A little over a year ago, my approach to both reading and writing was reshaped when one of my mentors loaned me The Writer’s Workshop by Gregory L. Roper. The basic premise of the book is to strengthen your writing through imitating the greatest authors, and I highly recommend it to any writer who wishes to improve. Today, I wanted to share a product of one of those exercises. This particular piece is my original work but was created utilizing the exercise in The Writer’s Workshop that has you imitate an excerpt of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Stream of consciousness is not my typical style, but it expanded my writing repertoire to mimic Joyce. I hope you enjoy this ode to childhood summer evenings featuring a dreamy, wandering narrator.
A Late-Summer Song
It wasn’t a perfect summer, but it was the most quintessential. Quintessential was a funny word.
Eliza could taste the syllables as she pulled her bike out of the rack. The car’s headlights stared sadly as she walked past. It felt like a permanent fixture now, an un-moving sentry of the driveway. $2,000. Mom’s joke about the brakes being two zeroes more than they could afford wasn’t really funny.
Eliza mounted her bike. The one good thing about the car needing fixed was that her legs had gotten stronger. She pumped her legs, moving towards the fiery light ahead of her. She’d have to keep a good pace if she wanted to get there and back before her curfew. Rhythm pounded through her entire body, ebbing and flowing with her legs.
Up, down, up, down.
Sunset was a pretty time with all the colors. It must be the reason for why there were “sunny side up” eggs. The sun looked like an egg yolk sliding off the horizon’s plate. The purple-y colors were her favorite of the palate, though.
Eliza swerved a chasm in the sidewalk. Their neighborhood was poor and broken, but the sunset glows smoothed and shadowed the rough edges away. How did all of this look before humans had cultivated it? The land had been sliced through by surly roads, while the trees had been squashed flat by arrogant buildings.
Arrogant like Reagan. When was the last time she’d even acknowledged Eliza in the school hallways? Girls could be cruel. Ignoring someone was just as much a weapon as insults.
Ignoring. Ignominy. Igneous.
Tonight was too nice to think about Reagan. Forgiveness was a promise to yourself that had to be kept.
Contentment, the kind only found in a summer evening after a raw day, melted into her body. The railroad tracks in front of her drew closer as she pedaled faster. Railroads had a certain magic about them. You never knew where the trains came from, and you could dream up any place for them to be going. They held an antique flair, like a beautiful, old house that could have once had anyone living there.
Up, over. Jolt— jolt. Going over the train tracks on a bike was more fun than in a car.
Eliza abandoned her bike next to the thin brush line on this side of the tracks. It would be there when she came back. No one wanted a beat up bike with a painter’s tape name-tag. Her name looked clunky, not pretty, spelled out in Mom’s thick script.
Eliza Maure. En core. Ex plore. More. Soar. Pour. Four.
The rocks made a satisfying, pebbly sound when she stepped on them. Why couldn’t more people walk around in a perpetual state of being satisfied? It would be pleasant if you could just bottle the emotion and sip it whenever you needed. Kind of like emotional chicken noodle soup. Except more graceful.
When had it gotten so dark? This was truly dusk, like a grey veil draped from every object.
Bright lights and a loud noise. It came hurtling from ahead.
Eliza surrounded herself in the brush line. Green leaves stroked her face as she waited for the train to come.
It approached absolutely too slowly. Anticipation snapped at the heels of her mind. Something built and pressed.
In a roar of sound, wind, and light, the train was blurring past her, its previous lethargy transformed into the essence of speed. This close to it, the scrawled, vulgar, graffiti were simply stitches of color.
Strawberry hair whipped across her face in the frenzy of motion and wind. The sound deafened, and Eliza loved it. Glorious.
Now, her momentary desire for it to come faster metamorphosed into a yearning for it to never pass. Her very core clung to it, desperately wanting the train to stay forever. The train streaked by, and then— gone, the last car shrinking in the distance. Far too soon.
Old, battered beauty, yelling as it ran onward.
Eliza numbly started moving again. She had to keep moving if she wanted to reach her destination.
Moments like that made life worth living. They erased the world’s ugliness and allowed you to focus on the good. It was light, noise, and speed but in an honest way.
Tuneless humming in time with her footfalls. Everything turned quiet once more. Nature adapted quickly.
Nature. Outdoors; organic; growing. Pertaining to the inborn characteristics of something; someone’s temper.
Why did one word have so many different meanings? Why didn’t they create new words for each meaning? Would it be better to have each word correspond with exactly one definition? She would get to learn so many new words that way. It might take away the layers of each word, though, and then they wouldn’t taste as lovely on her tongue. “Essence” had a wonderful taste.
An opening in the brush line appeared on her left. A secret doorway, no more than a pause in the foliage. Only the barest vein of light could still be seen in the west.
The West held adventure, possibility, and an unpolished invitation. The South, warmth and sweetness, but it wasn’t upfront about the fact it expected you to be able to hold your own. Blunt honesty filled the call of the North– it didn’t up-sell what it had, it just showed you magnificent heights and clear coldness. The East, though, the East was her favorite. It was hope.
On the other side of the secret doorway, Eliza entered a small clearing. The meadow, she called it.
She stopped to just breathe. You never thought about breathing, yet it was amazing and more serene than the lapping waves.
Points of light appeared in the shadowed evening, hovering over the grass before vanishing. Delight meant watching lightning-flies as cicadas crescendoed in their late-summer song.
Eliza traipsed to the center of the field, long grass tickling her legs while she walked farther away from the human circuit board of the town. She crossed her legs and sank to the ground.
Quiet. Silent. Hushed. Soft. Still. Tranquil. Peaceful. Gentle. Content.
She watched the fireflies. They danced, glowing more beautifully than any strand of Christmas lights.
Eliza felt like she might be able to glow too. No one would see it except the leaves and the bugs and the dimming night sky. Humans never looked properly enough to see someone who felt like the only one. If ever a heavenly question came, asking who was alone, they would see Eliza as that only one and all the others like her. Until then, it was just her. And that was okay.
A lightning-fly alighted on the stalk of grass in front of her. What did it think about? The bug burst into a cheery yellow, then seemed to disappear as the light was extinguished.
Mom should come out here. They’d never worry again about whether to get the brakes fixed or pay rent. They’d never feel the ragged hole of a father who’d left.
No, nature left you whole.
Whole. Complete. Undamaged. Full. Pure. Content.
Fireflies winked, composing the first symphony of light. The sky darkened to a satin blue, and leaves sighed in the evening breeze.
Grass imprinted itself on Eliza’s palms as she leaned back. She would have to go home soon, and that was good too. But in this moment, she was alright here.