I’m making this post based on the assumption that you, like me, wonder how stories come about after reading them. If you don’t wonder about this, a) I don’t get you and think you’re really odd, b) there will be another story for you to read in the form of an earlier, rather different draft of “Karas,” c) you’ll still find my sort of humor and insight into my writing process, and d) seriously, you’re strange. How do you not wonder how stories happen? It’s so weird and individual to the writer.
Moving on though, the draft itself, titled “Dark Blue–Not Black,” is below. After that, you’ll find out how the story came to be in the first place and then how it ended up online. In addition, I’ll tell you how I think about my story because I like knowing how people understand their own work. If one bit of this doesn’t interest you, hopefully I’ve laid out the order well enough for you to skip around.
“Dark Blue–Not Black”
The window glass shattered with little noise, but it still shocked Kara. The clothes hanger, lapel pins, and suit couldn’t have been enough to break the glass, but it was broken. The cool air seeping in from outside the bedroom made that clear. She convinced herself that the window must have had some unnoticeable imperfection and then looked over her shoulder.
Kara saw herself standing before the closet with the door already open. In many old houses, she consoled herself, the doors refused to close properly—likely from age, years of water quietly secreting itself into the wood. So the door stood partially open, but she couldn’t open it all the way. Couldn’t open it to get at Sam’s suit.
The suit was dark blue—not black, would that be okay?—with a pale grey shirt inside it. The cufflinks would even be in the shirt, as though all of this had been planned: the leaving of the funeral clothes at the ready. It was not surprising to be unable to dress one’s great love for the last time, which seemed funny—considering what a surprise the death had been. Was still? Hard to be sure.
She frowned realizing she thought “funny”—bad word.
Kara at the window grew bored with Kara at the closet—she’d stood for shaky hours contemplating that fucking out-of-plumb door—and strained her neck to see Kara on the bed. The bed had come before the first survey of the window, before the closet, before crying on the floor leaned against the dresser—that Kara had thankfully grown quiet. She’d found it hard to sob loudly for long; quiet weeping proved far less exhausting. The other Karas were grateful—the audible crying had put everyone on edge, but the room was noiseless now save the group’s breathing.
Kara on the bed didn’t think about her place on the bed. She couldn’t think about the bed safely. The afghan, something painstakingly crocheted—and kind Sam, her beautiful Sam, never commented on the botched far left corner—from scratching yarn to soft blanket rested on the other side of her slacks, just under her. And, how many times had they slept under it? How many nights made up seven years give or take late nights at a friend’s, veterinary house calls, fights? She’d never been good at math and knew she would have to buy a calculator now that Sam couldn’t work out the bills.
No, no. A reprimand: the disallowing of this compulsion to wallow. The window, the window felt safe, so Kara on the bed stood up, next to and within Kara at the window.
She wished she could see something besides the night. The sky had been overcast and there existed nothing outside but a void. It was dark blue—not black. She looked at the glass because what else was there to look at? She remembered learning that glass was a slow-moving liquid. Over time, if it remained, her pane would thicken at the base. The top would grow thin and then holes would form like the sort in gum pulled away from the teeth, long and strained. Someday, there would be half a window with an uneven top edge. This, surely, would be long after the house fell down—became sawdust and grit—so she imagined only the window suspended in the air by the air, catching uninhibited light. After that, it would pool on the sill but not like water, milk, tears. Its droplets would take millennia to form and she believed that somehow those drops would fall in slow motion. How could something so inert develop the energy to fall like any speck of rain?
Then, she remembers learning that glass was not, in fact, a slow-moving liquid. It was only a myth that this was so, and a silly one. Scientists—archaeologists?—had found windows thicker at the bottom than at the top and assumed glass ran down over the years like an impossibly slow, impossibly small, and impossibly gentle waterfall. No one thought, for a while anyway, that it had been hard, and harder millennia ago, to make perfectly flat glass—and that it simply made sense to put the thicker surface at the bottom. Structural soundness: that was important. Glass was fragile; it didn’t flow over years. Glass only broke.
She tried not to think about it.
Kara on the floor sniffed loudly and coughed on the phlegm that she’d accidentally sucked toward her lungs. She cried badly, not a pretty crier. She wanted to hold the suit to her face—no, she wanted to bury her face in the dark blue of the suit. The fabric would feel soft and could smell like Sam. Yet, Kara didn’t think she should dirty the suit. There wouldn’t be time to take it to the cleaner tomorrow because the funeral home wanted it by two—or by noon. She didn’t know, so she looked down at the suit, thinking it should have an answer. It should know its fate, know when it would go on Sam and when they would go in the ground. A wet drop clung to her nose and then fell, colliding with and spreading across the collar of the suit. That was the moment, galvanization.
Kara, formerly of the floor, stood and ran to the window to stand next to and within the other Karas. She hurled the suit and it soared for a moment before smashing through the window. The hole left was bigger than she ever would have imagined. Kara, formerly of the bed, walked to the closet and Kara, at the closet—finally holding Sam’s suit—collapsed onto the floor crying. Her head smacked against the dresser.
Kara fell onto the bed.
She tried not to think about it.
Glass only broke.
Whew, I found just copy-pasting that tiring. Let’s take a little breather.
So we’re onto how the story happened then. Is this what happens when two stories love each other very much? I’d like to go on record as saying that if the tale had parents, they’d likely be The Lace Reader and the middle segment of To the Lighthouse. As I read both after writing the first draft of “Karas” and neither book is particularly like it, we can safely conclude that “Karas” is not the result of literary sexual reproduction; rather, it happened when my first creative writing professor ever gave my class the prompt to write a piece of flash fiction ( under 1,000 words) about time. He was British so I committed to the challenge.
Years before in high school chemistry class (see, it is important!–but really, chemistry’s awesome), I’d come up with the image of dripping window glass and I put it into words for the first time in a quick free write exercise in class a week before and thought it captured the concept of time well. Kara showed up in that exercise because I needed someone to think about the window–and then I realized I imagined her alone in a farmhouse and then that I liked her. So I started to think about Kara and wondered why she was alone, who’d been with her in the house in the past. Almost everyone wrote about death for the time prompt–literally cannot think of anyone who didn’t–and maybe the idea that Kara might be grieving came from the “time = death” notion that struck all fifteen or so of us.
After I decided she was grieving Sam–and Sam has always been the same Sam to me like Kara has been the same Kara–I thought I could illustrate her grief by showing her as “stuck” at several points in her sadness, caught in a series of loops that fulfilled the time prompt further. And that’s how the first iteration came to be. Turned it in, got a B+, and then got an A after some minor revisions–mostly to my absurdly complex syntax. I’m talking em dashes in commas in long, complex sentences.
Now, I stand by “Dark Blue–Not Black,” but it has problems. I personally think it’s something between a short story and lengthy prose poetry. A rejection from one literary magazine pointed out that the story was hard to relate to despite the strong writing (damn straight I’m mentioning that compliment; this isn’t a modesty contest). A friend said it had too many ideas.
So I opened up a new document on my computer and wrote the story over again. Macrorevision proved to be my friend. I lost the image I started with and shifted my focus to Kara because I firmly believe people empathize with people better than windows more often than not.
I sent the new story out to my readers, a group of trustworthy and brutally honest folk, and then sent it to Bartleby Snopes, the literary magazine that sent me the rejection mentioned above. Just to them, nobody else. And they took it. As mentioned in my very first post, I freaked out.
This post has grown long and I’ll keep my thoughts on “Karas” concise. I never mentioned Sam’s gender in any draft because I wanted to people to think what they wanted and because I don’t think Sam’s gender makes the story any more or less significant emotionally. Personally, I’ve always thought of Sam as a woman. A woman who wanted to be buried in a pantsuit, dammit.
Interpretations of the story I’ve heard are that the other Karas are: a) different stages of grief, b) hallucinations of a profoundly distraught woman, c) representations of how we are never alone, and d) angels. I think of them as parts of a self fractured by overwhelming grief and see the ending of Karas as the beginning of the attempt to put these parts back together, to make a new and whole self in spite of everything. I also see the ending as neither happy nor sad–maybe she’ll succeed and maybe she was right to push people away but maybe not.
Any interpretation that can be argued is valid in my mind so I welcome different takes on “Karas.” If you particularly like yours and want to talk about it, please leave a comment. I’m always down to talk writing.
Since this got heavy and a bit lengthy, here’s something silly.