This is the first installment, of ten, toward writing a short story with the feedback and opinions of my friends and colleagues. I ask for your help for two reasons. First, this story was inspired by a particularly vivid dream one summer night, about the ghost of a lovely pioneer woman and her distraught widower. I woke before the dream reached its end, and have struggled with where to take the story. Second, I submitted the idea of posting portions of the story to my blog for peers to help me finish it to the EAPSU conference in Shippensburg this fall. The conference, titled “Creativity in times of crisis,” explores the creative writing process and the difficulties writers may face. This project cannot be completed without you!
Since I dreamed the events and characters, the details are both unclear and incomplete. Each week (on Wednesdays) I will post several paragraphs of the story to this blog. I ask that each of you read the portion, then post your own comments to offer suggestions, perhaps redirections, identify confusion, and make predictions. I will make revisions based on those posts and develop the story as I go. After ten weeks, I hope to have a finished story to share at the conference.
Feel free to ask any questions along the way!
Somewhere in the western regions of North America, there lies a small cabin, of three or four rooms, surrounded by grassy fields more the color of toasted bread than green. The biggest window is situated on the eastern wall in what can only be called a kitchen and faces a nearby lake and looks out at the pier that seems to run alongside its shore. A neighbor lives on his boat at the end of that pier, which bobs gently with the calm waves, and he often sits on the end of the pier and fishes. Mary, the (housekeeper or sister? Which one determines some backstory) of the man who owns this cabin, sees the neighbor every day while he fishes, and she washes the dishes. She always notices the man doesn’t seem to own a shirt. He will walk up to the kitchen window late in the afternoon to talk with her. He’s always friendly, sometimes offering a portion of his catch, but always in exchange for knowledge of what she did with her day. This neighbor (needs a name?) is not unpleasant to look at, with wavy golden hair and muddy colored eyes, and invariably shirtless. He’s not trying to be enticing (which is the effect on Mary anyway), but rather hasn’t found a good enough reason to get fully dressed on a daily basis.
After one of these regular conversations one evening, Mary continues to go about her chores and cooking dinner until she decides she needs a break. She looks out the big window at how the light disappears on the fields, the darkness slowly moving closer to the house. The farmer, Matt, usually returns about now before it is too dark to see well. However, she’s still alone and waiting patiently. Mary glances at the table to make sure she didn’t forget anything. Satisfied that the meal is there – roasted chicken and potatoes and buttered beans with biscuits – she turns back to the window to find another face next to her own reflection. Mary has long, dark and wiry curly hair and looks every minute of her thirty-? years. The other face, also of a woman, has wavy straw-colored hair and appears to be much younger, only in her twenties. Quickly, Mary whirls around to look for the stranger behind her. Finding no other person, she turns again to the reflection. This other is still looking at Mary, who walks toward the window to see if the lady is outside. Before taking two steps, the woman seems to smile. This stops Mary’s motion. The woman’s smile grows colder, into a kind of smirk (or one that seems worried?) and then the entire image fades away.
Mary moves the rest of the way to the window, sure someone must be outside, but it’s too dark now to see for sure. She rubs her eyes and says to the empty room, “I must be too tired,” as if that excuses and wipes away the experience. Still, she knows what she saw. She sits at the table and begins to fill her plate, sure Matt will walk through the door any minute now and she can forget all about it.
I have a question – how much dialogue, if any, between Mary and the neighbor at this point?
I’ll introduce Matt next time…