In Memoriam is a series of posts dedicated to the words, the lines, and the books that—for one reason, one editor, or another—never saw the light of day. Below, forthcoming QFP author, Victoria Kelly, says goodbye to the opening lines of an old story.
“Ema was the first to be lost. And now her father Elias sits her image like a stuffed toy on his mantle, trying to remember who was this Ema besides a girl with green eyes and his daughter. Should he remember the way she was, or what she would have been?”
During my third year as an undergraduate at Harvard, I spent three months in Vina del Mar, Chile, on a study abroad program. Although it was winter in Chile at the time, Vina del Mar was a beautiful city, a vacation destination—white sand beaches and blue ocean and restaurants on cliffs that overlooked the water. In the mornings I would run on the boardwalk and dozens of stray dogs would follow me. I would buy freshly baked bread downtown from tiny shops and eat it with manjar, a popular caramel spread.
But Chile also had a darker side. It was haunted by The Disappeared, two thousand people who had “vanished”—imprisoned, tortured and killed—during the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in the 1970s and 1980s.
Two hours by bus from Vina del Mar was a small, dusty city called La Ligua, that was famous for making the most wonderful meringue-filled pastries. Vendors dressed in white would spend the mornings on sidewalks around the town, holding wicker baskets full of these pastries. Part of my program involved living for one month, alone, in a Chilean city of my choice, and doing research for an end-of-term project. I had decided that, as an English major, I would visit La Ligua and write a collection of stories about the town, which had charmed me. The place felt like a town out of a storybook, far removed from the chaos of modern life. Not a single person in La Ligua spoke English; in the center of town was a bubbling fountain and a photographer who took pictures with an old, early-century camera. I found a small hotel near the town square and set out to write a short story about a pastry-vendor struggling with the memory of his teenage daughter, one of The Disappeared. The sentences above were the first sentences of my first story.
But after only a few days, I got violently sick from a stomach virus I had caught while visiting Argentina. I ended up so sick that I had to leave the program a month early and go back to the United States for medical care. I was never able to finish the stories I had set out to write. All I have now is that first sentence and a long collection of notes for a story that will never come to be. I feel too far removed from the place now, years later, to write about it successfully—it is the kind of story that need to be written sitting on the edge of the town fountain, in the middle of all that dust and sunlight. So I would like those first sentences to lie here, in this blog, and rest in peace.
Victoria Kelly received her B.A. Summa Cum Laude from Harvard University, her M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and her M.Phil. in Creative Writing from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, where she was a U.S. Mitchell Scholar. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in dozens of anthologies and journals including The Best American Poetry series, Alaska Quarterly Review, Southwest Review, Prairie Schooner, and North American Review, among others. Her debut novel will be published by Simon & Schuster in 2016. She lives in Virginia with her husband and daughters.