I get my best ideas folding laundry. From the bedroom window of the home I work from as a nanny three days a week, I can see the Cascade range, the glitter of Lake Washington, and the inverted bowl of clouds that so often rests on top of Mt. Rainier. Words and feelings, bits of dreams from the night before, and worries borrowed from the days ahead all muddle together. And sometimes, they make a story all on their own.
This was how I began writing about Frank, an old man ready to leave but not able to go.
Sometimes I’ve rushed straight to the computer, able to get the entire story down before the lines have gotten tangled. Those are the best times. But Frank was stubborn, and although the bones of the story lined up easily, the fleshing out was painful. It wasn’t just the trouble of finding the right words. As I wrestled, what I was writing began to hit home. I wasn’t telling the story of Frank; I was telling my grandfather’s story.
The winter before, my very stubborn ninety-year old grandpa had set off in the snow without his coat on, intent on dying outdoors, away from the falling down trailer that became his home when he lost the farm where I’d spent a good part of my growing -up years.
But he didn’t die out there. In fact, he hasn’t died at all. He’s still hanging on but the man I knew is gone: the handlebar moustache that was always waxed into upturned curves at each end; the bulging biceps and dirty coveralls; the easy ambling steps that covered so much ground. Now, he sits in the recliner and watches nature videos set to hymns even though he mostly can’t see and hasn’t heard more than one word in ten for the last decade.
As I wrote about Frank, I realized I was writing my goodbye. As the images became clear, it felt in some way that, when the story ended, he would truly be gone and I wouldn’t be able to pretend that it had already happened. Because that’s how I’ve gotten by, pretending he isn’t still sitting mutely in a world that’s mostly vanished for him.
I sent the story to a friend to read and offer feedback, and his response prompted me to submit the story, just as it was. He asked if he could send it to a loved one who had just lost a life partner, to offer it as a means of comfort and as a way to understand that this passage doesn’t need to be an ending but truly just a passing from one place to the next.
I don’t understand the blessing of story from chaos, how words emerge from the confusion of memory and wishes, but the power of it continues to pull me to my place in front of the keyboard, listening, waiting to see clearly.
Kristen MacKenzie lives on Vashon Island in a quiet cabin where the shelves are filled with herbs for medicine-making, the floor is open for dancing, and the table faces the ocean, waiting for a writer to pick up the pen. Her work has appeared in Brevity, Rawboned, GALA, Extract(s) Daily Dose of Lit, Maudlin House, Blank Fiction, Cease, Cows; Crack the Spine, Eckleburg, Referential, Bluestockings, NAILED, Knee-Jerk, Minerva Rising, Mondegreen, Prick of the Spindle, Crab Fat, Poydras Review and Wilderness House and is included monthly in Diversity Rules. Her short story, Cold Comfort, placed in Honorable Mention in The Women’s National Book Association’s annual writing contest.
Her story “Frank” appears in Minerva Rising’s “Wide Open” issue.
You can read more from Kristen at http://www.poydrasreview.com/blog/2015/8/14/the-continent-in-the-living-room-by-kristen-mackenzie and http://www.nailedmagazine.com/editors-choice/response-cheating/.