This week, the spotlight is on Phyllis Carol Agins and her short story, “The Cradle,” published first in Pearl and republished in Schuylkill Valley Journal.
Q: What inspired you to write “The Cradle”?
So many of my ideas come to me when I visit Nice, France, where I spend long summers along the azure and turquoise Mediterranean. I can’t answer why I’m so fertile there. Perhaps it is simply that my senses are teased by the wine and food, by the always-golden light, by the overheard conversations in so many different tourist languages. In Nice, I always find new ideas.
“The Cradle” started when a friend wanted to purchase a sea-view apartment from a woman’s family. All I knew was that she had recently died. The details were for me, the writer, to complete.
I’ve often foolishly thought it is impossible to be sad or even sick when living in such a beautiful place. But, of course, that is my own magic thinking. The woman in “The Cradle” exits life in her own fashion and with a kind of bravery that surprised even me, the writer.
Q: How long did it take you to write it?
My short pieces, bits of flash fiction, come to me just that way. In a burst of an idea that irritates me until I quickly write it down, almost without thought, and certainly, without censorship. “The Cradle” was first written while I lay on the very stones that welcome my character. My hands were in the air above me, and I was praying I could write quickly enough before the idea deserted me. And that I’d be able to read what I’d written later.
The “flash” is always the first step. But, for me, the best is revision. I adore changing my mind, moving pieces of sentences from here to there, turning a word around and finding another until that word, even that comma, is exactly where it needs to be. Once a day I will visit the story, even for a month or two, until I am satisfied. And that’s for a tale under 1,000 words! When I taught university students, I would insist that revision truly made the writing. And I’ll never change my mind.
An excerpt of “The Cradle”:
“Stop her,” we are all crying at the same time.
“Where’s her daughter?”
“For God’s sake, call an ambulance!”
Everyone has something to add, but no one acts.
By the time she takes the stairs and leaves the building, 15 of us, her neighbors, have gathered. We’ve always followed her with our eyes, spurred on by that mixture of envy and admiration. But this time, we walk slowly behind her, now silent, as if we’re afraid to break into her trance. She doesn’t see us. There’s not even that little wave of the hand she usually offers as she walks by. Not even the smallest nod of her head. No acknowledgment that she knows we are here, the expat community that has adopted the Côte d’Azur as its home.
She was a beauty even 20 years ago at 65 when she first moved to this marina on the Mediterranean coast. Once she explained. The sea called her with a voice full of birdsong and ship-soundings, and even with the occasional dolphin’s laugh. She had decided to throw away the land where she’d toiled long enough, collect her retirement and her dead husband’s money. It was by the blue-milk sea that she belonged.