13th Birthday Gift for My Niece

The cover I found for my niece’s thirteenth birthday present was perfect but the first couple of pages were not. They were crumpled a bit. I scoured the rack for another with the same cover but no luck. Then I thought, or over-thought as I do, what message am I sending her if I have to find a notebook filled with unblemished pages?

I had this idea, which I crafted perfectly while I didn’t have a pen and paper nearby, of writing her a three-page letter. Page one would invite her to flip through the blank pages of her notebook imagining filling them with her words. At the bottom of the page, I would put STOP and tell her not to continue to page two until she’d done that. Then page two would invite her to fill her notebook with anything she felt like writing and then I would tell her to flip through the notebook imagining it filled with her words. Then another STOP. Page three would tell her she would always have those words to return to and rereading your own words is like traveling through time (an idea I borrowed, okay stole, from the late Carl Sagan). Then I would invite her to flip through the blank pages again.

I interrupted her birthday dinner when I got to Florida. Then I got a spare few minutes alone and scratched out this letter I’d finely crafted but forgotten all the words to in one sitting. Exactly what I wrote I’ll keep between me and her. Actually it’s just hers now, because I forget. And I’ll never mention it again. One of the unexpected perks of being a writer, maybe the biggest perk, has been writing stories for my sisters’ kids. One was a huge hit. Others not so much. Kids are honest critics.

My notebooks are sitting inside this coffee table my laptop is on. Most of them I filled, rather obsessively, by writing one page a day over a period of a few years. Some of them didn’t go anywhere, some of them were more like personal journal entries, some of them turned into flash fiction stories or parts of later books. I wrote all of them in a handful of places: at Charlie’s in Capitol Hill with a beer and a couple of cigarettes, at the coffee shop on Pine, a few at Starbucks, many at the Hideaway where I would refuse to indulge in a night of poker until I’d gotten my page. The odd part is when I reread them I can almost always recall where I wrote each. I often recall specifics of that day. It truly is traveling into my personal past. At the time, I never thought of that, I just thought I was learning how to write.

Maybe I’ll never know what happens with my niece’s journal. Maybe I’ll read on facebook, or the cool social networking site that pops up next, about what a cool thing her Uncle got for her one birthday. Or maybe she won’t “get” it, that’s okay too, maybe she’ll “get” other things that I wouldn’t “get.” You present an influence to a young kid and then let them be influenced by their own interest or curiosity. If she is to discover the joy of writing, she’ll have to discover it for herself or it wouldn’t mean as much.


Cup of Soup Unfinished

The sun was soaked up by non-stormy, just listless gray clouds, sponges floating low in the sky. Everything looked gray, even the blood, in that thin and half dried pool on the sidewalk. On cool days like that we close the patio, so no one was sitting at the corner table by the ledge. No one smiled when she left the restaurant and was met by the walled-in gray of early afternoon.

She ordered the chicken tortilla soup. We have two other soups to choose from, three all day, as well as numerous burger options. I keep wondering why she ordered that particular soup. She must have wanted it. She must have wanted something. But she didn’t eat any. She left it sitting there with her coffee that she’d only sipped after stirring in cream. Then she rose and left. She walked out the side door that swung shut behind her, muting the sound of loud talking and laughter and pop hits played over the sound system.

To where it was cool and cloudy, to where the gray was that must have seemed to have stolen all around in the minutes taken to not eat a cup of soup. A wisp of wind must have whispered, “The end.” She must have looked down. At the sidewalk below, and wanted to be somewhere else. Or maybe she saw all gray and felt all gray in the air and simply leaned forward.

I suppose it’s only my emotional well being, my mental health, that I still wonder why she didn’t do one thing first, have a cigarette, smoke a joint, or enjoy a bite of her chicken tortilla soup. She piled her wallet and keys on the ledge and that was it. I only heard about it well later anyway, and it was just another story. I only saw the blood left on the sidewalk, but I still see her walking through the bar to that door and I still wonder why she ordered the chicken tortilla soup.