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update on the short-story conundrum: I wrote one that I might actually like!

July 18, 2007

Charles and Amanda: thanks for the encouragement on tackling short stories. I am finding them a nice change of pace, after all…though I find I have to write pages of backstory before I know where the plot is going and can actually start my story. I am cranking out one-a-day for my summer class, and thought I would share what I consider to be my first successful (and incredibly encouraging) draft! Happy reading!


I remember reading once that on receiving news of a death, one of the Presidents just held onto the receiver of the Oval Office phone for a long time, not hanging it up. It was like that. Eons of the even, deep tone on the other end. The softening of the blue glow from the cell-phone face. The sound broken off at some point by the whirling, pummeling edge of sleep. I awoke to the mustard-yellow flowers, cupping turquoise circles on the quilt. And then, the smothering descent of my memory.

Medium blue pulmonary, slipping down the page before me like a river. I followed it, eyes feeling the page for a cluster of arteries that marked highway nine. Another three hours, at least. I had already asked him if his Grandad’s funeral in Florida is the only one he’d ever been to. No, he’d said; there’d been six or seven, maybe. And black suits didn’t make him think of funerals. Pre-professional men had to wear black suits at plenty of other occasions.

I closed my eyes on the dusty heat, pressing the map against my chest, pretending that the map’s lines were mine, veins and arteries pulled to the surface like shipwrecks, held by a web of cranes. This time last year I was in Tokyo, on my way to Beijing, turning twenty and having my first panic attack in the airport. Walking made me dizzy so I lay down across white chairs, anchored to the white floor, an ivory relief complete with white wall. Laura brought me dim-sum and spicy nuts, which I didn’t eat.

That’s how I learned about jigai. Laura had bought an illustrated history of Japan from the English bookstore, along with rice-paper paintings for her live-in girlfriend. The descriptions had that tone I savored so much—the childish, direct explanations, and inverted sentence-structure. Laura read them to me, while I lay with the open end of a brown paper bag to my face, using my breaths to crumple it.

Ritual suicide, the book had called it. Women were given the twin attributes of being unable to bear pain (Laura and I had sniggered at that.) and being prone to solitude. They were expected, unlike the men who partnered to flay one another at the stomach, to use a six-inch knife to undo the jugular vein in themselves. This method—jigai—provided minimum disfiguration to the pallor and grace of the aristocrats, and saved them from dishonor in the form of rape by a conquering army.

When my eyes opened again, we were pulling off the interstate.

“Where are we?”

“Oh, about to Cedar Rapids,” he said, “we need gas.”

I sat up, wiping under my eyes and stretching the skin to the corners, pulling my pointer finger back to observe the black smudges of mascara.

“You want anything, baby? A coke or something?”

“Yeah, a coke’s fine.” I felt my limbs were heavy, and doubted I’d drink anything. Already, I felt the bile rising again. I thought about a lecture I’d been to on the morose melancholy of the Romantics, and tuberculosis. 160 miles to Winnsboro.

I imagined Grandpa, with his pleated pants, staggering out to the brick walk; I could see the dappled sunshine in his drive, the way it would layer over the sunspots and age-spots folded into his face over the years. Last time I was there, he had made a diagram, taping her medicines to a piece of foamboard, with labels…Zoloft, Diatrepamin, Seratraline, Chloranopam…pink, white, gel, powdery, indented or carved with tiny characters, they stuck on like pinned insects. (To the right, in parenthesis, the number of times daily they must be swallowed.) He’d started turning her plate, so she’d notice all her food, and had taken her white Chrysler away by then.

How could I go bravely into that dark night now? She used no knife, just the pink ceramic bathtub put in by his first wife, and too many pills. If I must go like that, I will tie down my thighs to my shins and face away from the door first. I wouldn’t want to be found wearing the contorted mask of death.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    July 19, 2007 6:57 pm

    it’s good….i like it a lot….a lot a lot….but the only thing you might want to do is add a bit more character development. It’s a little vague, bits of specificity might be a good shock here and there. but the conceit is wonderful

    a kind of re-examination of death as a form of power.


    loveeeeee youuuu
    ps. let me know if i’m dead wrong (pun intended) or if you want me to butt out 🙂


  2. Green Eyed Muse permalink
    July 20, 2007 12:34 am

    you are not dead wrong. pun well received, and criticism much appreciated.

    the down side is that brady is serious about his two page minimum.
    alas, character development!

  3. Anonymous permalink
    July 20, 2007 6:46 pm

    omg TWO PAGES….brady kinda sucks sometimes…i forgot taht you don’t get the adorable wonderment that is rochelle

    alas alack!

    but you know you have a good story when the criticisism is wanting to know more…..

    thanks for appreciating the pun

    can we please have a poetry-a-thon some time 🙂

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