no no no

a few years ago i took a creative writing class at stanford (nice to be back on the Farm, i’ll tell you…) and the teacher i had (she was superb) recommended that each week we come to class with a piece of very short fiction: no more than a page long and with a certain weekly theme. these themes ranged from 1) write a piece of short fiction without using the letter “s”; to 2) write a piece of short fiction with sentences no longer than 3 words. each of these restrictions ironically created the most wonderful pieces…

i recently came across the one i wrote with the rule: “write a piece of short fiction in which the first line is the same word repeated three times.” and here it is…

No. No. We served focaccia drizzled with honey. And it wasn’t May, it was July. And the way the paper napkins tried to fly from our laps in the wind made me think of seagulls. No, it was not for him, it was for Simone. Because she needed it. Simone with her soft pink skirt and dark hair. And Simone got honey on that skirt and cried and cried. No, it wasn’t really the honey that made her cry. No. But she did look beautiful. Simone. Even crying. She was such a pale little thing, sitting there with her feet crossed at the ankle and with her napkin, like a dead bird in her hand.

No. No. It was late afternoon and, unlike the week before, we had wind. And those two little girls danced with the ribbons from their hair. Remember? And it made Simone smile. No, we were happy that she smiled, though it didn’t last. To think that we only had her for that day in her pink skirt and she only smiled once about the ribbons. No, I know we can’t think that way. But I remember her hands were cupped about her face. And her hands were white and curved, like two small shells. And I thought she must be cold. But I ate, while the honey dripped down my arm, and I spoke with someone else. No. No. Not Simone.

And to think I could have told Simone that her hands looks like shells. Or that honey could easily come out of her skirt with just a little touch of white vinegar. Or that her smile at the ribbons could be enough. No, I did not. But none of us did. We all held her away, like a fragile cup that might craze if the tea is too warm. We held her at a distance that enabled us to see her as pink and white and small and cold. And that portrait of her, that way, must have seemed romantic to us who did not know how to help. So instead, we ate the warm focaccia and savored the sweet honey and watched the napkins and ribbons flutter. And left her there, to the wind. And though none of us said a word, Simone must have heard “No.”

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