This is a dual exercise: create scenes in two different settings, one static, the other active.  A setting can be a source action of a scene, or the action can be set in a static scene where conflict is in dialogue, or thought, or metaphysical, and may contribute with contrasts suggested by the setting itself: irony, metaphor, back story, and exposition, to name only a few (example–a character contemplating suicide–the reader is influenced by the content and quality of the setting, which represents great potential for the good writer).

PURPOSE

Great literary fiction story telling is the progression of interesting characters–in the midst of change–written sequentially in interrelated scenes.  This exercise, although complicated in direction, is an essential exercise to capture all the skills that make scene writing dynamic in writing imaginative prose and telling stories with energy.

Assignment.

1. Create the conflict and action of the scene.  Here are some ideas to prepare:

      Conflict is incompatibility or clash between two entities, in opinions, in facts, in emotions (fear vs. apathy-love vs. dislike, sympathy vs. disgust, etc.)

Conflict is essential in fiction writing, and can occur:  between or among people, between people and situation, interior (with self), with authority–divine or corporal, in verbal exchanges, in character actions and reactions, in plot reversals and clashes, within the prose (Wings extended, claws ready to grasp, the blue jay descended to grip the oak branch swaying in the wind rather than A blue jay landed on the ground.), etc.

2. Using the photos provided, create the scenes in prose so that the setting synergistically compliments the conflict and action.

PHOTO for scene 1:  a monk in a suicidal burning.  An active setting.  Opportunities for imagining and finding effective purpose for the scene.  The trick is to have the seen action compliment the story, and to not have description of the scene action overshadow human progression of thought and feeling in the scene in real time.   (Remember, you are writing literary character-based fiction.)

PHOTO for scene 2:  Frozen Niagara Falls.  Static.  You’ll have to avoid letting the static setting ruin your ability to hold the reader’s interest and killing the story progress.  So make up your scene with conflict and action that may be internal or external, that incorporates the inherent drama of a powerful natural attraction caught in an instant of rare inaction. and using the static visual effect to advantage.

Limit each scene to 1000 words.  Test you skills and imagination.

SUBMIT YOUR WORK FOR COMMENTS AND IDEAS

Crank up your love for telling stories and use these photos as sharply contrasting points of stimulation to practice your story telling skills!


   Work submissions for Assignment 10: Creating Scenes – Settings

1

 

Nate Peterson, a middle aged man, was diagnosed with cancer. He could take the chemotherapy and radiation treatments, but most likely all that would get him would be constant nausea and fatigue, not to mention losing what remained of his already thinning hair. He chose to forego the treatment.

He quit work, purged himself of possessions, friends and acquaintances. He’d never had a family.

 “Some place where I can be alone among people,” he told the travel agent. He settled on the Middle East, for no reason other than it seemed as far removed from Chicago as one could get.

“Do you have anything to declare?” they asked him at customs.

“Nothing but the specter of death.”

They checked his suitcase and let him pass.

 

He liked the language barrier; he could get by with gestures and nods while avoiding true conversation. He drifted, drank and smoked his way toward death.

One day he joined a group of bystanders as a large procession of Buddhist monks marched down a dusty road. Another demonstration, Nate supposed. He’d seen several. But this procession ended where a vehicle sat on the road, as if stranded, with its hood up and the driver peering at the engine. The monks shifted seamlessly into a semi-circle, surrounding one particular monk who sat, lotus style, on the road. Nick rested his gaze on the monk, amazed by his serenity, his apparent lack of perception of the activity buzzing about him.

Suddenly, the driver grabbed a gasoline container and ran toward the sitting monk. Everything grew eerily quiet so that the sound of his footsteps resounded like thunder. Nate tensed, sensing something disturbing about to happen.

The monk acknowledged the driver with a nod. The driver doused the monk. The monk struck a match to himself. Flames whooshed, engulfing him instantly.

The crowd gasped. Nick charged toward the burning victim. Maybe he could smother the flames. The monks closed ranks as he approached. He bulled into them like a blitzing linebacker, but there were too many. They beat him, flattened and held him firmly to the ground.

He spit blood and dust. Burning oil and flesh scorched his nostrils. Grappling to free himself, he turned to the heat. His eyes stung. His hair singed. The burning monk sat still, as if perfectly at peace. But, up close, Nate saw the agony in his face, beneath a mask of terrible determination. Nate squirmed, to no effect, restrained firmly his captors. He gaped at the monk through the merciless flames. The monk’s flesh softened like butter and dripped—distorting, obliterating his face.

The fire died. The monks gathered the remains of their fallen martyr and departed in solemn reverence.

Set free, but spent, Nate managed a sitting position. He scrunched his face at the persisting odor of burning flesh, and at the image of the monk’s anguished face branded on his brain.

“Are you all right?”

Nate looked up. A reporter, Australian from his accent, with a camera in his hand, stood over him.

“What kind of people are they to do this to one of their own?” Nate asked.

“Desperate, I suppose. They called me here. They want international attention to their protest.”

Nate’s eyes widened. “You knew this was going to happen?”

“I expected a demonstration. Not this. Come on. Let’s get you cleaned up.”

Nate shivered, despite the heat. “Are you going to write the story? Publish the pictures?”

“Hell yes. I’ll win the Pulitzer.”

“You let this happen just to further your career?”

“I couldn’t stop them. Look what happened to you.”

“Maybe one of us could have got through if you had tried.”

The reporter shook his head, “He won’t have died in vain. They will have the publicity he died for.”

Nate shook off the helping hand of the reporter. Then he retched.

 

That night, Nate surrendered to a restless sleep, dreaming he was on fire while his doctor tried to save him. But the dream never resolved; he remained in agonizing limbo, not burning to death, not saved.

The next morning, he booked a flight home, having lost the taste for cultural exploration. From the Chicago airport, he traveled straight to the doctor’s office.

He told the doctor he had changed his mind. “I want a chance to live. No matter how small the chance, or how sick the treatments make me.” If the monk could face agony for the sake of justice, then he could face pain for the hope of life.

The doctor sighed, “You’ve lost valuable time. It may be too late.”

 

Most days Nate felt fatigued and nauseous, but was grateful and surprised to receive visitors. Linda, from work, brought a box of personal effects he had left behind. Randy admonished him for his abrupt disappearance, but everyone wished him well. He asked after their families with real interest. He made amends the best he could. He called his childhood friend, Bob and made a dinner arrangement. He had drinks with casual acquaintances. He refused to allow his illness to become the theme of his life. He accepted the sorry in the eyes of others as affection, and counted each person he knew as a blessing.

           

The treatments ultimately failed; his cancer metastasized throughout his body. He returned to the hospital, in need of constant care. He became a favorite with the hospital staff, especially Lucille, the night nurse. Near the end, he suffered greatly, but he refused drugs during visiting hours. He wanted to be alert for his callers. In moments of unbearable pain, remembering the monk got him through.

He died peacefully, at night. Lucille held his hand when he passed.

 

 

2

 

              The falls—frozen—Jennifer insisted they had to see it. Her parents called from the Canadian side. Previous winters had been too warm, so this was Sam’s first chance, in his eight years with Jennifer, to see what the fuss was about. He would rather have stayed home, but Jennifer would be furious. Things were tense between them already.

The plan was to walk across the top of the falls, Jennifer and Sam Henderson, son Johnathan, and Jennifer’s parents, Stan and Iris. Little Johnathan was all for it, but Sam looked at them as if they were crazy.

“Look at me, Sammy,” Stan said, in his fatherly manner. He grabbed Sam by the shoulders and stared into his eyes. “Would we put our lives or the lives of our daughter and grandson in danger? We’ve lived here all our lives. It’s dangerous below but up here it’s safe.”

 

Sammy! Jennifer quit calling him Sammy after they were married. But her parents still call him that—Sammy. It reminds her of the good days, before disagreement ruined there marriage, before Sam got stubborn about his store. He did not make enough money to support their little family. If he had given it up for a real job, she never would have had to work, so then she would not have started up with Kevin. Hell, she wouldn’t even know Kevin. She wouldn’t have to make this dreadful decision. It was all his fault. Sam was a stubborn bastard.

There was a time when she would have coaxed him onto the ice, saying “Come on, Sammy, listen to Daddy.” She would have taken his arm and led him. But no more, he had to prove to her that he was willing to make an effort to do a thing, just because she wanted it.

 

“Come on daddy, let’s go.” Johnathan jumped onto the ice and started sliding, as if we were wearing skates. Jennifer and her parents followed. Sam hung back until Jenifer gave him a frosty stare.  

This outing belonged to a younger Sam and Jennifer, when he didn’t have the responsibly he had now. Leaving his hardware store in the hands of his eighteen year old assistant, made him nervous.

He transformed the store from a rundown dump into a first class establishment. Customers respected his expert advice. Then the Home Depot came to town. Even customers he counted as friends came by less often. But he loved his store. He missed it now.

Still, he felt attracted to the lustrous ice. It coated tree branches on each bank, glazed hand rails and the walkways about the falls. Time itself seemed to freeze, as they teased the gods with each daring stride. He felt suddenly light and hopeful.   

 He caught up to Jennifer. He put his gloved hand around her shoulders. She frowned and shrugged it off. He shook off the rejection, refusing to let her ruin his new lighthearted attitude. He hurried ahead to catch up to Johnathan, slipping and staggering on the uneven ice.

 

Look at him; he walks like a horse with a broken tail. He’d turn the boy into another damn shopkeeper if she allowed it. Kevin is so much manlier. She longed for the warmth of Kevin’s body. She envisioned this trip to be a chance to change her mind, to discover the real Sam over again, away from the repressing presence of his store. Instead, it had the opposite effect, stressing their differences, accentuating the chill between them as a physical presence. It hardened her heart against him.

 Her parents seemed distant. She sensed their unease; they knew something wasn’t right. They liked Sam, admired his independent spirit. She imagined her mother’s admonishment, carried on the howl of the wind.

 

The old folks were tiring. Everyone was cold. Poor Johnathan’s nose turned crimson so Iris pulled the scarf back over the boy’s face. They decided to turn back.

Sam took Jennifer by the hand, leading her to the edge of the falls. Iris watched the couple, silhouetted against a gray sky, and smiled. She took little Johnathan’s hand and said, “Let’s give the lovebirds a moment of privacy.”

Sam removed his glove. He touched Jennifer’s wind burned face, “Thank you for bringing me here.”

She centered an icy-blue eyed stare on him. She turned her lips to his. Sam trembled. There was a flaw in her makeup and frost on her kiss; eternity lurked in the blink of her eye— as that kiss told him goodbye.

In that kiss, that awful, coldhearted kiss, he realized all was lost, as if he had fallen into the frigid water beneath the thick ice, an opaque lens, through which he saw only a blurred image of what, from this moment on, was his past life, his wife and his son, while icy currents dragged him to oblivion.

He longed for the sanctuary of his store.

 

Instructor Response

Well done.  You’ve comprehended the goals of the exercises and executed well.  Creating conflict in many aspects and levels of fiction is a gift the fiction writer has that is not as readily available to memoir or creative nonfiction writers.  And you have nicely demonstrated how conflict is a valuable resource to enhance characterization.  

 

Nate Peterson, a middle aged man, was diagnosed with cancer. He could take the chemotherapy and radiation treatments, but most likely all that would get him would be constant nausea and fatigue, not to mention losing what remained of his already thinning hair. He chose to forego the treatment.

He quit work, purged himself of possessions, friends and acquaintances. He’d never had a family.

 “Some place where I can be alone among people,” he told the travel agent. He settled on the Middle East, for no reason other than it seemed as far removed from Chicago as one could get.

“Do you have anything to declare?” they asked him at customs.

“Nothing but the specter of death.”

They checked his suitcase and let him pass.  Good opening.

 

He liked the language barrier; he could get by with gestures and nods while avoiding true conversation. He drifted, drank and smoked his way toward death.

One day he joined a group of bystanders as a large procession of Buddhist monks marched down a dusty road. Another demonstration, Nate supposed. He’d seen several. But this procession ended where a vehicle sat on the road, as if stranded, with its hood up and the driver peering at the engine. The monks shifted seamlessly into a semi-circle, surrounding one particular monk who sat, lotus style, on the road. Nick rested his gaze on the monk, amazed by his serenity, his apparent lack of perception of the activity buzzing about him.

Suddenly, the driver grabbed a gasoline container filled with gasoline and ran toward the sitting monk. Everything grew eerily quiet so that the sound of his footsteps resounded like thunder. Nate tensed, sensing something disturbing about to happen.

The monk acknowledged the driver with a nod. The driver doused the monk. The monk struck a match to himself. Flames whooshed, engulfing him instantly.

The crowd gasped. Nick charged toward the burning victim. Maybe he could smother the flames. The monks closed ranks as he approached. He bulled into them like a blitzing linebacker, but there were too many. They beat him, flattened and held him firmly to the ground.

He spit blood and dust. Burning oil and flesh scorched his nostrils. Grappling to free himself, he turned to the heat. His eyes stung. His hair singed. The burning monk sat still, as if perfectly at peace. But, up close, Nate saw the agony in his face, beneath a mask of terrible determination. Nate squirmed, to no effect, restrained firmly his captors. He gaped at the monk through the merciless flames. The monk’s flesh softened like butter and dripped—distorting, obliterating his face.

The fire died. The monks gathered the remains of their fallen martyr and departed in solemn reverence.

Set free, but spent, Nate managed a sitting position. He scrunched his face at the persisting odor of burning flesh, and at the image of the monk’s anguished face branded on his brain.

“Are you all right?”

Nate looked up. A reporter, Australian from his accent, with a camera in his hand, stood over him.

“What kind of people are they to do this to one of their own?” Nate asked.

“Desperate, I suppose. They called me here. They want international attention to their protest.”

Nate’s eyes widened. “You knew this was going to happen?” Yes.  This works well.

“I expected a demonstration. Not this. Come on. Let’s get you cleaned up.”

Nate shivered, despite the heat. “Are you going to write the story? Publish the pictures?”

“Hell yes. I’ll win the Pulitzer.”

“You let this happen just to further your career?”

“I couldn’t stop them. Look what happened to you.”

“Maybe one of us could have got through if you had tried.”

The reporter shook his head, “He won’t have died in vain. They will have the publicity he died for.”

Nate shook off the helping hand of the reporter. Then he retched.

 

That night, Nate surrendered to a restless sleep, dreaming he was on fire while his doctor tried to save him. But the dream never resolved; he remained in agonizing limbo, not burning to death, not saved.

The next morning, he booked a flight home, having lost the taste for cultural exploration. From the Chicago airport, he traveled straight to the doctor’s office.

He told the doctor he had changed his mind. “I want a chance to live. No matter how small the chance, or how sick the treatments make me.” If the monk could face agony for the sake of justice, then he could face pain for the hope of life.  If you make this into a longer piece (with no word restrictions as you were working under) you might spend a little more time working through his logic to come to this decision.  In essence, clarify what specifically about the monk experience translated into his own life decision to try to stay alive.  The dream doesn’t quite fill the bill.  Dreams in general are tricky for story contribution.  Dreams are void of personal responsibility for action, and often depend on illogical and incredible images and ideas to maintain interest.  It’s not the right solution, but you might consider something like this.  Could Nick come to his revelation through a discussion generated in the conflict with the photographer?  Or could there be a moment of interaction where something the monk says or does (with dicertion specifically to Nick) that brings Nick to his personal revelation?  In general, there are times where it is an advantage to use character interaction to generate revelation.  It provides depth to the story.  But this is not always true for all stories.  And if the revelation is internal, it is usually better to instill with clarity some cause and effect in the character’s thinking . . . and feeling.)

The doctor sighed, “You’ve lost valuable time. It may be too late.” Yes.

 

Most days Nate felt fatigued and nauseous, but was grateful and surprised to receive visitors. Linda, from work, brought a box of personal effects he had left behind. Randy admonished him for his abrupt disappearance, but everyone wished him well. He asked after their families with real interest. He made amends the best he could. He called his childhood friend, Bob and made a dinner arrangement. He had drinks with casual acquaintances. He refused to allow his illness to become the theme of his life. He accepted the sorry in the eyes of others as affection, and counted each person he knew as a blessing.

The treatments ultimately failed; his cancer metastasized throughout his body. He returned to the hospital, in need of constant care. He became a favorite with the hospital staff, especially Lucille, the night nurse. Near the end, he suffered greatly, but he refused drugs during visiting hours. He wanted to be alert for his callers. In moments of unbearable pain, remembering the monk got him through.

He died peacefully, at night. Lucille held his hand when he passed.

 _____________________________________________________________

2

The falls—frozen—Jennifer insisted they had to see it. Her parents called from the Canadian side. Previous winters had been too warm, so this was Sam’s first chance, in his eight years with Jennifer, to see what the fuss was about. He would rather have stayed home, but Jennifer would be furious. Things were tense between them already.  Good.  This opening sets the scene well and contains plenty of conflict: warm/cold; Jennifer insist/ Sam wants to stay; something tense between them.  

The plan was to walk across the top of the falls, Jennifer and Sam Henderson, son Johnathan, and Jennifer’s parents, Stan and Iris. Little Johnathan was all for it, but Sam looked at them as if they were crazy.  Conflict between safteyt and danger.

“Look at me, Sammy,” Stan said, in his fatherly manner. He grabbed Sam by the shoulders and stared into his eyes. “Would we put our lives or the lives of our daughter and grandson in danger? We’ve lived here all our lives. It’s dangerous below but up here it’s safe.”

 

Sammy! Jennifer quit calling him Sammy after they were married. But her parents still call him that—Sammy. It reminds her of the good days, before disagreement ruined there marriage, before Sam got stubborn about his store. He did not make enough money to support their little family. If he had given it up for a real job, she never would have had to work, so then she would not have started up with Kevin. Hell, she wouldn’t even know Kevin. She wouldn’t have to make this dreadful decision. It was all his fault. Sam was a stubborn bastard.  Great!

There was a time when she would have coaxed him onto the ice, saying “Come on, Sammy, listen to Daddy.” She would have taken his arm and led him. But no more, he had to prove to her that he was willing to make an effort to do a thing, just because she wanted it.

 

“Come on daddy, let’s go.” Johnathan jumped onto the ice and started sliding, as if we were wearing skates. Jennifer and her parents followed. Sam hung back until Jenifer gave him a frosty stare.  

This outing belonged to a younger Sam and Jennifer, when he didn’t have the responsibly he had now. Leaving his hardware store in the hands of his eighteen year old assistant, made him nervous. Good.

He transformed the store from a rundown dump into a first class establishment. Customers respected his expert advice. Then the Home Depot came to town. Even customers he counted as friends came by less often. But he loved his store. He missed it now.

Still, he felt attracted to the lustrous ice. It coated tree branches on each bank, glazed hand rails and the walkways about the falls. Time itself seemed to freeze, as they teased the gods with each daring stride. He felt suddenly light and hopeful.   Yes.  I could see a falls without the photograph.

 He caught up to Jennifer. He put his gloved hand around her shoulders. She frowned and shrugged it off. He shook off the rejection, refusing to let her ruin his new lighthearted attitude. Yes. He hurried ahead to catch up to Johnathan, slipping and staggering on the uneven ice.  Conflict with nature.

 

Look at him; he walks like a horse with a broken tail. He’d turn the boy into another damn shopkeeper if she allowed it. Kevin is so much manlier. She longed for the warmth of Kevin’s body. She envisioned this trip to be a chance to change her mind, to discover the real Sam over again, away from the repressing presence of his store. Instead, it had the opposite effect, stressing their differences, accentuating the chill between them as a physical presence. It hardened her heart against him.

 Her parents seemed distant. She sensed their unease; they knew something wasn’t right. They liked Sam, admired his independent spirit. She imagined her mother’s admonishment, carried on the howl of the wind.  Good.

 

The old folks were tiring. Everyone was cold. Poor Johnathan’s nose turned crimson so Iris pulled the scarf back over the boy’s face. They decided to turn back.

Sam took Jennifer by the hand, leading her to the edge of the falls. Iris watched the couple, silhouetted against a gray sky, and smiled. She took little Johnathan’s hand and said, “Let’s give the lovebirds a moment of privacy.”

Sam removed his glove. He touched Jennifer’s wind burned face, “Thank you for bringing me here.”

She centered an icy-blue eyed stare on him. She turned her lips to his. Sam trembled. There was a flaw in her makeup [opportunity for concrete image rather than abstract “flaw in her makeup.”  Could have chilling effect with a little work.]  and frost on her kiss; eternity lurked in the blink of her eye— as that kiss told him goodbye.  “

In that kiss, that awful, coldhearted kiss, he realized all was lost, as if he had fallen into the frigid water beneath the thick ice, an opaque lens, through which he saw only a blurred image of what, from this moment on, was his past life, his wife and his son, while icy currents dragged him to oblivion.  [Not exactly sure what this implies.  Is it possible to clarify it without sentimentality?  Does he die?  Or is this and expression of his realization.  You may want the obscurity as part of your story, but personally I think the ending would have even more impact by knowing what is happening or will happen in reality?] 

He longed for the sanctuary of his store.  Compliments on effective use of multiple points of view to establish major and minor conflicts.  It really keeps the momentum going. 

 

  1. Bill,

    Thank you for the advice. As always, I find it invaluable. I’ve made changes to both stories, but still wanted to conform to the length requirements. Here they are.

    1
    Nate Peterson, a middle aged man, was diagnosed with cancer. He could take the chemotherapy and radiation treatments, but most likely all that would get him would be constant nausea and fatigue, not to mention losing what remained of his already thinning hair. He chose to forego the treatment.
    He quit work, purged himself of possessions, friends and acquaintances. He’d never had a family.
    “Some place where I can be alone among people,” he told the travel agent. He settled on the Middle East, for no reason other than it seemed as far removed from Chicago as one could get.
    “Do you have anything to declare?” they asked him at customs.
    “Nothing but the specter of death.”
    They checked his suitcase and let him pass.

    He liked the language barrier; he could get by with gestures and nods while avoiding true conversation. He drifted, drank and smoked his way toward death.
    One day he joined a group of bystanders as a large procession of Buddhist monks marched down a dusty road. Another demonstration, Nate supposed. He’d seen several. But this procession ended where a vehicle sat on the road, as if stranded, with its hood up and the driver peering at the engine. The monks shifted seamlessly into a semi-circle, surrounding one particular monk who sat, lotus style, on the road. Nick rested his gaze on the monk, amazed by his serenity, his apparent lack of perception of the activity buzzing about him.
    Suddenly, the driver grabbed a container filled with gasoline and ran toward the sitting monk. Everything grew eerily quiet so that the sound of his footsteps resounded like thunder. Nate tensed, sensing something disturbing about to happen.
    The monk acknowledged the driver with a nod. The driver doused the monk. The monk struck a match to himself. Flames whooshed, engulfing him instantly.
    The crowd gasped. Nick charged toward the burning victim. Maybe he could smother the flames. The monks closed ranks as he approached. He bulled into them like a blitzing linebacker, but there were too many. They beat him, flattened and held him firmly to the ground.
    He spit blood and dust. Burning oil and flesh scorched his nostrils. Grappling to free himself, he turned to the heat. His eyes stung. His hair singed. The burning monk sat still, as if perfectly at peace. But, up close, Nate saw the agony in his face, beneath a mask of terrible determination. He saw a darkening in the monk’s eyes, it seemed a message—a longing to be spared, not from pain, but from the sacrifice of his life. A decision made and now regretted, too late. It was gone in a blink, replaced by the vacant stare of death. He was stunned by that stare—by the permanence of it. He squirmed, to no effect, restrained firmly by his captors. He gaped at the monk through the merciless flames. Flesh softened like butter and dripped—distorting, obliterating his face.
    The fire died. The monks gathered the remains of their fallen martyr and departed in solemn reverence.
    Set free, but spent, Nate managed a sitting position. He scrunched his face at the persisting odor of burning flesh, and at the image of the monk’s anguished face branded on his brain.
    “Are you all right?”
    Nate looked up. A reporter, Australian from his accent, with a camera in his hand, stood over him.
    “What kind of people are they to do this to one of their own?” Nate asked.
    “Desperate, I suppose. They called me here. They want international attention to their protest.”
    Nate’s eyes widened. “You knew this was going to happen?”
    “I expected a demonstration. Not this. Come on. Let’s get you cleaned up.”
    Nate shivered, despite the heat. “Are you going to write the story? Publish the pictures?”
    “Hell yes. I’ll win the Pulitzer.”
    “You let this happen just to further your career?”
    “I couldn’t stop them. Look what happened to you.”
    “Maybe one of us could have got through if you had tried.”
    The reporter shook his head, “He won’t have died in vain. They will have the publicity he died for.”
    Nate shook off the helping hand of the reporter. Then he retched.
    He was haunted, that night by the death of the monk, especially by his desire to live in his last moment of life. The next morning, he booked a flight home, having lost the taste for cultural exploration. From the Chicago airport, he traveled straight to the doctor’s office.
    He told the doctor he had changed his mind. “I want a chance to live. No matter how small the chance, or how sick the treatments make me.” If the monk could face agony for the sake of justice, then he could face pain for the hope of life. The doctor sighed, “You’ve lost valuable time. It may be too late.”

    Most days Nate felt fatigued and nauseous, but was grateful and surprised to receive visitors. Linda, from work, brought a box of personal effects he had left behind. Randy admonished him for his abrupt disappearance, but everyone wished him well. He asked after their families with real interest. He made amends the best he could. He called his childhood friend, Bob and made a dinner arrangement. He had drinks with casual acquaintances. He refused to allow his illness to become the theme of his life. He accepted the sorry in the eyes of others as affection, and counted each person he knew as a blessing.
    The treatments ultimately failed; his cancer metastasized throughout his body. He returned to the hospital, in need of constant care. He became a favorite with the hospital staff, especially Lucille, the night nurse. Near the end, he suffered greatly, but he refused drugs during visiting hours. He wanted to be alert for his callers. In moments of unbearable pain, remembering the monk got him through.
    He died peacefully, at night. Lucille held his hand when he passed.

    2
    The falls—frozen—Jennifer insisted they had to see it. Her parents called from the Canadian side. Previous winters had been too warm, so this was Sam’s first chance, in his eight years with Jennifer, to see what the fuss was about. He would rather have stayed home, but Jennifer would be furious. Things were tense between them already.
    The plan was to walk across the top of the falls, Jennifer and Sam Henderson, son Johnathan, and Jennifer’s parents, Stan and Iris. Little Johnathan was all for it, but Sam looked at them as if they were crazy. “Look at me, Sammy,” Stan said, in his fatherly manner. He grabbed Sam by the shoulders and stared into his eyes. “Would we put our lives or the lives of our daughter and grandson in danger? We’ve lived here all our lives. It’s dangerous below but up here it’s safe.”

    Sammy! Jennifer quit calling him Sammy after they were married. But her parents still call him that—Sammy. It reminds her of the good days, before disagreement ruined their marriage, before Sam got stubborn about his store. He did not make enough money to support their little family. If he had given it up for a real job, she never would have had to work, so then she would not have started up with Kevin. Hell, she wouldn’t even know Kevin. She wouldn’t have to make this dreadful decision. It was all his fault. Sam was a stubborn bastard.
    There was a time when she would have coaxed him onto the ice, saying “Come on, Sammy, listen to Daddy.” She would have taken his arm and led him. But no more, he had to prove to her that he was willing to make an effort to do a thing, just because she wanted it.

    “Come on daddy, let’s go.” Johnathan jumped onto the ice and started sliding, as if he were wearing skates. Jennifer and her parents followed. Sam hung back until Jenifer gave him a frosty stare.
    This outing belonged to a younger Sam and Jennifer, when he didn’t have the responsibly he had now. Leaving his hardware store in the hands of his eighteen year old assistant, made him nervous.
    He transformed the store from a rundown dump into a first class establishment. Customers respected his expert advice. Then the Home Depot came to town. Even customers he counted as friends came by less often. But he loved his store. He missed it now.
    Still, he felt attracted to the lustrous ice. It coated tree branches on each bank, glazed hand rails and the walkways about the falls. Time itself seemed to freeze, as they teased the gods with each daring stride. He felt suddenly light and hopeful.
    He caught up to Jennifer. He put his gloved hand around her shoulders. She frowned and shrugged it off. He shook off the rejection, refusing to let her ruin his new lighthearted attitude. He hurried ahead to catch up to Johnathan, slipping and staggering on the uneven ice.

    Look at him; he walks like a horse with a broken tail. He’d turn the boy into another damn shopkeeper if she allowed it. Kevin is so much manlier. She longed for the warmth of Kevin’s body. She envisioned this trip to be a chance to change her mind, to discover the real Sam over again, away from the repressing presence of his store. Instead, it had the opposite effect, stressing their differences, accentuating the chill between them as a physical presence. It hardened her heart against him.
    Her parents seemed distant. She sensed their unease; they knew something wasn’t right. They liked Sam, admired his independent spirit. She imagined her mother’s admonishment, carried on the howl of the wind.

    The old folks were tiring. Everyone was cold. Poor Johnathan’s nose turned crimson so Iris pulled the scarf back over the boy’s face. They decided to turn back.
    Sam took Jennifer by the hand, leading her to the edge of the falls. Iris watched the couple, silhouetted against a gray sky, and smiled. She took little Johnathan’s hand and said, “Let’s give the lovebirds a moment of privacy.”
    Sam removed his glove. He touched Jennifer’s wind burned face, “Thank you for bringing me here.”
    Sam shivered when he saw her face-on. She centered an icy-blue stare on him and turned her lips to his. Her face had gone white as snow. Her lips had cracked. His life turned in the blink of her eye when she kissed him—as that kiss told him goodbye.“
    In that kiss, that awful, coldhearted kiss, he realized all was lost, as if he had fallen, helplessly, into the frigid water beneath the thick ice. Jennifer turned and walked away without explanation, taking her son, driving off, and leaving Sam to return with her parents. Stan and Iris looked at him, seeking an explanation. He had none to offer.
    They arrived at her parents’ house, just as Jennifer tossed a suitcase into the car and clicked Jonathan into his seat, speeding off before they had a chance to speak, forsaking her mother, who was nonplussed by her daughter’s behavior. Iris stood, with her car door swung open, and stared after her. Sam sat in the back seat with his head slumped. Iris shook her head, sadly, and led Sam inside.
    Sam flew home the next day, a step behind Jennifer as usual, he noted to himself. She and Johnathan were gone, permanently, he knew. He would follow her no more.

    He settled into the sanctuary of his store.

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