A voice is speaking on the other end when she scowls and hucks her phone into an unruly boxwood. An explosion of sparrows billows up yelling fuck you! in chorus, then races back down to the center of the shrub.

She heads up the driveway, peering at the phone casually like it’s the only ride out of here but hey it’s in a bush that’s fine. Like who cares except to desperately pray the screen isn’t smashed. The phone is vibrating. Incoming call from smiling-cat-with-heart-eyes Babe smiling-cat-with-heart-eyes.

At the front door, she tucks her elbows tight against her body and clasps her hands at her chest, twisting one hand’s fingers in the C of the other. It’s felt like dusk since 8am. A few tight squeezes bring some feeling back.

The house is exhausted and veiny with the husk of climbing hydrangea. Was this really it? She did get lost a few times on the walk from the train. A homing pigeon she is not, it turns out. Though there is a message she can’t read tied around her ankle.

Her hand on the doorknob, someone’s twisting it at the same time from within. She suddenly changes her mind and holds the handle tight. Nope, this was a mistake. Not ready.

The person on the other side is pulling hard. She tries to lift her foot to the doorframe for leverage, but her hands are weakened by the cold. The handle slips and the door opens inward. She’s running now. Down the driveway scaring the birds up into the gray sky. Trying not to touch anything or anyone in the subway car and holding her breath in the tunnel for as long as possible.

She presses her hands into her armpits on the walk home and looks at the same shadow out the corner of her eye again and again. No one’s there. The phone is vibrating. The sparrows do not pick up.

15 Comments

  1. Cheryl Pappas

    Oh, I don’t see an author here, but I love this piece. It took me by surprise at nearly every turn. At first, I thought it was someone who was just in a fight, but then it’s clear that this person is suffering from anxiety.

    There are so many gems in here: the sparrows crying fuck you!; the stalled moments at the doorknob (using all the associations with doors and home); the pressure of emotion expressed through being in a tightly packed subway car; and that final touch of the sparrows not answering the phone.

    This is stellar writing. I like the shifts so much, but one you might rework slightly is “the door opens inward. She’s running now. Down the driveway…” I wasn’t sure in which direction she was running, so in that heightened moment I suggest making it more immediately clear. Something as simple as adding “away” might help.

    Thanks for this!

    • Anna V

      Thank you Cheryl! Totally agree with your notes. Funny how when I press “submit” I suddenly notice everything I want to change

  2. Neil Clark

    Really liked this one!

    “An explosion of sparrows billows up yelling fuck you!” Love that line, and can so relate to the feeling of anxiety that builds with every sentence after. The description of the body language like “she tucks her elbows tight against her body and clasps her hands at her chest, twisting one hand’s fingers in the C of the other.” really put me in the piece*, and I love how like circles back to the sparrows at the end.

    *On that note, I wonder if it would hit even harder if told from a 1st person perspective? Something to consider.

    Great piece, whoever you are!

    • Anna V

      I’m the mystery writer! Thank you for your feedback Neil. I’ll give first person a try when I do some edits.

  3. David O'Connor

    Really captures a moment here. The detail makes it feel like slow-motion which elevates the drama. A very good scene, love the phone and door details, if I were you, on the next sitting, I’d write around it, the scene (or several before) and a scene after, you’ve written an exacting climax, which makes me wonder what build up to it? Where does it go from here? Well done, thanks for sharing.

    • Anna V

      Good idea about writing around it, to be honest it’s unknown to me as well. Thank you David!

  4. Bud Smith

    I’m into this. The writing is so magnetic. Love the birds who fly up and scream Fuck You! and the cat with hearts eyes on the phone and the desperation of the piece in general. You got a note above from David O’Connor that I like a lot. This feels like it could be the middle scene of this story and if you stretched out just a little bit before and after, the results might be even more stunning and substantial. A setup doesn’t always have to be slow and sluggish, it’s just usually about a person wanting something and a wind down at the end doesn’t have to be slow and reiterate the main themes of the story, not can often show us what it’s like when a person gets what they thought they wanted but it actually hurts them more to have it or they don’t get what they want and it winds up being some weird blessing how we humans can rationalize and compartmentalize everything

    • Anna V

      Thanks so much Bud. The images/sensory stuff seems to come easiest to me, so I’m curious as well what’s on the other ends of this story and what this person wants.

  5. Janelle Greco

    The sparrows crying ‘fuck you’ absolutely killed me. Like Neil, I’m wondering what this would sound like told from first person perspective, but that’s of course up to you. Maybe toy around with it. Maybe not. There are so many images and things to love about this, and I really like how the sparrows are embedded throughout this piece. The subway car scene stuck with me on this one. I love David and Bud’s suggestions for this. Maybe even free writing on one of these lines could produce more scenes for this. Or maybe I just want more because I love it so much.

  6. Taylor Grieshober

    This is a lovely snapshot, chock full of compelling images. There are a lot of surprising turns and while I couldn’t completely understand what was going on in the story, I loved being in the moment with this narrator. Don’t have much in the way of critique! Thanks for sharing.

  7. Amy Barnes

    I am a sucker for bird imagery — so ripe for blurring lines between human and animal. You give these birds just enough personification. That closing line! Such a wonderful way to callback to the opening lines and the sparrows’ voices.

    “The sparrows do not pick up.”

    Love the rhyming and beginning letter repetitions in the opening lines and throughout, further the sound of the birds singing/speaking. But beyond sounds, you also give us feeling — squeezing, door handle, hands pressed into armpit, vibrating phone.

    “A voice is speaking on the other end when she scowls and hucks her phone into an unruly boxwood. An explosion of sparrows billows up yelling fuck you! in chorus, then races back down to the center of the shrub.”

    “smiling-cat-with-heart-eyes Babe smiling-cat-with-heart-eyes.”

  8. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Anna, Well chosen details to depict a difficult subject! I love that you led into it through the phone, the cat images that suggest a character that picks almost child-like images for someone for whom she has ambivalent feelings at best. The tossing of the phone into the bushes further enforces that image.

    Through the entire narrative, the specifics lead us also toward the general. By not telling us exactly who the protagonist is, whose house she visits, holding the door, why that house, and not her “home’, you leave us both questions and also allow the reader to fill in the situation. This sounds strange, but as the mother of a child with particular difficulties, the scenes you depict echo many I’ve lived through.

    I have only a couple of suggestions. When you note “The house is exhausted”– I’m not sure that personification works. It took me out of the story, while the ‘vines’ depiction that followed felt perfect. Could you find another word for the condition of the house?

    I would also like to have slightly more details about whose house, or who is in the house— maybe the person inside calls out a name, or in some fashion indicates relationship– see you at our regular time, or your mother keeps calling me, or…. you get the drift.

    Really enjoyed both reading this narrative and thinking about it.

  9. K Chiucarello

    Hello Anna!

    Here’s a few grabs that I loved: “An explosion of sparrows billows up yelling fuck you! in chorus, then races back down to the center of the shrub.” “At the front door, she tucks her elbows tight against her body and clasps her hands at her chest, twisting one hand’s fingers in the C of the other.” “The house is exhausted and veiny with the husk of climbing hydrangea” (!!!!!!)

    I’m really drawn to the unspooling nature of this piece. It feels almost hallucinatory in its descriptors. I’m wondering if more emphasis on drawing attention to the phone is necessary to really highlight the anxious nature that many many of us experience or if the subtly currently here works just as well — almost a wink and nod to the anxiety but any reader can drop in and out of the piece and still grasp the beauty of it.

    It’s clear that descriptors and sensory objects are totally your strong suit and cannot wait to read your writing for Day 3!

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