Sunday, May 16, 2010

The world from atop the shed

From Prairie City, IA, USA
One of the things I thought of while reading through my journal a few weeks ago was to take some of my meager creative writing efforts captured there and stick them somewhere else for posterity. This thought continued to percolate as I read Donald Miller's excellent book on stories and life. So here's one of those pieces, which I wrote one February evening in 2006.

I'll classify it as a word picture and not a story. There is a character (me) but no plot. Just a description of a shed and the backyard of the house where I grew up in tiny little Prairie City, Iowa. My author self speaks to the reader (which also appears to be me) with the benefit of not being time-bound. There is a rooted period of time in the account but it shifts to the past and the future based on the full sweep of my memories as a then-26-year-old. My immediate family and a few of my childhood friends might also register some recognition by reading this. I've made only a few editorial changes from the original, so the style should be fairly true to what I was feeling four years ago, while still working on my BA in English.

So read on after the break for a short piece from the pages of my journal...

The world from atop the shed in our backyard. Look forward and you see the back of the house. The clothesline. The dog on his leash, Toby, looking at you with the "what the hell?" look that only bird-hunting dogs can manage. The door to the garage right next to the sliding-glass door to the breezeway. "Breezeway." I think that's the only house I've been in that has one.

Look left. The gray steel tubed, T-shaped swingset where I perfected back-flips out of a swing, a trick I do to this day that never fails to impress. The sandbox with rusting yellow dump trucks and green army jeeps and cat turds, bordered by aging 2x6's. The woodpile, with wood so old it started to grow mossy and soft. The ash tree that replaced the fallen cherry tree which contained our treehouse.

Back toward center, the raggedy apple tree. While it never produced apples worth a shit, it made for a great place to put a rope swing. A swing that I spent much time on, pushing off one side, circling around just in time to plant my feet on the other side and shove off again. Or the standard back-and-forth method. At one point, the faithful limb would finally give way. At the apex of my swing, no less. Of course friends were present to witness the glorious end. Even in our late 20s my friend still holds his sides laughing while describing how my butt skipped off the ground when I hit. This was about the same time the tree was rotting from all the dog piss lavished on it by our gleefully dunce dog.

Look right. The silver maple tree that I would climb to the uppermost branches of, feeling the wind rock the branch back and forth while severe injury or death loomed below. At that height,  I swear I could see the county seat, Newton, some 15 miles away.

Look down. The hard green earth.

Jump! The eternal and instant moment of being airborne and THUD. Pins and needles in your feet, ankles, hands, and wrists.

Turn around and look at the shed. A white, tattered box. Old shingles with a sloped roof. A cinder block around back (your ladder). An oil patch back there, too. And your neighbor's smelly compost pile. Dirt, oil, rotting grass clippings and vegetables. A potent olfactory cocktail. On one side, a patch of asparagus to make your piss stink and some rhubarb for mom to make some strawberry-rhubarb dessert. On the front, a rickety door with two equally rickety swinging wood windows on either side.

Walk inside and close the door behind you. The swiss cheese ceiling sends shafts of sunlight through the wood and crumbling shingles. More oil smells. This time mixed with gas from the two lawnmowers and a garden tiller that looks like a tool from the Spanish Inquisition. Rust coats the metal portions of garden tools that have seen better days, their wood handles cracked and warped. Scattered on the walls, coated in a layer of oily dust are stickers. One is a picture of a Band-Aid box but if you look closer, you see it really says "Band-Ache" and it shows a hand removing a Band-Aid from an arm. With a layer of skin still sticking to the bandage. You wonder who the sick pukes were who lived here before you. And then you remember you're related to them.

This shed will not stand. It will be torn down and replaced while you're still young. You won't see it if you drive by the house today, which I still sometimes do. But I still see it. I don't even have to close my eyes. I stand on top of it and soak it all in. Every last smelly, rickety inch of it.

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