Once upon a time...No. Too fairytaley.
In the beginning...No. Too biblical.
It was the best of times it was the....No. No. No! Too legally problematic.
Ten minutes to go before I have to come up with the best opening line ever.
We’ve all written our short stories over the last six weeks. And now it’s full circle. Back to the start to really “grab” the reader. Redo the opener. Make it count.
It’s just one little line, to start the journey, ask the question, set up the inner and outer journey of my protagonist and make me want to go back to my proper job as receptionist at “Cunningham & Co” legal hot shots.
“Eight minutes left guys.”
I like Dan. He’s a good teacher and an even better writer. He’s cute too. But eight minutes? Ok here goes...
Her mother didn’t believe her.
Believe what? And again.
Her mother didn’t believe her, there was always something better to do.
Her mother didn’t believe her, there was always someone better to do.
“Five minutes. Make it count.”
Her mother didn’t believe her, there was always someone better to do and his name was Mike.
“Ok time’s up.”
The classroom heaved with a collective sigh of relief.
“Now, who’s first to read us their opener?”
The classroom heaved with a collective breath of dread.
I stood, knowing that by opening my mouth and letting the words come out I was beginning my journey. Not the one that started six weeks ago with Dan and his Creative Writing 101 pupils, but the one that had begun over twenty years ago.
“Sally? You ok?”
Nodding I began.
“Mike wasn’t the first but he was the last and it was a deadly mistake that my mum didn’t believe me.”
That’s Showing, Alright!
by May Akabogu-Collins (Vista, CA)
It was the first day of English 280, Creative Writing Class at our local community college. Prior to that first meeting, the professor had assigned a homework assignment: “Bring a short story to class about what you did last weekend,” her email read. “The most important thing is that you show, not tell. And, remember: good writers start their stories in the middle.”
This one girl, who had been smiling like a Cheshire cat, got up to share her story. Rather than pull out her sheet of paper, she pulled out two Caucasian dolls, one male, the other female. She then arranged two chairs opposite each other and seated the dolls on each chair, backing each other. She then returned to her seat. The class sat silent waiting to see what would happen next. Nothing.
The professor cleared her throat. “What are we waiting for?”
“I’m not telling,” the student replied.
“And why not?”
“I’m just showing.”
“The middle of the story.”
“What story, though?” asked the professor, obviously getting impatient but trying to maintain her cool.
“No telling what story,” deadpanned another student as hell broke loose in class with laughter and chuckles.
When the laughter died out, the student explained that the scene showed what had transpired in the middle of her argument with her boyfriend over the weekend. “We didn’t speak for a while,” she said. “Just sat there looking at each other.”
“And then what happened after?” inquired the professor.
“We made up.”
“Hmmmmm—” the student said, getting up. “I’ll show you.”
She drew the two chairs together and was about to lay the two dolls facing each other when the professor cleared her throat again. “Never mind—we get the idea.”
“No telling,” replied the professor. “No showing either.”
by Lisa Bailey (London, UK)
I’m late. I lurched through the classroom door with a clatter, spilling the books I’d been carrying onto the floor. Sighing I bent to retrieve them, eyeing the dustbunnies which had scattered in the wake of the fallen novels. Today just wasn’t my day. Straightening up I observed my coursemates laughing and joking, oblivious of my presence, and traipsed past them, picking a desk near the back of the room. My own little bubble.
“Nice of you to join us,” Dr. Jamieson’s voice emanated from behind me as I settled into my chair, I shuffled the books on my desk, burying the urge to look at him. My heart racing, the beat pulsed within my ears. I desperately tried to calm my breathing. I hadn’t even seen him arrive.
“Nice composition...as always,” his lips lightly brushing my right ear just enough for me to pre-empt his words, “but you appear to be...missing...something”.
The usually abhorrent mix of stale cigarette smoke and spearmint chewing gum was sweet on his breath. I could feel him smirk as I opened my mouth to respond and merely choked on air. He liked to play games. He liked to get under my skin. I closed my eyes, listening to his breath, feeling it hot against my flesh. Remembering his touch I could feel myself blushing, embarrassed at my evident lack of control. Embarrassed that etched on my usually pale features was now a glaringly obvious sign of my inner most desires. There was a dull thudding noise as my graded paper hit the desk, then the gentle tapping of footsteps. I opened my eyes; there on the front page in his laissez-faire scrawl were the glorious words ‘lacking inspiration William...see me after class’.
Brother Patrick's Story
by Sean Brennan (Malverne, NY)
It's not that his vows forbade him from writing about sex. It was just really awkward for Brother Patrick to read his story out loud to the class. The assignment was fairly straightforward: Write a 300-word short story on an ideal sexual encounter. He'd thought about comparing sex to the church, turning the piece into an allegory for prayer. There was even a great bit about being on your knees he could use, but then realized that would be too easy an escape plan.
On the day of the class, he had to keep wiping his sweaty palms on his habit. "Please God let this be okay. Don't let my fellow Brothers know I wrote this," he prayed.
The other students read their stories and got some brief feedback. To his horror, Brother Patrick realized they'd all been incredibly tame compared to his. What have I done, he thought, they've all written intellectual essays, and mine is pornography! His face must have betrayed him, flushed red to match his neatly combed red hair. It was a nightmare he had not foreseen.
"Brother Patrick, you're next," his teacher called. "I hope this assignment hasn't put you in mortal danger of hell or anything," he said with a wink to the class. Brother Patrick smiled back sheepishly. Hell would be easy. Defending himself to his Novice Master would be a fate far worse than the fires of eternal damnation.
He cleared his throat as everyone turned in their chairs to look at him. The page in his hands was bent and creased, damp with perspiration as he began reading the dirtiest, kinkiest sex story anyone there had ever heard.
After that day, the class loved him. He was one of them, and this writing class had become his heaven.
How I Spent My Summer Vacation
by Somer Brown (East Canaan, CT)
Thirteen adolescent faces tilted toward the knit eyebrows and chewed lower lip of Bo Lydem. He didn’t notice, the light from his laptop’s screen illuminating the tension lacing otherwise carefree features.
“Mr. Linder, I can’t write this.”
“Perhaps your struggle with our first assignment indicates that you are unfit for this class.”
“I don’t think this is an appropriate prompt.”
“I wouldn’t be assigning something inappropriate for my students to read aloud to one another… All I care to know is how you spent your summer vacation.”
“But that’s impossible.”
“Why? I don’t expect you to explain explicitly what you did in fifteen minutes,” sighed Mr. Linder.
“But it’s not what I did. Then the question would be ‘what did you do all summer?’ That’s easy, I went to the beach and camped out and stuff. I can’t explain how, because the prompt isn’t ‘how did you do what you did all summer?’ It’s ‘how did you spend your summer?’”
Thirteen other faces, shamelessly ignoring their work, looked on with interest.
“I mean, I guess I spent my summer in love with the way the shore seduced the ocean at high tide, and how we swam until the sun sank with such divine splendor, we couldn’t believe it was only an opening act to the stars that glowed like Shakespearean passion. I was lost in the inspiration of the world around me, and appalled by the apathy of people who don’t like to look out the window as the airplane takes off and watch as the world shrinks, because it’s really not that big and we should know it and love it… for all that it is.”
“Well done, Mr. Lydem. Now, would anyone else like to share how they spent their summer?”
by Lion Calandra (Kew Gardens, NY)
It is the first day of creative writing class, and root canal is beginning to look good for the next special day.
The room is stark, white, a blank canvas. The students are seated in a circle. They decide on a name: “The Magnificent Seven.” The introductions are next. Each student is (insert verb) to be here, and has been convinced by (fill in the blank) that they can write. They have all been published in their a.) high school yearbook b.) college literary magazine c.) online blog d.) all of the above.
There is the stay-at-home mom who had a poem published when she was in high school, but never pursued writing because she decided to raise a family. The kids are grown now, and she’s getting back to it. There is the “Chinatown Hemingway,” the last Italian living on Mott St., who fancies himself a dandy, often holding a scotch in one hand, cigar in the other. The old woman is retired now, but bored to death, and wants to put on paper a story. Ditto for the old man. Maybe he’ll write about his father, who killed a man but never went to jail. “The Twins,” who graduated from college last year, haven’t yet found a job.
Then there’s Tahmee, pronounced Tommy, who’s “here to show the world the Great American Novel still exists.”
It is a dark and stormy night.
Looking around the room, I take a deep breath, and then repeat to myself the mantra I hope will get me through this class: “I am the teacher. I am the teacher.”
by Joe Flood (Washington DC)
They were talking about Catalina's latest story, which was another bald attempt to deconstruct her relationship with her father. It was called "Not There."
Rimas, the instructor, was talking interminably, as was his wont. Martin tried to listen to his learned discourse but the real-life presence of Catalina was a distraction. Martin loved her stories, not so much for the narrative, which was always the same (the failings of men), but due to her style. Her descriptions were lush, evocative and mouth-wateringly sexual. There was so much female want in her stories. Her passionate longing for her "not there" father swamped over the pages, rich and warm. She made you feel the ache, the despair, the doomed prospect of a miraculous reconciliation followed by a passionate release.
Rimas had said something that caught Martin's attention. "What was that?" he asked.
"All atmospherics," Rimas repeated. "An overwrought and showy style with slight narrative content."
Catalina nodded demurely, ready to mute her voice.
"I don't think that--"
"Hold on," Rimas interrupted, hands outstretched over the conference table. "You'll have your turn at the end."
"I love her work. She writes like nobody else."
"Martin, hold on."
"I'd read her write about anything."
"Since you insist on interrupting," Rimas said, impatiently. “Please continue, good sir.”
"That's it," Martin said, suddenly embarrassed at being the center of attention.
Catalina stared at him with her dark eyes, puzzled.
"But you will agree that for her to be a better writer she must discard the Baroque elements of her style. She must simplify."
Martin turned to Catalina, “Don’t change.”
Rimas let out a sigh and in that moment Martin knew that the world outside the classroom offered more than anything in it.
by Gina Harlow (Austin, TX)
The students filled room ENG.302. It was the second week of Fiction Workshop and Grace Winsome looked out at her eclectic assemblage of scholars.
This class, like her others, was a stew of inventive minds, each of them honing their own dream of what would come next.
“Good afternoon class. Today we’ll discuss description.” She could hear her voice over their collective noise and feel her desire to gain their respect. It didn’t help that she looked like one of them; her long auburn hair, hazel eyes and smooth olive skin disguised her age. She dressed, not sexy, but with a fine admission of her body.
“Good description will pull your reader in and, if done well, will allow your story to play like a motion picture in their mind, involving all their senses,” her voice now solo in the room.
“I want each of you to take 15 minutes to describe someone you know or would like to know. Then everyone will share with the class.”
Quickly, laptops opened, paper was pulled; everyone writing except Dylan.
She walked over to him. “Is something wrong?”
He looked at her, almost questioning. “I can’t put this down, just like that.”
“You know, it could be as simple as describing someone in this class.”
He held her gaze for a moment then looked down.
Later she noticed him writing. At the reading, Dylan read last.
As he spoke the room was like a freeze frame paused by the ardor of his words. Like reading from a love note he would later deliver, with tender detail, he gave a portrait of his crush.
Uncomfortable knowing she had invited this, Grace glanced around to discover his muse. She had given up when she happened to look down at her shoes.
Worse Than Murder
by Robbi Holman (Lancaster, TX)
A girl with suspect blond hair flounces in and plops herself in the seat in front of me. She pulls out notebook and pen, ceaselessly chewing gum. I offer up a prayer to Saint Fu, the Patron Saint of Ninjas, that I become invisible. Alas, he has abandoned me in my hour of need. She turns around and smiles at me.
“Hi, I’m Sharon. Have you read Percy Jackson?”
“That’s my next big thing, I think. Gods, I’m so bored with writing Harry Potter fan fiction, so I’m starting a group for Percy Jackson. I’ve got a couple of people from the intro class I took at county college, but we’re always looking for some more people. Are you interested?”
Even this mediocre state university must have standards. I stare at the silver cross around her neck, which indicates some sort of monotheistic belief system. Never mind her admission that she writes fan fiction. Did she just say, ‘gods’?
“I haven’t read the book to which you are referring.”
I am rescued from further inane babble by the arrival of our professor: a short, no-nonsense sort, who probably has eyes in the back of her head.
“I am Professor Leath. I have been teaching writing longer than most of you have been alive. I will not tolerate plagiarism or cheating of any sort in my class. Remember, in the world of academia, the theft of intellectual property and academic dishonesty is considered worse than murder.”
Sharon pops her gum and cracks her knuckles.
Worse than murder. I’ll keep that in mind.
by Sarah EB Kelly (Greenland, NH)
Some people pick up trash along the highway as penance for their bad behavior. I decided to teach a writing class… for seniors… senior citizens. It all happened so suddenly. One day I’m smoking a joint with my buddy in the woods behind the football field, the next I’m sitting in the police station with a probation officer. “Young man, what is it that you do best?” I can write. Before I realized that I had said it aloud, Officer Smiley jumped up and said, “Do I have the job for you!”
Six weeks later, here I am, sitting at the food court in the mall where my class of senior citizen writers meets twice a week for three hours. They hate me. Every time I offer a suggestion or point out a grammatical error I get gruff. “Whattya you know, you’re justa kid… You weren’t there! You don’t know nothing!” From day one, I’ve been in agony wishing that I had decided to do anything but this. Half the time they don’t even bring in something that they’ve written, they come to talk, to tell stories about the old days.
Maybe I should just stop coming—give up, do something else for my court-ordered time. Go to prison. As I begin to stand, Alice approaches me. She takes my hand and thanks me. For what, I ask. “Two weeks ago, my Harry died, after forty-three years together, he...” I feel like a jerk having not noticed the empty chair next to hers. “You here, to teach us, reminding us how to write… It’s a gift,” she says, “a real lifesaver, and the best part is… now that he’s gone, I can get to the real juicy stuff.”
by Jean Lavin (Brooklyn, NY)
She stepped into the room and looked around, wondering where the rest of the class was. Only one other man was there, middle-aged, in a beat-up leather jacket, atop his desk—but lying across it on his side, elbow propping up his head. Odd, she thought.
“It’s how I relax before class,” he said with a sly smile and a gruff voice. “Jeff Guthrie. I’ll be your writing instructor.”
JoAnn took a seat mid-class, keeping her distance. “JoAnn Russo, nice to meet you.”
Guthrie rose from his reclined position, stretching out like a cat. “Three guys backed out, so it’s just you and I.”
JoAnn squirmed a bit. “No one else?” Shit. Though she wanted to write, she also needed to make some friends. Escaping to a big city for a new life was stressful enough without human contact.
“One on one,” Guthrie said. “You’re a lucky girl. Now tell me why you want to write.” He took a seat close to her.
Should I be honest? Or hold back? “I have a story to tell.”
“An important one. It might help me move forward if put it on paper.”
“You’ll have to share it,” Guthrie said leeringly. “I can help you write it.”
Something off about this man—though she couldn’t put a finger on it.
“So why did you move here?” the teacher probed.
JoAnn froze. “How did you know that? I didn’t mention a move.”
Guthrie smiled. “I know your story. You should write it. A pretty girl stalked, her husband shot, murderer on the run – could be a Lifetime movie.”
She got up and slinked towards the door. He stepped in front of her.
“You’re not going anywhere. I’ve been watching you,” he sneered. “You’re mine now.”
A Few Choice Words
by Amy Lipson (East Meadow, NY)
Earl reluctantly navigated his way towards the small table in the recreation room. He hung his cane on a chair back then sat down to relieve his joints rather than to be sociable.
“What are we here for? What is this all about, anyway?” Earl muttered.
“How existential! You’re a natural writer, Earl!” encouraged Aaron.
“What about eggs?” Earl replied while adjusting his hearing aid.
“Not eggs, Earl, I said existential. It means thinking about your place in the world, the meaning of life. Perhaps you can write about that today!”
“Write? It's nothing about eggs, then?
“No, Earl, it’s Creative Writing Day, remember?”
“Writing? Who needs that? The last thing I wrote was a check for that bastard son of mine who put me in this darn home.”
“Exactly, Earl,” offered Lenore. “You can write something you want to write instead of something you have to write.”
“Well, I can sure think of a few choice words I’d write to my son, yes sir …”
Earl’s rant was interrupted when a young woman entered the room.
“Hello everyone! My name is Anna. It’s so nice to see you all here and I’m very glad you were able to make it.”
“We only hobbled here from our rooms down the hall!” joked Aaron.
“Even so! We’ll start with a simple exercise,” Anna said as she distributed pens and sheets of lined paper. “Imagine a special family member or friend were to show up here right now. Who would they be, and what would your conversation be about?”
Earl smirked and wrote as quickly as his arthritic hand would allow. Despite having been disappointed that there were no eggs, Earl had written much more than a check, and that alone was worth his sitting down.
Variations on a Submitted Theme
by Robin Macdonald (Long Beach, NY)
"Shall I read mine?" Dorian volunteered.
It was the second week of the ten week course and Gail, the teacher, had asked for a volunteer to read their homework assignment, a page of dialogue starting with "Kiss me".
The class sat back to listen. Dorian looked up and slowly eyed each one of his fellow writers. Gail was grateful he had offered to break the ice, but she was quite unprepared for what followed.
Dorian finally fixed his gaze on Claire, one of the students sitting opposite.
"Kiss me," he said, looking at her intently, seeing no others. It was clearly an invitation and after a pause he repeated the line with a softness that invited the class to lean forward, the better to hear him. Dorian continued his stare as though willing the reluctant target of his entreaties to meet his gaze. Claire finally looked up at him before quickly averting her dark brown eyes, the beginnings of a blush giving her away.
"Kiss me," Dorian pleaded softly, once, twice more. Then, "Kiss me!" he shouted.
The entire class sat up. He certainly had their undivided attention now. Gail was beginning to wonder where this was going. She thought she had made it clear that more was expected than just the first two words, but the raw emotions of Dorian's delivery had definitely started something in the room. Claire was showing no signs of discomfort however, so Gail refrained from interrupting.
"Kiss me," Dorian whispered. He leaned across the table towards Claire. "Kiss me," he repeated once more, opening his arms out to her in supplication.
Claire stood up and slowly walked round the table to him. He stood up to meet her.
She kissed him long and hard.
"You really have a way with words," she said.
by Jackie Minghinelli (Halesite, NY)
“Whore!,” shouted Miranda to her writing class student. “You need to write like a whore! You spent twenty years spreading your legs for politicians, priests, and husbands. Don’t get shy on me now. The public doesn’t want Jane Eyre from you. They want the nitty gritty reality. Give the public what they want, damn it!
“And you Romeo,” Miranda yelled to a handsome student named Kevin. “Stop whining about how your parents didn’t buy you that house on the Amalfi Coast. But do tell us the details about your romance with your in-the-closet, cross dressing, bisexual senator boyfriend. Which one of you picks up the soap?” Miranda said, as she laughed viciously.
“I need real feelings from you people! I want the truth in all its shame and glory!” Miranda was now screaming and spitting her words.
Ms. M as she was called by the public, was known for getting the best out of her students. She knew how to get them angry. She knew how to hurt them and get them to the place where all great writing resides: in the gut, in the rawness of emotions. Miranda was the polar opposite of politically correct.
She had written a hugely famous best seller in the 80’s about how she cheated and slept her way to the top. She was now a hero and an American icon.
People respected her for her truth-telling, flamboyance, and wealth.
She were a corsage of real one hundred dollar bills, and sauntered through the New York City Streets daring anyone to try and take it. No one ever did.
“Write about this topic now,” she ordered. “What method would you use to murder your writing teacher? How would you make her suffer? Be creative!” Miranda laughed wickedly.
by Connie Murray (Long Island, NY)
“It lacks emotion, I guess. You know, to me. I just don’t think it has heart.”
This is offered up by Carole, the most unimaginative, small-brained yet somehow upright reptile-posing-as-a-human that God ever produced and my fellow creative writing student. She writes about boring women who cook to find themselves, their souls, their fulfillment, blahblipblah, by collecting spoons and worshipping rolling pins and fondling breadboards.
“We want to give feedback in a productive manner rather than pejorative, Carole.” Our teacher, Patrice, defends me, fabulous and totally correct woman that she is.
I feel redeemed: my story, about two Central Park pigeons who accidently get trapped in the Fifth Avenue Apple store and then end up saving New York City from a dire terrorist threat, overflows with heart. Period. I slit my eyes and stew, sending thoughts of exploding boiling cherry pies and broken ovens Carole’s way.
Carole coughs. “Well, I do like the part where the birds learn to use the internet.”
“They’re piGEons,” I can’t hold back.
“You’re in the booth, Nigel,” Patrice tells me. I am only allowed to listen during this stage of critique. I’ve been warned about this before.
Lars raises his hand. “The use of color or lack thereof was very effective,” he wisely reflects. See? I think, yelling at Carole in my head: even my “lack thereof” works, Carole, you twit, you oxygen-inhaler.
“But I guess I do have to agree with Carole that it really doesn’t have much heart.” A knife in the chest from Lars, my lone fellow male in this sea of scribing estrogen-laced bakers.
Patrice releases me from the booth, “the floor is yours, Nigel.”
I pause, my blood red. Seatbelt off.
I start to speak.
What's in a Grade?
by Holly Osborne (Rising Sun, MD)
I looked around the room as I prepared to read my final creative writing piece in front of the class. A good grade. That’s all I cared about, and that’s what I had gotten.
My peers had taken time to put creativity and passion into their stories. I did what I needed to in order to secure my grade. This often meant staying up all night the day before an assignment was due.
As I listened that day to everyone around me, I realized that I was not grasping the meaning and importance of the class. I would write about something I had heard in the past, expanding it and making it more exciting in places. But my classmates, they genuinely cared about their writing.
Maggie had dealt with the death of both of her parents when she was just eighteen. She was left to raise her three siblings with only her grandmother to rely on.
Thomas had been using heroin since he was in high school. His friend had helped him to quit, and that last class had marked a year since he had gotten into rehab and been clean.
Mark was an all star athlete that suffered a career ending injury while in his state championship wrestling match. Losing the scholarship that was getting him into Maryland for free had him sitting in this community college class with me.
Julia was a single mother of three at twenty-seven years of age. She had no help from her family though she claimed she didn’t need help anyway.
As I listened to the other students share their stories, I slowly crumpled mine up. This class wasn’t about grades. It was about telling your own story and opening up to allow others to understand you.
by Rob Putnam (Chicago, IL)
I shouldn't have stopped for that large latte. Then I wouldn’t be quick-walking up Broadway late for my creative writing class. Pinpoint punctuality is not an attribute with which I've been blessed. But caffeine and I have a longstanding codependence. Like an absentee alcoholic father and a love-deprived daughter, I make excuses for him, he makes me feel warm and special. We've both mastered this fool's game.
Being late focuses unwelcome eyes on me as I stumble through the classroom door, second-guessing my fading thrift store skirt and Dollar Store lipstick. The knee-jerk desire for a prominent tough-girl tattoo blossoms and withers in an instant and memories of my frantic first day of school creep into consciousness. I was the kid with cracked glasses and my brother's green Toughskins hand-me-downs. My self-inflicted haircut was too late recognized for the bad idea that it was. This recollection is an uninvited reminder of just how big a dork I was and am.
The apprehension I harbor about this class is inbuilt. Too many people fancy themselves writers, I suspect. A bad writer—I force-feed a bloated insecurity that I am one—is much like the drunken hipster with few original ideas but ample volume.
I sink into a seat and pray that everyone else is as uncomfortable as I am. This is selfish, I know. It’s born of fear, insecurity and deep-seated feelings of inadequacy. A desperate hope promises vaguely that such afflictions spawn great writers.
There are no friendly faces here. Or any familiar ones either. I soon see why. I'm in the wrong room. Pretending I've forgotten something, I slink out, embarrassed. Short of the self-inflicted haircut, little has changed since the first day of school.
by Susan Siracusa (Folkestone, UK)
He noticed her the moment she stepped into his Creative Writing class—a new student to join his merry ensemble of imaginative minds. His eyes followed her across the room, mesmerised; he watched her flick back her long blond hair as she took her seat. Second row back, slightly to the right. Tracing his finger down the list of students on his desk, he stopped at an unknown name. Joanna.
“Today, I will be talking about past and present,” he began, pulling himself together and directing his attention to the left side of the room purposely. A lapsed moment, a swift glance to the right, found him locked into a pair of pale blue eyes. She smiled back, with a shy demurring curve of those sweet rosebud lips. He swallowed hard, distracted from his narration momentarily; time eroded and he was once again in his youth, infatuated and reckless. He had loved her unconditionally until she broke his heart. Twenty-five years had passed, since that fateful day she had disappeared from his life, leaving nothing but a farewell note upon his pillow.
The lesson drew to a close, his concentration and professional conduct in disarray. She never took her eyes off him; devouring every movement, every mannerism. He could feel the intensity, the adoration, when their eyes met… she wanted him. He was a good 30 years older, but did it matter these days? Was it worth the risk?
The students left, she lingered intentionally behind. He waited, his mouth dry in anticipation as she approached his desk, paper in hand—a note with her number maybe? She leaned over and took hold of his hand affectionately, then pulled him forward to kiss his cheek.
“I’m so proud of you, father,” she said, handing him her birth certificate.
He Liked Her
by Vicki Wilson (Clinton, NY)
He liked her because, each night of their writing class, she had a thermos full of eggnog on her desk and would pour it, now and then, into the little cup that came on the top of the thermos. It was a blue cup. She sipped from it with her pinky finger extended probably more to balance the strange, wide cup than out of propriety.
Did she drink eggnog all year long or just now, because it was December? Could you even buy eggnog outside of the Thanksgiving-to-New-Year’s window? He had not absorbed a word of anything people read in class because she would pour her eggnog and he had to watch. She did it so carefully, even though eggnog does not rush and splash out of a thermos like water does.
Tonight, though. When class was over, he would lean across the aisle and say to her, “I love eggnog, too.” His first words to her. It was a simple sentence, but one he’d rehearsed. He was sure that it would lead somewhere, if only to her replying, “Oh, don’t you just?” because people are always pleased to find someone with similar tastes.
And when she did. It was Coke. Or Pepsi. Or a generic cola, more likely, because student writers never have money for brand names. He heard the soft fizz first, before he saw the liquid, like brown sea glass.
He could not say to her, “I love cola, too.” He didn’t love cola.
Cola, he thought again.
He wondered if he’d ever really known her at all.
by Marya Zilberberg (Goshen, MA)
Snowflakes intensified their dervish dance in the streetlight outside his classroom. The storm would soon paralyze the city; it was good he didn’t have far to go. This convenience almost made up for the agony of teaching aspiring great American novelists, who in the course of a single paragraph mixed metaphors, dangled modifiers and assassinated syntax. He had to remind himself that nearly two decades ago a class like this had saved his life. If he hadn’t taken it, the wild onslaught of words in his head would have crushed him. Instead, he learned to corral, choreograph them. So here he was: a steady paycheck, and such luxury amenities as heat, lights and free coffee.
He sat at his desk riffling through student papers. The assignment was to examine their desire to write, and he braced for the tedium of typed clichés.
“I work in PR; and I want to leverage my creative talent for creative writing.”
“I have always considered myself to be a writer. My very unique background has resulted in many original story idea’s, which I believe the world is eagerly awaiting.”
He sighed. Their commitment was admirable, but Welding 101 would have suited them better. He fanned out the stack to see how much more he had to endure. A lined sheet covered with smudged handwriting caught his eye. He extracted it and read:
“I am an engineer with the soul of a poet. At night, words pour from my fingers; I get drunk with their meanings, melodies, multiplicities. I wake up with sheets of paper strewn across my bed, pen in hand, reading glasses still on.”
His eyes stung. He got up, and, watching his reflection in the glass, walked toward the window, cracked it and lit a cigarette.
Out of Character
by Diana Zulueta (Dallas, TX)
You arrive late to your very first creative writing workshop. Your palms sweat. Already underway is a fervid discussion on the writing skills of Fitzgerald vs. Hemingway vs. Proust. You are familiar with Fitzgerald and Hemingway, but Proust? Your impression of Proust, you are asked. Sounds German you think, but blindly agree anyway with the last analysis given. When a rebuttal question is directed to you, you offer nothing. You feel your face aflame. A long half hour discussion follows on more writers you have never even heard of. You nod knowingly when seemingly appropriate. When the topic is finally changed your shoulders relax. Your instructor cursively mentions Plot, Setting, PoV,--- “PoV ?” you interrupt. POINT OF VIEW, your class answers in unison. You hope nobody notices your upper lip quiver. Write from a first person narrative, she directs everyone. You write I’m in a shark tank about to drown, whereas my fellow writers have gills and can communicate with each other telepathically. But, you volunteer nothing. You wonder if the instructor wonders why you are even there. “Chekov said, ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass’. Describe the moon,” your instructor requests. You think, Okay, the moon is round, sometimes not... Oh hell, go for it. So what if everyone thinks I’m an illiterate Neanderthal, I know there’s a writer somewhere in me. You blurt out, “Sometimes in the night sky the moon floats into obscurity lost in the etherealness of clouds, like a ballerina not yet in sync with the music’s rhythm, watching the other dancers perform.” Very Proust-esque your class approves. Your instructor nods as if to say Brava! You beam, take your accolades in stride but wonder who is Proust by the way?