“5” is the lucky number here on the blog today, since I’ve got five short pieces lined up for today’s post. (And technically I’m putting this together on the 5th, although it’ll be posted on the 6th, so there’s another “5” for ya.)
Last year I took a short story writing class, which was all kinds of fun as you can imagine. The prompt for one of my assignments was this: go through your old writing, find the five words you use most often, and use those as titles for five different paragraphs. It really got me thinking about what kinds of words I use when I write, and it spawned some of my favorite short pieces to have ever written. Reading these in class was especially fun, because the professor had us hide the titles of our paragraphs at first so that those listening would have to guess what the titles were.
The five below are mine. In the spirit of my short story writing class, I’ll keep the titles hidden if you want to guess what they are. They’ll be be listed in the tags. Hope you like them!
Under a rather tall stalk of grass, there is an ant who goes by the name of Mip. Mip is somewhere in the hills of the Dakotas, but he doesn’t know that. To Mip, the entire world is what can taste in the air, what he can see ahead of him. So he makes his way towards what he can taste, towards the smell of sugar and jam on a picnic blanket, the smell of a dried straw hat and the curious scent of skin. Mip will wander up to the biscuits and take a crumb that is nearly too big for him to hold and wander home without looking out across the hill. He won’t notice the way the sun paints the entire sky orange, or how the hills roll out like green waves that have been smoothed over by polishing stones. He’ll make his way through grasses that are so high he’ll have to crane his head to see them, across yards and yards of dirt on one small section of one hill in one of the Dakotas, and he’ll go home to his ant hill, with little thought of anything else.
My favorite place to be is in the lighting aisle of Home Depot. There’s probably a good explanation for this buried somewhere in my childhood—maybe my parents took too long to decide on which refrigerator they wanted, and I wandered off into that aisle to play pretend beneath a floor lamp; maybe I had gone to the store with my uncle to get replacement bulbs for his bathroom. In any case, I’ve always been in love with the warmth that spills out from the fancy lights. The color that washes across the aisle is the color of home—not just my home, but the homes of a thousand houses across the city, each one with a lamp hovering just over the sofa or a chandelier in the dining room. It’s about equivalent to the smell of cookies baking in the oven—something about it just takes me back to childhood, to home. I can just imagine my own light fixture, hanging from the ceiling in the front room, making my house look like a holiday card when it’s dark out. I’ll buy a simple one, with round, clear bulbs and silvery attachments, and it’ll hug my house like a blanket. I’ll settle into my chair under the golden glow, and I’ll reminisce and think, this is my favorite place to be.
Where were you? he keeps asking me. Where were you? Pacing back and forth, getting a little neurotic. He won’t believe me if I tell him. No, where were you really? he’d say, and I’d repeat it to him and he’d continue to pace until he wore a hole through the floor. What can I say? He’s at that point now, so dead set on what he thinks is the truth that everything else he hears he thinks are lies. I could tell him what I did—that I just went for a drive, just to clear my head, but then what? Even to me that sounds like I’m covering something up. But I only went for a drive, I swear. That’s all I did. Just took the Chevy and turned off onto Gill Road, looped around a couple of times. I look at him, this worried, shaking mess who won’t even look at me, and I think: Should I tell him the truth? Or should I lie? I watch him for a few more seconds, pacing back and forth—and then I lie.
There once was a pair of rather scruffy looking wings, and I say “pair” because of course wings always came in twos. They went everywhere together—like a set of ears or a set of eyes, it just wasn’t right seeing them by themselves. They were white like whipped cream, feathered down and lighter than helium. Lovely, they were. They flitted from place to place whenever they chose, causing the wind to stir up around them. Ripples would appear in the pond where they played; the dragonflies that landed on their arches made them sneeze; the flowering rush made them giggle when they flew through. They poked at each other and chased each other. They were complete together—but that was “once,” a long time ago. There was a day when the clouds turned gray and somber, and the flowering rush wilted and the dragonflies landed but did not rise. And on the ground, whimpering and cold, a single white wing sat muddy and alone.
I can tell you when you were born. Year, day, minute, second. I can tell you when you’re going to die, too. Year. Day. Minute. Second. When you have lived as long as I have, there isn’t much you won’t know—when your beard is longer than the miles winding around the earth, when your eyes are deeper than the trenches of the sea, then you will have lived as long as I. I can tell you when the first rains fell across the Sahara. I can tell you how many different types of butterfly there are in the world (17,591 if you’d like to know). I can tell you where the stars will be each night, what kind of boots you’ll buy when you’re sixty, who is holding your first kiss, who will hear your last words. I know everything there is to know about every single subject on this earth, because I have lived so long. I know it all… except… except for why. Why the tally of butterfly species comes to 17,591 exactly. Why the stars trace these kinds of patterns across the sky. Why your first kiss will be on the boardwalks of Santa Cruz, so uneventful that all you’ll remember of it is that it tasted like cotton candy and dust. Why your last words will undoubtedly not include whoever was involved in your first kiss. Knowing and understanding are two different things—and for all my old age, I do not understand.