Nine of us cram into Brad O’Neill’s dad’s Buick, a girl to each lap, and Gulp’s snugging my middle before all the doors crash shut. I look back to see his tanned cheekbones; it’s really him, Gulp North, under…
I drafted “It Will Be All of These Things” during one of Monet Patrice Thomas’s famous writing challenges. Anyone who has followed her on Twitter for the past few years may have noticed the hashtags: #TheBJChallenge, #TheKinkChallenge, #TheBigO; you get the idea. Participating writers have a month to generate a flash-length story or essay. All entries must include a literary portrayal of sex and fulfill a prompt Monet keeps secret until the official start date. The prompt for this challenge was First Time. #FirstTimeChallenge. So I spent thirty days thinking of teenagers.
I had a seed of a premise. I could see the love interest vividly. I gave him a boring name and a dew-graced setting. I accumulated notes. One was: Maybe it should make me feel better about the world, but it doesn’t. Did I mention this was March 2020? Even before lockdown, I tweeted about what a difficult time I was having with the piece. I posted a photo from my journal with the giant letters B-A-D scrawled over crossed-out paragraphs.
With two days left to write, I didn’t have a story. All I had were thoughts of teenagers. I needed constraints. I turned to one of my favorite flash stories, “Peggy Park, August 1992” by Bryan Washington, which first appeared in Hobart before landing, retitled as “Peggy Park,” in his brilliant collection, Lot. If you haven’t read this story go read it now. It’s magnificent. It’s under 900 words and has more than twenty characters, most of whom have futures laid out in the exposition. The dramatic action is complete and triumphant and funny, too. I love every sentence of that story. So, desperate to turn in a draft, I decided to experiment with the form. Put another way: I stole the structure. Shamelessly and poorly. I packed nine kids into a car and never quite achieved a plot or a fully drawn sexual interaction, but I sent the piece to Monet at 11:59 p.m. with a minute to spare. And then I tweeted a gif of Winona Ryder from Heathers, post-explosion and sooty with a cigarette hanging from her mouth.
I revisited the draft in August, determined to finish something I could feel good about submitting to a magazine. While I searched for the story’s aboutness, one character’s miscarriage became a city council run; an EMT changed into a police officer. I cut the boys’ dialogue and let Sarah talk instead. My super smart first flash readers, who I met thanks to Kathy Fish’s classes, helped me turn “pilfered” into “stolen” and a mongoose into a mastiff. They hinted that I consider eliminating Sebastian, but in uncharacteristic decisiveness, I clung to him. Revision after revision, the piece remained about 400 words, like maybe it knew what it wanted to be, like maybe I was just along for the ride. In every draft, Gulp got more dangerous, and the car’s destination remained uncertain, sort of like the world. In every draft, the narrator became more aware of her desires, sort of like me.
RUTH LEFAIVE’s stories and interviews appear in Best Small Fictions 2018, Little Fiction, Longreads, Split Lip Magazine, The Offing, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. Her work recently placed 2nd in the Fractured Lit Micro Fiction Prize. She lives in Los Angeles where she is working on a collection of short stories. Find her online at ruthlefaive.com.