Writing Exercises by Arianna H Preston


July 24, 2004

She was no longer smiling, but stared at the sticky wall by my head. A fake fifties ad for smokes hung there with something splattered, probably ketchup. I didn't have to turn my head to know, I had already thoroughly examined it to avoid eye-contact with her. She looked back to me and with a contemplative squint through her glasses said, "sometimes I have a brilliant thought and then it's gone, never to be spoken or written down... is that creativity? I mean, if nothing tangible was ever created and if the thought or idea was never passed on to another person? If I have nothing to show for it?"

I wasn't in the mood for philosophy, but went along with it to keep her talking. "I've never thought about creativity as anything other than actually creating something physical... isn't that the definition of creativity? Create? Creation?" I shifted in the springy booth and stared into my almost empty coffee mug.

"Well, I suppose it's more than that," she said. Her eyes had a deep sadness and they seemed to see right through me. It was agonizing to make contact with them, like looking at my own sad soul in a mirror and at the same time, it was so painfully sexy.

The skinny waitress in low-rider sweatpants sauntered up with a pot of coffee, glass with a red-orange plastic mouth and handle. The pot, not the waitress, although her mouth was just as plastic, just as orange. She poured. I grabbed the mug and almost pulled it out from under the steaming hot over-cooked coffee flow. I asked, "is that decaf?"

She shook her head and her mouth made a sort of lazy half-smile. "Broke the regular pot. Had to use this." Her long arm filled Monica's cup. I was jealous of the way Monica watched the waitress' hand as if she wanted to touch its' thin fingers.

"Do you have a dictionary?" Monica asked her.

The waitress left. I noticed the pink top of her butt-floss and looked quickly back to Monica not wanting her to see me staring at another woman's ass. I wanted to know what Monica's behind looked like naked.

She continued. "What about stories, before people had written language, wouldn't that be considered creative? There was the oral tradition, passing on stories and ideas galore, all in an intangible form. So... I guess what I'm wondering is if thoughts, even if they aren't ever expressed, can be considered as creativity."

I wondered if sex was creative, even if no creation of a child would result. It's often called "making" love, after all, alluding that love is created by the act.

"Do you believe in a collective consciousness?" She asked.

I was saved from having to answer by Boney's return to thunk a huge book down on the table. She left without saying anything. Monica reached for it but stopped. It was the yellow pages for the Detroit metropolitan area. We both looked at the phone book, then at each other and laughed.

"I used to waitress," I said, "so I have a lot of sympathy for them, but this one, she must be the worst waitress I've ever seen." I realized Boney still hadn't given me my blueberry pie. "Should we leave without paying, or give her a huge tip as reward for being such a winner."

"I have a better idea," she said.

my weekly Fragment



February 7, 2004

I wrote another letter to him today. I typed it on a little portable electric while sitting out on the lawn. A bright yellow extension cord twist through the long blades of grass, connecting my machine to the outdoor power outlet by the back door.

The letter began with the date, as they all do. I typed “February”, the keys stamping the letters out of the inked ribbon. I typed, “14, 1996”... and stopped.

“Crap,” I muttered, annoyed that I couldn't get used to the turn of the century after four years. My brain is like a computer with the Y2K bug. I slapped the side of my head to get the software to update. On the typewriter, I pressed the backspace key but remembered the correction fluid was somewhere in the house. I hadn't even brought any extra paper out there with me.

Too lazy to go inside and all the way up the stairs to dig through still-packed boxes, I leaned back on the slightly damp grass. I felt the moisture steep into my elbows and realized my ass was probably soaked, though I didn't mind in the already hot and humid late morning. It was not that I wanted to write him a letter on an ancient typewriter - if I had a printer or internet connection, and the gusto to set up my computer, I'd write from that more modern machine. But there was something about using this trusty old contraption that was symbolic of our ancient friendship.

Then it hit me. It ended romantically between us on that exact date eight years ago... that morning he bought me the fattest diamond I'd ever seen and offered it to me over lunch at El Favorito. I laughed aloud in my back yard at the irony of the situation, just like I had in that taqueria, as he glanced nervously toward the young men standing by the counter smoking and talking in Spanish with the cashier.

“I think you ought to try it on.” His brown eyes were pleading. He smoothed his sparse mustache and goatee.

I continued to hold the ring between us, afraid. I couldn't stop thinking about how long he would be making payments on it. How long he expected us to be together.

My arm became tired from the weight of the thing. I slipped it back into the velvet lined ring box, horrified that my hand had automatically plucked it out of that nest to begin with.

“They give refunds right?” was the only thing I could say.

At that moment I knew I hurt his feelings and realized I might be making a huge mistake but since then I've never regretted that day. He was bitter at first but ended up marrying the sales-lady at the jewelers and they've lived happily ever after. And he and I still have our friendship.

I smiled with nostalgia and sat back up on the lawn. Leaning over the typewriter, I tapped the return lever a few notches, and typed, “Dear Michael,”....

my weekly Fragment



October 18, 2003

Are they going to find her on time?” I ask a little nervously and a whole lot pissed off.

“Maybe she's just late,” Nick says in his laidback low voice, with its characteristic drawls like he's from another planet. I used to love the way he talked but now it just made me think of how stoned and stupid he is.

“I doubt it, I don't think she knows,” I say. It sounded like no one told Sin about the show tonight. How fucking unorganized. After this we should fire our piece of shit manager.

Our drummer, Eric, plops down next to Nick on the shoddy old beer and bong water stained sofa and hands him the pipe. Like Nick needs any more. But then, it's not like playing the same two chords on the bass over and over requires any thought, just some strong calloused fingers and impeccable timing. He'd have that even if he went into a coma.

Simulated Death, the opening band, is on. Their Hardcore blasts through the short hall to the backstage room where we sit. They're good, much more progressive than us, but they got a keyboardist and two lead guitarists.

“We should get a keyboard player,” I say. They both nod.

I say, “but if we don't go on tonight, I'm leaving.”

“Don't make empty threats,” Eric says, exhaling a lungful of smoke.

“I'm fucking serious.”

A couple guys come in through the back door. They say “hi” a little shyly and a whole lot nervously and rush out through the hall to the curtain and the audience beyond. Security is off trying to help find Sin.

Nick drawls, “we'll go on. We can play without Sin, we do all the time.”

“In practice,” I say, “but we'll suck without vocals. We're boring.”

“You can sing.”

“Not while playing. Not onstage.”

“You can sing and play alright. You should try. I bet you'll be okay.”

The thought of singing on stage gave me stage fright all over again. I don't have many fears, but that's one of them. I don't want to be “okay”, I want to be awesome.

Simulated Death finished their set and they're lugging their gear backstage and outside. Eric's kit is already set up on stage-right but he has to get it positioned center and make sure the sound guy has the levels. Our amps are already out there. Nick grabs his bass by the neck and turns toward the stage, then turns to me. I haven't moved from the rickety metal folding chair. I can't see it while sitting but I know there's a big black A and circle around it spray painted on the back. My guitar is on my lap, the strap over my shoulder. I realize I'm gripping the neck with one hand and the body with the other like I'm about to make a run for it. Nick says, “come on, it'll be cool.”

I stand up and walk on stage.

my weekly Fragment



October 11, 2003

I sat at the little red and chrome vintage dinette table at Shirley's house. She had invited me in and served me a piece of blueberry pie, her pride. We had chit-chatted a few minutes before the phone rang. Her phone conversation was abrupt and too obviously cut short for my sake. She got off the phone and returned to her seat at the table.

I opened my mouth to say something about the call but I put a piece of pie in it instead. I sure didn't feel like doing my job.

“You think it's Tom, don't you?”

“Well I. no, I don't think it's Tom,” I said, saddened. “Was that him on the phone?”

“Yup, it was Tom,” she sighed. “an' I should've jus' let you talk to the bastard. He done it, I know, and he'd prolly admit it if he got talking with the law, 'specially you, Mr. Burrman. But I don't wanna be no go-between.”

“That's good..” I studied the ancient scratches in the red melamine table top. I moved my arm out of the way to see the white wearing through where five decades of elbows have rested. I'm procrastinating.

Shirley fidgeted. “I don't know where he is. I'd tell ya if I did.”

“No, of course you don't,” I finished my pie and pushed the chair back. “I hate to say this, Shirley, but I have to take you in for questioning,” I stood.

“You know it weren't Tom.”

“That's right, Shirley, I know it.” I took a hold of her arm, “let's go.”

my weekly Fragment



October 4, 2003

When I got home tonight there was a message on my answering machine. A message with Jason Ryan's strong quiet voice. He's one of the few men I've dated out of high school who I actually liked enough to see more than once. Jason's the one who shot me for the first time. Of course it was an accident - we were in the woods shooting at targets nailed onto a couple big redwoods and somehow I walked in the way of a bullet. I know it sounds stupid, and no, we weren't drunk and a good thing too. If I had any alcohol in me it would have been a lot harder to stop the bleeding. He drove me to the hospital, but the whole way there I couldn't stop thinking about having sex with the guy. It was like getting shot was the biggest turn on ever. Even in a room full of nurses and sick people I couldn't stop thinking about it. The thing is I never told him about that. We didn't see each other much afterwards, but my sex life hasn't been the same since. I wonder if he still likes to go out shooting....

my weekly Fragment



September 27, 2003

I saw almost clearly for a second, then it was back to the drunken blur. But in that moment of clarity I noticed someone walking ahead of me by a hundred feet or so. A man. It seemed he was walking briskly now but when I first noticed him he had been turning around looking at me.

“So you wanna play games?” I hollered. I chuckled to myself, weaving. “Come on! Give me a kiss baby!” Either he was some wussy or my looks were in a terrible state. Probably the latter seeing how I had just spent the best part of the afternoon in a dark reeking bar across the river and I have the nasty habit of slouching and messing up my hair when I breached my limit. I was a beast and if he was going to play Beauty I'd play along. It was something I'd always wanted to do: get drunk and obnoxiously heckle a guy to show them  how it felt.

I know that didn't make any sense but I was loaded. Give me a few beers and I'm good, give me eight pints and I'm fucked, and that's what I managed to put down that afternoon. Somehow. And I somehow made it home without causing myself any harm. Or at least not that I can remember, but that's what really matters.

my weekly Fragment


The Interrupter

September 20, 2003

We took this route several times a week, through the Broadway tunnel, and it was sure to be the death of us. If the yellow tile walls could be so coated with soot, our lungs would be getting close from spending all that time in there. I looked down at my hand, a wisp of smoke scattered by the wind force of a truck speeding by. Were my fingers a bit yellowed or was that the lighting? I took a last drag and I flicked the butt at a greasy blackened fire hydrant. Mona was a few paces in front of me, opening each little blue or red empty or broken emergency phone box in the wall. That was her ritual. Leaving the empty little boxes open and exposed. It was some sort of metaphor that I wasn't poetic enough to realize.

We sat out front Steps of Rome with coffee. Mona had gelato. I was smoking again.

“Why don't you quit?”

“I will when I don't like it anymore.”

“You always say that,” she was going to continue with something along the lines of: “and you know you already don't like it,” but her eyes darted past me then purposefully back, “shit, keep talking.”

I did, “well, I do still like it. And, I can't even sit nearby the Underwood without dying for a fuckin smoke.” I was about to mention driving, if I quit, there was no way I could sit in traffic without getting road rage, but I felt someone squeeze behind my chair and a hand grasped the chair-back beside me.

“May I join you ladies?”

I glanced at the interrupter. A late twenties man with dark brown pony-tail and new leather book bag. He looked pretentious but not crazy.

“Yeah, sure,” I say. I can't respond rudely to a polite request. Mona can, she'll tell them off, but I don't do that.

He forced some of his cheese poetry on us. I politely listened while Mona wrote secretively in her journal. After we couldn't take anymore, I politely excused us and we headed down the street to City Lights for our dose of the master works.

my weekly Fragment (additionally inspired by the new layout on fragment.bluecad.net)



September 15, 2003

Susan sighed as she stuck her head into the attic hole to haul down another box stuffed with old crap no one wanted. She wrapped her arms around the nearest dusty cardboard box and slid it though the hole towards her while carefully backing down the stepladder. Some spider webs broke loose that had been stretched between her box and a couple others. Seeing that, Susan shivered involuntarily.

As she set the box down on the floor her right arm hurt. She grabbed it with her left hand and felt a cold wetness on her palm. When she pulled her hand away to look, something fell to the floor. She shrieked. Looking quickly between the wet guts on her palm and the huge brown spider carcass on the carpet, she noticed its size really was incredible, over an inch, though it was hard to be sure with it's smashed abdomen. The shock and fear made her forget for a second the pain of her arm. Horrified she looked. Then had to sit down because under the smear of guts was a red swollen area. Panicked she jumped up again and ran to the phone. There was no dial tone. The phone company shut if off that morning, as she had asked because she thought she would be done with the damn moving by then.

Don't panic, she told herself. If getting bit by a spider was anything like getting a snake bite, panicking would only speed her heart, speeding the poison through her body, or so she heard. She sat down again, nauseous suddenly, she couldn't think of what to do. The nearest neighbor was over a mile away.

my weekly 5 Minute Story



August 12, 2003

I dipped my left toes into the shallow of the swimming pool. The water was slightly warm and felt welcome in the cool night air. Splashing and shrieking grew louder as a small group of twenty-somethings kicked and paddled to the deep end. I stood back upright and watched the naked drunk people as my mind was ripped away from the group mentality. I eyed my shoes a couple feet away and looked back to the shallow people I came here with from the bar. One guy, Greg, I think he said, was looking at me, smiling, no doubt hoping to see me undress. I waved. A girl splashed water at his face and she giggled as they broke into a new round of warfare. I watched a minute, then slipped my shoes back on and walked quickly to my car. It was only midnight, the bar would still be open.

my weekly 5 Minute Story