by Sherrie Flick
Ten years, the stubby stone candle holders are a clock on our kitchen tabletop. The little dog running laps at our feet, the second hand. Our chairs scrape. We pull them back, scoot them in. Flick a match, spark the wicks, and the wispy wax of all the years past becomes a hazy measurement of us. The candles are the messengers, the little white ghosts whispering secrets.
The shadows crouch, then close in. We sip the soup—squash, ginger, nutmeg, garlic, celery, thyme. The red wine tastes like pepper, berries, hope, lust. We tip delicate stem glasses. Linen napkins at our knees. Country music bubbles from a cassette tape folded into the tiny player. The heady hydrangeas are a dry, crispy blue in the mason jar. We kiss. We kiss again.
Now the dog grunts his little wish: he wants a treat.
It’s true. We must go on.
We post each candle—a peg twisted into its hole—light the delicate braided wicks with one deft swipe of the match. They spark and shine.
We watch the wicks char. The wax softens, dissipates. We ask the dog to sit, to stay. He waltzes, just a step or two, on his hind legs as we dangle the treat. Gently, he nips his cookie, and his nails click confidence around the table again.
We hold hands. The candles sway.
Sherrie Flick is the author of the award-winning flash fiction chapbook I Call This Flirting (Flume) and the novel Reconsidering Happiness (Bison Books). Select anthologies include Flash Fiction Forward (Norton), New Sudden Fiction (Norton), and The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction. A recipient of fellowships from the Ucross Foundation, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, she lives in Pittsburgh where she teaches, edits, gardens, and cooks. www.sherrieflick.com
Let’s celebrate your remarkable line: “Gently, he nips his cookie, and his nails click confidence around the table again.” What phrase in “Little Dog” means the most to you? What word? Why these?
I’m thrilled (thrilled!) that you like the “Gently, he nips…again” line in my story since it is a sentence I worked on for a long time to get just right. In fact, after noting my heavily scribbled upon draft, I took the time to re-copy my tries at that one sentence, and I often use it to talk about revision with my students. If you’ll indulge me, here is the progression:
What I was trying to revise was this, a kind of unresolved original last paragraph of the story:
“We watch the wicks char. The wax softens, dissipates. We ask the dog to sit, to say. We dangle the treat, and he waltzes, just a step or two, on his hind legs.”
Sherrie tries to find a last sentence:
1. We dangle the treat, and he waltzes, just a step or two, on his hind legs, and then continues (around the table) (on his steady path).
2. Soon he is satisfied. The flames (flicker) (burn). We hold hands. The dog’s nails click a (confident) (reassuring) orbit.
3. The dog’s nails confident in his orbit.
4. It’s gone one-two, and he continues around the table.
5. He snaps the treat, satisfied, then continues round the table.
6. Before snapping the treat. Satisfied he (continues) (trots) round the table. We gather the dishes, flames flickering. Can’t bring ourselves to snuff the flames.
7. Let the tiny flames sway.
8. The tiny flames sway.
9. The flames sway.
10. Satisfied, the dog(’s) nails click a confident orbit around the table.
11. Satisfied, he continues around the table his nails (a) clicking (of) confidence. (The flames sway.) We hold hands.
12. Satisfaction is this (easy) (simple). He barks once, and continues his diligent (route) (orbit) (around our ankles) (along the kitchen floor). We hold hands (as) The candles, they sway.
13. Satisfaction is this simple. Gently, he (nips) (takes) his bone (treat) (cookie) and continues his diligent route around our ankles.
14. Satisfaction is this simple. He holds his treat in his mouth like a tiny cigar and continues his diligent route along the kitchen floor. We hold hands. The candles, they sway.
15. Satisfied, his nails click a confident orbit around the table.
16. Satisfied, his nails click confidence around the table. The flames sway.
In the list, the words in parenthesis are words I added and then crossed out in my handwritten version.
From this long list of revisions, I landed on:
“Gently, he nips his cookie, and his nails click confidence around the table again.
We hold hands. The candles sway.”
You’ll see that I don’t find “nips” or “cookie” until revision #13. You’ll also see I start losing my grip with #14 when I introduce the cigar. But I think it’s important to realize that I couldn’t have found those words without the failed list of sentences/words that come before and after. I needed to cycle through this sentence-level revision in order to understand more fully what my story was about. And finally, you’ll see that the final sentence does not actually show up in the list, because I revised again (and again) once I typed what I thought was my final version into my Word document. I had to fiddle some more on the computer before I, like the dog, felt satisfied.