My group of fiction-loving writers continues to meet! This exercise called for conjuring up a town that had disappeared, reliving its heydey and its demise. I attempted to stretch beyond my comfort with mixed results. Dialogue comes easily, description not so much — writing about place without sounding telly or contrived or as if I take myself too seriously is a challenge. Also, this just stops instead of ends. Good practice, in any case.


The tree groaned. The wind gusted. Branches snapped, tumbled through other branches, hit the ground. Oak leaves the color of the sunset raced across the browned lawn, smashed into the house. A few caught on an updraft, blew in through the window frame. Another rectangle paralleled the first, vacant eyes staring out. Night fell. The wind died.

An absence of movement shuddered through the valley. Stars spread across the sky like holes poked in black paper.

Besides the oak, two pine trees stood a half-mile away and, in defiance of taste, four palm trees marked the boundaries of an estate slumped into decay. The main house had fallen forward on its columns. The stables had collapsed into rubble. Tufts of hay poked through broken slats. A sun-bleached saddle sprawled on the dirt a half-yard away.

Night passed. Dawn arrived. The sky shifted. The wind returned. The sunrise, flamboyant with red, orange, pink, gold, passed without appreciation.

A similar sunrise had woken Joy the day she’d left, the day they’d all left. She’d marveled at the colors, at the gratitude for a new day such a dawn inspired. Chris had left a month before. The children had been sent to her mother’s house to await first him, then her. She stayed last because she wanted to harvest the blackberries. Ridiculous, she knew, but the thought of them growing ripe only to die on the vine troubled her to the point of insomnia. This final day, she’d gather what she could and move on. They all would.

That evening, hurrying to beat the dark, they’d loaded the last bits and pieces into station wagons, trucks. Joy clutched her jar of blackberries with one hand, her friend Francine with the other. “Goodbye,” they whispered as they left, the wind whipping their words across the valley. “Goodbye.”

She closed her eyes and imagined five years prior. Francine’s party, her 40th birthday bash. They’d planned for weeks. The town boasted five bakeries at the time, all guilty of providing irresistible treats. Francine couldn’t choose between them and so had ordered a cake from each, one chocolate, one vanilla, one marble, one mocha and, to Joy’s delight, one banana. In the same spirit, Francine had arranged for both the Ma Wan, the Vietnamese restaurant, and Papa Vito’s, the Italian joint, to cater. “Something for everyone!” she’d laughed. Joy had helped her string lights from the house to the stable and back again. They’d convinced the guys to build a stage and a dance floor. The first band, Little John and the Robbin’ Hoods, played down and dirty blues. The next, Groove Flash, funk with jazz undertones. Finishing the evening was a nameless hodgepodge of players skilled with guitars, harmonicas and the occasional jug – by that time, the hundred people in attendance were uniformly drunk on homemade mead and would’ve danced to anything.

Joy missed dancing.