After years of struggle, I’m still struggling with writing. In this age of pandemic and newly retired, I’m doing a range of things to keep busy, but regular, steady writing isn’t one of them. Much to my chagrin.
However, I have started dabbling in things, which I think is a sign of progress. Over at Dale’s place, she writes based on prompts from a couple of different places every week. Every once in awhile, whatever the prompt is intrigues me and I’ve written something and put it in a comment on her blog.
Yesterday, I decided to make it official and connect one of my efforts to the blog posting the prompt, Friday Fictioneers. I posted the effort here yesterday. I plan on participating more regularly in Friday Fictioneers and other prompt machines, just to try to keep the writing thing alive in me and see if something catches my fancy, while I ponder my multitude of “works in progress” that haven’t been progressing much for years.
The other thing I started doing again after I retired was join a writing group. For a couple of years, two writing friends have encouraged me to join their respective writing groups. I’ve always begged off because of work and family and just my overall sense that I’ve lost something when it comes to writing. I was concerned that I would embarrass myself and not be able to write anything when the time came — much like what happened the last couple of times I went to Zoe’s writing group. (That’s a whole other story.)
Anyway, with retirement, I decided it was time to give it a try. To see if I still had something to say via the written word and fiction. Turns out the two writing friends are in the same writing group. It’s a prompt group. Everybody shows up, a prompt is provided. They write for 20-30 minutes and then read the results to the group for positive thoughts and feedback.
And then the Great Quarantining of 2020 hit. The group hasn’t met in person since I “joined.” The first week, everything was done by email. Since that first week, they’ve got together via Zoom for the reading sessions. While I participate by email, I have yet to get into the Zoom sessions. Typically, when they start I am just sitting down to my computer and seeing the email and deciding whether the prompt has something for me.
Here then are the things I’ve done since joining the group. The first piece stretched over two weeks and two different prompts. And no, it’s not finished yet. That’s the biggest problem I have these days — finishing things.
First Two Prompts (The first prompt was “what the hell.” The second prompt was “shift.” And what I did with that second prompt was an experiment I will probably do away with if I ever complete this story):
The coyote lurked right at the edge of the yard, where the light from the porch reached that place where the darkness of night overwhelmed the glow. Even at that edge, I could see the reflection in his eyes. Two bright orbs that looked back at me every time he whipped his head towards me. For the most part he didn’t do that though. He paced back and forth right at that edge. From one end of the yard to another. Not looking at me, or at the house. Just straight ahead. To that end. And then whipping around and jogging back to the other end. Back and forth he went.
I wondered what it was he was waiting for. The last chicken had died months ago. The lambs to the slaughter shortly after that. Wrapping things up before we moved meant there wasn’t much livestock left. Moving back to the city can do that.
Dora and I had tried to make a go of country life. Escaping the mad dash of urbanity. We had quit our jobs at the health care company where we both worked. It had been two years, but we had yet to figure out a way to make a real go of it. Our savings dwindled, our patience with each other at a breaking point, we caved in. Two weeks before, escrow closed on the property and we had two days left in the country home that we had hoped for so hard. Tails between our legs, we were moving in with her parents until we figured out what was next.
“Hey honey, whatcha doing?” Dora called from the kitchen.
I ignored her. I wasn’t sure what she would think about the coyote on the fringe of the yard. I took a seat on the top step of the porch and watched him some more.
“Honey, you out there?”
I could tell her voice was closer. She was coming out.
“I’m just sitting out here, enjoying the night,” I finally replied. “The stars are …”
That’s when I heard the screen door wheeze open and Dora’s first step out on to the porch. “Wow. Look at the moon.”
“Yeah.” I looked back at her and patted the step next to me. She was right. It was huge. Round. Full. And lurked just above the horizon, filtered through a few trees. It had just a hint of orange to it as well. If it wasn’t for the coyote, that’s what I probably would have been looking at.
It was then that the coyote’s pacing changed. He stopped and turned to his attention to the porch. I felt his eyes bore into me and as Dora sat next to me, the coyote charged. Leaving the comfort of the half dark edge of light, he came across the yard. Straight towards us.
I rose and pulled Dora up with me. “What the hell!” she whispered to me, grabbing my hand.
“Go inside,” I screamed and pulled the screen door open, shoving her in. I followed her, and before slamming the front door shut, I took one glance back at the coyote. For the first time, I saw the foam dripping from its jaws, and I could have sworn the animal was smiling at me. Or leering. Or something.
And then I thought about Cujo, that Stephen King novel I read when I was a kid. The one that put me in fear of dogs for years. I slammed the door shut, turned the bolt, just as I heard the coyote come up the steps and slam into the screen, setting the springs and hinges to jangling.
Dora and I had got a dog a year before. A corgi. At first, I was terrified because I’d never had a dog as a child and there was that damn King story. It only took a few weeks until I realized how foolish I had been. Seriously. Who could be afraid of a corgi? Me.
But I got over it. Ralph, the dog and don’t ask, had been shipped to the in-laws the day before. I was thankful for that. Typically, in the evenings he roamed the property before coming in and curling up at the foot of the bed. I can imagine what the coyote would have done with Ralph if he’d been outside that night. I caught myself with an image in my head. Blood and a dead dog.
I was riding my bike along the bike trail and decided to take a rest before turning back into the head wind that always pushed against me when heading back to Sac State. There was a little park tucked along a curve of the trail. Plenty of shade and a couple of picnic tables.
It’s where Dora and I met. She was at one of those tables, reading a book.
“I promise to love you forever.”
“And I do you too,” Dora responded. “I promise to be your friend no matter what.”
“As do I to you.” I looked down at the paper shaking in my hand. “We will grow old together.”
“With children and grandchildren.”
“And happiness and love.”
I held my hand out to her.
It was quiet outside for a moment and then the coyote slammed against the screen door again. It growled. No, it wasn’t a growl. It was an unearthly shriek that split the air.
I looked back at Dora. “What do we do?” she said to me, her voice barely above a whisper.
“You stay here. I’m going to get the gun.”
“What else can we do?”
We were eager to begin filling our home with children. It didn’t matter if we lived in a small apartment at the time. But six months after the wedding, Dora had her first miscarriage. It took a month or two, but she recovered and we kept on trying.
The second miscarriage, though, took someothing out of her. I wondered if the hole would ever get plugged again.
Truthfully, the corgi wasn’t just for me. To get over my fear of dogs. Cujo!!! No, it was also for her. To give Cora a thing to care for. To love, as she would a baby. Maybe. Maybe she would heal and be whole again. She loved the dog, but it didn’t help. Not really. We had started fertility treatment and that was a whole other thing that seemed to suck the life out of her.
“No. I’ll take care of this.”
We’d bought the gun when we moved in to the house. I thought it was necessary since we were out in the middle of nowhere, but I hadn’t fired it in almost the entire two years we had lived there. When I first got it, I fired it at old cans on a tree stump back behind the house. But I quickly tired of that, and the gun had been upstairs for too long.
I turned to the stairs and took them three at a time, with Dora pleading, “Just call 911. You don’t need to do this.”
(Let’s see if I can finish the thing.)
The Third Weekly Prompt was “bits and bits”:
Bits and bits
It was a rhyme Mama repeated whenever she made cookies. Sprinkling the chunks into the dough and stirring it with her wooden spoon. The same spoon she sometimes spanked my bottom with when I failed to meet her expectations. But she never did so that it hurt. She only did it to send me a message. Stop now. Enough. And I typically got the hint.
She had other sing-song rhymes as well.
Popcorn off the griddle
Sleep, little princess
Wake in the morning, my missus
Sure they never really rhymed, but they played a part of the rhythm of my childhood.
But those cookies, when they went into the oven. Moments later, the aroma that filled the kitchen and drifted through the rest of the house, lurking in places and absent from others. If I was in my room, I might smell it while sitting on my bed, but over by the closet, not so much. As soon as I did, though, I’d follow the scent trail to the kitchen and be enveloped by it. A caress of sugar and butter and chocolate and vanilla warming in the oven.
When the cookies were done, Mama would pop the door of the oven open and bring the tray out, resting it on the stove. “Now, you need to just wait a couple of minutes. Let them cool a bit,” she would say to me, before repeating her rhyme. “Bits and bits. Of chocolates.”
I’d follow her direction and grab a glass from the cupboard and a bottle of milk from the fridge. I always looked for the full one — the one that Mort left on the back porch just that morning — and filled the glass to the rim.
It might not have been the couple of minutes she imagined, but I set that glass down on the kitchen table and snuck two cookies from the tray. Still piping hot, I juggled them in my hands before settling them down on the table.
Mama’s cookies were never perfect, not like the store-bought cookies. No, they were different sizes and shapes, but they were filled with bits and bits of chocolates that burned the roof of my mouth when I took my first bite, letting the cookie melt on my tongue and following it with a swig of milk to cool my mouth just a bit. Before I dove in for the next bite, and the next until my two cookies were gone. Just crumbs left on the table and Mama leaning against the counter, looking at me with that smile she had. And offering me two more before shooing me from the kitchen. “No more. You’ll spoil your appetite. Now, get on outside. Get some sun on your face.”
The Fourth Prompt was Slow Motion (I posted this here a couple of weeks ago):
The words, they come slower
The days, they go faster
As time goes by
Change is constant
As time dwindles
A time, when all seemed possible
A past, where possibilities died
Memories of things
That never happened
People once loved
Love that crashed
The words, they come slower
The days, they go faster
Of friends, many remembered
Of others, mostly forgotten
Love was a thing
Light my life
The words, they come slower
The days, they go faster
The Fifth Weekly Prompt was “goggles” and I can’t seem to find what I wrote for that prompt. Maybe I didn’t write anything!
The Sixth Weekly Prompt was “toaster oven”:
The Things We Bring To A Marriage
She brought a mezuzah and her Jewish faith.
I brought my Catholicism lapsed into atheism, and a willlingness to let her raise our children in her faith.
Speaking of her faith, I learned how to make challah and gave the speeches at our boys’ Bar Mitzvahs.
I brought my bicycle and a need to get out every once in awhile.
She brought her patience and willingness to let me do my thing.
That patience has been huge over the years. Patience is most definitely a virtue.
She brought her steady, consistent approach to life.
I brought my never-ending need for something new.
My search for the thing, the one thing, continues.
I brought my baking stone and sourdough starter.
She brought her toaster oven.
I mean, seriously, are these a thing? We never had one growing up.
She brought her calm that only occasionally erupted into something else.
I brought my frustration, depression, and occasional anger.
I tried to control it, but there were times, particularly that depression. It mattered sometimes.
I brought a lawn mower and a veggie garden.
She brought a need to decorate and constantly tweak.
Our walls now are covered with memories. Our garden grows.
She brought a belief that money was for today.
I brought a desire to save for tomorrow.
We’re somewhere in between those two poles.
I brought a love of sports, and politics, and deep conversation.
She brought the Hallmark Channel, and Wheel of Fortune, and talk about her day.
We’re somewhere in between those two poles.
The things we brought to a marriage.
They are the yin and the yang.
At times, they are polar opposites.
At others, we find a way.
It’s a mystery sometimes.
How this happened.
Where it will lead.
Great that you are writing again! And I love the lines about the toaster oven. 😀
Thank you. I think that one worked well.
First, I tried to comment on your response to Friday Fictioners but couldn’t. But I can’t get pig anus out of my mind now. Second, the coyote story is the best bit here, strange and jumping around, keeping your attention, and some mystery as well as a threat. Plus the references to Cujo just kind of got me, I loved/hated that movie. The last bit in here, on the toaster oven prompt, is my kind of poetry. I don’t think you’ve lost your writing chops, Mark. Just shine them up a bit more and they’ll gleam just fine.
Thank you for your kind words. What I need to do now is bring one of these initiated pieces to fruition. The pig anus thing is … well a thing. For years, when we get together for dinner out, if there is calamari on the menu, we order it. It’s just become one of those things. And somewhere along the way, one of our boys mentioned reading that sometimes, the calamari you order at a restaurant is really pig anuses. Apparently, it might actually be a thing. Which kind of changes the whole equation surrounding our family fixation on calamari.
Sorry for the delay in commenting. Your post has been on a tab since you posted it!
I love the coyote one – yes please do finish it!
I also loved the bits and bits because I was right back to childhood. I could taste those cookies.
The “Things We Bring to a Marriage” was so good. And honest. And real.
Nope… you ain’t lost your writing chops, just so you know.
It’s not writing if I can’t finish anything. 😉
Don’t be a smartass…
I am the QUEEN of starting things and not finishing them.
These stories have got good legs you can play with and work on. They were started as challenges, no? Timed challenges? So… no you take the time to work ’em!
True, but frequently once I’m done with the challenge, I lose interest. That’s one of the bigger problems with writing these days … losing interest.
Ahh… Now that I understand. Hmmm… how to stimulate your interest, then?
Honest encouragement helps. I’m working on the coyote story at the moment.
Well consider me her encouraging you!
Glad to hear it.