Saturday, June 4, 2011


An exercise with Seanna; write a piece starting with 'We chased autumn across North America.' Here it is, in all its first-draft glory.  Wiki the character names if I've been too obtuse.

We chased autumn across North America.  Stepping off the boat in Rhode Island we breathed deep the last rays of summer and caught her, hiding between the salt and spray.  North she had gone, and north we went along that coast which scrawls along the Atlantic.
            The old stones of Boston were already cold to the touch.  Late September rain had slicked the streets and cleaned the city, made it fresh for winter’s snows.  We spent days wandering the harbour and between campuses until Perses caught a trace of her outside Fenway and breathed deep of the blended scents, eastern blood in western skies.  We hired a car and drove out of town.  Three hours later a freak snowstorm caved in the roof of city hall, collapsing red brick into white ice.
            We let New York be; too many life lines crossed, crosshatched between buildings which held their secrets like lovers in the night.  We trusted our instincts and carried on the highways.  Perses grinned as we crossed the Washington bridge; he had been before, would return some day.
            The plan, Perses told me, was to go to places she would have left.  Streets and stones and rules and laws which chase her away, which drive her as a trade wind.  It was better, I thought, than having no plan at all.
            The trees turned red like dawn on the coast, bleeding through the Chicago suburbs until they were washed in crimson.  In the city they were already wearing overcoats and scarves, fortified against Lake Michigan’s promise of chill.  When we stopped they were struck by a heat-wave.  We stayed in the Greek district; the day of the marathon we sat in a cafe and drank iced tea, watching the runners sweat in the surprise weather.  Perses laughed and breathed deep the smell of her, which flowed like Dionysian wine from the superstitions of athletes.
            Iowa and Nebraska would all have been her lands, once.  Under the yoke, they shone with rippling corn as we tore across the 80 heading west at a hundred miles an hour.  We were still driving when the sun set and Psellus accelerated.  She was always easier to find by night.
            And then up, up into the Rockies, past Boulder and into Denver where Psellus had to stay in bed for a week, so overcome with the smell of her.  I walked the streets by day and breathed the crisp, thin air; ate muesli with hipsters, waved to students doing Yoga in the park.  At night I sat with my friend and asked him how he could hunt his own daughter.
            Her time had come, he told me.
            We were holed up so long that the Aspen trees had turned, burning bright yellow across the mountains.  Psellus thought we could catch her in the mountains but we were stopped by a ranger who saw our plates and heard our accents and turned us around.  Two difficult days driving in and out of the snowline followed.  We ate rare bison in an empty ski town and afterwards drank ouzo with the staff who told us stories about tourists and the dangers of the coming snows.  After they passed out we raised our glasses to Pan and turned in for the night.
            There is wilderness and there is wilderness; Utah is forever wild and the fortifications built by a lake of salt will someday dissolve into the desert.  It was the first week of November when we crossed into Idaho.  Psellus made us stop in Twin Falls.  He stood in the base of the canyon and midnight and called her name, over and over, listening to the echo.  The next morning we went north.
            Boise was lost to her; so tamed now that she would never set a foot there but all around were the signs of her; the tall mountains to the east, the morning snow which threatened to white out the landscape and push the people back into her arms.
            A week later we reached the Washington coast.  Rain blew in hard from the Pacific and lashed Seattle with the resigned perseverance of a broken workman, determined to see a task through to completion.  It nearly washed her away but Psellus dragged us south.  He wept in the car and when I asked him why he told me to mind my own business.  We were close, he said.  He could taste her in the beer, feel her in the morning mist. 
            On a beach in Oregon, beside a sand-dune the size of a house, we found her sitting alone.  She had eyes only for a monolith, pushing out from the sea like a seal in a bathtub.  Psellus put a hand on my shoulder and we stopped, only a few steps away.  He moved forward and sat beside her, dusted the sand from his hands.
            “You are a long way from home, Asteria.”
            “As are you, father.  I see you brought Iapetus with you.”
            “Actually, he brought me with him.”
            They said nothing at all for a while.  The wind shook the grass on the dunes and lifted whisps of Asteria’s hair.  Psellus put an arm around her and held her tight.
            We had lunch together in a pub, a hundred yards from the ocean.  A storm came in while we ate and blew itself out before we had finished drinking our coffee.  Asteria made her father proud.  She did not beg, didn’t try to bargain with me.  I know that there were places she could go and as the sun and the sea breezes dried the day I tore at my own heart.
            “Not many of us left.” I said.
            Asteria sighed deep.  “No, but my time is done here.  There’s no wildness left here.  No magic.” She took my hand, smiled at her father.  “I was going to keep heading south, to California, but I lost my way there a long time ago.”
            “I want a beer,” Psellus said.
            We stayed until closing time.

            We took her into the woods of Oregon, as she wished.  After it was done, Psellus gave a cry of anguish.  On a hill to the west, a piece of land gave way and the forest collapsed around us.  I put a hand on his shoulder and kissed his cheek.  His daughter buried, unmarked in the wilderness.  A fitting end, out in the wild.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


You figured that she would say no, but you could never predict her reactions.  So you pack the car with a blanket and basket and drive across town to pick her up.  A kiss on the cheek which makes your eyes go wide, a hug you cannot escape fast enough.  You drive out of the slouching buildings in their dour suits of soot and mist and into the rolling hills where greens are made grey by the dawn’s false light.
            You’re looking good.
            Thanks, so are you.  I always liked your hair long.
Mm, I know.  How’s your mother?
            Fine.  She misses dad, you say.  How is your brother going?
            He graduated last month.  He said to thank you for helping him out last year.
            Tell him to forget about it, you say and then you say nothing for a while.
            You turn on the radio, which makes an uncomfortable silence uncomfortable and loud.  No more sing-alongs, no more playlists.  She taps her fingers on her lap in time with the rhythm but after a couple of songs you just turn it off again.
            There are no breaks in the highway today; a long, smooth river which runs all the way to the ocean.  The drive is broken only by billboards for upcoming fast-food stops, numbered exits, popular wineries.  The place you spent a weekend together last autumn, almost a year ago now.  You think about pointing it out; just drive past it.
            You crest a hill and the ocean and the sun appear at the same moment.  For a second the horizon is lit and doused all at once; the road dips and the sky is grey again.  By the time you reach the next rise the sun is already high.  You pull down the shade, fumble about the dashboard.  She opens the glovebox, pulls out your sunglasses, unfolds the arms and hands them to you.
            Thanks, you say.
            Don’t worry about it.
            There are a couple of caravans in the parking lot, but no other cars.  You pull in a couple of spaces from the walkway and sit in your car, looking through the spaces in the fence at the tiny waves which break onto the cold, hard sand.  She puts her hand on top of yours, perched on the gearstick, and leans her head on your shoulder.
            What are you doing?
            Shut up.
            The only smell is her; the only feeling is her weight, her warmth against your arm.  You start staring down the clock, daring each minute to pass, trying to spin the feeling out for as long as you can.
            It starts raining, just a few drops which turn to a shower, then a downpour which lashes the car.  The sand turns deep grey and the foliage around the car park snap and spray.
            Looks like there won’t be a picnic she says.  She is still leaning on your arm and her eyes are almost closed.
            No, you say.  Looks like there won’t.
            You are still staring at the clock, counting minutes.  After three you turn the engine back on.  When you shift the car into reverse she sits back up, and the contact is broken.  The windscreen fogs, and you turn on the demister, changing the atmosphere in the car.
            You chat on the way back; about books you have read and movies you have seen.  About mutual friends and their lives and dramas.  It is still raining when you drop her home, but the passion is gone, leaving a gentle, misting fall in its wake.  She squeezes your hand and you smile at her.  She puts her jacket over her head and runs from the car to her gate.  And then she is gone.
            You drive home through streets which still echo dawn, waking now to the wet weekend.  You take your shoes off at the door and step into your house.  Your wife is sitting at the kitchen table, dressed in gown and slippers, a mug of tea in her hand.
            I woke up and you weren’t here, she says.
            I planned a picnic, you say.  It was going to be a surprise.  But now its raining.
            She smiles, and takes your cold hand with her warm one.
I've been told I need to work on setting, emotion and characterisation (not that I'm bad at them; that I'm not using them at all).  I'm going to use some short exercises to try to get better at using these things.  I'll post them here.