It Won’t Cure Cancer, But It’s Okay

8 Jan

Last Saturday I wrote this post about revealing the process of beginning a story to finishing it. This is a story that I have been working on for some time. I’m really invested in it, and really want it to be good. I’ve already begun the process in this story, but I think it still counts as “revealing my process”  because of my attachment to it, and the fact that it’s still under construction.

I am open to suggestions and comments. If you’ve read this in an earlier version, let me know.

Don’t be nice. Be helpful.


Grandpa’s fingers were separating the edible parts of a frog. The frog was only kind of dead. His fingers bent and popped its sinewy limbs, separating the body from its parts. The nearly departed performed a table marionette’s dance for me, wasting its breathless performance on a child who had not yet learned to appreciate nuance.

The kitchen walls were old smoker’s teeth. Age and abuse made them sweat yellow. I ignored a small splashing sound coming from an old bucket next to the refrigerator.

“Don’t trust them boys out there, little girl. They ain’t worth shit, and they don’t know shit.”

Grandpa spat the words onto a stunned frog’s half open body. If it had been more alive, I wouldn’t have been certain he was speaking to me. This was the beginning of another story to get hung up inside me. It would dry against my ribs. Another story I couldn’t repeat.

My grandparents fought hard when they were together. If I closed my eyes when he spoke, I saw my grandmother wielding a cast iron skillet in one hand, a pot of boiling water in the other. He rocks away from the water and is bludgeoned by eight pounds of Calphalon weaponry. These stories made me sad the way a woman is sad.

“She’d knock me on my ass then yell at me for making too much noise.”

Grandpa shook his head, looked to his walls. He remembered when these walls were white. I wondered when yellow happened, how yellow happened. Dead frogs don’t read your mind, and sometimes grandpas are only kind of alive.

SPLASH. The bucket turned over feeding the floor a small flood of lake water and a live catfish. The water raced outward toward dirt-filled crannies, cleaning places that caught what no one else could reach. We watched the catfish struggle for air or the opposite of air, spastically flipping from side to side, end to end. When it stopped moving, gills still fluttering, Grandpa picked it up with both hands, sat it in front of me.

He bent the fish into itself until there was an audible pop. I continued to hear a phantom splash.

I was angry with my grandfather the way a learned child is angry. These animals had eyes, and far as I knew, ears. Why did I have to listen? Grandpa broke and ate everything that might love him. I didn’t want to learn to do the same.

I was gutting a fish like a man, and it was another thing I had to know. Knowing was a thread stitching you to a moment. I would always know how to gut a catfish in a frog’s grave. I was sewn into his regrets. I would always be angry about it.

When he laced his fingers and turned his elbows out, ready to release tension and air built up between his knuckles and palms, I covered my ears and begged him not to.

I couldn’t take another pop.


9 Responses to “It Won’t Cure Cancer, But It’s Okay”

  1. leeraloo January 8, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

    I like this a lot. It’s damn good.

    • thenerdynegress January 10, 2011 at 5:32 pm #

      Thanks, Lora. I think you’re damn cute.

  2. Steven January 9, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

    Very cool. 🙂

    • thenerdynegress January 10, 2011 at 5:33 pm #

      Thanks Steven! What do you like about it? Anything in particular?

  3. tlgobble January 9, 2011 at 9:18 pm #

    Hey Ashley.

    I, too, like this a lot. And this is the one I was talking about for the Vouched chapbook.

    The progression in this piece is excellent, how you go from frog, small nearly departed and “dancing,” to this large, more obtrusive catfish that gets gutted.

    The ending, I believe, could be much stronger if you take a little more advantage of what you’ve set up. You’ve given us access to the speaker’s senses, mainly sight and sound, telling us in great detail about the frog and the room and even the catfish in the bucket. The ending doesn’t have that same feel, especially with sight. The “I covered my ears” part is a good start, but I felt pushed away, unintentionally.

    Yeah, those first two paragraphs are spot on.

    “These stories made me sad the way a woman is sad” seemed like it was meant to be a brushstroke to tie together this part of the story and the complexities of the grandparents’ relationship in the eyes of the speaker. However, I did get a little lost there, more distracted than confused.

    But really this is an excellent nf piece, and I’m glad you shared it.

    And seriously, this would be an excellent contribution to the Vouched chap.

    • thenerdynegress January 10, 2011 at 5:33 pm #

      Thanks, Tyler-Boo. Let me work on it a little more.

      • Steven January 11, 2011 at 1:13 am #

        I like several things about it.

        First of all, you hooked me right from the start. I saw frog + edible and immediately I was interested. You use interesting details to provide insight into the characters. I can see the room, and I can see the grandpa – and never once do you have to plainly say, “The room looks like _____” or “This is what my grandpa looks like.”

        You do the same for your character. Getting angry about the animals, for example. I think it’s all very cool.

        I will come back to this later, when I’m not up past my bedtime and give your more praise and adoration.

  4. elysiasmith January 11, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    Okie doke, I have always loved this piece and I think the improvement to it is tangible and awesome.
    Here are some of my thoughts:
    -The second use of performance felt odd. Perhaps cut.
    -I wasn’t sure if “sweat yellow” meant they were the color of sweat or were sweating yellow…see what I mean?
    -You said “made me sad like a woman”…why past tense? Should it be make?
    -Paragraph 7 felt vague.
    -I would consider moving “phantom splash” further into the piece more towards the end. Bring us back to the reality of what happened as you weave in your subconsious mapping of the situation.
    -The ending was best yet. But possibly cut the last line. I think the last paragraph is strong enough.
    (I tried to do what you said (being helpful instead of nice…it was hard.)

  5. Layne Ransom January 11, 2011 at 5:47 pm #

    you already know my thoughts on this piece, but just reiterating you’re cool for showing process and such.

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