October 11, 2012, Thursday

As my writer retreat wears on, I’ve developed a routine. I rise early and take a quick walk around the mountain ridge with my dog Wilson. And then return to the cabin to let the morning mists dissipate. (In the mists, all stumps look like bears, and I am nervous. Even Wilson is hard of seeing and makes similar mistakes, I think. He sticks close to my side.)

Back in the cabin, I have coffee and toast, read some of Tapply, The Elements of Mystery Fiction and then set to work.

William G. Tapply, The Elements of Mystery Fiction, 1995

For today’s lesson, Tapply tells me:

“Write a narrative sketch of this straightforward tale. Tell it chronologically. Populate it with husbands and wives, lovers and ex-spouses, business acquaintances and estranged friends. Compose the life story of your victim. Be sure he has plenty of potential enemies. Then do the same for your murderer.”

I haven’t met the murderer yet. I’m not even sure who the first victim is. There’s a woman lying alongside a cold, rushing river. She is naked and covered in tattoos. We are led to believe that she’s Satoko Tani, the older sister of the long-forgotten writer whose novel Ruth, our main character, is now translating. But who would want to kill her? Her husband? I imagine she has fought him over his poor management of the family kimono business. What about Tani, the author himself, would he kill his own sister? What on earth for? Their inheritance?

When I hit a snag, I take a walk.

At the northern point of the property the path dips down and turns westward toward the pond. I follow the curve, feeling my calf muscles tighten with the decline. I want to run. But, I’m still scared of the bear. Wouldn’t my running put me deeper in his territory? Maybe next week. Step by step I will outpace this bear. I will run the perimeter of the land. It will be a good workout. Next week.

“The pond” was a failure.

My father had the land surveyed before he bought the property and discovered a spring under the ridge. He hired a man with a bulldozer who came in and dug out a round bowl just above the spring. My father added drainpipes and waited. The pond began to fill. He planned to stock it with fish.

The water rose to a fourth of the bowl. And then it stopped filling. “The pond” was little more than a puddle. Apparently, the water was running out the other side of the ridge through some kind of underground network of caverns. No fish for this water hole.

I have a photograph of Dennis, my first husband, in his swim trunks (well, running shorts) standing in “the pond.” He had offered to wade through the murky water to check the drain pipe or pump or something. I’m not exactly sure what he was doing or supposed to do. But he was demonstrating great gumption and courage to have volunteered his services.

More gumption than I have, only allowing myself to walk during the brightest point of the day, afraid of invisible bears, as I try to imagine a story of murder and an-as-of-yet unnamed killer.

A pond that does not fill. Shouldn’t that be a metaphor for something? Perhaps for a writer whose pages fill only with random notes, musings, and quotations from best-selling experts?

I creep closer to the pond, surprised to see it is higher than I remembered. Perhaps it is still filling? Perhaps there are fish there now. I peer over the brambles that line the edge, but the water is murky and thick with leaves. I stare at the tangled bank and imagine finding a body there. Would it, too, be covered with tattoos? Would it be Earl, my neighbor and tormentor? Perhaps felled by his own bear!

Featured photo is “The Pond” from October 2012