Sherrie L. Stewart

Dirty supper dishes covered the worn, pink Formica counter next to the greasy dishwater. Three-year-old Debbie hung from the back pockets of my jeans. The leftovers scraped from her plate landed on the floor with a splat. As I reached for a paper towel to clean up the mess, my husband shouted something sarcastic about how much time I spent on the computer. His words stung like a slap. Tears gushed down my cheeks and fell into the dirty dishwater.

I wiped my face on the tail of my T-shirt and thought about why I write. I began writing for others. I said that the writing preserved places and times and lives left behind. The stories I set down in words captured memories of Mother and Mama Bess and Grandmother Clark for my grandchildren. But the exploration into the past caused psychological upheavals as I mapped my memories.

In writing class I studied alliteration and word choice along with structure and motif. I learned how to build a sentence and a paragraph, then how to arrange those paragraphs into a story. My stories examined the pieces of my past.

Wiping down the counters and sink, I realized that my life resembled the dirty dishwater full of leftovers floating in a greasy muck. By removing one bit at a time, rolling it between my fingers, and then squashing it flat to feel the texture, the language of my life emerged. The writing presented a vehicle for the passage through time and experience, through faces and landscapes, for mapping the geography of my existence. That”who” I wrote for turned out to be me.

Later that night, Debbie woke me with a scream.

“Ghost…in the TV…scare me,” she forced out between sobs and gasps.

I pulled her to me, wrapping the covers around us, and stroked her hair while I sang her favorite song over and over. She went limp in my arms and I laid her down, tucking her blue comforter dotted with white clouds around her tiny frame.

The kitchen clock read four fifteen. My house hummed with night noises. The icemaker dropped some cubes into the bin, and then water squirted into the empty tray. An oscillating fan whirred in the living room, and one of the caged birds ruffled its feathers. Rain drops tapped an ancient song onto the skylight above my head. I brewed coffee, filled my mug, and planted myself in front of my computer.

The dark room is lit by a gray glow from my laptop. I wait for the words. The words trickle in through the scent of desert rain or the scraping of wind-blown Palo Verde branches against the window. Sometimes the words burst out like an unexpected laugh; sometimes the words are as stubborn and exhausting as giving birth. Regardless of the ease or effort, my writing demands a scrutiny of those words moving through the chill of pre-dawn, those leftovers of my life tinged with tears.