In the Ditch

by Kathleen
“Multiple personalities.”

“The guy changed his mind, Jack. They haven’t done multiple personalities since you were born.”

“We’re watching history then. Actors probably miss doing multiple personalities; I would.”

Nikki popped open the front door, spilling groceries. “Why aren’t you guys riding bikes?”

Gathering loose fruit by the stairs, I pointed at Jeremy, her husband, the drug-hating pharmacist. Whereas, Nikki would let me get high, providing I did it in secret.

The year before our dad had killed himself and our mom in a head-on collision. The other driver was a guy my age, Andrew Somebody. He died, too, sneaking out at night without a learner’s permit. But he wasn’t drunk. No one ever said anything, but our dad was always drunk.

So at sixteen, I had to move in with my brother and Nikki. I went from St. Louis to Cow-town, Illinois; left varsity basketball, my friends, this girl Alex. Yet I did way better than Jeremy who screamed in his sleep, when he slept, which was never.

I helped Nikki put away the groceries and she shook a milk carton at me. “Make him go bike riding.”

“I tried.”

She stomped into the room, still holding the milk. Jeremy flicked the TV’s volume up to the top. Opening the back door, I smoked while they argued.

“What difference does it make, Nikki?”

“Difference isn’t the point.”

Something shattered and Nikki called me into the room. One of them had thrown the fern against the wall, smashing the planter. But Nikki had won.

Jeremy wanted to strap the bikes onto the car or else walk them till we reached the path. But I took off before he could stop me.

We turned onto Mattis Street, which even south of the shopping strip, was busy.

Riding barely behind me, Jeremy was yelling, which was insane.

Then the air changed, color, temperature, impossible to tell. Jeremy wasn’t yelling. I looked back, and where was he?

He’d ridden into the ditch. Squatting there, his bike flung ahead, his face turned red. I tore off his helmet, he looked so terrible. He tried to talk but no words came out.

Then I was crying. My skin bouncing around, snot bubbling under my nose. “Don’t die.”

Jeremy took off my helmet and hugged me without letting go. We trembled together in the weeds and he whispered, “We’re safe, Jack. We’re both safe.”


Bosco said...

Another beauty. You must have multiple personalities, Kathleen, to be able to write in so many different voices.

kathleenmaher said...

Thanks, Bosco. I like to think I'm as well-integrated as anyone, but who knows?

Paul Burman said...

I like it that I don't 'get this' on a first reading, but that everything falls into place on a second reading.

kathleenmaher said...

Paul, thanks for giving it a second read! One particular sentence I intended to give readers pause, possibly even forcing them back a beat, but asking for a second reading is too much.
Thank you for investing the time and attention! I did try framing this to make it clearer, faster, but my solutions always meant too much context up-front; so much that it felt stiff to me, even flat.

Bosco said...

I think it works fine as is... some stories work best with total clarity and others with a bit of opacity.
Since this is in the head of a troubled young man, I think it's essential for the voice to be self-referential, even self-absorbed, and a little guarded---he's not going to explain anything for the reader. We have to come to him.
That's the way it should be.
I think that's what Paul was saying, too.

kathleenmaher said...

Well, thank you, Bosco. You can be so sweet when you feel like it. (Bosco comments regularly on my regular blog and occasionally bites, not too hard, but he does break the skin.)
I'm beginning to suspect, though, that he only flashes his sarcasm, when I've gotten lucky and hit--or almost hit--the mark.

Dan Leo said...

Sometimes it's good to make the reader work a little.

Well done.

Paul Burman said...

Ditto Bosco and Dan Leo.

kathleenmaher said...

Paul, I knew you meant what Dan and Bosco said. And you said it first.
It's always a struggle, though.
Dan is a Proust aficionado and enjoys taking it slowly. If you read his blog, though,
you'll find fiction that's as fluid and lucid as it gets. That, and fun and funny.

Paul Burman said...

Dan Leo definitely has an interesting site, and I plan on returning to it.

Stella said...

As usual, I must pout that it's only a stand-alone sketch.

Mike French said...

Got to this late Kathleen - my server died this week and I had to get a new one!

Okay feedback:

I love this. Like Paul, I had to read it twice, but I like fiction that makes you work - as long as there is a reward for the effort.

And the reward is big here, very touching and moving. A real skill to get an emotional connection with your charcters in such a short piece.

kathleenmaher said...

Oh, too early in the morning. But still, thanks everyone. Your interest rewards me.
And Stella, you might like this idea, because you're that rare reader wanting more, not less: Mike has launched at least one story where different writers keep it going. What do you think, Mike?

Mike French said...


Yes great idea -

anyone wanting to add to Kathleen's weekly stories in the comments to continue it and keep the story going - then feel free to jump in!

Stella said...

How do I always end up giving people homework...?