-editor’s note. Timed writing practice is the drill. 5, 10, 15 and final 5 minute segment. Each kicks off with a random start line. Random so you can’t prepare an answer. Timed writing practice builds muscle so you are prepared to answer.
5 Minutes–My Sister Sits
My sister sits in her bed in Winfield Illinois. Sits propped against pink pillows. Purple pink pillows that match her purple pink dressing gown. My sister is 55 and she’s dying. She looks like my GM Ray who laughed like a hysterical horse when she slammed my fingers in the bathroom door when I was five. Hysteria for GM Ray came from being married to my granddaddy, Mr. J. Ray. I called him granddaddy. His wife called him Mr. Ray. He got rich in the twenties in Texas real estate. Wore suits to work, to the dinner table, to bed. On Sunday he wore a suit without the tie and the round white businessman’s collar. On Sunday he sat in the purple rocking chair in the sitting room with the purple carpet wearing his suit with the top button of the shirt open to show he was home from church. On top of the carpet next to the chair was a newspaper. On top of the newspaper was a brass spittoon. My granddaddy Ray chewed Red Man. He came from Tennessee to Texas. He taught school. He made money. He built a big brick house with Greek pillars and a covered driveway to ward off the weather. He leaned to the left. Turned his head. Pursed his lips. And blam, Red Man juice spurting, clang in the brass spittoon.
10 Minutes—As he
As he spits, my grandmother Ray studies her face in the mirror. She had a long sad face. Wrinkles that trembled. Dark eyes, black hair with gray streaks. The same face as my sister in her bed in the split-level house in Winfield Illinois. I enter the purple pink bedroom, I see my dead Grandmother.
Ten years since I last saw my sister. Her eyes jab holes in my chest. “It’s about time,” she says. My sister is a bossy bitch. Orders people around until she drives them away. Speaks with the ex-cathedra confidence of a pope or a cardinal or an ancient Lydian queen. My sister is dying. She has stomach cancer. She tried to cure it with prayer and meditation. Was surprised when the power of prayer failed her. She prayed to various Aztec-Maya gods. God names made with strings of consonants. In her studio downstairs, my sister painted portraits of these guys. She was a good artist. Painted dream-visions with maidens in the foreground and god-faces floating above. The maidens looked like a younger version of my sick sister.
She presses a button. Her husband comes running. She snaps an order. He hustles away.
You need help, I say.
No, she says. I have Richard.
She’s dying. She’s killing him. She goes, he goes too. She looks just like my grandmother on Daddy’s side. My sister hated that particular grandmother, the reluctant lookalike. She bonded with the other one, on my mother’s side.
15 minutes — People who
People who have cancer die. I go to see them. They die. I don’t go to see them. They die. I didn’t go to see Chuck C. in the hospital in Beloit. He died anyway. With me or without me. He was not a friend. He was a smiling sarcastic man who hated teaching so they made him a Dean. As a Dean he sat behind a desk. Smoked his pipe. He was mid-thirties when he got cancer and died. I don’t know what kind of cancer. It’s not my favorite word. I hear the word cancer and I change the subject. My brain freezes, I turn away. I study my sister in her purple pink silky smooth dressing gown. If I touch her, I’ll get what she’s got. If I stay too long in this purple room of pink death, I’ll catch it and die. In her eyes I see a gravestone. It’s gray stone. It has my name on it. My sister is four years younger and she didn’t like me when we were kids growing up in Amarillo because I was four years older. She hated me for being older. For being a boy. Males had power; she was a female; no power. She hated herself. Hated Daddy, hated Mama. Like my little brother. He was little. She could handle that.
My sister died in her purple pink bed and I did not attend the funeral. I was in bed with the flu. Too weak to walk. Too sick for the airplane. I felt bad. I felt awful leaving my brother to wrestle with husband, family, funeral, priest, coffin, grave. On the day of her burial, I heard my sister calling from the grave.
I felt bad when my grandparents died. All four died without me. Rays on my daddy’s side. Duncans on Mama’s. I saw my Grandmother Duncan in her hospital bed. Her hands wrecked by arthritis. The gleam of the Lord in her eye. I saw her, touched her, jerked my hand away. She had something. Don’t know what. Ten days before she died, she stopped eating. Starved herself to death. Left my Granddaddy Duncan alone.
5 Minutes–They called him
They called him Dr. R.A. His name was Robert Alva Duncan. He was a medical doctor of the Eye, the Ear, the Nose, the Throat. In Amarillo, he spent forty years rescuing body parts. He was a hunter and fisherman. Bagged an elk a year. Went trout fishing in Gunnison, Colorado. My daddy was a drunk so Dr. R.A. gave me lessons in manhood. Taught me to shoot, to ride, to skin a hog. When my grandmother died, Dr. R.A. slid downhill. I enter the living room in the house on Tyler Street. He’s fussing with his colostomy bag. I’m in college, a student of literature. He wanted me to study medicine. He stares at me with old eyes. I have no words. I hurry away from him, from the house, from the colostomy bag. Hurry to the street, the green Ford stick shift. Drive away fast, engine screaming. Run fast enough and you won’t catch shit from anyone.
Not even family.