When I began this blog to examine the Five Questions, I had dismissed fiction as one of the genres to write here. But yesterday there was a challenge on WordPress, and I decided to take the challenge. (Write a story that includes a mailbox, syrup, plate, Blue Jay, and a dog named Bob.) My original plan was to write from the perspective of the Blue Jay, but a friend wrote that story before I did. So I mixed it up and came up with this. It gave me a chance to see that fiction is as much a part of exploring the Five Questions as any other form of writing. This is a story about daring to be human, about daring to accept circumstances, and to still have some hope. I am not sure if this is the whole story — I did do a bit of revising from the original draft. We’ll see what happens. For now, here is the answer to the challenge.
The Nail (draft written 6/10/15, slightly revised on 6/11)
She sat at the kitchen table, the warm light from the mid-morning sun flooding the room. The sticky syrup was still on her fingers from this morning’s dose of maple goodness she had spilled over her French toast. She hummed along to James Taylor, her morning ritual. She had his albums on a rotation, and would listen to one every morning as she completed her routines. Today it was J.T. Her ten-year-old Beagle mix, Bob, laid at her feet, disappointed that no bits of the toast made its way down to him. Before cleaning up, she said her daily prayer of gratitude for having been able to get out of bed and make breakfast for herself one more time.
Cilla hummed along to “Handy Man” as she washed her plate. She looked out the window and saw a Blue Jay at the feeder bossing all the other “lesser” birds around. She laughed at the antics of the aggressive bird. It’s the way of the world, she had learned. Some people are the hammers and some are the nails. Obviously no different in the natural world.
Cilla knew about nails, just as she knew about hammers. Her ex-husband – now there was a hammer – and not in a good way. He became her ex when she got the diagnosis six years ago. Never one to hang around when anyone was in pain, he conveniently fell in love with his secretary and poof! he was gone.
After the kitchen was cleaned up, Cilla pulled out her special fountain pen – the one with the flowers on the barrel and the deep indigo ink inside. It was time to send her weekly letter to her grandson. He lived so far away, she knew without regular communication he would never know her. Not likely her son Steven would take the time from his San Francisco environmental law practice and weekend camping trips to Big Sur to bring his son to see her. She had to settle for FaceTime – Steven bought her an iPhone just for that – but for Cilla it wasn’t the same thing.
She remembers holding little Sam when he was born, just a couple years before the lung cancer diagnosis had changed her life. Steven is much like his father, and soon after she got ill he took the job in California. It was his means of escape. It seemed cruel to outsiders, all that had changed with one diagnosis. Her longtime neighbor and friend, Evie, especially. Evie would tell her to put her foot down, to demand that Steven bring Sam to see her. But this was her family, as she had explained to Evie time and again, and she accepted them. She knew it was her job to hold them all together in any way she could. So, she writes.
Life in California was quite different from life in Youngstown, Ohio, and so Cilla always just shared the small details with Sam. She wrote about the blue jay and how he commanded the feeder that morning. She wrote about the latest antics of Bob the dog, which pretty much amounted to drooling on the kitchen floor when he slept, making a slippery mess for her to avoid. She told him how Bob likes to bark a lot at the squirrels from the safety of the house, but avoids them when he is outside. Cilla asked him about his latest camping trip and what was happening in school. What did they do in third grade these days, anyway? She signed it off…Write Soon, Love Grandma Cilla
A handwritten letter from Sam – now wouldn’t that be something? She could hold it in her hand, read it again and again. That is why she wrote to Sam weekly. She hoped in some small way the letters would matter to him someday, and that soon he would respond in kind.
Her cancer was now in her bones, and time was limited. Of course, he didn’t know that.
Cilla saw that it was getting close to time for the mailman to come, so she addressed the letter, and pulled on her sweater for the trek to the mailbox. She took one last look at the birdfeeder. The Jay was gone, and the other birds were eating quite peacefully. No drama now.
Bob pulled his body up from under the table and went to the door. He knew this routine. Cilla talked to Bob. “Almost nap time. And then Evie will be by with early dinner. But first let’s mail off this letter to Sammy, and see what mail is waiting out there for us from yesterday.” Bob wagged his tail in agreement to all he heard. Cilla took her cane and moved to the door. The dog was careful to let her walk out the door first, as Cilla continued her one way conversation. “Perhaps, Bob – perhaps today is the day I’ll have a letter from Sam. Maybe today is the day.” Once down the stairs, Bob adjusted his pace with hers, and the long, slow journey to the mailbox began.