For my birthday (July 2010), Cass (writer, collaborator, husband) had the idea to get readers to write a story. Here’s a copy of the story, cut-and-pasted in, with attributions along the way. Perhaps it might be subtitled Narrative is Nourishment. Thank you to everyone for this wonderful gift. I love it. (And by the way, I am not 64, just in case…) Cass regrets that he wasn’t able to get to each reader in time.
A Collaborative Writing Project Dedicated to Peg Alford Pursell, Associated Only Loosely with the Occasion of Her Birthday
With Contributions by:
Michael Alenyikov….Mari Coates….Shana Mahaffey
Scott James….Tamim Ansary….Lauren Becker
James Warner….Judy French…. Tanya Egan Gibson
Joan Frank….Stephen Elliott…. Ann Dickinson
Dylan Landis….Natalie Baszile….Allison Landa
Wendy Nelson Tokunaga….Bora Reed….Ethel Rohan
Elizabeth Eslami …. Joe Quirk…. Lori Otslund
Anne Raeff….Cass Pursell….Prartho Sereno
She’d thought that the move to Ohio might ruin her life, and the move to the Bay Area might save it. Neither had happened, at least not literally. It was her birthday and she reflected on these things as she stood on the beach in Tennessee Valley watching the morning light change through the thinning fog. (Cass Pursell)
She spotted a freighter, and then an island — the tip of a finger jutting out of the watery horizon — emerged in the revealed Pacific landscape. She knew no one. She’d given herself a new name. A rebirth–but into what? An innocent? A stranger? (Michael Alenyikov)
She shook off the latter idea—no more negative Ohio thinking!—and walked toward the ocean. The wet sand was cold on her bare feet, but she was buoyed by a sense of elation. I’m free, she thought. I can do anything. She flung her arms out and spun around laughing, only to halt abruptly as a horse and rider emerged from the fog. (Mari Coates)
As both moved toward her, a quick glance was all she needed to take in the rider’s dark, wavy hair and six pack abs displayed in all their shirtless glory. This is straight out of a bad romance novel, she thought with a smirk. Oh, what the hell, waving her already outstretched hand, she yelled, “Taxi!” (Shana Mahaffey)
“Dat is a fabulous dress you wear,” he said, his accent thick. South American? “I am Armando. And this is my horse, Tom Cruise.” She sighed inside, careful not to let it show. Why were all the beautiful ones…? “Come up.” Armando stretched out his hand. “He is not afraid of woman.” (Scott James)
Who did he think he was fooling? “Every horse fears women,” she said coldly. “For that matter, so does Tom Cruise.” (Tamim Ansary)
She looked at her watch. It was nearly time for breakfast with Bob. Who had no horse. Who didn’t notice what she wore. Who she had known for two weeks. Who stopped sucking in his stomach after one. She decided on Eggs Benedict and walked toward her car. (Lauren Becker)
“Do not leave, mi amor,” Armando begged. “Tom Cruise is no ordinary horse. He has what you might call a sixth sense. Try asking him a question, any question.” She turned and saw the horse flick its tail sulkily. (James Warner)
She walked slowly up to the horse’s muzzle, gently gripped his chin, and placed her open lips near his large nostril. Sending her exhalation into Tom Cruise’s nose, as she was taught in graduate school horse-whispering, she breathed her soul into his. “64,” the horse replied in her ear. (Judy French)
Or did she imagine that? Never mind. Who’d have believed her, except Armando?
She turned and began placing one foot after another on the soft trail toward the parking lot. Horseman, pass by, she thought, her eyes following the footpath. She heard the coffee-colored man rein the animal around, clopping toward the sea.
I will tell Bob while we’re eating, she thought. And slammed herself with satisfaction into the old car, gazing once more, as she backed out, at the low mists and bamboolike reeds, the greens and blues of the beautiful valley. There is always this, she thought. I can walk here and see it and breathe it. And tell someone about it, some day. (Joan Frank)
At the restaurant, she found Bob lounging in a booth, dressed in an exuberant Hawaiian shirt and sipping a poppy-colored mimosa. “Sorry I’m late,” she said. “You won’t believe . . .”
His hand shot up, cutting her off. “Nourishment first, narrative second,” he said, sliding a menu toward her. (Ann Dickinson)
“Narrative is nourishment,” she said under her breath.
“Danish?” Bob said, thrusting his half-eaten one across the table at her. Sugar flaked off it like dandruff. (Tanya Egan Gibson)
She closed her eyes and sunk her teeth into the delicate pastry. Oh! The freshly baked dough, the tender chunks of apples, the swirl of cinnamon! She hadn’t had a danish this delicious since her Aunt Polly died taking the recipe with her to the grave. “I’ll be right back,” she said. She picked a crumb from the plate and ran off toward the kitchen. (Natalie Baszile)
Bob. He was a short haircut, a small float made of cork, the slight inclination of the head. He was stationary and she was in movement. She was movement. (Cass Pursell) She had never felt such a surge of well being in all her years. It was as if she had thrown off those Ohio shackles here and now in this local, sustainable, organic eatery in the paradise known as Larkspur. (Wendy Nelson Tokunaga)
On the ferry ride to San Francisco, bright yellow cones dotted the deck, warned slippery when wet. She continued her walk, avoided the wet patches. The ocean’s sounds whooshed in her ears and the salt wind blasted her. She felt cleansed, a clay urn with its art impatient to get out.
Unlike Armando, his supernatural horse (what was that anyway?), and Bob, the elements, the deck beneath her feet, felt real. She felt real. The waves climbed and the ferry see-sawed. She stood fixed, solid. As the ferry neared San Francisco’s spectacular downtown skyline, her chest warmed and she started to believe that, at last, she just might belong. (Ethel Rohan)
“Sixty-four,” she mused. The ferry nosed the pier. What did Tom Cruise have in mind, and could it relate to the next words she’d heard: “Nourishment first?” Perhaps Tom Cruise spoke in Cockney rhyming slang. Sixty-four, let it pour…apple core. Perhaps, on her birthday, Tom Cruise was saying: Drink deeply, and take sustenance from life. Instantly, she knew what to do. (Dylan Landis)
She called Bob on her cell phone. “I’m sorry I ditched you in the restaurant.”
“And left me with the bill for your apple poison–I mean Danish!” (Joe Quirk)
She didn’t respond, and after a moment hung up the phone. (Cass Pursell) The boat was docked but now she was starting to feel sick. Why was she angry and why had she never realized she was angry before? A man stepped in front of her and they waited for the rope to lift. He wore a light blazer and as he turned she noticed the dark handle of a gun in a holster at his waist. There was a loud clank, something metal, something large bumping against something else, also large, and then they were all walking, all of them, like a school of fish, except quickly dispersed, as if attacked by predators. (Stephen Elliott)
Disoriented but also disillusioned, she was jostled into the crowd of departing passengers, newfound anger bubbling up in the cauldron of her Danish-filled stomach. She would not let herself be led. Bob, all Bobs, must be shed like barnacles. Her heart, decisive and true, was pricked to her destiny. If she continued down this path, surely it would be another 64 years until she found happiness. As she broke away from the others, she became aware that the man with the gun was sidling up next to her. A strange smile played across his face. (Elizabeth Eslami)
“May I show you my gun?” the man said. He had a smattering of crumbs on his face, and she was sure that he too had been eating a Danish.
“Yes,” she said. “It’s my birthday.”
He took the gun from the holster. “Mine too,” he said. (Lori Ostlund and Anne Raeff)
She thought, yes, there is danger and there are predators all around, and yes I would that this beginning had begun before today. Where am I now, that’s the question. She held the gun in her hand and it felt…silly. She said, “Why do carry this around?” She fought an urge to throw it into the bay.
He said, “It’s not mine.” He seemed embarrassed.
The sun was setting behind her and she saw it reflected in the tips of her hair that blew into view. He squinted at her and tried not to and she warmed to him. She said, “Sixty-four is a natural number.”
He smiled. “It’s also the atomic number for galolinium.”
She laughed out of surprise and handed him back the gun. She said, “More yours than mine. Happy birthday, by the way.”
“Happy birthday to you, too.”
She walked away, through the Ferry Building, to no place in particular, but sure of her path for the first time in years. (Cass Pursell) “I’m home,” announced the small voice from inside, the one that rides in on tears and blesses them like boats as they flow out. (Prartho Sereno)