— Jenny Neill

Meet Red Riding Hood

When I work on building descriptions for a story, I often use the “pre-writing” technique of free writing to capture sensual details of a person or a place. These exercises rarely net me whole passages I can take and use directly in a non-fiction piece. This post started as a free writing exercise to capture details of an encounter I had riding the Max train in Portland today. A new voice and character I’m calling Red Riding Hood emerged in the process.

Red Pours Water on the Train

It’s cold. I got wet. I didn’t bring my rain coat. Mom told me too. But the sun was shining. It was warm and nice. I didn’t listen.

I like wearing my gym shorts when it’s nice out. I don’t like to sweat.

I also don’t like being wet. Or cold. Or riding the Max train by myself.

I put my backpack on my lap like my case worker showed me. She told me that it is polite. That it’s not nice to take up extra seats.

I like drinking with straws. Mom tells me to not drink my whole big bottle at once. “Take little sips through the straw.” But, my mouth is dry. I’m nervous. I’m thirsty.

I grab my big water bottle. It’s hard to hold it because the train is moving. I have to hold it with my bad hand to open it with my good hand.

I need my water though.

I don’t like it when people stare at me. I try to be small. Mom doesn’t like it when I hunch down.

I can’t grip the bottle cap with my left. I need my right to twist it. I have to con-cen-trate.

I twist the cap off. If I stick it in the pocket of my backpack, it won’t fall on the floor. I won’t lose it. I need to keep it so I can close the bottle again. That’s what my mom says.

I put the cap in the pocket. OK. OK. Time to pick the cup back up. Got it.

Con-cen-trate. I use my left hand to lift the lid. It has the straw in it.

I hold the bottle in my right. The cup is in my bad hand.

I stare at the lid. I don’t want it fall. Don’t fall, don’t fall.

I tilt the water bottle. Con-cen-trate. Fill up my little cup, fill it up, fill it up. Stop!

OK, OK. I didn’t spill. OK.

Put the lid back on the cup. Press it down gently, so gently, so gently. Press it down gently so it will stay.

OK. OK. Good!

Mom showed me how to get the cap back on. Con-cen-trate. Grr. It didn’t go on straight.

I have to start over. Mom showed me how if it isn’t straight the water comes out. I want to drink the water, so I have to keep it in the bottle. I have to start over.

I try again. The cap is on. Good and tight. OK.

I am very thirsty. And I am tired. I know it’s not being neat to leave the bottle out. But the train ride is long and I’m thirsty.

I use both my hands to lift the cup up, so I can suck on the straw. The water feels nice in my mouth.

Sip little sips. I sip my little sips. I sip my little sips to make the water last.

  1. Jane Boursaw says: November 9, 20126:11 am

    I’m a student (in the hypothetical, universal sense) of Natalie Goldberg and love her free writing exercises (which I haven’t done in forever).

    Have you connected with Kris Ohlson, Jenny? She’s swell, and just moved to Portland.

    • Jenny says: November 9, 201211:02 am

      Not yet. I know of her, though, and hope to make her acquaintance in real life soon.

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