You know how sometimes you go months without really getting into a book, then you read a good one and all of a sudden you go on a reading binge? Well, I'm finding that the same is true with writing. I'm in a mood to write right now, and yesterday Advanced Comp. afforded me the opportunity to do it. They're writing short short stories in there (for more on short short stories, check out this web site with a bunch by David Eggers), and yesterday we did a pre-writing activity. I gave them a sheet with a bunch of first lines from actual short stories, and they had to use one to begin their own narrative. They had 10 minutes. I did one too. The first line comes from a story called "Tall Tales from the Mekong Delta," by Kate Braverman. I'm calling my version "It Was Cancer, If You Were Curious."
It was in the 5th month of her sobriety that Martha was faced with a situation that demanded a drink. She was certain that no one would blame her for ordering a Captain and Diet Coke. Maybe a quick shot of SoCo and lime. A Corona, perhaps. After all, normal people could do things like that after a near-death experience. (Martha frequently had to remind herself not to identify herself as "abnormal.") How unfair that people who could live without it could have all they wanted while those who depended on it ("depended"--that was their word, not hers) had to go elsewhere for comfort. And that's what it was, right? This was a near-death experience in two very different but equally literal senses of the word. Standing before her brother's casket an hour earlier, she had death staring her down, daring her to look away. And when she finally did--when she couldn't bear one more stranger's embrace, one more false tear, one more "He was so young"--she had escaped through a side door to enjoy a cigarette, the addiction she still allowed herself to feed.
Martha had always despised those who didn't respect the sanctity of a funeral, so her first instinct when she saw the rusty pick-up speeding down Oak Street was to shout something nasty or at least give them the finger. But as they took that righthand turn a little too sharply, Martha stumbled off the sidewalk and fell on the well-manicured lawn of Barrett & Sons Funeral Home. The truck rolled up and down the curb where Oak met Lauderdale Lane as the young man sitting in the passenger's seat flicked a cigarette out the window. Martha broke down.
So here she sits at McMurphy's, thinking that no one would fault her for ordering just one to calm her nerves, right?