Monday, February 22, 2010

Writing My Story For Me - The Letter

Cormac took a much needed break from his thankless chore of sponsoring the Friday Flash Fiction. While he is gone, I figured I needed to keep the fiction routine going for myself. I did not want to be as cold as I was when I took my last break. I owe that much to Cormac I thought. So I asked for some folks to come up with starter sentences (apparently I have issues with coming up with my own. Really and no foolin) Seven people made suggestions. One fellow just stopped in to stick his tongue out. But I'm used to that now.

When I cut n'pasted all the suggested lines onto the draft page of my blog, I stared at them for awhile. As I stared at them, I noticed a kind of mutuality (is that even a word?)or theme seemed to run through them. I figured I'd integrate all the lines and allow them to dictate the direction the story took.

So thanks to all who suggested. Even you Randal. You guys wrote this, not me.

The Lines
CJT - "I felt like death warmed up."

David Barber - "The beer in front of me looked so good but I couldn't drink it, because the last time I had one I...."

Kulkiri - "This is Acadia Hospital in Bangor calling, may I speak with......"

Demeur - I could just barely make out the flashing blue lights and road flares as I drove...

sunshine - "As he read the letter in his hands, he wondered how things had become so bad".

Randal - Fiction? We don't need no stinkin' fiction.

Middle Ditch - On a dark and gloomy night ....

The Letter

On a dark and gloomy night Mark Downey sat down at the bar over to Gus' Place. He ordered a draft and thought about what he had just been through. Gus slammed the draft down in front of him. Suds from his over filling it left a trail of white foam the length of the bar. Mark put both hands around the pilsner glass but didn't raise it to his lips. Gus wiped his hands on that damn nasty rag he always had over his shoulder.

"Mark, you look awful bub."

"Gus I feel death warmed up."

"Uh, don't you mean death warmed over?"

"Whatever". Mark was in no mood to be congenial, never mind worry whether he had a saying right or not. The last five hours had been the worst five hours of his life. Gus looked at him. Shrugging Mark off, Gus slung that nasty rag over his shoulder and headed back to the other end of the bar. After thirty years of tending bar, Gus knew when a man needed to be alone.

The beer in front of him looked so good but he couldn't drink it, because the last time he had one he didn't make it home that night. That was what, eight years ago Mark guessed. But something was needed to ease the pain, to drive the clear memory of that phone call five hours earlier from his brain.


"This is Acadia Hospital in Bangor calling, may I speak with...... uh, Mark Downey please?"

"Speaking. This is Mark."

"Sir, there is no good way to put this. So I will get right to it. It appears your wife and a child have been in a serious traffic accident. Do you have a son?"

Mark stood there with the phone clamped to his ear. He said nothing. He could not say anything.

"Sir? Are you there Mr Downey?"

Mark felt panic rising in his throat. His gut tightened convulsively. Yet he still could not speak. Another blank moment passed before he finally spoke. "An accident? What kind of traffic accident? Yes, I have a son. Joshua. Are they alright? What happened? Jesus Christ, Susan was just picking up Josh at the ice rink."

"Sir?...Sir?....Mark! I need you to collect yourself. We have questions and you are the only one who can answer them. Can you get down here soon?"

"Uh, Sure. On my way." Mark slammed down the phone. His aim was off and it fell from the cradle to the floor. He considered leaving it, but knew Susan would give him Hell for it. She ran a tight ship and of late, he had been trying his best to help. Bending down, his eyes came level with the small table top that held the hall way phone. Leaning up neatly against the wall on the top next to the base of the phone, an envelope sat. "Mark" was written on it.

Mark's gut twisted some more. His wife never left him notes in envelopes. Usually he would find her "post its" stuck to the kitchen table informing, dictating, or apprising him of recent events or chores he was slacking on. An envelope indicated serious stuff inside. Mark found the phone and slowly straightened up.

Grabbing the envelope, he headed to the hall closet for his jacket. He considered opening the letter but thought he better not. He needed to focus. The envelope could wait. He stuffed it in his jacket pocket and headed out into the bitter cold January night.


Mark pushed the old 87 GMC pick up to it's limit. The six cylinder engine tapped out, the ancient Fisher plow bouncing and swaying from the frost heaves that always show up in late January. The one working light on the plow cast a dim path, but he didn't need any light. I-95 was clear of snow and ice creating a dark dual ribbon laid down on the all white landscape. Mark kept his foot planted hard on the accelerator.

Near the Hermon exit, Mark could just barely make out the flashing blue lights and road flares of a traffic accident. As he drove up the short incline towards the exit, he just caught sight of a figure waving a flashlight in time to miss them and careen into the breakdown lane. A logging truck was tipped on it's side and what looked like might have been a car lay crumpled in front of it. Instantly Mark knew that crumpled clump of blue metal was their Jeep. Unconsciously, Mark pressed harder on the accelerator, hoping to squeeze even more miles per hour out of the tired six cylinder.


Mark sat in the small waiting room outside the critical care unit. Numb to all the emergency care that swirled around him, he barely noticed when one of the human shapes dressed in white broke ranks and approached him. "Mr Downey?"

Mark looked up. The doctor could tell Mark was not home. Mark had the Thousand Yard Stare. "Mr Downey". The doctor placed his hand on Mark's shoulder. "Please Mr Downey, I need your attention."

Mark blinked once. He blinked again. In a low clear voice, "Susan was just picking Josh up at the rink. How could this have happened?"

"Mr Downey, you have my condolences. Losing a family member is traumatic. Losing two in one incident, well, words fail me sir. I truly wish we could have saved them both, but well, Dr Simpson has already told you why........Mr Downey, unfortunately we need you to answer some questions, but they can wait. Our staff grief counselor is in her office if you would like to see her now. She can help guide you and counsel you on where you might go from here. Here is her card. She is on the first floor. Take your time."

Mark did not hear the man. The doctor placed the card in his hand. Mark continued to stare at the double drinking fountain out in the hallway. One at a height perfect for his wife and the other just right so Josh wouldn't have to stand on his tip toes. "How could this happen? She was picking him at the rink?

Unconsciously, Mark took the card and began to place it in his jacket pocket. Leaving the grief counselor's card, his hand came out of his pocket clutching the letter from Susan he had stuffed in there after the phone call from the hospital. It's appearance seemed to bring him back from wherever it was he had gone. He once again studied the envelope. The classic neat tight hand Susan used when she wrote cut through his grief stricken fog. Turning it over, Mark tore open the flap.


I know you have done your best to pull yourself together for Josh and me but I am not able to deal with the life we have made for ourselves these last few years. You are stronger than I am. I have failed in all ways as your wife, your lover, your friend. Because of this, I am taking Josh and moving back home to West Virginia. Please do not follow us. I will contact you when we get settled in.



As he read the letter in his hands, he wondered how things had become so bad.Not only was his family dead now, they were dead because of him. It was his fault they left. His fault Susan felt the need to leave him. Mark dropped the letter and the envelope on the floor and staggered out of the Critical Care waiting room. Two hours later after driving aimlessly around the snow laden night of central Maine he was seated at Gus' Place deciding whether to have this beer or not all based on what his dead wife might think.


On the new wide screen Gus had just purchased and was so proud of, the late night news began a segment on Susan's accident. Mark looked up from his beer to see once again the blue lights and the crumpled Jeep. Taking the beer in hand he raised it to the screen and screamed,

"Fiction? We don't need no stinkin' fiction."

Every eye in the place turned on him. But Mark was busy draining the last drop out of that pilsner glass and then slamming it down on the bar.

"Yo Gus, another beer here!"

I had tried to use the lines exactly as written. But then I ran into the problem of mixing point of views. I hear it is possible to make that work, but well, I had my pants full just telling it the way it came out. Some slight changes in a couple of them solved my problem.

I have to admit that when I began this story I was hot to trot. But events of the last few days caused my enthusiasm for it to fall dramatically. However, since I started it, I figured I would finish it.

As usual, I am off on another tangent. See ya..........................


CJT said...

This turned out extremely well MRM. I really like how you incorporated each one of them and I feel the changes in the sentences were appropriate. I'm glad that you took the time to post this and for allowing us the opportunity to read it.

Demeur said...

Well written Mike. Seems everybody experiences something like that somewhere along life's road.

Kulkuri said...

Nice job of piecing all the starter lines into the story.

sunshine said...

That was a really good story.
I liked it a lot. It kept me interested, that's for sure. :)


Randal Graves said...

I always enjoy a happy, joyous tale. My apologizes for the crap sentence, but you did a good job weaving all of them in.

Beach Bum said...

This was an awesome story!!! Pulled me in from the very beginning and did not let go. Great job Mike!

MRMacrum said...

CJT - Thanks. And I do apologize for creating confusion over this one.

Demeur - Absolutely. News of my father's death reaching me just after returning from the funeral of my best friend at the time comes to mind.

Kulkiri - Well it was your sentence that cemented the plot in my mind. Thanks.

sunshine - That's all I could ask and hope for. Thank you

Randal - Glad I could perk up your day. Your sentence was the one I had the most trouble with.

Beach Bum - And again, that is all I could hope for. Glad you liked it. Thanks.

David Barber said...

Mike, sorry for my tardiness in commenting on this. You used those sentence to full effect. I thought I done well the other week usingthe thre way tie of sentences but you pulled this off big time. Keep it up mate.

Regards my friend, David.