The Promise

Here’s a story about a story. A short story with a beginning, a middle, and possibly no end.Summer78

It begins with a small, black-haired boy called “Lil’ Eric” who’s standing outside his parents’ house on beautiful summer’s day. He’s filled with wonder about the cottonwoods blowing their seeds, “Fluffs,” as he calls them, creating a sort of “snowstorm in June.”

In just four double-spaced pages, not much seems to happen: He’s summoned by his sister Candy to come inside to get his soda pop. There he learns their mother has been crying. He’s sent back outside where he’s taunted by a couple of girls and two bigger boys. He somehow cuts his foot, which starts to bleed, but no one, even Candy, is sympathetic or helpful.

And that’s pretty much it.

So what’s the story behind this endless story?

I wrote “The Promise” just before graduating high school in 1978. The extant copy is dated June 6, which, according to the diary, was a Tuesday and the last full day of high school. While not indicated in the diary, likely I used the school paper’s typewriter to bang it out before school ended, inscribing the date on the last page. I had an old manual typewriter on my desk at home, but it was so cumbersome to write with that I only used it for poetry. For longer fiction, such as my short story, electric typewriters were the way to go. Now that I was out of school, I was probably back to writing long-form pieces by hand—something I learned to really dislike.

That same day my maternal grandparents arrived in their camper for the annual summer visit, coinciding with my graduation celebrations. I sensed the moment’s gravity: “Everyone was writing in yearbooks and getting in a strange (new) communal mood. Later, Harv gave me a ride home. We had a beer in the [high school] parking lot and cruised.”

Mention of “The Promise” appeared in the diary a month later, in early July 1978. On Monday the 3rd: “So I took my story ‘The Promise’ over and went a-knocking at Kim’s door, but absolutely no one was home. I wonder if they went somewhere for the Fourth? I hope not because I left my story in the metal siding of their screen door…”

Two days later I called Kim around 10 p.m. and we chatted. The diary picks it up again: “She liked my story ‘The Promise’ and I explained to her how it had to do with the way I felt about high school and the social condition and how I was [illegible] hurt.” I asked her to an upcoming Eagles concert and she said she was already going with some friends.

I felt crushed, just like “Lil’ Eric” in my story.

Adding insult to injury, I was fired from my janitorial job on July 6, taking a bus home in the pouring rain.

The next day, a Friday, I rode with Dad to the University, where I walked around campus while he worked. Later we ate lunch at the Campus Club, where I met his boss Dean Weaver, too. After checking out the student employment board, I hopped a bus to Golden Valley to pick up my final paycheck and kicked around Ridgedale mall before catching another bus home.

Mom Casco 70sSo, here’s the full story of “The Promise”: After learning to write short stories in the early 1970s, I’d moved away from murder mysteries and science fiction toward what amounts to the sparest vignette—a slice of life with little window dressing.

I was beginning to love the unknowable edges of a story—the shadows and hidden spaces. Why is Candy being so secretive and unsupportive of Eric? Why is their mother crying? How did Eric cut his foot? And why does he endure the taunting of the neighborhood kids?

All we know is the wind has stilled and the fluffs have stopped falling.

Amid laughter and shouts, Lil’ Eric returns to the house, “slamming the door in a burst of unsettled tears.”

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~ by completelyinthedark on April 26, 2013.

6 Responses to “The Promise”

  1. Baffled here. I have no idea why you titled your short story “The Promise”. Who promised whom and why?

    Liked by 1 person

    • If there’s any answer that might satisfy your curiosity, it’d have to be: “the unknowable edges of a story—the shadows and hidden spaces.” I might be an outlier here, but mystery still has its place. 😉

      Like

  2. Man those photos are literally like alive and yesterday. You really have a ton of ‘em. Really adds a nice tone to the stories

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Jeff. When I plan the edit slate, I do photo research, then match image files up with draft doc. It’s literally a production line. 🙂

      Like

  3. Reblogged this on Completely in the Dark and commented:

    I still love “the unknowable edges of a story,” 36 years later. Happy last day of school, kids. Enjoy your summer. All-new post next Friday!

    Like

  4. That cat knows a thing or two.

    Liked by 1 person

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