Writer in Residence · 12/12/2011

Starts

My niece was playing crazy eights with her friend from the other side of the cornfield. On her father’s—my brother’s—futon couch, I was trying to start reading a novel. This novel had my brother’s fervent approval. He’d taken it down from his shelves. He’d gripped its lower corners in both hands and straightened its edge toward me for ceremonial transfer. So I wanted to like it. I wouldn’t have minded being lifted or mentally changed. But I kept slipping out.

Clovers, my niece told her friend.

I said, Clubs.

I call them clovers, she said.

I said, I call pudding ‘firewood.’

I was ignored.

You want some firewood for dessert? I’ve got some really good chocolate firewood.

I couldn’t get back to my reading; I kept hearing the words I’d just said.

And then I was thinking: about how, a few days before, I’d messed up and taken a left on a road that had entered the green of cemetery. I didn’t know this cemetery. I stopped and got out of the car. For a while I looked at the gravestones in the grass of the valley below. I looked at the open sky to the east, and the clouds, which dragged their shadows toward a farm and a line of big windmills.

In the book I was reading, or trying to read, that moment would have been lodged, I guessed, in backstory, the weight of the past. There would have been some kind of meaning in what the man felt as he stood by the door of his car with those trampled receipts on the floor mat. The tale might have been about him and his brother, or him and their Grandpa, who’d died. It would have been about something. Guy visits his brother. It’s August. It’s hot. Something is happening. Something or other begins to take shape within the loose blow of his days.

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AUTHOR NOTE: For me, there’s a firmness in the declaration of the last sentence. I like that firmness even if it’s deceptive—even if the sentence doesn’t finally read in any one way.

Maybe related to this: for a longer-than-usual time before writing this one, I had the story’s last moment—‘scene,’ I guess—in my head. It came from real life: in the town where I live I took a left into a drive that I thought was going to lead around to an office store but ended up taking me into a graveyard. That was a surprise. Anyway I kept thinking of that moment but not writing it into anything. I didn’t have a perfect feel for it, structurally. Like, was it a beginning? Midpoint? An end? 

Scott Garson is the author of American Gymnopédies (expanded 2nd Edition forthcoming from Cow Heavy).

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posted by Kathy Fish