Olivia Folmar Ard

Short Stories & Poetry

January 13, 2016 was important for me. On that day, I, for the first time in my life, began taking a creative writing workshop class. Several of my friends, family members, and readers were surprised to learn this. Many of them said, “But you’ve already written two books! Don’t you already know how to write creatively?” 

Well, yes and no. Yes, I am now quite comfortable with my abilities as a full-length fiction writer, but I would not (and probably will never) call myself an expert. There is always something new to learn, and I am an eager lifelong student.  

The course I took focused mostly on short fiction and poetry, two forms that legitimately terrified me. While I’ve always enjoyed reading short stories and poems, I have not been inspired to write either in several years. I was skeptical about what I would be able to produce for the class, but nevertheless I soldiered on.  

The results of our various writing exercises, discussions, and assignments comprise most of what you will find in this short, sweet read. Despite my initial misgivings, I was pleasantly surprised with the work I produced over those four short months, and after a few more rounds of editing, I have decided to share them with you.  

I must warn you, these are nothing like the work I’ve shared before. If you’re looking for a companion piece to my novels, you will not find it here. But if you’re interested in traveling with me as we take short, compelling glimpses into the lives of those on the margins, you will enjoy reading this quick foray as much as I did writing it.

 

The Queue

Sarah stared at the open casket cradling her grandfather’s body and begged herself to feel something. Anything. The soft white tufts of hair sticking out around his face, the steep sudden slope of his nose—it should provoke something deep inside her, shouldn’t it? Something besides a slight dash of awkward, misplaced hope.  

But no. Instead, it was as if someone had sliced her from chin to navel and scooped out all her emotions with a melon baller. She was hopeless. 

Sarah’s mother slumped beside her on the hard, uncomfortable pew and sniffled when Pastor Mike did a reading from the book of Revelation. When he closed the Bible with a thud, she dabbed her face with a handkerchief that had seen better days.  

Sarah lusted after her mother’s tears, but try as she might, she couldn’t force herself to join in. She couldn’t cry about this, even though she cried about other things, like episodes of America’s Next Top Model and the dopamine-enhancing quality of chocolate cake and the sweet oblivion of nothing at all. Why did those things deserve her tears, but not the decomposing flesh that used to be her grandfather? None of it made sense. 

Pastor Mike recited a prayer, and then everyone rose to sing another hymn. This one had been her grandfather’s favorite. He’d belted it out in that booming, larger-than-life voice of his while roaming throughout the house at six a.m., oblivious to the fact that everyone else was fast asleep. Sarah mouthed along with the rest of the assembly, skimming over words like sweet and trust and promise.  

Maybe she wasn’t sad when she looked at the casket because she knew he wasn’t really there anymore. When someone died, their soul was not destroyed forever, just transported somewhere far away. Somewhere better. And if she really believed this—which she did—there wasn’t really much to be upset about. So it was probably fine. 

 

Everyone drifted down the aisles when the service concluded. Each step the group took was part of this intricate, foreign dance of grief to which they were slowly growing accustomed. They ate bad food even though they were not hungry, and they pretended it was all delicious, and once it was all gone they departed from the church on foot. They made their way through the woods to the cemetery, set back from the road atop a little hill.  

Sarah tried to ignore her stilettos sinking into the moistened earth, but she was fixated by the ridiculous possibility of her heels inadvertently piercing a long-dead heart.  

Everyone around her whispered as they walked up the hill. “I can’t believe he’s gone,” one of her uncles said, answered quickly by an aunt’s, “I wish he could have stayed longer.” And Sarah could not say what she wanted to say, which was something along the lines of, “I’m glad he’s dead because cancer sucks and he suffered for too damn long as it is.” 

But no one wanted to hear that, even if it was true, so she kept her mouth shut.  

 

Her little cousin Emery wailed when the casket was lowered into the ground, burying her face between her mother’s thighs. Incoherent cries for Grandpa to come out and play occasionally escaped the folds of the skirt she clung to. A few of the great-aunts and some of the old ladies from Grandpa’s Sunday school class covered their mouths and looked away when the dirt began to tumble down harder, faster. Sarah wondered if this was because they knew they were probably next. Everyone except her started to cry again.  

Should it bother her that death . . . didn’t bother her? For what it was worth, she wished it did. She wished she could cry alongside everyone else, cry until her head hurt and her nose hurt and sickness rose up from her belly. But if she was being honest with herself—and she had to be honest with herself—she just wanted to get past all this. She wanted to put her grandfather in the ground and go home and take off these stupid nylons and order a pizza and watch the new zombie movie in her online streaming queue. 

Or something like that, she thought while darting a nervous glance over her shoulder, as if anyone could have heard her thoughts. Or something like that.