Exhausted From Holding It In

I had been working in a drop-in center for homeless teenagers for a month when I saw “Brokeback Mountain.”
The center was housed in a dingy 23-story building on 8th Avenue in Manhattan, a few long blocks from Times Square. I worked the front desk, which meant I pressed the button to unlock the doors when kids showed up, and I had them sign in and wait for their counselors. I didn’t do the heavy lifting. I didn’t talk to them in private offices about what they had gone through that day or what they would be facing that night. But I did get their shockwaves of emotion as they burst in. These clients generally knew much more than I did, and they were impatient with my efforts to help. I probably seemed weak or street dumb or privileged.
At the end of each day we would meet in a room around a long table covered in chipped paint. We strategized about getting shoes for kids with fungal infections on their feet because the police kept making them walk rather than rest on benches. We talked about one or another transgender girl who had not confessed her HIV status to her boyfriend or a boy who had been beaten after an act of sex work (that work being one of only a few options for survival). All had run away from torturous homes or been “thrown away” because they were gay or rebellious.
One rainy Friday I was entrusted with the task of handing out donated ponchos to kids as they left the center, which would open again on Monday. The ponchos were all too small, though. I had to use scissors to open the seams so the nylon would fit. I felt the clients’ skin as I snipped the fabric along their chins. I left work, walked down to the multiplex at 34th Street and bought a ticket for “Brokeback Mountain.” I was numb until the scene where the taciturn Heath Ledger enters Jake Gyllenhaal’s tent and collapses on Gyllenhaal’s chest, the weight of all his life’s pain, the exhaustion of holding it in, releasing. I started crying then and didn’t stop until long after I was home.
What we hold in us — what histories and present-day stories these kids shouldered in the streets — a spare story can bring everything out of you. It steps back, and we lean forward with our emotions. This stark piece by Blake Clark is a response to the following prompt: Write about a loss and emphasize setting.

By Blake Clark

No, he wouldn’t go, leave his mother, just lying out there.
“You have to go now.”
Words can go through you, sting, blister the skin. The boy didn’t move.
“I’ll take care of things,” the man said, nicer.
Jake didn’t move.
“Don’t you worry.” The man nearly smiled, that was one standing wire of contrary, that boy. “I’ll take care of her.”
The sun was hot, the man needed a drink, it was all bothering him now.
“I made that coffin for her, didn’t I?” the man said. Sweat trickled down his body.
The yellow pine box sat on sawhorses; it lit the ground around it.
“You can have the dog.” The man grinned. He knew it was already Jake’s.
“Now git along.” The man laughed, hooked his thumb in his belt where he often had a pistol, turned and went into the house.
Jake walked over to the coffin.
Her eyes were closed.
Jake lifts his hand, the meanness gotten all this time goes away, the yard and the coffin too. Only the sun comes through like coming through curtains of lace. She’s overslept again, still lying in bed, and he’s come through to touch her hand to look at her face wanting her to wake up and smile.
He was going to, but as he laid his hand on the coffin edge the dog came out of the house and then the door slammed shut.
On the front porch John Johnson stood with his pistol.
“Go on over to your sister’s,” he said.
Jake was defiant. He took a sidelong look at Johnson.
Johnson was aiming at the dog.
Jake got in front of her, Johnson adjusted, misaimed, and then he fired.
Jake and his dog were running hard, a second shot fired as he got to a place he’d go to whenever his mother was with Johnson.
He figured he’d circle back, wait a bit. Johnson would be drunk, or asleep or gone. He’d see his mother then and start the arrangements.
The ceremony would be short, but she’d have all the things that she loved around her.
Butterflies, and that picture of Jesus with the children, and the one of the Indians walking in the snow.
If Johnson was gone. He hated him. What was it his mother loved most?
Then it came to him. He looked at his dog.
He’d have to invite Johnson to the ceremony.

Writing Challenge

Write a story in which a conflict takes place. Hold everything back but the essential information.

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