17 July 2011

pictures of people taking pictures.

a new thing that i've been working on in terms of writing is flash fiction.  it's really hard - writing stories that are really short, rarely more than a thousand words.  but i've discovered that it's a great way to convert what i call "word pictures" into stories.  sometimes i notice something small or quick and write it down really fast so that i remember it, and then i plan to use it in a story.  a word picture.  for example, i was cooking and the smell of my vanilla was slightly tinged with the scent of sunscreen.  i wrote it down so i wouldn't forget, taped it on my wall, and i decided that i'm going to write a story and in it there will be a girl who smells like vanilla and sunscreen.  i love flash fiction, because they are word pictures, just ones with a few more words than just "vanilla extract and sunscreen."

earlier this week at the library when i was listening to this american life i heard something that was really familiar, and then i realized i was listening to one of my favorite short stories that i read a few months ago.  i'm going to post it here because it's short, but i really recommend listening to it here since it's just two minutes or so long.  it you don't want to listen to the other stories before it, skip to 28:40.


The Wig, B. Udall


My eight-year-old son found a wig in the garbage dumpster this morning.  I walked into the kitchen, highly irritated that I couldn't make a respectable knot in my green paisley tie, and there he was at the table, eating cereal and reading the funnies, the wig pulled tightly over his head like a football helmet.  The wig was a dirty bush of curly blond hair, the kind you might see on a prostitute or someone who is trying to imitate Marilyn Monroe.
I asked him where he got the wig and he told me, his mouth full of cereal.  When I advised him that we don’t wear things that we find in the garbage, he simply continued eating and reading as if he didn’t hear me.  I wanted him to take that wig off but I couldn’t ask him to do it.  I forgot all about my tie and going to work.  I looked out the window where mist fell slowly on the street.  I paced into the living room and back, trying not to look at my son.  He ignored me.  I could hear him munching cereal and rustling paper.
There was a picture, or a memory, real or imagined, that I couldn’t get out of my mind: last spring, before the accident, my wife was sitting in the chair where now my son always sits.  She was reading the paper to see how the Blackhawks did the night before, and her sleep-mussed hair was only slightly longer and darker than the hair of my son’s wig.
I wondered if my son had a similar picture in his head, or if he had a picture at all.  I watched him and he finally looked up at me but his face was blank.  He went back to his reading.  I walked around the table, picked him up and held him against my chest.  I pressed my nose into that wig and it smelled not like the clean shampoo scent I might have been hoping for, but like old lettuce.  I suppose it didn’t matter at that point.  My son put his smooth arms around my neck and for maybe a few seconds we were together again, the three of us.

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