Prompt 1: I forgot to turn off the oven!
Marie shut the dresser drawer with great finality. She had the proof, that lying, cheating bastard. How did he think she wouldn’t notice? Was he really so daft? The brown hairs in HER hairbrush. “It’s winter, your hair gets dark at this time of year,” he had quipped. The unrecognizable, silky black thong in her underwear drawer. “I bought that for you two Christmases ago,” he thrown back at her. “I can’t believe you don’t’ remember! Or even wear them!” The late nights at the office…so cliché, so typical.
Marie had brushed these incidents off, but deep down she knew her husband was playing her for a fool. But she had no definitive proof til yesterday when she’d seen them making out at the grocery store. Yes, in Aisle 7, next to the tea and coffee selection. He’d told Marie he had left town for a conference in Los Angeles the day before. But there he was, deciding between Earl Grey and Peppermint with his tall, leggy brunette lover. It irked her – tea? She would have been less upset if she’d come across them in the wine shop together, buying a few bottles for an alcohol-fueled, forbidden romp, pre-drinking to quell the guilt. But tea? It was so homely, so cozy, so comfortable in terms of what a married man goes shopping for with his mistress. He might as well have been buying soap and laundry detergent for a spring-cleaning Saturday morning at home.
Marie had just finished decorating her husband’s birthday cake. A small blue candle was enforced into every square inch of the rectangular vanilla cake. She had also packed her bags, loaded the boxes into the car, and put Leo, their five-year-old tabby cat, in his carrier in the backseat. Seeing to it that each and every candle was aflame, she stuck it back in the roaring hot oven and closed the door. As she drove away from the house, she thought of the phone call she’d get from her husband upon his return from “Los Angeles”, and ask if she had any idea how their lovely home had burnt to the ground.
“Oh,” she’d reply, “I must have forgotten to turn off the oven.”
Prompt 2: Unavailable at the moment
“Sorry miss, but Jonathan is unavailable at the moment.”
“Umm, okay, well, can you tell him that I found his phone in the back of a cab? He can call me at this number if he wants it back.”
“Okay, I’ll let him know.”
Jeez, this guy was pretty hard to get in touch with. I’d found the phone squished into the seat of the taxi, I’d heard it ringing after I hopped in out of the rain, scooching down the navy blue, faux-leather backseat. Melissa, the caller ID said. I’d picked up and before I could get a word in edge wise, a concerned voice hissed, “Jonathan, where are you?” I told Melissa that this Jonathan she had called had left his phone in a cab, did she possibly know where I could find him? I heard the phone click, she’d hung up without saying a word. I tried calling back but it went straight to voicemail.
I looked through his recent calls and found a “Work” number, but it led me to the voicemail of a sultry female named Jessica. Puzzled, I scrolled through the contact list, settling on “HQ” for a second shot at getting this guy’s brand new iPhone 6 back to him. I’d want someone to do the same, right? The secretary of a large, well-known bank answered, I explained the situation to her. She recognized the name and number and told me she’d let her boss (Jonathan) know. But he never phoned me back. After a day or two, I decided this Jonathan guy just didn’t want his phone back. No problem, I thought, I could use an extra 300 bucks or whatever it was worth.
But then the calls started coming. Blocked numbers with tough, angry male voices at the other end. “Jonathan, ya jerk off, we know where you are, and we’re gonna find ya. Aright??” Jenna, Elise, Samantha. “FUCK YOU JONATHAN, FUCK YOU. YOU SACK OF SHIT,” the women would scream into the phone and then hang up violently before I could quietly tell them Jonathan was long gone.
And so curiosity killed the cat – I clicked open “Messages.” It had felt like a private zone before, but all of the sudden I felt like I should find out whose phone I was about to trade in for Coachella tickets. There were messages to and from men with foreign-sounding names, written in what had to be some sort of code. Messages of the most sexually graphic nature from all kinds of exotically named women. And then updates from “Melissa” on “the kids”. Lena was five and judging from a text on February 2nd, had lost a front tooth. Milo loved Legos, there were lots of photos of his colorful, blocky creations on warm fuzzy play rugs. Jonathan seemed to respond sporadically to Melissa, and when he did it was sweet and kind.
Who was this Jonathan and what was his deal? I was enraptured as I read through his multitude of messages, peering into his life. Or lives. He seemed like a pretty messed up guy. And possibly dangerous. Was he an illegal arms dealer or something? Was this just one of many phones with which he trafficked drugs or Eastern European women? Did he lose this phone or was he trying to get rid of it? Was his name really Jonathan? Whose phone did I have in my hand?
Like I suspected Jonathan had been in the backseat of that cab that day, I was suddenly overcome with the overwhelming sensation that I needed to get rid of this phone. NOW.
Prompt 3: Car crash
Mrs. Wilkins was sharp. While her voice was wobbly and her knees knobby, her back a bit curved from the scoliosis and her skin thin and veiny, Mrs. Wilkins had an upbeat sprit and an unwavering love of life. Even as many of her friends at the retirement home were losing theirs minds or spirits seemingly every day, she always woke up on the right side of the bed. At 93 years old, she was still the life of all the parties at the Boca Grande Home for the Elderly. Even the younger men, still in their 70s and usually new to the home, often following the death of their first wife or pressures from their adult children, would ask her to dance before any other lady in attendance. She had a fiery spirit and a delightful Southern accent from living her entire pre-retirement life in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Maisie, as was her first name, had been rising at 6am on Sunday mornings for years, and it was tradition to meet Daisy Wheatly at 7am for the Early Bird Special at the Nautilus Diner. It had been like this since 1995, which she and Daisy had met at a local Bridge championship and had fallen head over heels. Maisie’s husband had died in 1985, and he and Maisie hadn’t had sex since 1955. Joe had been a jerk and Maisie a lesbian, but it simply wasn’t an option for a good Southern girl like Maisie Wilkins to run off and leave Joe behind. For Maisie, even at this age, it still wasn’t an option and would never be, but that’s what Sunday mornings were for.
The Nautilus Diner was about 20 miles from Maisie’s retirement home, far enough that she and Daisy wouldn’t run into people they knew. Old people, Maisie had realized, were the worst gossips. The retirement home functioned just like high school had, with its residents retreating into almost teenage-like states, forming various clicks and lunch groups, with rumors still spreading about who was going steady with whom and who’d winked at whom during afternoon water aerobics class at the community pool.
Maisie enjoyed the long, predictable, early-morning drive to the diner in her 2002 beige Buick. It was definitely an old person-mobile, her grandkids always told her she should trade it in for an Audi. It was grandiose and spacious, unnecessary for a little old lady like herself, but it reminded her of the days when all cars were gigantic, elegant driving machines, when her children were still children rolling around in the roomy backseat before seatbelt laws were enforced, and when she hadn’t a single gray hair.
Maisie was driving along at a steady 35 miles per hour, but in these parts of retirementville, Florida, it was almost considered on par with drag-racing. She kept eyeing out for any radars or cops, seeing as the local police took no pity on the elderly drivers. They were known to give out tickets to the old folks for a mere mile over the speed limit. It was extortion. She didn’t want any trouble that day – she and Daisy hadn’t been able to meet the week before because of the annual Boca Grande BINGO tournament, and she missed her Daisy.
Maisie sped down the long, smooth, stick-straight road typical of south Florida, pushing her foot ever so gently on and off the accelerator, her eyes squinting through her thick-rimmed glasses ahead. And then out of the bush, an alligator darted out onto the road from nowhere. And Maisie’s big old Buick was headed right towards it.
Prompt 4: Deviant workplace behavior
Joann had been an employee of Hasburger Paper Industries for 33 years. As executive secretary, she’d sat behind the front office desk for all those decades, years, days, from 9am til 5pm, save her 21 vacation days per year. Joan always took her full vacation, treated herself, even though lots of her co-workers didn’t. Typical New York workaholics. In her tenure she’d seen all sorts of employees come and go, the dramatic exits of those “let go”, the lunch-time trysts, the jittery first days of the recent grads who still looked uncomfortable trading in the college sweatshirt for a suit and button down.
But management had changed and Joann knew she was going to be pushed out. She couldn’t use the computers like these new young office assistants, with their fancy spreadsheets and Google search prowess. When Joann had started out they still had her on the typewriter. She was not happy about her job loss looming in the distance – While she’d never really needed a job (the massive trust fund Joann’s grandfather, a shoelace tycoon, had left her cancelled out any real need for gainful employment), she had always liked the routine and responsibility of a job. No husband, no kids, not even a cat, just Joann. Work got her out of the house and always had. Thirty-three years she’d put in and management would one of these days kick her to the curb, her desk packed neatly up into a cardboard box.
Her revenge had begun as petty. Taking printer paper home, a few paper clips. Then she’d gone for the coffee filters in the breakroom, and then to the bags of gourmet coffee itself. She knew how much the office spent on all the supplies, she’d done the bookkeeping herself after all. They spent $35,000 a year caffeinating all the employees. Who’ll really notice if a bag or two is missing? But her pilfering habit had begun to intensify. The week prior she’d taken home $500 worth of toner, three boxes of ink cartridges, a 5-pound hole puncher with the brawn to punch through 200 pages at a time. Joann neither drank coffee nor had ever purchased a computer for herself, let alone a printer. The unused office supplies began to amass untouched on her dining room table.
Prompt 5: Snow Day
Principal Sanders looked at his clock. It was 4am. He flicked on the TV for the weather report. There was already three feet of snow and it wasn’t about to let up. He felt around on his bedside table in the dark til he found his telephone, and called Beatrice, the school secretary, to let her know that school would have to be cancelled. She would call the parent representatives, who would spend the pre-dawn period calling all the parents of the school to tell them to keep their kids at home that day.
If he had paid a little more attention to the weather reports, he might not have done what he did the day before. He sighed, lying in his bed and staring up at the ceiling. His eyes adjusted and readjusted to the light from outside hitting the white paint of the ceiling above. The refractions projected different images on the ceiling, morphing into subsequent images like moving clouds on a summer afternoon, changing outlines with the passing of a carefully driving car with its brights on, a next-door neighbor switching his hall lights on for a quick trip to the bathroom, a streetlamp finally flickering out after years of functioning.
Sometimes the shadows danced into her shape, into her face. Not how she’d looked yesterday when he’d left her, but from the first day he’d made her acquaintance, her first day of teaching 11th grade English five years ago. She was fresh out of the Teacher’s Certificate Program, bursting with energy and enthusiasm for the written American word. Her red bob bounced up and down with such thrill when you got her going on Steinbeck.
When he’d locked her in his office yesterday afternoon, after the bell had long since signaled that it was time to go, well after the last janitor had swept up the last of lunch, her hair fell flat and dull around her face. Her cheeks were red, not with the excitement produced by the finalization of the Summer Reading List, but red with rage for him locking her inside his office, the principal’s office.
As he walked towards his car, he felt unsure of the events that had just transpired and that would transpire. He would deal with her tomorrow, he had thought to himself, I’ll come to school early, that shouldn’t be a problem.
Prompt 4: Blank fortune cookie
The plates of General Tso’s chick and beef with broccoli had been cleared, the white tablecloth stained with scattered spots of brown, orange and yellow sauces. Soy sauce, duck sauce, sweet and sour sauce, they were hard for children to contain to their plates. It was a tradition for the Macintoshes to go out for Chinese on Christmas day. Eloise, matriarch of the Macintosh clan, didn’t like cooking another huge meal so soon after Thanksgiving. When you have six kids and a husband, it’s just too much.
The waiter came by and plopped two baskets of fortune cookies on the table. The kids flew at them, the three teenagers grabbing the baskets and taking first dibs over their equally eager younger siblings. Carl wripped the plastic wrap off with his teeth, spitting the transparent cover out of his mouth so it fluttered down onto the table. He snapped the cookie in two with his beefy hands. Once she’d shed the wrapper, Erica bit the end off the right side and slid the little white slip of fortune out between her thumb and index finger. Jacob drew his hand into a heavy fist and crushed it down upon the cookie, still wrapped in its plastic protective shell. He didn’t even want the stupid cookie or lame fortune. The collision of fist to table made it shake and wobble, sending water spilling out of the sides of the half-drunk glasses, diluting the stains on the dirty tablecloth.
Ten-year-old Phil threw his cookie at Lily, seated next to him, who swatted it away with excellent reflex, and it hit the bald man seated at the table next to them square in the bald spot. Eloise swiftly took away their cookie-eating privileges, picking up the delinquent cookie from the floor and stuffing it in her purse, apologizing profusely. That left Annabel with the last cookie in the basket. The last child in the family, she felt it was fitting.