How an Odd Stain on a Sidewalk in Russia Inspired My Novel
It was late afternoon in St. Petersburg, Russia. A cloudy day but warm. I was walking back to the inn where I was staying for a writer’s workshop through the Summer Literary Seminars program. Soon, I came to a strange dried puddle on the sidewalk and almost stepped in it. I had to take a wide turn into the street to go around. Red and crusted, about a two-foot-wide blob, I thought it was paint. I looked up at the line of apartment windows, wondering where the scaffolding or ladders were. There were no workers in overalls or any such thing, so I walked on, wondering where the paint had come from but ultimately thinking nothing of it.
A Friend’s Story
Later that evening, after a group of us writers had had dinner and were chatting, my friend Adrian said he’d seen the craziest scene earlier that day. He was in a nearby bar having lunch when he saw a man beat up another man across the street. “Oh God, the one guy just kept pounding the other guy, so viciously, over and over and over,” he said. He shook his head as if to clear it. “Ugh. It was like the sound of a club hitting raw meat.”
Apparently, a woman had been at the fight too, trying to pull off the aggressor from the victim. After the guy beat the hell out of his nemesis, Adrian said, he did something that struck Adrian as funny. “He went over to his car, unlocked the trunk, and took off his T-shirt. It was soaked in blood. Then, he took out a fresh T-shirt, put it on, closed the trunk, and walked across the street into the bar,” Adrian said. “He just sat down and ordered a drink like what he’d done was no big deal.”
Shocked, we laughed and shook our heads. We’d all seen intense, crazy things in St. Petersburg but this was truly the story that epitomized Russia. It could be a mean nasty place where somehow life went on. A few minutes later, I realized something. I asked Adrian where the fight had happened. He said about 50 feet from the inn, on the same side of the street. Where I’d been earlier. It dawned on me: that dried stain on the sidewalk hadn’t been paint. It was blood.
A Lasting Image in My Mind
That realization stayed with me for years. The image of the dried blood on the sidewalk that had drained into the street. It was so big! The brutality of it was extraordinary. Still, I’ve always wondered how I could have mistaken blood for paint. It was so obvious after Adrian told the story. But the dark stain looked exactly like scarlet paint. As if someone had accidentally kicked over a bucket. I didn’t think in a million years it could be blood.
So when I started outlining The Forgetting Flower, I had this experience sitting in the back of my mind. And when I started drafting the first chapter, it just came out in the story. Renia walks by a building, sees a streak of red liquid rolling down a building. She thinks it’s paint. What else could it be, right? Well, she figures out soon enough that it’s not, and when she figures out what it is and where it’s from, her entire world turns upside down. It’s not from a fight, it’s from a different kind of event. And the rest, of course, is the unraveling of events that make up her story. If you’d like to read it, click here.
If you’d like information on the Summer Literary Seminars, which is a fantastic, supportive program for writers, go here. I highly recommend it!