What I’m Writing This Week

A frustrated writer takes a night walk on the beach to make sense of his own story. Having fun with a mix of memory and imagination.

Skeletons in a Snowbank

Bob Gillen

Alden pushed his chair away from the table. The screen on his laptop read, Working Title: My Memoir. 

On top of a manila folder next to the laptop sat a faded black and white photo, a picture of himself as a toddler standing on an icy sidewalk surrounded by towering snowbanks. Alden flipped the photo over. Written on the back in neat penmanship, “Young Alden, the Great Blizzard of 1947.”

His family had called him Young Alden, to distinguish him from his grandfather. And no one in the family dared call him or his grandfather Al.

Alden tossed the photo down, slammed the laptop closed, turned off the desk lamp.

“Shit,” he said to an empty room. “This manuscript is garbage.”

He grabbed a cold beer from the kitchen, pulled on an oversized hoodie and stepped out from his bungalow into the blackness of a damp night. 

The sound of crashing surf drew him to the beach, where he turned into the wind and walked west. Mid May. No summer people yet. Another two weeks and the town would be crawling with them. He now prided himself on being a year-round resident, a retired would-be writer.

The chill wind prickled his face. Alden took a few steps away from the damp sand at the water’s edge and sat. He pulled his knees up and wrapped his arms around his legs. The first swig of beer went down cold. He shivered.

Clouds obscured the moon and stars. The white crests of the breaking waves flashed out of the dark sea, only to disappear, one after another. The wind carried the rank smell of seaweed, the sweetness of seagrass, a hint of chimney smoke.

Alden’s mind drifted to the photo. He had a vivid memory of being dwarfed by the snowbanks on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, snowbanks no doubt monstrous because people had shoveled it in piles to clear the sidewalks.

A gust of wind sprayed sand over his shoes. Sand stuck to the neck of his beer bottle. He stood, dumped the remaining beer into the sand, hurled the bottle into the sea beyond the surf. Still got my arm, he thought. 

“Sorry there’s no message in the bottle,” he said to the sea. “Only an empty container.” Empty, like my memoir.

No emotion

For the past three weeks Alden had sat at his laptop, six hours a day, seven days a week. If volume was any indicator, he had half a book on paper. No, he thought. Forty thousand words, but not a book. Only a jumble of isolated memories. There was no story there. No adventure. No journey. No lifetime of struggle and victory. No emotion.

Alden walked again, leaning into the wind. Jeez, I can’t make sense of the memoir. How will any reader give a shit?

Paris Catacombs

The darkness brought his mind back to a novel he had read last month. A story set in and around the catacombs of Paris. Miles of tunnels under Paris, walls lined with thousands of skeletons, many thousands of skulls and bones. He laughed aloud. I wonder if there were any skeletons in the snowbanks back in New York. Bodies buried in the snow, appearing after the thaw. A hand sticking out of the melting snow.

Alden stopped, turned his back to the wind. His mind raced. Snowbanks in my memory…skeletons in my imagination. Fuck the memoir. I’ll write stories triggered by my memories. Maybe readers would actually care about that.

He let the wind propel him back to the cottage. Back to the laptop. Back to create something a reader might actually read.