As a member of a Writing Circle at the Chicago Cultural Center, I wrote the following one page story using the assigned word of the week–dark. It’s based on a diary entry I made on a trip to FL with my friend Marianna to work on our nursing memoirs. The story shows how the “forced” need to write weekly as a writing group member can take something from the private world of the diary to a public area for reading. Read along and join the fun:
After Marianna and I eat a breakfast of raisin bran and grapefruit at the small kitchen table in the condo, and after we complete our future memoir writing plans, we leave Treasure Island and head for the St. Petersburg waterfront by trolley. The downtown stop borders a park where homeless people are still sleeping. Suddenly, we’re jolted from our light mood to this reality that reminds us of our public health and psychiatric nursing experiences. The homeless—a few minutes walk from an opulent waterfront atmosphere.
The day fills with a long walk by the bay, Chinese food, more ice cream, and a crash into the most extravagant hotel to use the restroom. Walking in the front door, we act as if we are staying there and saunter through the lobby and, since we are used to crashing buildings, we detective-like find the public restrooms on the lower level. What a find—marbled elegance with linen towels waiting for grimy tourists.
Checking the trolley schedule back to Treasure Island, we note that there are exactly enough minutes to catch the movie Chocolat. As we race back to the last bus of the day—we do not want to stay in the homeless park—my mind transforms the chocolate into the goodness of God’s grace. The chocolatier represents God passing out these chocolates. And Marianna’s friendship feels like a piece of God’s chocolate for me.
Walking the short distance from the bus stop in Treasure Island to the condo, a nearby hotel sign stops us short—karaoke. Instantly, our eyes meet and we say, “Let’s.” It’s only 9:00 P.M; the night is young for women our age. No matter that we’ve never done this before.
The restaurant is small, rectangular, with a bar at one end, tables in the middle, and the karaoke set-up at the opposite end. After ordering Cokes, we pour over the lengthy song list. The place begins to fill with about 20 to 25 people. Some guys line up at the bar and stay all evening. Before we lose our courage, we enlist a woman from the next table to join us in singing Let Me Call You Sweetheart. This is a good idea, because what one person doesn’t know, another one does. Feeling confident we shag the other woman and sing together—Bye Bye Love. Not bad either—we make up for each other’s lapses.
We should have stopped here, but now we have to prove that we can sing solo. So we equally bomb, Marianna on Leroy Brown and me on Love Can Build a Bridge. My face pales as I watch Marianna try to fit the words on the screen into a strange arrangement, and I turn crimson during my turn as I slur sounds to make up for a melody I don’t recall.
Slumped back at our table, sipping the last of a third refill of caffeinated Coke, we feel our faces fall with dark defeat, but inside we are proud that at least we tried. And the audience was kind; they clapped—a little.
Buzzed with caffeine, I decide I can’t end my karaoke career this way. After trying unsuccessfully to cajole Marianna and the woman at the next table to try again, I pick the one song from the long list that I know for sure that I know both the words and melody—Amazing Grace. At midnight on Saturday, January 27, 2001, I sing to about 25 people full of drinks. As soon as I start, every single patron quiets and fixes eyes on me—even the formerly raucous guys at the bar pivot around on their bar stools. Eyes moisten and the subdued lighting highlights their glisten. What’s going on in their heads? What’s being retrieved from their memories?
As I finish, their cheering claps make me feel as if I’m performing at Carnegie Hall. And I wonder what they’re feeling.