How to Use Subtext in Your Writing

by Joe Bunting | 56 comments

This guest post is by Marianne Vest. Marianne is our Write Practice aficionado. I always wonder how we got so lucky to have her join our writing community here. Thanks for sharing so much of your time and experience here in the comments, Marianne. You rock. Now, take it away!

I recently read a book by Charles Baxter called The Art of Subtext – Beyond Plot Subtext is what is not said, not told but implied.

Plot is a twisting bridge over a chasm, says Baxter, a chasm that, in my mind, contains the hauntings, the past, the subterranean, the things people either cannot or will not say, things that we are only partially aware of.

To use subtext, all you have to do is explore that chasm.


Photo by Alpha du Centaure

Specific Details are Essential

To evoke the unseen requires spotting the myriad of details, Baxter mentions.

Do you mention the dim hall of the arcade or the bright displays of sale items, or both?

Do you mention the flowers in the vase by name, or by color, or by scent or by any combination of those?

Do you mention the polished table under the vase and the crocheted doily upon which it sits?

Do you mention the fact that some of the flowers are dropping their petals?

Staging: Crowd Your Characters for Drama

How the characters are arranged in the scene is also important to Baxter.

How are the angry couple standing or sitting at the beginning of the argument?

How are they at the end?

Does the child being read to at night lean back into his parent, twisting a lock of hair, his eyes closing? Or does he sit forward with his fist clenched bouncing on his knees?

All of this detail speaks into the story, and all of this detail makes writing hard work. However, I think our stories are worth the effort.

How to Bring Out the Soul of a Story

Baxter’s book goes much further than I can write about here.  He covers not just staging (and he suggests crowding your characters for dramatic results), but also what the characters cannot or will not say, and even how things are said (inflections, facial expressions).  He talks about what the characters notice and what they don’t.  And he talks about faces and what is revealed when the masks fall.

But the most important thing I got was that you have to use explicit details to shine a light on the soul of the story.  Those details should be carefully considered. I don’t think each word needs to be considered before it is written, but I think scenes need to be roughed out and then improved upon over and over again.  Some of the original words will stand at the end.  Most will not.   That has been my experience anyway.

Reading this book made me both excited and exhausted at the same time.


Pick a moment of crisis, an argument or fight, something lost or stolen, or an injury to someone.  Think about where the characters are, what they are saying, how they move.  Think about the details of this scene for a good while before you begin to write.

Then, write for fifteen minutes and let the details tell the story (or start a story for you).

Comment on other people’s exercises and try to see what the details are pointing to.

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Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

Want best-seller coaching? Book Joe here.


  1. Chihuahua Zero

    Great post, 
    Marianne! Subtext is in the details? It makes sense, and perhaps I should try to put even more focus on those “little things” that slip into the story but says loads about it.

    My acting teacher also said one type of subtext is when a character says one thing–but means the opposite. Or just something different.

    • Marianne

      Yes Baxter mentions that in the dialogue section.  Like a person might not mention going shopping because they saw something that will hurt the listener’s feelings.  It can drive the story.  He says that also it’s what people attend/don’t attend to in another person’s speech. It could be anything from the fast complicated dialogue in Jane Austen to Freudian slips. I personally think if you write things out and then look at them you may even find a subtext that you weren’t aware of and then you can build on that.  It just comes to mind as you write like I was just writing about an old  neighborhood with Victorian houses and a high chain link fence (certainly out of place in that neighborhood) came to mind.  It has morning glories growing on it.  I wrote it down.  It may be a distraction or it may be something I build on, but it is on paper in the story so I don’t forget about it.  

  2. Suzie Gallagher

    Yea Marianne! Great post. Must think of this later. BUT
    just for now 

    YEA! YEA! YEA!

    • Marianne

      Thank you Suzie.  I hope you write something today.  I love you stuff.  

  3. Oddznns

    Marianne. This is a great post. We ARE lucky to have you be part of this community. Haven’t been contributing recently. Joe has just done an edit on my WIP and I’m heavily into rewrite… including lots of SHOW don’t TELL.  Your post sure helped. Bless you!

    • Marianne

      Hey thank you. I’m glad it helps.  I’ve missed you, but I know how it is when you get really into writing and it’s hard to look at anything else.  I am glad to be part of this community too. 

  4. Bronson O'Quinn

    Do you have any popular literary examples for great use of subtext? As far as your examples of crowding characters, I can’t help but think of the play God of Carnage (or the movie Carnage) or No Exit, although those are a little heavy-handed.

    And thanks for the great article!

    • Marianne

      Thanks for the compliment.  

      I think of  “The life of Pi” for crowding and “Ten Little Indians” by Agatha Christie.  Baxter’s first example is Robert Frost’s poem “Home Burial” which I hadn’t read.  It has a person at the top of the stairs and one at the bottom.  The man has been waiting for his wife to come down and she must pass him.  It’s really good but I don’t’ know if I would have “gotten it” without having Baxter walk through it.  
      He mentions the Great Gatsby and I hate to paraphrase but I can’t quote at length.  Basically he says that Gatsby’s love for Daisy is not really the issue.  He wants to be part of the society that Daisy represents although he knows that will never happen.  There is all the glitter and nightlife and high society in that story and it is full of details of a lush life that Gatsby has in one respect but doesn’t have fully because he is not “old money” or “aristocracy”. Daisy represents those things. The settings in that book are just dripping with opulence. There is also the water between his home and Daisy’s at the beginning that is just a frank analogy but it is important because it points to the divide between Gatsby and Daisy.  That is a really obvious example, most stories with obsessed characters are.  “The Brothers Karmazov” (which I am reading now – it sure is long) is full of subtext regarding the worth of evil and good with Dimitri being caught between the two.  I guess I would have to say that subtext is kind of ephemeral.  You know when you get a feeling of coldness, anger, love, beauty and it points to a source.  That is what subtext is.  It’s kind of what is pointed at but not stated.  Like think of a table set in two different ways.  In one the place mats are kind of bunched up under the plates and the milk for the coffee is sitting in its cartoon on the table.  In another the silver is lined up in order like a battalion of solders and the candelabra is lighted, and the seats feel cool when you sit.  Those details point to very different situations.  It is really really hard to write about subtext but I don’t think it is hard to use it in fiction.  If you use details and then look at them you may see something that you are trying to say that you didn’t even know you were getting at.  Well now I really will shut up.

    • Bronson O'Quinn

      Thanks! That was really helpful. I’ll have to check out the Baxter book. It sounds interesting.

    • Marianne

      Good I think it has a lot of information in it.  It is kind of a slow read IMO though.  It’s very dense in places.  It’s not like his fiction at all except for he has a little sense of humor.  

    • Yvette Carol

      I thought your response added to your original post perfectly

  5. Suzie Gallagher

    The two handbags sat between them. The mother and the daughter. Abby looked across at Cheryl-Ann, so much to be said but silence was the only conversation. Cher was nervous, she hadn’t meant to put her bad down next to her mom, she wanted to pick it back up and move it to her left side. She picked at balls of fluff on the underside of her cardigan whilst twisting the end with her thumb, she wished herself away to another place, another time, another seating arrangement. She wished she could talk, really talk to her mom.

    The stilted conversation began, “so, how’s college, Cheryl-Ann?”

    “Umm, okay, I guess,” Cher gave up fluff catching and launched into full defence stance, the arms of the cardigan over both hands tightly wound around her tiny middle.

    “Did you have luncheon yet? Sylvie made pie, I’m sure there is some left,” Abby asked politely, as politely as if the pastor was round for tea.

    “Oh I stopped on the way, got lunch at a diner on the road some place. Is dad home?” Cher was becoming more nervous as the seconds ticked slowly by, stealing glances at her handbag, daring it to get off it’s lazy behind and walk.

    “No. Father is in the city today. A big presentation at the office, I think he said,” Abby girded her loins or whatever is girded on the formidable female frame that was Abigail Pearce  Clinton-Johnson though feels as fragile as a fly in a web, “Cheryl-Ann, I know you have your own life now. You are at college and you’ll probably be bringing a young man home at some point. It’s just that. It’s just that father, my husband, Jack, your father. Well he has decided not to be married any more. I have the papers here, they came yesterday. He didn’t say a word. It is terribly civilised, don’t you know?”

    Abby fumbled for her handbag, knocking Cher’s to the ground, spilling open, with all the information she had brought home to show her mother. Or leave it in the letter tray as she left on Sunday evening.

    “Oh!” They both said together. Then it was Cher’s turn to rush and gush out the verbal diarrhoea she had been practising all the way home. “Mom, there are places you can go. You don’t have to live like this. Just because you and daddy are practically royalty round here, it doesn’t mean you have to live here. You can leave. I can help you. I have friends who work with women like you, victims of domestic abuse. Mom, it happens to loads of women, but some of them get out. Get out now before daddy thinks of a better settlement than divorce. Love you mom.”

    The two women, brought up so politely and civily jumped up, bawling their eyes out, hugging like there was no tomorrow. How many familial cycles were broken that day? Abby and Cher became good and real friends as a result of handbags being inappropriately placed.

    • John Fisher

      Good use of detail, the handbags, the seating arrangement, the arms tightly wrapped in the cardigan and around herself . . . sets a mood of uncomfortableness leading up to a very awkward and emotionally-charged talk between mother and daughter.

    • Marianne

      I agree with John there is so much pent up anxiety in Cher that you can feel it.  I love the handbag spilling and I assume it’s pamphlets about places that Cher think Abby can move to.  The idea of the handbags is really on the mark. Thanks

    • Suzie Gallagher

      thanks Marianne – I waited till it came to me rather than force it – then Joe today writes about relaxing. There is mojo going around!

    • zo-zo

      Such vivid description of the awkwardness between them, especially in the beginning… You struck a chord there – and your use of detail, like catching fluff, really sets the scene!  I cringed and wished it was over for them!!!

    • Yvette Carol

      Yes! Things like the attention to the handbag and the balls of fluff on the underside of her cardigan create unique character. Coincidentally I just had the grandmother picking bits off Aden’s blanket and rolling them into balls, as being one of her special mannerisms. Maybe I was tuning into you huh??

  6. John Fisher

    Denny’s anxious eyes picked him out from the nurse’s station room as soon as he walked in the door of Greenwood.  “Hey Jim I’ll be with you in justa minute OK?”  Jim nodded and headed for a vacant chair among the anxious family members now slouching in boredom.  Shook his head just a bit.  Same old Denny.

    On the ride home it was clear that Denny had lost none of his intensity.  “Yeah, I told those people to let me outa there ’cause I told ’em I said I got enough in three days o’ sittin’ around listenin’  to a buncha addicts moan and groan about bein’ powerless,” he said with a disdainful downturn of the lip that was so characteristic.  “So whatcha been doin’ man?”

    “Oh, same ol’ same ol’.”  Actually he’d been cleaning up Denny’s kitchen all morning. 

    “Yeah?  Well y’know ol’ Neecie called me ever’ single day I was in that place, man I gotta get with her right away things’re gonna HAPPEN, y’know what I mean?” and he thrust an elbow in Jim’s direction.  Jim approximated a grin in return, then looked out the windshield and sighed inwardly again.  He hoped Denny had gotten some sense into him, but it was looking less and less like it.

    They stood in Denny’s small dining nook.  “Hey –” Denny demanded — “who cleaned up in the kitchen?”  Jim waved a hand carelessly, trying not to remember the stench of spoiled food left on dishes in the sink.  “I wanted you to come home to a clean place.”  He looked at Denny standing there with fists half cocked, Denny the macho, Denny and his “white pride” as a “son of the South”.  Remembered all the times they had gotten high together — until Jim realized he was having embarassing lapses of short-term memory, knew he was no longer nineteen, and called a halt to his own use of recreational substances.  “Well, Denny, are ya gonna stay clean and sober now?”

    It was the wrong thing to say.  Denny’s eyes clouded and narrowed but for a moment he tried to keep things casual and cool.  “Well you know — I just gotta lot to deal with right now and I still think they got me on the wrong medication and I still got my sister dyin’ last year to deal with . . . ”  His voice trailed off.  Then his eyes went as hard aas flint.   “Y’know Jim you’re no better’n me.”

    Suddenly he was shouting:  “GET OUT!”

    • Marianne

      Man that was great John.  It was so intense.  I like how he had cleaned the kitchen but Denny didn’t really want to be clean or to have anyone cleaning up for him.  Good job.  

    • John Fisher

      Thank you very much!

    • zo-zo

      This was really well plotted.  There was a lot of suspense in this piece – and I loved how  Jim and the reader were both trying to see if Denny had changed as the tension grew – and then it ended with that bang we suspected but were dreading….  

    • John Fisher

      Thank you, zo-zo.  Looking back over it, I’m still doing too much telling and not enough showing, and I can see edits that would make it better.  But it’s good to see I am capable of a good plot, this one obtained by taking a milder  experience and embellishing it.  Thank you very much!

    • Suzie Gallagher

      John I like this, it is very emotional for a piece with two men in it. I had to read the first three paragraphs a few times to work out what was happening. This is how my mind worked:
      1st time – Denny is coming in to a family tragedy – allwaiting for bad news
      2nd time- Denny is the doctor
      3rd time – Denny is getting a lift but who is Greenwood

      the demented mind of a mountain woman!

    • John Fisher

      LOL!  I like your innocence, Suzy!  You probably figured out that Greenwood is a drug treatment hospital and Denny a client who is leaving AMA (against medical advice).  I only know about places like that from a loss of some of my own innocence — I’ve been where Denny was (more than once) — but I think I finally learned my lesson, and living a better life in my experience restores some of that innocence, or at least gives one a new freshness and zest for living.  Salute!

    • Yvette Carol

      John I could almost hear them talking!

    • John Fisher

      That’s good to know — that’s the effect we’re aimin’ for, right?  Thanks!

  7. JB Lacaden

    Very helpful post Marianne! Subtext is a great tool to add depth to a story. It’s like Joe’s show-don’t-tell advice.
    Working on my practice right now. Will probably post it later.

  8. Hal

    “You just listen to me,” Edward seethed, his nostrils flaring and waggling his finger in her face. Nicole was taken aback, surprised by his vehemence. “You just listen to me, and hear – really hear – what I’m saying to you.”

    She looked at his face. Normally so handsome, it was twisted into a snarling facsimile of that beauty. Her eyes darted away from that face, that horrible, angry face and fell instead onto the remnants of a a mirror, shattered across the sidewalk and ground to shiny flecks of powder by the passing of countless crowds. There were a few pieces which were large enough to reflect small bits of her face. An eye here, a section of lip there. She stared at the flecks; stared past them. “All right, Eddie. I’m listening.” Her voice was small and quiet. Supplicated.

    “I thought we had something special. I thought I found someone in you that I could trust.” His voice was quiet now, dangerous. “I let you,” he started, his emotion catching his voice for a moment in his throat. “I let you in, Nicki. And this is how you return the favor.” He spat in disgust. The spit scattered amongst the shards of glass, obscuring the reflection of her eye.

    She listened to him, listened to his voice. The words stung, burned all the more because they were true. Having taken his trust and his heart, she had squandered both. It had been a stupid decision, made all the easier by alcohol. Stupid, capricious youth. She caught her eye in the reflection again. The look was bitter and wistful.

    “I’m sorry, Eddie.” There were tears in her eyes now, and her voice was halting. “I made a mistake. I screwed up. You shouldn’t forgive me at all. I deserve this. Your scorn, your anger, everything.”

    Eddie looked at her, watched her staring down at the ground, at little pieces of silver. “This is the worst thing anyone has ever done to me. I hope you burn.” His words were cruel and razor sharp. Then he turned away, walking down the sidewalk and not looking back. She stared down at that gray sidewalk, the mirror bits dazzling her tear-blurred vision with reflections of light and her own broken face. Tears rolled down her face, dripped off of her nose and splashed amongst the shards.

    • zo-zo

      I love how you use the mirror in this piece – especially the fragments of her face as she looks into it, and can’t really see herself.  

    • Suzie Gallagher

      I love the bits you didn’t say.  I loved the bits you did show. Well done.

    • Marianne

      Great symbolism here.  Your use of the shattered mirror is excellent.  I like the idea of many feelings and deep feelings here.  Well done.  

    • Yvette Carol

      Nice job Hal… darted, shattered, bits, flecks, shards… your choice of words created a sense of fragmented lives

    • Dawnstarpony

      The mirror symbol is amazing!!!! I’m really impressed, and glad that I read your post. 🙂

  9. zo-zo

    The little tea-light candles in the
    centre of the table trembled as Gerry spoke. ‘The fish is bad.’ She
    slid the crusted tuna away from her, one tiny bite taken from it’s

    They were the only people in the
    restaurant. The tables around them, set with expectant knives and
    forks, were empty. Their table was overlooking the snowy pavement,
    where nobody was walking. The streetlamp stood alone, it’s base
    covered with snow.

    Mo shrugged. ‘Let’s swap.’ He swung
    his arm around the blood red tablecloth deftly, placing his
    nearly-raw steak in front of Gerry. ‘You’ll like that.’ He took her
    food and stabbed at the fish.

    Gerry blinked at him, her thick black
    lashes leaving tiny marks under her eyes. She leaned towards him. ‘I
    can’t stand raw steak,’ she said over the table, and one of the
    candle’s lights extinguished.

    Mo’s jaw tensed as his chewing grew
    slower.  ‘There’s no pleasing you.’  He looked out of the window
    at the falling snow. ‘You like things burnt.’

    Gerry threw her cutlery on the plate
    and the clang resounded through the restaurant. She watched as he
    carried on eating, chewing that fish slowly and staring at the snow.
    She picked up her shiny black purse, clutched it under her arm and
    stormed into the snow.

    • Suzie Gallagher

      Zo-zo – the atmosphere between them is resonated by the empty restaurant, the empty streets and the cold snow. 
      If I was Mo I would’ve taken back the steak!!!

    • Yvette Carol

      Hey Suzie *waves*. It was so cool to see your friend request in my box over on WANAtribe!!!! 🙂

    • zo-zo

      Thanks Suzie!!  I would too, shame,  Poor Mo and his passivity!! 

    • Marianne

      You really got that atmosphere down.  I can see the coldness in the woman reflected in the coldness of the snow, and the anger of the man (although he is more suppressed than she – which leads me to see more fault in her than him).  This could be a movie in my head and I get all kinds of undertones in it from but especially i get something about her being a person who is a perfectionist and never satisfied and him suffering from that in a way.  Wow!

    • zo-zo

      Sheesh, thanks Marianne… What I did then was follow your advice and think through the characters and setting…  I am just so excited about how many layers that subtext opens up.  Really learnt from your post.

    • John Fisher

      I agree with everything Marianne and Suzy say — great setting of an emotional atmosphere using the cold weather and bleak emptiness of the streets and restaurant.  One little item — the possessive “its” has no apostrophe; it is the contraction for “it is” or “it has” that gets the apostrophe “it’s”.  Small technicality I know, but the difference matters — to me.   Great story that really could be a movie!

    • zo-zo

      Thanks hey John, appreciate that!!  I must go back to my writing, because I think that I somehow have that ‘its’ engrained wrong in my mind!!

    • Dawn H

      i think you chose the right details! i like the candles and the expectant forks in the beginning. on a different note, i didn’t like how “tables” was in 2 sentences in a row in the 2nd paragraph… but that’s random and unnecessary. good job! 

    • zo-zo

      Thanks Dawn!  I appreciate that – repeating words unnecessarily is a bad habit of mine, and I’m glad you caught me out!! 🙂

    • Yvette Carol

      Boyo, you used a few different senses which really chilled me to the bone!

    • zo-zo

      Thanks Yvette… I think! 😉

  10. zo-zo

    Brilliant post, Marianne.  Thanks for sharing your tricks with us!! 🙂

  11. JB Lacaden

    A late post. Sorry. I hope I did the practice right!

    Read and enjoy 🙂


    The loot was spread on the
    table—gold, silver, red, and yellow, all glistening underneath the dirty,
    yellow light of the fluorescent lamp. Hannah stood at the head of the table
    while the five members of her gang stood on the other side. She racked her brain.
    She had to think of a way to gain the most but, at the same time, not insult
    her associates. It wouldn’t be good for business if she was hated.

    “OK boys, we’ve had a good
    night, these,” Hannah spread her arms wide, a huge grin flashed on her face, “are
    the fruits of our labors.”

    Her gang snickered and
    hurrahed and smiled. Hannah kept the fake grin on her face. Wolves, the lot of them, Hanna thought, if it wasn’t for my methodical planning we
    wouldn’t have nothing on the table right now. But Hannah knew better than
    to voice out her thoughts—she was the leader of the gang, yes, but a leader can
    be easily replaced.

    “How we’ll be splittin’ them
    goodies?” Small Tom asked, his restless hands adjusting and re-adjusting his
    black, flowing cape.

    Hannah scratched her
    eye-patch. “That’s a good question Tom,” Hannah answered. A good question I don’t have an answer yet. Hannah stared greedily
    at the tempting pile in front of her. She wanted them all. She deserved them

    “I suggest we take turns in
    picking one out until the table’s empty,” Bruno squeaked. He was sweating
    underneath his fish bowl helmet. “We do it clockwise. Hannah you go first. Pick
    one and then the next one will pick another one.”

    Hannah gave Bruno the stink
    eye. Brat’s trying to take over the
    business. ”What I suggest is that we split it thirty percent to me and
    seventy percent to you guys.”

    “Ain’t that fair to us,”
    said Bookie. “We has did work as much as you did. Us probably did more than
    you.” Bookie was wrapped with bandage—from head to toe.

    “I did the planning. I
    mapped out the place. I was the one who instructed you where to go,” Hannah
    placed her hooked hand on the table with a slam. She was never good at being
    nice. Fear, now that’s a tool Hannah knew how to wield. “These candies are MY
    fruits of labor. All you had to do was ring the doorbell and say your line.
    Three words: Trick or treat.” Hannah used her most glowering stare at them all.
    She stared hard at each one of the kids. She was the queen of Halloween. 

    • Yvette Carol

      Better late than never JB, at least you still made it to the party.
      I love the sweating under the fishbowl helmet. Visceral…

  12. Beck Gambill

    Great post Marianne. The advice is very timely for me. I’m writing the climax of my novel and I sense that choosing what to say and what not to say has never been more important.

  13. Yvette Carol

    Nana Jeen gazed around the spacious room. Light radiated from a couple of dark recesses in the ceiling where the glow-worms lived. The glow-worms gave enough to keep the room partly alight in a greenish way right throughout the night.
    The simple curving walls swept away from her. Two rackets and three balls of different sizes lay on a desk carved from the wall. A waste basket reflected herself and her grandson in distorted reflection. In the shiny surface her face smiled. She could even see traces of the beauty that she had once had. Many years ago…. Her husband, the boy’s Papa Joe, had sculpted the basket out of clay mixed with straw and overlaid it in a paste he’d made out of pulverized egg shells. He’d polished it well. Now it shone an opalescent gem in the night lights. It was very clever she had to admit. He knew a thing or two that man.
    A racing arc of electricity appeared, sending a flare of light across the room. It lit the interior walls and her sleeping grandson for a second.  A minute later thunder rumbled. Nana Jeen jumped and clutched the blanket. A dark mass of clouds rolled over, obliterating the moon and it drove before it a wind that howled through the forest.

    Marianne, congratulations on your first guest post! Kudos on a fantastic start to your fabulous career! You tapped in to something I’ve been concentrating on lately. Subtext. The piece above is from the first chapter of The Lost Island, which I finished at midnight last night. I know, I know, storms are old hat but this is middle grade fiction after all and I’m sure they’ll forgive me. 
    I got lucky. One of my new friends over on WANAtribe offered to critique the first two chapters of my WIP. So I’ve been stretching time at both ends in the last week, and have made great progress on the editing/rewriting. I finished the first two chapters last night as I said, and emailed them. So this is the perfect place to share what I’ve been doing. Esp since subtext has been on my mind.
    Btw; I bought my domain name this morning. I’m about to take a tutorial on building your own website. Will post a link when it’s up & running. Did I say Yeeha?!!!

  14. Jane

    “Hey, mom, where’s Tig?”

    “I don’t know, haven’t seen him.”

    “Did you go outside a little while

    “Yeah, you think he slipped out
    the door?”

    “Probably! Why can’t you close the
    door behind you?”

    He didn’t listen to his mother’s
    response. She was always doing this. How could she be so oblivious?
    He stepped outside to light a cigarette and then begin the search.
    After a few long breaths, he calmed down enough to take in the view.

    Mornings here was always beautiful,
    even though working the night shift meant he didn’t enjoy mornings
    much. Today, he would be taking someone else’s shift, so he decided
    to enjoy the moment. His eyes traced a path from the manicured grass
    flowing down from the porch, to the edge of the lawn where more wild
    grasses mocked their civilized cousins. From there, he couldn’t tell
    what was ground and what was wet marshland. Sometimes deer picked
    their way toward the apartment complex, daintily nibbling the
    neighbor’s favorite tulips and hostas. This morning, the air was
    completely still with a hazy mist clinging to the ground. It would be
    hot later.

    He tossed his cigarette on the wet lawn
    and absently stepped on it as he made his way toward the tall grass.
    His jeans made a jarringly loud swishing sound that made him cringe
    and alter his gait to preserve the silence, though he didn’t know
    why. In fact, he should probably be shouting the damn cat’s name, but
    somehow, it didn’t feel right to make that much noise.

    He stopped at the border between the
    lawn and the marsh, listening to his own breathing and an occasional
    chirp from a far-away chickadee. He took a breath to call the cat,
    but the sound died in his throat. He wanted to disappear, too, just
    like the cat. If he took that next step, he might not come back.
    Moving into the endless expanse of tan and yellow marsh meant he
    would become something else, something wild. No cat, no mother, not
    even a cigarette to distract him from his instincts. He’d make a
    little nest hidden in the cattails, or maybe prowl the waterline for
    mice or frogs. Simplicity and silence. He longed to be undone by this
    wild, quiet place. He lifted his right foot, not noticing how
    anachronistic his white tennis shoe looked against the chicory.

    There was a slight sound to his right
    as the grasses parted and a white paw appeared, followed by a fat,
    brown and gray striped feline body, a little pink tail dangling from
    its mouth. He sighed.

    “You bring that mouse in the
    apartment and mom’ll kill you, Tigger. Stupid cat.”

    They turned, he lit another cigarette
    and felt absurdly envious of how his domesticated cat could cross the
    line and become wild whenever it found the opportunity to slip
    through an open door.

    He stubbed the cigarette out on the
    ground, next to the first one, and went back into the cold, Lysol
    scented air of the apartment.

    “What took you so long? You’re
    going to be late for work!”

    Without acknowledging her, he threw on
    his brown coat, picked up his keys, and walked out the front door,
    slamming it behind him. The white Pontiac’s engine broke the silence
    at last, but he didn’t care. The pink, hazy morning faded into
    blindingly lucid daylight, and the car smelled comfortingly like
    cigarettes and pine scented air freshener. He pulled out without
    looking behind him and flew away through the parking lot. The cat sat
    in the front window and watched him go, its expression unreadable,
    waiting for the door to open again.

    • Jane

       Shoot. Sorry about the typos. I posted as a guest and can’t edit it. Anyway, I’m aware of them and apologize.

    • Maya

       Hi Jane,

      so beautiful – it brought tears to my eyes in some passages. Congrats!!

    • Jane Rumrill

       Thank you, Maya! I’m new to this site, but I’ll keep an eye out for your writing.


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