A Writer’s Notebook: Scene or short-short?

Sometimes you just write. This is what I wrote. There is no particular exercise, but I’ll explain below where this comes from.

He didn’t mow the hay field, or rake it into rows or bale it into the wide wheels, bound in plastic, that baked in the sun now. But he owned the aftermath, the flight of buzzards reeling overhead, the dark fog of flies swirling over each chopped body: rabbits who’d poked their heads from their burrows as the mower blades passed, fawns bedding in the thick grass, sometimes a neighborhood dog. He would walk out among them, visit each like a grave, squat to wave away the flies and remove his hat a moment, close his eyes. He said no prayers, no curses, no words to himself. He held his breath against the decay. He’d wipe sweat from his brow with the back of his wrist, the bowl of his hat open to the field, then he’d stand and walk on. Body to body. The neighbors thought he was inspecting the bales scattered in the sun, and he never told them otherwise. He thanked the dairy farmer for each check; they shook hands and told each other jokes.

In a few days, the buzzards would leave, the grasses would grow.

The other night, I was reading Neil Gaiman’s graphic story collection The Sandman: Endless Nights.  The harrowing story about Despair is composed of 15 “portraits,” a graphic-fiction variation on “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” each piece a graphic short-short.  Some of them are barely two dozen words long.  Most of them are unsettling at best–a few of them are downright heartbreaking.  And the series of short-shorts got me thinking about how much I love writing short-shorts, so I started thinking about what I might do to start one, just for fun.

I left my reading chair at my in-law’s and looked out the back window at their vast field, high with pale yellow grasses baked dry in the Texas sun.  My in-laws have a friend who runs a dairy farm, and they let their friend cut and bale the hay in their field so he can feed his cows.  Often, just for the experience of it, my father-in-law helps with the mowing, raking, and baling, and as I was standing there looking out the back window–through which we’d all watched a small herd of deer cross the field just the night before–I remembered what my father-in-law had told me about the animals that sometimes get caught in the process, cowering in the grasses and killed for their trembling uncertainty. 

I don’t know if this is scene or a story (hence, the title); it certainly isn’t finished, either way.  It’s just an idea.  But it’s a start of something, and maybe some day I’ll develop it.

Whatever it turns into, if anything, it felt good to write it.  Sometimes, it just feels good to write, period.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

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