|Write a story using the form of
"In the Current" and "Passing Time."
• Establish setting.
• Introduce a character; reveal something about him.
• Have the character react to the setting, perhaps to a change in the setting.
• Introduce a problem the character is facing (in his mind/memory or in the setting).
• Have the character consider another character (not already considered) or have another character enter the scene.
• Have the character consider the problem.
• Add a detail about setting.
• Have the character take action.
#4 • Create a climax.
• Write a denouement?
In the Current
Passing down among the fir-topped islands, a breeze came low and cut small furrows in the moonlit water's surface.
The man held his paddle still across the kayak's cockpit. Letting tension ease from his shoulders and forearms, he considered the single light gleaming from the house. From here the light might seem a warm comfort in the expanse of sky and water. But coming from his own window, in the sole house on a mile-long island, the glow spoke to him of a coldness greater than any felt on the bay.
A seal distracted him. Its round face emerged with a sudden ripple just to his right and bobbed awhile, all frank eyes and comic whiskers. In moon's light, the seal was vivid yet softened, more pencil sketch than photograph, and the man in the kayak was pleased. He smiled a greeting, but the visit suddenly ended, with another ripple and a brief circle of flatness on the water. The man imagined the seal under the water, swimming, its whiskers now thin banners streaming with the broad body's surprising ballet, the comic face now a squinting Buddha's, the seal now, becoming the water. The breeze was cooling the man, and he thought of moving again.
He dipped the paddle to steady himself, the current coming astern, and faced the light. He knew his wife would still be sitting beside the light at the round oak table, the vodka and ice beside her, the album open to her grimace and tears.
Pictures of their son. Here he is diapered at two, dapper in plastic horn-rimmed shades. Here he beams from a high chair, a spoon lifted in-celebration. Here he stands on lengthening legs in the island waters, a thoughtful gaze fixed on a gray horizon. She would add a little ice and another splash to her glass and she would not turn the page to that single gravestone on the bluff above the granite shore. If the man were still there with her on this dark anniversary, she would still cry and ignore him, still drink and hear emptiness. When she had started with the bottle and album, he was finishing their few dishes, and he had left them in the drying rack and descended to the beach to pull the kayak from under the tarp.
He should still be there, he thought. She wouldn't have to see him or hear, him, wouldn't have to talk. She could drink and be alone knowing he was nearby, in the chair, in the house. There was enough sorrow, enough variety of mourning for them each to do a part.
But he became aware of waves lapping on the kayak flanks and the rising wind was colder.
He loosened his collar in response and put his hat beneath the seat. This chill demanded motion.
His grip tightened on the paddle and he turned the kayak's bow. He would have to paddle against the current a while, at least until he passed around Ram Island. Maybe he could get there before the moon had fallen, to see that looming tree where, just the day before, he had spied the eagle with her nestlings.
School buses growled into their places outside the classroom window, screeching to a stop and backing into position with a high-pitched rhythmic whine. Inside, the students settled into writing: pens scratched, sneakers tapped and old desks squeaked.
The teacher glanced at the clock - thirty minutes until the bell - and began writing himself; the scrawl from his black pen filled the blue-lined pages. He tried to focus on the task at hand, but his mind drifted to his father, alone in a new apartment, perhaps making himself a late lunch or neatening up the kitchen or, more likely, watching the clock tick slowly. Since the stroke, his father couldn't read his favorite history tomes or work through his New York Times crossword. The letters jumbled on the page before him until he crumbled the paper in frustration or threw the book across the room.
The teacher squinted his eyes out of focus and stared at the page. The letters blurred but stayed in neat rows, turning into familiar sounds that found coherent meanings in the dark catacombs of his brain. A round-faced boy in a baseball cap stood and whispered the teacher's name. "Bathroom?" the student asked, pointing toward the door. The teacher nodded his head, turned to the growing bus-driver chatter outside the window and attempted to calm the now-distracted students. The wind bristled the oak leaves outside the window and the teacher wondered what any of the students were really doing, really thinking, really accomplishing by this forced labor writing. Twenty minutes left.
He returned to his page, but the image of his father returned: sitting in a darkened room, clicking through the daytime TV options for something worthy of his once-active mind. Even on the phone his father struggled, pausing frequently to retrieve a misplaced word, finding only fragments or nothing at all before he cursed in disgust. The teacher knew he should be there with his father now, distracting him, helping exercise those language muscles until they returned to their former agility. Or encouraging him not to take up the pipe smoking again, the evening bourbons, the sweet and pleasurable foods he'd avoided since the diabetes diagnosis. Although, what was the point now? Remain healthy for these long, lonely afternoons? Keep a healthy shell for his rotted core?
The teacher put down his pen to respond to a student's question.
"What's a de now ment?" the student asked and adjusted his glasses on his nose.
"A denouement?" the teacher asked, hoping he'd pronounced it right. "A resolution that reveals something else about the story." He immediately thought of how inadequate his answer was. How inadequate the assignment was. How inadequate the whole damn –
He stopped, put down his pen and looked out at the yellow school buses. Ten minutes left. Sunlight reflected off the rounded bus roofs. Deep green trees guided the road away from the school and off over the distant hill. He could jump out that window, hop into a bus, pull it out of the driveway and take a left down the long highway to where his father sat, the TV now off, the clicker thrown against the screen. But before he can imagine himself pushing open the door and yelling hello, a student interrupted.
"Can we read these stories aloud?" the boy in the pink shirt asked. "This story I wrote is great."
"Don't you say that every time?" the teacher asked. He smiled and thought of his father again, imagined him in the classroom sitting among the students at an undersized desk. Or sitting up front at the teacher's desk. Words and stories are what he loved. Books and ideas. People and laughter. These students might quiet the ticking clock, engage his stunted muscles. They might help them both forget for a moment.
""Yes," the teacher said and scribbled a few last words. "Five minutes left. Who wants to read?" A new bus arrived outside the window and began beeping as it reversed into place. The boy in the pink shirt read loudly to be heard over the racket.
Jack Powers 6/03