ABC’s of Writing (for Beginners): U is for Undercurrents

Posted by on Oct 6, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

gym picWe were stuck in traffic. It was hot. When it wasn’t hot, it was because it was fucking hot. My girlfriend held the steering wheel loosely and stared at the car in front of her with the concentration of a failed telekinetic. She tried to move the vehicles out of her way with mental power. Her eyes bulged with red veined determination but… nothing.

We sat on a bridge over a khlong on a summer day in marshy Bangkok. The water in the canal was stagnant. Nothing was moving in the brown water besides a few floating lilies and plastic bottles. The wide green leaves and the empty coke bottles drifted down the waterway that extended out from the north and winded its way somehow to through the concrete delta to the ocean.

The undercurrent was there, somewhere, somehow, pushing the lilies along however slowly, letting the coke bottles and beer cans collide into larger piles of debris. I knew it was there. I just couldn’t see it happening.

The thing about undercurrents is that there is a force pushing things along from underneath, a drive that is only hinted at. In writing it’s the little things, the subtext, it’s what gives the story its depth. In life it’s the unsaid things in our conversations.

I was bored even though we were on vacation, maybe because we were visiting her parents. Most of our nights were spent in a kitchen where we ate dinner with her Thai parents and the family let their voices fall and rise with the tonal language. We passed plates back and forth of som tum, larb, salmon, and pickled fish. The dishes circled the table like a driver who can’t exit a roundabout. I couldn’t speak the language and I didn’t eat the food.

We’d left the house on an errand, to make spare keys for the house, for her mother.

“How long do you think this will take,” I asked her.

She tightened her grip on the steering wheel. Despite the blasting AC the heat still invaded the car and her hands were wet with sweat.

“I don’t know. There’s a lot of traffic. It’s Bangkok.”
I nodded. “I thought it would be different.”
“I told you there was traffic here.”
“I didn’t think it was going to be this bad.” I considered opening the door and walking.
“What do you want me to do?”

“I don’t know.”
“Well then what can I say?” She moved her hands to the vents that puffed out air. Her palms were still wet. “We can’t really do much until the traffic clears.” Her mother called. My girlfriend answered the phone.

“She doesn’t need the keys. She found a spare.”
I sighed.

“Is there a place we can do a u-turn nearby?”

“I think I can just turn things around right here.” She inched the car forward. She turned on the directional.

I looked out past her profile into the water on the otherside of the bridge. I could see the khlong, a coke bottle and a lily floated together. I watched them recede from my view pushed along by an unseen force.

We turned around. There was no traffic on the way out of the city. We headed home.

Currently living in Oakland, California, Matt Lucas is a Muay Thai boxer and sports journalist. He recently published his first novel, “The Boxer’s Soliloquy.” ABC’s of Writing

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