Instructions from Step 3 of “Get Your Story Started” by John Smolens from The Writer magazine:
3. Write something that links some of the pieces (60 minutes).
Consider what you recorded when you got out of the house and now write a narrative that attempts to connect some (probably not all) of what you saw and heard. Establish a single point of view other than your own, and in a voice that is very not you. It may be based on one of the people you observed, or it may simply emerge from the writing. If so, you’ve moved away from simply recording your observations towards writing fiction.
E.M. Forster famously encouraged literature to “only connect,” and I believe it’s a good signpost to put in the path of fiction writers. It gets them thinking about relationships, about cause and effect.
My response to Step 3. Start time: 9:20.
Arlene holds her cane as though it’s an option, an accessory, like her crimson-rimmed reading specs. Sure, she’s in control, always in control, but she looks miserable, like a used mop that dries hardened with salt from the winter slush. She’s weathering, all right. But I don’t feel sorry.
She told me she was getting drinks tonight, so I know she’s not up to snuff. “Do not to say a word to me like that last time,” she said to me in the car, so I won’t. I squeezed her leg anyway, from across the console. She didn’t flinch.
Now, at least there will be a table between us. I don’t have to be the good husband, not physically, anyway.
“Arlene! How wonderful to see you,” Joel, the restaurant manager, says.
Is it? She’s a wreck.
“Joel. How have you been?” Arlene spins her cane out as though it’s her dance partner, not her saving grace. She wants him to hug her because I don’t.
He does. Christ, he’s a baby. Gotta be mid-forties. Her chin stays put on Joel’s shoulder bone for a long time. I’m confident that it doesn’t bother me. Maybe he thinks she’s his grandmother.
“Andrew,” Joel says, thankful to pull from Arlene’s grasp. “How’s retirement?”
Whys everyone always asking this? Good. One step closer to death.
“Fantastic,” I say. “You know, playing some solitaire, some online poker.”
“Must be nice for you, Arlene, to have Andrew around more,” Joel says.
“Yeah. It’s getting better,” Arlene says.
I smile anyways.
“So how ya feelin’?” Joel asks Arlene, but looks at me. I’m already sitting, so Joel helps Arlene sit in the booth. She has that grip on his sweater that shows the yellow tones in her skin.
I’m not saying a word this time. Last time I had to tell Arlene to keep eating, so she would keep occupied and not tell the whole damned place about her course with illness this time. She’s lucky. Some people suffer.
“Oh, Joel. These shots in my legs.” She’s gesturing down, as though he can see the pain through her slacks. “They make me feel like I’m damn pregnant.”
“Sounds rough,” Joel says. “I wouldn’t know much about that.”
I’m smiling again. Neither does she, I think. Even when she was a pretty thing, she was fertile as the Mojave. Hell, maybe she would have had children to care for her.
“Joel, I’ll have a vodka on the rocks. If you have time to grab it for me,” Arlene says. Christ.
“Sure thing, Arlene,” Joel says. “Andrew?”
“I’ll have a coffee,” I say. It’s gonna be a long night if it’s anything like last night. I dumped her drink, red wine from a bottle that’d been re-corked on the counter for months. She wasn’t moving from the living room recliner, that’s for sure, but her mouth was.
That’s when I let it out. “Arlene, I’m leaving on Tuesday.”
“Where are you going? And what will I do?”
I was going to leave. Leave. Capital L. My mind was halfway round the world already. My parents died in Georgia, had a sprawled-out plantation home that my sister keeps now. I’ll fly Laney out there first.
“I have to meet with Jordan,” I lie. “He needs some help with Laney.” She hates that plane, and that I gave my nephew the airport, but I have no one else to pass it to.
We haven’t talked about my trip yet today, but I’m sure when she finishes the glass of vodka Joel has just set in front of her, it will come up.
Joel is a good man. A bit of a girl, sure, the way he’s so eager to please. Should have asked him for some Moonshine to see how far he’d go to get it.
“Your coffee, Andrew. Been out on the plane lately?” Joel asks. He’s being kind.
Arlene snorts. Her hair has grayed even more since I’ve retired, or she’s stopped keeping up with it. She looks god-awful.
“Not lately. I will as soon as the weather breaks,” I say.
“Oh, you will?” Arlene asks.
“Wanna come?” I ask Arlene.
“Never did,” she says.
“I can’t believe that Arlene,” Joel says. “I can imagine the rush. Why haven’t you gone? In all these years,” he says.
All these years.
“I’m sure the pressure and elevation would do a number on my body,” she says.
Right. Or her mind.
“Nothing like it,” I say. “The jolt of the engine, the smooth hop you feel just under the heel. It’s freeing,” I say.
“Take me out sometime,” Joel says.
“I wouldn’t trust him,” Arlene says.
She doesn’t. She shouldn’t.
“Sure thing,” I say.
Stop time: 10:37.