by Natalie Truhan
It’s 8 p.m. Margot is at her tiny living-room desk. She is trying to write a short story. She is about to give up.
In that story of hers, the protagonist—thirteen-year old Tania—is grieving the loss of her Doberman Pinscher Henrietta. The dog’s disappearance is accompanied by Tania’s parents’ non-stop fighting and by a conflict with her best friend.
Margot estimates she’s writing draft #5 (or so she tells herself) of this story. In fact (don’t ask me how I know this)—she has ten files on her laptop in the “IN DEVELOPMENT” folder—all named DATE_tania_next_version.doc. Each of these has one paragraph (max) typed in it—most of them have only one sentence; one of the drafts has just three words:
tania wakes up
Right now, Margot is looking at her coffee mug (it has a raised stamped image of the four yellow-submarined Beatles on it) and is considering pros & cons of making coffee again. If she gets up from her desk now, she will call it a day. Margot wants to quit.
The story starts with Tania’s dream:
All night she was chased by a pack of wolves— a black hairy mass with steamy mouths. Tania ran through the thick of the dark woods, and the trees whipped her on the hands and cheeks with their limbs. She ran across unending fields of snow, tripping and getting up, tripping and getting up again. When she finally found a place to hide—a creepy old barn with a heavy door that felt clammy under her palms as she pushed it—the darkness hissed at her in the voice that Tania recognized as her best friend Lisa’s: “Don’t think you are sssspeccccial…”
Ba-boom. It all exploded into a splash of electric light.
Something is wrong here, but what is it? Margot doesn’t know. On the day the story starts, Henrietta, the dog, has been missing for more than three months. Tania goes on a trip with her father and witnesses a horrendous accident. The image from the accident brings on a moment of deep and hopeless realization for Tania: that her dog is never coming back, that her family is never going to be “normal”.
What if there’s an “I” who is telling this story?
I had a dream I was chased by a pack of wolves. I felt them breathing down my neck with their steamy mouths. I ran through the dark woods. The trees whipped me on my bare hands and cheeks with their branches. I ran across fields of snow, tripping and getting up. When I finally found a place to hide—a creepy old barn with a heavy door that felt clammy under my palms as I pushed it—the darkness hissed at me in the voice of my best friend Lisa’s: “Don’t think you are sssspeccccial…”
Ba-boom. My dream exploded into a splash of electric light.
Margot re-reads the paragraph: doesn’t it feel like it’s told by a much older protagonist? Margot also doesn’t like that she had to cut several images and adjectives which she felt couldn’t remain in the first person narrative.
What if… What if this is a “you”-story? Margot rejects the idea at first: she is suspicious of the second person fiction (“too imposing”). And yet–
You are sleeping; you are having a dream. You are being chased by a pack of wolves, a black hairy mass with steamy mouths. You are running. You run through the thick of the dark woods–the trees are whipping you on hands and cheeks with their cold limbs. You run across unending fields of snow. You trip, you get up again; you trip, you get up. Finally, a place to hide—a barn, old and creepy. You push the door—it feels clammy under the palms of your hands. When you are inside, ready to catch your breath—the darkness hisses at you in the voice of your best friend Lisa’s: “Don’t think you are sssspeccccial…”
…Ba-boom. Your dream explodes into a splash of electric light.
Suddenly, the story Margot is writing isn’t a story of the 13-year old Tania any more. It is a story of the 27-year old Tania in a coma. It is Tania’s long lost memory… Suddenly, the “you” in this story opens up a new distance inside the protagonist—a distance between the older and the younger narrator. It splits the narrator in two: the younger one experiences, the older one explains…
Will she choose this draft to go on with? I don’t know. Would you?
Margot is tired. She’ll get back to the story tomorrow. Let’s hope she finishes it.
Click HERE to learn more about Natalie’s class, LET’S WRITE A SHORT STORY.
Natalie Truhan received her MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles. She is a former Translation Editor of The Lunch Ticket literary journal. She lives in Los Angeles where she writes fiction and translates poetry.