What was the secret behind the image?
May 26, 2016
WHERE DO IDEAS for stories originate?
Sometimes it only takes a single image.
How do stories begin?
In my mind, they always start with a single image.
Why do we tell stories?
No matter how hard we try, we can’t get that single image out of our minds.
It’s not complicated.
We see the image.
We ask why.
And we write the next 75,000 words to find out.
I had no idea who she was.
I had never met her.
I would never meet her.
She was a stranger then.
She is a stranger now, a stranger without a name.
I don’t know how old she was.
Or how young.
I have no idea why she left.
I don’t know where she’s gone.
I don’t know if she’s ever coming back.
All she left behind was a purse.
The old house sat back among the oaks of Kentucky.
It was perched alongside a narrow, twisting road where few people ever go anymore unless they’re lost or curious.
I was curious.
The road ended about a mile away at the edge of a creek bank.
Bad weather had taken the bridge away.
Nobody had any reason to build it again.
It was a road to nowhere.
Nowhere had ceased to exist.
Old houses fascinate me.
They hold secrets.
They keep their secrets close.
The secrets are none of my business.
That’s what the old houses think.
The secrets are my business.
I’m a writer.
The weeds were a foot high.
The white paint was streaked with age and strips of weathered wood.
The wind had quit blowing about ten miles back down the road.
The steps were no longer attached to the porch.
I could see through the cracks in the porch.
The door was open.
I walked in.
Wallpaper was peeling.
The roses in the paper were no longer red.
The roses no longer bloomed.
There was only one piece of furniture in the living room.
A little table sat beside the window.
The windowpane had been broken.
Glass scattered among the stains of raindrops on the surface of the table.
I didn’t see it at first.
But there it sat amidst the shards and spots: a leather purse.
It was all that remained of a life, of a woman who had once laughed and worried and prayed and loved and found shelter in the house.
I stood and stared at the purse.
The leather was cracked.
The brown had been stained by black.
It was covered with layers of dust.
A spider web had tied it to the table.
All I had were questions.
Who could have left it?
Why was it left?
Did someone leave in a hurry?
Was someone taken away so long ago?
Did someone die?
Was the purse simply forgotten?
Or was it a memory no one wanted anymore?
Was her name inside?
Was there a secret inside?
I could have opened the purse.
Maybe the house was right after all.
Maybe the secrets were none of my business.
I said goodbye to the woman.
I waited for a whisper.
I heard only silence and walked out the door.
I didn’t need to pry.
I didn’t have to.
The image of an old and forgotten purse in an old and forgotten house alongside an old and forgotten road had told me everything I needed to know.
My novel, Deadline News tells the secrets of a small town before the houses aged and were abandoned.