From a triptych of stories writtten with all narrative devices stripped away to leave bare the inner dialogue of a character wrestling with trust and faith in her intuition for love. It is a quirky piece, yet one of my favorites for saying exactly what I meant it to. This story was published on Web Conjunctions in December 2010.
At a bar in Crooked Moon Bay, making small talk with a friend who was days away from being married, I watched a woman with long, titian hair lean over a burning candle as she bent close to talk to a friend. She didn’t know, but in her excitement, her hair fell into the flames. The friend gestured desperately, trying to stop the girl’s emphatic story. She finally noticed, her hands rising pragmatically to put out the flaming twists of her hair, squeezing out fire as if wringing out water. Shampoo, rinse, repeat.
My dad once told a story about the numb anonymity of the folks he shared the train platform with, commuting to Manhattan — until one morning, just as the train pulled up, one guy sang out, “It’s my last day on the platform…” This snow-balled with a conversation with my grandmother about all the men she’d once dated, the main character forming in my mind and… this story was born.
Awake in Her Garden
The winter of 2010 held record-breaking lows in Florida. Our orchids were wiped out. When my sons appeared for little league tryouts, they faced a line of coaches wrapped in sleeping bags in their lawn chairs. That wasn’t story in itself, if it hadn’t connected with the image, through the central character’s eyes, of his parents as they whittled their way through divorce, and certain funny memories for which I must give nod to the little monkeys who call me mom. This one’s a favorite, at the moment.
He imagined his little brother alone on the floor of his father’s apartment. When they stayed up late, he would doze off in the middle of a show. He couldn’t help staring at his little brother’s face, smooth in the blue light of the TV, the face of his spy companion, his Jedi adversary when awake, now softened to look as it had when he was a baby. “I’m sorry you had to sleep alone,” he whispered, tears pinching from his eyes at the thought of his little brother’s scared face, crying.
Jar of Teeth
A new story, playing with theft. Of a college friend who binged on cleptomania, I once heard said that sudden temptation to commit petit theft can be psychological sign of one fearing an impending loss. What starts as an exchange between mother and daughter comes together as something different altogether.
The teeth fascinate her, this many years later. Glittery rattle of enamel on glass. Delicate. Permanent. Silken pearly buds seeded hidden in the newborn’s gums. Coroner’s identifier long after death.
Hair of the Dog
Beginning with a man whose life is disassembling in the current economy, the story plays with a singular, absurd artifact of his childhood. As the story’s literal “hair of the dog,” the artifact traces an imaginary line of memory, revealing the flaw of shared memory and how lonely life can be, even in the throes of family.
Sister story to Still Life on the Beach, answering the persisting question, “When were you bad?”
At a lecture at Bread Loaf , Charles Baxter talked to us about character motivation — specifically, how often writers seek to explain their characters’ actions when in fact so many actions and choices arise out of chaos. Without planning, from sheer chaos, this story spooled out some time later. Its brother story, in spirit, is Hair of the Dog.
Honorable Mention, Writers at Work Fiction Fellowship
© All words and ideas on this site are copyright Elissa Field. No reproduction or use without permission.