In grad school I wrote a short story about a father who, upon discovering a trail of blood outside his home, took his daughter on a short quest to discover its origins. During my workshop, Richard Bausch at the helm, I remember my face lighting on fire when a cohort asked the table, What kind of parent would do that?
When my two daughters and I found bloodstains on the sidewalk on our walk to school we followed them until they disappeared into our neighbor’s grass half a block away. The remainder of our commute was spent waging guesses as to what had happened. We named crows and cats as perpetrators. Mice, rats, and hummingbirds as victims, however, I’d later discover the blood was from a lizard I’d accidently maimed opening our front gate the day before. His half-eaten body in a gully surrounding a different neighbor’s sprinkler head. His insides and spine exposed. A disgusting, yet strangely fascinating sight.
I wrote about the experience in a personal essay for Samantha Dunn, another influential teacher of mine. Still, as a fiction writer, I couldn’t shake the events of that morning.
What if what we’d trailed had been something far worse?
While “Silverfish” sprung from this more recent incident, the character of James first emerged in 2012, when my family and I were living in Brooklyn, and I was a student of The Writers Studio. In a fragment of a story he was a man at a party discontent with his current relationship. Discontent with his life. Later, he appeared again in my grad-school writing, this time as a divorced father attempting to connect with his young daughter. And again, in his darkest form, as a man struggling with his affinity for incapacitated women.
Each iteration possessed different levels of unsavory traits—from benign to despicable—still, not one of them was wholly bad. Something I find myself grappling with in my writing. Right and wrong as slippery concepts dependent on point of view.
After eight years of trying to figure James out, it’s easy for me to see the connection between the earlier versions and the James who appears here in “Silverfish.” A small section of his larger story.
I used to waste a lot of time berating myself, wishing I had more control. That I wasn’t so dependent on exploring and discovering as I write, connecting threads months, sometimes years later, but the longer I work at it, the easier I find it is to embrace my process instead of cursing it.
CHRISTINA PEREZ BRUBAKER is a fellowship recipient from Chapman University, where she graduated with an MFA in creative writing. Born in New York, she now lives with her husband and two daughters in Costa Mesa, California and teaches creative writing at Orange County School of the Arts. Her work has appeared in The Writers Studio at 30, an anthology published by Epiphany Magazine, as well as Coast Magazine and Fourteen Hills.