Stories from the News – Episode 1

Over the past couple of years, I’ve become an NPR junkie. I listen to Morning Edition and All Things Considered almost every single day. I also recently discovered On the Media and listen to every week’s episode on iTunes, as well as NPR’s TED Talk podcast.

Beyond getting my daily dose of “what’s going on in the world” that way, I also get to hear interviews with authors who I never would have heard of otherwise, musicians whose music I don’t like but whose words inspire me, and series on topics that I wouldn’t be exposed to in my regular day-to-day life. Often, the stories I hear inspire me and give me ideas and things to think about. But what I don’t do often enough is write those ideas down.

Which brings me to the title of this post. Today I heard a piece that just sparked my mind and made me want to cry and laugh all at once. Whether or not a good piece of flash fiction will emerge from it is yet to be seen – but the important thing is, I’ll have recorded both the story that created a rush of feeling in me and I’ll have tried to write down some of what it made me think of. Here we go. The link below will bring you to the page with the NPR news story that I listened to. Below it is the piece of flash fiction that arose from it.

“The ‘Other Audubon’: A Family’s Passion”

______

“It’s been days. I’m worried about her.”

“At least she’s taking exercise today. That’s something.”

“Yes, but she insisted on putting on her purple dress. The one she always said that he liked.”

“And so we mustn’t say anything about it. No, not another word. If we don’t talk about him, she’ll forget about him in time as well. The important thing is that she’s out of bed again. Hush now, dearest. I think I hear her coming downstairs.”

She’d been downstairs for a while already, listening at the door, clutching at the handle of her parasol. She bit the inside of her cheek and felt the blood pool in her mouth almost at once as the old wound opened again. Every night it closed up, and every day she found a way to worry it  open again. She wouldn’t complain about it to Mama, though, because then the doctor would come, and she was sick and tired of his patronizing eyes and the way he looked at her in her shift, nothing but her shift, whenever he was there.

“Are you ready, love?”

“Yes, Mama.”

They left the house by the back door. She wanted to go out into the fields, but Mama wouldn’t let her yet. She was too pale yet, she said, and too frail. Maybe when she got stronger, in a few days. Perhaps then. She regretted, now, the fuss she’d made, putting on the purple dress and staying in bed for days. She didn’t love him all that much, really, it wasn’t about him, it was about Mama and Papa trying to protect her all the time. She knew she was frail, she knew she was sickly and small and weak, and she hated it. She could never be passionately swept up by a man like the women in novels were, and she wanted so much to be a heroine at times. The closest she ever got to being a heroine was her fits of hysterical tears and the chokes she got afterwards, when she couldn’t breathe and they fetched the damned doctor.

A whistle sounded just as Mama tried to usher her inside and she looked back. It wasn’t him, which she knew was what Mama had feared. No, it was a bird, one of the beautiful Phoebes, and she could swear that it was winking at her, promising something. In a moment she would know what it was, if only Mama waited one more second – but no, she was ushered inside and whisked back into bed to have a bowl of broth so that she could get strong again.

4. Marty and Claire [2]

Claire dug out some clothing from the big suitcase that sat beside the mattress on her floor. She hurriedly threw on her usual baggy jeans, a big “I Love NY” t-shirt that used to belong to her mom, and shoved her feet into her tattered Converse high-tops. Back in the kitchen, Marty had found a paper and pen in his breifcase and handed her a list with some essential groceries before giving her a few twenty-dollar bills.

“If it’s too much or too heavy, call me and I’ll come help out with the carrying home, okay? Got your cell? Your new keys? Okay, Honey, see you soon.”

“Bye, Dad,” Claire skipped out the door and locked it behind her with a resounding ‘click’ as the bolts fell into place. Marty sighed just a little. This is why you moved, he reminded himself, to feel that she was safe.

Also, so she could be close to her grandparents. Marty hadn’t told Mr. and Mrs. Adams yet about the move. It had been rather hasty, and he wanted to surprise them. He wasn’t sure yet about how Claire felt about being reunited with them – after all, the last time she’d seen them, she was ten. Now she was just fourteen, which seemed to Marty to be miles away from the sweet and innocent little girl she’d been. As he began to dig in another box for cutlery to arrange in a drawer, Marty thought of the last couple years and the gaping hole that was Susan’s absence in their lives. Claire had gotten her period, had bought her first bra, had started eying boys – all without a mother to help her through it. Marty did the best he could, trying to be the hip dad, the cool dad that girls could talk to. He felt he’d succeeded, more or less, since Claire and he were on good terms and she wasn’t embarrassed around him about the changes her body was going through. But still, he always felt inadequate. Susan would have done things better, he felt.

As Marty indulged himself in nostalgia and meloncholy, Claire took in the bright and beautiful sunshine that made Victoria Road, their new street, seem to glimmer. The neighborhood sure was lovely, she couldn’t deny that. There were trees planted in the sidewalk every few yards and the apartment buildings all had expanses of lawn or flowerbeds in front of them. A warm breeze warmed her face, and she noticed the pleasant sound of the leaves rusteling.

It’s so quiet, she thought. Certainly different from Manhattan. As Claire walked down Victoria Road, only two cars drove by. It seemed unthinkable to have so little traffic after the constant rush-hour that permeated the streets of New York. She liked it very much, she decided. As she turned from Victoria Road to Brushfield Street, she saw her target, Bill’s, the little grocery store that she and her dad had marked last night while driving the U-Haul. She took the list out of her pocket and entered the store.

3. Heather [3]

“How are you, girl?” Jake said as he walked over to Heather’s usual booth. It was a small booth that only sat two. Sometimes Heather’s mother, Bella, would meet her at Lila’s and then the two would share the booth and a meal or sometimes just a dessert. Tonight, though, Heather was alone as she slid gratefully into her regular spot.

“I’m great, Jake, just exhausted,” Heather smiled at him. “Yourself?”

“Fine, fine, all fine,” Jake’s eyes twinkled. “Love is in the air, and all that. You know.”

Heather knew. Vicariously, at least. She’d watched the romance, or dalliance or whatever it was, flourish between Jake and Bo over the last three weeks of beautiful summer evenings. She’d been friendly with Jake even before, but he had seemed so droopy, so sad and sort of lost. But then Bo joined Lila’s staff, and Heather couldn’t be happier for the change that had come over Jake.

“My sister’s going to come over some evening this week,” Jake went on. “Well, I haven’t exactly asked her to yet, but I’m going to. I think she’ll like this place – and you’ll like her, too. I’ll ask her to come in the evening so you can maybe meet her.”

“Sounds great, Jake! I didn’t know you had a sister.”

“Yeah, a twin. Her name’s Amanda. She goes to Valley U. So, the usual?”

Heather nodded, and Jake bustled towards the diner’s kitchen to get her hot-chocolate for her. She stretched back and looked around the small space. At this hour, it was usually still empty, but Heather knew that if she stayed for another half hour, the place would fill up. Downtown Hartscreek was a hopping scene, and there wasn’t a night of the week when an eclectic crowd wouldn’t appear, as if by magic, at Lila’s: there were young professionals, coming for a dessert after a dinner somewhere else, or maybe just meeting up for a meal after putting their children to bed; there were club-goers, dressed in bright colors and skin-tight materials, catching some protein before a long night of dancing and drinking; there were the punkers, stocking up on fries and milkshakes before heading to the latest underground show. Heather loved to take them all in as she sat there, savoring the taste of her hot drink as she sipped it down almost agonizingly slowly.

Tonight would be no different, she hoped, as she lay her chin in her hands and stared across the room to where she knew Jake would be coming out in a moment with that delicious hot chocolate in his hands.

Across Five States: Into Virginia

It seemed that the moment we crossed into Virginia, we hit real life. For real. We were stuck in a monstrous traffic jam of people leaving Washington D.C. for the day. So many people commute there, not to mention the fact that tourist season had begun, and so we felt that we were slammed back into reality, along with all the inconveniences it brings. As we sat on the sixty-six highway, we inched forward and began to cruise the local radio stations. We found some good easy listening, and settled in to wait.

The highway was bordered by high walls, and the directions were separated by hedges. We rounded a bend, and suddenly there it was. The Washington Monument. We could see its peak all the way from the highway, jutting into the sky like a beacon, heralding that we’d reached our destination. It was an exciting moment for all of us.

Soon enough we were taking the badly marked exit – Virginia seems to have a dark sense of humor and enjoys luring newcomers into a false sense of security by marking the exit well before it comes and then putting a tiny sign at the actual exit so you undoubtedly miss it – and driving into Arlington County, which was to be my brother’s new home. After some more muddling around with befuddling directions, we reached his apartment and discovered yet another thing about Virginia – the lack of parking, and the importance of tow trucks, which will tow any car that’s not marked by the right stickers placed in the right ways in the right corners of the right window.

This forced our hand. My brother and I unloaded the U-Haul at superhero speed, while my mother guarded it, just to make sure no policeman or tow truck would catch us unawares. Loading the truck had taken the better part of five hours. Unloading it took an hour, and we were drenched with sweat by the time we were done. By this time, night had fallen and we were all ravenous. We piled back in the U-Haul and found a dingy place to eat at, and afterwards found the only U-Haul drop-off spot in the area. It was a relief, seeing that truck for the last time, but we all felt a bit of a pang. It had safely conveyed us across five whole states, and as ungainly as it was, we had become proud of it – especially as we had the coolest U-Haul in the lost because ours had a picture of snakes on it instead of a U-Haul advertisement.

We took a taxi back to my brother’s apartment and, just like that, our move was done. We still had unpacking to do, we still had furniture to buy, we still had a whole county to get to know, but we were done. We’d moved my brother from Chicago to Virginia in two days. We accomplished what we’d set out to do. It was marvelous.