This week's assignment for the Writer's Studio was a bit heavier, a bit darker. The example was from an excerpt from Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections." As a writer, this prompt presented a unique challenge: reveal an emotional drama between two characters without exactly saying precisely what had happened. I very much enjoyed attacking this technique as it is one I have always admired as a reader. Here is the result with minor edits from last night's critique.
The suffocation of a Dutch fog in winter. It grips Amsterdam by the throat. Insidious, it wraps its way around robust elm trees and Dutch men standing almost as tall. Everything hidden in the grey soup. Sounds carried strangely as if muffled against soundproofing, unable to navigate their way to ears. The darkness of night never truly giving over to the light of day. The orange glow of streetlamps powerless to penetrate, incapable of aiding you in your journey. Without any real precipitation, everyone and everything is damp. The strangely resilient Dutch children, the frost nipping at their ears, noses, and fingers. Jenn could never seem to understand why their parents didn’t bundle them up more securely. She sat at the apartment window, watching all this go on below her. Tangible enough to touch, but she wouldn’t dare.
Jenn made yet another lap around the apartment. Every time she turned, it seemed she was faced with another wall. The four walls’ mere act of standing discouraged her movement. She sat down again in the armchair next to the window. Her hand fluttered and landed unintentionally on her abdomen. Day imperceptibly shifted to night. Here, days were short and evenings interminably long.
The front door opened. David entered, wrapped in fog, shutting the door behind him. She watched him drop his things in a sodden mess by the door, and walk over to where she sat by the window.
“Have you been here all day?” he asked, dropping a casual husbandly kiss, the kind that usually misses their target. This one landed on the side of her mouth. “Why didn’t you go out?”
“Yes, well… the fog…” Jenn trailed off.
“Maybe we should go for a walk now. Together,” he suggested, hope a thin reedy quality in his voice.
“I’m sorry. I’m just not feeling up to it,” it seemed somehow his kiss, despite the fact that it had landed crooked, had poured the deep fog inside her.
He put a hand on her shoulder, unaware of his vain optimism that perhaps this small touch would be inoffensive and against all odds could maybe soothe her. She felt the weight of each individual finger, impossibly heavy. She didn’t have the strength to shrug off the bulk of his suddenly foreign appendage, but rather she melted away. Intangible. Unable to be touched just yet.
“Right. Well, then. I’ll just get dinner started,” despite his best efforts to keep rejection from stinging his voice, Jenn still heard it. She watched him go. Eyes following him carefully, wishing he wasn’t so far away.
Impossibly, a sound penetrated the fog. A baby cried out. Jenn jerked in reaction, headed swiveling all the way around to the empty room, and then realized it came from the street. Trembling and heart pounding, again she stood to walk from the living room to the kitchen and back. Trying to keep her gaze and attention away from the room at the back of the house. David watched her pace, telling himself it was the chopped onions that pricked tears in his eyes.