One of the most valuable books I’ve read about writing is A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves. It’s a compilation of advice, stories, anecdotes, and prompts-365 of them. I’ve been using those prompts for practice, and lately I’ve submitted some results to my critique group for discussion.
The following is something I wrote to the prompt When she looked up.
My head hadn’t hit the pillow until long after midnight, and at few minutes before five, I didn’t recognize the insistent buzz of the phone.
“Jayne,” my brother Mike said. “Calling to let you know we’re in the hospital with Daddy, and if you want to see him alive, you need to come now,” my brother Mike said.
“What? I didn’t even know he was having problems again.”
“I’m just saying you need to get here as quick as you can.”
“So it’s serious?” I asked, even then knowing it was a ridiculous thing to ask.
I jumped out of bed and briskly crossed the hall to my daughter Carrie’s room. Cracking open the door, I said, “Sweetie, I need for you to get up. Granddaddy is in the hospital, and Mike says I need to come now.”
“What time is it?” Carrie asked groggily as she raised up on one elbow to stare at me, her dark wavy hair a cloud around her face.
“Around five. I’m taking a quick shower and hitting the road. I need for you to come with me.”
Twenty minutes later, we pulled out of the driveway, tired and yet strangely alert. Minds racing with what lay before us, we rode through the predawn October morning silently noting the familiar sights. There was Coastal Carolina, streetlights glowing along the still quiet avenues where sleeping students likely dreamed of happily ever after. Lucky them.
We stopped at the intersection of University Boulevard and Highway 544 and looked at Hillcrest Cemetery square in the face. I had attended numerous graveside services at Hillcrest and had even mentioned being buried there at some point in the distant future. Having traveled that stretch of 544 thousands of times, I associated the area with life and energy. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a final resting place in the hub of so much coming and going?
This morning, however, seeing the shadowy shapes of tombstones and trees filled me with dread and apprehension. Would I be standing in another such location 115 miles away before the week’s end? I squelched the thought and turned right towards Conway and Highway 501, the thoroughfare we would follow to Florence.
Stopping outside of Florence at what used to be called Jimmy Carter’s to fill up with gas, I placed the pump handle in the tank and called the hospital room for an update. My sister Ann answered on the first ring.
“We’re on our way,” I told her.
“Too late,” Ann said in a brisk, staccato tone.
“What do you mean, too late?”
“He’s gone. About five minutes ago. Mike was shaving him, and Allen was holding his head up. They felt his head drop and knew something had changed.”
“Can’t believe it,” I said.
“Mike finished the job.”she said matter-of-factly.
I could well imagine my brother and brother-in-law looking at each other in the moment of realization. Knowing them, I knew they had kept the knowledge private until my father looked presentable and clean-shaven.
I looked up at the predawn sky, wondering how long it would be before sunrise.
“Not sure. She was in the hall when it happened and is just now taking it all in.”
Leaning against the car, I could see, feel, hear the activity in the room where my father’s strong spirit had slipped away from his weakened body. My poor Mama. Why didn’t someone call me earlier?
“How far away are you?” Ann asked.
“Almost to Florence. Can’t talk anymore. Bye.” I looked up at the predawn sky, wondering how long it would be before sunrise.
I put the pump handle back in its proper place and got back in the car with Carrie. Sitting there, I tried to wrap my mind around the events that had taken place sixty-five miles down the road while I’d been speeding through the darkness.
“What’s the matter, Mama? What did Aunt Ann say?” Carrie asked.
“She said…she said Daddy died just a few minutes ago.”
“Oh Mama. I’m so sorry.”
“I know, I know. It’s too much to take in right now. Why couldn’t we have been there? Why didn’t someone let me know earlier?”
“Want me to drive?” she offered.
I looked at Carrie’s pretty young face, tear stained and weary and realized the magnitude of the moment. “You really want to? I mean, do you feel like it?” I asked.
“Yes Ma’am,” she said. We switched positions, Carrie in the driver’s seat and me as her passenger.
I looked down the road ahead. It was so dark.
The above, by the way, is after making the changes suggested by one critique. When I finish incorporating the others, it might be quite different.