An exercise set by my writing workshop leader. Incorporate this paragraph from a published novel into a 500-word story, while sticking with the writing style/voice as much as you can.
The first paragraph is taken from Port Mungo by Patrick McGrath (which I’ve never read); the rest is mine.
When he first came back to New York, and that would be twenty years ago now, my brother Jack was in a kind of stupor, for it was shortly after the death of his daughter Peg. What can you say about the death of a child? She was sixteen when it happened and the impact on all of us, Jack of course in particular, was devastating.
Friends and family alike had come to grieve with us. Even Mildred, recluse that she was, crept over one evening, whispering her condolences, and if we needed someone to talk to she was available at any time of the night, just a phone call and a short walk away. Unlike the others, she gave us space afterward, which was itself the greatest kindness. Even after this time I remembered her look, the sorrow on a face that bore the weight of lifetimes, and the compassion that arose from this and stood out in her eyes.
I can’t say that Jack did, back then. He didn’t know or remember much, then. By day he sat on the balcony staring at the buildings opposite, hunched stonelike against the torrent of noise and lights from the street. In the evening he ate dinner with us, then got up without a word or cleaning his plate to return to his vigil over the city, kept long after Carl and I went to bed.
But time had a way of releasing the grip of memory no matter how hard we try to hold onto them. One late morning he awakened, stood up on the balcony, and ran his hands through dishevelled hair, the same gesture he always made when waking up as a young boy. Then he went indoors, washed his face, then went downstairs and out to look for work.
And so it went. For twenty years not a word about Peg’s murder.
But today he walked over to our flat with his new family, as he had done every Tuesday for the last decade. After dinner, Annette shepherded their young son into the living room, and Carl joined her there, our own two children having scattered back into their rooms as was the custom of adolescents nowadays. I was in the kitchen, cleaning up the dishes, when Jack wandered over to stand next to me, just outside my line of vision, in the way when he wanted to get my attention but was too awkward or preoccupied to sing out.
Jack said, “I saw Peg on Sunday evening.”
In the silence of my astonishment, he coughed, then said, “Sun was just setting and in my eyes, it was already dark at street level. But she had her hands on her hips in that actress way, and I know — I’d know that posture anywhere. She’d practised it every day in the living room, just before that show. I was rushing to get downstairs, but when I opened the door, she was gone.”
He pushed his hands through hair, now grown thin, and left behind furrows on his brow. “I know, Shannon. But it was her. She didn’t look a day older since the last I saw her.”
I said, “The coroner made a full report,” not knowing how else to fill the silence. “Her body, her neck. She had been strangled.” I closed my eyes against the memory of the pale body on the coroner’s bench, the sight I’d shielded from Jack. “There was no other sign of damage. Are you sure it’s her?”
Jack scrubbed his face. The furrows cleared. “Maybe not. I… was so sure then. It was getting dark anyway.” He sighed, a sound more like a groan. “I don’t know why I’m thinking of her.” He turned on his heel and left the kitchen.
I finished drying the dishes, but Peg remained with me. Jack had not been there when we put her into the ground. I remembered my last vision of her lying in the coffin, a pale, bloodless vision of blooming potential, now snuffed out in its youth.
Only later, after they had left and when I was lying in bed listening to Carl’s snores, I thought of Mildred. She was one of them. She’d be awake now too. She’d know if someone like Peg had returned. I resolved to call her tomorrow night.