Monday, March 21, 2011

When Is It Fiction?

A neighbor, upon finding out I was in graduate school for creative writing, asked somewhat hesitantly, "Do you write about…real life?" I told her that real life was a jumping off point for me. Then I told her a shorter version of the following true story.

I go to the wine aisle at the supermarket. It's a disaster. The aisle is completely blocked with cases of wine, baskets filled with bottles, carts—an obstacle course of about seven or eight large challenges. I leave my cart at the end and navigate through and around.
"Help you find anything?" A clean, trim man smiles at me.
"Where have you moved the Ravenswood Zinfandel?"
He walks energetically around. "There are three kinds. Which one did you want?"
"The eight dollar bottle," I say.
 He laughs, then leads me over to a full shopping cart. He pulls out a bottle.
"Here's the ten dollar one."
"White label," I say. "I guess that's right." 
 They have a 10% discount on four bottles of any wine, and I tell him I want three more.
"If you like that, you'll probably like this." He holds up Running Bull or Raging Bull or something. A seven dollar bottle.
"It's comparable?" I ask. I take it and put it under my arm with the Ravenswood.
"Yes, here's another." He holds it out to me.
"Well, I haven't tried it yet, so how do I know I want two?"
He looks at me and says, "I could crack one open for you."
"Really? At eight-thirty in the morning?" I'm pretty sure he's serious.
"Maybe not." He backtracks.
"Are there any more Ravenswood?"
"I'll check."
He asks a guy with a larger belly and a smaller hairline at the end of the aisle, who thinks they are at the end of the meat aisle. The guy takes a walkie-talkie off of his belt and holds it to his mouth.
"Grrlmrphgrrmrgl." He pauses, then says, "She's in the liquor aisle." He clicks off and turns to me. "She's bringing you a couple."
Where they are, I don't know, but if I knew I could get them myself. I carry the two bottles, one Ravenswood, one Raging Bull, as I go find my cart. I see a pleasant woman also carrying two wine bottles, and I wave my two bottles at her. I thank her and continue shopping. At the other end of the store is an enormous display of Ravenswood wines. I have my four bottles, though. I'm okay.

But what would have happened if I'd told the man to go for it and crack open the Raging Bull? Would he have gone to the picnic aisle and come back ripping open a package of cups? Whip a baguette off the bread shelf? Cheese, anyone?

I guess this is where nonfiction ends and fiction begins. I've written it in detail as I believe it really happened, but it could be snappier with a little editing and shaping. Additionally, since I was relying on my memory when I wrote it, not all the true facts might be true. In fact, I just checked the wine label: it's Dancing Bull.

In memory begins fiction…

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