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masontrc
May 31st, 2015, 05:27 PM
I wrote "Wish You Were Here" about six years ago. I would love to gain a fresh perspective on it. I previously workshopped this piece in a college creative writing class and other online forums. I feel like a writer's work is never truly done.


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Wish You Were Here
By Tristan Mason

I love family vacations. I love waking up at six in the morning so dad can drive us to the cactus fair. I love marveling at the finest cacti of the southwest. Dad has picked out the perfect postcard for grandma, one with a winking cartoon owl perched in a Saguaro cactus. This is what she really needs right now. I know she’ll look forward to hearing from us. Our message should read something like this:

Greetings Grandma Nash!

I don’t know how well you can read on account of the lesions eating your face, but we’re thinking of you! Sorry about the blood transfusion. They should screen those things! Well, while you’re deteriorating a thousand miles away, please think of how much fun we’re having at the cactus fair. Wish you were here! Well, not really.

Love,
Bill and the kids

I chuckle, reading over my scribbles on the hotel restaurant napkin. The cactus fair postcard sits right next to it. Dad instructed me to write a“thoughtful” message for Grandma Nash and I’m tempted to use my own version. The owl’s wink gives me the go ahead.

“You look amused,” Nikki says, taking a seat next to me. I met her last night at the hotel pool. She’s going to be a freshmen in high school like me, but looks young enough to be a seventh grader.I wouldn’t have figured her for a tomboy but this morning’s ensemble of cargo pants, a wrinkled hoodie, and her messy red hair under a Colorado Rockies hat tells me otherwise.

“Yeah well,” I say, quickly picking up the napkin. “Just doing some creative writing.”

She smiles and squints her eyes. “You don’t want me to see.”

“No, it’s not that,” I reply, scratching the back of my neck and averting my gaze from her shamrock green eyes. “It’s just kind of-”

“Dirty?” Nikki smirks and then leans into the table. I can’t help but notice how her freckles scatter in perfect symmetry with her lips. “I don’t mind if it’s dirty.”

I mumble, “I figured that.” She smacks my arm and snatches the napkin from my hand.

“ ‘Dear Grandma Nash…’ ” Her eyes widen. My chest begins to tighten. It tenses with the increase of her glance. She is probably shocked, appalled. No, horrified. She would never make light of a situation like this.

“I…wasn’t going to send it to her.” She looks at me with a stoic face. The Indians I saw at the Trail of Tears reenactment looked this way. No anger, no disgrace, no disgust, just a blank stare. She thinks I’m the worst person in the world. “I…I wrote that because my father is an inconsiderate…”

Nikki reaches into her pants pocket. She lays a stack of postcards on the table. “My mom makes me do the same thing.” I look down at the postcards and back up at her face to find any sign of emotion. “I love it!”

I sigh and let out a still uncertain laugh. She gives me the same smirk and folds her hands like an Indian teepee. Her freckles let me know that she senses my nervousness. It’s the way they seem to scatter in a different place every time I turn away from her.

“I have to write the real one soon or my dad is going to be pissed. I still have to do some for my other relatives. Jesus…how many do you have there?”

“Too many.” Nikki crosses her legs and slides the cards across the table. Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, white water rafting: she’s been out here a lot longer than I have. “Who should I write to first? My gay uncle or my suicidal aunt?”

“Suicidal aunt. Definitely.” I know where she’s going with this. The small glint in her shamrock eyes lets me know. It’s the same glint the stupid postcard owl gave me.

“Ooh, good choice.” Nikki reaches for the Grand Canyon postcard. “I’m taking your pen. ‘Hello from up here!’ ” Nikki writes and I begin to laugh. The man sitting at the table across from us looks up from his newspaper and doughnuts. His kids play quietly with their food. “ ‘We’re looking out at a lovely view of colorful rock formations and it makes us think of you. Remember the time you tried to jump out of your apartment building and forgot you lived on the first story and landed in a bush?’ ” Nikki begins to stumble over her words. “ ‘You would-you would not miss…’ Stop laughing, Connor, you’re messing me up! ‘You would not miss here. But I doubt you’d jump since you’re afraid of heights!’ ”

We both fall over the table in laughter,laughs so high they pierce our throats. My laughter is cut short when I imagine her aunt falling off the Grand Canyon and gasping for breath. Before I can picture a giant Saguaro cactus breaking her fall, Nikki grabs onto me with both hands and tells me she can’t breathe anymore.

The guy at the table across from us gets up to leave with his children. His little boy asks if he can jump off the Grand Canyon.

After Nikki catches her breath, she continues to pen her masterpiece. “ ‘It’s not too late to fly out here with the money you won from your divorce settlement. I’m sorry I haven’t been a better sister to you these past few years. But I’d rather take long vacations because I can’t stand to be around you. But seriously, if you ever want to make a real suicide attempt, this is the place. Wish you were here! With love, Jane, Nikki and Allison.’ ”

The other hotel guests have cleared out in time for mid-morning bingo.

“Question.”

“Yes?”

“Was that your mom talking or you?”

Nikki pauses for a moment and exhales slowly. “A little bit of both. My mom is never there for my aunt. But at the same time, my aunt never actually kills herself. I’m so sick of them.”

“That’s understandable.”

She looks down at her stack of postcards and taps on it with her index finger a few times. The glint in her shamrock eyes has disappeared. “You want to do one now?”

“Okay,” I say, pulling out the Trail of Tears reenactment postcard. It’s another cartoon postcard, featuring four smiling Indians with bright red skin. They’re walking happily together, arm and arm, down a desert road. I wonder if they’re looking for the wizard. “College dropout brother or his illegitimate son?”

“I’d rather hear about your brother.” Nikki folds her hands and leans into the table. “No, not on the napkin, write it on the postcard.”

My dad spent five minutes picking out the perfect card. For him, happy Indians reflect a happy family. I can’t wait to destroy it.

“ ‘Hey, Bobby!’ ” Nikki crosses her arms and waits for me to pick up the pen. When I start to write Bobby’s name, I press down and drag it hard enough to almost tear the card. “ ‘I hope everything is going well with your new girlfriend, your new apartment and your new minimum wage job. Thank you for calling as much as you have. Thank you for remembering birthdays and Christmas presents. Thank you for stopping by the hospital to see your new baby sister. Thank you for never asking us for money so you can do something useful for society like coke deals in Staten Island or screwing enough girls to spread the same virus that’s killing your grandmother you remembered to visit.’ ”

Some of the old people in the room turn away from their bingo cards to watch me. Every word is written faster, harder. I don’t even bother to notice Nikki’s reaction.

“ ‘You know what’s funny, Bobby?I learned here that the thousands of Indians forced to relocate from their reservations died of starvation and disease. Well, that’s not the funny part, but it was funny when I thought of you starving if dad had the guts to stop giving you the financial aid you don’t deserve. I thought of you wandering the streets of New York like those Indians wandered, begging for the food you were practically spoon fed your entire life. I thought of your belly empty, the same way you left us empty. I don’t wish you were here but I wish you would suffer the same fate as those Indians. Rot in hell-- your brother and neglected family.’ ”

A few more old people in the room are watching now. I am more entertaining than their daily dose of soap operas.

Nikki tells me, “I think we should send these. They need to hear this. Your brother needs to hear you. My aunt needs to know how selfish my mom really is. Your grandma needs to--”

“No way,” I say, getting up from the table and grabbing my cards. “They don’t need to know, Nikki. You can do what you want, but I’m not sending those. It’s crazy. This was a bad idea.”

Nikki starts to shiver. Her shoulders rattle forward, faster and faster, up and down, like the tail of the rattlesnake I saw at the Montego animal show. I have a postcard for that too, with a similar looking rattlesnake on the front. I planned on writing that one for my uncle, the animal trainer. He’s too busy traveling the world to visit his dying mother. I would have wished him here for an unfortunate accident.

“Nikki, are you okay?” The old people, convinced they’re viewing a live-action soap opera, watch me rush to her side, and stand there, not knowing whether or not to grab onto her to try and stop the shaking. “Someone get help!”

She grabs her shoulders and squeezes to regain control. Her breathing decreases the same way it did when we were laughing. It starts with rapid panting and then dry gasping. It’s the same way I imagine her aunt gasping for breath before the large Saguaro cactus pierces her fall.

Her freckles turn into small flames that scatter farther across her face as she twists and turns in her chair, trying to consume whatever air she can still feel through her quivering lips. These flames are like the ones that burned down my brother’s apartment last spring. I wonder if he feared the fire burning his face this way.

Nikki’s face starts to drain to a ghostly white and can no longer gasp. It’s the same ghostly white face I saw in the Indian spirit paintings at the art museum: eyes open wide enough to see the veins pumping blood, the mouth open too, but not wide enough to swallow any air. I have a postcard for the museum somewhere. I would have sent this to my sister-in-law, the aspiring artist. I would have wished she were here for a reality check.

Her shamrock eyes call out for me the same way my grandma’s did when my dad saw her in the hospital last month. Like my dad, I stand frozen. I stand frozen while an old man rushes to Nikki’s side to try and calm the rattling. I hope he’s a doctor.

The paramedics arrive to take Nikki to the hospital. Her postcards scatter on the table. Carlsbad Caverns, Mt. Guadeloupe… Nikki wasn’t dragged out here with her family like me. She came out here to see the world while she was still healthy enough to do so. I pick them up slowly and watch her leave the restaurant on a stretcher. Upstream flyfishing, Santa Fe Opera, Nikki told the truth on postcards long before she met me.

On a Phoenix sightseeing tour postcard, she tells her ex-boyfriend of all the miles she traveled and all the places she visited that made her happier than he could ever dream to.

On an Indian reservation postcard, she tells her mom’s boss that she would rather be dead than work at the hot dog factory another day.

On the Santa Fe Opera postcard, she thanks her private music teacher for putting up with her “nasally” singing for the past five years. She tells her that the opera “wasn’t so bad.”

On a Colorado Rockies postcard, she tells her big brother that she loved her first baseball game. The Rockies beat the Padres five to nothing and she never screamed that loud in her life, not even at the Green Day concert. She attached a picture of her hugging Dinger, the purple triceratops mascot. Her younger sister Allison is clutching Dinger’s leg. They both smile with their eyes closed.

On a flyfishing postcard, she tells her grandfather of the giant rainbow trout she caught. It almost looked like the one he painted for her room. She let it go because it was too pretty to eat.

On a whitewater rafting postcard, she tells her best friend Crissy that she would have loved to see her tip over the canoe a thousand times. She tells her that she misses hanging out with her at summer camp and having sleepovers every night and talking about boys. She promises her that she will make it back in time for school if her T-cell count is high enough.

Every postcard ends with the words, “Wish you were here.”

Bevo
June 1st, 2015, 05:48 PM
That was a great story, I took great pains to read it slowly and absorb your grammar for my own needs.
I like the way the conersation was done and how you kept them seperate with punctuation.

This was great, I learned a lot!

masontrc
June 7th, 2015, 04:46 PM
Thank you for the feedback!