Lucia Liu (17) is a senior who lives in California. She often has a book in one hand and a Chihuahua in the other. She is an editor of her ethnic school's newsletter and is previously unpublished.
Unlike the usual gravel-cracking, pebble-scattering announcement of other vehicles, my truck slides silently into the driveway. The summer air muffles sounds and blurs surfaces, turning my surroundings into a syrupy haze. I hit the brake and the engine sputters soundlessly in relief.
The motel walls were once a glorious yellow, at least at some point in history, but the paint has chipped and dimmed under the sun’s oppressive gaze. The inside is no better. Magazines are scattered haphazardly, some with whole covers ripped out, others with yellowing, withered pages.
I sink into a sagging armchair and study the girl at the counter from behind Seasonal Styles. Her face glistens. Sweat beads trace dark rivulets down her cheek, trickling down her neck into crevices of olive skin. Strands of her hair fly up and resettle as the humming fan makes its rotations. From the wall behind her, the eyes of an elderly couple in a portrait burn holes into her back. Pity wells in my chest.
Even the arrival of dusk offers no respite from the heat. When the first cricket strums its feeble wings, I meander down to the pool. Bits of twig and debris shift with its chlorine waves. Hesitantly at first, then with purpose, I strip down to my bra and let the water cleanse me.
I am but a fleeting traveler, a passing nomad. As soon as the first ray of light reveals itself, I will enter my truck and slip away as discretely as I arrived. I can escape the heat; I can drive until my tires tread Alaskan soil, a thousand miles away from this godless oven. Even when my truck breaks down and my legs stop moving, I will not stay. I refuse to be bound.
A Conversation between Lucia Liu and Courtney Felle
1. Hi, Lucia! We love how “Temporary” builds its own sticky atmosphere, feeling itself like a “syrupy haze.” More than just crafting a story, it crafts a world for the story to live inside. What is the importance of this in fiction, and how does it function here?
Hello, thank you! It’s a pleasure to be speaking with you. Even though setting can seem to take the backstage to plot and characters, I think a highly developed fictional world is crucial for driving a story along. Setting is more than just a location or period of day; it helps readers visualize the story, and I consider it a key player in the story itself. Setting evolves, interacts with characters, and seems to have a mind of its own. In “Temporary,” the atmosphere of fatigue and stagnancy around the motel make the narrator feel caged, causing them to seek an escape.
2. “Temporary” has such sharp, visceral imagery: “gravel-cracking, pebble-scattering,” paint-chipped motel walls, “Alaskan soil.” How do specific details intersect with emotion to produce larger meaning? Which comes first: individual images or overall theme?
Each detail that dots the story, from the site of soil to the severity of the sun, combines to form broader moods and tones like solitude. These details are like bits of material that form a tower. I think that as the builders of stories, writers often envision theme before using small images to create a final product. On the other hand, readers encounter details first and piece them together over time to form a coherent whole. Individual images and theme are codependent, however, and it is possible to see both at once.
3. Marriah especially felt like this piece was packed full: every moment felt tangible, pushed the plot along, and filled the reader with loneliness, mystery, exhaustion, and heat like the speaker themself. How do you encompass so much in such a short work without it feeling overbearing or underdeveloped?
Thank you, Marriah! I believe that every bit of detail in a story—especially in one of shorter length—should contribute to something, whether that be revealing an internal thought, adding to a motif, or building more vivid surroundings. When each component serves a purpose and is necessary to the story, they don’t feel like too much or too little.
4. What advice do you have for other teen writers, especially ones that “refuse to be bound”?
My advice is to place trust in yourself and your pen—don’t hesitate to voice your opinions through writing, no matter how controversial or “bad” your words may appear to you. I think society reinforces the image of teens as immature dreamers. Even if this carries some truth, is being hopeful really negative? Because of these constant reminders, we tend to be insecure about ourselves and let that doubt carry over into our writing. Like the narrator in “Temporary,” who fiercely rebels against the entrapment she feels at the motel, I believe we should feel free to pursue our own styles and topics in life and writing.