Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Smallest of Openings

Winter Morning on the Mississippi River, Iowa
I had a few bad years back in the '80s. I'd quit writing. Almost quit living. Short stories got me through and I depended on a few writers for everything: Ann Beattie, Melissa Banks, T.C. Boyle, Carver (of course) and Pam Houston. 
So when I had the opportunity to submit a short story to win a spot at one of Houston's workshops, I was in. I didn't expect to be one of the winners, but I'm going to Boulder.

Here's the piece. It's fiction. The parameters were: Include an airplane, song lyrics from the 70s, a fruit with the letter P and an animal I'd like to be. And do it in 500 words.

The smallest of openings

Out there, the sky went on forever and the days stretched even further. It was that sky Lily remembered years later when someone asked where she’d been.

The television was on. She kept it in a corner of the kitchen counter for company. She’d looked up to see a plane flying into the building.

She remembered that part.

She also remembered the antidepressants weren’t working. How the daily sadness squeezed tighter that morning, a dark dog curled around her heart stealing the last heat from a dying fire.

She’d called him, suspecting he hadn’t heard. No one believed him when he told the story about that day. He’d been in the fields. It was noon when he’d finally thought to look at his phone. By then, the planes had stopped flying, emptying the September sky of clouds and contrails, leaving it the calm endless blue of a tropical sea.

“I don’t want to be alone.” Jack hadn’t picked up, so she left a message. “I don’t know who else to call.”

She’d waited in their sunshine yellow kitchen, embracing him before both his feet were over the threshold. Shaking her off, he turned to the television. She watched his face as it moved from shock to horror before settling on anger.

“You need a drink,” she said. “I’ll get us a drink.”

She kept a bottle of whiskey on the dining room sideboard. For him. She preferred wine. When she returned, two glasses in hand, the television played to an empty room. She found him in the bedroom, pulling clothes from his dresser drawer.

“All of this, it made me think about us. How lucky we are.” She held out his glass.

He walked past her, into the closet where his shirts hung apart from hers.

“I guess …” He’d never been good with words. “I guess our luck’s run out.”

She laughed at him, then realized he wasn’t joking.

“I guess I must have know it would some day,” she said, afraid to disagree.

Years later, when she told the story, she insisted that her luck had just begun, that it increased with ever piece of clothes he threw into his duffel.

But standing there, all she could say was “Where will you go? What will you do?”

He shrugged.  “Life’s too short.”

She swirled the liquor in his glass, then carried both to the sink.

A single jet flew low, far below radar range, crossing to the east, opening a small tear in the sky. She watched through the kitchen window as she poured the whiskey down the drain, thinking she should tell him the President was flying overhead. Tell him everything would be all right now.

Instead, she pulled a knife from the drawer, studying her reflection before choosing an apple from the bowl, slicing it onto a cracked china plate.

Outside, the sun was warm, the apple sweet. And for a second, she forgot that winter was near.