I haven't shared any of my writing in awhile, so I thought I'd end the week with a passage that I wrote last year at The Kenyon Review Writers Workshop. I'm heading back there in two weeks for my second summer attending the workshop, and I'm beside myself in excitement.
I'll write more about the actual conference next week, but for now, I'm posting an exercise we did on dialogue that helped influence a scene in my book CANARY (Remember CANARY? That book I have on submission? The waiting to hear back from editors is madness...madness, I tell ya!).
In this scene, my main character's brother is leaving for Iraq the next day. Kate hasn't been able to really talk to him about his decision, so this is the point where they open up (kind of)...
I had swum twenty-three laps when the lights flashed under the surface. They were built into the walls and lined the pool like round full moons, illuminating the dark water. The pool lit up four times, my brother’s signal to get my attention.
Brett was used to me swimming late at night before I went to bed. It was my version of a bubble bath or cup of warm milk. It calmed me. Jack, on the other hand, thought I was crazy to swim at night, and he always made me promise to call him when I got out so he knew I hadn’t drowned; an awful thing to joke about, I would tell him.
When I surfaced, Brett was sitting at the side of the pool, untying his shoes and socks.
“You could take a night off, you know,” he said.
“I do. October through May." I held onto the side of the pool as I talked, keeping my body under the water so I wouldn’t get cold from the night air. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be with Catherine?”
“I just dropped her off; she’s picking me up early in the morning.” He trailed off and I wondered about Catherine. How could she leave him alone tonight when she knew that in the morning, he would be gone. What in the world could be more important during these last hours, minutes, seconds that she had left to be with the person she loved?
“Are you ready to go?” I asked. “I mean, are you packed?”
“Yeah, everything is ready.”
Brett put his bare feet into the pool and pulled them out immediately. “God damn it, that’s freezing. How the hell do you stand swimming in here when it’s all dark and cold?”
“I can think of worst things than a cold pool at nighttime,” I said slowly, daring myself to look him straight in the eyes.
He turned away, avoiding, and then said, “Me, too, like the time you practiced cooking the breakfast casserole for class and dad I had to try it.”
“My casserole wasn’t bad. It was delicious.”
“Sure, if you like runny undercooked eggs.’
I splashed water up at him. “If you want scary, let me tell you about the time Mrs. Simmons babysat us and asked me for a back rub. Now that’s scary.”
“Oh, shit, that would suck. She was gross with all that cat fur stuck to her and white spit hanging out of the corners of her mouth.”
“Exactly,” I said. “My eggs were nothing compared to Mrs. Simmons.”
The two of us laughed softly, the sound of our voices fading until all you could hear was the lap of the water against the sides of the pool and crickets.
“But now," I said slowly. "Those things don't seem scary at all.”
“Why are you doing this, Brett?”
He sighed and looked up into the trees that bordered the edge of our yard.
“I have to do this, Kate.”
“You don’t have to do anything.”
“Okay, then, I need to do this. There’s no way I can stay here.”
“Here isn’t so bad,” I told him, but we both knew I was lying.
“This isn’t my place.”
I wanted to tell him I knew what he meant. I knew what it was like to want to be somewhere where you felt important. I wanted to tell him I could understand.
But I didn’t, because I didn’t want what he was doing to be his important thing.
So instead, I pushed off the wall and swam to the deep end and back, playing a game with myself, holding my breath to see how far I could go without air. I pushed myself further and futher until I couldn’t take it anymore.
“I’m scared too,” Brett said when I surfaced, grabbing back onto the wall near him.
“I’ll be back, Kate.”
I ducked my head back under the water before he could see my tears.