social studies class with Ms. Bryant,” said the girl.

“Lizzi, your hair looks gorgeous,” said the second girl.

“Did you go to Candace?” asked the third girl.

Lizzi didn’t say anything. The girls blocked the sidewalk. They looked from Lizzi to Tasha with wide eyes and lip gloss smiles. Tasha understood then. There had been a tremor in her daughter. Tiny fractures in rock that could shift and open a wound at the surface.

“Excuse us, girls,” Tasha said and the three made way for her and Lizzi to walk on. Tasha could hear the trio behind them now. “Excuse us, girls.” “Excuse us, girls.” “Excuse us, girls.” Tasha held Lizzi’s hand all the way to the bakery, ordered two mugs of hot chocolate and two almond croissants and found the table near the bookshelf where they always sat. “Lizzi,” Tasha said.

“Don’t, Mom.”

“Lizzi, those girls might never be nice to you.”

“I know, Mom. I don’t care.”

Tasha didn’t say anything for a moment. She cared. Those tiny fractures in rock might not open a gaping ravine at the surface. Those tiny fractures might instead compound where no one sees, turn rock to gravel, cause a landslide. Tasha took a sip of hot chocolate. She watched Lizzi bite into the croissant. “Tell me what I can do, love,” Tasha said. Lizzi looked up, powdered sugar on her lip. “This is nice, Mom.” Tasha had another sip of hot chocolate. “This is nice,” she said.

A 50 Minute Paragraph

About a year and a half ago I drafted a story in three parts about a town somewhere out west. The story came to mind as I read my way through Psalms.

From Psalm 135

15 The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
    the work of human hands.
16 They have mouths, but do not speak;
    they have eyes, but do not see;
17 they have ears, but do not hear,
    nor is there any breath in their mouths.
18 Those who make them become like them,
    so do all who trust in them!

The passage startled me. It’s vivid and frightening. I thought what it might look like if a group of people went mute, deaf, bowed before silver and gold idols. If they became as those chunks of metal, without breath. I wrote the draft quickly. About a year later I workshopped the story with some friends, all of whom wanted the piece to be expanded.

I agreed. And tucked their notes away. I took the notes with me to Budapest this past summer. I flipped through the pages, thinking how to revise. But I didn’t write. I didn’t make any new notes.

I’ve had this story in my head since I first drafted it. I can see the landscape. The faces of the Edges. I want to get it right and I know any revision risks getting it only almost right. (Like the butterfly Ann Patchett talks about in “The Getaway Car,” the beautiful vision we’ve got for a piece that we pin down on the page at the cost of smudging its wing). Even so, today I sat at the dining table with the notes out again, opened my notebook, and started writing more. One paragraph more. The first wedge of expansion.

The one paragraph felt good to write. Lately I’ve opened my notebook to journal or pray or think in loops but this afternoon it felt good to return to fiction and better to start a revision I’ve put off. At the end, I had a page of writing, most of it with lines drawn through, a single paragraph hidden in the sticks, a single paragraph that opens the way for more paragraphs to tell the better story.

The discovery of gold in surrounding fields.

The gold rush was already five years on. In forty-nine and fifty, a few townsmen cut south to join wagon trains west, sending occasional letters home reporting rain and sun but no news of gold. Most of the men and women in town didn’t have an appetite for gambling on a stream bed. Their great risk taken a few generations before, the very risk that planted them at a yawning canyon, was tempered by a sense of practicality, also traced back a few generations, that supposed the land at the canyon was enough and there was no need to find clearer air than this, or a deeper river or darker soil. Most of the town agreed the sun turning the canyon to gold in late afternoon was rich enough. Before forty-nine, settlers continued to find their way to Canyon Ledge by way of misreading maps, following the wrong river or falling out with wagon masters. Those settlers arrived surprised by the tidy grid of a town, the surveyed acreage. There was no need to push on after a night’s rest. But Californian gold calibrated hearts due west so the town received no more stragglers, no more accidental settlers, so that when Marshall Severson turned up yellow metal with his plow, the only men and women in town were those who could’ve gone on quite happily without the  gold or the ribbons, shoes, pianos, bridles, window panes and pigs it might buy.

Flow & Revision Work (!)

This year I thought a lot about flow. I really wanted to flow. I was annoyed how easily distracted I am. Especially when I sabotage myself. More BBC? More TV? More recipe feeds? All the while thinking my writing never goes anywhere. So this afternoon I had this clear moment. There’s a story I need to revise and I’ve been thinking about it all week because I care about how it’s told. And this afternoon I got out comments from a few friends who read the piece and started drafting expansion in my notebook and then moved over to my desk to open the file and actually make my writing go somewhere.

All the before thinking helps. I mull pieces. So I’ve had this piece in my head off and on for over a year since I drafted it. I’m not done, but I spent two hours standing, typing and thinking at my desk. Claire was on her bed reading Boxcar Children. Grant pushed his giant green dump truck back and forth. Justin was in the hall sawing and hammering. Then all three of them decided to move the keyboard from one end of the apartment to the other and Claire started a dance party. This is the space I have and I kept at it, cutting and expanding, all the way to the last scene which needs more help and focus than I’ve got in me now. But what happened was I looked at the clock and realized I’d been at my desk for two hours. My jaw dropped. I didn’t think that happened, the jaw dropping. But now I know (again) I can flow with Claire playing boogie woogie and Grant making truck / plane / train noises and Justin taking a passing kiss.

Here’s a sample of my revision work. The original first:

Dawn ran north, each step sparkle of pain on the top of her foot. She turned on a narrow crowned road and ran toward the county line marked by a small green sign. There was a corner she called hers. She’d found it on one of her first long runs, when she’d been out of breath and stopped to stretch. She’d looked up and seen that no one was around. No long gravel drive to a hidden house, no field entrance. She’d hear or see a car in time to resume running or duck into the windbreak. Once or twice a month, on a weekend run, she came here to think. For ten minutes or twenty, she’d look up at the sky or cut through the windbreak to stare at the field or squat to examine tiny rocks tarred to the road.

It was almost noon when Dawn made it to the corner. She cut into the windbreak to relieve herself, pulled her running tights up as a car passed. She watched from the windbreak as the vehicle dipped and surfaced on the retreating hills. Her foot was broken. She was sure of it. She flexed the toes, toward and away from her shin. Knowing what would happen – a splinter of white – she jumped on the injured foot. A gray knot in her stomach now and the orange fringe at her shoulder. She was five or so miles from home. She had limped most of the last mile here.

Maybe a rest, she thought, stupidly. A rest wasn’t going to heal the invisible fracture on the second metatarsal. She run through pain before. Splintering shins, a rite of her first marathon training. Deep hip pain that came and went. Tight calves. A tight piriformis that tugged her gait to one side. Sparklers under her kneecaps. A knot just under her left shoulder blade. Singing hip flexors. Tendonitis in her ankle. And now her foot. Dawn hopped on the injured foot one more time, to be sure.

And the revised:

Dawn ran north, each step a sparkle of pain on the top of her foot. She turned on a narrow crowned road and ran toward the county line marked by a small green sign. Up ahead, at the top of a slope was a corner she called hers. The t of Northpoint and Portage. She’d found it on one of her first long runs, when she’d been out of breath and stopped to stretch. She’d looked up to see that no one was around. On one side of Northpoint a long windbreak of scrub pines protected a corn field. On the other side, maples and oaks. No long gravel drive to a hidden house, no field entrance. She could hear or see a car in time to resume running or duck into the windbreak. Once or twice a month, on a weekend run, she came here to think. For ten minutes or twenty, she’d look up at the sky or stare at the field or squat to examine tiny rocks tarred to the road. During the fall, she ran there to see the maples turn yellow and red, the oaks turn orange. All winter, brittle rust oak leaves held onto their twigs while the maples reached knuckled fingers to the white sky. Now it was spring and Dawn watched the ditches for new grass.

It was almost noon when Dawn made it to the corner. She cut into the windbreak to relieve herself, pulled her running tights up as a car passed. She watched from the windbreak as the vehicle dipped and surfaced on the retreating hills. Her foot was broken. She was sure of it. She flexed the toes, toward and away from her shin. Knowing what would happen – a splinter of white – she jumped on the injured foot. She was five or so miles from home and she’d limped most of the last mile here. Once more she jumped on the injured foot and let out a cry. The fringe drifted a little over her shoulder and she swatted at it. She took off her shoe and pressed her thumb the length of each metatarsal.

Maybe a rest, she thought, stupidly. A rest wasn’t going to heal the invisible fracture on the second metatarsal. She ran through pain. Splintering shins, a rite of her first marathon training. Deep hip pain that came and went. Tight calves. A tight piriformis that tugged her gait to one side. Sparklers under her kneecaps. A knot just below her left shoulder blade. Singing hip flexors. Tendonitis in her ankle. And now her foot. She put her shoe back on but didn’t pull the laces tight.

Now wasn’t that a fun two hours!

Knee Deep In Narrative

Timing is everything. At school we’ve left poetry for fiction. Today I introduced one of my favorite flash fiction prompts (more below). And at home I’m taking an online creative nonfiction workshop through Stanford Continuing Studies. This week I’m working on a personal essay for workshop, but the flash fiction prompt is too tempting to skip, one I return to each semester and still love.

The prompt from What If? by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter:

Write five mini-stories (limit: 200 words each) to account for a single event or circumstance, such as a man and woman standing on a city sidewalk, hailing a cab. Each story should be different – in characters, plot, and theme – from the others.

So this time I’ve asked my students to use this exercise to explore narrative choices: first/ second/ third person; limited or omniscient narrator; past or present tense. Since we have five (super short, nonthreatening) stories to write, we can play with the choices we make as authors. Play along at home!

If you’re looking for a situation or circumstance to get you started, here are some we came up with in class today:

A father and son at a football match

A young woman steps onstage

Two friends at lunch

The power goes out

The phone rings but no one answers it

I like the idea of this prompt generating a finished piece, either as a longer story born of an itty bitty draft; or as a series whose parts stand alone but, when purposefully ordered, create a stronger whole.

Revised And Done

Starting small helps. This revision is of a piece I wrote a year ago about a woman who visits her old house at night, after work, before returning to her husband and kids in their apartment. I liked the story then, as it came together, because I liked the woman. I could feel her loss. I wanted you to get that. The challenge of this revision was my choice not to expand. I’m attached to its bare bones. Even so, after workshopping with friends (such willing readers!), I understood better how to reorder the scenes.

I’m calling this done. But I still have no title. Let me think on that.


Jon knows but doesn’t ask. I keep the key to our old house in the cup holder of my car and stop there after my nursing shift. The family that lived there before us had three kids. They left their swing set when they heard we were expecting a baby. The swing set is still in the yard, but no sleds or snow angels. If I stay at the house late enough, Jon is sleeping when I get to the apartment.

The apartment has a front door like it’s a cheap motel. I go in quietly. The smoke from the last tenant is worse now that it’s winter and our boots track in snow. When I crawl into bed, Jon scoots near me, throws an arm over my waist, kisses my shoulder. Sometimes he whispers and I roll over. I pretend we are back in our house.

The bank owns our house. Elliot was sick, admitted to the ER. Then Jon lost his job a month later. I picked up extra shifts but we couldn’t make the mortgage.

The first time I went by after my shift, I was surprised the key turned. I thought the bank would’ve changed the locks. We brought our sons home to that house. I painted its walls. Jon tiled the bathroom. That house held us for eight years.

Bluebird Acres has a playground we can see from the living room. Elliot thought it was awesome he could slide the patio door open and race across the grass to play. He and Sam are usually the only two kids out. I thought maybe it was because of tv. Another mom two doors down said the complex had eleven registered sex offenders. Everyone can see the playground, she said. I followed the boys out one afternoon and sat in a swing facing the U of apartments, watching for blinds and curtains to move aside. I didn’t see anything. It might be a terrible idea to let them out by themselves.

Jon is with the boys all the time now. He made friends with the manager and gets a few jobs thrown his way, mostly painting when tenants move out. This winter he’s shoveling and salting the walks. He’d take a job at a gas station or flipping burgers but the hours aren’t fixed. I keep adding extra shifts each week. I’m never home a full day.

When we moved, I didn’t walk through our house a last time, after the boxes were out. We put nearly everything to storage. I was there with my mom, making sure stuff we needed at the apartment didn’t go in the locker when Jon drove up and parked, called me over to the truck.

Wanna go take a last look?

Mom said she could watch the boys. I shook my head. Jon turned off the ignition and got out, pulled me into a sweaty hug. That house was good to us, he said. I nodded against his chest. He kissed the top of my head. My throat hurt to swallow but I didn’t cry. I didn’t want the boys to think anything was wrong.

I want to move to Towering Pines in the spring. It’s next to the highway, cutting ten minutes from my commute. It’s two hundred more a month. We moved to Bluebird Acres to save for another down payment. I don’t think we’ll be allowed to buy another house again, but Jon believes in discipline. We don’t touch the savings unless one of us is dying, he says. I think of Elliot’s illness. If we’d had savings then, we’d still have our house. That isn’t true at all, but I think it anyway.

I go online and look up how many registered sex offenders are at Towering Pines. Two. And it’s a huge complex. Jon thinks the boys are okay because he’s around. He’s probably right.

At night when I visit our house, I do math in my head. I buy a cheaper car. We don’t fix the truck. We don’t have pizza night. We eat more rice. None of it adds up to cover the hospital bill and Jon’s missing income.

I walk from room to room. My sons are alive but I see their ghosts. Elliot took his first steps in the kitchen. Sam in the living room. We had our Christmas tree in this corner. We pulled up carpet in the boys’ room and found a girl’s diary from twenty years ago. Sam played hide and seek in our closet. The boys built a Lego city in the hall upstairs.

I sit in my bedroom, where our bed was. The light from the street and moon falls in slants on the painted wood. When I was in nursing school, one of my roommates did sitting meditation. I think of her when I am in my bedroom, the slants of light moving incrementally closer to me. I think of my friend breathing the quietest deepest breaths, facing a wall. I breathe deeply. I try to let it out slowly. I get caught on a jagged cry every time. I can’t stop anything.

When I go home and kiss Jon, I whisper for Towering Pines. We won’t get a house, I say, But we could live somewhere better than this. Jon holds me so tight I can’t breathe. He puts his lips close to my ear. His whole body trembles. I don’t know what he will say. When his body relaxes, I touch his face. I tell him I’m sorry, I know we’re okay here.

The next morning, Jon lets me sleep late while he gets the boys breakfast and walks them to school. When he returns, I’m still in bed. I can’t move. He lays down with his winter coat on, his giant boots hanging off the edge. He nudges me, says, Let’s go take a last look. His cheeks are chapped red. I close my eyes. Come on, he says. He gets up and pulls the blankets from the bed, tosses a pair of jeans at me.

We take my car over. The heat kicks in as I pull to the curb and park. I take the key from the cup holder and we go up the walk, let ourselves in. It looks different in the day. Empty, but not as sad. The rooms echo with our footsteps. Jon rubs a thumb on the doorframe marking our boys’ heights. I open the kitchen cabinets and drawers, the liner paper with tiny orange flowers. We stand in the doorway of the boys’ room, looking in like we did most nights before going downstairs to our bedroom.

Now Jon and I hold each other in our room, standing where I’ve spent the last six months sitting. Anyone walking by could see us embracing in an empty room. I pull a deep breath in, let it out slowly. I don’t cry. I look up at Jon. We look at each other. We must want to say something. Little puddles of melted snow show where we’ve been.


Drafting Real Time

This is the opposite of what I’ve been doing for years. I have notebooks full of starts (some finishes) and files of the same. When I started this blog a year ago, I wanted to dig into the writing process. For a most of the last year I wavered about posting any finished work, for a few reasons:

a. I’d rather an editor validate my work for print
b. I don’t want my work stolen (though it will be eventually, won’t it?)
c. It’s show-offy (and a little sad?) to showcase work that isn’t anywhere but on my blog, red by tens*

There’s some overlap there. When I started this blog, I was writing intensely introspective stuff about marriage and parenting. While early posts allude to those pieces, I probably won’t post them here. But I can post new fiction drafts and revision. Something changes when I’m writing to share. I’m still drafting, but with a new pleasure that this next chunk isn’t landing in a file, but going out for you to read.

Part 3 of Tally Draft (though the whole, revised piece will be read without divisions)

We don’t catch anything that Saturday but the next we catch a couple of small ones we pan fry at my house. I feed Shane slivers of white flesh, lick the oil and salt from my fingers. One Saturday we catch seven fish and invite Charlene to join us for lunch. She brings potato salad and sits across from Carl.

You’re Jenny Ross’s boy, aren’t you? she asks him. He nods and Charlene says, Such a sweet girl. I’m so sorry.

He shakes his head, pays close attention to the end of his fork. Mom mouths something at Charlene who stands, goes to the sink to refill the water pitcher. I don’t realize I’m holding myself tense until Carl looks up from his plate and says, It’s okay. This is a good lunch.

When he leaves, he tells me he might have to go somewhere next Saturday but he’ll let me know. My chest squeezes. I say I might have something else to do too, but the way I say it tells the truth.

Most Saturdays Mom puts Shane down for a nap and the two of us watch a dvd from the library. We microwave popcorn and sit close on the couch, cry at all the good parts. When Jessica still lived a few blocks over, she’d join us. Once Dad came home at the end of Sense and Sensibility and saw the three of us bawling. He went pale, thought some terrible news was on the tv. He clutched his heart. When he saw Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson on the tv, he said he thought it was another 9/11, the way we were crying.

While Mom settled Shane in his crib (Such a big boy! You need a big boy bed!), I made popcorn and put ice in our glasses. I cued the dvd. But when Mom sat on the couch she told me to wait. She angled herself toward me. Look at me, she said. She smiled at me. Carl is nice, she said. I nodded.

Are you kissing?

I shake my head. I’m embarrassed she thought we might be kissing, embarrassed because we aren’t. And after a month of standing out on the dam with nothing to do but fish and talk, is it okay that we haven’t kissed? But Mom seems relieved. She pats my leg. She says, Someday you’ll kiss and it’ll be the right time. I’m not sure if she means me or me and Carl. She tells me to be careful and I know she means about sex, but that’s all she says, just be careful, and then she turns to face the tv and I press the tiny forward arrow on the remote and we watch Sandra Bullock be sassy.

When I see Carl at school, he’s with the baseball players, blocking the hall. They’re high-fiving and joking so he doesn’t see me until one of the guys bumps me and I stumble into the lockers. Carl yells, Watch out for the lady, and the player apologizes. I’m sweating, dying. I can’t look at Carl. I just need to get to Mr. Halverson’s room. He calls me later that week to say he’s going to Richland, to visit his dad. It feels funny to talk on the phone with him. He pauses and asks if I’d like to fish on Sunday morning. My stomach flutters. I wish Mom hadn’t asked about kissing.

That Friday night I wait for Mom to fall asleep and reach under my bed for the water bottle. I’ve listened to Wolf and Midget talk about drinking. I know I don’t do it anything like that. I’m afraid to ask Carl for another water bottle, so I’m putting less in the jelly glass. It hardly does anything except make me sleepy. I prop myself on my elbow and listen to Shane breathe. Sometimes I reach between the crib rails and rub his back. He’s a sweet boy and I think of Carl going to Richland to see his dad. I don’t know if Shane will ever see his dad. We haven’t heard from him in a year. If I think about that for too long, I become the most unloved person in the world.

I almost think about it too long and pull myself upright. I think instead about Carl driving to Richland tomorrow, or maybe already there tonight. Charlene told me about Jenny Ross, one afternoon while we watched Shane drive trucks up and down the front walk. Carl was six when his mom and younger brother died in a car accident. The jelly glass on the floor is empty but I’m wide awake. When I was six, I had a box of watercolors I took everywhere, I ate toasted peanut butter sandwiches and begged for a baby sister.

*tens refers to TBTL, whose hosts celebrate their “tens of listeners.”

Flash Fiction Serial: Less Flash, More Serial

One of my students read a quote from Stephen King’s On Writing. Paraphrasing, King says that he has to keep writing a story so it doesn’t grow cold. This week I’ll continue writing Tally and Carl and post as I draft.

Part 2

Carl picked me up at six the next Saturday morning, leaving his truck to idle while he came to the door and knocked. Mom offered him a cup of coffee which he drank black. He whispered, knowing Shane was in the other room. When he stood to leave, I stood too. Mom tilted her cheek up for me to kiss.

There was a package of mini powdered donuts on the seat and a bag of sodas on the floor. We drove north toward the dam. Dad had taken me fishing there a long time ago. I didn’t like the smell of the still water. I spent the day tossing Fruit Loops near the bank, watching them slowly bloat. On the drive out, I wondered if I should pretend with Carl, like I really liked fishing.

You like fishing? he asked, tires crunching in the gravel lot.

Kinda, I said.

It’s nice, he said, Gives you a chance to clear your head. I’m out here most weekends.

I hop down from the cab, taking the sodas and donuts. Carl gets the poles and tackle from the bed. He leads us down the earthen dam and tells me which side we’ll fish off, unless I want a competition. It’s the same grassy bank, wet with dew. There’s no breeze but I’m glad I wore a hoodie. Carl opens the bag of donuts and takes two, passes the bag to me. The donuts remind me of when we went to church with Charlene and had juice and donuts in the Fellowship Hall after the service. Carl opened a Pepsi and handed one to me.

Breakfast of champions, he said. He took a long drink and set the can in the grass. He bent over the tackle, opening a sour cream container filled with dirt and worms. He handed me a pole and pointed where I should aim. I came close and started reeling the slack. Carl told me how to fish even though there isn’t much to know when it’s the shallows and all you have is a light pole.

I might go out to Montana this summer and learn to fly fish, he said.

You could do that up north, I said.

Montana sounds cooler.

I make the bobber dance a little, reel it in and send it back out with the same worm. This time I feel a nibble all the way up the line, down the pole to my hands. I watch the bobber dip under and give a slight jerk on the line. There’s too much slack and I only startle the fish away, a little ripple. Enough of the worm is still on the hook, I send it out again. We do that side by side for a while, casting lines, eating donuts, drinking sodas. There are a hundred things I’d like to ask Carl about. He lives with his grandparents but I don’t know why. He quit baseball this season but I only heard rumors why. I want to know what he’d like to do after he graduates next year. I sneak looks at him. He’s seventeen, two years older than me. I like that. He’s got hair that glints gold in the sun. His clothes are as worn as mine. He’s lean like a farm worker. His nose could be on a profile stamped on coins.

I’m suddenly very conscious of his body near mine, of the way he clears his throat and cracks his neck to one side, of how his hands look working another worm on my hook. I remember to breathe.

Can I ask you something? I say and before he answers, I ask, How do you get it?


The liquor.

Oh, he says and laughs a little. You looking for a side business? I can’t tell you just so you can undercut me. We both know I’m not asking for that. He squats down and fiddles with a new bobber on his line. When he straightens and casts again, he says, I really can’t tell you. I’m sorry. He sounds sorry. After a few minutes he says, Ask me another. I’ll answer this time.

I think about what I want to know. I’d like to know if this is a date, if my first date is here on the dam with my hair pulled in a ponytail and the smell of mud between us. I look at the water, as still as when Dad took me here years ago, and I wish I were here with him, not Carl. My throat goes thick so I can’t speak. Carl jokes he doesn’t know anything about the Kennedy assassination but the thought of Dad being here with me that many years ago, putting worms on my hook and not getting mad when I laid down to watch the clouds, it makes me want to cry and I can’t, not in front of Carl.

He puts a hand on my arm. He can tell something. He speaks like he’s coaxing me out from hiding. Tally, hey, you’re alright. What’s wrong? I pick up my Pepsi and take a drink, swallow the lump.

I came here with my dad a long time ago, I say. We both cast our lines again. Neither of us are getting bites, even though we can see the shadows swimming. Carl says, Me too.

Fiction Workhorse Recap

I give myself these projects because I’m not in an MFA program with actual assignments. And if I didn’t make up assignments (ex: sestina, Postsecret flash fiction, one more page in the notebook), I would probably just go on thinking maybe someday I’ll write that thing about a thing. And it’d be brilliant when I did. But I know better: between here and brilliant is a lot of workhorse.

In five weeks, I managed just over 18,000 typed words total, a thousand of which are wails and whines and a couple of thousand more of which are stutter starts. Some of those stutter starts might find their own finish, someday. Two of the starts are third or fourth goes at stories that are kicking around upstairs, looking for a way out, but unwilling to be rushed. One week isn’t enough time and five thousand words not enough space for either story.

Here is what I gleaned:

Knocking out a story without pretense is fun. I like to start stories with the idea that someday readers (like, hundreds or thousands) will read the piece and love it because in the turn of ten or twenty pages, they are transported / connected / entangled. Up front, I demand a lot from an itty bitty five hundred word start, putting immense pressure on everything that follows. Such an unfair and un-fun way to draft! Telling myself that all of these stories were only practice gave me no obligation to consider revision or submission.

Still, I like to practice revision too. One or two of my Fiction Workhorse drafts will give me that.

My 1000-5000 word parameter is on the low, low end of short fiction. During the first two weeks, I was reading a lot of published short fiction and noticing how long most of the pieces are. For one-a-week, 1000-5000 is easily done. I spent between three and five hours writing each draft, including light edits. More hours if you count headspace.

Working on a story in my mind before going to the page is a great strategy. The challenge from one week to the next was dropping the previous draft and its characters and finding a new story. I took a day or two after finishing a draft before starting the next, but that time wasn’t wasted. I was looking for what might turn into my next draft: BBC, news, podcasts, overheard conversations. When an idea came, I let it sit for a day. I’d go to my notebook and write a few notes, but not much more. Then, if I came to a turn while drafting, I took a break from typing and l played out a scene in my head. Try visualizing a scene a few different ways before choosing the better option to write. Take notes on the other possibilities if you want to revise later.

Fiction Workhorse was a good time. I almost missed writing another short fiction piece this week. Almost.

One of my next assignments: tell variations on a single story, after “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood or “The Breeze” by Joshua Ferris.

Fiction Workhorse Week Five 4958 Words

Okay. I don’t want to tell you where I got this idea. But I will tell you that before I started Week Five, I decided to write a story in parts. What’s below is my second start of the week and the third part is the second third part of the piece. Go ahead and see what you think:


The town was at the edge of a canyon. Beyond that, a mountain range that looked lazy at a distance, all of its sloping peaks seen on a clear day. For one hundred years, the town was an outpost for men who climbed down the canyon and then up before disappearing into the mountains and whatever lay beyond. No letters came back. No man climbed from the canyon and told the town what he’d seen. So many men, especially those accompanied by their wives and children, decided that reaching the town was far enough and bought up parcels that licked the lip of the canyon, set porches facing the mountains, naming the peaks after their children, unofficially, so that at school fights settled whether the peak was Jedidiah or Samuel. But after a hundred years, one of the farmers plowed a furrow that sparkled.

For another hundred years, the town kept their dirt secret. What they did was live as farmers. Acres that yielded gold, silver and copper at the turn of a spade were given to the town and harvested every two years. The rest of the acres, each man planted and harvested annually. They had dirt under their fingernails. Everyone could afford shoes. It became difficult for anyone taking a look at the expanse of canyon to buy a parcel. More men traveled on, their bones collecting at steep drops in the canyon, in caves and burrows on the mountains. For a hundred years, it went like that. The town yielded to progress: electricity and phone lines spooled a hundred miles from the nearest other town, as if trying to keep the town from falling over the canyon edge. People bought televisions. They watched the moon landing. For a year after, the young people in town thought the metal should fund their own rocket, launched to colonize another place as remote.

That’s what all the gold, silver and copper was called: the metal. It was melted to bars and stacked in discreet warehouses around town. Since men weren’t coming through to cross the canyon and mountains to whatever lay beyond (they could fly over and what lay beyond was a cold ocean), the barns and sheds hiding the metal weren’t guarded. Anyone in town could go take a peek at the inventory.

On the alternate years, the previous harvest was added up and the town council hosted a meeting to talk about the inventory. The meeting went on for at least a week, each citizen allowed to say how they thought the metal should be spent. The trouble was, they had so much. And because they still lived like farmers and because secrecy had been burned into them from infancy, no one suggested tours of Europe or cruises in the Caribbean.

The school could use a better server, said the IT director. The librarian nodded. She raised her hand and said, I think the whole town should have digital access to all the books in the world. Everyone who liked to read, clapped. She said, And better internet means we can watch all the shows. Everyone else clapped.

If they could have planted thick cables and run wires through everyone’s walls, flipped a switch and connected the town high-speed to the rest of the world without inviting anyone from the rest of the world to walk their streets, that’s what they would have voted. Every year, the little high school churned out enough kids interested in engineering, architecture, medicine and plumbing to keep the town stocked. And the kids who went away to study literature, art, mathematics and history returned to teach or open a studio and marry the engineers, architects, doctors and plumbers. A few of the council men and women were starting to talk about everyone having the exact same nose and ears. But that was another problem and not one they knew how to fix with internet.

Two things happened the year the town got high-speed internet. First they got internet, brought in by men in blue jumpsuits with a swirled logo on the back. These men were too friendly. They told the town all the stories people believed about its people: they were ghosts (not true), they were illiterate (not true), they didn’t know who the president was (not true), they only ate corn (not true), and they were inbred (the town gave the friendly men that). But these men really were too friendly. They flattered the young ladies who had returned home after four or five years of university to find that not even a plumber remained and they’d have to wait until next summer when the next college graduates came back. These bored young ladies had a lot to talk about in the cafes and bars, on lonely roads away from the canyon. The night the job was finished, one of these ladies whispered something in a friendly man’s ear and an hour later a neighbor saw a blue jumpsuit figure lifting the door of a storage unit.

The second thing happened and no one was prepared. There was a lot of blood. They had to stage an accident and fake a search party before calling the high-speed internet company and saying they’d found a van with the logo, at the bottom of the canyon. No survivors. A few of the townspeople were hysterical. For a month after, nearly everyone was on some kind of anti-anxiety medication. In June, a young woman returned to the town with her psychology degree.

Thank God, the city manager said, You have to help. He pulled Molly into his office and told her what happened. She thought about driving east again, never returning. But the mayor was broken up about all of it. He was afraid. Everyone was walking around with blood on their hands.

Molly thought about it. She’d roomed with a student who studied art therapy. She’d looked at pencil and crayon pictures done by kids caught in wars or inner cities. Maybe the town could draw what they remembered.

They ran out of red and blue in an hour. Everyone got very tired and sad. One old man gave Molly the picture he drew. He’d stolen all the metallic crayons from the tables and made a giant patchwork of gold, silver and copper. His eyes were runny and he sniffed when he talked. But he had an idea. No one would listen to him because – he knocked on his head – but she was psychology graduate, she could say she knew a thing or two, right? Molly nodded and went to the town council with his/her idea.

Count this as the third thing that happened. Every citizen over the age of ten got metal, slim bars the size of a Hershey. One each of gold, silver and copper. That first year, the sculptures were garbage. Only a few turned out a little pretty. Most of the townspeople melted their bars into a teardrop of swirled metal. The edges were sharp. No one was sure what they were supposed to do after making the pieces. Molly leaned into a microphone set up in the park and looked out at the hundreds of men, women and children gathered for what the town council promised as a Day Of Remembering, Mourning & Restoring. Molly tapped the microphone and the squeal of feedback got their attention. She held up her own lumpy metal and said, Let these be a way to honor our experience and grief.

No one clapped. She tried again. Let these remind us not to do that again. The men, women and children held up their own tiny metals and shouted or cried.

At the inventory that year, someone suggested enough bars be set aside for another Day Of Remembering, Mourning & Restoring – only maybe we could call it something different this time. After a decade, the festival held each July was called Metal Honors. A few students left to study metallurgy and sculpture and gave workshops in the months leading up to Metal Honors. The game was to melt down the previous year’s figure and remake it, adding the three new bars.

After fifty years, the town farmed less and worked metal more. Again, they kept their secret. The acres continued to yield gold, silver and copper. Each metal had a different temperament and townspeople swapped each other for their favorites. It became difficult for the town council to propose the inventory be used to send anyone to college. Or to buy updated textbooks. Or to paint stripes down the center of the main road. Or to fix the sewage system. Finally, in a coup, the town council pushed through a measure to insure basic utilities and education would be paid for in perpetuity. Everyone knew the council was right. But the bars of gold, silver and copper were so slim. You could barely add an eyebrow to some of the older honors.

Even so, men women and children continued to gather in the park each July to remake their honors. Eleven-year olds got a little ceremony called First Melt. Everyone in town was marked with scars from one of their Metal Honors. In the cemetery, honors took the place of marble slabs, so you could guess the age of the dead by looking at how heavy their honor was.

It went on like this for another hundred years. The town let their high-speed cables rot. Everyone’s eyes took the same shade of blue. Their skin was translucent, like the friendly men had told them so long ago no one alive remembered: people say you’re all ghosts.


The children began to go deaf. The first child was sick for a month after playing in a cold river. That was why he went deaf. But the other cases came in the warm spring and hot summer months. When adolescents and young adults began to lose their hearing too, doctors hypothesized that microwaves were interrupting synapses in the brain, frequently enough to cause permanent loss. Or maybe it was the genetically modified soybeans. Maybe it was the rinse used on the finished honors. But the children got along okay. Everyone learned enough sign language so that when the older adults also went deaf, they could still order pie at the diner and ask how you were doing. It was nice to have quiet. It fit the landscape, to hear nothing when you stood at the edge of the canyon. To hear nothing but a picture of how you’d use your next honor bars.

Every few years, a high school graduate would still leave the town. One young man spent his PhD reading dense papers on telekinesis. He mistook an old television series for a documentary, two FBI agents digging through conspiracy theories. He decided that this must be the fate of his town, an experiment orchestrated by the government: poison in the water, thought control, invisible and potent energy waves scrambling their senses. He wrote a letter home, to his cousin who understood him best. The envelope was stamped Return To Sender. Blind underlined twice. The town was blind.

Soon, no one left. Deaf and blind, the townspeople touched their way through each day. They turned their yards into gardens, crawled through the rows harvesting meals. During winter they ate dried vegetables and fruits, potatoes stored in basements. No one remembered tiny screens swiped awake, chirping messages, vibrating reminders. No one remembered what birds sounded like or what clouds looked like. So much of the day was at the feet of their honors, touching the metal: tapping, knocking, caressing, hammering, tracing, resting. Their hands took the shape of their honor. They identified one another by the curve of fingers, the cup of palm. Food began to taste the same and then to taste like nothing. They ate to sustain. They ran their tongues over the bumps and grooves of their honors, imagining gold was salt and silver fat, copper sweet. These words – gold, salt, silver, fat, copper, sweet – were like heat shimmers on hot, cracked asphalt, disappearing when they got close enough to almost smell what they almost knew. Most of them accepted this. A few children were born with other memories, so disturbed as they neared their First Melt that parents locked them in rooms before the ceremony. There was no joy in making a child hold a slim bar of gold. No joy in making a child ignite a torch and mix the metals into his first honor.

You couldn’t make a child want his First Melt and after a year of burns, the town council felt their way from house to house, spelling out a new rule in open palms. The next year, any child who did not elect to participate in their First Melt followed a rope, hand over hand, to the canyon. With those children, and the next year’s loss and the year after, touch diminished.

The honors were remade even more elaborate. In the last years of touch, the townspeople molded themselves to their honors, choosing the way they would stand or sit or lay, making the space between skin and metal as whisper as possible. The oldest townspeople were reminded of another closeness, fireworks in their bellies, but even that memory was borrowed from generations already dead. No babies were born. They had no memory except for a faint slip of smooth, cold.

For another fifty years, they lived like that. Their bodies made heat, detected by drones. The honors sent up particles identifying gold, silver and copper, also detected by drones. No one in the town knew men and women were seated at a table hundreds of miles away, watching the townspeople on screen and asking each other if what they were seeing was real. In the last days, mouths moved but no sound came. Hands touched but no message went up an arm. A few of the youngest had dreams of blue and red, but no words or thoughts to explain, no sense of needing to make sense when they rested back against their honors. They didn’t know if they lay against their honor or a cement wall. They ate meals of air. The drones went lower and no one looked up.


In the very last days, a caravan of researchers arrived. Men and women from around the globe applied for spots on a team that would go to the town and learn these people. Preparation was extensive. Once the team went in, no one knew what would happen, how the delicately held group might react. News broadcasts covered the team as those sent to Mars had been covered: dossiers posted online, interview clips with each man or woman. For months before the researchers parked their labs at the edge of the canyon, and for months after, the town was all anyone talked about. The last unknown people had been obliterated, purposefully, for the riches on their islands. There had been talk of the same, for this town. But a few academics studying the first footage said that if it was the metal the world wanted, it was worth waiting for the researchers to study the group first. No one had seen anything like it. Stealing the figures before taking notes and learning one of the few unlearned things on the earth – no, we hadn’t come to that yet.

The researchers called the town Edge, after the painted word visible on a sign at the town limit. The town was Canyon Ledge, once, and the abandoned school still had steel letters tacked to its yellow brick: Canyon Ledge High School. But researchers called the place Edge and named the people edges. The first dispatches from Edge were most popular, and by counts, the rest of the world had seen these pale ghosts. They moved as if submerged. After a month of watching one edge, a researched named Dana posted that the edges were like test subjects dunked in water matched to body temperature. If edges could defy gravity, she guessed they wouldn’t know if they were walking on a floor or ceiling.

It was impossible to ask.

And there were enough researchers there to keep rein on ethics. But a few hypothesized that edges were a kind of super race, so advanced they were mentally and physically beyond the bounds of earth, unconcerned with all material possessions, a kind of sainthood, if anyone still believed in sainthood. For a week or so people around the world decided to go mute. Inherent need for solitude got its due. Among teenagers, edge imitation became a game. But the researchers watching saw the initial appeal of the edges’ monastic living wore thin. They produced nothing. There was no joy. No emotion at all. Dana got permission to touch an edge. The medical staff prepared a quarantine.

The morning Dana was going to touch an edge, she suited up in a white material nearly matching the color of an edge, then decided to wear her own comfortable clothes. She walked quickly to a house where a female edge hid in a corner, curled next to a massive metal figure. The figure held Dana’s attention. She directed a photographer to focus on the intricate designs pressed into the gold, a swirling pattern made of silver. She’d seen the pattern before, on other figures. It had to mean something. The edge herself was curled at the base of the metal, one hand cupped over a lump that might have represented a foot or genitalia, Dana wasn’t sure and edge wouldn’t move her hand aside. For an hour, Dana sat next to the edge, only watching and occasionally whispering to the crew accompanying her. She wasn’t sure how to touch this edge, if one body part was more respectful than another. The edge barely breathed, exhaling a floral scent. If Dana looked hard enough, she could see the shapes of the edge’s internal organs, the beat of a heart under spindly ribs.

One of the photographers shifted his weight. Are we gonna get on with this?

Fine, Dana said. Are you filming?

She reached out and touched the edge’s shoulder. It was like touching a bird, a hollow living thing. Was that all then? Was that what the edges felt like? The edge hadn’t moved at all. The visible heart beat didn’t quicken.

For the cameras back at the lab, Dana said the experience was spiritual. She had touched a refined being, so secure in its existence that Dana herself hadn’t disrupted the meditation. After the camera cut, she turned to another researcher and asked if he’d ever read anything about meditation, did anyone do that anymore? The other researcher wasn’t sure. Prayer was rare as well. They didn’t know what they were looking at, these edges lost in their own spirits. They used words long ago deemed anti-intellectual. A few of the researchers on site and many more around the world wondered if this was what faith at its purest looked like.

But Dana suspected not. She returned to the female edge several times a day and found the edge unmoved. She went alone one afternoon and sat next to the edge, listening for a sound like religion. Singing or angel hums, something that would explain the complete stillness of the edge. There was nothing. Dana’s stomach turned. She made it out the front door and threw up, walked back to her lab and wrote notes in a shaky hand. I think they are no better than animals, she said to another researcher.

How can you say that?

Look at them. Dana pointed at an edge who plastered himself to a tall copper obelisk. And then at another who stood motionless with her hands at her sides.

Well don’t say that on camera, the other researcher said. Universities are organizing trips here. People think they’re like Siddhartha or Jesus.

Look at them, Dana said again, They’re nothing like Siddhartha or Jesus. They’re idiots.

The other researcher tilted his head and squinted. He asked if she needed a break, maybe a trip back to the city for weekend. Dana shook her head, apologized for her unprofessional attitude. The other researcher said, Remember we’re here to study, not judge.

Right. Dana nodded. But the female edge made her crazy. When Dana was a girl, she’d found a religious text in her father’s library. It wasn’t a title she recognized and that surprised her since her father was one of the leaders in text conversion, ensuring all texts were made into easily shared files so that the whole world could know the same. She read the book secretly and wasn’t sure what to think after. Some of the characters were the same as others she’d read about, in other books about what people were like a long, long time ago, when they did things like sing and pray.

This female edge had none of the peace Dana expected a saint to possess. Instead, the edge opened her mouth in a pink yawn, worked her jaw a little like she might say something, but nothing came. There was an absence of everything in this marble-fleshed edge. It infuriated Dana in a way she didn’t understand. The edge neither acknowledged nor dismissed Dana. It was as if Dana were the ghost instead.

One morning, Dana got up and went directly to the female edge, crouched down and screamed. The edge didn’t flinch or blink or turn away. Dana got hot. She reached out and grabbed the edge by her wrist, wrenching the female’s grip on the metal figure. For a split second, Dana sensed a reaction. She replaced the edge’s hand on the metal, then pulled it away again. Same. Again. Same. One more time, but after Dana removed the edge’s hand, she let go. The edge did not lift her hand to find the metal figure. No part of the edge moved at all, after Dana scooted away and settled against the wall to watch. The edge sat motionless, with her cupped palm resting on her thigh where Dana let it fall. The giant metal figure was inches from the edge, but the female made no move to touch where the surface was worn to a bright shine.

Dana was ready to go when the edge tilted back her head and worked her jaw. Dana watched for a moment. She said to the edge, People think you’re enlightened. Dana said it with a bitterness she hadn’t tasted before, contempt.

It only got worse.

The rest of the world wanted to hear about the higher minds of this lost population. Dana rolled her eyes when her superiors asked what observation supported this idea, that the edges were somehow advanced. The researchers who’d vied for a spot on the team, who’d felt certain this field study would enhance their careers or catapult them into the academic fame occupied by economists and war historians – these same researchers wanted to leave. No one said this out loud, but they were all sure this assignment would dead-end in a month when the world full of edge imitators standing still in the middle of rooms would wake up and realize what they really needed were the tons of gold, silver and copper molded into the most elaborate and hideous forms.

After two months, when the team’s video updates were sporadic and the world’s attention was turning again to a reef of plastic trash spanning the Pacific, Dana proposed the team remove the metal figures from the town and see what happened. They were bored. They called for military support in case the edges possessed a power sparked by separation from their figures, but Dana doubted anything violent would happen. She didn’t tell her fellow researchers she’d been tormenting her female edge for two weeks, dragging her an inch or so away from the metal figure each day so that now, even if the edge extended her arm, she wouldn’t feel the cold hulk of gold. Dana couldn’t tell if the edge was actually tormented or not, but Dana liked to think so, in a way that made her stomach turn, in a way that made her think of what she’d learned in a college course about twentieth century wars.

What happened was just what Dana privately predicted. Strong men and heavy machines were brought in to take away the figures, sometimes knocking down a wall for access. Before their removal, each figure was measured and photographed. They were made of material too valuable to plant in glass cases in the world’s museums, but no one on the team thought it was right to send the figures off to melt anonymously. The town was full of gold, silver and copper. A cemetery of squat markers, basements of scraps, a few sheds of half melted bars. And in each standing house, a giant figure filling half a room or more, an unmoving edge pasted to the metal.

The researchers were gentle with the edges. Not like Dana had become, roughly dragging and dropping the hollow-boned female. Dana felt badly about that now, watching the other researchers coo and cradle the edges removed from their figures, gathering the town’s ghostly population in the park, laying them gently on spread blankets under tree shade. Dana’s edge was one of the last to be removed and she went into the house alone. She didn’t want anyone to see how far away from the figure Dana had moved her edge. It was cruel, even if the edge didn’t know.

But the edge knew. Dana got close and saw that the female’s translucent skin had turned grayer, like dirty linen. Dana squatted and arranged the edge’s limbs to carry her out like a child. She picked up her edge and looked at the breast for a heartbeat. There was one, weaker than before. This is what would happen to the others, Dana knew. The edges would fade. Dana felt a kind of sorrow then, knowing she’d done this to an unseeing, unspeaking being. She carried her edge first to the metal figure and placed the edge’s hand on the shining gold, just for a moment. The photographers came in then and asked Dana to stay like that, took a series of pictures that became iconic of the Edge research, the tenderness with which the researchers handled the town’s population.

Dana could never look at the photos.

After the metal was removed, for melting and redistribution, to be spun into tiny wires or pressed into circuit board mazes or laced into human veins, the researchers watched the edges die. No one was sure what they’d learned. The swirled pattern found on nearly every figure matched a logo belonging to a high-speed internet company, when there was a need for underground cables to connect one person to another. The team gathered as many clues as they could – rotting newspapers and photographs, dishes, molds scraped from ancient appliances, tubes of well water – and sent the samples back to labs for analysis. But everyone had the sense that once the edges died, the town would be allowed to fold in on itself. A couple of the medical researchers suggested the edges come into the world, live in an institution designed to care for their bodies. But with the world’s attention shifted again, this time to a riot on the moon colony that threatened international peace on earth, the group of Edge researchers used a word that hadn’t been often uttered in recent decades: humane.

As in, it would be more human to allow the edges to die where they’d lived. As in, perhaps it hadn’t been humane to take away what appears now to have been their whole sustenance. Because it felt wrong to abandon the town before its last edge died, a few researchers elected to stay. Dana was one of them, walking the rows of edges laying as they’d been placed, pink mouths opening for air. The edges got sores and to make up for what she’d already done, Dana turned the frail bodies from one side to the next.

When an edge died, it gave off no scent. Their skin turned a darker gray, and moisture left the body. For the few weeks it took for the edges to finish dying, Dana dug shallow graves and took long walks away from Edge. She looked up and saw the mountains on the other side of the deep canyon. One afternoon she kicked a clod of dirt in a field and turned over a chunk of gold the size of an egg. She put it in her pocket and told no one, and did not return to that field. Many years later, when she was interviewed about her Edge research, Dana was tempted to show the young historian the chunk of gold she’d scrubbed clean in a lab basin and hidden in her bag when she’d left Edge. For decades the chunk of gold stayed wrapped in a sock at the back of her underwear drawer, a secret she could almost keep from herself.

She didn’t touch the gold anymore. She had, at first, a little curious if she could become an edge herself, if the metal contained sucking power, pulling herself from herself and leaving a hollow still version. She wondered if she’d feel enlightened or dead, but after a year of occasionally holding the gold egg, moving it from one palm to the next, she’d put in an old sock. Even so, she found her palms cupping at the memory of the egg’s existence in the other room and the historian noticed her rubbing her hands. She smiled and shrugged, said, Arthritis maybe, or the cold.