One Syllable Flash Fiction

This is fun and challenging, taken from What If? by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter:

Write a short story using words of only one syllable.

Sometimes I need a kick in my WP pants. Yesterday’s pantoum was a kick. This single syllable exercise is a good kick. I decided to write a story idea I thought of last week: an art student pays someone to complete his portfolio. When I get an idea like that I try not to make the whole story in my mind. I need to keep a lot unanswered or the writing is forced, boring. I turned this idea over for a few days. This morning I decided to write it with the above constraint: single syllable words.

There is a lot you cannot say when you’re only allowed a monosyllabic vocabulary. My story changed. I couldn’t elaborate some things. I wanted to say she can’t draw people. Two syllables. Nix.

I’m going to keep working on this. It’s tough. It feels a bit like working your way up to fifty push-ups just to say you can. (I can’t. I wish).

Here you go:

I go to the same beach each day. I take my pad and pens in a tote bag and sit on the same bench and draw the same stretch of sand. I didn’t plan this when I came in June. It was too hot but I walked to the beach each day when I woke, to draw and think. I sweat a lot. My hand slips on the page. My days smudge. But it gets me out of the flat.

I try to make the shape of the sand new. The sea and sky too. I try to see what is new from last time I sat on the bench.

I don’t draw men, their wives or kids. I don’t draw packs of boys on bikes. I don’t draw the man there to fish, up to his thigh in the gulf, a whip arc of line lost on the flat sky. I leave white space where they should be, ghosts on my page.

One day a kid comes up to me and asks can he see that. I tilt my pad so he can see. He looks from the sketch to what’s in front of us. You’re good, he says. I am, but don’t say.

I am very good at this sand, most of the time. I could show him work that didn’t turn out but don’t.

You sell this?

I squint up at him, shake my head. No.

Well, would you? I’d take this. He lifts the top page. Or this.

I don’t know, I say.

I’ll give you ten.

For this?

Yeah.

I think. It’s mine. Each page a day here. I have two more pads at home, full. I can’t, I say.

He gets mad. More then, he says. I don’t care. How much?

I write down a five, a zero. I can’t breathe. A rich friend said price high, you got to think that way. The kid shrugs, counts out the bills. I tear the page and give it to him. He folds it in half, then in half once more. I want it back.

Can you draw fruit? If I come here next week, can you have fruit done? Same price.

I nod. He leaves with my day. I draw it all, two hours off now. The ghosts find new spots. I add red and orange, burn the sand.

I Love You I Never Stopped, Take 2

Yesterday I scrolled through my blog archive to find a few unfinished prompts or exercises. Remember this? I’m not reposting the PostSecret postcard because when I sat down to write around

I love you
I never stopped
Call me
Lets make
a crazy
life together

I kept the note in mind, but dismissed the picture. Also, when I imagine my narrator writing this note, she has different penmanship and puts the apostrophe in “let’s.” Perhaps if I were true to the postcard, I’d write a narrator who prints and doesn’t think about punctuation. I’m not promising I’ll write this postcard prompt again, but maybe…

We were supposed to save everything for marriage. I remember Mom walking down the basement steps and seeing you and me snuggled on the couch. After you left, she asked if we’d kissed. I looked at my feet. “Hana,” she said, “You only get one honeymoon.” The next time you pulled me close, I wondered if that was too far. I was inches from everything, sitting next to you and watching a PBS documentary about Rwanda. Your hand burned a print on my thigh. You said we should go do something to help.

After dates, Mom asked how my honeymoon was. “Still there,” I’d say.

Once, you asked to listen to my heart and pressed your head against my left breast. I couldn’t breathe. I felt our restraint.

“Do you think we’ll get married one day?” I asked.

“Yes,” you said. I inched my sweater up so you could look at my belly and bra. You saw this when we swam in the summer, but this was winter. A little noise came out your mouth. I heard a creak upstairs and pulled my sweater down. Our youth group leader said a long kiss was hard to stop.

When we kissed, I was always thinking is this too far?

We had to let our universities know. We both cried. I hadn’t been accepted at Marquette. Every weekend, we promised. I missed you too much. At winter break you took me out for dinner and we both knew we couldn’t do another semester of texting, driving home every weekend.

I loved you more, after, when you still emailed me and called. I typed and deleted messages back. I replayed your voice, but never called. I didn’t go home that spring and when I saw you over the summer, you gave me a hug. I loved you more then, for your kindness.

I loved you more when the first boy I dated my sophomore year unhooked my bra with one hand and grinned. “Practice,” he said.

Remember we were going to Africa, to be what the church is supposed to be. We were going to take care of widows and orphans, feed the hungry. Remember we were going to learn Spanish and go to Ecuador and teach sustainable farming. Remember we were going to go to college together and spend junior year in France. Remember you were going to propose to me there and we’d get married after graduation and take my nursing degree and your teaching degree to jungles and deserts and mountains.

We knew all of this, sitting too close on the couch. We said it. We felt something as close to the Spirit as I’ve ever felt.

I’m a nurse. I emailed Doctors Without Borders. I’m going.

Come with me.

Sit too close. I have a little honeymoon left. I think of us, seventeen or eighteen, and how careful we were. It was too far to kiss long, but we were ready to fly to a country cut open by genocide.

I love you. I never stopped.

Revision: We Want Tone

I cut just over a third of the words from the previous draft of “We Want Tone.” I like to practice revision on pieces I’m not radically invested in. Sometimes, the drafting and revising of a so-so work gives me a piece I’m more likely to continue exploring or revising. Even if I eventually abandon a practice piece, the practice remains worthwhile. I spent about an hour cutting words from the following and re-ordering some of the dialogue. I also made small changes to format.


Kelly leaves the gym dressed in the spandex tights and moisture-wicking shirt she put on that morning. She’s late to meet two prospective clients, who wave her over at the coffee shop. Jill nudges an iced latte across the table and points to Kelly’s shirt. Strong Is The New Sexy. “I love that,” says Jill, “I wanna be the new sexy.”

“Me too,” Abi says.

Kelly smiles, takes out her tablet, swiping the screen to open

Jill and Abi

“I really need this,” says Jill, “I feel like a box after two kids. No waist.” She runs her palms ribs to hips. “Forty-eight kilos, but I want a waist again.”

“We want tone,” Abi says.

Jill and Abi
Tone

“And I want a butt,” Jill says, “I used to dance. But I want a butt like yours.”

Kelly laughs. “Well, squats work.”

“I have a butt,” Abi says, “And a belly.” She takes handfuls of her stomach rolls and laughs. “I’m mostly in this for health. She suggested it.”

“If we do it together, we’ll actually workout,” Jill says.

Health
Routine

Kelly types, looks up. “I can meet twice a week. We’ll use bodyweight and progress to small weights.”

“How long is a session?” Abi asks.

“One hour.”

“I’m gonna die after ten minutes,” says Jill, “I’ll be like, begging to stop.”

“What about food? Do you do any nutritional consultation?” Abi asks.

“We saw your grilled chicken on Instagram,” Jill says.

“Yeah, we looked you up. You eat really healthy,” says Abi.

Kelly isn’t surprised they looked her up. “I can give you a few recipes. Meats and veg.”

“I love love love veg,” Jill says, “Just so expensive. I buy frozen.”

“I prefer raw,” Kelly says, “But, yeah, expensive. Especially organic.”

“Oh my God,” Jill says, “I bought a little tray of organic blueberries at Sultan and paid like twenty-three dollars. Kids ate them like candy.”

“I can’t afford organic,” says Abi.

“Co-ops are good for produce,” Kelly says.

“Yes, totally,” Jill says.

“I started making green smoothies for breakfast,” says Abi.

“Yummy,” says Kelly.

“I eat a couple eggs too.”

“I thought egg was bad,” Jill says.

“No. Good,” says Kelly.

“They’ll be bad again. I read leeks cause cancer. Everything is bad.”

“Except booze,” Abi says and the two friends laugh. “You should see her drink,” Abi says.

Jill holds up her hands. “Guilty. Which is why I so need this.”

“Right,” says Kelly, “Let’s figure out days.”

“Anything,” says Jill, “I mean, forty-eight kilos means nothing if I’m not healthy. I want a waist.”

“Having a waist doesn’t mean healthy,” Kelly says.

“So I get healthy and get a waist.”

“Sure, that can happen.”

“And a butt.”

“And a butt.” Kelly adds to her note.

Nutrition
Waist
Butt

Abi pulls her phone from her bag and opens the calendar. “I can do Saturdays.”

“And Mondays,” Jill says, “Sevenish okay?”

“Sure. You’ll go to bed tired.”

“Good,” Abi says, “I can’t fall asleep.”

“Okay,” says Kelly, “I’ll probably need you to move furniture to have enough space.”

“No problem,” says Jill, “Hubby can pick up stuff on base too. What do we need?”

“Just mats for now.”

“Okay. I’m so excited. My body just – I’m gonna die.” Jill finishes her iced latte.

Gonna Die

Kelly closes her tablet, smiles, holds up her empty coffee. “Thanks for this. I’ll see you ladies Saturday at seven.”

“Awesome. I’ll text directions,” Jill says.

“Awesome,” says Kelly.

We Want Tone

This is me making use of an overheard conversation. I made up names (I didn’t know the names of the women anyway) and kept my notebook open as I wrote the following scene. I pulled a few direct quotes, but allowed the characters their own syntax too. This is the challenging part of fictionalizing overheard dialogue. You’re tempted to stick to the original, but straying allows better practice at writing dialogue. Combine characters, switch genders, cut chunks, add new lines, give verbal tics.

This exercise (scene? vignette? flash fiction?) prompted an idea. I want to see what happens when I remove the “___ says” and leave it largely to the reader to sort who says what. Can I write a piece that is only unattributed dialogue? I just want to see what it looks like. That said, the following is riddled with “___ says.”


 

Kelly leaves the gym she works at still dressed in the dark spandex tights and moisture-wicking shirt she put on that morning. She’s late to meet two prospective clients. They’re already at the coffee shop, sitting in the back. Jill nudges an iced latte across the table. “Skim, because I didn’t know what you preferred,” Jill says. Kelly shrugs, takes a drink. “Thank you.” She pulls her tablet from her tote bag and swipes the screen, opens a new note.

Jill and Abi

“I really need this,” says Jill, “I feel like a box after two kids. No waist. Look at this.” She half stands and runs her palms rib cage to hips. She sits and laughs. “Forty-eight kilos, but I want a waist again. I do crunches and I can see a little cut, but…”

“We want tone,” Abi says.

Kelly types Tone under their names. “Aside from your waist, any particular part of the body you want to tone?”

“I want a butt,” Jill says, “I used to dance. Watch me, when we start doing squats and lunges, my thighs will be like, so big. But I want a butt too. Like yours.”

Kelly has glutes. “Squats will give you a butt.”

“I have a butt,” Abi says, “And a belly.” She takes handfuls of her stomach rolls and laughs. “I’m mostly in this for health. Change, you know. She suggested it.”

“I really need a routine. I need to workout,” Jill says.

Health
Routine

Kelly types. She looks up and smiles at each woman in turn. “I think I can help. We can meet two or three times a week. We will work with bodyweight movements and exercise first and progress to small weights.”

“How long is a session?” Abi asks.

“One hour.”

“I’m gonna die after ten minutes. Watch me, I’ll be like, begging to stop,” says Jill.

“You’ll be fine,” Kelly says.

“Do you do any nutritional consultation?” Abi asks.

“We can talk about food. Protein is important when you are exercising.”

“We saw your grilled chicken on Instagram,” Jill says.

“Yeah, we were looking you up. You eat really healthy,” says Abi.

Kelly isn’t surprised they looked her up. “I can give you a few recipes.”

“I love veg. Love love love veg,” Jill says, “Just so expensive here. I buy a lot of frozen. Steam it so the nutrients don’t leech.”

“I prefer raw,” Kelly says, “But, yeah, expensive. Especially organic.”

“Oh my God,” Jill says, “I bought a little tray of organic blueberries at Sultan and paid like twenty-three dollars. Not really, but at least eight or nine. Kids ate them like candy.”

“I can’t afford everything organic. Some things. I buy organic granola,” says Abi.

“I heard co-ops are good for produce,” Kelly says.

“Yes, totally. Go to co-ops,” Jill says.

“I started making green smoothies,” says Abi, “With kale.”

“Mmm,” says Kelly, “Good start to the day.”

“Great start. I eat a couple eggs too.”

“That’s good.”

“I thought egg was bad,” Jill says.

“No. Good,” says Kelly.

Jill laughs. “They’ll be bad again. I read that leeks can cause cancer. Everything is bad.”

“Except booze,” Abi says and the two friends laugh. “You should see her drink,” Abi says. Jill holds up her hands and says, “Guilty. Which is why we need you. I so need this.”

“Right,” says Kelly, “So let’s figure out what works for us. You need mats. I’ll set up a routine you can do with or without shoes.”

“Stinky feet!” Jill pokes Abi.

“It helps if we have room big enough to stretch your arms out side to side and not touch. I work with some clients who move their furniture for sessions. Is that okay?”

“Sure. Yeah. We need this. Look, I have no waist!” Jill half stands again. “I mean, I weigh forty-eight kilos and that means nothing if I’m not healthy.”

“Having a waist doesn’t mean you’re healthy,” Kelly says.

“So I get healthy and get a waist.”

“Sure, that can happen.”

“And a butt.”

“And a butt.”

“I just want to get in shape,” Abi says. She pulls her phone from her bag and opens the calendar. “I can do Saturdays.”

“Saturdays work,” Jill says, “And Mondays, I think.”

“What time?”

“Evening. Sevenish?”

Kelly types Nutrition. She checks her calendar. “Seven or seven-thirty works. You’ll go to bed tired.”

“I need more sleep. Maybe this will help,” Abi says.

“Probably will. Do you want a third session or just two?”

Jill and Abi look at one another. “I really need this,” Jill says. Abi shrugs. Jill looks at Kelly. “Can you squeeze a third in?”

“Wednesdays are open.”

“Okay. I’m so excited. You’ll see, my body just – muscle memory. I’m gonna die but I’ll look good.” Jill finishes her iced latte.

Kelly types Gonna Die. She closes her tablet, stands. Her shirt says Strong Is The New Sexy and Jill loves this. “I hadn’t even noticed,” Jill says, “I was looking at your arms and thinking how big your biceps are. Didn’t even read the shirt.”

“Hope for me,” Abi says.

Kelly smiles, holds up her empty coffee. “Thanks for this. I’ll see you ladies Saturday at seven.”

“Awesome. I’ll text directions,” Jill says.

“Awesome,” says Kelly.

Flash Fiction: Only Here. Only Now.

I am having fun getting my WP pages in each day! Here is flash fiction pulled from a Lucille Clifton poem. And because I’m in Prague, working that city into my pieces too.

Erica read “the mississippi river empties into the gulf” while sitting in her residence hall lobby, waiting for a boy from her Eng 210 class. She wanted him to see her reading poetry and ask. She wanted to look up and sigh, close the book and stand. She wanted to say, “Shall we?” and let him open the door. She read the poem dozens of times, waiting. Finally, she closed the book and texted him: ??? At the exam, he apologized, said have a good time abroad.

Prague wasn’t as cold as Minneapolis in January, but it was darker. She went to class and found a cafe she liked and finally quit thinking about the boy when she met an Australian who made her try Vegemite. By March, Erica decided she couldn’t leave when the term ended. She would stay through summer at least.

The tourists came – packs from Scandinavian and Asian countries – and backpackers, but the Australian left. She got the tattoo in July after stopping along the Vltava River, suddenly reminded of the murk of her own Mississippi. But her river was wider and swifter. Erica thought of the poem and the boy. She thought of the lonely first weeks in Prague, before she met the Australian, and started to cry, staring at the Vltava. She turned away, walking uphill toward her apartment.

The tattoo place had a yellow sign out front and steps that led to a small basement room. Erica was hungry and tired, but knew she had to put the Mississippi on her body, sorry she’d stayed away for as long as she had. But when asked to write the word, she wrote the last two lines of the poem instead, chose ink the color of her freckles and pointed to the inside of her left wrist.

whispering mistakenly:
only here. only now.

Multiple Choice

When I was kid I read the Choose Your Own Adventure series. I didn’t fall in love with the books themselves but with the idea that I could go back to page 49 and decide to turn left instead of right. This may have completely screwed up my perspective on decision-making. Real life does not allow for so much page-flipping. But if Choose Your Own Adventure messed with my concept of linear living, the series also revealed a storytelling truth: You can go back and end it differently.

Isn’t “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood a kind of commentary on storytelling flexibility?

I’m not giving a complete analysis here. Not at all. I like the story though. The last time I read the piece I thought about Choose Your Own Adventure plus Multiple Choice. I want to try writing a multiple choice piece that tells a few stories, that opens characters to left and right at once. I want to write that because I can’t live it like that. I want the chance to go left and then the chance to go right, without left wrecking my chance at right.

Times like this, I see the appeal of reincarnation.

What I tried today is a baby practice of the kind of form I’d like to experiment with. I wrote a five questions multiple choice test. It goes nowhere, for all the directions it contains.

Please fill in the corresponding answer bubble completely.

  1. When your wife tells you she’s pregnant
    a. Cry because she’s crying and it will mask your panic
    b. Openly panic because the economy is shit
    c. Rejoice for children are blessings and your quiver is three shy of full
    d. Secretly hope it’s a boy this time
  2. Offered a promotion at work, in exchange for your sleep
    a. Take it knowing the raise will cover requisite gallons of Starbucks
    b. Do the math on minimum hours sleep necessary
    c. Realize your sleep is well in the red anyway
    d. Ask if refusing means you’re magically given eight hours a night
  3. The vacation you plan for your family is
    a. A road trip to your birthplace, calling it family history
    b. Two weeks of camping, mosquito bites and burned wieners
    c. One barely affordable trip to Disneyland because they’ll love you more later
    d. Staycation!
  4. After you leave your in-laws you
    a. Are silent the entire two-hour drive home
    b. Realize you drank too much to drive and hand the keys to your spouse
    c. Pray thanksgiving at marrying into such a lovely bunch
    d. Hope the kids appreciate your sacrifice
  5. On Saturday morning you have two early morning hours to yourself. You
    a. Get on the bike you’ve been meaning to ride all summer
    b. Spend thirty minutes thinking how the kids never sleep this late
    c. Make coffee and drink it while it’s still hot
    d. Go online to read the Times but get lost googling coworkers

Go write your own multiple choice test about anything. Have fun making things up.


 

P.S. Massive pain to format multiple choice on WordPress. Any ideas?

 

Mr. O’Grady’s End Of The Year Speech

I like Postsecret. Sometimes the secrets posted prompt a story start. For the sake of a go-to prompt, I may make Sunday Secrets one of my WP exercises. Here is the postcard and my story start:

8.ogrady

I like Mr. O’Grady. He doesn’t try too hard. He probably doesn’t try hard enough. I’ve had him two years in a row for history class because I flunked sophomore year almost entirely. The only class I passed last year was Small Engines because I built one for a final project, to show I’d learned something. I didn’t really learn anything except that all the adults in your life go batshit crazy when you quit trying. Mom put me in counseling and I kept a journal and when junior year started, every teacher pulled me aside within the first month to say they believed in me, except Mr. O’Grady. He asked me how my summer was and when I didn’t say anything, he said, “Yeah, me too.”

By mid year I had a C average and Mom was trying to negotiate credit recovery so I could graduate on time. Everyone was really sensitive about how I’d feel if I had to stay in high school for a fifth year, even though I said forty million times I didn’t care if I had to stay for a fifth year.

“You say that now,” Mom said.

“I mean it,” I said.

“Okay, well at least meet with Mrs. Kubicek.”

Mrs. Kubicek is the junior-senior counselor, though I’m technically a sophomore until next week when the report cards come out. I did meet with her and said I’d rather stay an extra year than spend every weekend and all of summer doing online classes. She sighed and asked if there was a teacher I would enjoy working with, someone who might oversee my credit recovery. I said Mr. O’Grady and she pecked that onto her tablet. Later that week Mr. O’Grady asked me to stay after class.

“You want to work on some credit recovery?”

“Not really.”

He rocked back on his heels. Two years ago he’d gotten divorced and grown his hair out, but it didn’t look good. He was always putting his hair in a ponytail and then taking it out, smoothing it down again. “Then tell Mrs. Kubicek no. No sense doing this for them if you’re not into it.”

That’s what I thought. So I said no and Mom, who’d been meeting with her own counselor and must have been advised to let me choose my path, didn’t argue. She drank two glasses of wine and went to bed, but she didn’t say I had to graduate on time. I know it bothers her. My cousins are overachievers. We get emails with pictures of Troy at the state track meet or Tina playing first violin. One time I told Mom to take a picture of me sleeping on the couch and we laughed.

Today is my last final exam, in Mr. O’Grady’s class. I studied until midnight and then ate breakfast before coming to school. Eating breakfast is supposed to help you concentrate. I feel good. I have three sharpened pencils and a bottle of water. I’m surprised by how much I know. The multiple choice is easy. The short answer is easy. The essay is a bitch. But I finish five minutes before bell and turn the test in, face down. I sit in my desk and wait for bell.

Mr. O’Grady walks to the front of the room and clears his throat. “I wanted to say something to you,” he says. There are three minutes left between us and summer break. “You guys have been great this year. I think you should know that. Seventh period has made my day.” He takes his ponytail out and runs a hand through his hair. “Sometimes I hate coming in to school. A few of you know what I mean.” A couple of us laugh. “But I’d get to seventh period and think I’d made it and you’d come in and humor me for fifty minutes and we’d all get to go home after. I guess I want you to know that if I can get to seventh period every day, you can too.” The bell rings then and a few girls get up. Mr. O’Grady holds up his hand and says, “Wait. I also want you to know something I wish I’d figured out when I was your age.” The girls sit down again. “You matter more than you think.” We wait for minute but he doesn’t say anything else. The class starts to leave. A few kids say thanks to Mr. O’Grady. I’m on my way out when he says, “Kevin,” and I turn. “You do,” he says.

 

In The Back Of The Closet

Prompt taken from A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves.

Her mother wanted a particular sweater. Ruth knew the one, an old cable-knit pullover her father had worn until his own death eight years ago. Now her mother wanted it, to lay under or hold.

It was the first coherent sentence her mother had spoken in days. Her eyes were focused when she said to Ruth, “I want your father’s sweater.” Ruth remembered coming home from a high school dance decades before, crying into that sweater because her boyfriend had broken things off. Her father was sturdy but patted Ruth’s back gently while her mother went to the kitchen to make tea.

“Okay, Mom. I’ll go.” Ruth told the nurses she’d be back in an hour. She was pretty sure she knew where the sweater was, at the back of her parents’ closet, in a box of her father’s things.

She sat parked in the driveway longer than she meant to, listening to the clicks and pings of the cooling engine. She called her husband to tell him where she was, in case he stopped by the hospice on his lunch break and wondered. She sat with her phone in her lap, looking at the closed garage door. Then she flipped down the visor and looked in the mirror. Ruth was always seeing her mother now, in her own glances.

Her parent’s bedroom was spare, smaller than the room they’d given her. She opened the closet and parted the hangers of her mother’s blouses and dresses. On the floor at the back was a cardboard box she set on the bed and opened. The sweater was folded on top. Ruth held it to her face, closed her eyes. All week she’d swallowed lumps, opened her eyes wide, tilted her head back and blinked  furiously because there wasn’t time to cry. Her husband and the nurses told her it was okay but she only shook her head, turned away, or excused herself to the bathroom.

Now she was alone and wanted to cry but couldn’t. She set the sweater aside and looked in the box, picked up a rubber-banded stack of letters with her parents’ handwriting on the envelopes. There were a few photographs she hadn’t seen before, one of her impossibly young parents squinting into the sun, and another of a baby she guessed was herself but on the back, in her mother’s handwriting, Paul.

Ruth took the sweater back to the hospice and laid it over her mother so the soft collar touched her mother’s cheek. She kissed her mother’s forehead and then sat. She’d left the box open on her parents’ bed. Next week or the week after, Ruth would read the letters, look more closely at Paul. But this moment was complete enough. She leaned forward and watched her mother breathe and sleep.

A Single Set of Circumstances

The first creative writing course I took in college used an early edition of What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. After college, I returned to the book only occasionally. My stories were terrible but I kept writing , unguided. When I began teaching creative writing to high school students, I found the third edition of What If? and have used the prompts to draft and revise my own work since.

Here is one I love:

Write five mini-stories (limit: 200 words each) to account for a single event or set of circumstances, 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.

When I use this prompt in the classroom, we make a long list of situations. A year ago, a student offered

Three teenagers in a gas station

And I wrote five mini-stories. I titled each after towns I knew in Wisconsin. This week I zipped through a revision of each piece. I like the idea that a series of mini-stories could stand as a whole piece. My five are not strong enough to warrant that yet, but the point is: I’m practicing revision. And enjoying the practice!

Below, are two of the pieces. Read only the revisions or take a look at the drafts too, to see changes.

(Revision) The Pitstop
The joke is the whole town is a giant truckstop. North-south and east-west interchanges make a cross of cheap motels, gas stations and a Super Wal-mart. Mike, Jessie and Jennifer started hanging out at the Pitstop their freshman year. They made friends with Delores and Mary who called Mike, Jessie and Jennifer “young things” and made up for burnt coffee with complimentary pie. The five of them, and whichever trucker cared to weigh in, shot the shit.

At some point in the evening, Delores would step out for a cigarette and then let Mary have her turn. “This place was better when we could smoke,” Mary said. Delores coughed and pointed at the three young things. She said, “We’re saving their young lungs.” Mike said he liked a little gravel in the voice and the two waitresses laughed like it was the best joke they’d heard.

When Mike turned eighteen, he stopped at the Pitstop’s front counter, showed his license and bought a pack of Marlboros. At the back counter, when it was time for Delores to go have her smoke, Mike asked to join her. “You’re a baby,” Delores said. Mike shrugged. They stood in the damp alley next to a Dumpster. Delores offered her lighter and Mike sucked a lungful of smoke, coughed. Delores didn’t laugh or look away. When Mike quit coughing, he looked at her, his eyes watering, and said, “Don’t tell.” Delores took a long drag of her own, held it for a moment, exhaled in a slow stream. “Tell what?”

(Draft) Tomah, Wisconsin
The whole town is a giant truck stop. That’s the joke. North-south and east-west interchanges make a cross of cheap motels, gas stations and a Super Wal-mart. When they were freshmen, Mike, Jessie and Jennifer started hanging out at The Pitstop on Friday nights when the rest of the school was at a football or basketball game. They made friends with Delores and Mary who called Mike, Jessie and Jennifer “young things” and made up for burnt coffee with complimentary pie. The five of them, and whichever trucker cared to weigh in, shot the shit. At some point in the evening, Delores would step out for a cigarette, return to the counter and let Mary have her turn. “This place was better when we could smoke,” Mary said. Delores coughed and waved a hand at her friend and then pointed at the three young things, “We’re saving their young lungs.” Mike said he liked a little gravel in the voice and the two waitresses roared. When Mike turned eighteen, he met Jessie and Jennifer at the Pitstop; instead of walking through the gas station to the restaurant in back, Mike stopped at the front counter, took out his license and bought a pack of Marlboros. At the back counter, when it was time for Delores to go have her smoke, Mike stood and asked if he could join her. “You’re a baby,” Delores laughed and Mike shrugged. They stood in the damp alley next to a Dumpster. Delores offered her lighter and Mike sucked a lungful of smoke, coughed. Delores didn’t laugh or look away. When Mike quit coughing, he looked at her, his eyes watering, “Don’t tell.” Delores took a long drag of her own, held it for a moment, exhaled in a slow stream, “Tell what?”

(Revision) Ric’s Kwik Trip
It took a week for Mrs. Nefger to figure out what the three boys were doing. They showed up during the afternoon lull and walked up and down the aisles giggling, occasionally bending or kneeling and then standing quickly, glancing her way. She sat behind the counter flipping through a magazine or checking the tobacco inventory. Each day the boys stopped at the back cooler for neon Gatorades. The medium size cost $1.39.

One day Mrs. Nefger was helping a customer find baby wipes when she noticed the price stickers on the shelves. The thirty-nines were circled in green Sharpie. The next afternoon, when the boys were halfway down the chips aisle, Mrs. Nefger called from her perch, “Hey, you. What’s with the thirty-nines?” The trio froze, looked at one another, then at Mrs. Nefger. She said, “Yeah, I noticed. Is it some kinda pervert thing?” One of the boys blushed up to his white blonde hair, shook his head. “Then what is it?” she said, stepping down from the stool, leaning on the counter. The one wearing a hat pointed thumbs at the other two and said, “We’re all thirteen, that’s all. Adds up to thirty-nine. We call ourselves Thirty-Nine.”

Mrs. Nefger could have said that was the dumbest thing she’d ever heard, but didn’t. Instead she half smiled. “Better than the Three Musketeers.” The baby-faced one giggled. She said, “What are you gonna do when one of you turns fourteen?”

(Draft) Orfordville, Wisconsin
It took a week for Mrs. Nefger to figure out what the three boys were doing. Every afternoon they showed up at Ric’s Kwik Trip during the lull before commuters stopped for gas. The boys walked up and down the aisles giggling, occasionally bending or kneeling and standing quickly, glancing her way. She sat on stool behind the counter flipping through a magazine when she should be checking the tobacco inventory. Each day the boys stopped at the back cooler and picked neon colored Gatorades to drink on their walk home. The medium size cost $1.39. One day Mrs. Nefger was helping another customer find baby wipes when she noticed the price stickers on the shelves. The thirty-nines were circled in green Sharpie. The next afternoon, when the boys were halfway down the chip aisle, Mrs. Nefger called from her perch, “Hey. Yeah, you. What’s with the thirty-nines?” The trio froze, looked at one another, then at Mrs. Nefger. She said, “Yeah, I noticed. Is it some kinda pervert thing?” One of the boys blushed up to his white blonde hair, shook his head. “Then what is it?” she said, stepping down from the stool, leaning on the counter. The one wearing a hat pointed thumbs at the other two and said, “We’re all thirteen, that’s all. Adds up to thirty-nine. We call ourselves Thirty-Nine.” Mrs. Nefger could have said that was the dumbest thing she’d ever heard, but she didn’t. Instead she half smiled, “Better than the Three Musketeers, I guess.” The baby-faced one giggled. “What are you gonna do when one of you turns fourteen?” The three boys shrugged; one of them said they had awhile yet.

 

Nanofiction!

I gave myself two or three sentences per piece. I also titled each piece; titles seem as essential to nanofiction as to poetry. Writing these itty-bitty stories was fun. In order of their composition:

Nothing Left to Talk About
She said I make everything about me, even this. I said that was true.

Because We’ve Seen Worse
One night while we were on the balcony, an SUV jumped the curb and smashed into a palm tree. We could see the whole thing without standing: the palm crashing into three lanes of traffic, cars braking and spinning, the police coming from Fintas. We only got up when our drinks were finished.

The Piano in the Sky
Sadie hadn’t studied but passed with a B. She walked around campus, out-of-body, waiting for the score to even. By Thursday she was afraid to get out of bed.

Wedding Toast
Jack said all the wrong things, in a row. Only the deaf great-aunt raised her glass when he said, “To the Mr. and Mrs.”

Home From the Amazon
Two women met Cal at the airport. He held out the laminated card he carried: I had a parasite that gave me amnesia which is why I look confused. Cal wasn’t sure he was allowed to say no when the older woman hugged him and the younger took his hand and kissed his mouth.