As I was writing this month’s column, my father shuffled up behind me and peeked over my shoulder.
“What are you writing?” he wanted to know.
“Just a story, pop,” I told him.
Every month I sit down to write this column, and every month he asks me what I’m writing. I don’t know if he’s forgetful or just doesn’t pay attention to my answer. Probably a combination of both.
When my readers ask if he gets angry concerning these stories, I tell them no. For him to get angry, he’d first have to READ these biographical musings. If there’s a choice between reading RaisingDad or watching the very expensive premium baseball channel my wife and I pay for, well, let’s just say I wouldn’t make it to the literary World Series.
“Woo-wee!” he said, looking at my computer screen. “That sure is a lot of words.”
“You think so?”
“Oh, yeah. A lot of words.”
He stood behind me pretending to read.
“You know,” he said, “Hemmingway could write a story with just six words. That’s all he needed.”
I knew what my father was referring to. He was referring to a ten-dollar bet Ernest Hemmingway made with some other writers during lunch. The writers thought Hemmingway wouldn’t be able to write a story in just six words. Hemmingway thought otherwise. Everybody anted up and the money was put in the middle of the table. After a bit, Hemmingway wrote six words on a napkin. After reading the six words, no one objected when he pocketed the cash.
The six words were: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.”
I’ve never read a sadder story, and, if I think about it for too long, my eyes will begin to tear up. There’s a sorrowful place in my heart his story takes me to. A place I don’t care to visit.
“I’m no Hemmingway, pop,” I told my father.
He enthusiastically rubbed his nose in agreement.
Like I said, I’m no Hemmingway, but I thought it would be fun to try.
“For sale,” I typed. “Baby shoes.” And then finished with: “Don’t ask.”
Hmm… that was morbidly ambiguous.
But still, the ambiguity of the ending was appealing.
So I tried a second time… and immediately learned something about myself. I learned that I must have abandonment issues simmering somewhere deep inside of me, because the next six words I wrote were: “But mommy SAID she’d be back!”
You know the saying, “You don’t want to go there”?
Well, I didn’t want to go there.
Remembering that Stephen King’s “It” sequel is coming out, I wrote: “Hi, I’m Pennywise. What’s for dinner?” Thinking it over, I gave it a holiday touch. “Yes, Virginia, there IS a Pennywise.”
After that, I began to have fun with it.
“Grinning, the clown locked the door.”
“Halloween… it’s so hard to choose.”
“Grandpa was tough… and tasted awful.”
Ugh, that one probably crossed a line or two. Cannibalism is nobody’s idea of a good time. So I wrote two more.
“This meat tastes funny. Where’s grandma?”
“I have my father’s eyes. Yummy.”
Okay, enough of that.
I decided to go down a more traditional vein of horror.
“I heard you died.”
Or maybe something that would fit very well in The Twilight Zone.
“I’m dead? Sweet Jesus!”
When I was younger, my love life occasionally took a turn into nightmare alley, so I speculated what it would be like to be dating in this day and age. I wrote: “Never said I was a woman.”
“Did I mention? I have AIDS.”
That’s even worse.
Keep this to yourself, but my first marriage was a bit of a horror story. With trembling fingers, I tentatively typed: “Sex. Sex. Sex. Married. No sex.”
And getting old is no fun. It comes with its own particular brand of horrors.
“Is that a lump I feel?”
When my beloved mother was alive, my elderly father used to have nightmares about someone breaking into his home. His main fear was that he wouldn’t be able to protect her. That inspired me to write: “Who left the back door open?”
Gross is nice.
“Why do these dates have legs?”
The horror, as it turns out, is not in the words, but in where the words take you. There’s nothing scarier than your own imagination.
Nothing, that is, except the horrors of the real world. That’s what scares ME the most. Having children and grandchildren who are dearer to me than myself, I live in fear every day of my life. A six-word horror story I hope they never hear is:
“Look out! He’s got a gun!”