Flash Fiction: What I Would Tell You
Participating in online Flash Fiction competitions has been a large part of improving my skills as a writer and in helping me feel more connected to a writing community. But my participation has flagged in 2016, partly from some beloved contests coming to an end, and partly from the complexities in life from February through all of March.
As I work on spending more time writing for myself and not just for work, returning to this community and these competitions has been the most natural first step.
I competed in The Angry Hourglass last weekend and this past weekend, earning an Honorable Mention in both.
This past weekend was a new writing exercise for me in that I tapped into something deeply uncomfortable and painful in writing semi-fiction about something very real. Everyone knows the saying “write what you know” and to some degree my life has informed aspects of my writing, but often I tend toward the fanciful, meaning most of what I write about it pure imagination. But in processing the loss of my father I finally found that I needed to turn my writing mind toward my grief.
When I was dealing with the experience and aftermath of my own brush with cancer, I wrote about it on my former blog, sharing in the non-fiction sense, but I rarely felt the need to write about it or process it in a fictional manner. And when I did, it didn’t cause much of an emotional reaction. But writing about my father did.
How real is a dream? I have ownership of it in that it’s something my mind produced, it’s a type of experience, and in this particular case, full of emotions and concerns that are very real in my awake state.
I recently dreamt that I was sitting in a cafeteria, eating with some friends, when my father came down the hall and into the cafeteria wearing the suit he wore to my wedding.
He was walking oddly. I stood up for the table panicked, unsure of what to do, but for some reason absolutely certain I didn’t want to see him. In my dream, and perhaps consciously, I wanted him to go away, and I felt bad about that, so I kept apologizing.
I woke up and felt strangely relieved to not have to talk to this version of my father, and incredibly sad that perhaps I had wasted an opportunity.
In this week’s challenge I decided to use fiction with a hint of truth to re-write my experience, and do so with brevity, given the constraints of the challenge. (For Angry Hourglass there is a picture prompt and a limit of 360 words)
This was the story I submitted:
What I Would Tell You
Salty air, asphalt and dry dust, a tang of spilled oil.
It smells familiar.
I’ve been here before?
I’ve been here before.
When I was seven.
And I came here with…
He comes around the corner, not wearing the kind of summer outfit he might have worn on a day like this, a dry summer day in a tourist town.
He is wearing his suit from my wedding, complete with flower on the lapel.
He smiles at me and I am ashamed that my face crumples.
I tell myself to smile back.
You can say hello!
For god’s sake smile!
But I begin to cry.
He approaches and holds his hands out for mine.
I take them.
I look down at them.
“Remember when we came here when you were seven? We were supposed to spend an hour out on the water and we spent the whole day.”
I nod. I want to say that I remember but I can’t speak around the lump in my throat.
“You said you thought Mom would wonder where we were, but she knew I loved the water, and she knew that you would love whatever I loved. I knew she wouldn’t worry, not even in those pre-cellphone days because she’d want us to be able to fly across the water together. Unencumbered by something as trivial as time.”
He squeezes my hands and I look up at him.
He is whole. He is the man from memories and the face from my pictures.
He is not the man withering under a disease.
“Shall we?” he asks.
I nod yes.
We walk around the building, to the dock and into the rental boat.
I climb aboard, steady and even thanks to a childhood spent on docks with him.
Once we are both on board he starts the engine and we glide out into the open water.
“I’m sorry,” I tell him.
“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” he replies.
“I miss you, Dad,” I say, watching his profile against the open water.
“I miss you, too.”
And then I wake up.
And I am broken.
And yet I am whole.
I cried the entire time that I wrote this. Something completely new for me.
Did it help me as a writer? I’m not sure. But I think it helped me simply as a person, to be able to acknowledge this part of me, of my life, and move both with it and past it.
If you’d like to learn more about Flash Fiction or the online competitions feel free to contact me, or visit The Flashdogs website, or the linked content above.