About a year back I had a talented student who couldn’t finish anything. Some sort of block, she claimed. I’ve always been intolerant of that state of affairs. So I challenged her: ‘Send me one fresh story, by e-mail, every day for the next week, and I’ll return the favor.’ It worked out all right, I suppose. She pushed herself past “the block” and offered up a few gems; as promised, I spun seven stories myself. These are two of them. Why I wrote what I did, I can’t explain. It’s something like dream-work. In one case—“The Indigents”—I may indeed have dreamt my way through it. I recall nodding off with a pen in my hand late one night as I sat on the couch, trying to write, after the kids had gone to bed. Were it not for my pledge, I would have collapsed and never finished this odd story. I managed to keep scribbling, though, encouraged by the radio. It had been on while I was doing the dishes that evening, and there had come through the speakers news of indigent burials being on the rise. That was the phrase. Curious, isn’t it? Burials and rising—the countervailing trajectories in the phrase caught my attention, as did the flat journalese of “on the rise” pressed close to that evocative noun. Anyway, there was something plaintive about the notion. So, close to sleep though I was, I tried to spin a story that gave the phrase a purpose.
The other piece I wrote with my mother’s china closet in mind. She has and always had a taste for delicate objects—decorative plates, religious figurines, crystal bowls and vases. She had more than enough such knick-knacks with which to decorate our house, so kept the extra items, along with stacks and stacks of china hand-painted by my industrious great-grandmother, in a closet off the dining room in our home. This little story, though, has more to do with a wintry Thanksgiving when, roughhousing boy that I was, I hurled a ball through the kitchen and shattered an heirloom crystal wine glass. My parents immediately banished us kids to the yard until they decided we felt sufficiently punished. A memorable sojourn in purgatory it was, and most likely effective. I doubt I played ball in the kitchen ever again.