Sometimes you just miss. It can happen two times in a row. And even when its not your fault, the arrow or the bullet or the whatever metaphor you want to insert just doesn’t go where it is supposed to go. There isn’t a reason, it’s just that these things happen to people.
I have new stories that I can put into words and some that I sadly still cannot. Someone told me yesterday “Bad things come in threes, looks like you’re about over the hump.” Painful events seem to gravitate toward each other. Life can take hold of your throat and poke you in the eye, and while your cleaning that up come from behind, pull down your pants and wax the back of your legs, and not gently. I had a pity party for the first time yesterday in the girl’s car. It was the first time I exhaled and breathed the word ‘why’ (where do you put the period here…inside of out of the quotes? Am I even an adult?).
I wish like hell that there wasn’t a why. And there might not be, in all honesty. It’s that question that people wrestle with, a dead horse cliché worth nothing more than bullshit answers you get back. What makes you such a good person that nothing bad should ever happen to you? The pretense is mind-blowing.
I started writing a short story called Walter. I haven’t finished yet, but I figure I’ll post the first part. It is inspired by a cold Michigan spring and wool jackets that are worth a damn. It smells musty. This part reminds me of fourth grade when the teacher explains what setting is and then you have to make up your own. It is an incredibly simple and beautiful idea that we have forgotten everywhere except for writing. Setting, time and place, the when and the where of life. I think that Hemmingway’s greatest strength was access to these incredible, inspirational places in a time where they were just coming out of their own Wild West, when the alpha could really flex his muscle. The kind of settings he built in his fiction, especially the short stories, are truly what draws me in. I will post the rest next week or so.
Walter straightened when he saw the scattered pile of ash collecting inches from his tattered legal pad. He was a two fisted writer. One clutched an unpainted pine pencil that had scratched a permanent callous between his left index and middle finger. The other delicately fingered a burning cigarette. He kept another behind his ear and when both were smoked he would roll two more from legal pad paper and Indiana tobacco that he kept an old Dominican cigar box. This particular ash was the first draft of a series of letters he had penned the year before. He quickly finished his smoke and brushed it onto the cedar floor.
The room was simple, sparsely decorated. Cedar plank floors unstained and largely untreated had bent and bowed through the many years, no two the same, uncoordinated. There was but one picture of his paternal grandmother on the adjacent left wall. She was rowing a Thompson oar boat, smiling, the year before it had floated away. Walter and his father had walked the perimeter of the lake two and a half times before finally conceding to their misfortune. He looked out from his desk at the old dock where the boat had once been tied, noting how its replacement lacked the old pioneer character of that old wooden boat. There was a small propane-burning stove and an even smaller oatmeal-colored icebox the opposite side of the room, next the door to his bedroom that housed a double-sized bed and the home’s original chest of drawers built when his grandfather was twenty.
He rolled two more cigarettes as he watched the world from his thatched seat. The windowpane rattled occasionally from blustery winds, the chop on the lake was quick and deliberate. When Walter stood back his straightened from his slight shoulder slump. His stoop was the result of his seventh grade growth spurt, a lank that he had not quite grown into despite the years that had passed. His body creaked as his arms and back arched to stretch.
He moved to the sliding glass doors and paused. He stood to remember for a moment. The dock remained steady through the springtime gusts of wind and wave. March was much like Walter, stretching and creaking like a cellar door after a long Michigan winter. The snow was now gone, but the leaves had yet to bud on the trees. There was no evidence of a harsh winter or new growth, seasonal purgatory.
Walter reached for his overcoat and slipped it on. He stepped through the open door and onto the wooden steps, putting he cigarettes in his coat pocket. He made his way down the brick path that lead to the dock. His father had laid the path when Walter was a child, the result of cosmetic improvements and the graceless aging of his grandmother. On cold October evenings she would be covered in quilt and wheeled to the foot of the dock to watch the lake in the waning hours of daylight.
The wind was cold and wet and he tightened his shoulders against it. It was not crisp, but heavy. The dreariness was a source of comfort, a synergy of emotions that relieved the lonliness that Walter had felt for most of his life. He lit a match and puffed out a pillow of smoke. He walked up to the dock quietly, surveying the lake with his hands in this coat pockets. Nail by nail he had pounded the panels together, his young hands blistered and cramped. That was 1949. That was the same year that his mother had passed, each stroke of the hammer was an expression of their silence, their sadness. Her love his Father’s guiding light, and when it was gone, he was lost to purpose. They went to South Haven that summer, just the two of them to fish from the pier. There was hardly a word between them, a stoic expression of the hurt that loss brings.
His grandmother’s health quickly deteriorated in the coming months. The sadness of Walter’s father was too much for her to overcome. Walter lit a cigarette as he remembered sitting in silence with her the weeks before she passed. He would wheel her down the brick path to the edge of the lake. The smell of pine and the northern air brought a pleasant smile to her face, the stillness of the water gave her peace. She used to listen as the crickets bade good evening to the forest, and as hoot owl called the day done.