Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The curious incident of the man with the souped up walker ...

I'm sitting on a bench in a place that feels like hiding. I'm reading on my phone a short story I thought I finished yesterday, but turns out still needs work. It's the light bulb brand of work, though, a new idea to replace one that was dim. It's the first short story with a beginning, middle and end that I've written since college.

An old man comes up the street pushing a souped up walker, sleek black with a basket on the front and another underneath. He stops in front of the bench perpendicular to mine and backs into a sitting position.

"I should have a beeper on this thing for when I back up," he says.
I laugh.
"Nah, I don't think you're big enough to require that," I tell him.

The whole process of fiction writing confounds me. I'm not good at making things up, I don't think, but I don't want to fall into the habit of always pulling exact moments from my own life. What is good, anyway? Would I like my story better if it was by a stranger? What if that stranger was Don Delillo? Would I skip it if it was part of a compilation? Or would I read it and think, "Psh. I can do that."

"I'm just glad I found a place in the shade to sit," the old man says.
I smile. He's right. Aesthetically, there are better places to plop. But this is the only place in the shade.
"Do you know what CenturyTel is?" he asks.
"I don't," I say.
"It says that on this building."
I nod and stare off like I'm thinking about it. I'm not really thinking about it. I'm just thinking about whether I look like I'm thinking about it.

Alice Munro has a short story in this week's New Yorker. Within the first paragraph there is a piece of dialogue that Chuck has said to Orin. It was after we ate tuna for dinner and the cat tried to stick his head in Chuck's mouth. "You like what you smell?" Chuck said to him in a bratty voice. "It's fish. Raw fish." I laughed when I read something similar -- "Meat. Raw meat" -- in her story and sent the photo of the paragraph to Chuck when he was at work.

"Do you think Alice Munro has been listening in to your convos with Orin?" I texted last night.
"He probably let it drop in his correspondence. They're pen pals after all," he said.
"I forgot he advises her sometimes."
"What do you think he's doing on the typewriter every Sunday morning?"
"I heard him use the word 'ubiquitous' yesterday and I was like Zzzzz."
"I heard him mumble 'Child's play.' Then later I noticed a finished NYT Sunday crossword wadded up in the garbage," Chuck wrote.

The man's phone rings. For some reason when I saw him, I thought he was living out of this souped up walker. The front basket was filled, so was the one below by the wheels. Now I see that this is just stuff, not necessities. He talks with a smile; He hangs up the phone.

"I sure do like getting good news," he tells me.
I let my eyebrow indicate "Oh?"
"That was my eye doctor. My glasses are ready for me to pick up," he says.
"Ah, good," I say.
"I've been using a cheater," he says. "A little square magnifying glass."
I laugh out loud at the image, not because it's funny but because it seems like the right response to match his mood.
"I don't even have to go far," he says. "Just down the street."
He stands, takes ahold of the handles of his walker and begins to push away.
"I sure do like getting good news," he says.

I return to my reading and when he is just a half block away, hidden by a building, I hear someone bellowing. Nonsensical stuff, not even words, and a little hostile. It reminds me of being in downtown Phoenix early on a Saturday morning that one time. There was little foot traffic and a man was singing loudly, his voice bouncing off the empty office buildings. Today, lunch hour, people turned to gape at the source and keep walking.

I have no idea if it was my old man, bursting forth with noise after holding it together for our little chat. Or maybe it's someone else and now he's walking past them.


Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm said...

I would love to read your story! (if you're feeling exhibitionist)

Christa said...

That's a good idea!
(But what if you hate it and have to tell me that. Or what if you hate it and don't tell me that?)
I'm still tweaking it. But that might be a plan.

Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm said...

Just say the word.