Friday, April 12, 2013

The Window

Last year, I took an online creative writing course through the Gotham Writers Workshop. The course was a gift from my dear friend, the Sasquatch, and it was my first foray into "classroom" writing/education/critique in a very, very long time. Each week there was a writing assignment with a prompt and a fairly draconian word limit. I get thatteachers need to sleep and don't need 3,000 words of navel gazing from someone who thinks he's the next F. Scott Fitzgerald. 

The first assignment was to write 500 words (well, more or less) using simply the title "The Window" as a prompt. It could be fiction or non-fiction, and was just a chance for the teacher to get a feel for our abilities. I opted for a non-fiction entry. Non-fiction is always easier for me, and I thought I should stick to something within my comfort zone for the first time out. Dip the toes. Get used to writing on deadline for myself. Selfishly, deliciously just for myself. Ahhh.

So, I've decided to share these writing exercises on the blog. After all, a story is a story, right? This story is true, save for me changing my colleague's name.  

The Window 

It was ungodly hot in the Hotel Yerevan café that afternoon. Summer was at full boil in Armenia, and there was no breeze from the large windows that faced the street. The waitress had cranked the thick glass panes open as far as they would go, but left the curtains closed to try to shade the empty room. We were her only patrons, and she sat in a corner with her arms crossed and lips pursed, fanning herself with a menu. She had eschewed her hotel uniform in favor of a thin, daisy-dotted cotton shift and sandals (with white socks), and she was clearly annoyed by us lingering in the swelter of the day. With a glare, she'd brought us a cold bottle of local white which sweat profusely in front of us. My colleague Julia pulled a large stack of photos away from the damp ring expanding on the tablecloth. 

"Oh, we can't damage these priceless artifacts," she said with a smirk. The photos were all the same—blurry black and white images of supposed UFOs our local host,Wolfgang, had snapped off the balcony of his flat. "My wife says I'm crazy," he'd told us that morning, mopping sweat from his brow with his shirtsleeve. "But it's true. They come visit me almost every night." I was more fascinated that his name was Wolfgang. "My parents loved Mozart," he'd shrugged in explanation when I raised my eyebrows at our first meeting in the Yerevan airport. 

Wolfgang was on the city council, and he'd volunteered to be our guide on this brief humanitarian aid visit, but he had ulterior motives—he'd been dying to share his supposed UFO encounters with Americans, whom he assumed would embrace his obsession. We agreed to review his handiwork. After all, it would make a good story back in Moscow. Thrilled, he'd left us a pile of his pictures to study while we had lunch. Uncharitably—and encouraged by wine—we snorted at Wolfgang’s fuzzy smears of light. 

As we laughed, though, a sound was building in the street outside. It was a keening, ragged wail that chilled the heat of the day and drew us and the waitress to the window. 

Through the thin fabric, we saw a slow-moving mass of people walking up the steep, stone street below. We pulled the curtains back and hung over the sill, watching the crowdmen and women sobbing, shrieking, staggering, holding each other up. In the heart of the mass, six men held aloft a long, thin box containing a long, thin man. 

He had been dressed in a plaid shirt and dark trousers, and his arms were draped across his torso,hands gently and modestly crossed over his groin. His skin was dusky, and his wide lax face was framed in jet black hair and a broad mustache. A perverse, nervous thought ran through my brain. He looks like Freddie Mercury

But then Freddie Mercury didn't have a bullet hole in his forehead. This man did, centered above his closed eyes. 

The dead man floated and dipped above the crowd, his body jarred now and then with the surge of mourners. Every time the crowd bumped his casket, I held my breath, praying they would not knock him to the ground in their frenzy. The weeping grew, the crowd passed by, and the echoed misery faded in their wake. 

"Freedom fighter," our waitress sighed. "Nagorno-Karabakh. We see so many these days." She pointed to a house up the street. "See that coffin lid? That's another one there. There's another on the next street, too. All the time now." We stood there for a couple of minutes, saying nothing. Just breathing. 

“Alright, girls. Enough.” The waitress dismissed us, pulling the curtains closed. She moved back to her corner and resumed fanning herself, and we returned to our table, silent, subdued. 

Julia carefully gathered up Wolfgang's UFO photos and tucked them in her briefcase. We slowly drank the rest of our wine, avoiding each others’ eyes, the lightness of the day consumed in the weight of strangers' grief. 

5 comments:

Claire said...

Very nicely written, M!

Thanks for sharing!

Heather Meadows said...

I love your use of language, and I love how you built up the mirthful scene before causing it to crash away.

Chuck said...

Not a cheery piece of writing, but I enjoyed it.

rainwriter jones said...

A very well written piece, M. For me, it was a snapshot of reality we all feel when our happy moments are "interrupted" by someone else's misery. With a little sigh (and guilt), we're glad we're not them.

Please post more often as I do enjoy a good read.

Julie Porter said...

Beautifully written. Incredibly evocative for 500 words!