Places Like These

Last fall, I wrote a story. It was early morning, and I had the itch, and it was one of those great days when the thing just poured out of me. The draft I ended up with hardly needed any work. A few changes, a bit of shifting around, tweaks here and there, and I was done.

The story is called Places Like These, and it takes place in Lily Dale, New York, a spiritualist community established in the 1800s, where mediums attempt to connect with visitors’  lost loved ones.

A few years ago, my mother, my sister and I went there, in part to celebrate my sister’s 40th, and also because, like the character in the story (which you can read April 1st, when it launches on the Little Fiction website, but until then watch the trailer), I had strangely heard mention of the place three times in as many days.

It was eerie; it felt like a call.


When we were there, a medium mistook my mother for a widow.

We thought nothing of it, except how wrong (and then, later, we thought how strange to be sitting in a psychic’s kitchen as she cocked her head and said, puzzled, I see pie and books, and the three of us burst out laughing, because that seemed so much like my then-recently deceased uncle).

It was that, though, that idea of the widow, that came to me on the morning in October when I sat in bed with my notebook thinking about what I should write.

Rocking chairs: Lily Dale hotel verandah

Rocking chairs: Lily Dale hotel verandah

I closed my eyes; I let a scene rise to the surface. I saw the widow, not my mom, but someone else, someone me and not me, a woman struggling with grief who’d gone to Lily Dale and I saw another moment from my life, on a deserted beach, in B.C. I thought, what would it be like, to be so suddenly alone, so heart-broken, with beautiful places in your mutual past.

The last time, that fall, when I talked to my step-father, my throat clenched when we started to say goodbye. I choked out the words, I love you. When I hung up, I started to cry. It was unusual. In the living room, I said to J., I think I’m homesick. I think I need to go home for a bit. This winter, I told him. Maybe I’ll stay for a week or so in February.

I did do that, but with my mother, helping her, helping myself move through the white-blasted world, the winter terrain of grief.

In Places Like These the main character was with her late husband for almost exactly the length of time as my mother and step-father. The husband dies of a startling, sudden heart-attack.

The same.

This is strange.

In the story what I wanted was to capture the poignant pull of grief, of being between realities, and having to navigate these places of memory and pain, alone.

I don’t know why this subject matter emerged in me when it did, but I do know now that it echoed the future, it pointed to what would come, only a month and a half later, starting on December 16th, when my mother actually did become a widow.

Is it possible, I wonder, that when we step inside the trance of writing, we open the door to other sorts of trances: those that erase time, those that allow us access to deep understandings of many kinds?

Have you experienced anything like this? I would love to hear your stories. Please share in the comments below or on my Facebook author page.

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6 Responses to Places Like These

  1. Avatar
    Grace Brooks March 26, 2015 at 9:08 pm #

    Nothing like this happened to me with human characters. However there was a dog. She was a purebred Alaskan Malamute named Dixie. This dog was the lead dog in my dog team for ten years. We bonded like cement. She was smart and knew what I expected of her even before I got the words out.
    Anyway, time went by swiftly and Dixie had to be put down. She could hardly walk, including climb the steps inside to her bed by the warm fire.
    We put her to sleep. No matter what method we used.
    Then one weekend my husband and I drove out to a lake we frequented while Dixie was with us. For some reason I felt uneasy about going to this lake on that day. Dennis was all enthused. I dragged my feet.
    We came to a bay where the dog and I used to really love to walk. suddenly I felt a chill and felt something galloping towards me. There was no form or noise but I felt a cold breeze as something galloped right by me. I should SAY THROUGH ME. It was Dixie. I know it. She’d come to say good bye. She’d run right through where my heart was.Needless to say I never went back to that lake. Memories of Dixie leading the dog team were too painful.

    • Lauren
      Lauren March 26, 2015 at 9:23 pm #

      Thanks for your story, Grace. I’m sure these things can happen with our beloved animals as well.

  2. Avatar
    Diane Taylor March 26, 2015 at 5:47 pm #

    Lauren, I really like your second last paragraph, the one that begins with “Could it be …” Could I use this, giving you credit, in a response in my own blog post? A woman made some insightful comments about the writing process, and this would expand on her comments. The trance aspect. What you wrote about is important.

    • Lauren
      Lauren March 26, 2015 at 5:48 pm #

      Absolutely, Diane. Thanks. I’m honoured.

  3. Avatar
    Myrna Guymer March 26, 2015 at 2:06 pm #

    Dear Laurel,
    Your post today prompted me to share what I wrote about my mother, who died Oct 1965, and a vision I had of her many years ago. I recently had another of her – so poignant. Is there a purpose in these? As a writer, I am thankful to feel a connection with her and that I can put it into some form on remembrance – words.

    My mother’s vision
    It was the winter my mother died.
    I’m sitting at my kitchen table. Grilled cheese sandwich smells and the bustle of lunchtime linger. Dishes are done, older girls at school, husband back to work, and babies are napping. I’m reading recipe books. Each day I find two or three new ones to prepare for the evening meal. Keeps my mind off sad things.
    I glance up. A movement outside the window. Sun reflected off winter snow illuminates the glass. Within the frame of the flowered turquoise curtains I see her. It’s Mom. She’s walking past my window.
    She’s in her green Hudson Bay jacket; her arm swinging forward blurs the darker stripes on the sleeve. The fur of her mink pillbox hat melds with her hair. Time stops. My heart stops.
    She’s coming to the steps. Four to the landing. She’ll be climbing. I’m counting. One. Two. Three. Four. Is the door creaking? Is she in the porch? Am I breathing? How many seconds, minutes have past? Now. Now. I’ll hear her tap tap. Open the door. “Yoohoo, Myrna?”
    I haven’t’ blinked. I exhale a blast of air and cradle my head in my hand. What am I thinking?
    She died four months ago.

    • Lauren
      Lauren March 26, 2015 at 2:12 pm #

      Wow, Myrna. This gave me chills. Thank you so much for sharing.

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