Mary Beth Writes

The Wisconsin Writers Association hosts a short story contest each year. This morning I submitted a story I wrote over the past few months. If and/or when it doesn't win (I'm not optimistic but I have hope. Thanks, Carly.) I will get around to posting it here.  

Meantime, this is the story i wrote for the WWA contest last year. It didn't win anything but reading it again just now for the first time in nearly a year, the beginning made me laugh. 

Maybe you will like it, too.  

5/2/2023

Blue

 

When Dennis Larkin left for a volunteer medical mission on the other side of the world, Minnie Larkin decided to stay home. She told Dennis she’d not been on her own in nearly fifty years; she wanted to see how she would do being single for a few months.

So far the experiment was not going well. She was sleeping poorly, watching way too many furniture refinishing YouTube videos in the middle of the night, waking late and groggily. When she asked herself what she wanted to do, the answer was always that she didn’t know other than she didn’t want to do the things on her calendar. She didn’t want to go to committee meetings for important causes. She didn’t want to help plan the literacy organization gala. She didn’t want to coordinate a tutoring program at the elementary school. She didn’t want to go out for luncheons with friends and she didn’t want to go to yoga for seniors.

She was eating cereal for every meal except drive-thru burgers and fries. Her pants were tighter and wine bottles were stacking up alarmingly in the recycling bin. One week she watched more than sixty hours of Masterpiece Theater.

On the day in question, she had forced herself to attend yoga and later dutifully drove her friend Sherry home but it didn’t go well. Sherry was not an upbeat person. Minnie heard about Sherry’s nephew who had quit a perfectly good job in Wisconsin to move to Nebraska and now the whole family was depressed. Sherry’s sister’s Up North vacation cottage had been knocked over by a derecho except Sherry called it a Jericho, and anyways Sherry said, climate crisis will end life on earth so it’s a good time to be old so one doesn’t have to be here to see it all end. At which point Minnie cut sharply across two lanes of traffic into a local ice cream drive-through. Minnie ordered a shake for herself and a large sticky hot caramel sundae for Sherry. Minnie knew Sherry wore a dental plate therefore the rest of the way home Sherry was quiet as she tried to keep her teeth in mouth.

That afternoon another friend called to ask if Minnie could introduce the speaker at the art museum event this upcoming weekend. Minnie said she was sorry but she would be out of town. When her friend asked where she was going, Minnie said she had to feed her cat and then hung up.

Minnie sat down at the kitchen table and wondered just how far her spirits could fall. She didn’t own a cat. She had no plans for the weekend. She was just utterly sure she didn’t want to do anything with anyone she already knew. She sighed so hard her bangs blew straight up in the air as she realized that if she didn’t want to add weird lying to unusual sloth, she needed to find a place to actually go.  

Minnie googled upcoming mid-Wisconsin events. Everything sounded celebratory and irritating except for a medieval armor exhibit in a small museum several hours away. Minnie had never in her life been interested in medieval armor so she decided she might as well attend the show. Maybe if she had no expectations it wouldn’t disappoint.

The museum was a former one-room schoolhouse hung with helmets, lances, and shields. A few boys and men ambled about actually reading the explanations. Minnie’s attention zeroed in on a boy with greasy bangs who was carefully studying each display and then scribbling into a notebook. Minnie was fascinated by his obliviousness. She edged closer and casually asked, “Are you making notes for a project?”

He looked up, blinked, shook his head a little. “Um, not really. I play video games and a lot of them have fighters in armor so I’m trying to see exactly how this stuff looks and works.”

She watched him continue to draw. He was a mediocre artist but excellent at noticing details. He was not attractive and he was not helping anyone but he was engaged in something he cared about and he seemed content. She was intrigued and envious.

She interrupted him again. “Do you take a lot of notes about things you see or is this an exhibition you especially care about?”

He smiled. “I usually have my notebook. I try to notice what I like and then draw it so I don’t forget it. Sometimes at night I look at what I noticed in the day and if I have more to remember, I make some notes about that. I don’t really know why I do this, but it makes me sort of happy so I do.”

It took Minnie ten minutes to find a Target. She filled a cart with drawing pads and colored pencils, pens, crayons, markers, and Sharpies. She found a motel and then realized she was hungry so she walked to a restaurant across the parking lot. She ate mediocre chili, a good BLT, and an excellent local IPA. The beer was so fine she ordered another one to sip while watching relaxed people socialize.

Walking back to the motel she noticed a liquor store at the end of the parking lot, so she bought a six-pack of a local brew. Back in her room she arranged her drawing supplies around herself on the bed. She’d never taken an art class in her life but, she reminded herself, she was not here to make art. She was here to see if she could discover what she cared about.

She popped open her third beer of the evening and picked up an indigo blue marker to draw a straight line down the middle of the paper. She picked another marker, dark green, and dropped it down next to the blue one. Then other colors and other hues. Cute. Her first sally into self-expression and she had drawn herself a rainbow zoo cage.

Minnie started a new page. This time she drew upwards on the page and that made a difference. She was not dropping down from a conclusion, she was drawing upwards from the ground. She drew leafy vines up the sides. Anyone can draw leaves.

She started a new page, choosing the indigo marker again. She held it sideways so the tip could veer either flat or pointed and then she pushed the marker upwards creating a corkscrew. She stopped halfway up because, weirdly, it felt as if the corkscrew had a goal other than making its way to the top. She looked at all the colors around her again. Plum purple invited. More upwards traveling corkscrews. Burgundy. She took a contemplative swallow of the beer. Scarlet, rose. A lot of greens.

Blue broke into her consciousness in a way she had never seen it before. She quickly pulled all the blues and started to fill the spaces among the corkscrews. Light blue. Cornflower. Cobalt. Blues swirled among the corkscrews like a dozen small and different skies.

She ripped out that page to start again. This time she unwrapped and broke crayons, then started coloring sideways across the page in blue and violet arcs and swerves. She used fine-point markers to drop dozens of multicolored V’s into the swirls, a wood’s worth of birds tangling in the crayoned sky.

Minnie changed into the t-shirt she’d been sleeping in since Dennis left, realizing it was indigo. Who knew she had a color? The too-big t-shirt slipped off one shoulder which was chilly so she dug through her suitcase for her hoodie. It was also dark blue. Minnie shook her head while she set her phone to stream music; Bach, Stoltzman on clarinet, that melancholy jazz from Nomadland. Minnie kept drawing and drawing. Everything was open and moving upwards, pushing like stalks out of the ground, roiling like thunderclouds.

It was very late when she lined up the drawings along the edge of her bed, crawled under the covers, and fell into blue dreams.

The next morning Minnie awoke neither bored nor angry. When she opened the curtains sunlight lit the night’s indigo drawings. Something was loose inside her. She wasn’t sure where to go next, what to do, or what to search for. But, Minnie knew, she was on a corkscrew path going upwards.

She had driven north for several hours aiming solely for fewer people and bigger forests. Midafternoon she almost passed a building with a sign that announced it was a Wisconsin River canoe and kayak outfitter. She pulled in to park in the empty lot and then entered the quiet office. Two women looked up, one in her 20’s, the other as old as herself.

“Can we help you?”

Minnie took a big breath. “I’m not sure if you can, but years ago I sometimes canoed with friends and family. I’ve not been out on a river for ages but would love to do so today if it’s possible. Do you know of anyone who might canoe with me, as long as I pay the whole rental fee?”

The younger woman started to speak but the older woman beat her to it. “I would. I’ve been missing the river since my husband passed away last year.”

The younger woman looked surprised, “Grandma, um, are you sure?”

Less than an hour later Minnie and the women, who was in fact Gwen Benson, part-time bookkeeper for her grandkids’ business, were on the river. Gwen paddled from the back to steer this river she knew. Minnie paddled in front, fascinated by the beauty of the river on a late summer afternoon. They slowly sailed past cattails, berry bushes, and willows. Stands of Joe Pye with their soft pink flowers were crowned with dozens of Monarch butterflies. Birds chirped, bugs buzzed, dragonflies darted, breezes rustled along the river banks. Occasionally they heard or watched the kerplunk of otters.

Sometimes Minnie lowered a hand into the river to glide through the cool and silky water. She felt her hair tangle in her glasses, the wind against her face, the unaccustomed achiness of sitting on a bench for hours. She felt the solace of being with a person who was competent but not chatty. Together the two women paddled miles of the river and it was almost dusk when they pulled up to the take-out spot.

Gwen smiled. “I’ve had a much more wonderful afternoon than I expected this morning.”

Minnie smiled back, “Me, too. My husband is out of the country for several months and I have gotten into a bit of a funk. Today was like getting my breath back. Thank you so much.”

“Welcome. You know, I remember when Bill and I used to canoe after dinner on nice evenings. The stars are incredible against the dark sky. If you ever come this way again and want to do that, let me know.”

Minnie laughed. “Sounds like exactly the adventure I seem to be needing. I expect to be back this way, coming back home, within a week or two. I’ll call so we can do that.”

Back at the outfitter office Minnie bought herself a blue t-shirt and then kept driving north, looking for indigo.

 

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I enjoyed reading Minnie's journey into seeing what she cared about. Good luck with the short story contest!
Mary Beth's picture

Thanks you!

This was lovely. Thank you. Patricia

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