Random creative writing snippet:


Grayness. And grayness. And grayness. Since Albert died, everything seemed to fade. Even smells disappeared. Not that Sheila noticed. When she found Al in the lazyboy and realized that he wasn’t napping, her world narrowed to a tunnel. Her life became lists, with tasks that needed checking. 911, check. Phone the children, check. Meet with the funeral director, check. Lunches, dinners, bathing... her life moved forward on autopilot while she hibernated inside her head. It was safer there, and quiet; gray and cushioned, like floating in a warm lake at night. There was no one left to take care of. The kids were long grown up, and the house—which felt cramped for so many years when Jerry and the twins had filled it with their toys and laughter—now echoed, cavernous. The kids would like her to move into the Home, but this house is her home. “Look, Ma! Bingo on Tuesdays... a monthly trip into the city to see a show... water aerobics, even!” But Sheila was far away, and this was muffled. In the old days, Sheila would have dissolved into laughter at the thought of water aerobics. The last time she had been submerged in water, aside from her own bathtub, was her baptism in 1934—and, shoot, she certainly wouldn’t venture into a swimming pool to flop about doing exercises. But that was her old self, and this was now. Sheila smiled weakly, trying to think of nothing, instead of how she is alone now, unneeded and responsible for no one. Albert hadn’t been the best husband, but he had been there... someone to cook for, watch television with, and conspire with about the neighbors who seemed to be taking over their lawn little by little, as if she and Al had forgotten where their property line was. At home later that evening, she warily regarded the stack of sympathy cards piled on the coffee table—wordless thank you cards now months overdue. She reached over the cards to grab the remote control, flipping on the television. With the green and brown afghan on her lap, a wedding gift from Al’s mother back in 1949, she settled into the lazyboy. Halfway into the 11 o’clock news, Sheila had fallen asleep.




Sections I wrote for mystery novel collaborative project:


Mary Lee was halfway home when a thought entered her mind and caused her to groan out loud. “I should call Terry,” she realized with dread. She stubbed out her cigarette. Her right hand on the wheel, she nervously smoothed her now-frizzy hair, which had fallen prey to the mugginess of the night. Her injured hand throbbed lightly but had stopped bleeding. Tucking stray locks of hair behind her ears, she sat up straighter in her seat and stretched to relieve the tension in her back. Terry, her ex, was a state trooper and had been part of that hit-and-run investigation five years ago. As much as she hated having to deal with him again, Mary Lee knew that he should hear about what she found. Surely these two incidents were related.


“No coincidence is that great,” Mary Lee’s impulsive self told her practical self, trying to rationalize the scrap of evidence that now sat beside her. “Besides,” she inwardly continued her argument, “the police were so inept back in 2001, they never caught the murderer. I’m helping preserve evidence.”


In a small town like Ephraimtown, when something bad happens, everyone takes notice, and five years ago, the talk of the town was the tragic Memorial Day accident. Not that ‘accident’ was the correct term. You don’t just ‘accidentally’ crash into a family of five, paralyzing one child and killing another, then flee the scene. After a day or two, the State Police was brought in to help the local cops with the investigation. Back then, a slightly less rotund and very resentful Sgt. Ames had been heading up the case when a team from Terry’s barracks was called in to assist. The local boys had made a mess of things, and they were reluctant to hand over what they had collected. Ames had nearly lost his job, and it galled Terry that he had escaped punishment.


“That man singlehandedly botched the entire case!” Terry ranted on more than one occasion. “The whole thing was a disgrace!”


By the time Terry’s team stepped in to sort things out, important evidence had been lost. The rain had washed away the tire tracks, and crime scene photos had been ruined in a freak photo lab mishap. There was little to go on. Terry was outraged by the local police’s poor efforts. The case was never solved. The only certainties were that a green truck and the Pilchers’ car collided on the family’s drive home from the town picnic. A 911 call had been made from a telephone booth in town shortly after the collision. Ambulances found the wrecked car. Seven-year-old Josie, Michael’s twin, had died instantly. Simon, then five years old, was paralyzed. The rest of the family was barely conscious—critical but stable. It was a horrible, horrible tragedy, Mary Lee recalled with a lump in her throat. She used to babysit for Nancy Pilcher when the twins were little and Nancy was pregnant with Simon. Those kids were such sweethearts.


Now, after all this time, another crash along the same stretch of road? And that photograph? Mary Lee felt almost dizzy. What could this mean? Beside her, barely visible on the passenger seat under the crumpled pack of cigarillos, sat the puzzling scrap that Mary Lee had picked up at the crime scene... an old, well-worn polaroid of the three Pilcher kids, taken during the community picnic on the day of the accident, hours before it happened. The children’s wide smiles made Mary Lee’s heart ache. This didn’t make sense. Maybe Terry could figure out an explanation. She’d just have to steer the conversation away from anything personal that could lead them down their usual path of cheap shots and shouting. Better to just stick to the issue at hand. “If that’s even possible,” Mary Lee thought, frowning.


For Mary Lee, being the wife of a police officer had been ten lonely and frustrating years, an existence she gladly escaped from four years ago. Although her life had taken on an abrupt downsizing—from her three-bedroom, split-entry home to a drab, second-hand trailer, her payroll job at the barracks to a career in “transportation services,” their comfortable two-income household to her paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle—she had no regrets. They weren’t right for each other, and even Terry eventually admitted that. Mary Lee hadn’t requested spousal support, so the divorce was clean and fast. Besides that, there weren’t any children to fight over. Despite years of unprotected sex and one tough year where she quit smoking cold-turkey and started taking note of her fertility schedule, she and Terry had never gotten pregnant. At the time, it was a big disappointment to them both, but in the end, it was for the best.


Mary Lee pulled into her driveway, instinctively swerving to miss a huge hole near the mailbox, tires spitting stones and dust against the embankment near where she parked the schoolbus. As she killed the engine, her eye caught the dashboard clock—2:34 a.m. She groaned again, thinking of her early morning bus ride. She reached across the seat and picked up the photograph of the Pilcher children. Her mind was a mass of questions. The man with the green pack, who was he? What was he doing here? Why did he have that picture? And was that Josie’s jump rope?


Mary Lee squinted, studying the polaroid in the moonlight as she walked across the yard, unheeding whatever piles her little chalupas had left on the lawn. The door squeaked open, waking the the dogs. After 15 minutes of excited barking and jumping around, the dogs settled back to sleep. Exhausted, Mary Lee laid down on her bed. She put the photo on the nightstand, rolled over, and fell asleep. In her dreams, she was at the park, sitting on a swing and watching a little girl jump rope. Three-four-five-six, the girl counted out cheerily as the ribbons on the jump rope handles spun prettily in the sun. A boy with brown hair and a serious face sat down by Mary Lee. “I always wear my seatbelt,” he proclaimed solemnly. His little brother ran around the swingset, laughing “I’m an airplane. Wrrrrr!” In her dream, Mary Lee started to cry, but in the morning when she awoke, memory faded and she remembered nothing from her sleep.


***


Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz! The alarm went off at 6:00, and seconds later, a yapping horde of tiny dogs leaped onto the bed, shattering any hopes of hitting the snooze button. Mary Lee hugged her wriggling dogs before depositing them back onto the floor and escorting them outside to pee. She went back to the bedroom to get her cigarettes and her eyes fell on the photograph at her bedside. The previous evening came pouring back to recognition, and Mary Lee felt overwhelmed all over again. In the daylight, her Nancy Drew antics felt foolish, and for the first time she had to acknowledge that she stole crime scene evidence. This was serious. Why did she do that? “Dammit, I should have let Sherrie find the photograph. She seems decent enough,” she thought. But Mary Lee had been so shocked by seeing the picture, it brought back all of the speculation about shoddy policework. She didn’t trust Officer Ames. He let the Pilcher family down before. Mary Lee didn’t want to see a mistake happen again. There was a connection here; she was sure of it. She just needed some time to connect the dots.


***


[...fast forward a little to my next section]


***


Business was booming inside the noisy auto body shop. All of the bays were filled with vehicles needing attention. The guys had been working their butts off and the calls kept coming in. After two years of barely coming out ahead, things were finally starting to pick up. Usually, this would have pleased Butch immensely. His parents, the financial backers of the garage, were always looking at the shop skeptically, as if their slacker son couldn’t possibly operate a successful business. But today, his mind was elsewhere.


Right at this moment, Mary Lee was with her ex husband, that uppity, smartmouth cop, going over something that’s apparently very important, even though she hadn’t seen fit to share it with Butch yet.


Butch seesawed between steaming and sulking. He sat at his desk, arms folded and boots propped up on the computer desk beside the new laptop his mother had dropped off for him earlier that week. His workspace was typically pretty orderly, but today he had decided to reorganize his filing system. When Mary Lee popped in unexpectedly around noon, he had just finished sorting everything. His desk was a mass of piles, each strategically and painstakingly sorted. His first instinct was to try to coax a quickie out of Mary Lee—Butch’s temperature always seemed to rise a few degrees when she was around—but Mary Lee had sensibly talked him out of it.


“Butchie,” she said sweetly, if not a little condescendingly, “you have crap all over your desk. And as much as I like ya, I’m NOT laying down on your greasy floor.”


“Alright babe, but you don’t know what yer missin,” Butch said as he pulled Mary Lee onto his lap and spun around on the leather executive chair, another one of his mom’s gifts. She giggled, but Butch could tell that Mary Lee’s attention was focused elsewhere.


Mary Lee grinned and said, “Honey, as you well know, I DO know what I’m missin. It’s just that I only have a minute, so I stopped in to say hi. I’ve gotta run over to Terry’s this afternoon, and I need to be home to get the bus and pick up the kids by 3.”


Butch tensed up at the mention of Terry’s name, and Mary Lee could sense his irritation. He ran his hand through his longish blond hair, brushing it out of his eyes. He shifted in his seat and looked out the window, trying to mask his unhappiness. But Mary Lee could read it well. She’d been around bruised egos before. Mary Lee found herself feeling a little pleased. Even though they’d been together for about a year and a half, she sometimes forgot that she and Butch weren’t just a casual thing. When they’d first gotten together, it was all lust. With their six-year age difference, she hadn’t anticipated their relationship turning into anything other than amazing sex. She had never dated a younger man, but her attraction to him overrode any nagging doubts about what was appropriate—although she heard a ton about it from the always-critical Terry, who didn’t seem to understand that when people got divorced, they stayed the hell away from each other and moved on with their lives.


Seeing that Butch was upset, Mary Lee was quick to reassure him. “…So I was thinking you could come over tonight. I’ve missed you, and there’s something I want to talk to you about.”


Butch pushed his jealousy aside for a minute and said, “Sure. How bout I pick up some Chinese?”


“Fantastic.” Mary Lee replied with a wide smile. “Ok, hon. Gotta go! See you around 8, ‘kay?” She planted a wet kiss on him and gave him a squeeze. Then she was out the door, distractedly fumbling in her purse for one of the cigarillos that Butchie had banned from the shop. He just sat there and watched her walk away, her long legs outfitted in tight pants taking wide strides.


***


The afternoon was almost over, but Butch hadn’t been able to concentrate since Mary Lee left the shop. His office was still a complete mess, and inside, he was stewing. That fuckin Terry, he muttered. Butch couldn’t stand Mary Lee’s ex husband, and Mary Lee acted like she couldn’t stand him either. So why was she going over to his house? It left Butch feeling aggravated. At least Mary Lee had at grimaced when she said Terry’s name, Butch recalled.


The population of Ephraim is less than 2,000, so every once in a while their paths would cross Terry’s. Even though Mary Lee was the one who left Terry, it still needled Butch when he had to be around the guy. Terry was always staring at them, just waiting for trouble. One time, right after they had gotten together, Butch and Mary Lee were playing pool at Jefferson’s Pub, and a semi-intoxicated Terry saw them and started shooting his mouth off. He said a bunch of demeaning stuff. The breaking point was when Terry said, loud enough for the entire bar to hear, that Mary Lee couldn’t find a new man… “So now you’re chasing boys, I see.” Terry slurred, leaning a bit on his cop friend. Like lightning, Butch threw Terry to the ground and got in a few good punches before Terry’s buddies pulled him off. Even though it had clearly been Terry’s fault, the cops arrested Butch for assault and kept him overnight in the local lock up before dropping charges the next morning. It still made Butch’s blood boil. That fucking Terry! he muttered, louder this time. He hated to think about Mary Lee sitting in her old house, getting cozy with her ex. But before Butch could work himself into an even bigger state of aggression, his cell phone rang and interrupted his inner tirade.


He checked the caller ID. It was Mary Lee. Taking a deep breath and concentrating on sounding like nothing was out of the ordinary—after all, it was ok to feel jealous, but not act jealous—Butch answered, “Hey Mare.”


“Butch… is there any way you can come over any earlier?”


He paused for a second, and Mary Lee jumped into an explanation, rambling about this awful thing that’s happened with a crime scene and about the Pilcher kids and some weird guy hanging around in the woods on her route. Her words were tumbling out too fast, and Butch had to ask her to slow down.


“Babe, what are you talking about… you mean that accident from a few years back?” Butch could actually hear Mary Lee take a drag on her cigarette, as if those skinny cigars of hers could do her any good.


“Butchie, I have a really bad feeling. A bunch of weird stuff is happening, and I might need your help.”


“Of course,” Butch replied. His jealousy dropped away. “I’ll have Tony close the garage today. I’ll come right over.”


“Thanks, honey.,, love you.”


“Love you, too. See you soon.”


“Hey,” Butch added quickly, before Mary Lee could hang up her phone. “Do you still want me to get Chinese take out?”


Mary Lee let out an aggravated sigh and said impatiently, “NO. Just come over. Ok?”


“Fine. You don’t have to snap.”


“Butch. Come over. That’s all.”


Minutes later, on the road, the wind was whipping his face, but Butch had to stifle a grin. He couldn’t help feeling happy. Mary Lee was in some kind of mess, but she was going to tell him all about it, and maybe he could save the day.

creative writing