The Story Behind the Story: “Net”

In this segment of The Story Behind the Story, Jessica Kinnison talks about what motivated her to write “Net.”

I write about a subject when I want to figure it out.

I’ve never been to Maine. I’ve never admired a woman beneath a net—outside of my mother, back when we were into four-poster beds and Southern Living style suggestions when I was a kid in Mississippi.

I’ve never been a man. I’ve never owned a boat or a bell on stilts. I don’t even know what the Rockland Aquarium smells like.

Despite of all these nevers, when I saw the woman sleeping in Andrew Wyeth’s painting “Daydream,” the net of this world opened.

Around that time, I was developing a collection of short stories about people on the American Gulf Coast who live near water. This story showed me that I wasn’t writing about natural disaster or geography. At the core of my work, I was writing to figure out an unknown: how one human can ever know another human.

From the start of what became an Andrew Wyeth obsession, I felt I knew the woman inside the “Daydream.”  Her skin is purple and orange and red and feels as familiar as live skin.  The way her right foot is tucked behind her left, so casually, led me to imagine that someone loves her enough to notice how her feet tuck and curl as she sleeps. Whether that’s true or not, that launched this little story called “Net.”

I asked myself questions:
Who loves her? Alvar. Where is he? He’s not in the bed, so he must be on the outside of the net.
Why is she even inside a net? What is she separated from?
Alvar and Fiona are working class.  Their windows are open. Their place is dusty and worn like the space in Wyeth’s painting “Wind from the Sea.” And, man, isn’t that wind stirring up all the hidden parts of this room?

She is separated from everything—the whole world.  Her skin defines her isolation with its perfect algorithm of shadows. Even the curve of her hip rejects the square box of the window above it.  She wants to see Alvar stripped of the trappings of their lives: the whitewashed items and weather outside the net. She closes her eyes, daydreaming of a new Alvar, unsoiled.

What does Alvar want? He wants Fiona. He wants to see her. Fiona means “white or fair” in Gaelic. Fiona is so fair she is transparent. She haunts him. She’s the one thing he wants to know, but she is so far out of reach even pulling back the net won’t reveal her.

This snapshot of warm air and introspection is juxtaposed against the white walls, the foggy paintings, and the wind: all the static of their lives together.

In response, Alvar closes his eyes, too.  What he hears is as pleasurable as looking at the muted watercolors and egg tempera of an Andrew Wyeth painting, and as temporary and endless as an ocean wave.

Jessica Kinnison

About Jessica Kinnison

Jessica Kinnison holds an MFA in fiction and travel writing from Chatham University in Pittsburgh where she taught creative writing in the Allegheny County Jail, as part of the Words Without Walls program. Her stories have appeared in Juked, Pif Magazine, Fiction Southeast, The Fourth River and The Southern Humanities Review, among others. Her story "Bone on Bone" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2012. Her play “Baby” won the Southwest Theatre and Film Association Short Play Contest in 2008. Her nonfiction has appeared in The Jackson Free Press, The Clarion Ledger, and Art Voices Magazine, among others. She serves as Operations Manager and Director of the Wellness University at Project Lazarus, a nonprofit transitional housing facility for people living with HIV/ AIDS. She currently teaches creative writing in the Project Lazarus Wellness University, at Orleans Parish Prison as part of the Humanities: Orleans Parish Education Project (H:OPE), and the Loyola University New Orleans Writing Institute.