last week in writing class we had to do an in-class assignment, a piece from the point of view of a middle-aged woman whose husband has just died of a heart attack. she’s sitting near a lake, looking at her surroundings, and we had to describe the scene and give the reader an idea about her mood, without mentioning her husband or his death. as a class we came up with a lot of details about her life beforehand, like how she’s an executive assistant with no college degree, she lives in chicago but comes from rural iowa, her mother is japanese, and her name is martha washington. but that stuff’s not important here.
she’d come to sit in this place hundreds of times since moving to chicago. this little spot right next to the pier where she could lean against one of the wooden supports and stretch her legs out in the sand, her feet barely touching the water. this was where she went all the time, but things looked different to her today, different than they usually did. most days she could watch the boats on the water, the people relaxing on the shore, the cars on the street nearby, and feel like she was really a part of everything. like she may as well have been adjusting the sails herself, or racing to catch the frisbee, or reaching over to lower the volume on the car radio. usually she leaned against the pier support as if the pressure of her back on the wooden pole was holding the structure in place, effortlessly.
today, though, the wooden pole pressed against her, and she couldn’t hold it up. the pier crushed her underneath its mass, the weathered boards and nails pushing her down into the water and underneath the surface of the earth. when they cleared the debris, there was no trace of the woman who had held the pier up for so long.
but that’s not the way it would happen, would it? no, she was just going to sit here at the lake, by the pier, detached from everything that looked the same and yet slightly different. the same bedsheets with a different smell. the same aftershave on a different face, only not a face at all, just there in a dusty bottle on the counter.