Finnian Burnett

Storyteller

This prompt was to take the last line from an Anne Tyler book – Redhead by the Side of the Road and the last line from Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine and make one the first line and the other the last line of a flash fiction piece. We had a few minutes to write and I came up with this mash up.

Dandelions by the Side of the Road

They are walking so close together that they’re stumbling over each other’s feet, and he begins to feel happy. Her hand is warm, not too warm, just enough to take the chill from his and he thinks any moment she’ll pull away and take half a step sideways just to regain her balance. Another step, a corner turned. If her father looks out the store window now, he’ll see only an empty street. One more turn and they’re scrambling down the bank to the creek, emerging on the other side with soaked shoes and then they’re climbing up the opposite embankment.

They’re running on the railroad tracks, putting another mile between their slender young backs and the town where their mothers grow old too quickly, where the girl’s sister will get pregnant in high school and marry before she starts to show, where his father beat beats the children with his belt because he doesn’t know what else to do with his rage.

She stops for a moment to pick a dandelion from the side of the road, rubbing the flower head under his chin. He lifts his head to the sky before kissing her. And they’re hitchhiking on the highway and they’re in a new city with new lives and he kisses her in their new home, and she makes a quilt for their new bed and they curl under it and sleeping put an end to summer 1928.

In flash class, we were prompted to write about moving from a city to a small town or vice versa. This was my result.

The Town’s Only Takeout

Pizza delivery again. The piles of extra cheese almost hide the fact that the dough is chewy and bland. Remember that vegan Reuben we used to get from McCalister’s, my wife says as she swallows another bite. Remember that thin crust calzone we had at the Italian restaurant in old town? I remember that calzone and the Reuben and the baklava we’d eat standing up at the little food truck on the corner of Main and 67th Ave and how we’d sometimes run to the grocery store at 2 AM because one of us was sleepless and we wanted hot chocolate. We love our new house in the country with loads of space and miles of unsullied woodlands and no drunk men peeing off balconies late on Saturday night. But—Remember that Shawarma place with the life-size Darth Vader statue in the dining room? My wife pulls another slice of the town’s only pizza –this is fine, she says, her jaws working to get through another bite.

The amazing Ekphrastic Writing workshops with Lorette Luzajic have inspired some great writing. She talks about the art, gives us prompts, and allows us space to read our works after. It’s an amazing, supportive space and open to new and old. I had personally never heard of Ekphrastic writing before I stumbled on her classes and I’m a convert.

This is a first draft of a free writing kind of story that came from the following painting. It was more of a writing exercise than a story–I haven’t titled it, even.

I can walk on water here, slide through the thin yellow trees, glide across the solid purple line of lake water. My feet don’t touch the lakebed, his brush strokes are too hard. I’m weightless over the bay, waving myself across the unmoving, unnerving expanse of what looks like water if I squint in just the right way. It’s morning or evening. The splotchy pink sky wants to tell time but without the sun to orient myself I don’t know if I’m looking east or west. The opposite shore frizzles into a mountain of purple almost the same color as the lake and it moves as I move, never getting closer, never seeming further away. Turning I squint at the slim yellow tress, at the lifeless rocks nestled between them. I’m as far away from their shore as I am from the other, I think for a moment before melting into the hues.

In one of my flash workshops, we were asked to take a fairy tale and turn it upside down.

The Seven Refugees

It isn’t a big house, the split-level. Three, maybe four bedrooms, tops. Eric Franson who does handy-man stuff on the side said she called him in to fix a toilet once and from what he could see there were only two bathrooms, though perhaps there was an en-suite off the big bedroom in the back. When the first refugee moved into her house, we thought well there’s a nice thing but when a second one moved in, it seemed too much. Before long the strangers were shopping at our grocery and asking poor Sheila, whose feet hurt after double shifts, for discounts on bulk purchases. The fourth came with three children which meant she had six people besides her living in that little house and we wondered where she put them all, if they shared bedrooms or if perhaps one (or more) were even sleeping with her. They came gradually so we didn’t have time to talk to her before the seventh, a tiny man with a beard down to his waist moved in and took over lawn care and now Snow White plays in the perfectly manicured front yard with the refugee children and when we tell her we feel for these people, we really do, she turns away before we finish our sentence.

In a workshop recently with the great flash writer, Jude Higgins, we were prompted to list some mundane things from our life. When we had a list, we picked a couple and wrote about them. One of my items was bathing in a bucket and this is the flash piece that came from it.

The news

No estimate on the return of the water, the mayor says on CBC. The sound is tinny, and the mayor’s voice drags, tired and slow in contrast with the newscaster who talks fast, almost breathlessly, over a roll of pictures of the devastation of your town. You can’t see his face, your mayor, because you’re in the kitchen, bathing from a bucket with a dish towel draped over the kitchen window because you never bothered to put up a curtain. Thousands without water or heat, the major says from the living room and since you’re not there to switch it off, the news moves on to another story as people always do.