Laurie Ann Cedilnik provides the story behind the story, “Phase 3 of The Ruby Sands,” published in The Antioch Review’s Summer, 2013 issue.
My glass sweats and leaves a wet ring in the carpet. I place my palm on the ring, push down. It is cold and squishy, a strange sucking wound. The wet glass slips from my hand and Jim Beam seeps into the ivory carpet, darkening the surrounding fibers and spreading like rot. I use the knee of my jeans to sop up some of the mess. The stain on my knee makes me self-conscious, like I’m some sloppy hobo, so I stand up and grope one of the shelves for towels. The biggest I find is a hand towel. I think I feel a hair dryer so I take that down too. Even when it’s in my hand and I’m looking at it, I still think it’s a hair dryer, one of those compact ones for travel. I’m trying to figure out where the cord went when I realize what I’m holding.
“Phase 3 of the Ruby Sands”
The idea for this story arrived while I was snooping through a stranger’s closet. Check your judgment—you’ve done the same thing, admit it. Or you haven’t, and I’m a lawless monster. Moving on.
My parents were visiting Florida and staying in the condo of a friend-of-a-friend from Puerto Rico who had recently purchased the unit, but preferred to spend time in San Juan and was looking to sell. My parents asked me to come down for the weekend and check out the place. We live now in a world of Couch Surfing and AirBnB, but back then it felt very odd for me to stay in a stranger’s home with the two people I’d lived with for most of my life: the family was the same, but the accouterments weren’t ours. I slept alone on a cot meant for visiting grandchildren, the cot’s twin unoccupied across the room. Someone had left a Glamour magazine on it. Whose Glamour? I flipped through it with apprehension.
My parents went gaga over the size of the closets. As lifetime New Yorkers, they were accustomed to bitsy alcoves stuffed to the max with an avalanche of accumulated junk. I was living in Texas, so I’d grown quite used to large margaritas, large trucks, large hats and large closets. But seeing the closets in the condo made me understand that the person who’d purchased it had never really wanted it to be his home. The plentiful wire shelves were mostly vacant. When asked to fetch a towel from the closet, I chose a fluffy, nondescript beige one that looked brand new. The landscape in the closet magnified the landscape of the rest of the condo: blank, impersonal, entirely anonymous.
Perhaps this is why my brain needed to invent an extremely personal item for me to fear finding. I got up on tip-toe to grab the towel and thought, What if I stumbled upon some kind of sex toy? There was certainly nothing personal out in plain sight—surely, something ultra-personal must be hiding just beyond my reach. It was there, and I bet it was freaky.
While in town, my family looked at several other units in the area. If hunting for a pied-a-terre seems like fun, try doing it at a 55-and-over community where the units are priced to move because Grandma Rose passed recently and Aunt Kim and Uncle Charlie want the place off their hands. Many of the units still contained furniture of the deceased. Heavy in the air was a sense that these unit had not only been lived in, but that many had likely been died in. One home still had an elevated potty parked next to a wheelchair in the bathroom. I don’t think it required any kind of great empathy to picture myself in the place of these units’ sudden new owners, or to imagine strangers roaming my parents’ condo, assessing square footage amidst personal stuff.
There was no sex toy in the closet; what I found instead was plenty freaky.
Grief is king of loneliness. Nothing feels more isolating than thinking of something you want to share with a loved one, only to remember that you can’t, because they’re gone. You can spend lots of time with a lost loved one in your head, such vivid time that it might escape your attention that you’ve been alone for days. I wanted my story to take the form of grieving. I wanted Adrienne to spin herself into a cocoon of grief so tight that she barely realizes her solitude. Adrienne’s a voyeur with a lively imagination, and she has spirited interactions with objects, but it was important to me that she not exchange a word with anyone throughout the story’s present action.
What fun, yeah? Who could wait to dive into drafting such an uplifting tale?
During the last year of my MFA, lots of friends were doing these “poem-a-day” challenges where they’d write and send each other new work daily. Ever the only child, I challenged my own self to “story-a-week,” wherein I hoped to draft a new story each week for two months. The plan was: write fast, and before you know it, it’ll be over—the quick Band-Aid removal of story drafting. I managed to draft five; of the five, two didn’t make it. “Phase 3…,” after intensive therapy and rehabilitation, did survive.
Laurie Ann Cedilnik has an MFA from the University of Houston. Her stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Epoch, The Masters Review, West Branch, and Cimarron Review. A native of Queens, NY, her honors include Gwen Frostic Prizes in Fiction and Nonfiction, a Tennessee Williams Scholarship, and an Individual Artist Grant from the Houston Arts Alliance. She lives in Kalamazoo, where she serves as Editor of Third Coast. Visit her online at laurieanncedilnik.com.
© 2014 The Antioch Review