For our writing class yesterday, our teacher laid out a blanket and then place several different objects on it: a blue teapot, a vase, a retainer, a shell, two masks, a skeleton key, a smashed up license plate, and a few other things. We were to choose one of the objects and then use it as a way into the writing. I picked the key and this is what I wrote:
She can’t now remember why she holds the key pinched between her fingers. It is as if she has been dreaming and come to; isn’t sure either how long she has been standing on the back porch step in her nightgown with the white moon shining above the barn roof. Her feet tingle and that means she’s been there long enough for the chill September night to begin to turn her toes numb.
She has a song stuck in her head too; one she hasn’t thought about in ages and ages, not since she was a little girl. She’d sign it with her sister Margaret. They’d scream it practically with delight while they were out back on the swing, pumping their legs hard to see you who could go higher until it almost appeared that one of them would rocket off into space.
They sang-screamed because they could. Because they lived in the country and there was no one to overhear them except the animals and their mother. Her mother, who she always conjures first as being in the kitchen, as if she never went anywhere else. Just mother in the kitchen wearing a pressed apron and whisking batter in quick, precise strokes with a flat wooden spoon.
The song was called “I’ve Got a Brand New Pair of Roller Skates.” She and her sister Margaret did both have roller skates at one time. A Christmas present even though the driveway was gravel and the rest of the yard made of grass or hard-pressed dirt. They skated instead on the cement in the basement, next to the huge white meat freezer which hummed as they went around and around.
The skates were the kind you fit over top of your shoes. They came together with a neat little key that you could hang around your neck.
Not like the key she holds now. She places it in her palm. No, this is a skeleton key, an old-fashioned key meant to fit into forgotten places—the small cellar door in the back of the house or the stable where they used to keep horses, or the lock on her mother’s truck which she opened only every once in a great while so that each time remained special, a hiccup in an ordinary day. She would show them one or two things at a time—a slippery green dress with thin shoulder straps, a black velvet clutch with a ladybug snap and a tiny mirror that tucked neatly into the interior pocket, and best of all, their own baby clothes, impossible tiny bonnets and white dresses with faded daises embroidered around the collars.
It had been hard to imagine that there were parts of her life she couldn’t remember. She couldn’t recall one single line from a lullaby or a view from the crib. Nothing. How could that be?
Now, she understands. There are whole years she has forgotten and faces she has lost. Things like this key and not knowing where it fits or how she came to be holding it. At some time, it must have been important. She closes the key in her fist, pressing tight, waiting to remember something more.
The end...It's funny the random idea that will appear from a certain trigger--this narrator is for sure an older woman, older than I am now, even older than a "woman of a certain age." A lot of people in class excel in the freewriting--they can come up with some breathtaking sentences and images. The teacher says that every writer has his or her own emotional acre--the landscape that they are most familiar with or intrigued by and that they go back to again and again in their writing. For instance, one woman in our class was married for awhile to a man from Vietnam who had survived the prison camps there. So, part of her acre is writing about him, their relationship, and how his past and her own past and cultures intersected. I mean, assuming she's interested in writing about it, which I think she is.