Again, this one turned out a little dark. I blame it on watching too much “Hannibal,” but I won’t apologize because it’s a brilliant show, if somewhat disturbing. I’ll just say, one of the most disturbing images from it (that I’ve seen so far) has been Dr. Lecter’s recipe box, especially when seen in conjunction with his rolodex of business cards. Back to the story, though. It’s based on an idea that I got from my friend, Nick, who has this awesome blog. It was also kind of inspired by Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge (surprise!), over here. (In case you’re wondering, I got the words: moon, tongue, and legend.) So, without further ado, my story:
Pancakes are simple. Flour, baking powder, egg, milk, butter, mixed together in the right proportions, cooked at the right temperature, for the right amount of time, and you’re rewarded with exactly what you wanted: flat, fluffy moons of baked batter, ready and waiting for a generous topping of maple syrup. You see, pancakes are like people. Once you get down to the core of them, their most basic elements, once you get what makes them tick, they’re yours.
These are the kinds of thoughts that go through my head when I have writing on my mind. I sat down to my computer, plate of pancakes in hand, glasses on my face, and opened a new document.
Four hours later, I took off my glasses and massaged the bridge of my nose where they’d left their crescent moon indentations. I didn’t know what was supposed to come next for my story. I felt like an adventurer following a treasure map, but, being unfamiliar with the cartographer’s notations and glyphs, I was forced to reference the accompanying legend rather than continue on with confidence.
I couldn’t work like this. In my experience, the essence of good writing was intuitive, not faltering. Sure, what is written intuitively might need a good polish and paring later, in the editing process. But its essence remains. What I lacked was that essence.
I went for a drive, to clear my head and get some smokes. I saw her in the liquor store. I knew her as soon as I saw her move, heard her speak. It was her that I was trying to put on the page so flounderingly. I felt as if I’d just spotted a Unicorn. And so, true to her legend, I pursued her.
Now that I’d seen her, all sorts of little details that had eluded me before began to come into focus. I could almost taste them on my tongue, like a connoisseur swishing a sip of wine in his mouth. Her name should be . . . Blanche, and she was a middle-school teacher, or maybe a secretary. But the deeper, more important details . . . I couldn’t taste them yet.
She drove to another store. I parked a discreet distance away and had a smoke. Sooner or later she would return home, and I had to at least see where she lived; it was an important detail. A person’s home can tell you a lot about them, details that might not be clear from simply observing them. People are more themselves at home; they let their essence peek through in places they live, because it’s a place that gives a false impression of control to its owner. Everyone is a sort of god unto themselves, in their own space: some beneficent, some tyrannical, some indifferent. But it wasn’t something that would become clear without seeing it.
The sun was shining in that happy, everything’s-coming-up-roses kind of way. I sat myself back down in front of the computer, fingers poised to let loose whatever garden hose of inspiration that the Muse would surely un-kink.
I typed a few sentences.
Stared at them.
My brow crinkled like bacon in the pan. I didn’t understand her yet, my Blanche. I didn’t understand her, and I needed to. The sun now seemed to mock me, laughing behind handkerchief clouds at my imagination’s infertility. I pushed back from the desk, paced the length and width and perimeter and square footage of the room, and the next time I noticed the outdoors, the sun had been usurped by the moon.
I was hungry, and I found myself wishing, strangely, that, like a werewolf from legend, I could cast off my cloak of humanity and pursue what prey I saw fit. Instead, I went to bed.
I’d say I went to sleep, but that would be less accurate. I had dreams. No, nightmares. Well, they should have been nightmares. They would have been nightmares to other people, I’m sure. There was far too much blood for them to be anything other than that. And yet, I found them almost . . . well, something else. They seemed to promise something, something satisfying, as sure as the moon promised sunrise.
I woke in the warmth of the same cheery sun from yesterday, but I barely noticed it. I grabbed a glass of water and headed to my computer, and as it wheezed into life, my fingertips did a rapid dance across the keyboard, tossing words onto the screen with an unthinking confidence that I hardly had time to second-guess. It felt right, what was on the page. The story was almost building itself.
I understood her.
Shocked by this realization, I leaned back in my chair, ran my fingers through my hair. A smile spread across my face, rivaling the sun in the sky for radiance. In celebration, I decided to make pancakes again, but with chocolate chips this time. I found myself reprising my thought from yesterday, which the same activity had sparked into existence.
Following the same track of mind, however, I ended up at a different location. For though you might think you know how something works, what makes it tick, you’ll never completely understand what a pancake is until you eat one, taste it on your tongue. You might be able to cook them to perfection, and know their scent like you know your own, but you’ll never get them.
So you’ve got to eat them.