History-Prompt A List

by | Oct 17, 2020 | Dean Cleaning One | 9 comments

The car’s back window forms a lop-sided circle and beyond that dusty circle is a glass door propped open with a metal chair and in the dark interior, my mother, shadowed like a ghost, lifts clothes from basket to washing machine. The moon is a fingernail in evening dusk dripping Midwest fireflies for us to catch in jelly jars. Ice cream cones melt chocolate rivers onto blistering sidewalks while the air hangs like heavy blankets around my neck and drip along my spine. The seldom used dining room table has stretched itself to fit the cousins and the dishes of pan-fried red fish, jambalaya, etouffee. The air is drenched with the spicy smells of Cajun cooking, the melody of patois. My mother’s first name was Marion, but the church would not allow it. A boy’s name the priest said so they changed it to Marian. Marian was everyone’s

petit chou.

There is a picture of her, a faded black and white, in a cane field where she stands on a wagon, laughing in shorts, her beautiful legs eyed by smiling workers. Route 66 is the road we took in a car where the windows were almost square and my mother’s name was no longer Marian, but Marianne because when she enlisted in the Marines—the world was melting in another great war—they misread it on her papers and never did get it right. Her husband, my father, was also a Marine and wore his hair in a crew cut to prove it. They met in a nightclub on her twenty-first birthday in California where the smells were salty Pacific, the drinks were gin, and he was soon to leave for the China as a flight instructor while she drove officers around Camp Pendleton. California was snowless unlike Iowa with less humidity bayou country, the promised land where the sun shone on sandy beaches and a couple of GIs could buy a tiny house on a half-moon street on land that had once been a rice paddy and drained for a housing tract. There had been miscarriages, but I was six when we migrated out west, my dad where would teach math and my mother would housewife.

9 Comments

  1. Tommy Dean

    Hello Gay,

    “The car’s back window forms a lop-sided circle and beyond that dusty circle is a glass door propped open with a metal chair and in the dark interior, my mother, shadowed like a ghost, lifts clothes from basket to washing machine.” I love how you use the camera to start back and then zoom in on the mom in the shadows! Such a great use of moving the camera here!

    “The moon is a fingernail in evening dusk dripping Midwest fireflies for us to catch in jelly jars.” oh, what a perfect midwestern sentence! I’m so there!

    “The air is drenched with the spicy smells of Cajun cooking, the melody of patois. My mother’s first name was Marion, but the church would not allow it. A boy’s name the priest said so they changed it to Marian. Marian was everyone’s” So much story created right here! The smells of the food, the way she couldn’t keep her own name, the way she’s now everyone! Oh, all the themes are right here!

    Love the way you use that camera again to shift us into the future, the way we move from that picture to redefining her, the change in her name, the enlisting!

    ” a couple of GIs could buy a tiny house on a half-moon street on land that had once been a rice paddy and drained for a housing tract.” Love the return to that moon image, the way it shifts here, the way the hope was presented to them, how we know it’s going to be a bit harder than presented! This feels like it could continue, use the larger canvas as you/the persona move to California!

    • Paul Beckman

      Gay-As in all your stories, I love your descriptions: “The car’s back window forms a lop-sided circle ” “my mother, shadowed like a ghost,”
      “The moon is a fingernail in evening dusk dripping Midwest fireflies”.
      “my dad where would teach math and my mother would housewife.”

      This tells so much in such a short space but leaves the reader wanting a denouement.
      .

  2. Constance Malloy

    There’s so much to like about this piece. I especially like what you do with the character’s name. Names identify us, and when they change even through the spelling, we change, and you expertly show this. Another great piece.

    • Gay Degani

      Thank you, Constance, for reading. I’ve never publish Creative Non-fiction–I fictionalize–but this one is truly CNF. I appreciate your support for a piece like this.

  3. Roberta Beary

    Beautiful writing, Gay.

    Love these lines/phrases, especially the moon images:

    The moon is a fingernail in evening dusk dripping Midwest fireflies for us to catch in jelly jars.

    ‘the world was melting in another great war’

    ‘Route 66 is the road we took in a car where the windows were almost square’

    ‘a tiny house on a half-moon street on land that had once been a rice paddy’

    It was a pleasure to read this lovely story of place, migration, and relocation.

  4. Christina Rosso-Schneider

    Wow, such evocative language! Every sentence was dripping with beautiful imagery, but my absolute favorite was: ” The moon is a fingernail in evening dusk dripping Midwest fireflies for us to catch in jelly jars.”

  5. Meg Tuite

    Hi Gay!
    Yes to the beauty of your lines, word by word! I agree with all the comments so far!
    My only suggestion is to rework that last line, and keep going with this story. It reads like an excerpt for a much
    longer piece. LOVE!

    • Gay Degani

      Oh Meg do I miss you. Thank you so much for reading. This workshop has been amazing for me. The way Tommy approaches stuff really works for me. And I guess I’m overdo on productivity! I am so thrilled.

Submit a Comment

Pin It on Pinterest