Thursday, November 6, 2008
"Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures." --Jessamyn West
This is one of those short stories that come about because you just start writing. I started it while waiting in an airport about six months ago, without a thought in my head as to what it would be about, and then just kept writing until something solidified. I'd been reading Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy a lot when I started this little fiction free-write, and it kinda shows...my writing always mirrors what I'm reading at the time, whether I want it to or not. Skill or weakness? Probably both.
There's an image in it that is reminiscent of Plath's "The Bell Jar," which I read recently, but interestingly enough I read the Bell Jar after I wrote the scene in "Gravity." Channeling Plath...blessing or curse? Again, probably both.
I decided to be vague in this as well. Deliberately Hemingway. Hills like white elephants, anyone? (AKA I'm not sure what I want to have happen at the very end. So you get to decide. I've my own theories, but they're just mine.)
Anyway, enjoy. It probably needs a lot more work...at this point its just sort of a few scenes and facts thrown together over two or three pages. But it was fun to write. I haven't tried any straight-up fiction in literally years. So I welcome your comments and critiques! This is my way of work-shopping this draft.
Elaine McFarther had become Elaine Jeorges, wife of the rough and silent Harold Jeorges, exactly two weeks before her twentieth birthday. He was more than 25 years her senior. The reception was held in her father’s office building, in one of the three reception rooms. She had wanted it on the roof, but there were too many guests for whom stairs was a challenge. Her colors had been lavender and yellow, and she had carried lilies. On the day of her wedding, Elaine had climbed to the roof of the McFarther Enterprises building. The McFarther Enterprises building was forty-seven stories high. There were six elevators, four staircases, and two maintenance stairwells that led to the roof. Not caring whether anyone missed her at her own wedding reception, she had gathered her petticoat and dress up in her arms, and legs bare up to her thighs, walked the four flights of stairs to the maintenance door. She had crushed part of her bouquet of lilies in her efforts to open it.
Elaine had stood at the edge of the roof, shivering in her strapless gown. Her lilies lay in a heap at her feet, and beside them a steadily growing pile of half-smoked cigarette butts. She never finished cigarettes. She could smoke a pack in four hours, but always put them out before they were finished. It was her way of working up to quitting. Deep down, she had no intention of quitting, but not finishing a cigarette made smoking one seem less harmful. She leaned against the railing, smoking, counting the cars down below and wondering where the people in them were going. Looking up, she could count on one hand the number of stars that were visible. She peered up at the moon, and pursing her lips, tried to blow a smoke ring to surround it. The smoke blew away in the wind.
Pursing her lips again, Elaine wondered about Harold. She glanced down at the lilies at her feet. She dropped her half-finished cigarette and ground it beneath the heel of her wedding shoes. She picked up the lilies and gathered them to her face. Her lips brushed against their soft, fragrant petals as she breathed them in. She pulled one flower from the bunch and held it over the edge of the building, feeling gravity’s gentle pull. Opening her fingers slowly, she let gravity win. The looked at her empty hand hovering over forty-seven stories. Then she took the rest of the lilies and, one by one, dropped them off of the roof of the McFarther Enterprises Building, watching them flutter like crumpled paper, landing among the cars below.
* * * * *
There was something in the way he moved. Like an octopus, or a spider. His movements were precise and calculated. Unhurried. When he picked up a pencil, it was as if the different parts of his arm were isolated beings—lift arm, bend at elbow, fingers grip. He never smiled. He held the baby gently. Her tiny head was resting gently in the crook of his elbow, her small arms flailing contentedly. His rough fingers brushed the downy softness of her hair, and anyone flying above them would have smiled to see so rough a man hold so small and soft a little girl. Harold had only been a father for a week and a half. Her mother had named the baby Lily.
There wasn’t anything particularly exciting on the roof. No helicopter landing pad, no pigeon cages. The ground was scattered with a few unfinished cigarette butts. Probably left over from maintenance men over the years, Harold thought. The door leading to the roof was rusty, and Harold had had to slam his shoulder against it to get it to move. He had set Lily down on the top step, wrapping her extra tightly in her blanket so that she wouldn’t flail and roll down. Picking her up again, he had thought of how light she was…if he had dropped her, it seemed to him that she would have floated down to the floor like a sheet of paper, drifting from side to side before settling down unharmed and smiling on the floor.
Harold stood at the edge of the building. Looking down below, he wondered where the people in the cars were going. He thought of the stranger that was his wife, and the crushed remnants of her wedding bouquet they had stepped over when they left their reception a year ago. Lily didn’t seem to share his thoughts, and with one of her tiny hands gripped a handful of his shirt. He looked down at her. He wondered how such a small thing could be a person. How this bundle in his arms could have come from him, could now belong to him. At nearly 50, Harold found himself suddenly a widower, and suddenly a father. His spider-like fingers slowly and deliberately untangled his shirt from the baby’s grip. He let his one hand fall slowly to his side, like the tentacle of some sea creature moving with languid slowness. Lily looked up at him from where she was bundled in the crook of his other arm. He regarded her silently. He didn’t know what to do with a baby. Leaning over the edge of the McFarther building, feeling gravity pull on his senses, he looked at Lily again, and then down at the cars, forty-seven stories below.
“Yes,” he thought. “I don’t know what to do with a baby.”