Better Late Than Never: #ministory

I’ve been meeting weekly with a writer friend to play at writing. I have tea, she has a latte, and we write randomly for fifteen minute stretches. I’ll be posting these mini-stories weekly until I run out! Here’s today’s installment:

He had waited twenty years to return it. He had driven five hundred kilometres to return it. And now he sat in his car across the street from the house, summoning the courage to return it. The courage would not be summoned. He watched the street. Cars drove up and down it. People came out of houses and entered cars. An elderly couple pushed a stroller—presumably with their grandchildren in it. The stroller was wide and it scraped against the passenger side of the car. The old woman knocked on the window and he pressed the button.

“I’m so sorry,” she said through the open window.

He came out to look at the scratch. In his hand he held the item, because he figured that if he didn’t get out of the car with it, he would return home without having done what he came to do. “You can barely see it,” he said. “Don’t worry about it. The car is twenty years old.” He’d hung onto the car longer tha he should have. It wasn’t really road safe anymore. He’d planned to finish his business here, get someone to tow it away, and fly home.

“It’s ready to be junked anyway. I think this is my last trip with it.”

“Oh? Where are you from?”

“Here,” he said. “Not right here. I mean Montreal. But lately from Toronto.”

“Have a nice stay,” the old woman said. He stood outside his car, watching her and the old man push the stroller.

Now or never, he thought, and crossed the street to the suburban bungalow. It looked the same as it had twenty years ago when he was renting the upper unit in the duplex on this side of the street. The same red tulips were blooming, but surely they must be new bulbs. The other yards were landscaped, not this one. Still the same boring grass and two lines of flowers in the bed. But the maple tree in front of the house was bigger now, shading the cement porch.

He stood on the porch with the cup in his hand. She might not even live here anymore. She probably didn’t. And when the door was answered, he wondered how ridiculous he would feel.

Very, he discovered.

“Hello?” she said.

He stood for a moment without replying. She wore the same dark glasses, still self-conscious about her eyes.

“Hello?” she said again, her tone slightly more anxious.

“It’s me,” he said. “I owe you a cup of sugar. Remember?”

She smiled. Thank God, she smiled. He promised to go to mass every Sunday for the rest of his life, even though he wasn’t Catholic. He promised to go to synagogue every Saturday, even though he wasn’t Jewish. He promised to go to a mosque—what day would that be? Never mind, he promised. He promised the Hindu gods while he followed her into the house.

Everything was placed just as it had been twenty years ago, and she walked confidently, holding the cup of sugar in both hands. She held it like it was a golden chalice. She held it like it was a cup of plutonium. Beautiful, costly, dangerous.

She didn’t ask him where he’d been or why he was late.

Rough Cut

Here’s a little something I wrote for fun today as a timed exercise:

The King Edward Hotel was not specifically fitted out for aliens, especially water breathing aliens, but fortunately, the Gnasticollas were used to the terrestriocentrism of many provincial planets, and arrived with their water helmets on and other necessary equipment in conveniently packed transportable cases.

There were screams, of course. The only time the documentary team for “Obscure Nature” had ever received a different reception was the time the chronosmeter malfunctioned, and they arrived on a planet shortly after it had been hit by a major asteroid. In fact, Zynko thought, it might have been this planet, which had been reputed to have gorgeously enormous creatures of an admirable variety, and his show had entirely missed them. Instead, he’d have to make do with these latecomer bipedal apes.

Just prior to the aliens’ arrival, Susan Abbott was self-consciously adjusting her new hat, wondering if it was a little too much. It seemed to be larger than the hats worn by the other women in the Purple Hat Society. It seemed to be purpler. It seemed to be cheaper. This was her first meeting, and everyone greeted her with friendly enough smiles and hellos. She smiled back. She didn’t know what to say other than to introduce herself by name, which was already obvious from her name tag. Newly single, newly jobless, newly pathetic just didn’t seem an apt response to “And what do you do?”

“I’m a grandmother,” she said.

“You look too young!” the president of the Purple Hat Society said. Her name was Cordelia Peppercorn. She was also president of her own company, which sold high end jewelry made by women’s collectives in India.

Susan privately agreed that she was too young. The mother of her grandchild was still in her teens. The father of her grandchild, her own offspring, had enrolled in the military to escape the baby’s mother, who was currently residing with Susan because her mother was a missionary.

So, although Susan was astonished by the aliens’ arrival, just as much as the next Purple Hat Society lady, her scream could be said to be one of relief, rather than dismay.

Thoughts on the Moon

Many years ago, I decided to write a story that deliberately incorporated archetypes. It was called, “Woman Menstruating on the Moon,” and it was my first story to be accepted into a literary magazine…in fact, to my shock, it was accepted at two. The experiment worked, and here I am many years later, thinking about the power of archetypes and symbols.

The ancient world built its calendar around the moon–the Romans, the Chinese, and the Hebrews all had lunar calendars. But these were given up in favour of the more work friendly solar calendar, connected with harvest rather than the moon, as devised by Julius Caesar, emperor of Ancient Rome. (No coincidence, it seems to me, that Luna was relinquished by the empire that revered the male soldier.)

In many cultures, the moon has an association with female energy, and so I chose it to symbolize my character’s fertility. As a woman in an abusive marriage, she couldn’t express herself directly, not without damage, physically and emotionally. Her PMS (which, interestingly, the male editor of the magazine took literally) gave voice to the pain and anger she couldn’t. Her situation worsened until her rage expressed itself in the only way it could, taking control of her fertility and destroying it by demanding a hysterectomy to “cure” her PMS. The barrenness of the moon represented her pyrrhic victory as she dreamed of being on the moon, menstruating onto the sterile rock.

In many cultures, the full moon is associated with “lunacy” and danger, like in the myth of the werewolf who takes his rabid form at the full moon. I can’t help but think that this is related to the way that women’s power has been seen as dangerous, and the ways that women’s authority and agency are suppressed directly by law or domestic violence, or indirectly by attitudes about women’s voices (studies show that women who talk as much as men are perceived to be dominating the conversation), about appearance (that how an anchorwoman is dressed matters, but not an anchorman), and through visibility (next time you’re watching TV, check how often experts are women; not to mention the notorious stats on book reviews and reviewers).

So as I think about the full moon just past, I realize that we need that lunar power, even a touch of lunacy, in our work as writers and in our lives as feminists, male and female, still working toward full equality.

Russian Letters

After ten years of research, and doing back and forth translations using google translate while scrutinizing its Russian/English dictionary, I am learning Cyrillic letters. I have to hope that this is keeping my brain agile! And for another meaning of Russian letters, I’m reading a wonderful collection of short stories edited by Robert Chandler, the translator and champion of the Soviet Jewish writer Vasily Grossman: Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida. I can’t believe I’ve never read Gogol’s The Greatcoat before! But, then, if I’d read every intrepid piece of writing already, what would I have to look forward to?