Archive for August, 2013

August 29th, 2013

Excerpt from FOR THE DAUGHTERS, a memoir

by Christine Jarvis, Learner, Writing Workshops

I made two rules when Alzheimer’s disease was diagnosed: my mother and our home would not smell, and my mother would know beyond doubt that she was safe and loved every minute of her life to the end of that life. Our journey was a short one – only three years from diagnosis to death. This is one of the stops on our journey.
* * *
I have two kitchen specialties: phone out or defrost and serve. Tonight it’s cook-from-frozen breaded sole and Parisienne carrots, and packaged Creamy Bacon Carbonara pasta. Mom calls it gourmet cooking when I serve it in the white Corning Ware dishes.

“I want to thank you. That was a lovely dinner!” she says in her Lady of the Manor voice. She goes behind her chair and stoops to pick up her shoes tucked under the sewing-machine. They have never been just shoes, of course, but always “my-good-black-shoes.”

“I don’t like to eat and run, but it’s getting dark outside. I’d better go home now. My mother worries if I’m not home before dark.”

I used to say, angrily, “You are home and you’re eighty-two and your mother is long dead!” and march her down the hall to the bedroom she has slept in almost every night for over 30 years. Then, as my knowledge of this foul disease grew, I progressed to “I phoned your mother and she says it’s okay for you to stay here tonight.”

Not a lie, but just…entering into the other’s reality.

That works for a time, but I begin to suspect that the desperate, aching need to “go home” has nothing to do with any physical place. She has no idea where she is when she is sitting in her own chair in the living-room. “Take me home” really means “take me back to a time when I know who I am and life makes sense.”

If I could do that, we’d both go.

Most importantly, I see the impact of the forgetting. Each time I say “your mother is dead,” her face crumples and the tears come, as if she is hearing the news for the first time. I am inflicting a blow to the head and a knife to the heart, over and over and over again. How very cruel we can be until we understand.

Tonight I say, “You get your shoes, Mom, and I’ll put the kettle on. After we have a nice cup of tea we’ll get you home.”

By the time we finish our tea she’s ready to take off her shoes and relax. She pads down the hall to her bedroom and gets into her nightgown. I help her into bed, tuck in the blankets, and she sighs contentedly.

Home safe! Be sure to tell my mother I was in before dark,” she says.

She buries her nose under the covers and is sleeping before I leave the room.

I go back to the living-room and tuck the good-black-shoes under the sewing-machine for next time.

Christine’s piece was written for Ann Ireland’s online writing workshop on intermediate short fiction: ‘Short Fiction Writing – Level II’ (CWWR 411).

August 28th, 2013

The Party

by Cameron French, Learner, Writing Workshops

We’ve been at the party for just over two hours, and I’m ready to go. Two drinks in, and I know if I have one more I won’t be able to drive.
I spy Sheila by the stage, wine glass curled in her hand and her face flashing green and red in sync with the lights. I can see she’s talking to Lori. Ugh. Maybe it’s not a big deal, but I’m a little nervous all the same.
Sheila can work the room like nobody else. She excels at superficial conversation in a way I can’t, which is why she makes such a good PR rep. I can’t do that shit. She’s never met Lori before, as far as I can remember, but Lori seems to be spilling her life story, one arm waving erratically and the other balancing a tumbler as she pushes home a point. I’m guessing the drink isn’t her first, or third.
Sheila’s facing me and I wave to get her attention, pointing at my watch. She doesn’t nod, but I know she’s got the message: we leave after the conversation is done. I have our coats and am standing by the door when she walks over about ten minutes later.
“That took a while,” I shout to be heard over the booming 90s dance music, as she takes her coat and walks out ahead of me. The lobby staircase is about 20 feet wide and carpeted black and gold leaf. It combines with the deep red of the walls to give the 19th-century hall a regal, but claustrophobic feel. “Nice spot for a Christmas party,” I say in a more civilized voice after the door to the dance hall slams shut behind me.
“You said that earlier,” she says, looking down at her high heels at she descends the last few steps.
The lobby is decorated like a post-WW II movie theatre, with vintage posters of movies like “House of Wax” and “Singin’ in the Rain” interspersed with historical photos of the venue. A pre-renovation image from the 70s shows a badly decayed lobby, the paint scaling on the walls and a blackened ceiling. Amazing how a building this beautiful could be neglected, I think.
An old man in a tuxedo that might have fit him 20 years earlier pushes open the door as we approach, but Sheila stops about three feet short of it. Cold air washes over us and the old man looks up expectantly.
“Problem?” I say.
“Where were you last Thursday?” she says without turning, her voice competing with the screech of a passing streetcar. I feel a chill down my back, which compounds the effect of the outside air.
“Why do you ask?”
She whirls. Behind her the old man’s arm starts to shake in its baggy sleeve as he supports the thick wooden door.
“What kind of answer is that? I’m asking where you were last Thursday.”
Goddamn Lori, I think. I should have known this would happen. I should have faked the flu so we’d have to skip the party.

Cameron’s piece was written for Cordelia Strube’s advanced short fiction writing workshop: ‘Short Fiction Level III’ (CWWR 402).

August 28th, 2013

Space

by Erin Pienaar, Learner, Writing Workshops

“Are you jealous, Ben?” Martha leaned over his shoulder, scanning the newspaper held in his wrinkled hands.

Ben smacked the paper on the table with the force he normally reserved for swatting insects.

“Jealous? Of some wealthy ass sending a bunch of idiots on a fool’s errand? You know me better than that.”

“But it’s Mars! They’ll be making history!” Noting the frown on his face, Martha turned to the sink and went to work on the breakfast dishes. “Not that you haven’t already,” she added hastily.

Leaving the last plate to drip dry, she joined Ben at the table, resting her chin on her closed fist.

“Would you go if you could? If you weren’t…”

“Old?” he asked, crossing his arms. “Infirm?”

“Oh, don’t be like that. I just want to know if you miss it. Space, I mean.”

“Let me tell you something about space. You come home and gravity’s a bitch. You’re groggy all the time and everything’s heavy, even the tongue in your mouth. You feel like you’ve aged decades even though you haven’t. I’m done with space, thanks.”

“I don’t know. I’d like to see the world from all the way up there,” Martha said.

Ben grunted and took a sip of juice.

“What is it like?”

He reopened the newspaper. Martha watched him for a moment and then sighed.

“Do you want me to make coffee?”

He shrugged and she got to her feet. As she parceled out grains into the filter, Ben cleared his throat.

“Your mind can’t comprehend what it’s looking at. It’s like there’s no frame of reference for it.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “And it’s so small, hanging in space like that. Fragile. Beautiful, but so damn fragile.”

Martha turned, her hand hovering in the air for a moment before she placed it firmly on his shoulder. He didn’t return her touch but he relaxed a little, sagging under its weight.

Erin’s piece was a response to a dialogue exercise for Ann Ireland’s online workshop introducing short fiction writing: ‘Short Fiction Writing – Level I’ (CWWR 410).