Friday, October 3, 2014

Short Story~ To Try

*Author's Note: This short story is my answer to Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge. I chose the sentence "I really did try." suggested by Marshskpop. I've never done this before, but my goodness it's fun!! I hope you'll consider picking a sentence and building a story around it as well. Thanks for the challenge Chuck!!!!!


I really did try. 

The sentence was vivid and inviting. I could almost feel the evening air and hear the familiar sounds of the forest. In one sentence my dad had created a world; a situation I could feel, a place I could see, and a character I wanted to explore. The sentence was lovely. 

But it was too lovely. The ease with which my dad had jotted it down on the back of a Scrabble score sheet, the way he let it go and offered it to me as though there were many more where that came from served as proof that I was inadequate. A wanna be. A fool with an impossible dream.

If my dad's sentence spoke volumes to me, my look must have spoken equally loud to my dad. The conversation that followed was somewhat stilted, serving to highlight the authentic nature of our silent exchange. 

"That's really good, dad." I had offered, avoiding eye contact. 

"Well," he coughed, "I could come up with a different one if you want."

"No, no," I stammered, "but maybe I'll just try this later." I was rereading the sentence now, again simultaneously admiring and despising it. 

"Maybe you can have something for me when I see you next month? It doesn't have to be perfect, kiddo. Just something, so you can start working toward what you want."

"Maybe...." I muttered.

My dad took a sip of his beer and returned his attention to the ball game on TV. The Toronto Blue Jays were winning so my step-brother was doing some sort of goofy dance on the couch without getting yelled at. I'd noticed during my last few visits that he was getting smart about when to pull his antics. If the Jays were winning he could get away with just about anything, which is powerfully freeing for a six year old boy. 

I, on the other hand, was fourteen and busy feeling a pressure to impress my dad as a grown-up, whether or not the Jays were winning.

But admitting that I wanted badly to be a writer may have been too much. Too soon. 

My dad had been thrilled, and at first that made me beam with pride! However, it wasn't long before his passion colored my pride with fear. I wanted to be a writer, but I didn't know if I could. What if my stories were forever lacking in emotion, or lacking characters that lived and breathed in the heart of readers? What if, as had proven to be a habit, they remained forever unfinished?

When I dared to foolishly admit this last worry out loud, a look I recognized came over my dad. I saw him blanch and become pained, but then he quickly looked excited and filled with air. Had I imagined a fear of not finishing on him, too? There was no time for me to wonder further because he had an idea. 

"I have an idea!" he announced. And while looking for a piece of paper--finally settling on the back of a scrabble score sheet he'd been using during an ongoing game he was playing with his latest wife-- he spilled passion in the form of sharing his idea all over the room. My step-brother even stopped playing with his Ninja Turtles to listen. "I'll write a sentence, one sentence, and you build a story around it. Don't think too hard, don't try to make it perfect, but finish it. That's the most important part! Now, I know you love to read those long impressive novels, but don't try to make yours anything like those. Just make it your own. And please, finish it!"

I found myself getting excited, despite my fears and doubts. What my dad said made sense! Take a story from start to finish first, then dissect and edit and explore it's potential. 

But then, he wrote the sentence. 

"It wasn't really rain, it was a cold drizzle, night was falling fast enough I knew I wouldn't make it out of the forest before dark; I'd have to turn back now or stay the night in this cave--for me, the choice was easy."

He just wrote it. Hardly a moments thought and yet I could feel the cold drizzle and breathe the forest air. The floor of the cave was cold beneath my bare feet. 

When my mom picked me up that night I had every intention of starting my story before bed. 

I really did try. 

* * *

His death two weeks ago was expected, but the loss hurt nonetheless. As my sons studied algebra and French in school, I finally gathered the strength to explore my dad's history. 

I was going through the papers in his desk when I found it. Not hidden away in some secret compartment, or wrapped in an envelope with a note to it's eventual discoverer, but tossed in with the pens, business cards, and paper clips. 

A small notebook with the outline to a novel he'd planned on writing. 

A novel that he'd started, but never finished. 

"I am my father's child," I whispered to the world, hugging the notepad to my chest and shaking my head. 

Looking back down at his outline I remembered the sentence he'd offered me nearly twenty years earlier. Before I could finish wondering if I'd find it in his outline I'd already discovered that it was not there. 

He'd given it to me and he'd let me keep it. I had started to do something with it, I recalled.

I really did try.

Or did I? Did my dad?

Or did we try to try, and instead offer up fears disguised as reasons and justifications? We had kids, jobs, bills, baseball games, all in the way of finishing paragraphs and stories and imaginings. 

We'd seen them as in the way, but really we could see them as reasons to finish. 

I put my dad's outline in an envelope and addressed it to my step-brother. His punk rock band was into writing songs about government conspiracies and lesbian sexpots so I thought he might use dad's story for inspiration. Maybe even finish it as a song. 

My sons came home from school and went through more of my dad's belongings with me, loving especially the Toronto Blue Jays stickers, and insisting on sleeping with them glued to their cheeks. 

After saying goodnight to my boys I sat purposefully before my clunky computer, sipping a freshly brewed cup of coffee. 

"It wasn't really rain, it was a cold drizzle, night was falling fast enough I knew I wouldn't make it out of the forest before dark; I'd have to turn back now or stay the night in this cave--for me, the choice was easy."

And, this time, I really did try.