Nanowrimo 2018

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Below are this year’s suggested warm-up writing prompts to get ready to be in writing mode throughout November!  Have a great month, everyone!

Mon.    10/15 Day 1 – 100 words short story with anagram name, age, “…was just found”

Tues.   10/16 Day 2 – 200 words character commenting on a news item from 2018

Wed.    10/17 Day 3 – 300 words   description of someone at a surprise party

Thurs. 10/18 Day 4 – 400 words   story told from a criminal’s point of view

Fri. 10/19 Day 5 – 500 words   description of a personally significant place

Sat. 10/20 Day 6 –  600 words story based on a picture of street art found online

Sun. 10/21 Day 7 – 700 words “autobiography” of a parent (in 1st person POV)

 

Mon. 10/22 Day 8 – 800 words a short story that includes a found heirloom

Tues. 10/23 Day 9 – 900 words two or three “super-short” stories

Wed. 10/24 Day 10 – 1000 words an evil character is avenged in a bizarre way

Thurs. 10/25 Day 11 – 1100 words description of an inspiring teacher/coach/neighbor, etc.

Fri. 10/26 Day 12 – 1200 words dialogue-only skit between two people in an argument

Sat. 10/27 Day 13 – 1300 words  dialogue-free prose depicting someone having a bad day

Sun. 10/28 Day 14 – 1400 words a completely new short story involving a domestic animal

 

Mon. 10/29 Day 15 – 1500 words  a room where something incredible or sinister has taken place

Tues. 10/30 Day 16 – 1600 words  short story including someone getting hired/fired

Wed. 10/31 Day 17 – 1667 words  two speeches from people arguing a hot-button issue

-or-

Wed.    10/31 Day 17 – 1667 words four “super-short” stories (~400 words apiece) that intertwine

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Just Wait

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Her:  Phew!  I’m exhausted.  You wouldn’t believe my day.

Him:  Hi there.  Welcome home.

Her:  Did you get the mail?

Him:  ….

Her:  Can you put down your phone and answer me?

Him:  Sorry.  What?

Her:  The mail.

Him:  No.  I was going to–

Her:  I’ll get it.

Him:  …

Her:  What a surprise.  Bills, bills, and more bills.  What did you do today?

Him:  Hm?  Oh.  Not much.

Her:  Did you look for a j– C’mon.  I’m trying to talk with you.  Can you stop playing that game?

Him:  I’m not playing a game.

Her:  Did you find anyone hiring?

Him:  Um…I tried.

Her:  You’re lying.

Him:  …

Her:  You can’t even look at me, can you?  I know you’re lying and you just want me to stop nagging you about getting a job, don’t you?  Fine.  Ya know what, fuck this.

Him:  Did you hear something?

Her:  What?

Him:  I think I heard something.

Her:  Don’t you dare pick up that phone!

Him:  Just a second.

Her:  Goddammit!

Him:  Please don’t!  I just called–!

Her:  Who the fuck are you calling?

Him:  Oww!  What are you doing!  Stop it!

Her:  You love this phone so much, why don’t you fucking shove it up your ass!?

Him:  Wait.  Please!

Her:  We’re fucking done.  You know that?  I just can’t anymore with this bullshit!

Him:  Don’t leave me!

Her:  Don’t you dare try to fucking find me!

Him:  (into phone) Hello?

Voice:  Sir?  Yes, we’re here.  This is the national suicide prevention hotline, and we’ve been listening for several minutes now.  Can you tell me your name?

Town Gathering

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Speaker at podium:  Good evening, everyone.  I’m absolutely thrilled to see all of you here tonight at our monthly town hall meeting.  Thanks to those who RSVP’d beforehand and scanned their phones as they entered.  We have nearly 100% of the registered voters here, I’m told, and many of you, I can see, have brought your children.  Having an accurate count of adults and children in attendance for these Town Hall meetings will lead us to a successful exchange of ideas.

As you can see on this large screen behind me, we have a number of issues to discuss tonight.  Some, as you can already tell, are going to be easier than others.  We had them randomized by a supercomputer in another township so we couldn’t be accused of playing favorites.

1st Man in attendance:  You misspelled “Equipment” on number three there!

Speaker:  Oh, you’re right.  Let’s change that.  Thank you.  Now, the first topic tonight is the road constructions on Hollis–

2nd Man in attendance:  Is this gonna take long?  I gotta work in the morning.

Speaker:  We hope not to keep anyone too long.  However, those in attendance are free to go when necessary.

1st Man:  Isn’t it Hollis Boulevard?  You have Hollis Street on the sign.

1st Woman:   It’s Street, you dumb ass!  I’ve lived there for sixteen years; I think I know the name of my street!

2nd Man:  It used to be Hollis Boulevard when I was younger.  They musta changed it recently.

3rd Man:  Mr. Speaker.  When will the construction zones be finished?

Speaker:  Thank you for getting back to the subject.

4th Man:  Kiss-ass.  Do you suck his dick after this meeting too?

2nd Woman:  Please, everyone.  My children are here too.

4th Man:  Well, they’re gonna need to learn this language eventually.  Tired of you people raisin’ a bunch of pussies!

5th Man:  You can’t talk to my wife like that!

1st Man:  Guys, did you know the new Game of Thrones was on tonight?  How could they schedule this meeting at the same time?  Let’s wrap this up!

3rd Woman:  I’ve never seen that show.  I don’t care if I miss the new episode.  I want to know about the new playground equipment listed at number 3.

Speaker:  We plan to get to that one soon.

5th Man:  Wait, isn’t tonight the last game of the playoffs too?  I’m actually pissed I’m here and not at home right now.

3rd Man:  Who you rooting for to win?

5th Man:  I think the reigning champs are gonna repeat!

2nd Man:  You dipshits still watch sports?  Don’t you have any real work to do at your homes?

4th Man:  It’s sad, isn’t it?  Here I am at this meeting giving up MY valuable time when I could be at home doing something productive.

Speaker:  Folks, folks!  I’d love for us to all be a part of something productive.  We have a list, and we’d like to get the conversation started on the roads along Hol–

3rd Woman:  We don’t even watch TV anymore.  There’s nothing but junk and blasphemy on every channel.

2nd Woman:  You’re so right.  We let our little Charles watch cartoons for about an hour a day.  My husband put a control on the TV that shuts it off whenever–

4th Man:  Nobody cares, bitch!

4th Woman:  Okay, that’s it.  Mr. Speaker, can we get this guy outta here?

Speaker:  We appreciate your concern, but we do not want anyone dismissed from this.  We respect free speech, and we want your voices heard on these very important iss–

4th Man:  You don’t speak for me, cocksucker!  I’m not going anywhere unless I decide to leave.  I’ll take on all of you if that’s what it takes!

2nd Man:  Oh my god, guys!  You’ll never guess which celebrity just died!

1st Woman:  I hope it wasn’t that man from all those movies I watch all the time with my family.  How will I explain it to them?

Speaker:  Ladies and gentlemen.  The construction for Hollis Boule—Street!  is set to be finished by December 31.

All in attendance:  WHAT????!!!

1st Man:  You told us last month that it would be done sooner and under budget!

2nd Woman:  I planned on travelling through there for the holidays.  I guess my Christmas is ruined.

4th Man:  Ha!  Merry Fucking Christmas, ya idiots!

3rd Man:  We’re Jewish.

4th Man:  Nobody cares about that either!

Speaker (covers the mic and turns to his consultant):  You said meeting them in person would be different than online.  You owe me a beer.

2nd Woman:  I heard that!   Alcohol is a sin!!!

 

 

Cleanout

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I was supposed to be home thirty minutes ago, but I decided to pull off and wash the minivan anyway.  My dad is the kind of dad who, upon arrive at my house for Christmas will notice the state of my vehicle’s cleanliness long before he acknowledges the decorative seasonal changes to my 1600-square-foot home.  He also purposely calls my daughter by my name because he thinks seven-year-olds like that kind of stuff.

Mom is different.  She’s the kind of mom who is already taking off her coat before she’s fully inside the home.  She’s pushing up the sleeves of an outdated white holiday sweater that she seemingly cannot remember wearing the year before to our annual get-together.  It doesn’t bother her that she’ll be wearing the same garment in each year’s picture, which, of course, one of us puts online for weeks this time of year.

So, a car wash was suddenly in demand.  My daughter Frankie and husband Lance were instructed to make a cheeseball and some cookies from one of those cheap prepared rolls you can buy anywhere for a couple bucks.  Those, remarkably, are the only kind my dad likes.  Mom will make more once they’re there, and there will be about fifty left after everyone has either fallen asleep or headed back home.  I’m bound to find Lance in bed or in the kitchen with a handful later tonight.

There’s a line at the car wash because it’s two days before Christmas, sunny, and everyone wants to get the salt off their vehicles at the same time.  I’m behind an old Camry, which, for a split second, I thought was the exact one I sold to someone in town about three years ago.  Of course, it isn’t it, but it reminded me of my life pre-van.  Lance wanted the van–or at least that’s the story I plan to tell other parents forever–before I even mentioned it.  Frankie was never a problem to get in and out of the old sedan I’d had since college, but it needed way too much upkeep by then, and we were toying with the idea of more children still in those days.  Frankie’s still the only one, but this car in front of me makes me wonder if she’ll ever have a baby brother or sister some future Christmas morning.

I’m handed a receipt and a guy starts scrubbing stuff off the front fender.  He’s wearing sunglasses along with the required shirt-and-tie uniform.  It’s like he’s on his way to an audition for Reservoir Dogs right after today’s shift.  The satellite radio my husband has to have is set to a “traditional holiday” station, but I switch it off for local news and something poppy.  He doesn’t know I still listen to Top 40 stuff whenever he’s not around because he’s very passionate about music and I think I might just destroy his soul if he learned that I’m into teeny-bopper stuff that our daughter is starting to ask for for Christmas.

The guy scrubs the sides and rear and I watch the Camry evaporate under the thick gray noodles that separate the wash from the outside world.  The local DJ is at the mall and is reporting live.  Something about heavy foot-traffic near the Victoria’s Secret across the hallway.  Girls are screaming about something nearby.  I look toward the empty passenger seat where Lance would be sitting and flinch to change the station.

“Ma’am!” The fake Mr. Pink bellows with his hand encircling his lips.  He must have said it a few times.  I look up and he’s waiving me to pull forward.  I check my side mirror as if I’m in real traffic and see four or five cars who are probably frustrated a bit with me.  In college, I suggested to a friend that we work on a design to put up a “Sorry!” sign in our back window for times when we know we fucked up while driving.  It never made it to a prototype, but I think about that when I do stuff like this.

Victoria, the name for the van that Frankie assigned the day we brought it home, slides under the set of heavy tarp-like noodles and I can see the old Camry’s taillights.  It takes me a few seconds to question why they’re at that angle.  Victoria and I are on the treadmill and advancing forward toward the first stage of the wash.  A kid named Billy Voltaire–age sixteen–is covering an Elton song on this station all of a sudden.  The red taillights of the Camry grow larger with each second.  Then, a ker-CHUNK that stops my car and thrusts my head forward.  I’m not hurt at all, but I get my first ever taste of whiplash.  The kid’s voice on the radio couldn’t be worse right now, so I smash the power button so the butchering can cease.  Water is blasting my windshield, but it’s not circling around the vehicle the way it usually does.  Of all things, I think of what it might have felt like to be the victim of those horrendous days of being assaulted by fire hoses.

My car is halted but all the machinery around me continues to hum, spurt, blast, and wheesh water and soap.  I can hear muffled yelling from, I presume, more would-be Tarantino characters, but they do not seem to be able to hear each other clearly.  No one, I’m wagering, knows how to shut everything off.  The Camry’s lights are bright red.  The driver must have his foot on the brakes but I can’t figure out why.

Then, those lights move.

They slant some more off to the right.  If it helps, it reminds me of watching the car in front of you slide off the road slowly, powerlessly, and pathetically.  It’s definitely not on the treadmill anymore.

I suddenly have to pee and the water jets from all around are not helping whatsoever.

I stretch my head up and around the steering wheel–the way people do when they’re desperately trying to get to the bottom of the reason for the stopped traffic at 6:24 pm on a Thursday–to no avail.  The only result of my useless searching is a crink in my neck.  That’s what Gramma called them anyway.  She didn’t finish–or go to–medical school but she always seemed to have words and remedies when she was alive.  Mom has never been as confident in her at-home cures, and I’m ready to take Frankie to the Quick Clinic every time she says words like “bellyache” or “itchy.”

I’m thinking about Gramma and her firm stance on everything from democracy to salisbury steak when I see my engine lights static-flash.  My eyes go straight to the gas gauge–the only one I confidently know how to remedy–and learn that Lance did not, in contrast to what I swore I heard him say this morning–fill up the van.  These symbols all bare the ROY-G-BIV standards, but their figures are irrational garbage to me.  I know lights shouldn’t be on.  I know Lance is somehow responsible.  I know the Camry’s lights haven’t moved and that I still have to pee.

There’s a twenty-four ounce sippy cup, miraculously, behind me between the kids’ seats.  There’s also miniature toy wrappers, folded stickers from the grocery store, a baby toy Frankie hasn’t touched in months, and a healthy stack of fast-food napkins that are white or recycled brown.

The water in the car was shuts off.  Like, all of it.  The men are all yelling.  Loudly.  Profanely.  Gramma would jump out of the car, somehow avoid any drips from overhead machinery, and give them all a lesson on language and manners.  Me?  I’m pretty sure I’m gonna try to piss in my kid’s sippy cup.

When I reach for it, my car begins moving forward and the water jets blast my driver’s side window.  I feel like I’ve been caught by a principal or priest for thinking of devilish things.  I actually say “Shit!” and jam my ring finger against the steering wheel.  The Camry is getting closer.  Or, specifically, I’m getting closer to it.  I’m longing for the time, a few moments ago, when that dipshit kid ruining a classic song was my only problem.

I hear a screech and realize it means I’m about to stop again.  I didn’t recognize it the first time, but I’ve already adjusted to this hellish nightmare of a situation that my brain stopped me from getting whiplash a second time.  I pee a little.  Not a lot–like Gramma did before she passed.  I love how my vagina can stop things on its own and not wait for any permission from me.

“Ma’am!!” I finally hear.  It’s Mr. Orange.  Maybe.  At this point, nothing is certain.  Lance loved Mr. Orange the most, I think.   The guy is looking right at me.  Actually, he’s probably curious about the sippy cup between my legs.  I reach for the automatic window button.  “NO!  Don’t roll it down!  It could start up again anytime!”

“Okay,” I say, and casually toss the empty clear cup to the passenger seat.

“My man-a-ger is on the way.”  He’s talking to me the way Lance and I used to talk to Frankie before she started school.  He even has his hands around his mouth as if my window was the equivalent barrier of bank vault.  I want to be anywhere else.  “He can fix it, but it will be about ten more min-utes!!”  I consider telling him that he’s shouting way too loudly, but he’s already gone.  He didn’t offer to extract me or anything.  He’s clearly more concerned with keeping me dry, which, of course, is ironic in the worst way.

He’s gone, and I hear a few more muffled shouts.  The Camry has been stagnant the entire time, and I have to wonder about its occupant(s).  Is she(?) like me?  Did she have to wash her car for the same reasons I did?  Now?  On December 23rd?  Is she alone?  Is she always alone?

She’s probably smoking a cigarette.  I miss them.  Now, that is.  I don’t ever want to smoke around Lance or Frankie, or with other moms even when they talk about it.  I don’t want to smoke when my mom says something insulting.  I don’t want to smoke when I think about my useless degree hanging in the office that no one in the house uses.

But I want one right now.  I’d do anything for a quick cig.  Even if Mr. Brown were to jump in my car, I would probably ask him for a Marlboro Light 100 before I interrogated him about entering my car without my permission.  I close my eyes and think about smoking.  In the dorms.  In my Camry.  In my life before Lance and a family.  Before worrying about holiday baking and finding matching stockings for our faux fireplace.

The thing is, the pee impulse goes.  My eyes open, and I turn on the radio, and the teen wannabe is gone but replaced with something even more drab and revolting.  Lance would shit.  My mom made me a little picture frame that’s designed to hang from the rear view mirror.  It has three panels, but she only filled one.   The other two have stock photos still of those picture-frame models.  White shiny non-smoker teeth.  Vest jackets and denim.  High tan boots on the woman and perfect child-actor hair on the kid who’s unnaturally acting as if he doesn’t want his picture taken. I ask myself why I didn’t fill these with Lance and Frankie right away.  What mom doesn’t do that instinctively?  Of course I should have used that degree to do something other than find Lance and get pregnant.  Of course I should have told Davey Bennings that I loved him too when I did.  Of course my mom shouldn’t have dug that hole in the backyard without calling the gas company first.

The Camry girl in front of me has it made.  She’s still free.  Free to go anywhere once she’s out of here.  Free to live her life and use her degree and wait for kids and stay unmarried and eat cookie dough and never enroll in a pilates class if that’s what she wants.

What am I saying?  I don’t hate my life at all!  I love Lance and Frankie and cylinder cookie dough. I don’t like vest jackets or cigarettes.  I love reading books to my daughter in terrible, untrained voices and hearing her laugh when her dad tickles her neck.

A knock on my window.  My eyes had closed.

“Ma’am?”  He’s older and looks like my eighth-grade science teacher.  He motions for me to roll down my window.  I do it.  “Go ‘head and put ‘er in neutral again.”

I rattle my head and smile at the sippy cup beside me.  Shift.

“Here’s four free car washes, Ma’am.  We’re awfully sorry.  Have a nice Christmas.”  He looks toward the exit.  The Camry is gone.  “You’re free to go.”

I thank him.

 

 

The Start of Something – Chapter Three (2016)

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*This will be the final chapter posted here…at least for a while.  Again, I welcome any and all feedback.*

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~Chapter Three~

Stacey

My roommate Gina found out about the stolen weed and was pissed at me for almost the whole day.  Eventually, when she got bored, she came in my room and said we had to use our salon gift cards because they only give you thirty days to use them.  “How old did you say he was?”

I didn’t answer until we were on the road a few minutes later.  “I didn’t say, actually.”

“Stace…come on!  Your first boyfriend since Thad?  That was like, a lifetime ago.”

“Ninth grade wasn’t a lifetime ago,” I said.  But she was right.

I have to know every—”

“I’m just…he’s not my boyfriend.  Just this guy I hang out with after work.”

“Girl, every night your phone is blowin’ up with texts from ‘B’.”

I really hate it that she looks at my phone while I’m asleep or in the shower.  I stacked up my school stuff and dropped it on the floor.  I knew going with her would only contain a minimal amount of pleasure, but I also knew I could not not go.

We were getting birthday manis–gifts from our moms.  A tradition.  Being born on the same day in the same hospital meant–to our mothers at first–that we were sisters in another life.  I love Gina to death, but since we started living together, she’s been a little too cozy in my personal business.  I go out of my way to steer clear of her boy drama.  She doesn’t even realize that I never ask her about the guys who’ve been over.  I’ve just rolled with it and waited for her to say something.  That has yet to happen.

“If I tell you, will you please drop it for now?”

She didn’t even take the time to close the magazine she held before tossing it over her head onto a shelf of ancient issues Shape and Good Housekeeping.

“Hoe stih pwease,” said the woman working on Gina’s feet.  The woman’s head never looked up from her work.

I cleared my throat.  “He’s twenty-eight.”

Her eyes exploded open and I could tell her brain was overloading with simple mathematics.

“Really?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Now please let me just rest my head and enjoy the pleasurable service these fine women offer.”

“Okay, okay…that’s fair.”  She hummed.  It reminded me of what my little cousins did when they had unopened birthday- or Christmas presents in their laps.

I closed my eyes, and I think I counted to nine this time.

“You know my dad is only thirty-nine?”

I didn’t, but I didn’t bite.  Just mmmed.

“Have you two…?”

“Aww, Gina, come on!”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

My girl tapped my foot to indicate its removal from the buzzing warm water.

“Your fren, she no listen well, no?”

“No, Kim,” I said, then coyly looked at my oldest girlfriend.  “She doesn’t.”

 

* * * * *

~Sherry~

Geoff is tired of me.  It’s obvious.  He’s up all night, pretending to fall asleep until I actually do.  I’m sure he gets up and either goes to his computer or just leaves.  Once I swear I heard him pull out of the drive at around two.  I’ve heard of these guys who just start watching porn or find some secluded spot to go whack off somewhere.  Kinda fucked up, but I’m too embarrassed to confront him.

So, when I saw Bill McKenzie at the gas station this morning and buying one of those ridiculous energy drinks, I had this sort of plan.  Geoff may have actually fucked someone else, but I don’t know for sure.  I decided I was going to just believe that he did.  After a few pleasant How-have-you-been seconds, I told Bill that day that Geoff and I were separated.

He hadn’t heard about the reunion this Saturday.  I thought he was just kidding at first.  I told him it was all over Facebook, but he said he doesn’t really look at that much.  I told him he can still go–it’s not like anyone needs an invitation.  He told me he’d think about it in the way most people say it when they have no intention of doing the thing being supposedly thought about.

He paid for his and told the girl that he was getting whatever I had in my hands too.  “For old times’ sake,” he joked.  I was flattered.  And embarrassed, frankly.  I had a Mountain Dew and a half dozen donuts in my hand, but none of it was for me, really.  I thought it would be stupid to try to explain.  But there was no need.  I must have looked as awkward as I felt as he paid for my stuff because when he turned, he looked at me fully in the eye.  He had only done that once at prom ten years earlier and it was just before the final slow dance when he asked me to the floor.  I held about four thousand calories in my hands, but I was turned on by his eyes.

Thus, while my husband was at the “office”, I suggested we meet for drinks later.  He said something about good timing and that I’d caught him on his day off.  That didn’t last long after I slid my hand up his thigh at the bar while ordering two drinks, mind you.  I wore the same perfume I’d worn for the prom and borrowed a low-cut shirt from my sister without her knowing.

What you or anyone may struggle with is that I did all of that, from the moment I saw Bill that terrible morning, to save my marriage.

Bill is not in a good place.  It’s like it resonates off his face.  He was shaved, but he looked incredibly uncomfortable.  Men may never understand how important it is to at least look the part.  Women read body language way more than men think we do.  He cleaned up for our impromptu date, I gotta give him that.  He didn’t seem to care that I wanted Chinese delivery either (Geoff hates it).  Since my husband had said that he was going to help some guys at the office with this project that was set for a presentation the following day, I knew it was a lie but I worked it out.  Bill has never been known to be very perceptive, but I thought I should at least shove a bunch of Geoff’s stuff in a closet to give the impression I was living alone.  I had my doubts that he’d sleep with me under the true circumstances of my marriage.

He got a little sloppy with his liquor too.  He told me a little about what he’s been doing since school.  He wondered if I had ever planned to have kids.  It was important for me to avoid getting too emotional with him, even though we had something of a past.  An after-prom fuck is not what a lot of people consider a history, but it was ours.  Nothing ever really matured after that.  Just awkward sightings in the halls and some classes.  I was sure I’d meet better guys at college, so I stopped trying to get a boyfriend in high school long before prom.  But, I wanted to go and I wanted to have fun.  We saw each other in passing a few times on campus that first semester, but after that I don’t remember much from him.  At prom, Bill was a good date, but a pretty lousy lay.  Probably his first time, but he never said so.  I don’t have any sort of savior value or anything.  I just knew that he was probably not as interested in starting a relationship with me.

If he hadn’t been buying a Monster yesterday morning, I might have just banged the clerk instead.

We had a good time.  Not great, but good.  While he was in the bar restroom, I texted Geoff to tell him I was having a girls night and would be staying over at Lindsey’s.  He only replied with “ok” which made me sad but a little horny.  Bill came out and I kinda wanted to pounce on him then and there—not because he all of a sudden looked like Matthew McConaughey or anything; rather, I was super pissed at my husband for preferring to jerk off in his cold Celica and not onto my breasts.

“Let’s get outta here,” I said.  He’d just ordered a beer, but I took a huge chug then pointed to it for him to finish.

“Really?”

“Sure!”

“My place?”

“Sounds great,” I told him.

“You hungry?”

That’s when I mentioned Chinese.  He just nodded and said he hadn’t had it in a while.

So, I brought him back, we talked a little more and slurped lo mein right out of the boxes.  The TV was on, but I wasn’t watching.  He played with my hair and I scooted closer.  It was a lot like the prom night but with a bigger general space.  And light.  I made no move to turn off the ceiling fan or lights and he kept a baseball hat on until he realized how often the bill was hitting me in the forehead.

This is all before the weirdest part of the night.  After we were done on the bed, he like instantly crashed.  That’s not news.  I turned on a movie, but he fell asleep.  I think, with the condom still on.  Anyway, about ten minutes into his doze, he began muttering something.

Geoff always talks in his sleep, but it’s about work and stupid shit like the price of Nike tennis shoes.  Once he had a conversation with me but he performed both parts.  That was about a vacuum cleaner.  This night, however, Bill was saying some shit that didn’t make any sense.  First, he was saying Alison, Alison.  Go home.  It’s past your bedtime.  Then, he said something about his parents were fighting again and making it hard to play by himself.  Some really of weird shit, right?  I just rolled him over a bit because that always gets Geoff to shut up.  It worked.  He was still snoozing when I snuck out.  I had to get up for work.

Andy – a novel (Excerpt #3) (2013)

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I had played this scenario over in my head thousands of times, it seemed. What sitcom or drama hasn’t done the episode when the panicked guy drives the pregnant, heaving wife crazily through the streets in order to get to the hospital just in time before the baby came? They never got in accidents. They never got pulled over. There were always car horns or sirens buzzing around but their car always made it untouched. Usually, there was some nurse–typically black if you hadn’t noticed–waiting at the automatic doors with a wheelchair. Probably some smoking scrubs-clad nurses off to the side, always suggesting irony. And it was always one of two times: rush hour or middle-of-the-night. In both cases, cars were everywhere and lights and oncoming vehicles and distractions and more heaving and talk of contractions. The radio was always on at first before the wife screamed that the husband had better turn it off before she beats the shit outta him. It always brought brief comic relief to the intense situation. In the 90s the man or the woman always got some phone call and there was a panicked search for the phone which was never where the owner had remembered putting it. Like in the glove box or the middle console or some purse the woman didn’t even realize she’d brought with her.
Oh, and the bag they’d prepared. Wasn’t it always standing by the door for when the crucial night came? If the family already had kids, the oldest–usually a boy with a bowl haircut and wearing ridiculous pajamas or corduroy pants or in some cases both–lugged said bag slowly as the sleepy younger sister gathered up stuffed animals and blankets and a journal (more recently a video game device) and she never put her seatbelt on by herself. The oldest boy, in a glimpse of his civil upbringing would instinctively hold the door for his pregnant mother, put the bag on her lap for some reason, and climb into the backseat of the (usually pale blue if it was daytime) station wagon and help the little sister with her seatbelt. Then she’d ask that he buckle in Buttons or Polly or whatever cliche name her stuffed bear/dog/pony had.
Meanwhile, the camera always panned to the husband’s grizzly face. Never clean-shaven and always a bit too sweaty. A collar that left much to be desired and eyes that rarely looked enthusiastic. Any viewer could see the man was thinking dollar signs (or lack thereof) or general worry for the stress any pregnancy brought on. He’d fumble with his keys–once I remember he tried to put the house key into the ignition and laughed maniacally at his absent-mindedness; it took the laboring mother-to-be to slap him into cognition for the scene to continue.
Every show used the same tired jokes about the waiting room and the ice chips. Some of the time the notion of the epidural came up–probably to generate in-home discussions about the morality of drugging a labored mother. It never failed that a camera would fade from a loving still image of the couple holding hands at a bedside or that younger girl character resting her weary head on the engorged belly before panning to the wall clock that would shift four-, seven, or ten hours ahead to indicate the suffering the woman was experiencing. When the image returned to the expecting family members, we’d see that the man’s beard was noticeably scruffier now and he’d been given a newspaper or magazine that was rarely not on his lap as he slept comically upright in a stiff chair. Upon waking he’d complain about how his neck hurt which undoubtedly warranted a non-verbal punchline stare from the aggravated mother (who of course had not slept during the last X hours).
In sitcoms it was always a two-episode deal. The first one ended with a variety of cliffhanger moments (the doctor says there may be a problem, the father is called away for a work-emergency, etc.) and the second episode dealt with the fall-out of the baby’s birth. They always saved the name of the baby for the second episode too. Some viewers really got into that. One show, I recall, even used the pregnancy as their arc of the entire season and held a nationwide baby-naming contest. Occasionally twins appeared. Never anything too grim happened though. I’m sure test audiences regularly shut down some plot twists such as the baby having an unexpected skin tone or a rare disease and/or deformation. Any fights stemming back as far as the couple meeting might have been shown in a montage only to be outweighed by a longer montage of hugs, kisses, and romantic moments. The auditory accompaniment was Coldplay-esque. The same black nurse usually wheeled the mother and child/ren out the same entrance as before. The car drove away toward its home and there was never any traffic.

The Start of Something – Chapter 2 (2016)

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~Chapter Two~

–I’ll never fucking understand why fucking adults think I’m screwing with them when I tell them their fucking plate is goddamn hot.  Never fails.  Every time.  College kid or grandpa.  Men more than women, I’ll grant ya, but they all do it.  So I got tired of it, ya know?  It can’t be their first time in a restaurant, right boss?

Bill, I know.  People are idiots.  You and I see it all the time.  But you also are old enough to understand liability.  Of course the plate should not have given that guy third-degree burns, but…

–Isn’t it first-degree?

What?

–I think first-degree is the least worrisome.

That doesn’t make sense, Bill.  First.  It’s top priority in a burn center.

–Well, it was the lowest level.  And I’m sorry it happened, but goddamn.

I know, Bill.  Look.  Please let me go back and handle it.  Look.  It’s a quarter to ten.  We close in a little over an hour.  Maybe just hang back here and you can start on closing.

–I thought he was kidding, Brian.  I really did.

I know, I know.  Look.  We can limit the damage.  The EMTs are coming on our dime.  Let’s just make sure we look proactive at this point.

–Fuckin’ hate lawyers, man.

We all do.

–I’m not gonna get fired, am I?

He deep-sighed, then stared at me for an uncomfortable four seconds.  I watched the flimsy red stick click between the three and the four.

Look, Bill.  I’m going to talk it over with HR now that they’ll know about the EMTs coming.

My foodslime-covered kitchen shoe fall from my left knee.

–I’ll just go.

No, please.  Don’t.  It doesn’t have to…I mean…I’m telling you you’re not—

I flipped a raggedy single on his desk.

–Just mail my last fucking check, Brian.  And fuckin’ thanks for the support.

* * * * *

“You did not!” Stacey cried out with that grin that’s all but forced me to hang around with her.

“Yeah.  Fuck that place.”  We’re at Legs, which sounds like it’d be a strip bar, but they are known for their southern-fried chicken. And lord help us if any of the ladies who work here start disrobing.

“Shit, man,” she said, the smile diminished quickly.  “I don’t want to work there if you’re not.”

Stacey’s a real sweet kid.  We’d been hanging out for about six weeks off and on.  All the girls at that place have to tie their long hair back or pin it up.  When we go out for drinks after work–like straight after work, still smelling of gravy and shit–she lets it down.  I think she waits until we’re seated because the first time she did it, I felt like I was watching some shampoo commercial and I think she caught me staring.  Her hair cascaded down her shoulders and bounced a little.  I replayed those moments in my head for several lonely nights in those days.  Somehow the dark hair gets curlier the longer we stay.  If we’re at a table, I usually sit across from her and I’ll get caught just looking at those locks.

“Well, I feel a little bad about just taking off–probably shot my chance at a referral.”

“Yeah,” she said, still examining her tall pilsner glass.  She only just ordered domestic bottles before we met and came here together for the first time.  The shit these kids don’t know astounds me.

“Think I shoulda stayed?”

She shrugged and looked away, then pursed her lips a little.  Almost pouty, but it didn’t last long.

“You’re too nice, young lady,” I stated, then signaled Bobby for two more tall ones.

She grinned and turned to me.  “I know.  I mean, I know why you took off.”  She ran her fingers down the slender glass, wiping away the condensation.  “Sounds like you were going to get the ax after you clocked out.”

“Exactly.”

“Well, anyway…what are you going to do now?”

Bobby put the beers in front of us.  Without prodding, Stacey downed the rest of the first and reached for the new one before swallowing.

I offered my glass to be tapped with hers.  A small, congenial smile crept across her face.

I grinned, foolishly.  Drunkenly.  “I have no fucking idea.”

We laughed, then chugged.  We got chicken wings, fried pickles, and a big basket of fries.  She talked about how unhealthy all that shit was.  I told her she had nothing to worry about.  I’m pretty sure I actually said “Gather ye rosebuds, Miss Thang” to which she laughed but not for the right reason.

The food was gone in minutes.  Some dudes across the bar clapped when a game ended.  Nobody else from our restaurant came in, so I was antsy to get the fuck out.  Bobby dropped a glass while trying to dry it.

“You gotta any weed, l’il lady?”

She smiled and nodded.

“Well, fuck!  Let’s get high.  Fuck this bar and their overpriced, fucking flat-ass beer.”

Bobby hollered to us that he heard that.

“It’s actually Gina’s, but…”

“She won’t give a fuck.  Just a bowl.  C’mon.  Drink up.  Let’s get out.”

Stacey told Bobby thanks as I flopped a twenty on the soaked bar.

—–

I woke up alone on Stacey’s couch and had a beer in my hand.  Of course, it wasn’t upright and was now nearly empty, but my shirt was soaked.  Must’ve been high as fuck not to care whenever that happened.  The TV was on, but it was a fucking exercise video series infomercial.  Each testimonial after the other made me want to die or at least take a huge dump.  I hadn’t done that—not the level that was brewing so early in the morning, anyway—at Stacey’s before.  A plan quickly entered.  I found a ten at the top of my left pocket.  When she came out of her bedroom in a bra and sweatpants, I suggested she snag some of that gourmet coffee from the corner.

Don’t get me wrong, though.  She looked great, but I felt like total shit.  And I had to take one.

She complied and I was able to mask my embarrassing shit with some of her perfume.

By the time she came back, I’d found another shirt I’d left or that she’d stolen.  “I got you a mocha.  Is that alright?” she asked.

I was standing at the open refrigerator door.  “Sure.  Thanks for going.  Man, what a night, huh?”

“You. Were.  Hilarious, though.”

I looked up at the closed freezer door.  Nothing but her words had caught my attention.  “Really?”

“Oh my god, yes!  Gina told me after you passed out that she was sorry for ever saying anything bad about you.”

What a thing to tell a person, huh?  I had no choice but to play it cool and be appreciative.  Of course, I didn’t give one absolute fuck what her stringy roommate thought of me.  I knew she thought I was too old to be hanging around their apartment, and I suspected she had a bit of a crush on Stacey herself.

“Really?  Didn’t she say once to you that I was the kind of guy who probably gives out Busch Light to kids at Halloween?”

“She was kidding.”

“Well, anyway.  I’m glad she’s finally warming up to me.”  I didn’t actually give a shit though.  I’ve learned that no two female roommates seem to have the same system in place when it comes to guys they bring home.  Some are way over the top with friendliness, and others seem to pretend I’m invisible.  Only one ever actually flirted with me, but I shut that down pretty harshly.  I don’t even think I went back after that one.

So it was no surprise that Gina was standoffish toward me.  Again, don’t care, but that divide made for some unwanted commentary from the girl I did like.

About a week later, though, I knew I’d never probably have to deal with Gina anymore.  I had stayed again at Stacey’s place.  We were both exhausted after working together, so we just picked up some movies and this bad-ass baked spaghetti that somehow tastes better than anything my grandma used to put out at Thanksgiving.  We both crashed on the couch during the first movie, and I woke up around two with her head in my lap.  Not sexually or anything.  Drooly, actually.  So, I carried her to bed and we slept for another handful of hours.

When I woke up, I didn’t feel tired, which was rare.  I wassomehow motivated to do something nice.  That sounds like I don’t do that very often.  Anyway, I ran out to the store to get some breakfast shit—for Gina and even a guy if one was in her room—and made it back before anyone else was awake.  I put a pot of coffee on, quietly cleaned the dishes we’d all tossed in the sink, and then prepared to cook the one thing I know how to make well:  omelets.

“I gotta pee!” Stacey announced as she rushed behind me toward the bathroom.  She left the door open and the sound of her urine hitting the water–a sound that I absolutely cannot stand unless it’s my piss—put a dent in my mood.  Taking the high road, though, I made myself a cup of coffee.

“What’s all this?” she asked.  I’m not sure I heard her flush, which was also a little fucked up.

“Just thought I’d make everybody breakfast.  You like omelets, right?”

“Ummm…sure!”

That felt like a no, but I wasn’t going to offer anything else.

She turned on the TV and curled up under a blanket she once told me her grandmother made for her.

I was in the middle of making hers when she sighed loudly and said “Man!” in a jealous way.

“What’s up?  What are you watching?”

“These houses are insane.  Man, I wish I was famous.”

I stirred the eggs and tried to imagine what she wanted in hers without asking.

“You wouldn’t be worried about losing your privacy?  Your independence?”

“Nah.  Fuck all that,” she said coolly.

“Well,” I said, still not looking away from the stove.  “Tell me this:  Would you rather be Harrison Ford-famous, or like, guy-who-can-make-a-pancake-look-like-Harrison-Ford-famous?”

Nothing.  Then, sadly, “Who’s Harrison Ford?”

Even though she said she loved it, it was the only omelet I made for her.