Wednesday, January 14, 2009

First lines of novels and stories, January 14, 2009

Prompt: I had been sick for a long time.

(This is the first sentence of Oracle Night: A Novel by Paul Auster. First lines often make great prompts. Anybody want to send one? And this is a novel about a writer and writing.


Anonymous said...

I had been sick for a long time. Not in the conventional sense. My body still pumped blood as usual, my muscles stretched, tendons pulled, but inside and within was a rapid unraveling.

At first I just felt a little off, like I put my shoes on the wrong feet, mixed up left and right, or maybe laced too tight. But then it was as if those shoes weren’t my own, my body someone else’s. I was inside another, playing a part – happy wife and mother of two.

My husband didn’t notice, sat down at the kitchen table for dinner as always, asked for the salt. I passed it and stared, wondering why it wasn’t obvious that I was no longer his wife, that I didn’t belong. He said, “good day, hon?” Always short phrases, his mouth barely parting to speak.

“Yes,” I answered, though he had moved on, to the broccoli casserole and bread rolls. Could I serve and pass?


My oldest, Charlie, asked me if I felt sick. “No, not really.” He stared at me intensely like I was a hologram, like if he twisted me in the light with his eyes, he would find a different reflection. That was my sickness – change. Twenty-five years, I was the same woman: good, responsible, lovable, kind. And then, in a slow instant, I wasn’t.

My doctor told me it was menopause. He recommended hormones. And I tried them for a while, believing that maybe estrogen was the answer. I put on ten pounds and broke out. At forty-seven years old, acne!

I went back to his office and said, no more. He told me I was fine, even used the word ‘cured.’ Cured of what? No, my sickness was just beginning. A sickness of spirit, a changing spirit.

I started to feel like an octopus, which sheds one tentacle and grows another. I lost interest in things I loved, or thought I loved, took up activities I never would have dreamed of doing before. I learned how to kickbox. From a teacher named Jimbo, who wore an American flag headband and sweated like someone had lit his heels on fire. Pouring, dripping, manly sweat that jumps off his dark skin when he punches or kicks. I used to hate when people sweat on me, couldn’t really even stand my own sweat, how it smelled, looked. I was always eager to get home and shower. But after Jimbo’s class, I would wait, prolong that feeling of glorious effort until I cooked up a stench, until my husband, or Charlie or John told me, kindly of course, that I ought to take a bath.

The thing about change is that once it starts, it’s hard to know when or if it will stop. Or even slow down for that matter. I do things these days that catch me off guard. Honk at old ladies who cross the street too slow, slam doors when no one’s home, just because. And then the other night, at the dinner table with my husband, my mouth just opened up, like someone was prying wide my jaw and filling it with words I never would have strung together that way. My mouth unhinged and the words flew out, as I looked my husband straight in the eyes and said, “How about you clean the dishes tonight? I’m going out.”

Michele said...

Good to hear from you Jill. I love the ending.

Isabel said...

“Imagine a morning in late November”, Truman Capote, A Christmas Memory.

The words are almost a song to me. They are so simple and so boring. What’s more boring than November? It is the most boring month. First of all, it’s brown. It’s the brownest month of the year, and in many places it is cold, a dreary, bone-chilling, wipe away the happy summer and fall memories of sunlight and goldenrods, month. To write about November or begin a story about November certainly takes guts, or maybe it takes gusts, gusts of November winds that throw sticky, gluey, gray globbiness right in the eye. It takes a confident, careless, self-respecting, even cocky writer to write about November.

In Vermont there used to be a lot of mud in November, and the little sparse snowfalls loved to mix with that mud and produce the single most ugly substance of filthy dirty, slushy, sticky mud, on a layer of ice that thought it could, and sometimes did, send you flying, to Baptize you in the stuff.

The sky is compressed by clouds and subdues living creatures into gray submission. “No ray of light cheats the pensive gloom.” And after skidding and sliding and bracing for a cold that offers no relief in the form of frozen crystals or blankets of whiteness to cover its brown, when every last leaf is lashed away from its dreams of summer days, you hold out hope for Thanksgiving, and stick avocado pits, stuck with tooth picks, upside down in jars of water.

Carol Henderson said...

I love Isabel's piece about the brown of November and the baptism in mucky goo and sticking tooth-picked avocado pits in jars of water. It's odd because I love November--the stark trees, the winds, and the early sunsets, though the sun doesn't often shine in November, does it?

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