Today I’ve been drinking instant coffee and Pet Milk, and watching it snow…
So begins Stuart Dybek’s short story, “Pet Milk,” which is a story less driven by plot than it is a series of images important to the narrator. When the Pet Milk (a brand of condensed milk) swirls in his coffee, it reminds him of his childhood, and of the sky above his grandmother’s house in the winter. But Dybek doesn’t stop there:
And I remember, much later, seeing the same swirling sky in tiny liqueur glasses containing a drink called a King Alphonse: the creme de cacao rising like smoke in repeated explosions, blooming in kaleidoscopic clouds through the layer of heavy cream. This was in the Pilsen, a little Czech restaurant where my girlfriend, Kate, and I would go sometimes in the evening.
In an interview discussing "Pet Milk" with the New Yorker Fiction Podcast, the novelist Kate Walbert remarked that Dybek “had created a story out of what felt like a series of images as opposed to a complicated plot.” In the above passage, we catch a glimpse of how Dybek manages this literary accomplishment.
In our first prompt this week, we learned how much meaning and impact a single image can impart. So, for this prompt, write a short story of 400 words or fewer (OR an excerpt of a longer story) that is composed of, as Walbert noted, a series of connected images. For example, do budding leaves remind a character of a moment of growth in their lives, or could it remind them of a time they lived in a region without distinct seasons. Does the color of the sky in that region, in turn, remind the character of something else?
There are so many routes you can take with your story, and I can’t wait to read your writing!