A Little Fiction: All Fall Down

Shelly and Hank had planned this camping trip as an attempt at getting back together. It wasn’t working. He was late picking her up, the drive took five hours instead of their usual three, and when they finally found a space to camp, they argued over where to set up the tent.

She dropped the side of the tent she was holding and walked away. “All right, fine. You deal with it.” She headed for the river bluff. She thought Hank would come after her, but he didn’t.

riverview

the Mississippi / Gerry Wilson

The bluff dropped steeply away to the river, maybe thirty, forty feet. Willows clung to the banks and leaned out into the sky like filmy, green parachutes. Shelly walked as near the edge as she dared and considered climbing down. She had always wanted to do it; why not now?

She looked for a place that wasn’t a sheer drop, where there was brush, or outcroppings of stone. She eased over the edge and grabbed a sapling, then another, her breath coming hard, thought I can do this, until a branch bent and snapped, rocks skittered and fell, and she slipped, clutching at mud and stone and brush. She slid all the way down, landed on the narrow bank, rolled towards the rushing water, clawed at the mud to drag herself back. She lay still and assessed what hurt: her head, her right shoulder, her right ankle.

She sat up. The knees of her jeans were torn and stained with blood, her hands scraped and bloody, too, and caked with mud. She unlaced her hiking shoe and took off her sock. The throbbing ankle was already swelling and turning blue. Jesus. She pulled the sock back on and forced her foot back into the shoe. Pain jolted from her ankle to her thigh.

“Hello?” she yelled. “Hank? Anybody?”

Nearly five o’clock. The bluff cast deep shadows on her and on the river. Maybe  twenty yards away, a sandbar extended out into the water. She’d be more visible from there. She tried to stand, but she couldn’t bear weight on the ankle. She crawled far enough out onto the sandbar to see the top of the bluff. She called out again, “Hello? Hello! Down here! Help me!” But the day picnickers and hikers would have gone home by now. The overnight campers, like Hank, would be settling in. On the river, no vessels—an old-fashioned word her father, a retired Navy man, would have used—this time of day, no kayaks or canoes, no pleasure boats.

The sky was a clear, deepening blue. The wind out on the sandbar went suddenly chilly. The rising moon had a corona of light. That was supposed to mean something: a sign of rain? Bad luck?

Shelly washed her stinging hands and splashed her face with the cold river water. She struggled to her feet and tried her weight again on the throbbing ankle. She had to get off the sandbar. She hobbled the length of it before she dropped to her knees and crawled back to the shelter of the bluff.

No way she could climb. She’d be fine right there, a little banged up and wet. Hank would come looking for her. All she had to do was wait.

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This piece of flash fiction is headed over to Yeah Write, where writing events abound. Writer friends, be sure to check them out!

Stones in My Pockets: Resolve for 2013

Resolutions?

Today is January 3, and I have made no New Year’s resolutions. Resolutions (at least mine) are made for breaking. I resist them mightily. And yet, here on the Web, I feel surrounded by energy and optimism and lofty resolutions and writing challenges like Elissa Field’s January Challenge: Finish, Begin, Improve, Plan and Khara House’s January 2013 I Love My Blog, both of them worthy of note. I’m summoning the will to participate. Really, I am.

Create/Gerry Wilson
Create/Gerry Wilson

But the last of our holiday guests left yesterday, and I’m doing laundry. The Christmas decorations need to be taken down and put away. The grocery store looms. We are having our usual Mississippi winter weather, which means cold (by our standards) and rainy. These are days meant for sipping tea and reading a good book, not for challenging the mind. These should be days for rest and re-fueling.

Playing the Lead

A couple of nights ago, I dreamed I was playing the lead role in a Tennessee Williams play. I’m not sure which play it was–maybe A Streetcar Named Desire–and I’m not sure whether I was Blanche or Stella or a combination of the two, only that my role required a certain level of undress on the stage (yes, this was live theater), and my parents, who died in the early eighties, were in the audience. The play turned improvisational, and I felt it was up to me to carry it. I remember thinking in the dream that the action was plodding, the players sluggish and uninteresting, and the audience was losing interest. I woke up just as I was standing on the stage, anxious and alone, wrapped in a bath towel!

Why am I telling you this? I suppose I’m hoping for a dream expert among my readers, although I don’t really need one to interpret the dream. It’s about writing, and certain words are keys: undress, improvisational, responsibility.

First, the state of undress: I am most vulnerable when I’m writing, when I strip the facade and put words on the page.

And don’t we all feel naked before editors and contest judges and critics and agents with their pre-printed or email rejections at the ready? Those are our words. They are sacred to us, and when others don’t love them, it can be devastating. Or it can be motivating.

Life at the Improv

Back in the fall, when I was revising my novel, I focused mainly on a particular subplot. I had to improve my sense of when things moved along well and when they lagged. I needed to create a little mystery. I had to try to read my own book as any reader might, without any sense of what was in my head that hadn’t made it to the page. Remember that the play in the dream was improvisational, and I felt I was carrying the success or failure of the play on my shoulders. It was up to me to make it work, and when I felt it was slow and uninteresting–the flaws I fear most in my fiction, or here on this blog–anxiety kicked in, and I woke up, feeling quite undressed and vulnerable and responsible for the outcome. Nothing miraculous; just teeth-grinding hard work.

Turning . . .

What does all this have to do with the turning of another year?

I may not make resolutions, but the dream and its meanings have everything to do with resolve: to keep writing, to value my own work, to protect my time and organize it better, to say no when necessary (and to know when that is). To be brave, to take risks with the work. To send it out, as honest and as strong as I can make it.

So, for the record, I’m taking the stones out of my pockets for 2013. I will not be weighed down by whatever else is happening in my life. I will walk on water. I will be involved in a miraculous act of making.

And whenever I start to feel weighted down, I want to remember that dream because it was telling me some important things: to embrace the vulnerability and not be afraid, to embrace the time I have, to embrace the words, even when they’re messy and cantankerous, and especially when they go naked into the world.

When, in your writing hours or days, do you feel most vulnerable? What gives you resolve and strength? Tell me about it!

Starting Tomorrow: October Challenges!

Bring ’em on—the October challenges, that is! Starting tomorrow, I’ll participate in two writing challenges of different sorts.

 

The Submit-O-Rama is the brainchild of Khara House, poet/blogger extraordinaire at Our Lost Jungle. Khara has offered several levels of commitment so we can submit our work during October at a rate we’re comfortable with. I’m going with the one I think I’m most likely to do–the Submit-O-Rama Choice Challenge–wherein I make my own rules. And my rules will be to submit one story a week over the next month–not the same story each time!

 

 

My parents, before I was born.

 

 

The other challenge I’m subscribing to of my own free will is the October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge hosted by Jane Ann McLachlan at Join the Conversation. You’ll learn more about this one and my motivation for participating when you read the first memory blog post tomorrow: a memory before the age of two! Jane Ann has encouraged us to be creative, so we’ll see how it goes.

 

 

Both of these challenges are great practices for the writing life!

Visit Khara and/or Jane Ann and join in the fun. It’s not too late! And please do come back here tomorrow to see where the memory lane leads me first!