The Space Between (Fiction) – Emilio Pasquale Photo

For August, Emilio Pasquale provided the following photo that I used as inspiration for a story.  If you haven’t already, you should check out his blog – he knows how to edit photos (I, on the other hand, do not!)    The story begins after the photo…

International truck - Copy

Ramona Schmidt dragged her index finger through the inches-thick layer of snow on the truck’s hood. Like her heart, the snow had frozen, thawed, and been refrozen so many times. Like her soul, that rusty truck held enough memories to haunt several lifetimes.

“Mama, won’t you come inside?”

Ramona didn’t respond.

“She’s been standing out there for over an hour,” Paula said to her husband.

“Maybe she just needs some time.”

“She’ll freeze to death. It must be twenty degrees out there.”

“She’s wearing a coat.”

Paula scowled. “There’s no talking to her.”

Ramona frowned. Since her husband, Davy, had turned up missing sometime after the leaves colored and before the naked trees stood stark on the horizon, her daughter and son-in-law came to live with her. Whispers of dementia carried through thin walls; slow words delivered by raised voices. The way they talked about her like she wasn’t there infuriated her. She slipped a cigarette from the pack stowed in her right coat pocket. With her left hand she clicked the lighter and brought the flame to the tip of the cigarette pressed between her lips, taking in a long drag as the tobacco smoldered.

“Mama, I think you should come inside.” Paula draped an arm over her mom’s bony shoulders. She glanced at her husband- he nodded and headed toward the house.

Exhaled smoke escaped in tendrils. “I’m fine here.” Ramona fought the urge to shrug off her daughter’s condescending touch.

“The man is coming to look at the truck in about an hour.”

Ramona brushed her fingers along the exposed rust. That truck was already several years old when Davy brought it home. She’d never forget how he showed up that evening and said he wanted to take a mining job in Idaho.   She didn’t understand why he couldn’t just mine copper in Arizona.

“If you’ve changed your mind about selling it, I can let him know.”

Ramona pursed her lips. “Winds change, minds don’t.” Eyes closed, she lifted her chin. As if on cue, another gust whipped a layer of fallen snow into the air. Her wrinkled cheeks, a topographical map of her years, stung from the latest assault. Her skin had grown dry from the hours spent outdoors at the mercy of an unforgiving winter. “My heart has gone dry from years of neglect.”   She flicked her spent cigarette filter and ground it into the frozen hay with the toe of her fur-lined leather slipper.

“What?” Her daughter leaned closer. “What do you mean?”

“Thy will be done,” Ramona said with a shrug. She didn’t realize her ideas had translated to spoken words. She stayed immersed in the space between, where memories and new thoughts commingled in her brain. More and more, it became difficult to differentiate between real and manufactured history. The permeable line separating thoughts and words diminished with each passing day. She giggled. “Incontinence of the mind.”

“Okay, mama, you need to come inside.  I think the cold is affecting you.” Paula tugged her mother in the direction of the house.

Ramona swatted her away. “That first winter in Idaho was hard. No family, no money, no friends, but lots of snow.” I didn’t realize it would get worse; that I’d lay awake and ruminate on those days with distant fondness. “Davy tried to be everything for me, but I still cried every night.” After a couple years, he gave up and took on two mistresses- Jim Beam and Nattie Richards. “By the grace of God, he blessed me with a daughter.”

“I love you, Mama.” Paula didn’t know what else to say.

“That truck brought us everything we needed, but it also drove him away. He promised he’d always come back.”

“Maybe he found his way to a neighbor’s house.   He could still come home.” Even as Paula uttered the words, she didn’t believe them. He disappeared before the first snow. Now, months later, she knew better.

“I called my daddy and begged him to bring me home. He said this was my home now and I’d have to sleep in the bed I’d made.” I slept alone many nights, knowing full well that he warmed Nattie’s mattress. I pretended not to be shattered when she bore two sons. “Over the years, I wondered where the line fell between love and obligation. Still don’t know that one… don’t know…”

“Mama, I’m going inside to warm by the fire. I wish you’d come with me.”  She waited several seconds before retreating.

Ramona’s thoughts stalled, momentarily dwelling on the fading footsteps.

“She won’t budge,” Paula said to her husband, who had waited on the porch.

“Maybe she’s not ready to let go of the truck.”

“She still wants to sell it.”

“What else did she say?”

“Not much. Just rambling about when she first moved to Idaho. Something about love and obligation.”

“Hmmm.” He furrowed his brow. “Did you ask her what she meant?”

“I don’t think she knows.”

Their voices stopped, abruptly cut off by the front door closing behind them.

Ramona smiled. I know. Too much. “They talk about me like I don’t understand.” Davy thought I was so far gone I couldn’t comprehend the obvious. Like a parent spelling words in front of a toddler, he figured I didn’t know enough to see her sitting in that truck. I’d never forget Nattie’s face, even as it aged throughout the years.

She lifted a rusted can of gasoline from the truck bed. “Like mistresses, secrets can only be kept for so long,” she muttered to herself. Her gaze lingered on the haphazard stack of hay. “No one listens to me anymore.” She turned and trudged through the snow toward the house. “But they’ll pay attention at first thaw, I’m sure.”

Voices carried through the single-paned windows.

“Don’t you think you’re being a little harsh, Paula?”

“Figures you’d take her side!”

“There isn’t a side to take.”

Ramona walked around the house, gasoline splashing from the spout onto the wood siding. When she came full circle, she emptied the remaining drops at her feet and leaned against her house. She dropped the gas can and it toppled onto its side. Hands trembling, she slipped a cigarette from her right pocket. She pulled the lighter from her left pocket, thumb poised to ignite it.

“Everyone’ll talk, but I won’t be listening.”

~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-

Inspiration for this piece: Obviously, Emilio’s photo 🙂 Being that that the truck in the photo is old (don’t ask me how old, or what kind of truck) my mind thought it would be a perfect ‘vehicle’ (haha) for a story full of memories.

My first idea was about a woman who had killed her husband (don’t read anything into this, folks!) Another idea was to write about two young sisters, one of which had killed their abusive father. I didn’t go that route because I was drawn to the idea of the woman suffering from dementia, which works better with an older character. I wanted to write a story where things aren’t as they seem. We (those of us outside the mind of dementia) don’t understand what the person is saying, so we make assumptions. A disturbing possibility is that what others see as dementia is really more of a coping mechanism.

The twisted ending with the gasoline, well, that just happened at the last minute. I hope my Google search of “will gasoline ignite in the snow” doesn’t land me in trouble. Perhaps they will offer counseling while I’m in police custody? 😛

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49 thoughts on “The Space Between (Fiction) – Emilio Pasquale Photo

  1. Emilio Pasquale August 28, 2014 / 7:21 AM

    No comments yet? It’s been over an hour. Well, an hour and five minutes. I can’t believe what you do. Wow! I’m at a loss for words each time I read one of your stories. (I’d love to see your search history for past stories!) I just want to give you all my photos and have you go at it. At first I thought he was lost in the war, then never came home after a work related trip. The dialogue is so real. You get a good idea what these people are like. The father, the son-in-law and daughter, Paula, her father, and the husband who will never return! You know, every time I read one of your stories I don’t want to say good-bye to the characters I’ve just met. This time is no different! You have a real talent! Thank you for indulging me with bringing some of my photos to life!

    • jannatwrites August 29, 2014 / 11:03 AM

      Funny, I try not to care (since I don’t post a story unless I like it) but it does make a little nervous when something goes uncommented on for a while. I start thinking, “Geez, that was so awful no one can think of what to say!”

      Matters of the mind always fascinate me, and I like the older characters because I think they are often misunderstood, and not respected as they should be in our society. I left what happened to Davy and Nattie pretty vague, but I hope the long glance at the stacked hay gave enough of a clue 🙂

      Thanks for reading – and for offering a photo to inspire the story. I have to admit, I had to sit on this one for a day or so because I was stumped at first.

      Oh, and my Google search history may have landed me on some kind of federal watch list!

      • Emilio Pasquale August 29, 2014 / 11:13 AM

        I like the idea that somebody would care enough to watch me. My life is really pretty boring so I might google some strange stuff just to alert someone that I actually am interesting! I’m a lot like you as far as comments go. I think probably every one, no matter how much they protest, is the same. If there is no comment on one of my posts, I think I’ve done something wrong. I try to put off looking as soon as I wake up in the morning if I’ve posted at night! Or, if I’ve posted a photo I think is fantastic- or if I’ve written something I think is funny- I don’t understand where the outpouring of appreciation is. Where is Freshly Pressed?

        Just my insecurities over what I do!

        • jannatwrites August 29, 2014 / 11:38 AM

          You crack me up, Emilio – faking out the watchers! I’m on the paranoid side, so the idea of ‘watchers’ makes me want to hide behind my desk… unless they’ve got cameras there already 🙂 I don’t know why I’m so paranoid because I’m not interesting at all!

          Ah, Freshly Pressed… they visited me once several years ago. (Linked, in case you’re curious.) I was feeling silly that day and posted an embarrassing story meant to amuse the handful of people who read my blog. Quite the surprise when the audience grew larger. I’ve given up on recognition of stuff I’ve written that I think is much better than that post 🙂

        • Emilio Pasquale August 29, 2014 / 11:55 AM

          I think I’m finally at the point where I can do what I do without much input. But recognition is nice. I don’t think anyone likes to work in a vacuum. I show my wife everything and she might make suggestions or even say she does or doesn’t like something of mine. And that’s what I’d really like from those who comment, the truth. If someone doesn’t like something, I’d like to hear why not. Not that I’d change what I’m doing but at least I’d be aware the next time!

        • jannatwrites August 29, 2014 / 12:23 PM

          So true – recognition is nice (but not a necessity!) No one reads my stories before I post them, so I do pay attention to feedback (I like to hear when people like a story, but I also like the revelations about what didn’t quite work for them… it guides me to things I should watch for when writing future stories.) So our creative outlets are different, but how we take comments seems to be quite similar 🙂

  2. joannesisco August 28, 2014 / 7:34 AM

    Your story was compelling, but the writer’s notes at the end made me laugh out loud!
    So many great phrases but my favourite was *Incontinence of the mind* 🙂

    • jannatwrites August 29, 2014 / 11:09 AM

      I’m glad you read the story and enjoyed it, Joanne! Sometimes I do wonder what ‘big brother’ might think if they decide to monitor me (they may cart me away any day now.)

      I liked that phrase, too – it just came to me when I was writing the first draft of the story and I felt like it was a good description of the ‘leakage’ that happens between thoughts and words (I know, because talk to myself… a lot!)

      • joannesisco August 29, 2014 / 2:05 PM

        You mean we aren’t supposed to talk to ourselves?! 😉

        • jannatwrites August 29, 2014 / 8:52 PM

          Maybe it depends on the length of conversation 🙂

    • jannatwrites August 29, 2014 / 11:10 AM

      Thanks, Susan! I hope you do stop by when you can. Sometimes life has other things in store for us, though 🙂

  3. suzicate August 28, 2014 / 8:58 AM

    This and so many of your stories have such in depth emotional conflict and well rounded characters I really think they could turn into novels!

      • jannatwrites August 29, 2014 / 11:13 AM

        Of course… but listening and doing are two very different things 🙂

        Seriously, though, I am working on turning a short story series I posted into a novel… once the first draft is done I want to start another novel that I can write while editing.

    • jannatwrites August 29, 2014 / 11:11 AM

      Thanks for the nice compliment, Suzicate! I’ve been very ADD with my writing and I’m afraid the short stories have only enabled me to avoid thinking long, but I’m working on changing that with Darlene’s Story. I might come back to this one in the future 🙂

  4. philosophermouseofthehedge August 28, 2014 / 9:37 AM

    Short stories are little masterpieces – so much carefully packed into such a small space.
    You really make the environment – both mental and physical – so solid and real.
    “immersed in the space between”
    So many great phrases with so much impact (as usual)

    • jannatwrites August 29, 2014 / 11:14 AM

      Thanks, Phil! As I wrote this story, I felt Ramona more and more. I kind of became her in my mind (and had to be careful not to switch to first-person writing!)

  5. newwhitebear August 28, 2014 / 11:32 AM

    Just a bit and ideas are born for writing.
    A beautiful tale you have prepared to us.
    This is wonderful and likeable to read

    • jannatwrites August 29, 2014 / 11:15 AM

      Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your kind comment, Newwhitebear. I appreciate you taking time to read my blog so regularly!

  6. anotherday2paradise August 28, 2014 / 11:33 AM

    Wonderful writing, Janna. I’m not sure how I was expecting this to end, but the twist in the tail came as a complete surprise. I was thinking of a happier ending, but then, I do love happy endings.

    • jannatwrites August 29, 2014 / 11:17 AM

      Thanks for reading, AD2P! I’m sorry this didn’t deliver a happy ending, but I guess I just wasn’t ‘feeling’ that with this one 🙂 Sometimes happy (or at least ‘hopeful’) endings happen in my stories, though.

  7. Debbie August 28, 2014 / 11:56 AM

    Well written, Janna! Your story people are such characters, and the setting comes to life for me. I find myself hanging onto their every word. I got a kick out of your inspiration, though — golly, if somebody were to search through my Googling, they’d wonder if I was a heartless psychopath! I’d better get something published before I pass on — that way, they’ll at least know it was my WRITING that demanded such research, Ha!

    • jannatwrites August 29, 2014 / 11:19 AM

      Haha, your Google searching is questionable, too? Maybe I should focus more on publishing, too… you know, to cover my tail 🙂 Thanks for reading, Debbie. I’m glad you ‘felt’ the story… that’s what I always hope for, especially in shorter pieces where there is less time to introduce the characters.

  8. nrhatch August 28, 2014 / 12:07 PM

    Life can be depressing . . . especially in the winter when it’s cold, gray, and dark. She should never have left Arizona to move to Idaho. 😛

    • jannatwrites August 29, 2014 / 11:20 AM

      No kidding, right? It would be a shock to the system, for sure! I’m afraid I’ve been so dried out by Arizona, I couldn’t survive anywhere else 🙂 Thanks for reading, Nancy!

  9. Deborah August 29, 2014 / 8:37 AM

    Wow! Your mind must be a very interesting place to live! I wanted more! Imagine weaving this story through the years with all those characters and nuances. What a great framework. If you wrote this as a novel, I wouldn’t be able to put it down!

    • jannatwrites August 29, 2014 / 11:23 AM

      Hehe, well, there might be a fine line between interesting and terrifying when it comes to my mind, Deborah! By the time I finished this, I ‘felt’ Ramona… I might come back to this in the future. I’m not great at multi-tasking novel-sized writing projects (okay, honestly, I’m not good at finishing one at a time) so I want to finish expanding Darlene’s Story first.

      • Deborah August 29, 2014 / 8:57 PM

        Well, if you ever want some coaching for larger projects, let me know. I think your stuff is awesome! And in my spare time, I’m an editor. 🙂

        • jannatwrites August 29, 2014 / 10:53 PM

          Thanks so much, Deborah! I need to work on my own writing discipline, but I may just contact you offline when I’m further along on my latest novel. Right now, I’m sitting at about 15,000 words.

        • Deborah August 29, 2014 / 10:55 PM

          Whenever you’re ready, I’d be delighted to help you. I so enjoy your writing style. :

        • jannatwrites August 29, 2014 / 11:02 PM

          I do appreciate your support, Deborah. I’ve identified part of my problem with the novel – I’ve become accustomed to the immediate feedback of short stories. I’ve decided to sit out the weekly writing prompt challenges for now, but will post stories/poetry here periodically on my own. The weekly challenges became like an addiction and I spent so much time on my stories and reading the other responses that I completely abandoned my larger projects. Reading your posts over the last few weeks. I know that we all must address prioritizing 🙂

        • Deborah August 29, 2014 / 11:07 PM

          I totally understand. That’s the reason I’m taking a break from blogging. When my depression was the worst, no matter whether I got anything else done or not, I managed to blog. But now that things are better, it’s really time to back off from the distraction–aren’t those challenges fun?–and make some progress on some major projects that I need to complete prior to leaving Taiwan. I can’t keep procrastinating. So this is the week to figure out how to best proceed with things in general.

          I’m glad my ramblings are helping someone else. 🙂

        • jannatwrites August 30, 2014 / 12:22 AM

          The challenges are fun (and I’ll miss them!) They were excellent writing exercises, but after a few years of it, I think it’s time I go back to novel writing and use what I’ve learned. I hope you are able to accomplish what you hope to during your time left in Taiwan, Deborah!

  10. Imelda August 30, 2014 / 12:48 PM

    This is heartbreaking. I like the way you wrote the dementia.

    • jannatwrites August 30, 2014 / 11:07 PM

      Thanks, Imelda – I appreciate you stopping by to read it!

  11. Graham Stephen August 31, 2014 / 3:17 AM

    I popped over here from Emilio’s photo blog to have a read. I was not disappointed. I very much liked the subtleties of the narrative and also the turns of phrase such as ‘incontinence of the mind’. Your background notes in the potscript also added extra interest to the post.

    • jannatwrites August 31, 2014 / 9:37 PM

      I’m glad you stopped by, Graham! I appreciate you taking time to read the story 🙂

  12. subroto August 31, 2014 / 4:41 AM

    “Incontinence of the mind” I liked that. I loved how you wove in the dialogue and the memories of the past. And I did google for “will gasoline ignite in the snow” too 🙂

    • jannatwrites August 31, 2014 / 9:41 PM

      Thanks, Subroto! I appreciate you reading the story (and doing your own Google search.) It’s a common enough search that it auto-filled, so there must be others who are writing stories (or planning arson in the snow!)

  13. Stephen Thom August 31, 2014 / 9:06 AM

    Excellent! Liked the mood that threaded through it, and some lovely writing touches – moments likes ‘smoke escaped in tendrils’ and ‘whispers of dementia’, the word choice adds so much to the tone and story. the sentence ‘she stayed immersed in the space inbetween, where memories and new thoughts-‘ is pure gold, beautiful.

    • jannatwrites August 31, 2014 / 9:47 PM

      Thanks for taking time to read the story, Stephen! I appreciate you taking time to give specific examples of things you liked.

  14. Sarah Ann September 1, 2014 / 12:10 PM

    I love the way she giggled as she said – “Incontinence of the mind.” That presents such a positive image in contrast to the rest. Ramona’s thoughts are so lucid that I wonder if the connections between her brain and mouth have become disordered. Now I’m waiting for the thaw and wondering where the body is (bodies are) not very deeply buried. So does gasoline ignite in snow? I’m worried either way – if she goes up in flames, Paula will scream and shout and consider her mother mad, and ditto if she doesn’t.

    • jannatwrites September 1, 2014 / 7:25 PM

      Think hay, Sarah Ann 🙂 I imagine the bodies are under the sloppily stacked bales of hay. Creepy 🙂 I found out that gasoline vapors can ignite anywhere, however, if you built a fire in snow, it would likely burn out because the snow would turn to water and smother the fire. Thank you, Google!

  15. pattisj September 3, 2014 / 6:58 AM

    One must be careful what they Google! Or at least, don’t commit any crime other than in writing! Interesting take on your story, with dementia.

    • jannatwrites September 4, 2014 / 11:02 PM

      Thanks for reading, Patti! Yes, Google searches can be tricky.

  16. clarbojahn September 6, 2014 / 2:48 PM

    Great story and great dialog! It is seamless. I wish I knew how to write dialog as well as you. I just read Steven King’s “Joyland” and it was mostly dialog just like this story. Dialog has a way of taking the reader along with it to the conclusion.

    By the way, I came across this when I used your search bar for God. 🙂

    • clarbojahn September 6, 2014 / 2:50 PM

      From one of your posts written in 2011 when we both were worried about posting our spiritual life. 🙂

    • jannatwrites September 9, 2014 / 7:59 PM

      Thanks so much for reading, Clar! I’ve never read Steven King, but your comment makes me curious about that one.

      I see you’re back to blogging… I’m a bit behind, but will catch up on your posts this week 🙂

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