Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

getting it out of my system

Near the edge of Fabyan is a place. There is Fabyan with its wild orderliness, it’s sculptures, grottos and garden and then there is this place.
For good or bad it was there. Founded in 1894 by a woman- an Illinois State School for Girls. Certain sorts of girls. Immoral girls and unruly ones. “The bad ‘uns.” Maybe.
Maybe not. Girls from all over the state were placed here. They worked as maids during the day or did hard labour and then were locked into tiny cells at night with bars on the windows. Locked into a room at night after doing back breaking work. Rooms wide as far as you can stretch out your arms. Cells for bad girls.
And so girls died there. Some were taken back to their original homes but some were not. They weren’t wanted. Maybe there was no money in the family to get them back or maybe they were simply a disgrace. Maybe there was no family. So these dead girls and some of the dead babies that these girls had were put on a small plot on the property. Some were marked, some weren’t. They weren’t deep graves but they were put away. Names and dates and nothing else. Telling a story. A story. The property sat still forever. In 1979, the old buildings were shut down and the property sat and sat. I drove past as a little girl and always looked quizzically at the rising hill it was on. It rose up over the Fox River with the road nestled between its slope and the River and I always wondered, “What is up there? It looks so abandoned.” And it was. Till a few years ago when someone bought the old school farm and turned it into a housing development for the wealthy.
The wealthy? They drive out of the entrance in SUVs. They drive out of a place that was surrounded by a chain-link fence and barbed wire. A place that let you in and did not let you out. And at the bottom of all of this flashed a river, heading away.
The buildings are gone but the developer let the cemetery stay. Who knows? Maybe it is protected by some sort of oddball conservation effort. Conserving grief? Pain? Aloneness? Despair? Death?
Ahhhhhhhh, but the rich live all around it.
Even ivory towers cannot mask oppression in the soil.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

How to Get Through a Big Book

How to get through a Big Book and have a little fun too.

  1. Make and eat food mentioned in the book (big books always include food, usually in meticulous detail).
  2. Read a little bit each day.
  3. Make a soundtrack.
  4. Dress like a character from the book for a day. Or a week. Or a month if it really grabs you.
  5. Ten minutes to kill? Daydream about the landscape or what the characters are seeing as they move through their day.
  6. Read passages you enjoy out loud. If you’re in the right mood, record yourself reading passages and share it (Instagram is great for this). Include illustrations if you like (thank you, Shirin).
  7. Whip out a highlighter or some sticky tabs for those great parts.
  8. Pace yourself and remember, reading gigantic books isn’t a race. It’s about the journey. Might as well bring along snacks, good drinks, great lighting, and enjoy the ride.

How to Search for Story Settings

A big city not far from mine has a casino. I’ve heard a few stories from friends that have worked there. Most center on being treated badly by a customer and revenging themselves by throwing the customer’s car keys into the Fox River. Karma is enacted on a regular basis at the casino.

There’s something about that river, flowing by, murky green during the day and black at night, a bottomless pit for car keys.

The river divides the city in half, east to west. The Fox flows along the old warehouses, limestone and brick, built back when the city had manufacturing plants and industry. Now the warehouses sit sturdy and silent, crumbling ever so slowly. Their roofs are flat and give the illusion of brick walls running straight into the sky. Some were built like prosaic wedding cakes, higher and higher, until the final topping is small square with tiny windows. Industry has never been about aesthetic needs and wants.  And yet by some miracle, these old turn of the century warehouses have achieved it just the same.

I observed the warehouses from the back deck of the riverside café, clutching my cup of earl grey and wishing I had put sunscreen on. It was the first time I had ever been to this café and I came because I needed a new setting for a fiction story I was working on. None of the cafes I remembered from the past were working for me. I needed this kind of café, one that hung out in an old manufacturing city where there wasn’t much industry left. There was, at least, a casino and many local businesses and this café hung on, here at the water’s edge.

A little further up was the casino where my friends had thrown those keys into the water. From my point on the deck, I could see the grimy metallic white heel of the building jutting out. Another friend told me that he goes there regularly to play black jack. It relieves stress and earns a little extra cash for his family.

The wind picks up a little and despite the sun, it’s chilly. Spring plays these tricks on us.

There is no sign of life in the warehouses all around me. We’re all boxed in together and the light plays off their empty windows, open and blank to the sun. I sip some tea and play “Over the Hills and Far Away” by Led Zeppelin just to see if this café will work for my story. It only takes a few bars of listening to the song and I know that this place is perfect. This spot on the river is perfect for many stories. It’s  been perfect for all the stories I know nothing about and the ones that I’ve caught the smallest glimpses of.

A mallard suns himself in the weeds that line the water’s edge. The river moves fast and sure and I turn off the music. No need to for further noise. The song is already there.