Memory of a Spring Flight – by Todd Horton
“People live in rooms I’ve lifted. Walk on beams I’ve flown through air. Every day I climb 150 feet above concrete and steel, all the lights of my city. Alone in my crane I’m pregnant with buildings. But sometimes the view seems to beckon me down. When Chrissy died, I thought about jumping. My depression was gravity; I knew it could kill me. Raising buildings was part of staying alive. If I could bring buildings up to meet me, there’d be no jumping and nowhere to fall.”
— from “WITH RACCOON” – by Carol Guess and Kelly Magee
“WITH RACCOON” is quite different from the other stories, in that understanding is born out of loss and grief, but none of the characters take on the parenting of another species. The narrator is a crane operator, whose sense of the world comes of compassion and staying on task, raising buildings so as not to fall into sadness. The raccoons here create mess and menace, but also act as a reminder of family. Pregnancy, defined differently here, becomes metaphor, as in the other stories in the collection, but opens up in another way. Was the process for this story unlike that of the others, from onset to outcome?
Carol: That’s really intuitive. Yes, the process was different because “With Raccoon” started from nonfiction. Almost all of the other stories begin and end in imagination, but I started this story while I was living in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, a few blocks away from a construction site. A crane operator really did find raccoons at the top of his giant crane; they had to halt construction while everyone tried to figure out what to do. Mysteriously, the raccoons disappeared overnight. It was a striking story, and I wanted to include it. We ended up sending “With Raccoon” to the construction workers and they liked it!
But there’s a sad side, too. My little dog Theo got attacked by a raccoon in my backyard in Ballard. I made the difficult decision to set out a trap for the raccoon. It was really aggressive and had taken over my yard; I literally couldn’t let my dog go outside, couldn’t walk in my own backyard. I feel awful about this, though. I can’t really think about it, I feel so guilty; maybe I did the wrong thing. It was the raccoon’s backyard, too. Such a hard decision, choosing between my safety and my pet’s safety and the life of this beautiful, wild creature. I hate thinking about it. So that sense of sadness and loss made its way into our story, too.
Kelly: This story was tough for me. Though it’s told from the point of view of the grieving father, the mother who has lost her child was central for me, and something I had to work around and through as I was finishing it. One of the great pleasures of collaboration is being pushed out of your comfort zone, called to write things you haven’t considered or that you’ve avoided. Since having children, I hadn’t written about the death of a child. It seemed too hard, too close, too gratuitous in a way. Then there she was, the mother I’d avoided writing about, losing her sanity in a way that seemed entirely authentic but also terrifying to me. Focusing on the raccoon family helped, but this was still a hard story for me to finish. Interestingly, in a previous draft (I hope this isn’t giving too much away!), I wrote that the father dropped the baby raccoons over the edge of the crane, essentially killing them. A journal editor suggested I change the line because it made him too unlikeable a character. I found it interesting that in a story about a dead child, it was the death of the animal that offended the sensibilities. There’s a way in which contemporary readers have become desensitized to human death in a way we haven’t for animal deaths. I’m interested in challenging that response… but I did end up changing the line.