Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Hey, Presto! Instant Fiction

The lousy weather put rather a (literal) damper on the Ann Arbor Book Festival, but I got out and about nonetheless. Because what I really need is more books, I picked up a copy of Writing Ann Arbor, an anthology of essays and stories about the city, and Rabbit Punches, a short story collection by Jason Ockert, who also taught the "quickie" writing seminar I attended on Sunday.

He called the seminar "Writing the Fiction Widget," and our pre-work included writing down and bringing five distinct but unrelated sentences that came to mind beforehand. Then we passed them to someone else, who picked the two she (I was the only guy there) thought were most interesting.

After discussing the sentences, we were instructed to pick one and spend 20 minutes writing a story, or "widget" as he said, around it. Yikes. Talk about flash fiction. I came up with 249 words I entitled "Harmless." I don't think the widget quite fits the sentence it started from, but anyway, here it is:

"She was determined to have no explanation for most of her life."

The uninvited commentary issued from the guy I knew would be trouble as soon as I sat on the bar stool next to him. His dark eyes shone with alcoholic intensity as he spoke –- at first to no one in particular, then gradually to his unfortunate new audience: me.

"I always asked her about things, you know." The graying hairs of his stubble stuck out like needles. I tried to ignore him, but he went on.

"All the things she would never discuss. She hated to talk about anything personal. Anything about us."

I looked at my watch. 7:30. She was already half an hour late, and I was on my second beer; I deemed my unwanted companion harmless by the end of my first.

"She would never tell me where she went at night. Never explain the long absences. The other men. The leftover dinners she brought home. None of it."

I closed my eyes and willed Michelle to arrive soon. Harmless did not mean he wasn't annoying, but there was no other place to sit.

"We fought all the time," he continued. "But in the end, she was more determined than me." He took a long drink from his mug.

The bartender asked if I wanted a third beer, but before I could answer I felt a warm touch on my neck. I turned around and she was there, smiling.

"Where were you?" I asked.
Alcohol. Bars. Screwed up relationships. Raymond Carver I am not. But I sure seem to want to be.