Primal Landscapes

Many writers write about places they’ve never been.

But many more write about the places that are familiar to them. And they return to them over and over again.

Think of Stephen King’s obsession with Maine.

Raymond Chandler’s works all set in Los Angeles.

In The Craft of Setting And Description, author Amity Gaige calls these an author’s “primal landscape.”

It’s the place the author likely spent most of their childhood, or at least some very formative years. It’s the place they know the best. The people, dialect, geography, smells, customs, etc.

This week’s assignment – the final in this section of the Coursera Creative Writing specialty series – is to start a story in my own “primal landscape”.

At first, I thought about using my grandparents’ farm in Oklahoma because I have many very vivid memories of there, but this is meant to be fiction and not autobiography, so I tried to think back about Vacaville, CA, where I grew up from 4th grade through high school.

I live close to Vacaville now. Same county, just one town over. A lot has happened between leaving for college and how I’ve ended up back in the area, but it still took me some time to think back on the way Vacaville felt when I was a kid rather than the commercial and artificial feeling it gives me now.

Below is my submission for the assignment. I hope you enjoy it.

Apricots And Redwood

“You’re such a whitewashed bitch.”

His cousin’s words continued to repeat in his mind on the drive home from the birthday party at the park in Vallejo. It had been his cousin, Jessica’s, birthday and he had wanted to try and talk to her. She was so pretty and she was only a cousin through a marriage, so it was okay.

Then Jorge had said those words. Jorge had spent most of the rest of the day avoiding anyone other than his grandmother. Regardless of anything, he loved to listen to her rambling stories and feel himself getting lost into a different time.

His dad took the first exit in Vacaville, for Alamo Drive, one of the main thoroughfares on one side of town, but it still took about ten more minutes to get down Orchard and turn onto their small street.

As they drove, Jorge looked out the window. The sun was just hitting the top of the hills to the West and creating a mixture of bright patches holding deep areas of darkness at bay.

He looked at the cars and the houses and the people out. It was still over ninety degrees at almost eight o’clock. The air was still – no breeze – so Jorge knew it was going to stay warm through the night. But he liked nights like that – when it was not a school night, anyway.

The house his parents had bought – the first they had ever owned rather than rented – had two large redwood decks off the back of the house. The large house actually had three levels. It was two stories, with his, his parent’s, and his sister’s bedrooms all on the top floor over the garage and family room, but split off about midlevel was a formal dining room, living room, and the kitchen.

One of the decks came off of this level and was where most family events at the house happened. His dad’s Weber grill – which had found on the side of the road, but with barely a scratch on it – was on that level.

Off of Jorge’s sister’s and his rooms on the second floor was another, smaller deck.

On nights like this, when the air was still and would seem to actually blanket the city and dampen sound, motion, and almost make the air thick to breath, Jorge would go out on the deck in the early morning hours and lay on his back and stare at the sky.

The deck had other uses too. He had locked himself out of the house one school day. Too embarrassed to call his mom at work and make her have to come home early, he had gone through the side gate, around the side, past the apple and pear trees, under the apricot tree which reeked of sweet rot, and used the rail of the lower deck to climb onto his upper deck.

He remembered his sister yelling at him that she was going to tell on him, but he did not care at that point. He was on a mission.

From the second deck, he had realized he could climb onto the first floor’s roof, and from there, climb through the partially open second floor bathroom window.

His sister had not told on him that day. Instead, it was Craig, the boy next door who was a grade older than him.

The police came and his mom and dad both were called and had to come home.

And that was it. Thinking of that and not understanding then why the police had been called in the first place, Jorge now understood.

“You’re such a whitewashed bitch.”

Jorge looked at his brown hand on the car’s armrest. The car stopped at a stop sign before his dad turned onto their street. A blond girl he recognized from class – he thought her name was Amber – ran past them in the crosswalk and smiled at him, but the slender redhead boy with her did not.

Jorge looked down. How would this ever be home?

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