In my writing group last week, we were asked to write a story about the things that scare us, with the idea that it was close to Halloween. It was wonderful to read the completely diverse and wonderful stories that came out of that exercise. No one wrote about vampires, masked serial killers, or creepy crawlies. We all seemed to gravitate toward the truth this year. This is my story. It pretty much covers most of the things that scare me, with the exception of bad things happening to my kids. Can’t write that. If you pay attention, you should be able to pick out all the fears that keep me up some nights.
A Solitary Woman
The woman stirred her coffee and gazed out the window at her garden. The fall colors were peaking and she realized that she was behind on some of her projects.
“I should have cut back those irises weeks ago,” she said to no one.
Her dog glanced in her direction, making sure she wasn’t looking to him for company. He understood that if she looked his way and said things in a certain voice, he was expected to come over for a pat, his tail wagging benevolently, when she spoke. When she spoke to the window, he simply remained on his bed.
“Frankly, I can’t believe it’s the end of October already,” she continued. “I’m not sure where the weeks went! Right, Roosh, old boy?”
That was the cue- her gaze moving to the dog and her voice shifting up a couple of octaves. The black lab mix got to his feet, tail wagging – thump, thump, thump- and came over to nuzzle her hand. Rushdie, named for the famous Indian writer, was ten years old and growing white around his muzzle. The woman called him Roosh for short, and had raised him from a pup. Roosh had long stopped digging in her garden, chewing on shoes and other household items, and had become a perfect companion. He walked with her each morning and evening, slept on a fleece bed beside hers and came whenever she spoke to him. Otherwise, he remained in his designated spot, a large plaid dog bed in the corner of the kitchen. They understood each other; it was a good fit. Single since her divorce many years before, Roosh had become her partner, in many ways.
“What a sweet boy you are,” she murmured, as she stroked his soft coat. Roosh rested his head on her chair and watched a bird at the feeder. He no longer chased birds or squirrels, but he still liked to watch them. “All these birds are about to fly off, hmm?” She watched the small chickadee for a second and then turned back to her flowerbeds.
“Tomorrow we should really get out there and put this garden to rest for winter,” she continued, rising to take her empty cup to the sink. The ceramic hit with a loud clank, startling her.
“Talking to myself again! Jesus.” Her voice faded off as she headed to her office. Her slippers made a soft swoosh on the hard wood floors and Roosh lay back down to nap.
The woman pushed a heavy box to the side as she entered her tiny, crowded office. She’d been looking for something the day before, and had forgotten to put it back in the corner where it lived. The mail from the day before lay across the keyboard and her library books sat in a pile beside the mail. The woman glanced around the room and felt the quick, sharp rush of panic that she often felt when she took a moment to look at the… “Mess!” she said aloud. “I really need to clean this mess.” Instead she pushed the books and mail to the side and sat down at her computer.
For the next three hours she typed. Her fingers danced across the keys, alive and fluid. The story she worked on flowed onto the screen, and she only paused to make simple corrections in punctuation or adjectives. She knew the plot- the twists and turns of the story had been running through her mind for months. Now she need only type it.
This story will be a book, she thought as she closed her eyes at night. Most nights, as she slipped beneath the covers, having done the dishes and watched an hour of television, her thoughts landed on the book. When she wasn’t thinking of the story, she played with the pitch, fine tuning the wording and thinking of ways to catch the publisher’s eye. Words, written words, were what she excelled at and as she typed her story each day, she imagined what it would be like to see this story become a book.
Each morning, as soon as she stretched in her narrow bed, her thoughts returned to the story she was working on. Though she sometimes had lunch with friends, or took a walk with Roosh on a sunny day, her thoughts were rarely far from the story. Regardless of other things she did, each day she sat and typed with a dedication and focus that she gave to little else. Hours melted and she often found the shadows growing and her stomach growling, before she remembered that she hadn’t eaten lunch… or breakfast? Then, she would take Roosh out to the yard to do his business and start making a simple dinner. Cooking for one involved little effort or consideration. She’d grown tired of thinking of things to make long ago.
The piles, the messes, the things that had filled her small house over time, were a byproduct of her commitment to the writing. When I’m done with the book, I’ll clean it all up and put it all back together. And so she had stopped making an effort to recycle old paint samples, or the piles of magazines that she intended to read, but never got to. She left the files of papers- from her divorce, her mother’s care so long ago, the children’s records (though they now had records for their own children), crammed in the two black metal file cabinets that she had inherited after the divorce. Her ex-husband had insisted that they shred or discard things, but she had held onto the important papers. “The kids may need some of this one day,” she had argued. Now she kept them, in case.
She regularly dusted the china in her small corner cabinet. Her husband had hated the stuff, but she kept it ready, for the day she might have friends over. When she got around to clearing the table, she could seat six comfortably, and she imagined inviting a few of the friends she was still close with, and their spouses, over and using the finer dishes. Then she’d cook again. She vacuumed the small areas of clear floor at least once a week. She’d always hated dirty floors. “There’s a difference between clutter and dirt,” she’d told her children when they were young. Her bathroom and kitchen sinks, her toilet, were always clean.
She tried to ignore the stack of read and unread books in her bedroom; and avoided her closet whenever possible. She only opened the creaky door (Where did I put that WD40?) to occasionally grab fresh clothes that hadn’t been left in the laundry basket, neatly folded. When she did open the closet, she reasoned that she would make an effort, soon, to donate the clothes that sat in a pile there, falling over with the slightest provocation. The winter clothes had worked their way to the bottom, under the summer things she’d added as the weather cooled. It had become a replicating cycle that had produced a pile that never made it to Salvation Army, and had taken over her entire closet floor. She stacked her shoes on top of her sweaters, on the narrow shelf in the closet, no place else for them.
As she typed, another day passed, and the story took form on the page. Roosh wandered into the office and peaked past the door at her. The woman sensed him watching her expectantly, and then noticed the time.
“Six thirty! Poor boy. I’m sure you need to go?” He wagged his tail, his amber eyes watching her move awkwardly around the items on the floor, toward him.
As she noticed the box again, she stopped and debated whether to put it away now or wait until after she’d taken the dog out. “Just a minute Roosh,”- thump thump, thump. “Let me get this out of the way.”
She folded the four edges under carefully, to reseal it, and she glanced at the top of the box, noting the label. It had yellowed with age and the tape had begun to peal back. The words: Stories, for publication were written boldly, her handwriting once confident. She swallowed and put the box back in the corner.
“Come on, Roosh, let’s take care of business.”
What scares you? Is it scary shadows or the real stuff? Are you putting things off until another time, and what’s in the way? Share your thought