I am 7 years old, standing on the dock, looking out at my father. He is waist deep in the lake and holding a fishing pole. The sun is getting low and he’ll come in soon. I am supposed to be with the babysitter up at the house.
I hate the babysitter. An empty lot separates our houses. It is easy for her to babysit and she is sixteen, I think. Maybe she isn’t. But she’s old enough.
“What are you doing down here?” dad asks.
I want to tell him, but I’m sure I will get into trouble. “I don’t like B—,” I say. My temperature rises.
“Don’t be silly,” he says. “Why do you say that?” He reels in the line.
I don’t know how to tell him. I can’t. I stare out at the water. The sun turns it gold, flickering with small waves. “I don’t know,” I say. “My stomach hurts.”
“Go back to the house.”
“I don’t want to. B—… she says means things.” The sun makes me blink and I rub my eyes.
“Just do what she says,” my dad replies and casts out his line. “Don’t make her mad.”
I decide I will walk up to the house, but I won’t go inside. I will stay in the backyard until B— goes home. I will never tell my father what she says to me.
What she says to me is how her and her boyfriend have sex. She laughs and tells me her boyfriend is going to come over to my house if I am not good.
Later that summer I take her cat and shut it up in my dad’s steamer trunk. The cat shreds the lining and then claws up my hands when I let it out. B— asks me why her cat is acting so strange, so on edge, and I shrug. I feel terrible though every time I open that trunk. And my father is furious.
“What were you thinking?” he asks.
“I don’t know,” I say.
In fiction we write terrible things. What difficult scenes do you write? Death, murder, rape, fear, grief, heartbreak, failure, torture? Maybe the horrors you write about are small ones–though the word small is deceptive. There is the epic death of an entire village in war and the small death of a child’s goldfish. But you can’t tell the real story if you mock the child’s loss.
Anyway, how do you write difficult scenes? Or are they easy for you? The other day I watched an episode of Torchwood with my students. In one scene, a man in murdered in front of his wife and children. Every time I watch this I look away. The first time I watched it I started to shake. But one of my students–he laughed. Like he knows it is just a tv show and I forgot.
Why is that? Why do some of us laugh and some of us feel sick? How do feel if you write a scene like that?