Amy Pireck died in a car crash when she was sixteen years old. The boy that was driving didn’t quite walk away – he suffered a broken ankle and bruising to his chest where the air bag exploded between his heart and the steering wheel – but to Amy’s mother, Karen, the fact that Tom Goodridge failed to die was unforgivable. It was unfair for her to lose her daughter – her feisty, rebellious, over-sexed and under-achieving daughter – but it was beyond wrong that Tom, the person responsible, had not died too.
Karen had to be restrained when he hobbled into the church at Amy’s funeral. His father, Gordon Goodridge, physics teacher at the Middle School, coach of the swim team, walked with his arm around his son. As Karen reared up, Gordon Goodridge moved to stand between her and Tom, protecting his child as she had failed to protect hers by letting her go out with a boy in a car on a cold wet October night.
Wayne’s breath in her ear was hot and sharp, his grip on her sleeve the only physical connection they’d had since the doorbell had pealed and Karen’s world had unravelled. She snapped her head round and grabbed her husband’s wrist, squeezing his skin.
“Take your hand off me. Now.”
“We don’t need a scene Karen,” he pleaded, but she had turned from him and was staring at Gordon Goodridge. His mouth, which she had seen so many times widen in a generous smile, lighting up his handsome face, buckled into a grimace. He kept his eyes steady on hers and nodded his head causing a lock of thick grey hair to slip across his brow. He lifted a hand and swept it away but still he looked at her and pressed his lips together. Then he turned and helped Tom into a pew on the other side of the Church. The boy was pale and she saw that Gordon positioned him as though he was a marionette. Karen Pireck gazed at Gordon’s hand on Tom’s shoulder until her eyes stung.
Karen sat down and put her arm around Sarah, Amy’s sister by three years, still at Middle School and in Gordon Goodridge’s physics class. For Sarah’s last teacher-parent conference three weeks ago Karen had bought a new pair of boots and had her hair colored and a fresh manicure. She’d made sure Wayne was out of town and would not be able to attend. Now she curled her fingers into fists and watched the priest begin the service for her daughter.
The Amy he talked about was a girl Karen remembered dimly, the girl she knew Amy had been once, but not the Amy Pireck who died in the ditch under the No Turn on Red sign on the corner of Route 1 and Parkersville Road. He described her as ‘a fun-loving sports enthusiast’. Those were his exact words, words Wayne had gifted Father Crispin in the silence left by Karen’s sullen anger. Wayne, who never leaped, had leaped to his feet and insisted on going up to Amy’s room. He’d unpinned rows of swimming ribbons and medals and brought them down and sat with them in his hands, a mess of pink and blue and green silk tongues, reliving Amy’s glory days in swim team.
Karen remembered the chore of long drives, hot afternoons camped out in smelly gymnasiums, the shluck of silicon as she pulled the ugly cap over Amy’s head. She remembered humid summer afternoons watching practice upon practice and Gordon Goodridge walking up and down the side of the pool and his arms windmilling or his brown legs bending as he demonstrated technique to shoals of small boys and girls bobbing in the water below him. Karen remembered Amy slamming her bedroom door and quitting swim team. Remembered Amy taking down all the ribbons and the medals, squashing them into a bag hidden in a corner of her closet. She had pinned up pictures of herself and her blond little friends and hung tee-shirts on hangers around her walls and turned all her books round on her shelves so that only brown pages were on show. And she’d switched them back round the wrong way again every time Karen set them right. The day after Amy’s death Karen had ironed and pinned up all the ribbons, turned all the books and then curled up in her daughter’s bed and slept for fourteen hours.
Yesterday one of our writing prompts was simply a list of names:
- Amy Pireck
- Mark Timley
- Samir Kaleel
- Vera Carter
- Laura Harlan-Levinson
For the first few moments I felt totally uninspired. Then I remembered that one of the writing prompts I’d been considering suggesting was the instruction to ‘conjure a ghost.’ I had nothing to say about any of these people if they were alive, for some reason, but if one of them was dead, I was suddenly able to get started.
I’ve copied in what I wrote in workshop in response to this prompt with only minor editing. It’s a good start (I think!) although I’m sure it needs more work. But the point of putting it here is to illustrate how effective writing prompts really are. I had no thought before 10.55am yesterday about Amy Pirek, or Karen, or Gordon Goodridge or Tom or Wayne or Sarah. But now they all exist in my head and partly now in yours if you are reading this post. I think that’s pretty cool.
So today’s prompt is:
Take a name. Choose one of those above or the name of someone you’ve heard of but don’t know well. Think. Don’t panic and don’t give up on this. Make them alive or dead or lost or crazy or hopeless or helpless – whatever works. Write.