Thursday, February 4, 2016

flash fiction challenge day 1: It's Our Family

I began my flash fiction challenge on February 1st. hosted by Marjorie Altman Tesser from Mom Egg Review. ‪#‎febflash=Feb. Flash Fiction Challenge--Write one piece of flash each day in Feb.We will be featuring daily tips, optional writing prompts, advice, and encouragement from established fiction authors and editors. Scroll down to see them, or visit this link for all tips and prompts posted so far:

My challenge is to write short fiction. I write long narrative poems, memoir pieces of up to 3000 words and novels. Short stories have never been my forte. I took on the challenge to see if I caould do it and to see what might inspire me. My first piece is below:
The challenge was from RICK MOODY "Write a story with no modifiers (i.e., no adjectives, no adverbs)." My first attempt ended at 1400 words. Flash fiction by definition is less than 1000 words and the suggestion is to get 250 words down each day. So I went back and edited. It is still 870 words. I think I will develop it into a longer story.

It's Our Family

The fighting in the back seat escalated from annoying to maddening. The 12 year old’s pummels left bruises. The 9 year old boy cried but he had started it, singing out of tune to his ipod and flinging out his arms. Her son, driving, ignored it; her daughter-in-law, exacerbated it with threats that meant nothing. The three year old contentedly watched a movie on his laptop with earphones so large, he looked like a pilot. Grandma’s pleas to stop fighting didn’t make a dent. Gritting her teeth was not only making her joints ache but her heart. It was not the trip she imagined to spread her younger son’s ashes.

As the miles passed, her hopes that this family gathering could mend the past faded. Now she only hoped they could get through it, salvage at least the fun of camping. She imagined waking up to birdsong, sitting peacefully by the campfire. “Look out the window,” her son told the little guy. “We’re in nature!” They passed towering rocks on one side and the shimmer of the lake on the other. “Where, where?” the boy said, turning his head to the window and back, puzzled.

Yoan had decided the tenth anniversary was the time to spread his portion of his brother's ashes. He chose the river where they had camped together before children and nights without sleep and alcoholic down-swings and complicated mortgages. Josiah had left behind a son who would meet them at the campsite with Grandpa Don. Grandma had spread Josiah’s ashes at the Chama River where they had camped when she was pregnant; Don had spread his at the mountain where they used to ski. The fiancée was in rehab. Grandma worried about scars left behind.

She remembered the day she had spooned the ashes into several containers, one for her, one for Yoan, one for Don, one for the fiancée. How it fell to her to do because even though her life had shattered, she was more capable of organizing memorials and candle light vigils and altars, digging through piles of photographs, choosing cremation, purchasing urns. She went back to work for a year, then disappeared to Puerto Vallarta and margarita sunsets until one day she said to herself, What the hell am I doing? and moved lock, stock and barrel to Minnesota, to help out with Yoan’s kids.

Dividing the ashes was one of her most vivid memories, scorched on her eyelids and her heart. Releasing her share of his ashes was part of a series of rituals to shake loose the despair that settled into her soul. But only time would dull the pain, she would learn, despite everything she tried: counseling, support groups, art classes, workshops, travel, margaritas, yoga, grandsons.

They pulled into the campground where Don waited for them and claimed two sites next to the river. Nate fell in, soaking his shoes. Linda scolded. Then they began the hike, stopping by the tourist station to consult maps. Yoan remembered that it took an hour, but they were younger then. The trail was rugged, root-tangled, pine needle slick. Nate offered to take the dog, which kept both of them under control. The pre-teen boys discussed football. The little guy walked by himself.  Her feet ached but she kept going, determined.

The beach was covered in sharp rocks, no where to sit and catch her breath. They stood in an awkward circle. A few words were said, but the waterfall was loud, impossible to hear anything unless they shouted. While they waited for hikers to pass, the dog took off up the hillside and had to be retrieved. The urns were opened and upturned and powdery gray ashes swirled to join the water. The kids skipped stones. Photos were taken.

He was gone, even the last bits of bone. They each had to reconcile with the loss in their own way. His death divided them, too painful to talk about, once the last photos had been packed away, the urn that Yoan inherited parked on a shelf. What do you say when someone is in so much pain, they see no other way out? How can you reconcile it with the kind young man who was always optimistic? The tree they planted was barely surviving, no one had the heart to take care of it. The house he couldn’t really afford now someone’s else’s burden. She had cried until she felt drowned, submerged.

The kids were eager to get back to hotdogs and s’mores. The dog led the way, his tail wagging. The little one had to be carried. She couldn’t believe her feet could still move.

The adults sat by the campfire talking of everyday this and that: jobs, school, past and upcoming vacations. The boys tossed around a football until the fire was hot enough for hot dogs. Yoan stripped a stick for her to toast marshmallows for the little guy, who crawled into her lap. This was her moment of grace: whatever was left of her child was collected here, by the fire. Broken in places, grieved beyond measure, sibling rivalry for the cousin’s attention, the little one nestled against her, they were still family, all the family she needed.

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