3-Minute Fiction

April 2, 2012

NPR’s “All Things Considered” ran a contest last month. Three-Minute Fiction aimed to inspire great prose by providing the first sentence, then leaving the rest (up to 600 words) to your imagination. The following is my submission, as I’m pretty sure I didn’t win anything.

She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally decided to walk through the door. She started the car and reversed, dipping (as usual) into the pot hole in the concrete. The driveway was built with the house. Decades of weather had left a network of fissures that worsened every winter. Rolling into the street, she shifted to Drive. The hospital was the last place she cared to visit, but not showing up would seem selfish.

The hallway was silent. Artificially silent, somehow. She moved her weight from one hip to the other on a lightly-padded chair. It was an industrial-type chair, the kind that lasts forever and looks nice enough, but is never really comfortable. Not completely.

These situations were always unpleasant. Family events were so forced. For her anyway. The rest of them seemed to really enjoy being together, sharing the same anecdote again, laughing again, passing the potatoes again. She had never felt the closeness that supposedly makes up a family. The kind of ideal closeness that television would have you believe is the norm for households across the country, the backbone of American values. As far as she could tell, that ideal was another ploy by the writers and the networks and the advertisers to carry the emotions of the heartland straight to the bank. Television had always been so transparent.

She never spoke any of that to her family, of course. How could you? Not only morally, but logistically? How do you bring that up in conversation? That would be the hardest part. Just coming out and saying, “I don’t love you like I think I’m supposed to” is an awkward way to begin a discourse. Besides, she figured if she ever did manage to spit it out, they’d just tell her she was wrong. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” her mom would say. “You’re ignorant.”

Her father reappeared from a restroom across the hall. He sat next to her for a minute or two, hands crossed on his belly, pondering the ceiling tiles. “I’m going to get a drink,” he convinced himself.
“Need anything?”

“No, I’m okay,” she said. She was thirsty, a little bit. A Sprite would’ve been good. Why couldn’t she say that?

Those communication problems were instinctual at that point, deeply ingrained in and from every familial interaction she could remember. It’s not that she didn’t love them. Of course she did. You don’t know someone your entire life and not love them to some degree. She just didn’t like being with them as much as she liked being by herself. And even that was a chore.

Earlier she had passed the wing in the hospital where they treat children. Those families were probably close. Trauma brings people together. Tragedy binds them stronger. Perseverance gives them a common goal. A family is a team? She had always been healthy, though, so that didn’t happen.

This baby that was on the way—her nephew, her sister’s son—would have to deal with this family too. He would be meeting them all at any minute. He was in there right now, plotting his grand entrance. “Enjoy it, kid,” she wished him silently. She’d have to talk to him some day. At all these gatherings. “What am I going to say?

What’s he going to think of me?

How close are we supposed to be?

What am I going to say?”

The door next to her carefully swung open. Her dad had returned. A nurse leaned half-way into the hall and smiled.

“He’s ready to see you!”

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