Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Writing Exercise

Come on. You can do it. It is easy. Just relax and follow my instructions. And close your eyes.

There. That wasn’t so hard. Take your fingers and place them on the keyboard. Yes, you can peek to make sure you have them at the right place. Did you find the little raised bumps on the keys "f" and "j?" Place your pointer fingers on those and line up the rest of your fingers. Straight row now. Thumbs have to rest on the spacebar. All right. Let us begin.

Close your eyes. Tight. Take a deep breath and tilt your head back. Concentrate on nothing. Leave your thoughts open. No words. No actions. No circumstances. Keep those eyes closed.

Allow your fingers to type on their own with a tap-tap-tap. They are so busy. While your fingers are typing, let us talk about something. What do you see in the darkness behind closed eyelids? A scene? Allow it to flow into your thoughts. Don’t force the situation. Let the picture do whatever it wants to do. Is the scene ready? Good! Describe it to me. Tell me what the people are doing. How are they interacting? What is in the background? What do you smell? What do you hear?

Hmm . . . interesting. What? No, let your fingers continue with their fun on the keyboard. You ask a lot from them on a daily basis. Let them play for a little while. Let us talk some more.

Where are the people going in the scene? What relationships are they experiencing? What feelings are they showing? It is okay if they are angry or sad or happy. It is fine that they are doing fun things too, or even bad things. And the naughty things just add more spice to your telling.

Oh. You need to take a break. It is all right. You’ve been sitting there for almost two hours now. Yes, it is surprising. You didn’t even notice time flowing by. Do you want to see what your fingers were doing while at play? Open your eyes. Let me show you . . .
A gallon of gas left in the tank; if I could trust what the old meter said. Sigh. I should have stopped at the station.

I felt the car drift into the opposing lane while my eyes fastened on the stark white house at the end of the cul-de-sac. No, actually the building was not completely white. Splashes of red and green encircled the bottom concrete foundation seen above the clipped grass measured half an inch high. It was a deep red color, much the same as an upwelling of blood from an old scab picked open. Along both sides the house looked covered by the sores with the telltale signs of gangrene lurking underneath.

Low snickers rolled from my throat at my observations. My mind must be in a dismal mood today.

Fingers twisted the steering wheel to pull the car back into the correct side of traffic. I wanted to allow the old Nova to continue drifting, to find its own way forward and ignore the curb’s fast approach.

Go, car. Find your path. Take me away from here.

No. I doubted the neighbors would appreciate the crushed hedges and the watery grave in their swimming pool if I released the steering wheel one final time. The rush of regret filled me. The sensation was undeniable.

My body jumped in the bouncing seat as the four wheels took to the driveway, a straight arrow shot from the main road. The pavement was never this pitted before, as my memories tried to convince me that perhaps we had come to the wrong place after all. Most of the houses had the same look to them. So mistaking one for another would be easy and, hey, why should we even be here after all? We both knew of a comfy apartment somewhere with its medicine cabinet full of everything that we missed most.

I gasped at this. Two years. Two years since I had walked out of that rehab clinic pegged with a clean bill of health. Yet here I was thinking of burnt-orange colored bottles offering their rattling bliss. And I had not even gotten out of the car yet.

The tension ate into me. It had to happen when coming back here and pulling the car into the bumpy driveway. Destiny told me to run over the shadowy child of my memories who played on the cement as she created chalk drawings seconds before the anxious thunderstorm. The merciless pounding of possessed thoughts as they drove slanted drops of tension upon me, as it soaked my skin in panicked sweat and dashed fleet fantasies away for a happy reunion at the house.


I slammed both feet against the brake pedal to stop the car before it plowed a hole into the house. The lever shifted the needle to Park as the rest of the car responded. Wheels locked up. The engine idled. A gas gauge lowered toward the E as it guaranteed no return trip unless it meant hitching a tow truck ride for the next eight hours.

My hand lifted to adjust the rearview mirror again. I could not help it. The road behind me looked more inviting with the dark asphalt stretching from this cul-de-sac. A freedom to explore the far reaches of the countryside without the responsibilities laid upon those who must take the path to humble destinations.

I turned the ignition off and listened to the faint clicks of the machinery wind down under the hood. I gripped the car handle tight. My sight stared at the rear of the house and at the two curved pieces of wood resting on the porch. The rocking chair was still, but the number ten flashed on the car’s clock. Late in the morning, Clare must be out there while sipping on her iced tea and fuming over how late I arrived. She would sit there commenting to herself, "Where is that good-for-nothing Jena? Why can’t anybody ever depend on her to do anything?"

Why did she volunteer to come out here? That was my question slipping into thoughts again, speaking in third-person to make my problem less real if I pretend it was happening to someone else. Dropping the act, I placed the car keys into my purse.

Why did I volunteer to look after my grandmother? Why had I chosen to return to the scene of the crime?

Because no one else could do it, had been Teddy’s argument. My brother was the lawyer who had debated his options on whether to take on the case docket of sick grandmother suffering from a near stroke. He had weighed the strengths and weaknesses, then he deferred to his new wife who reminded him of Clare’s dislike for her. Ted was not ready to deal with the infighting at the house. To spare his granny of the unnecessary stress in her weak condition, was his motive. Unselfish Teddy.

Because our own families need to come first, had been my sister’s statement. Anna was the homemaker with four kids and a hardworking husband managing two jobs. She could not put her life on hold to help Granny Clare. Her responsibility basket overflowed at the top already. She did not want to add another burden to the strained weaving. Toiling Anna.

Because it was time for Jena to settle down, their dancing words had silently hinted at as I clicked open the car door. With sandaled feet about to step out, a thump sounded behind the passenger seat. Pink luggage. The manager from the halfway house had been kind enough to give her only set to me. They had been sliding around back there during the trip across two states. From driving up mountain trails and rushing down steep valley slopes, those bags had threatened to tumble off and spring upon to send somewhat clean clothes to the dirty floor mat. Then only after I had pulled onto a level track of asphalt did they finally decide to fall. What a gyp!

I leaned over and grabbed the misbehaving luggage while hoping nothing was too soiled. That would be all I needed. Arrive at Granny’s house late with dirty clothes and the appearance of a highschool dropout who needed a place to stay. Yet my appearance held more than that, as the real reason I packed bags and drove here reentered my mind while still trying to convince me I had made the right decision.

Because it would give me a chance to start over, the chance to prove myself as Jena the normal person instead of Jena the rehab-bouncing felon.

I managed to get everything back inside the cases while in my slanted position. I quietly closed the door and shuffled my way up the path leading to the backyard. On the left side was the neighbor’s fence. Ugly. They must not have painted it in years. This was a surprise to me. A day had never passed by when my siblings and I were kids where Clare was not in arms about the fence. Through the open windows, her overbearing sarcasm had sounded a block away. It had been her way of goading the neighbor in embarrassment, or submission, or to put up For Sale signs in the yard.

On the right side the splotches of red and green I had seen before took on new shapes in an old way. Rose bushes. Taller than even me, they reached out with thorny limbs to occasionally tug at my clothes. My God! Won’t those things ever die? They had been here from the time of WWI when Granny’s granny planted them. I had bad memories of those plants, of being sent out to pick a vase full of them once every other week.

"But, Granny, the thorns hurt my fingers," I said before breakfast. Clare would not feed me until I went outside with the white ceramic vase.

"Of course they do, Jena. They are roses. Perfection will always hurt. It is the pain we endure to strive for what is most important to us," Clare patiently responded each time. She sat in the chair, her real attention focused on Gramps as he puffed at his pipe with all the windows thrown open to get rid of the smoke. Bellies had growled from all of us. No one would eat until I took myself outside to pick exactly eight roses off the bushes, no more and no less. Clare would never give me any gloves or snips to do the painful work. I had to carefully break the branches with fingertips without pulling off the thorns. She would become angry if she saw one rose marred from its original state. Granny would force me to go back outside and pick another.

Perfection will always hurt: Clare’s steadfast motto. I tried to push it away as I neared the side of the porch. Yet I failed. The words had pricked my mind. It would probably take my entire stay here to loosen their sharp points.

Halfway along the path I stopped my strolling feet. The rocking chair’s legs had remained still. Perhaps Clare was not back there. Strange.

Fingers dropped pink luggage to the ground. Little point in carrying them back. Granny would insist I use the front door to come inside the house. I took another step forward, about to call out her name, when my sandal crunched down on an outstretched twig. The thorn sunk into the soft leather as I leapt away. I managed to pull free without any damage to myself, although I could not say the same for the roses. I had yanked a young bush from the dirt bed. Its lifeless body now littered the sidewalk.

"La-la-la." Creak. "La-da-da." Creak.

The noises came from the porch, as the rocker tilted in long jerks forward and back. A rattling noise, ice cubes maybe, shifted while a sip-sip echoed toward me. Then the singing returned in sporadic spurts of loud humming and mumbled words.

Body lowered, I searched for an open spot along the rose branch and picked it up to quickly give a toss over the neighbor’s fence. Then I scraped the bottom of my sandal against the path in the attempt to return the displaced dirt to the mulched flowerbeds. A mole got into them; that is what it looked liked and this was the lie I planned to tell Clare. I saw the thing myself. A mole.

Hands lowered, I picked up the handles to the pink luggage. I hurried around the side of the porch as Clare’s eyes followed me silently. The iced tea with the one mint leaf rested in her wrinkled fingers and on the doily which laid in her lap ready to catch any wayward moisture from the beaded glass. She continued to push feet against the floorboards, the creaking of the chair steady in its movement. Silent now, her thin lips held neither a grin of welcome nor a frown of impatience. They were even, straight from one cheek to the other and more smooth than any road I had traveled on to get here. She studied every inch of me with her moving eyes, her face holding no expression. I knew what this look meant.

Granny Clare was pissed.
There now. Wasn’t exercising your imagination fun?


  1. Was this your imagination? Or maybe pulled from some dark place in your past? Of course you're under no obligation to answer that, I just wonder sometimes.

    Either way, it was a great read, Michelle. Definitely interesting. And sad. And very, very good. And left me wanting more.

    What happened next? Did Granny Clare stay mad long? How did Jena handle it? Did she end up staying?

    I want to know.

  2. Have any thesis writing exercises? Cause I need one of those. lol

  3. Josephine:-) Lol! Sorry, no thesis writing exercise lodged anywhere. I might need a "revision writing exercise" because I saw a lot of things I need to work on in this piece. My fingers are still crossed for your thesis, and it has been rough typing with them like this for the past few months. Also, I'm glad you made it safe and sound through the hurricane... too bad about your other computer dying though.

    Sandra:-> No, I pretty much did as I described in the first part. I cleared my mind and leaned my head back and just let my fingers type. Eerie. I'm a little scared of my subconscious right now. None of the events were from my past (all my grandparents died before I was born and I've never been in rehab -yet.)

    My question to you is how bad do you want to know? Because this has the feeling of being longer than a short fiction story. I guess the battle between the rock star and the shovel-wielding granny is still ongoing...

  4. VERY good writing, Michelle; it left me wanting more, too!

  5. Oh I want to know. Yes indeed, I think the shovel-wielding granny has my vote for this one! Please don't leave us hanging!

  6. Brenda:) Thank you kindly! As for wanting more, you might want to read the comment I'm about to give to Sandra.

    Sandra:} That was a trick question! You were supposed to say, "Why, Michelle, how could I possibly want more? I know your working on a different manuscript right now. I couldn't ask you to work on two at once no matter how much granny is incessantly beating your mind with her shovel!"

    Hee-hee! I *might* slip everyone more - at least the remainder of the chapter. Heck, you already got over 2100 words in this one. I'm lucky you stuck around long enough the read the whole thing through!

  7. Your imagination is scary, darling - just like the story. Wouldn't have it any other way, of course. Good job!

  8. Hee-hee... Suldog called me darling after calling me scary. Scary darling; I like that. It would make a good title.

    Your kind words are wonderful, my light-gray friend!

  9. You are so very welcome, laughingwolf!


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