Monday, November 23, 2009

Unfinished stories

With Thanksgiving just a few days away, I'm reminded that I have an unfinished attempt at a Thanksgiving story tucked away in my files. It was one of those ideas that never quite came together. I wanted to capture that steamed-up-windows feeling of an extended family crammed into one house, and the pang when someone is missing. I chose to focus on the moment when the missing person calls -- and everyone passes the phone from hand to hand, each person talking from his or her own special relationship with the out-of-town family member. For lots of families, I think, it's a nice interlude in the day.

I thought it might be fun to share the start (rough as it is). For anyone who's interested in the process of writing, it might give insight into efforts that don't work out. This is overwritten and unfocused, and of course has the the little problem of no ending. But it has a germ of an idea behind it. At least, I think it does. What does anyone else think?

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Pass Me to Grandma

Thanksgiving Day was nearly perfect. Warm, buttery smells floated on the air. Cousins chased each other around the big table. Pies lined the countertops and folding chairs lined the walls.

Almost everything and everybody was in place — everybody except the one person Hannah most wanted to be there. Uncle Phil couldn’t make it home from the city.

Uncle Phil had always been Hannah’s favorite. He took her shopping at yard sales and they bought something purple at every one. He gave her a camera with a special lens that made things look bigger and they used it to take pictures of people’s noses. He taught her chess and didn’t let her win, but the first time she captured his queen, he let her keep the queen for always.

But last summer, Uncle Phil moved away. And now Thanksgiving didn’t feel right.

Hannah moved slowly while she set the table, trying to be happy like everyone else seemed to be. Then, just as she finished the last napkin, the phone rang. Aunt Jeanie dried her hands on her apron and answered it. “It’s Phil!” she announced.

Hannah ran over to Aunt Jeanie and waited, shifting from one foot to the other, while she told Phil about all the food that was cooking and who was there. When it sounded like Aunt Jeanie was nearly finished, she reached up to take the phone. But Aunt Jeanie didn’t see. “Let me hand you to ...”

Great Aunt Rita shouted into the phone like Uncle Phil was in the basement instead of on the phone. “So what are you doing up there in New York all by yourself on Thanksgiving, honey?”

Hannah stood by the chair listening with her hands over her ears. Great Aunt Rita was so loud that Socks always hid when she came to visit, but Hannah liked the way her big laugh filled every corner of the house like the smell of bacon frying. “You won’t forget us plain folks at home once you get famous, will you?” Rita teased, and laughed, and listened, and laughed. “Let me hand you to ...”

Grandpa had been smiling all day, but his whole face lit up when he took the phone from Rita. “How are you, son?” Hannah plopped on the rug to wait. Grandpa didn’t like to talk on phones, but he’d stay on the line all day for Phil. Hannah wondered if Uncle Phil would remember to ask for her.

“Everybody’s here,” Grandpa was saying. “We’re just about to start the checkers tournament. I may win this year without you here to beat me.” Grandpa and Uncle Phil have the same smooth, deep voice, Hannah noticed. She closed her eyes. After what felt like a long, long time, she heard Grandpa say, “Let me pass you along to ...”

Martin handled the phone like he held new babies, sure they would break. “Phil?” he asked hesitantly. “Is that you?”

Hannah eased up next to Martin and leaned in close to the phone. She could hear Uncle Phil, far away, telling Martin he’d like New York. Restaurants, theater, museums. Uncle Phil promised Martin he’d show him around if he came for a visit, but from the way Martin ducked his head when he said, “Maybe I’ll take you up on that,” Hannah didn’t think he would.

She reached out to take the phone, but wasn’t fast enough. Martin handed it to ...

[Feel free to write your own ending. Post it as a comment if you like! Consider it wiki-storytelling!]