Sandra Benedetto: More Than One Way to Skin a Story

This writing exercise is modeled after Raymond Queneau’s 1947 Exercices de style. He wrote 99 versions of the same paragraph, of which I chose seven favorite themes. My “story” is in the spirit of his, which is intentionally incomplete and vague.


Yesterday afternoon I was running errands in town when I passed an elderly woman with a cane. She was wearing a sign around her neck that said something about dogs. This morning we were taking our sunrise walk near the beach where the sea lions gather when we saw her sitting on a bench reading a book.


Yesterday afternoon I was running errands in town — the old part of town that’s a little rundown, but convenient to our apartment — when I passed an elderly woman with a cane. She was wearing a sign around her neck that said, “I WILL use my cane on your dog”. She didn’t smile or say hello as she passed. She must be one of those cranky older ladies who didn’t have enough fun when they were younger and bitterly regret it now. I hope I don’t become that way. Anyway, the weird thing is that the next morning when we were walking near the beach we saw her sitting there on a bench reading a book. It was hardcover, probably non-fiction. I didn’t give it too much thought at the time because we wanted to see the sea lions before all the annoying tourists showed up to take their selfies. But now that I think about it, it’s kind of funny that I’d never seen this woman before and then saw her twice in two days.


Yesterday I was a chicken with its head cut off going from store to store when I passed a wilting flower with a cane. She wore a paper necklace that shouted something about dogs. This morning we caught the worm in the form of a beautiful sunrise and saw the very same flower buried in a book.


I was in this warehouse type building where you had to knock on trapdoors and be taken down below to see the merchandise. At some point I became the salesperson, and I was showing novelty rotary phones to an old woman carrying a cane. It was one of those retractable canes and she showed me how to use it to fend off dogs. Then the cane became a snake and I tried to get away but I couldn’t, until all of a sudden I was sunbathing on our beach with the sea lions. The old woman was there but she pretended not to know me and just sat there reading a book. Oh! I just remembered that her nails were painted this dark blue color. It was very strange.


A black cane punctuated the sidewalk as it came towards me. It extended from the clutches of a wrinkled hand belonging to a woman. With each beat it threatened bodily harm to any dog that would approach its master. I never thought I’d see it again, but there it was the next morning, surveying the beach in a state of semi-repose as it leaned against a bench.


Yesterday, a resplendent Southern Californian day, I visited the old part of town to make some purchases. The storefronts and signs may shine less brilliantly than they once did, but there is something to be said for their faded charm, and in any case the location is quite convenient to our abode. As I sauntered under the cerulean sky, my mind on the quotidian tasks before me, I passed an elderly woman with a cane. This stiff appendage of hers served dual purposes, as I found out by reading the placard that hung around her creased neck, “I WILL use my cane on your dog.”

The next morning we awoke before dawn for our customary stroll to the beach that is inhabited by the local sea lion population. Our Pacific sunrises may not be as stunning as our sunsets, but something about the way the golden glow spreads slowly over the landscape illuminates my soul. As the flaxen orb ascended on her diurnal path, I happened to glance over to a bench on the seaside ridge. Imagine my surprise at seeing the same woman I’d seen yesterday, perched like a pelican on a pile. She perused a rather large tome and I found the whole scene to be rather picturesque.


An eerily quiet street in old town shortly after midnight. Out of the darkness, a figure approaches, a three-legged creature. Clip clop thump. Clip clop thump. I feel a chill run up my spine. Then, up close — too close — a face. Haggard, angry eyes peering out from behind a paper mask. I gasp. It’s gone. This morning walking quickly on my way to execute an unpleasant errand, a salty fog blanketing the road near the beach, I could swear that I saw the three-legged figure again. But when I looked back at the park bench, it was gone.



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