One saying is “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” That’s kind of the gist of how this story and video were created.
My mom and I were on a trip when my minivan broke down on the highway. We were towed to a mechanic’s garage in a nearby town. We spent the night in a hotel and waited the next day for the minivan to be fixed. It was an opportunity to spend more time with my mom and chat about the old days, and I enjoyed listening to stories of when she was growing up.
During our wait, I filmed a four minute video of the hotel’s pool. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with the video, just that I thought the water’s ripples made for interesting visuals.
Later, I had the idea to write a story. Not about hotel guests splashing about the pool, but of the water in the pool, about what could be going on with it.
So I narrated the story and paired that with the video of the water, and here it is. If you’d rather watch the video on YouTube, click here.
“I don’t know if I should laugh or cry into my beer,” Leon said.
“Do both at the same time,” Samantha said.
“Feels like we’re stuck in limbo in this bar,” Leon said. “Like we need to do something to get to heaven.”
“That’s easy,” Sam replied. “Just walk out of here.”
Leon said, “But I’m riveted to this guy’s spoken-word poetry about his doomed relationship with Carol while he plays piano and sings ‘Send in the Clowns ‘and ‘Piano Man’ and tosses back cocktails.”
“It’s a weird mix, that’s for sure,” Samantha said. “Is this what people mean by ‘avant-garde’?”
Leon shrugged. “I think it means whatever you want it to mean.”
“That’s not helpful. Why is he dressed as a clown? Is it some kind of symbol for how he feels inside?”
“Maybe,” Leon said. “Or what if it’s a social commentary on being a performer? You know, like a trained monkey?”
Sam shook her head. “We’ll never know. Look at that. He passed out.”
“Him?” Sam said with a laugh. “We’re the poor bastards who had to listen to him. C’mon, let’s go. We’ve been granted freedom.”
As the couple walked toward the bar’s exit, they saw the other patrons were still watching the clown draped over the piano. Perhaps they wondered if the clown would sputter back to consciousness and continue to entertain them with his act. Or perhaps, after a rest, the clown would start the second act of his performance that was different than the first. Samantha and Leon would never know, as they left the bar and walked towards another bar across the street, their feet moving with the hope of a more “normal” situation in the other bar.
This story walks a delicate line. Perhaps we will find an easier approach of starting with what the story does not want.
It does not want to be seen as pretentious. This story would never go to a chic restaurant and, upon hearing the sommelier say the restaurant has no more bottles of 1984 Fancypants Chablis, throw a fit and storm out of the restaurant. This is not one of those kinds of stories. Also, when wearing a polo shirt, this story does not “pop the collar.”
It desires to be seen as a “story among the people.” On weekends, after mowing the lawn, it sits on a patio chair and sips a common brand of beer — not a “this dude only drinks microbrews nobody’s heard of and listens to bands nobody’s heard of” type of beer.
This story wishes to entertain, in the hope that people will have a good time while experiencing it. Of course, “good time” is subjective to every reader. Some readers prefer action:
Viv dispatches the four members of Baron Lybo’s assault squad with throwing knives as she creeps around her house that they’ve entered in the night. Viv acts as a ninja using the familiar territory to her advantage. The last two assaulters fire their AK-47s before Viv’s knives plunge into their necks. The shots will cause neighbors to call the cops. Viv slings the four AKs on her shoulder and marches outside to her muscle car. Plenty of ammo is in the guns for her to attack one of Baron Lybo’s drug warehouses. But how did the baron discover Viv’s safe house? Is one of Viv’s few friends a snitch? Does her car have a tracking device?
Other readers prefer romantic comedy:
In the office’s break room, Jacqueline stands at the counter and has no way of knowing that Antonio is walking behind her when she turns around. Jacqueline bumps into Antonio. She was heading to the microwave to heat her leftover chicken curry. Both people watch in surprise as the green curry sloshes, then dollops of curry sauce leap from the container and land on Antonio’s shirt. He recovers from the surprise and says, “I better soak it before the stain becomes permanent.” As Antonio unbuttons his shirt and holds it under the sink’s faucet, Jacqueline is hit by lust/love’s gentle cheek slaps: Delicious six-pack of abs! Knowledge of good laundry practice! He chose to solve the problem instead of lashing out in anger!
But this story doesn’t want to be only entertaining. Going for thrills and laughs is a fine goal. Reaching beyond that, into the realm of admirable
(in the story’s estimation),
is to also aim for resonance. To weave a story with such emotional depth, readers will remember the story as more than “five or ten minutes I spent while avoiding my work at the office, or while I waited for the bus.” To resonate with readers, the story could show a character with weaknesses:
Parcy slumps on a kitchen chair as the dishwasher starts. Another difficult day of work. Tempting is the thought of pouring wine into one of the tall, retro-swirly decorated glasses (thrift store finds; to hell with “proper” wine glasses) and binging on a TV show. Yet, Parcy doesn’t want that tonight. There’s an urge for a meditative time. Parcy taps her phone’s screen to find the Quiet Nights album by Miles Davis. Interesting how the jazz mixes with the sound of water spraying inside the dishwasher. Parcy wonders when she’ll feel consistently confident at work. To get past the thoughts of being behind. Doubt weighs heavily. She closes her eyes and focuses on the trumpet’s music. She wishes she could ride the music, let it carry her around the apartment while rain falls outside the windows.
The story’s aim is for this kind of character, contrasted with a character representing a societal ideal that’s impossible to achieve. Such a character would breeze through life, everything coming easily to her/him/them.
This story would rather include a character facing struggles, while developing strength and lessons from struggles and failures:
The octopus swims away from the crowded sea floor, into a maze of rocks, gliding over and under, around them. Until the octopus finds the cave and enters its darkness. The sun’s rays diving into the water do not reach inside the cave. That’s preferable to the octopus. She needs a break from her parents nagging her to find a mate (“Please! We’d like grandchildren before we get too old and slow to play with them.”) and her friends, whose kidding around can sometimes get on her nerves. In the cave, the octopus dances. Her tentacles swirl and ripple in complicated patterns. Nobody can see her. She dances simply, for the joy of movement. A good way to let off steam and help ease her mind. However, she is wrong about nobody seeing her. Today, a lanternfish happens upon the cave. Seeing the octopus, the lanternfish turns off her green glow. The octopus is so involved in her dance that she doesn’t realize the presence of another creature. Until the octopus spins toward the cave’s opening. Immediately, she stops dancing. She says, “Why are you spying on me?” The lanternfish says, “I couldn’t help it. I came in here and saw you and I didn’t want to stop you. Please keep dancing.” The octopus says, “No. You’ll judge me.” The lanternfish says, “Too late. I already judged you. Your dancing is wonderful.” The octopus says, “You really mean that?” The lanternfish nods and says, “I’d like to see more.” The octopus says, “Promise you won’t make fun of me?” After the lanternfish promises that, the octopus says, “Will you tell the others?” The lanternfish says, “I won’t. Your secret is safe with me.” The octopus hesitates, weighs her options, then begins to dance again. The lanternfish turns on her green light, brightening the cave. The lanternfish joins in the dance, swimming over and under, around the swirling tentacles.
Hopefully, the reader would connect on some level with the character, to feel less alone in the world.
Which springs a kind of magic. The little drawings that we’ve come to the collective understanding that they represent letters. When grouped together, they form words. Strings of these words can inspire pictures in readers’ minds and inspire emotions in their hearts.
Such is the wish of this story. With every reader who happens upon it, the story knows it walks the delicate line between failure and success.
The horse was grateful the man turned on the hose, with the forest’s stream flowing lower. The man was kind with gifts of carrots and brushing, saying, “You shouldn’t run so much on these hot days. Where ya runnin’ to, anyway?” The horse coughed out some water. In asking, the man would never know. Especially with his mere two legs never showing hurry. He’d never know the wind on your skin, the sound in your ears. Muscles working their glorious purpose. Outrunning the shadows of the clouds. Even though they are slow, the clouds know as they laugh at the fence. Freedom.
After violet lightning struck the tree by our house, oddities started in our family. Levitating coffee cups. Sis would snap her fingers and random objects burst aflame. An entity named Virkiv sometimes spoke through me. Word spread through the nearby town, around the county, farther away from us. Then armed men broke down our door, dragged our family into vans, drove us to a laboratory.
The scientists who study my family tell us that our house is still being examined. As are we. The scientists claim a new house will be given to us after the examinations are finished. But they don’t say when that will be.
Certainly we miss the old house, all the familiar rooms and the memories that happened within them. As well as the land around the house, the field and slice of forest. Now our home is this lab, which has a sad, blank character.
On the first day of school, the teacher asked the elementary school students to say one thing about themselves.
Starting in the front row, each student spoke. Some spoke energetically, some softly. Olivia Murrell’s favorite color: purple, Noah Hillman’s favorite food: pizza, Sofia Valdez’s favorite movie: The Wizard of Oz, Makayla Weber’s favorite food: cake, Dominic Rowley’s favorite color: red, Xavier Carrasco’s favorite baseball team: Los Angeles Dodgers, Ellie Ishida’s favorite holiday: Christmas, Anthony Arborghast’s favorite animal: zebra.
The teacher help up her hand and said, “Let’s take a little break there, please. I have a question. Anthony Aardvark Arborghast, could you tell the class why your parents picked your middle name? I’m very curious.”
Anthony Aardvark Arborghast was a shy boy and his voice was low, but he managed the explanation. “My mom and dad wanted my middle name to be an animal. But they couldn’t agree on which animal. My mom’s favorite animal is the aardvark, and my dad’s favorite is the albatross. They had a contest for who could pick my middle name. They played one round of miniature golf and one round of gin rummy. They worked on the crossword puzzle in a Wednesday edition of the New York Times to see who could get the most answers. They jumped to see who could jump the farthest. They wrote essays about the possible dangers of technology. Three of their friends served as judges to pick the winner of that one. They took a test of real-world math, which included household finances, sales tax, and statistics in news stories. And finally, they made funny faces and funny voices to a friend to see who could make the friend laugh louder. They agreed on a complicated scoring system for all those contests to see who won the whole thing. My mom won.”
Silence in the classroom as the teacher and students took in all of what Anthony Aardvark Arborghast had said. The kids looked around at each other. The kids looked at Anthony Aardvark Arborghast.
The teacher said, “Well, Anthony, I think you have interesting parents.”
“Weird is more like it,” Anthony Aardvark Arborghast said.
Sometimes when my cat looks at me, I wonder if she ever imagines leaping on me and sinking her fangs into my flesh, for although she is a housecat (and a cute one at that), maybe there’s a flicker within her of wildness, a pinch of inheritance passed down through generations from ancestors who lurked in tall grass toward prey, crouching in careful and delicious anticipation, then leaping from their hiding spot and chasing antelope (or other creatures) and tackling one and sinking their fangs into the flesh, because surely that pinch-flicker still remains in my cat, and that opens the possibility of it growing into flames with which the tyger burns bright in the house of the night, burning so bright that my cat attacks me and gets to feast upon fresh meat for once, not food from a can or pouch or bag, and would the headline of my obituary — DIED FROM HOUSECAT ATTACK — cause horror or humor in readers, or a bit of both?
Final toast to the lake. The three of us laugh at memories of contests: swimming, diving, watermelon seed-spitting. Humorous attempts to ease the sadness of losing the family’s lake house. With frail parents and our money spent on raising our own kids, we can’t afford the property. We had a wonderful run, though. Time for another family to create new memories.
Wine gave the illusion of courage, yet Alex’s heart thudded a rapid drumbeat, beads of sweat on his forehead and lower back from the heat of the imagined bonfire around which several dancers frolicked to the rhythm of that rapid drumbeat.
In reality, Alex maneuvered around the other patrons in the bar. He arrived at the lady’s side, then he murmured, “Hi.”
“Hi there,” she replied, louder than him.
A frown on her lovely face, and she said, “Do you mean the ice cream flavor, or that you’ve gone down a difficult path?”
“The former. No, the ladder. No, I don’t mean a tool you can use to climb to second-floor bedroom windows. That’s creepy. I mean the latter. With t’s, not d’s. The second one.”
Thankfully, the lady’s frown eased away. “Do you mean your life in general has been rocky, or that recent events have been rocky?”
“Recent,” Alex said. “Very recent. The path to get to you. I’m not saying the bar’s floor is strewn with rocks. I’m speaking metaphorically.”
One of her eyebrows raised, a gesture that communicated some of the lady’s opinions and ideas. If only Alex could’ve translated the gesture, he would’ve understood her better. However, that was part of the mystery. Which was maddening and enticing at the same time.
She said, “Now that you’ve achieved your destination, do you expect a reward?”
“I already have it.”
“Oh? What’s that?”
“You’re talking to me.”
This time she let out a little laugh, and the sound was sweet to his ears. “And what an unusual conversation it is.”
Encouraged, Alex said, “Do you have a taste for rocky road ice cream right now? Or is it just me?”
“I’m not sure.”
“We could try to find an ice cream shop and see if you’re up for it,” he said. “Or we could put it to the side for later. Down the road.”
The same eyebrow raised, along with the corner of her mouth directly underneath it. “You’re original. How about we have a drink, then we’ll go from there.”
Mr. Poe (Edgar Allan) is deeply suspicious of Ms. Odom’s intentions, with that guarded look on her face and the occasional gleam in her eye that’s quickly covered up to return to dull disinterest, as if the dead fly on the windowsill has actually captured all of her attention.
Ms. Christie (Agatha) is on the case, questioning neighbors to find out whether they’ve seen anything suspicious happening around the Ballard house in the past few weeks (or so). Included in the questioning is the kindly older lady who lives across the street and who has seen many comings and goings at the Ballard household: morning rushes to get into their two cars and drive to day care and office jobs, evening arrivals and rushing to get inside and start dinner preparation, Saturday departures to soccer games and gymnastics classes, and Sunday playing at home, of throwing laughter from the backyard and riding a tricycle and bicycle (with training wheels) on the sidewalk out front.
Sir Doyle (Arthur Conan) is searching high and low for clues, trying to spot something that doesn’t quite fit in this suburban house occupied by two busy parents and two children, which results in a house holding a certain amount of clutter and by this, he wonders if the claimed crime has not really been committed, but instead the blue diamond necklace was simply misplaced: put down and then covered up by stuff, the flotsam and jetsam of a hectic life. But Mrs. Ballard has replied, “No, no. My living room and kitchen may be strewn with toys, but I always put my jewelry away in the same place. And my kids are too short to reach my jewelry box and try to play dress up or pirate.”
Mr. Poe (Edgar Allan) has noticed that her answers at the beginning of his interrogation were short and to the point, but as the questioning commenced past a half hour, her answers are growing, expanding, as if she is weaving a web that entangles threads of truth and lies–and he steels himself behind the curls of steam rising from his mug of chai tea, noting that Ms. Odom is on her second cup of coffee (with sugar), and he attempts to commit her answers to memory, so as to capture any inconsistencies that may escape her lips.
Ms. Christie (Agatha) sits across the kitchen table from the kindly older lady who lives across the street, with both of them wrapping their fingers around warm mugs of Earl Grey tea, and the kindly lady saying that, while weeding her garden, she has seen an old chocolate brown 4-door sedan (something that stands out a bit in this neighborhood chock full of minivans and SUVs) pull up to the house often, and a young lady would exit the car and approach the house, Mrs. Ballard opening the front door with an excited look and an enthusiastic “Come in, come in!” And, now that she thinks about it, an odd thing happened: the kindly lady saw that very same brown sedan a few weeks ago (or so) pull up one night while the Ballard’s silver minivan was gone and their house was dark (save for a light in their living room). The young lady exited the brown sedan, walked through the side gate toward the backyard, and then more lights were switched on in the house, particularly some on the second floor–where the bedrooms are. But the kindly lady didn’t think much of it, since the young lady in the brown sedan was so enthusiastically received before–therefore, she must be a good friend of the Ballards–and she was probably stopping by to check on the house while the family was away for the evening.
Sir Doyle (Arthur Conan) has found no sign of forced entry–no broken windows or broken locks–and if a burglar (or burglars) stole the necklace, then why didn’t they take all the other jewelry or the 40-inch, flat-screen TV or the iPad on the kitchen counter that was next to the stack of letters and catalogs? Perhaps the thief picked the lock, but the question still arose of why a skilled lockpicker would take the time to pick the lock of this suburban house among all the houses on this suburban street and only lift a blue diamond necklace and not more–even though Mrs. Ballard’s other jewelry probably pales in comparison by value to the missing piece. Sir Doyle notices something askew with a flower pot containing a light purple flowering chrysanthemum that sits on the patio’s two-foot high brick wall–but sitting such that one side of it is very slightly raised. By investigating the cause of this one-side-higher oddity, Sir Doyle discovers a key. This key, feeling electrically important to the case in his white-gloved hand, slips easily into the deadbolt lock on the back door and turns easily to the left, thus enabling the detective to turn the door knob (coated in fingerprinting dust) and open the door.
Mr. Poe (Edgar Allan) listens as Ms. Odom keeps going on and on, fueled by caffeine and adrenaline, in her energetic explanations of how she’d never do such a thing to her friend. But he’s grown weary of her repetition–passionate though it is and not riddled with the inconsistencies he had hoped for–and so he is thankful for the sudden arrival of music, of Mozart’s “Requiem Lacrimosa” softly rising from his smartphone previously sleeping on the cheap table that separates Mr. Poe from Ms. Odom, as if they were playing a card game (but no cards are visible). Mr. Poe holds the phone up to his ear, murmuring, “Yes?” then “Still here” then “I see” and “I see” then finally, “Well done.” The phone is returned to the table. Mr. Poe’s expression has not changed as he says, “Your fingerprints were found on the knob of the Ballard’s back door.” Ms. Odom protests, “Of course! I’ve been there tons of times, so I’m sure my fingerprints are all over the place!” Mr. Poe nods, “Naturally, they would be. But why would they be on the spare key that’s hidden under a flower pot in the backyard patio?” Ms. Odom is momentarily struck, then shifts to anger: “I’ve watched their house while they were away! When they, they were at her parent’s for a week, I watched the house! So, sure, I touched the key. That’s how I got in!” Mr. Poe leans forward, his voice lowering, “Were you watching the house a few weeks ago when the neighbor across the street saw your chocolate brown Toyota sedan pull up to the house and saw you slip into the backyard? The Ballards were away only for the evening, not for over night.” Again, Ms. Odom is struck, but this time she shifts into a bitter smirk instead of deep-frowned anger: “Look. Jessica doesn’t exactly live in a dream world, but she’s got it a lot better than me. Great husband, wonderful kids, lovely house. The necklace she got for her anniversary was too much. I mean, how can Greg afford a necklace like that? It’s just not right. And when Francisco asked me to the opera, I thought of the necklace right away. I’d never been to the opera before, so I wanted to make the right impression. And, I’ve go to say, that necklace looked damn good with my dress.”