Note: Some years ago I came across a writing exercise that I’ll call the ABC Challenge. The idea is to write a story in 26 sentences, each one beginning with the next letter of the alphabet. It’s a great way to force yourself to be more creative in both how you craft sentences and in how you tell a story.
My example appears below, This Day Counts.
As he woke on Sunday he knew immediately what this day was: the day before the surgery. Better get started, he thought. Creeping around the room so as not to wake his dozing wife, he went downstairs to make the coffee. Determined to try out the baking pan she had given him for Christmas, he made chocolate chip scones from scratch. Even after doing the crossword and skimming the news of the day, he scoured the kitchen from stem to stern, polished the appliances and mopped the floor. For good measure, he made sure the mudroom was spic and span, too.
Getting out the extension ladder, he climbed onto the roof. He cleared the snow and checked for ice dams, his breath catching in the crisp air, his good arm working the snow rake he had fashioned from bits and pieces. Inside his workshop a fire thrummed; he could see the wisps of smoke rising into the air and could smell the burning beech and ash as he stood next to the chimney. Just above him, a red-tailed hawk found purchase at the top of a pine tree. Kindred spirits, these two, they surveyed the scene below them: neighbors and creatures preparing for the storm in their respective lairs. Leaving the roof, he stepped onto the ladder carefully, not wanting to jostle the angry limb or, worse, fall and make it the least of his problems.
Making his way out to the workshop after lunch, he started in on the last phase of his latest project. Next to the chassis of a vintage lawn mower lay the parts and pieces of an engine. Over the course of a few hours he cleaned and reassembled and rebuilt the old Snapper that had run for 25 years and finally quit. Patience and skill, the quiet droning of Olympic hockey, and his own thoughts kept him company.
Quietly, as the light faded, he rolled the mower outside, and sure enough, it started. Rasps turned to rumbles as the engine caught and found its throaty voice. Startled by the bright sound in the still dusk of winter, the hawk took flight.
Tamping down the fire in the wood stove, he joined his wife and daughter for dinner. Under the covers in bed later, he thought of things he had not accomplished that day. Valiantly, he tried to list these things in the darkened room before drifting off.
Walking the length of the Appalachian Trail, installing a new suspension in the track car, building a closet in the small bedroom…Xeriscaping the backyard, pointing the chimney, painting the kitchen, driving across the country…
Yet all these dreams and duties would have to wait, because surgery meant weeks of lifting nothing heavier than a coffee cup and months of physical therapy. Zealot that he was about making each day count, this one would have to be stored away like the taste of fresh-baked scones or the scent of beech and ash or the rattle of old machinery or the whoosh of downdraft as a hawk lifted into the air.
End note: I wrote this story first as I would normally tell it, an observation of how my always productive husband spent the day before a tough surgery. In my mind I jokingly called it “the last meal of the Renaissance Man”. When I went back in to make the ABC’s work, the writing became richer, and I also discovered what the story was about. Now, try it yourself! LC