“Sunrise” by Madeline Curtis
Volume #3, Issue #35 • October 18, 2015
Madeline Curtis is a senior at Falmouth High School in Maine. An attendee of the New England Young Writers’ Conference (Bread Loaf), she has received local and national recognition for her writing, including two Scholastic Gold Key awards. Her first collection of stories will be published in the summer of 2016 through the Young Emerging Authors Fellowship. She lives with her parents, three younger siblings, two dogs, and a gecko named Norbert. This is her first published short story.
The sun had set hours ago, but we were nocturnal. Saturday nights, we snuck out and met up near the basketball courts after our parents had gone to bed; sometimes, we didn’t come back till almost dawn. On those nights, the streets were ours. In the inky, panoptic darkness, we felt unwatched, as if we could do anything, go anywhere. There was nowhere to go, however, so we prowled aimlessly, our own footfalls thundering in our ears. Our basketball match had, as usual, ended in Pico’s favor, and victory bloated his chest like a sponge.
Pico was the oldest, at nineteen. He’d dropped out of high school just before his senior year, and he’d already been to jail twice—for stealing a television and for trying to steal a car. He smelled sour and minty, like an air freshener masking the odor of something foul. Even though he was missing a finger—a birth defect had left him without one of his pinkies—he was fanatical about his appearance, always trying for the perfect combination of suave and menacing. His clothes were immaculate; tonight, he wore his favorite shirt, which was dark blue and emblazoned with a grinning white skull. He was strong, too, because he lifted weights when he wasn’t hanging out with us younger kids. What Pico was really like, behind his tattoos and his exaggerated speech, was a mystery to me, though I always suspected that inside him there was a soft-spoken, office-job type, a bottled accountant. Still, he was tougher than any of us, and I admired him. I wanted him to see toughness in me too.
Q&A by Patrick Ryan
Where did the idea for this story come from?
I started out with a sentence describing Dash and the other boys’ admiration for Pico. The sentence was axed in the first or second draft, but it formed a nucleus. The events of the story unfolded from there in a very natural way.
Have you written other stories that involve teens being “criminally reckless” and the fallout that results, or was this a departure for you?
“Sunrise” was actually the result of a prompt in my creative writing class to write about crime and violence, as opposed to my standard fare: families and relationships. Although I hated the prompt at first, I came to enjoy writing something that was so out of the norm for me. So, thanks, Mr. Melnicove! Sorry I said I hated your prompt.
Why do you think Dash admires Pico? (Let’s face it, Pico is more than a little scary!) Does he want to be Pico? And does he still admire Pico by the end of the story?
I think that Pico has such a hold over Dash because he is so scary. Hanging out with Pico is like playing with matches; it’s exhilarating, but potentially very dangerous. Pico embodies the toughness, confidence, and coolness that Dash wants to see in himself, and this admiration blinds him to Pico’s more sinister attributes. As the story unfolds, however, Dash comes to realize that his hero is just human.
If we could look into a crystal ball and see a year from when “Sunrise” ends, do you think any of these characters still know one another? Or is this night a “game-changer”?
I think the events of the story would drive an irrevocable wedge between the boys. I can’t see their friendship—if that’s what it can be called—surviving the strain. A year from the end of the story, I don’t think they’d be in contact. They’d probably be trying to forget that night ever happened, if not facing serious legal ramifications for their actions.
What writers inspire you? Was there one particular thing you read that made you want to start writing?
I’ve wanted to write since I was little, reading books with my dad. My dad is an English teacher and an all-around word enthusiast, and I think he fostered the same values in me. As for my inspirations, I seem to discover a new one every day! Most recently, I’ve been rereading Karen Russell’s collection Vampires in the Lemon Grove. Her stories are often downright bizarre, but she never substitutes spectacle for emotional impact, which I find admirable.
What are you working on now?
In addition to a mountain of college applications, I’m working on a collection of short stories, which will be published in August 2016 through the Young Emerging Authors Fellowship, which is run by a wonderful nonprofit called the Telling Room in my city of Portland, Maine.
What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
What comes to mind is this quote by Kurt Vonnegut: “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” I guess you could take that as, “write to please one specific person,” like your mom or your mailman, but that would just give me stage fright. Instead, I take it as “write to please just yourself.” After all, it’s my story.