My grandmother died.
I know this is not what you would call a dramatic opening. It's what happens to grandparents. They get old (jeez, they are old to start with, or they wouldn't begrandparents, would they?); they die. (My grandfather died too, actually, but that's another story.)
Mr. O'Connell, who is my Creative Writing teacher, which is to say he's my English teacher, but he is into Creative Writing (capital letters deliberate)he would say, Not intriguing enough, Jonathan. You need to hook your reader.
But, frankly, I couldn't be bothered with the hooking part. See, I don't think you need to start on the premise that your reader (if you have one) is a fish.
There used to be a song about that, Gramma used to sing it, about how uneducated fish are, how they can't write their names or read bookswhich may or may not have been put in for the rhyme with brook. That's where the illiterate fish in question lives, allegedly. Come to think of it, maybe it was the other way round. Maybe brook was put in to rhyme with book, I mean, because you would think river, wouldn't you, in association with fish, not bloody babbling brook, like a feckin' poem.
In any case, I don't need to do any hooking, because this is not Creative Writing. This is what really happened, and if you are reading this you will have your own reasons that have nothing to do with fish.
I could have begun by telling you that my mother was a drunk. Or that my father had left. I could have begun by saying, My mother brought home a bag of apples one night for dinner. Sounds kinda cutesy, that.
Except that was all. A bag of apples. There was nothing else to eat in the house. Not even a loaf of bread. Not a crumb. And we hadn't had much for lunch either.
"Keeps a doctor away," she said, poking her fingernail in the side of the polyethylene bag to reef it open.
Right, yeah, very healthy, apples.
When she'd gouged a big enough hole in the bag, she shook the apples out all over the coffee table. Most of them rolled to the edge and then clunked onto the carpet, where they rolled some more.
"Have you heard about the food pyramid?" I asked, fishing for apples under the sofa.
"Pyr-mid?" she said. She stuck a finger in her ear, to represent thinking. Very amusing. "Egypt, right?"
Then she went off into these howls of laughter.
I knew where that would end, so I got ready for it. And by the time I come back into the living room with the basin from the kitchen sink and a dry tea towel, she's already got to the sobbing stage. Sure enough, as soon as she sees me, she clutches for the basin and pukes up half a liter of sherry. Not the cooking kind. She prefers Fino, she says, which is supposed to make her not a drunk but a connoisseur.
She's not a connoisseur. She just knew a Spanish word for a kind of sherry that is not so sweet it'd curl your teeth.
I might as well have started this story with the bag of apples after all, because I've got there pretty fast, though I didn't mean to. I meant to explain about my grandmother. Gramma we called her, because she didn't like Grannymade her sound like a granny, she said. That was the kind of humor she had. Dead unfunny. (A small voice in my head wants me to revise that last bit, edit out the insensitive word, but on second thought, I don't think so.) Appreciated only by a select group, she used to say about her sense of humor. Of one, I said. That made her smirk. Old ladies don't go in for smirking, but Gramma did. She liked a good smirk, did Gram.
She didn't live with us or anything like that. She lived near enough. Near enough to supervise, I mean. She went in for supervision. Supervision and smirking. Makes her sound like the granny from hell, but she wasn't. She was sound.
Excerpted from Long Story Short by Siobhan Parkinson. Copyright © 2011 by Siobhan Parkinson. Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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