Short story workshop (Part 2)
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.
And as promised, here is part 2 of “Allison.”
Allison moved in next door to me a decade ago. Her parents had the largest moving van I had ever seen in my young life. Her father poured sweat down his lanky back as he attempted to haul her great armoire up to her second-floor room. It was the same piece of furniture I would snoop through years later, looking futilely for her diary and any mention of me it might contain. My childhood had reached a dismal point by the time I watched the ancient house beside ours become populated once more. My after-school experiences involved playing football by myself in our backyard every day or remaining inside to watch Full House. This all changed after the Chalmers moved next door. The days of playing video games by myself in the basement wearing torn up old sweat pants were replaced by those of Allison rushing into the living room with a basketball, bouncing it off my stomach and screaming to come out to this great new court she had found at the back of the Danielson Woods. We did a lot of that kind of stuff together the first year, and I am eternally grateful. If not for this girl I would never have known that a bullfrog will piss in your hand if you hold it too long, if not for her I would never have gotten my stupid groove on at any high school dance I ever attended.
“You looked so goofy playing a team sport back there by yourself,” Allison said, leaning on her palms and looking about ten percent guilty for what she just said. Our conversation had relapsed into reminiscence.
“There weren’t many other kids in our neighborhood,” I parried. “And most of them played tackle football, which was ‘strictly prohibited.’ Remember?” I wagged my finger up and down in the air, recalling my mother’s set of rules.
Allison burst out laughing again, and for a brief moment we did connect. But, it was probably more me watching her.
“I have to get back,” she said, jumping up and almost pushing me off the dock playfully in the process. Perhaps something had crossed her plane of thought that she didn’t want to deal with right then. The next time I saw her she would be in the loving embrace of Jeremy.
They were inseparable, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. Jeremy Shepherds was a basketball stud who won the final game last year with a three-pointer at the buzzer. I didn’t like him. Walking the halls of Winterset High I would shake my head in disbelief, meandering to the other side when his clique and their letter jackets wandered through, talking about how bitchin’ last night’s party was our how fuckin’ fast they sped down that gravel road. On night out on the lake during our junior year, Allison told me she thought his whole group would be lucky to even graduate with the rest of our class. Each time I thought about that night and then saw them together, it hurt so much more.
I hated the fact that I couldn’t talk to her anymore. We still hung out a few times that summer, but it was overshadowed by the “other” man lingering in the background. The ominous six-foot presence that had to call her whenever just the two of us wanted to hang out. He wasn’t right for her. I believed this to be true, and by the time August rolled around I decided to finally tell her how I felt. It’s funny how things work sometimes. Each day I found torment thinking of how she might react. On the last week before we both were to leave for college, I took her out to the lake on the hottest day of the summer.
Her reaction was one of laughter: the kind she used to bark at those stupid jokes I told. Before Jeremy took her away.
“Josh,” she said, pulling a strand of auburn hair from her shutting eye. “You’re kidding, right?” I felt like a sharpened spike had been pre-selected for me and shoved right through my heart.
I didn’t know what to say. There she was, sitting there, the smile that once took up that gorgeous face leaving as the realization that I wasn’t kidding slowly dawned.
“Josh...I...you and I...we can’t…” she was stammering now, just like she did when it cost her a speech medal six years ago in the regional final.
She turned, her lengthy hair shining amid her stunning eyes. The shock of my admission had left its mark on her face. Suddenly I felt guilty for putting such a burden on my best friend.
Now it was my turn to falter through the words. “I...I’m sorry, Allison. I just thought it would be better to tell you now than to regret it for the rest of my life. We’re going to be away from each other for four years, at least. I didn’t have a choice.” It was the wrong thing to say, but it sure as hell was true.
I could see the sadness in her eyes. “Who says you didn’t have a choice? I could have gone our entire friendship without you saying that, you know. Jeremy and I...we’re together. You know that. And I really like him, Josh. You should respect that.”
She took my hand in hers. Her beautiful face was downcast, as if she couldn’t face up to what she had to say to her best friend.
“Besides, you’re better at being my friend,” she whispered through choked tears. I saw a vision of my room, Allison running and tackling me, shouting to get moving and play some dang football. The first pinpricks of tears clouded behind my brown eyes.
For an awkward moment we sat there and watched the sunset, as we always had. Then I managed to say my final words to Allison Chalmers: “I understand. I’ll see ya…”
I have been to college for almost a year, but I still cannot get that fucking conversation out of my head. It plagues me all the time, but mostly in my dreams. I know she was right, but part of me can’t deny the feelings I had for her. The hell was I didn’t want those feelings to go away.
I did meet someone: a tiny bombshell with goldenrod hair named Jamie. We met at a frat party a few months ago and hit it off. Maybe it was her thin glasses frames or my stupid jokes made more moronic with alcohol, but we got along pretty well. I kissed her two weeks after that, alone in my dorm room, and the only thing I could think about as her chapstick covered lips graced mine was how much I wished I had kissed Allison on that dock. After that it was all over. I still woke up to the fleeting images of the girl I was in love with, but I didn’t want to look in the mirror each day and realize I was someone who couldn’t get over a simple rejection. So I decided to call her.
My fingers developed a nervous twitch as I pulled up her contact information on my cell phone that night. I held my breath, leaning against the cheap wooden dresser our benevolent college decided was good enough for all incoming freshmen. Jeremy Shepherds answered Allison’s phone. I let out all the air I had collected in my lungs like a steam engine.
“Ward! What the hell is up, man?” I had forgotten the high school tradition of jocks addressing everyone by their last names. I managed some type of weak reply that must have sounded ridiculous, because Jeremy was laughing on the other end.
“Ward, she’s not here right now. She’s getting ready for our big date, considering how far I had to drive up here to see her. Want to leave a message, or something?”
I declined, saying that maybe I would get in touch with her some other time, and hung up the phone. Our big date. I slowly wafted my body down into the leather chair my roommate must have traveled back in time to pick up from 1977. I stared at the wall, thinking about Jeremey Shepherds and that stupid red Chevrolet he used to drive.
I haven’t thought much about Allison since that evening. My life has begun to rescind into the kind of childhood days I had before I met her. I play a lot of video games and smoke a lot of reefer, and have more or less forgotten about class. I guess I never got over the fact that she saw less in me than I saw in her. In my dreams I still see things like the old swing set her folks bought when she was ten, how she would dare me to jump off when I reached a high enough altitude, and how I always chickened out at the last second.
There is one dream I have a lot more often now. I’m sitting on the dock. Except this time Allison is not there. This time it’s only me staring across the briny deep. I can only sit there in desperation, waiting for someone to arrive whose only aspiration is a simple conversation. Then I realize she will never be there with me. I will always be alone, watching the waves.
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John Abraham is a published author and freelance journalist who lives in the Twin Cities with his wife Mary and their cat. He is writing a speculative dystopian novel and is seeking representation and a publisher.