Short stories - what are they? I’ll admit that’s a question I still do not fully know the answer to, but I hope to have a much better perspective after this year. As I’m taking a bit of a break from working on my third novel I have decided to work on a batch of stories, some of which I hope will find publication in literary journals. As it stands right now, I should have about ten in good enough shape to send out in the next few months. But I thought a really interesting way of showing this process would be to workshop at least one of the stories through the blog on my website.
The story I chose for this workshop is one I crafted way back in my college days. Back when I was an aimless youth I took a class specifically on Creative Writing (those really into my work will recognize this as one of the classroom settings in Last Man on Campus). While to this day I feel I never put enough into the class, I did wind up with one story that I think could eventually stand on its own for publication. I now present part of that story to my audience, with some slight editing from its previous incarnation, in the hopes of kick-starting an interactive workshop. Without further ado, here is the first part of the short story “Allison:”
I told Allison Chalmers I loved her the summer after our senior year. I told her I had loved her since the third grade, when our entire class was forced to distribute little pink paper valentines to everyone but I had saved one for her that stated: “Will you be mine?” I told her I loved her when I saw her scorching down the Winterset High asphalt track, piercing April rays of sunshine floating over her back and her competition from the surrounding schools left in the dust. I told her I had loved her since we held each other at our last prom, blue streamers hanging askew around us in the gymnasium. I told her I loved her even after Jeremy Shepherd had entered the fray.
I told Allison these things the afternoon of a desperate, hot August day one week before I was to leave for the state university. My voice sounded freshman-year shaky and my body trembled as if some hidden brute within wanted to leave my presence to avoid this conversation forever. I told Allison I had loved her the entire ten years we had known each other, and that even though she had found another, I knew she belonged to me. And how did she react to this confession? This statement of trust that I conveyed to her on that scorching day at the end of summer? It wasn’t what I expected.
* * *
The real reason these feelings began to make their way into my heart, levelling any thoughts of friendship I ever kindled for my best friend, came the summer before we both went to college. Allison and I had a special place in Winterset that was just for us: Lake Clarmont. This summer was different because it contained the final few months we would get to spend laying out on the dock watching the boats sail over the foamy waves, birds scattering everywhere and fish fighting for their lives within the briny deep. Allison always called it the “briny deep” like she was floating on a pirate ship in the middle of the Atlantic, not sitting on the rough rocky shores of a reservoir.
One night stands out in my mind, playing on repeat like a film projector gone mad. It was a week after the big graduation jamboree, and I was very glad to have the final futile exercise of high school finished. The two of us were sitting on the cement dock where the amateur fishermen of Winterset attempted to catch the big one and make the others jealous.
This was how we released the pressure of having to attend school for twelve years. What amazed me that summer was how Allison and I kept each other so close even while our thoughts of college in the fall loomed overhead like a booming thunderclap. Most nights I was sure Allison would be tearing down the main drag of town instead, seeking a real man unlike my skinny-ass self, but she never did. This was why she was my best friend in that entire God forsaken town: she never wanted more of a friend than me.
This was the last real night both of us had stayed out there for such a long period of time. It wasn’t long after this that Allison hooked up with Jeremy at our senior keg in the Danielson Woods. He swept her off her feet, offering more for her brilliant life than I could ever hope to give.
I’ve never had a girlfriend for my entire 18 years on this planet, and no matter what anyone else tells me, it still sucks. If the subject is broached in conversation I’ll shrug my shoulders, crack my knuckles and say something nonchalant. But the truth is that I can’t get over it. Like a specter that I can only see in the mirror at night, it haunts my soul, voicing my inferiorities and how I could never hope to attain her. The same spirit was creeping around my brain’s storage area the night Allison and I sat there on the concrete, the small waves lapping up against the flat gray wall.
“Why do they make little bubble caps like that?” Allison asked, the sun’s reflection in her glasses impeding any sense of what her eyes were trying to say.
“Because they get so mad at each other they begin to foam up. Like rabid water.” For some reason my lame jokes always got her to laugh, and she couldn’t stop. The sound was symphonic to my ears that evening as the sun began losing its battle with the stars for the horizon.
Allison was stunning there before the setting sun, now a dark red blot on the far side of the lake. Her glasses reflected light in the most peculiar ways, and were now emanating the moody spasms of lake water. At this moment some kind of starter’s gun went off in my head and I decided I had to tell her before summer’s end. It was either that or risk the ghost coming in the night and chopping off my head, ending it for all eternity.
So that’s it - part 1 of the short story “Allison.” I will be posting the second half in the coming days. Until then, feel free to take a stand in the comments (or email me) regarding what you liked or did not like about the first half of this short story. I will take all comments into consideration as I revise this story and try to make it presentable for publication. Thanks for reading!
John Abraham-Watne is an author and freelance journalist located in the Twin Cities, where he lives with his wife Mary and their two cats. This blog is his attempt to catalog all the events that culminate a local writer's life.