I occasionally play around with different writing techniques. I find these exercises useful in honing my narrative voice. So, when the mood strikes to try something new, I usually do so in the form of flash fiction (stories under 1,000 words). My flash fiction is often weird and quite different from my typical writing style, but I’ll post them here every now and then.
Trigger warning: drunk driving, death.
College Application Essay #1
Name: Amy Sanderson
Question 1. If you could meet with any person, alive or dead, who would you choose? What would you say to them?
Any person? That’s easy. My brother. Jake.
He’s dead, but I’d prefer to speak to him alive, since you’re giving me the choice. And a person can’t speak to a dead guy anyway, no matter what my crazy mother thinks. Every day, rain or shine, she visits a little white cross beside the highway, just before the county line. It marks the place Jake stopped being Jake, a constant reminder that drunk driving kills. She sometimes asks me to go with her. I tell her no. When she’s sober enough to care, she gets angry. I try to walk away, but she always follows, yelling that I’m ugly and hateful and she can’t believe I don’t want to feel the presence of my brother in the place where his soul crossed over. I ask if his soul crossed over where they found his body or where they found his head. She pops another pill and becomes a K-pin zombie again.
If I could talk to my brother, I’d tell him he has a stupid roadside memorial but Jess doesn’t. She died in the crash, too, but her parents think it’s gross to memorialize the spot where they died, same as me. They went to court to try to get Jake’s cross removed. They said it was an illegal taking of public space for personal use and a distraction to drivers. They even made a Constitutional argument, something about church and state. They lost the case and left town. I wish they had appealed.
I’d yell at him for driving drunk and leaving me behind and making Mom a junkie. I’d beg him to tell me he died instantly, with no pain, like the coroner said. I’d ask if we really have souls, and whether Mom was right about his crossing over. Or was death just the end? Finito? Jake no more?
I’d tell him he’s become a cautionary tale, a name invoked by parents and teachers to scare kids straight. Jake Sanderson was going places, they say. He’d have won a soccer scholarship, or an academic scholarship, or been given an honorary doctorate without ever attending a class. Because he was that great. But he threw it all away for a case of beer. Don’t be like Jake.
I’d remind him of the family selfie we took the day before he died. Back when Jake and Mom and I called ourselves the Sanderson team and thought nothing could touch us. The three of us were all squished together on a porch swing for two, laughing our heads off. A few seconds after the picture was taken, the swing fell and we landed in a heap on the ground. We laughed even harder, until I was gasping for air and Jake and Mom were clutching their sides. It was the last time I heard Jake laugh. The last time I heard Mom laugh, too. I printed a copy and asked the funeral director to put it in the pocket of Jake’s blue suit – the one he hated but was forced to wear to Aunt Jackie’s wedding and then for eternity. Is it still in his pocket?
I’d ask him why he was heading out of town in the first place. Where was he going? Would he have come back? I’m going to leave and never come back. I’d tell him that. I want to go to college where it snows more than anywhere else in the country. Maybe there I’ll be able to associate the color white with something other than his little white cross and Mom’s little white pills. Maybe there I can blame the numbness on the cold.
I’d show him my college application and ask for advice on this essay. The school counselor, Mrs. Adams, said we should answer the questions truthfully and from the heart (and don’t forget to proofread for spelling and grammar!). Jake would say Mrs. Adams is a moron and I should have written about meeting with someone famous or influential. Someone like Amelia Earhart. I could ask her if she was running away too.
But she’s dead and my brother’s dead and the dead don’t speak.