Lucky me. Because of a project I’ve been working on, I was forced to read several short stories in some literary journals. Okay, that’s not completely accurate. I looked at the journals to become more familiar with various style sets, fonts, and well, layouts in general. Before I realized it, I was reading the stories, thus prolonging my “education” and immensely adding to my enjoyment. Within fifteen minutes, plots and settings overtook margins and headings.
Time prohibits a discussion of every story I read, so after great deliberation, I’m spotlighting wee bits of two. Both came from a North Carolina award winning anthology, Racing Home. Confession: while reading these stories, I realized that I might as well give up. I will never be able to write fiction like these fabulous writers. Still, I can admire the way they use words to conjure up emotions, tell universal truths, develop plots, and describe settings.
In one story, Getting What You Wish For by Kathryn Etters Lovatt, I found myself smackdab in the middle of an emergency waiting room with three people waiting to see Shelton—husband, brother-in-law, and uncle. Having been there, done that recently, I was amazed at how the writer was able to incorporate the sounds and images of such an experience. The three “sat like stones under the evening news, talking in spurts….They listened as the Coke machine on the far wall swallowed coins, listed to cups dropping, sometimes not dropping, the spray of drink in the cup or down the drain, sprinkles of ice.” Yes,I thought. That’s exactly how it is!
As they wait in the “black coffee hours of real night,” the three reminisce and tell stories, all wondering why no one has come to talk to them about the patient. Hours later, the doctor delivers some grim news, and the two sisters and teenaged Benny visit the patient who’s in a room on the fourth floor, the floor where there’s no waiting room. “Fourth floor was the nut ward, everybody in town knew that.”
Priscilla, sister-in-law to the patient, and her son leave the hospital, walking toward the car in a beautifully described scene…moon, trees, pole lights, dogwoods trying to flower…
Here’s my favorite part, the part the whole story has been leading up to, the words I’ve always known and have recently been spouting off to anyone who will listen. Benny is waiting for his mother to tell him a story and has asked for the bad news first.
“His mother leaned against the car, looking beyond the great beyond, the night written all over her face.”
“Nothing lasts,” she told him, her voice brimming with apology.
“Nothing lasts?” He stalled, committing the image of her at that moment, pale and groggy, full of secrets she would never tell, to memory. “Okay,” he said “So is that your good news, too—nothing lasts?”
Everything changes—the good and the bad and the blah. Nothing lasts. If life is good, savor it. Enjoy the red velvet cake, dance with your sweetheart(s), go ahead and cry with happiness at the sound of a flute, memorize faces and features of those you love, turn your face to the gentle breeze. If life is bad and sad, it won’t be ever thus. Sooner or later, storms pass; it’s nature’s way.
I’m decent at nonfiction and a novice, a kindergartner at conveying messages like nothing lasts in fiction. Seriously, I’m a two on a scale of ten…but I’m willing to learn. And I’m thankful to have such good models to follow. Tomorrow or Wednesday, I’ll write a little about the other writer/story referenced in the beginning.