A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

by Debbie Shipman (Jun 2010)

Crawling between the clean, crisp sheets, Debbie knew she should get back up and take a shower to wash away the remains of a day spent mostly in airports. But some small part of her feared that, along with the remnants of travel, the last of the salt and sand and the warmth of the sun left on her skin from a week spent at the ocean would wash down her Midwestern drain where it would eventually make its way back to the sea without her.

Vacation over, Debbie now had nothing, and everything, to look forward to. With her husband, Dave, off working in the oilfields of Oklahoma and Kansas, and her youngest child, Tanner, off to college, Debbie knew she would have to find a way to fill up the empty spaces left in her days. Solitude, something she had always embraced and required in frequent, large doses just to survive, she now feared would engulf her and, like a riptide, carry her away in some unintended direction.

Rubbing her toes together in a vain search for a lingering grain of the white sand that for a week had filled her swimsuit with every crashing wave and clung relentlessly to her legs and hair through multiple showers, Debbie contemplated her future. For the first time in her life, the luxury of time and the security of sufficient, if not abundant, money converged to create the perfect space in time for her to make her long-held dream of becoming a writer a reality. True enough, she already called herself a writer, had a degree and a few technical reports and software manuals to her credit, but that to her did not a writer make.

Real writers strung together words, both ordinary and particular, into the sentences and paragraphs that wove the stories that had inspired her as a child to walk the fifteen blocks to the public library to gather the stacks of books that would fill her summer days. Stories that in her anticipation to read, Debbie could not be distracted long enough to stop and squish with bare toes the bubbly black tar that glistened from the cracks in the hot pavement or to chase a horned toad spied hiding in the grass nearby. To Debbie, real writers created characters you could love and then put them into situations that, if you put the book down at a crucial moment, you would feel as anxious as if you’d turned your back on a friend in need. Books provided a place to go for refuge and they taught you things, sometimes important things like what its like to get your period or how a first kiss is supposed to feel, that you would never have known had you not turned a page. Real writers wrote the novels that drew Debbie in to such a degree that she was, occasionally, only mildly surprised when, after having set her book down, she caught herself about to utter an Olde English axiom or curse with a decidedly Scottish burr. They wrote the kind of stories that pulled her almost physically away from the world so completely that once, when he was 6, Debbie’s oldest son, Ry, had happily exclaimed, “You’re back!” when she had at last finished a particularly long and captivating novel. Real writers, good writers, had the power to take you back to a moment you’ve seen or felt or tasted before or, they could introduce you to a new place that, if you ever did get to go there, you’d know exactly where you were.

Debbie rolled to her side and wrapped herself around a pillow, resolving to begin the next morning with a steaming cup of coffee, a freshly sharpened pencil, and a brand new, completely blank spiral notebook unimpeded by the broken promise of false starts. That was when it happened, the moment her head sunk into the cool pillow. She felt, rather than heard, a pop followed by a trickle of warm water from her ear canal. With the tip of a finger, she collected the sand and saltwater from her ear and closed her eyes. Feeling the pull of the tide and buoyed by the gentle roll of waves, she drifted off to sleep knowing exactly what she would write about first.

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Revised June 2010.