He'd planned to write all morning, but had ended up in the emergency room instead. As he watched the pain meds drip through the IV, he reflected on the wisdom of reaching for the page the wind blew off his desk. It wasn't that great, anyway.
She had hoped for a routine commute, but "unscheduled track work" on the Red Line had already trashed that idea. Then the post-holiday rush resulted in a packed Quiet Car and an aisle instead of the right side window. So no picturesque view of the Susquehanna, the Delaware, or the Schuykill. But the biggest blow was her seat mate, who immediately plugged his laptop and his phone into the outlets just as her own phone went into low power mode. She settled in grumpily for the two-hour trip to Trenton.
Suddenly, the duffle bag on the lap of the passenger across the aisle sprouted a large pair of pointed ears and two big round eyes. She smiled, in spite of herself, at the grinning face of a small Boston Terrier.
"Hello!" She said.
The nearby Quiet Car patrons glanced at her disapprovingly.
"Hello", she heard in reply. It seemed to come from the dog.
"Who said that?" She wondered to herself, looking up and down the aisle.
"Hello!" The voice was louder this time, but again only she seemed to hear it. "Or should I say, 'Yip, yip' to get your attention?" She stared at the grinning terrier, who tilted his head and stared right back.
The dog's owner seemed oblivious to the conversation, as did the other passengers.
"Where are you off to today?" The dog asked, licking his flat nose.
"Trenton", she whispered. She wondered if the dog could hear her thoughts, as well. Feeling a bit foolish, she looked at the terrier and thought, "Where are you going?"
"All the way to New Haven". The dog licked his nose again and blinked nervously. "A long time between walkies."
"Walkies? Oh! Walkies! Yes, that must be hard for you."
"You said it. Wanna know how I cope?" She nodded, staring at the dog's earnest face.
"Naps. I sleep all the way." With a blink and a twitch of its ears, the dog tucked himself into the carrier.
Just outside of Philadelphia, she got up and used the restroom. Coming back to her seat. She saw the dog looking at her ruefully, before closing his eyes again.
"Sorry", she said in a low voice. In response, she heard a low groaning sound from the carrier.
At Trenton, she collected her things and headed for the exit, not even looking back.
Sam opened the car door. "Good trip?"
"Just the usual" she lied.
Were you my anchor,
Or were you the ship?
Discernment is needed
For this farewell.
Our home was the harbor,
And you the graceful ship,
Sails straining with the wind.
Take up the anchor of our love,
Carry it with you to new adventures.
And back, someday, to me.
Every day, a story. The month was almost over and it couldn't end too soon. At first, it had been fun; she'd wake up and check her email for the prompt, then think about it while she took a long shower. Day six was promising; a choice bit of flash fiction with a twist she was particularly proud of. But that was followed by several days of progressively weaker and more disappointing efforts. At the two week mark, the muse woke up again and graced her with an inspired plot. She rushed through her shower and threw on a pair of jeans and an old t-shirt, fired up the computer and -- vanished. The words wouldn't come, and the brilliant plot transformed into a moldy skeleton.
For the next week and a half, ideas came hard and words came harder. Stiff. Trite. Repetitive. Really, really repetitive.
On the last day, the morning routine came up empty. She showered until she was wrinkly. A long walk did nothing. The skies closed in and soon she was staring out the window at a gray, drizzly afternoon. Time for a nap.
And in that nap, she found the most amazing story.
What right have we?
It turned out to be a meditation, not a story.
What right have we to love
While weddings turn to funerals?
What right have we to live
While babies drown at sea?
What right have we to eat
While others starve in darkness?
What right have we to peace
While millions flee from war?
What right have we to live
If not to help our neighbors?
Sing it. Say it. Do it.
I am cheating, for now. Later on today I may post one of the stories whirling in my head, but for now, here is a placeholder from last year's writing.
I started off with today's prompt, which was to tell a story as a series of letters, or tweets, or similar installments, all in the first person. But I ended up using my tarot deck again. I drew three cards for the beginning, middle and end of the story.
And here it is.
I almost did it the summer I turned twenty-one.
It started off as a routine Friday night at the buffet-style restaurant where I worked. The food was nothing special, but it would fill you up without emptying your wallet. The big attraction was the improv show, featuring a manic group of theater majors from area colleges. I remember a few of them by name, the ones I thought might make it big someday. But It's a sure thing none of them remember me -- the waitress uniform and hairnets probably made a bigger impression than I did.
But there was that one moment when I almost came out from behind the dessert table and became -- a star. The adorable blonde guy had asked the audience for prompts for the next sketch, and someone yelled "a waitress"! His eyes scanned the room and caught me -- "You!! Come on!"
In a flash, I imagined myself whipping off my hairnet and letting my long hair cascade down my back, unbuttoning the top two or three buttons of my polyester uniform, and wowing them with my version of "Let me entertain you" (The one I had been practicing in the shower since I was ten.)
But then the old me took over. I shook my head, stepped back, and stammered, "I-I-I can't".
But I almost did.
The prompt today was a delightful challenge, for a change: a prose "sonnet" -- a story in fourteen sentences, grouped in some way. I chose the Shakespearian arrangement, 4-4-4-2. The first grouping is from Genesis, as it appears in the King James version. It is more than 4 sentences, but I don't care.
Abel and Cain
8 And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
9 And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?
10 And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.
What were they doing in that field, I wonder? “Cain talked with Abel”, but did Abel talk back? Or did he glower at him, his face dark with anger? Perhaps Abel laughed scornfully, shook his head, and turned his back.
Imagine instead that Abel put his hand on Cain’s shoulder. That he said “Please, don’t say that, brother”. That he said “I would never do that to you”. That Cain saw the truth and was sorry.
God would be so relieved. Instead of endless parables about fratricide, he could create cicadas with wings like butterfies.
The secret of my success
Today's prompt was to embed a hidden message in a story or poem. I took the easy way out, so you should have no trouble finding it!
The secret of my success
Maybe you need a break;
Also, a cup of tea.
Keep this sage advice,
Easy as can be.
When you push too hard,
Or strive to be a star,
Remember that “all play”
Kept Jack from going far.
Pause every twenty minutes,
Laugh, or dance, or sing.
A little levity in work
You need to give it ZING!
How to murder your department
I used to work in a different department on the same campus. We were tops; more research grants, more PhD students, more publications than any other unit in our college. We attended graduation together, watched the Super Bowl together, and, when threatened by outsiders, defended ourselves and each other with loyalty and absolute sincerity. But in a period of about five years, we went from a powerhouse department to a scattered band of former colleagues. For years, I have joked that when I retired I would write the story of how it happened, but it would have to be disguised as a murder mystery.
Today's prompt was to turn all or part of a story into a list. So here is mine:
Don't worry; it's not entirely true, and if you think you are on the list, you aren't.
For the faint of heart, a word of reassurance:
Academic murder isn't real murder.
And a caution for everyone: this works for killing other social groups, too.