Wednesday, April 6, 2011

XIII: On John Gardner's Advice

John Gardner recommends when we don’t have anything to say ourselves, it’s better to go and rewite something you read; he guarantees you won’t write it the same way. Very true. I took something one of my writer friends wrote and put my own spin on it. Here’s the first page or two.

She stands up, gathers the purse, her hand on the chair, thumb absent-mindedly rubbing in circles, her hair pulled up in sharp blonde ringlets, a few strays wisping out. She breathes twice—short breaths, clutches the purse leafs through it, two twenties now folded in her hand, takes his hand, coughs, walks. The restaurant is busy, a clink of glasses, smell of iced tea and a line of seventy-year-olds at the side of the room, half with thick glasses, their backs bent, their old sweaters, their lined faces, the years tugging at their once-young chins.

Christopher, she snaps her hands. The son under the counter pulls back his groping hand, full of peppermints, into the Sunday Best his mother has put on him: khakis for kids half his age, he’s short you see, she tells the newcomers after the service, it’s cheaper see, cause we don’t have to buy him new every season. The mother sighs, hands the cashier the check bills, and turns to watch her father, a swollen red-skinned man, of Indian descent, leaning on a dark-wood cane, the arm of his wife looped through his own, both of them as wrinkled as old fruits, and walking slow but with intent past the buffet lines. The old man sways as he passes the beets, then obvious disgust, an oddity considering the heap of beets he scarfed not twenty minutes before.

A thresher of a man, large-mouthed, small-souled, with a deep timbre and the sort of boots that deserve spurs, though there’s no use for them here in the deep swamps. The family walks out of the restaurant into the heat of the parking lot, the smell of tar rising in waves and painted yellow lines, the way it sucks at their feet as they make their way to the car. The old man’s mind is tarred, feathered, a cluck a cluck you’d think not by looking at him, so weathered and calm. Christopher, running in circles behind them. Christopher, stop, says the mother, says Marie, his mother. His eyes dull and he skips once in defiance, then turns his head down, shielding his eyes from the glare of the cement. Marie brushes a line of sweat, already formed, five steps from the door. Her dress tugs uncomfortably at her shoulders. She’s two sizes too large, ten years past fashion for this old dress worn like a uniform every Sunday, every Sunday like a good church girl, the way she was raised.

Dammit Ellen, her father says, as he falters briefly, the cane angled beneath him, his wasp-nest of a wife holding her thin hands on his back. He pushes her aside, I can do it, he says, lurches across, a short a long a short step, to the car, cusses as he opens the door, a yellow Georgia sun in an eyeblue sky above. Marie straightens her dress, the one she’s had since high school, the one she wore to prom, a faded floral print, roses maybe, potpourri, orange rinds, the smell of her parents’ house now. An inward resentment, hearing her father cuss in front of Christopher, smelling the old fabric, the old woman smell, of her spindly mother who, until last spring, had been the plumpest in the family, as the family slides into the 1987 station wagon.

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