Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Slice of Life #21 - Playing with Fiction - Final Day

Well I wrapped it up! I have to say my husband and I really did this together. He'd throw out an idea, I would write it and then build on it. It was a neat back and forth collaboration. We are a good team.

Reflecting back on the process, I had wanted to share my thinking a bit more, but it would have given away the mystery. So with that in mind I share some of my reflections at the end.

Just a reminder that each color represents what I wrote on different days, so the black at the bottom is new - just fyi. :)

    As morning came, no one roamed the streets of the tiny subdivision overlooking the lake, but someone was watching. The leaves populated the streets with dancing and leaping, they seemed not to have a care in the world, this was not so for the hidden resident of 252 Pleasant Drive. You see, he took care of everyone, watched over everyone. You would think he would learn, but the desire to wander overcame him and he ventured out through the garden, passed the mailboxes and down the hill. She was leaving and needed an escort. He sat with her until her bus came and then trotted home.
     He knew the man's eyes were on him, following him, daring him to leave the yard again. For now, he would lay low and wait. Eventually the man would have to go to work and that he did. Then Jack could mosey down to the water's edge and wait for the woman. It took her longer now, to walk from the house to the shore. So when he heard the door open he would run to greet her and walk with her to the benches, where the grass meets the sand. His days began and ended with her. At night the sun would inch down behind the horizon, the sky would turn from blue, to pink, to purple, and then to a deep, dark Maxfield Parrish blue. As the colors darkened the sky, it's as if an eyelid came down to signal the closing of the day. The woman would feed the geese and pet him. He could feel energy flow to her, could sense her get stronger, see a satisfied smile come over her face as she stands to return to her haven. Jack would then continue on his way. Greeting all those who he encountered, except the man, the man with crossed arms, always with the crossed arms. He was to be avoided. There was no helping him, or was there?
     Jack has always been a loyal dog, like dogs are, but he's had many masters over the years. He's spent his days shepherding and retrieving, honing his skill for care taking. For now his home is 252 Pleasant Drive and the family that resides there thinks he's just theirs. They know Jack's penchant for roaming the neighborhood, but don't fully realize his entire responsibilities.

     Charlotte's busy in the kitchen as she walks past the window, the for sale sign grates on her mind. She considers making toast and marmalade, but as the room begins to be fill with an orange glow, she decides to join Jack down by the lake to watch the sunset. Stepping outside, the quiet of the evening is almost disturbing. She remembers how the sound of children playing use to fill the air. Jack is there as expected, like clockwork. She hears his feet squish in the riparian path, as they get closer to the lake. Jack and the setting sun always make her feel warm and content.

     Today Jack continues with his usual routine. First, the bus stop to make sure the girl gets off to school safely, then he visits the woman, Charlotte, who feeds the geese down by the lake and then home. He intends to pass the man's house, but he can't -- the man is standing on the sidewalk out front, barring his way with a broomstick. He glares menacingly, while the chattering of the squirrels agitates his nerves, escalating his rage towards the wayward offending dog, intruding on his domain. Jack chuffs annoyingly at the man, who like a tiger chuffs back in his own belligerent way. Jack narrowly escapes while the man goes off to call animal control. 

     Today, Jack again continues with his usual routine. The day is coming to a close and it's time to comfort and offer Charlotte support while she finds her way. As Jack heads towards the lake, he passes the man's house, crossing on the other side of the street. However, when he gets to the lake, there's an unexpected visitor. The man is at the shore too, chasing the neighborhood geese away from the beach. The neighbors appreciate his efforts. No one likes to step in goose poop. He really is a good neighbor, he just thinks everyone should follow the rules. "If only that family at 252 Pleasant Drive would keep their dog locked up!"  The man often thinks.
     Jack pauses and contemplates returning home, but he sees Charlotte looking for him out the kitchen window. He can't let her down. Reluctantly, he takes steps towards the house, but sees the broomstick and has an uneasy feeling. The broomstick seems to loom larger in his mind and seems to wave faster with the incessant drone of the squirrels fueling the man's energy towards removing the geese, until he spots the dog out of the corner of his eye. Slowly he turns, inch by inch, step by step he directs his attention towards the trespassing canine. Just as he is about to corner the dog in the yard, their battle is interrupted by the sound of screams and frantic splashing, emanating from the cold water where no one should be this time of year. Charlotte gestures for them to help. The man drops the broom and moves as quickly as his weak legs can carry him towards the water. He doesn't notice the cold as he enters. He looks for the girl who he has only caught a glimpse of...where can she be? There! But it's as if he's moving in slow motion. When he finally does reach her, the girl from the bus stop, he doesn't have the strength to save her despite his best efforts. He tries again, but it's futile. Sinking to his knees he pulls, but muck at the bottom of the lake sucks him down -- no progress. Jack leaps into the water disregarding his feelings for the man and pulls the girl, helping the man, who for the first time in years doesn't feel alone. Whether his new found strength is in him or is a result of Jack's help, it doesn't matter because now they pull the girl to safety. Drenched and out of breath both heroes acknowledge one another with a look and embrace. "We did it!" The man says catching his breath. "You're a good dog, good dog."
     Everything is quiet. The girl is safe, wrapped in the man's jacket. Jack has lost an opponent and the man has gained a friend. Meanwhile Charlotte, seeing this new bond, remembers the love of family and is instantaneously home, at last.

So...Wow! What a challenge this was. I had started off thinking Jack would be like a ghost or more like an angel dog, but then I got the idea from some of you to make the woman a ghost. I had decided to have the three threads of the story be Jack - the helper dog - who helps ghosts and real people, Charlotte - the ghost woman who wasn't quite ready to move on and finally the man who had obvious issues. In my head he had experience various tragedies in his life to make him so crabby, but it got tricky to work those in. So I tried to make his character complex in that he wasn't all bad, just a bit rigid. He really was a good/helpful guy. Also, some of this was inspired recently when I was down in Springfield for a literacy conference and went on a "Ghost Walk" through Lincoln's neighborhood, by his house.

The dog is based on a dog in our neighborhood, Jack, who does roam the neighborhood and is friendly. Once he even came into our house, stole my dogs bone and took off. He also has been known to follow other families on their trick or treating around the neighborhood. He cracks me up! Charlotte is also based on a neighbor who recently passed away. We always pass her house as we head down to the lake to play at the beach or watch the sunset and we miss her!  Just thought you would like to know where the ideas came from.


Click here to returen to Two Writing Teachers and other slices!


  1. Jen, I think it's so cool that you tried this out and all of the ideas that came to the surface. Thank you for allowing us to see your thinking.

  2. You made it through. Congratulations. I like the way you wove your story and then explained your thinking. It was like two adventures in one. I am glad you took us with you.

  3. I love the reflection on the process. I enjoy hearing that!

    Writing fiction can be so daunting... I really need to give it try. I used to write a lot of it, but lost my way.

  4. Thanks for the reflections, which is a piece of writing from writers that I always enjoy.