The Oracle of Keltwood Cove, ca. 1975

by | February 2021 A (Day 1)

My neighbor told me first.

No, that’s not exactly right. My daddy said the word first, but he wasn’t talking to me. He didn’t know my ears could hear. He didn’t know he told me, so I guess it didn’t count.

My neighbor said it straight to my face, right there in the street. It was a fine summer day on Keltwood Cove, the kind of day that nine-year old girls with Donny Osmond posters and Barbie dolls who rode bikes with banana seats and who lived in split-level houses expect every day to be. And then it wasn’t.

I don’t remember whose mother she was, the neighbor who told me. Kim’s or Alan’s, I think. Not Chrissy’s. I don’t remember ever seeing Chrissy’s mom, now that I think about it. I remember mac and cheese and tuna patties and cherry bombs and sleepovers. But I don’t remember who she was.

She seemed concerned, my neighbor. When one reads familiar names in the paper, perhaps there is a tone one adopts. A way to set the mouth. A way to cast the gaze.

Being nine years old, I didn’t know the protocol. I stood in the street and took the blow with eyes wide open. I nodded knowingly and said “I know.” even though I probably didn’t. Not really. There was no mention of it on Gilligan’s Island or The Brady Bunch, so how could I have understood?

My neighbor didn’t know she was a harbinger. An oracle. But she told me first, and then it was true.

13 Comments

  1. Constance Malloy

    Laurie,
    This is fun! All the nostalgic pop culture references made me smile throughout, as they just kept coming. And, I’m impressed how you make me not care about what specifically this nine-year old was told but invest me completely in how the telling transpired and how it impacted the girl. We’ve all had that thing, that word, which once spoken changes our lives and causes us to lose innocence. Suddenly, memory put me in the street in your character’s shoes. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Al Kratz

    yes ends up being a story of memory and of story telling itself in a way as much as it does whatever the neighbor is telling. both haunting. would be interesting if that is a discovery out of the playing with language.

  3. Trent

    Very well done, Laurie –
    The style of allusion-without-definite info. Intriguing, and a good script for a micro-play!

    • Laurie Marshall

      A micro-play! One more thing to add to my “maybe I should try to write” list. LOL Thank you for your comment!

  4. Francine Witte

    Very intriguing and i also love the nostalgiac bits of information. Really loved the language here.

  5. sara lippmann

    Hi Laurie, There is so much to admire in this piece. For starters, I feel like you have a full draft of a very compelling flash. The title slaps, and the very first sentence is such a great grab that we can’t help but read on, rewarded as others have said, by your terrific details (banana seats and tuna patties, cherry bombs and sleepovers.) And I love how both you and Melanie are toying with expectations of safety and menace, that really defines the suburban experience in place and time. And I do appreciate the emotional restraint, and how much of this story exists in the unsaid. However, and maybe I’m being dense, but I wonder what is lost /gained by withholding? To me, and maybe this is just how I read it, but to me, this story is NOT so much about the unspoken thing, but how that unspoken thing shatters this narrator’s innocence and childhood in a way that she can never get back. In other words, what if the story lies less in the withholding but in the forever changed after? Which is to say: what if you played with choice deliverance? Does naming the thing take away the power or enable you to lean into it more? Think about where you want the reader to work. And what the takeaway is. Sometimes, it’s not in filling the blank, but in what lies beyond that. And sometimes, when we name the thing, a whole other layer shakes out, and the story deepens and shifts in startling ways we hadn’t expected. Looking forward to seeing what you do!

  6. Melanie Haws

    I really like how you conjure up suburban idyll here: “It was a fine summer day on Keltwood Cove, the kind of day that nine-year old girls with Donny Osmond posters and Barbie dolls who rode bikes with banana seats and who lived in split-level houses expect every day to be. And then it wasn’t.” The tension is really strong to find out what this child will learn.

    • Laurie Marshall

      Thanks Sara! Yes, this was written in response to the ‘absence’ prompt, but I agree that the emotional impact of what was going on around the word (divorce) is the real story now that it’s written. I’ll keep playing with it. And thanks for the comment about the title! I think naming pieces has become my new favorite thing. I wonder if anyone would pay me to name their untitled flash stories for them?? LOL

  7. John Steines

    Hello Laurie. I love how this starts – the two knowings, one official and direct, one over-heard and therefore, not real. That says so much to me. The music, play and tv references anchor a safety and mark a shift for a 9 year old – very well done. I feel her confusion yet also her almost stoic /shock state at not understanding the meaning. I love that ‘truth’ only comes via direct communication. Good work.

  8. Kate Gehan

    The voice here is wonderful right from the start. I would echo Sara’s comments about considering further what power is wielded by the neighbor being the oracle and what changes for the nine year old here. If you fleshed this out, I’d love to see more about the nine year old’s perceptions of the world (yay nostalgia!) which you could build in a scene, perhaps. I sense interesting suburban social dynamics you could play with.

  9. Patricia Bidar

    I really felt this main character and her situation. .

    “…the kind of day that nine-year old girls with Donny Osmond posters and Barbie dolls who rode bikes with banana seats and who lived in split-level houses expect every day to be.”

    You deftly depict here the moment of change of being cast out. You capture without naming it, the cracking open of this nine year old’s world. By a “concerned” neighbor lady who has no idea what she has done. (Or is there a sliver of malice?)

    “When one reads familiar names in the paper, perhaps there is a tone one adopts. A way to set the mouth. A way to cast the gaze” and

    “…took the blow with eyes wide open.” Now that is a heartbreaking sentence, the casual breaking of innocence on a sunny suburban day.

    The last sentence is perfect.

    Once suggestion from me is that you may not need, “No, that’s not exactly right. My daddy said the word first, but he wasn’t talking to me. He didn’t know my ears could hear. He didn’t know he told me, so I guess it didn’t count.” and also, “I don’t remember whose mother she was, the neighbor who told me. Kim’s or Alan’s, I think. Not Chrissy’s. I don’t remember ever seeing Chrissy’s mom, now that I think about it.” The reason I single those out is that you as the writer are telling the reader they are not memorable. So you could replace them with some sensory memory and detail of the neighbor kids and their seeming idyll. Or a fragment about the narrator’s mother–does she fit in here?

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