by Diane E Bokor
Flash nonfiction is creative nonfiction that usually comes in under 750 words. It is a form that works well for writing memoir, essays and remembered events. There are many challenges to this genre. You can learn more about writing “flash” in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction edited by Brevity Magazine’s editor, Dinty Moore. What follows is a piece of my flash nonfiction.
Woke up… got out of bed… ran a comb across my head
It was predawn dark at 4AM when I turned on the radio, set perpetually to NPR. At that hour, it’s always BBC World News. A guy with a very British accent was going on and on about the various ways social scientists try to measure the homeless population of San Francisco. Over there, across the pond, they call it “sleeping rough.”
By mid-morning, I received the daily call from my bereft brother. Except, this week he hasn’t called me for several days in a row. I took this as a good sign, as a new and improved phase since the death of our mother. Upon her death, he was a howling animal, mad with grief. Each time we talk now, he tears up at some point in the conversation. During this conversation, I found out that he hadn’t been sleeping. He lives alone now, in our mom’s condo, surrounded by all of her things, their things. He never goes outside, except maybe to check the mail. He tries to sleep. He went to his bed, then to hers, then to the recliner on the lanai, then to the recliner in front of the TV, then to the air-bed in the guest room, where I had been sleeping. His voice was rough, his mood was rough and it occurred to me that he had found his own form of “sleeping rough.”
By afternoon, my dog needed a walk, so I pulled my SUV into the city park. Unseasonably cold for early autumn, I was prepared with a cozy coat, a furry hat and a pair of gloves. As I pulled the key out of the ignition, heavy fatigue hit me. It had been, after all, a very early rise this morning. That, on top of the brother-worry I carried just below the surface. I explained to my dog (even though, he got the gist of my behavior before I did) that a little nap was in order before our walk. I flattened the driver’s seat, balled my coat into a pillow, pulled the furry hat down over my weary eyes, curled into a fetal position and faded away. Eventually, I arose from a dream to the sound of lagoon geese honking. And I thought, am I “sleeping rough?”
Hours later, after multiple errands, I found myself again walking this patient little dog who seemed thrilled to spend the stop-and-go day with Mom. It was a weird place for a dog walk. Evergreen is the low-rent end of town and we were behind an abandoned box-store near the grocery of my next errand. Generally, I love exploring nooks and crannies with this guy, so we took off toward a wooded lot we had never seen (or sniffed) before. There was a fence with an open gate and a beckoning path lined with a jumble of weeds. In the back of my head, I could hear my mom’s fearful rants to be careful “out there.” It’s a voice I fight with often – adventure and exploration versus safety and comfort. Off we went… There was no one else around, just a woman (me) with her little dog walking into a wooded lot in a sketchy part of town. I’ve always been a sucker for a curving path in the woods. That’s why my mom was always ranting.
Not too far in, I saw it. Stopped in my tracks. I squinted hard looking for movement. Hard to say. Was there a guy in there, under the low-hanging boughs of the ginormous fir tree? I saw tarps and cardboard boxes. Trash and clothing were strewn about. Was that lump somebody “sleeping rough?”
“Come on, puppy, we’ve got to go!” I turned on my heels and said a little prayer for that guy, for my brother and for all those in the San Francisco headcount.
At bedtime, my feather pillow was calling my name. I crawled under a heated blanket and on top of fresh percale. The mattress was the perfect firmness. The room temperature was controlled. One of those fake candles on a timer cast a soft golden glow. This was the exact opposite of “sleeping rough” and yet I tossed and turned for hours. Then got up to put it all into words.
(Word count = 720)