The Writing Table UPDATED: D’oh

Filed under:Fiction — posted by Anwyn on February 4, 2009 @ 3:03 am

(Picture swiped from Sippican. He won’t mind. The table in the picture is now in my bedroom. Writing style also more or less swiped from, or at least inspired by, Sippican. He’s good. Also more succinct than I.)

I write on the kitchen table. It’s the only place there’s enough room, but there’s really not enough room. Dad frowns and tells me to get that pile of scraps off the table before he plunks down his bowl of beans. Bean soup is the only thing he can make really well. And even if it’s not made really well, it’s really hot. We eat a lot of it.

Mama died a couple years ago, when I was ten. Dad still gets in the hay every year. That stuff makes him sneeze, but there’s a market for it. The Mennonite people around here still drive horses. I write about them sometimes. I wear their dresses most times. They have a lot of girls older than me, and the dresses are comfortable. Dad says they’re the right price.

Mostly I write about Mama. Mama died, but if I write about it enough, it will feel like it didn’t necessarily happen to me.

Mr. Keim drove over to talk to Dad about a load of hay. He had the table in the back of the wagon—crisp white legs and a shiny, smooth top. When I was little, I thought Mennonite meant they were all men, but when I asked Mr. Keim why he wears such a long beard, he said it’s because his wife likes the way it tickles. She sure doesn’t look like she’s ever been tickled.

The table wasn’t big enough for the kitchen, which meant nobody would make me clear it off to put the food on it. When I asked Mr. Keim what it was for, he said Mr. Evans had paid him to build it. He saw my face, and didn’t tell me what price he and Mr. Evans had come to. I told him I needed one just like that to write on. He said what did I want to write for, and didn’t listen for the answer. Instead he asked me did I know how to bake bread. I told him Dad sometimes could make some biscuits to go with the beans. He told me to hop in the wagon.

Mrs. Keim was kneading dough. Every day after that, I kneaded the dough. She showed me how to shove into it with my weight, arms straight down onto her low table, to make the texture right. She showed me how to mix it up from the beginning, how to keep it from sticking all over my hands. How I could write awhile as it rose, an interminably long time, long enough to get some of the words right.

She showed me how to roll it up, cut off lengths of it, butter them and dust them with cinnamon and make sweets from plain bread dough. She made me do it over and over until they were all the same shape and size. A few days, while it rose, she set me to piecing together quilt patches. She laughed at my hobbledy stitches, and I could see what she might feel like when that beard tickled her cheek. I pieced more patches until my finger hurt even through the thimble, but my stitches were small enough. I never saw Mr. Keim. When I asked, she said he was in the barn.

The last day, when I came, she showed me my patches made into an apron. She tied it around me, kissed me and told me to go home and make the bread for my father. I had it on the table when he came in, and not with a pot of beans, either. Mrs. Keim had made other things while the dough rose. I paid attention. Dad’s eyes relaxed a little that night, and they didn’t look so tired. And he didn’t say anything about my papers.

When we had eaten I heard the clop-clop outside, and Mr. Keim’s wagon pulled up. He had another table—this one a beautiful gleaming deep blue with a top as warm and unbroken as the hayfield. I asked him who had ordered this one. He looked at Dad over the top of my head, and without a word Dad stepped to the wagon and helped Mr. Keim lift it down. I stared as Dad clasped Mr. Keim’s hand for a long moment. Not for many years later did I understand that Mr. Keim had gifted me that incomparable table. When I finally spoke of it, I couldn’t help saying I thought he didn’t care if I wrote. He smiled behind that beard, and his wife laughed that laugh. He said he knew I would write no matter what, but that his wife thought to make sure I understood how to do other things too.

Update: I’ll never make a fiction writer. Mennonite men apparently don’t wear beards.


  1. That was wonderful. Thank you.

    Comment by Allen — February 4, 2009 @ 8:17 am

  2. That’s sweet of you. :) I’m glad you liked it.

    Comment by Anwyn — February 4, 2009 @ 2:42 pm

  3. Thanks for the link to Sippican. Went to their site and found a nice gift for my wife. Valentine’s day !

    Comment by jbarntt — February 5, 2009 @ 9:21 pm

  4. Awesome! What’d you get her?

    Comment by Anwyn — February 5, 2009 @ 10:15 pm

  5. The clock, but keep it under your hat ;) There will also be dinner out, and possibly flowers. Flowers are a bit boringly expected, maybe I should skip them this year ?

    Comment by jbarntt — February 7, 2009 @ 12:20 pm

  6. What do you mean, you’ll never be a fiction writer because Mennonite men don’t wear beards? Fiction is the lie that tells the truth. Mennonite men maybe wear beards in their dreams. Or something.

    Nice story. Keep going. You’ve got a nice voice (but the word “incomparable” jumps out — a little jarring for the character’s previously simple words). I like this girl and want to hear more of her story.

    Beautiful desk, by the way.

    Comment by lifepundit — February 23, 2009 @ 7:43 pm

  7. Thanks very much for those comments, Lifepundit. Since I spend so much time correcting people’s nonfiction, it’s a relief to have somebody to comment on my (rare) fiction.

    I have since heard an anecdote from my sister about a Mennonite friend of hers and how his whole family is after him to wear a beard, like they do. I guess it varies from group to group, family to family, individual to individual.

    Comment by Anwyn — February 23, 2009 @ 8:11 pm

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace