I’ve been dreading it for 13 lessons, the final assignment and exam of The Creative Writing Workshop, and I had no idea what it was going to be except that other students posted their final ‘exams’ in the forums and they were all lengthy, well-worded short fiction stories having to do with a man named David in tears. Oh my.
Have I ever said how bad I am with fiction?
Nevertheless, I pressed through the course and did every little bit of extra ‘stuff’ I could find in order to delay the inevitable. And then I waiting. And fretted. And moaned to my dear husband. And finally, clicked the “Start Assignment” button on my class screen.
“Using all the elements you have studied, write a 1,000 plus word short story in which one of three themes is the base:
1)David sat down on the side of the road and began to cry
2) I was asked the most peculiar question last Wednesday
3) A woman who won’t leave her house due to an extreme phobia of dogs
Be as creative as you wish. Pay attention to dialog, plot, character development and setting. Final piece should have no errors, please proofread and edit carefully.”
I must say that this course has greatly improved my opinion of fiction. *Gasp* It’s been incredibly good for me to be forced to write things I would never choose, and to be forced to write them well – or at least try. Although it ground a little hard at first, I have enjoyed writing made-up dialog between sisters who haven’t spoken in seven years, or describing the short jog of a man on an early spring morning, or understanding the character of a woman who never leaves her house because she is afraid of being bitten.
So here it is, after weeks of teeth-wearing anxiety My Short Story…
***I still dream of teeth, yellow, pointed teeth sharpened into daggers, shining wet rows in dark red mouths, and they say I am crazy. This is the third reason why I decided to stay.
My world consists of one bedroom, a kitchen, bathroom and a smallish sort of parlor where I do my deep-relaxation breathing in the evening. Everything is on one floor, connected by door-less doorways (I had the doors removed the winter I decided to stay) and short, picture-less halls (Why is it that no one thinks it strange that we frame dead images and use them as decoration?) but I like it. I know where everything is at all times. I don’t remember what color the house is outside, or what kind of landscaping clutters up the yard, nor do I care. My house is the last one you pass before you reach the dead end of the road, the one pre-teen boys come and stand in front of each Halloween, eggs held tight in trembling hands, taunting each other to throw the first one and earn their manhood. I watch them from behind my curtain, silently agonizing, always wishing they wouldn’t make the youngest, scrawniest of the group go first – he looks so petrified. But that’s the way it goes. The scrawny ones go first. Always. That’s the first reason why I decided to stay.
I live here by myself.
My name is Meg and I am, strangely enough, not as old as everyone says. I look in the mirror and see, not an old person, but a quiet one with smooth, pale skin and eyes that have always been too dark – like small, perfectly round holes. My hair is black and straight and long and usually tied up in a bun on the back of my neck. I don’t think I am very tall, I fit in the house well and the sheets cover my feet, nor am I too short to reach things resting on the edge of the top shelf in the kitchen. The person staring back at me in the mornings is very clean and very calm. This is the second reason why I decided to stay – I like things to be orderly and calm. Noise distracts me. People disturb me. I don’t like how the world moves so fast, rushing over the calm, slow ones like me and the scrawny, young ones like the boy with the egg, tearing us apart with its teeth.
The third reason, as I mentioned before, are the dreams. I dream about teeth and the gaping wounds they cause. Foaming fangs, and the blocky ivory-colored ones you find in old cow skulls, and the smooth thin ones old people can no longer use – they all invade my sleep and my memory, and they say I am crazy. But I’m not. I’m just very quiet and calm and that’s what I remember best. The teeth.
Every Tuesday someone brings me food. I’ve forgotten his name, but I think it was something like Henry or Frank. Sometimes I think about it and try to remember, but it doesn’t really matter. He comes and brings big bags full of vegetables and eggs and some milk or fruit and Captain Crunch cereal in its orange cardboard box. I like the peanut butter kind.
“Hey Meg.” He says, and smiles too loudly. His name is Charles. Charlie. I look away. I don’t like him, I don’t like his smile and I suddenly remember why I have forgotten his name. He doesn’t fit in my house with his long limbs and messy hair, dark like mine, and gleaming teeth in two perfect rows. His boots are leaving crumbs of outside on my floor with every step. I think when he leaves I will forget him again.
“How’s it going? You keeping well in here? Sure enough, it’s a lovely day out, you should get some sun!” He sets the bags down on the kitchen floor with a bang and eyes me from his squatting position, his knees askew as if he hadn’t a place to fold them properly, neatly. “You’re looking mighty thin, there, Meg. You eating enough? You need some more eggs or something?” He stands back up and stares at me. His checkered shirt is unbuttoned at the neck and his jeans have large, worn spots at the knees. The hems are frayed around his brown boots.
“No.” I said, quietly, calmly. If there was a fourth reason for staying in here, it would be Charles and people like him. Every one out there is like him. Either loud or smiling or scrawny or pushy or mean and they’re all obsessed with the sun. And they all have teeth, and dogs with fangs that bite and leave bloody wounds. I think I will stay here.
“You sure? Cuz I could get you some more eggs. I know this real nice farm, the people on the other side of town with the round barn, remember?” He waits for me to act as though I do.
“Yeah, well, anyway, they just got another batch of little hens that are laying up a storm! I could get you all the eggs you want, we could run those chicks dry…” He must think this is funny because he bursts into a disorderly laugh and then wipes his eyes. His brown face seems young and wrinkled at the same time. He moves so fast. He goes from calm to hysterics to calm again in a matter of minutes. I don’t understand him. He is quiet now and looks around. “You want me to open these curtains for you? It really is a nice day out, I think you’d like the sun…”
“No.” I keep the curtains closed for a reason. There are windows in the bedroom, sky lights, and that is all the sun I need. I wish he would leave. The air feels crowded and upset around him.
“Ok. Well then. If you ever want to go see those chickens, you just let me know, I’ll take you to get your eggs if you want… if you ever want, you know? I told them about you and they’d love to meet you…” He makes long movements through the hall to the front door as he talks. I stay standing in the kitchen, I don’t like being near the door when it opens. I wait until it closes, and then a moment longer to hear the lock slide into place from the outside before I come out of the kitchen. I walk over to the bathroom and look in the mirror.
“I look thin.” I think. Dark eyes. Black hair. White skin. Quiet. Calm. Clean. Thin.
Another week passes as they usually do. I clean and read and eat and paint, watch the sun in the skylight in the afternoons and breathe in the evenings, at night I dream and then it’s Tuesday again.
“Hey Sis!” It’s that noisy man again, he appears suddenly in the hallway and I can never remember his name. Doug. Robert. John. He smells warm and damp, it must be raining outside and he is carrying wet bags of groceries, they’re dripping over every inch of the kitchen floor. Cucumbers, milk, apples, peanut butter Captain Crunch cereal, and eggs. I start to unpack the bags and see that the carton of eggs has been re-labeled, there is a white sticker with a name and address on the top,
1436 Merried Lane
The name seems familiar, I reach out to touch it, but it seems dirty and not quite right so I stop. Charlie watches me read it.
“McNoughton. Remember? That’s mom and dad’s place, with the round barn – remember we used to play in it? They just got the new hens I was telling you about last week?” It all seems so real, as if I could remember it if it were, but I am not sure. I think I would rather stay here than remember.
“Ok. Yep. Well I gotta run, ok? Try and get some sun now, you hear?”
Sun obsessed. And the dreams say that I’m crazy.***