Determined to eradicate clutter, I attacked the main room and the spare bedroom like a housemaid on steroids. Just as planning and preparing a flower or vegetable bed sometimes inspires a new story or a change in one that’s getting way too old, dispensing with clutter sometimes helps me see where a story is going.
The recycling bin for paper was full. The tops of the coffee and breakfast tables were clear. I separated papers and magazines into categories and filed them in separate drawers. Dust disappeared in a swipe. Light shone once more on wood surfaces. And then, I reached up on tiptoe to grab a stack of papers on top of a pile of books on the top shelf of the bookcase.
Expecting to find the papers were paid bills or long-expired sales offers, I discovered the book containing the names of guests at my husband’s funeral, and the names of those who gave floral tributes. Details of the service were noted.
Before my husband and I could be admitted into America, we had to give the American Embassy in London the addresses of all the places where we’d lived since we were sixteen and the names of all the companies where we’d worked. My husband had kept handwritten copies of these lists with dates.
When we arrived here, we needed copies of our educational achievements. My husband had labeled two envelopes, one for him and one for me. I opened up his envelope and found a signed record of his engineering apprenticeship and his discharge papers from the Royal Air Force.
My husband, unlike me, was a hoarder. He had kept our British national health service cards and proof of our vaccinations against smallpox. I found his original birth certificate but not mine. I probably had to use it one time and lost it, or it may be hidden in another area of unexplored clutter in my house.
A paper clip held eight pages of a letter my dad wrote explaining how he’d felt when he left his kids after his divorce. He wrote eloquently, describing his emotions and showing his concern for my thinking I was not accepted by my parents for who I was. He never spoke that way, ever.
The discovery of the book and the papers profoundly affected the rest of my day and perhaps, the whole week.
I remember now that backstory should not be served up in huge dollops in a novel but the writer has to know it if he/she is to flesh out his/her characters.
I’ve never directly translated the day’s discoveries into a story but I’ve written about characters that live on the margins of society as most new immigrants do. I will look more deeply into my experience of grief and loss if that is what a story requires.
WWK Blogger Paula Gail Benson has two short stories running in Kings River Life Magazine this weekend, "Pelican Spring" and "The Mama Factor." Both are Mother's Day short stories. You can read them by going to: http://kingsriverlife.com/category/kings-river-reviewers/terrific-tales/
Linda Rodriguez is a finalist in two categories for the International Latino Book Awards (given out at BEA the end of May)--one for Every Last Secret and one for editing Woven Voices: 3 Generations of Puertorriquena Poets Look at Their American Lives (with Gloria Vando, Anika Paris, and Anita Velez-Mitchell). Congratulations, Linda!
The second SinC Guppy anthology, Fish Nets, has been released by Wildside Press. WWK authors, Gloria Alden, Warren Bull, Kara Cerise and E. B. Davis have short stories in this volume, which can be bought at Wildside Press, the usual retailers and will be available at the Malice Domestic Conference. Look for "the story behind the stories" on May 1 here!
Upcoming Salad Bowl Saturdays include authors Sasscer Hill on 5/18 and Carolyn Mulford on 5/25. If you are interested in being a guest blogger, send a message to Jim Jackson at email@example.com.