Meredith had wondered why Dan had been called when Father died, instead of her. But of course, it wasn’t Dan, but Mother who’d received the news. Mother, who’d remained the next of kin on all of Father’s mundane paperwork. Mother, who’d continued to pass on photographs and updates about their children. Mother, who’d never seemed worried or lost or lonely, but surely must have lived her own version of grief. Why else would she have stayed in contact with him?
She’d told Dan over the phone in a cold tone, like she was giving him the weather report instead of telling him his father was dead. He’d made the trip to Meredith’s apartment and held her stiffly as she wailed. He sat by her side while she made the funeral arrangements and picked out Father’s suit and wrote the obituary. He walked around pretending he’d known the man, while his mother sat at home, pretending she hadn’t.
Dan found himself alone in the apartment. He packed up a few final books and sat on the floor among the boxes. The room was silent, save the lonely drip of the faucet. He sat and listened to the solitary sound. He listened for a message in the monotony, and waited for a ghost to appear.
I hate this story.
When I decided to write a piece for a prestigious literary award, I made one giant mistake: I believed that 'prestigious literary award' translated to 'something I wouldn't normally write'. It had to be serious. The writing itself needed to involve a good amount of hair pulling and agonizing and self doubt. And it did. It was hard, this writing for a prestigious literary award. Too hard.
Of course, I didn't win.
Not because it isn't a well written story (because I think it is, mostly), but because it lacks the one thing that you can not fake: authenticity. If the assignment had been, 'channel Tennessee Williams and write something dramatic and morose', I might have won. But it wouldn't have been my story. This isn't my story. This is a story I wrote while trying to be the kind of writer I am not. My amazing pro bono editor and my husband both tried, very nicely, to tell me this, but it was something I needed to figure out for myself.
That doesn't mean that I can't write something serious, because I can, and have. But it comes from a place of personal perspective, or experience, or belief. It comes with authenticity. It also doesn't mean that there is not value in humor, and poop jokes, and possum c-sections.
This week, I've been working on my submission for Southern Sin. There's been no hair pulling, or stomach churning, or wondering if the story is good enough. Because it's my story, in my voice, and that's good enough for me.
Thanks for continuing to read, and for your wonderful comments, and for your continued support.