With the 2013 launch of the new Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, Augsburg will welcome even more aspiring writers to the College. To celebrate Augsburg’s tradition of creative writing excellence, we asked Augsburg English Department faculty to help us recruit Auggie alumni writers for a creative writing assignment.
The assignment was to write a 250-word piece—of any genre—based on the photo above. We told the writers nothing about the photo—not when or where it was taken or by whom. Following are the stories they crafted. Read their stories first, then see the photographer’s story, below.
Kayla Skarbakka ’09, writing consultant, Walden University
Alan found the cat in Mom’s bed, under the sour-smelling comforter. It was a weasely thing, patchy, crusty-eyed.
“Did you know about this?” he asked the girls.
Erin was folding a sweatshirt, one of the syrupy ones, printed with wildflowers and the words Someone special calls me Grandma. She looked up and gasped.
“Where did it come from?” she asked.
Helen, who’d been sorting jewelry, glanced up and wrinkled her nose. “The question is, where is it going.” She’d always had an armored sensibility. “You know,” she added, “the boys are allergic.”
Alan sat down by the cat. It flicked its tail, which was hooked and jointed like a broken finger.
“Um,” said Erin, which was how she started most arguments. “I can’t really bring it on the plane.”
“Well,” said Helen, “I certainly won’t take it home.”
Alan offered no excuse, and they didn’t him ask for one. They rarely did.
They’d had few tussles that day. Alan gave the girls credit for that. A debate about the sofa, one watery altercation regarding Dad’s old Dutch clock, but for the most part, they’d worked efficiently, tallying, dividing, and claiming.
Alan claimed little. A bar stool, because one of his had broken. A crucifix, because Helen made him. But otherwise he’d chosen odd jobs, clearing the fridge and garage shelves, and stayed out of the way.
It was a tactic he’d learned early on from Dad who’d sat with him on the couch while Helen marched past with a scarf or purse, dragging Erin, who cried hard but clung harder, with Mom trotting behind crying share, share, share.
“Those girls,” Dad would say, and Alan called them those girls too, even though Alice was ten and Helen fourteen when he was born, even though they squabbled with each other over him his whole childhood, mothers in training.
It was harder on them, Alan thought. It took more out. They were tired.
They hardly even raised their voices now.
“People fly with animals all the time.”
“It’s half dead. It’ll have a stroke.”
“So, that solves everything.”
Alan touched the cat’s ear. It flicked its tab of sandy tongue.
“I’ll do it,” Alan said.
The girls turned and stared at him. They looked awful, Alan thought. They looked old.
“Really,” he said. It was his best, his quickest ticket out. He grabbed the cat and felt its skin slide across its ribs.
“Alan,” said Helen.
“Please,” said Erin.
“I’ll get some food in this thing.” He kissed the girls. “Call me tomorrow.” He packed his meager accumulations. He considered tossing the cat out a few blocks away. Instead, he went to Petco.
In his apartment, he opened a can of Friskies and placed the cat in his lap. “Turkey and giblets,” he coaxed.
It blinked. It couldn’t seem to focus.
“Come on.” He pressed its nose into the can. It gurgled, but wouldn’t open its mouth.
“Don’t be stupid.” He felt annoyed. He’d gone out of his way.
The cat closed its eyes.
Helen had told him once, one dinnertime, that all the food he didn’t eat would count against him in heaven. Um, Erin had said. Maybe you shouldn’t say that. He had cried. Someone had held him. He didn’t remember who.
The cat was breathing quickly. Its skin was cooler than it should have been.
“You’ll die,” he told it. He suddenly didn’t want it touching him. He didn’t want it in his home.
He slid opened the glass balcony door and placed the cat outside. It lay still where he set it, curled away from him, toward the city, spine knobbed and crooked, feet tucked beneath.
He could kick it, he thought. He could kick it right over the edge. He went inside and shut the door.
The cat was motionless except for the rapid stir of breath.
“You’ll die,” he repeated. He hadn’t had to take it. He wanted it to look at him, to acknowledge him. He rapped on the glass.
Who had held him? he wondered.
The cat didn’t turn. Alan wondered what it saw. He followed its gaze to the warehouse roofs and, beyond, the tinny glint of the river.
Late Morning Window View
Jeremy Anderson ’07, client relations manager, Furnituredealer.net
stop at Charlie’s on the corner
for a sweet chai on the go.
Catch the rail and scroll
the morning news. Work will start
soon enough, bustling tables,
shit shooting with the regs.
Don’t let Old Rick ride
you too much
because tonight it’s microbrews
along St. Anthony Main.
Usual sites, different taste
(order something the menu describes
as dark and complex).
Let ’em flow down and just talk and listen and talk back.
Try and top ’em. Tell ’em, Tell ’em what you learned,
what you read, who you ran into, that thing you Googled the other
day and what popped up. Remember when? Remember when?
Remember when? And all that shit. It’s good
to let it blur. The best is when it blurs into something
unclear. My head is warm. My arms, heavy and strong.
There’s a pulse in these veins, an exciting calm to the night until
eventually I’ll gaze back out this way
with an arm snug around my Laura (maybe, hopefully)
and a glass of pinot
in my other hand -
as street lamps torch the dark
Orion Wisness ’03, technical consultant, Kroll Ontrack
Here is a man who wants to keep you guessing. He looks away from you but commands your attention by looming large in the patio doors. He chooses a strong stance, a confident pose, all while hiding in the light of day right in front of you. But he appears more hat rack than human. An armless X meant to distract you from the finer points, the tiny details, which expose his personality.
You suppose he is doing one of three things in decreasing order of profundity: practicing Zen Croquet, contemplating the evening’s dinner (the size of the grill suggests he consumes a fair share of red meat), or standing fully clothed in the sunlight in order to tan only his face. He has cats and creases in his pants. He’s tidy for sure, but he’s forgotten Mr. Whiskers’ ball near the door jamb. He prefers a shirt with a collar but won’t spring for a rug to wipe his feet when stepping from the balcony. A grocery bag near the grill contains the shadow of a Chihuahua, which makes you wonder why a man so tall would have so tiny a dog?
You could puzzle yourself with questions all day, but what you want to do is tap him on the shoulder. The opposite shoulder from where you’re standing. Make him guess where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing.
The Apocalypse, as Seen from Unit 24E
Jaye Lawrence ’05 WEC, director of web communications, Carleton College
Franklin liked order. Neatness. Discipline. He’d been a drill sergeant once, and it showed. You could take the man out of the Army but never the Army out of the man.
Military experience was an asset. It kept him alive, and his ragtag band of survivors too. But that need for order? That was a problem. That just might be the thing that finally drove him mad.
Franklin no longer lived in an orderly world.
“You should be asleep,” chided a voice behind him, thready with age. “Weren’t you supposed to wake me for CQ duty at oh-three hundred?”
Esther. Franklin didn’t turn or relax his stance, but the corners of his stern mouth twitched. He didn’t smile much, never had, and he sure as hell didn’t have occasion to anymore—but 83-year-old Esther Rosenberg from 23C, bona fide blue-haired lady, former bane of the condo board of directors, spouting military jargon? That tickled his funny bone.
With a slow soft tread of orthopedic shoes, Esther crossed the room to stand beside him. Franklin inspected her with a sidelong glance, granting a curt nod of approval to the pistol accessorizing her polyester pantsuit. Esther always kept his rules. Many who’d been younger, faster, and fitter had not.
“Why didn’t you wake me?”
“I like seeing the sun come up again.”
“Ah.” A sigh, light as a whisper. “Yes, I do too.”
Esther patted his arm. She used her left hand, keeping the right free for the pistol.
Andrea Sanow ’09, administrative assistant, Augsburg College Office of Undergraduate Research and Graduate Opportunity
They catch sight of each other’s shoes underneath a bathroom stall, and when they are washing their hands, they are too embarrassed to look each other in the eye.
Then, they are strangers the next semester when they take Calculus together. They laugh about being two of the four girls in the room and they bond over the fact that they aren’t going to major in mathematics. And when Emily doesn’t come to class, Rachel worries.
Em, where r u?
My grandma died, take notes for me.
And Rachel goes to the funeral. And they take classes together. And they live together and share clothes and try to learn to cook while they recount the jokes of every day.
Then, Rachel travels abroad and one night, from somewhere in South Africa where she has gotten drunk for Em’s 21st birthday, she writes:
Here’s what I see on my walk home: a tree that grows at a 90- degree angle out of the sidewalk, a woman sitting with a baby, a spraypainted stencil of a tiny red man, a few kids who ask me to say something with my accent, and a man, who every day sees me walk back to my apartment and the triangle from foot to crotch to foot reminds me that somewhere we remember geometry or whatever and you are passing me a note and we’re meeting after class and you’re pissed—I’ve borrowed your favorite pair of shoes.
THE PHOTOGRAPHER’S STORY
While studying in Augsburg’s Weekend College program, Philip Pelto ’10 made this self-portrait for a class. He wrote:
The photo was taken at my condo in downtown Minneapolis. It’s looking east out over the Depot and the Guthrie Theater, and Augsburg is not too far off in the distance to the right. It’s a self-portrait, and I was experimenting with the lighting. I was trying to get a cool silhouette with the outside in focus. What I wound up getting is this really cool photo that reminds me of where I came from and where I am now. The photo conjures up feelings of success. I’m in my condo, surveying my city, taking it all in. There’s a sense that I’ve made it.