A regular feature of this blog is going to be a writing prompt. On the fourth Friday of each month, I’ll post whatever I came up with as a result of the previous month’s prompt. I’ll also supply a new writing prompt for the upcoming month. I encourage you to write your own piece and either post it in the comments, or, if you have your own blog (even better), post a link.
Terrible first drafts are welcome. So are unfinished pieces. It’s also OK if you end up not quite following the prompt and going in a different direction, instead. This is not a literary contest or journal, and the purpose of this exercise is to get you (and me) writing.
I’m going to pretend there was a writing prompt last month. I found this one on WritingPrompts.com and ran with it.
“Your character is going on a trip to ———– . What is s/he packing?”
The following short story was inspired by the prompt above. It is a rough draft, and it’s unfinished.
by Karen Goltz
Tina grabbed the largest suitcase in the closet, but she would still need to be careful how she packed. One suitcase wasn’t much, no matter how big it was.
She wanted to rip the clothes off their hangers and just shove them in her luggage, but she couldn’t do that. Not only was there a space constraint, he was watching her. Tina ignored her headache and forced her expression into one of disinterested neutrality as she tried to figure out what to bring and what to leave.
The closet was a walk-in, though a smallish one. Tina faced the side that contained her wardrobe, her shirts to the left and her pants, skirts, and dresses to the right. Steve’s clothes hung behind her, mocking her in their neat array. How many of her husband’s shirts had Tina hung up over the years? How many pairs of pants, taking care to hang them the way he’d shown her, so that the creases lined up? She grabbed a pair of her own pants, hung the way she preferred—folded in half longways so the butt-cheeks were stacked on top of each other, then threaded onto the hanger. Simple, quick, and done, not like the multi-step process Steve insisted upon. None of her pants needed the creases preserved, and honestly, you couldn’t see the creases in Steve’s pants when he wore them, either.
Tina grabbed the next pair in line, then the next, then paused. Capris. It was January, much too cold for capris. Would she be back by the time the weather had warmed enough to wear them? Would she ever be back?
She turned away from the offending pants and stomped over to the bed. Her suitcase lay open, its cavernous interior defining her near-future life in cubic inches. Tina lined the bottom of it with the two pairs of pants.
“You want to put your shoes in first,” Steve offered. “So the soles don’t get your clothes dirty.”
“Don’t tell me what I want to do.” Tina’s voice was low and controlled, and she refused to look at her husband. The fact that he was right only made her discomfort worse. She knew how to pack a suitcase. This whole situation had her so discombobulated that she couldn’t think straight. She was beginning to feel a bit queasy, as well. Tina left the pants where they were and went back to the closet.
She shoved the capris aside and plucked a few pairs of dressier pants than she usually wore from their hangers. Then a couple of comfortable long skirts and her suit. The dresses were all for summer, so she left those.
A few more trips between the closet and the bed, and Tina’s side of the closet was still lined with clothing. Some of it was summer-wear, but most of it didn’t fit her anymore. She hadn’t realized how many of her clothes she’d outgrown.
Outgrown? Who was she kidding? Thirty-seven-year-old women didn’t outgrow their clothes. They got fat.
“The shoes?” Steve prompted. Tina ignored him as she ignored the heat that had risen to her cheeks. Her suitcase contained less than a week’s worth of clothes. Where were the rest of them?
She began picking through the hamper, dropping Steve’s clothes on the floor and shaking out and folding her own. Those she added to the suitcase. Steve’s remained on the floor.
The suitcase was filling up, and the anger that had been energizing her began to wane. Once her suitcase was full, then what? Tina’s head pounded and her stomach churned. She needed ibuprophen. Or—something.
The tiny master bathroom was next anyway, so she swallowed four ibuprophen dry before tossing the whole bottle into her suitcase. She tried to avoid looking at her reflection in the mirror before opening the medicine cabinet, but she caught a glimpse of flat, greasy hair, pallid skin, and glassy eyes. Her stomach roiled.
Tina took the bottles she wanted and added them to her suitcase. She left the medicine cabinet open so she wouldn’t have to risk seeing her reflection again. It was easier to pretend she was the innocent victim of Steve’s injustice if she could imagine herself beautiful and fragile. It would help if he would be more of a jerk, too. Why couldn’t he yell at her or insult her instead of giving her helpful advice about packing and calmly depositing his dirty clothes back into the hamper?
She had little warning that her stomach was going to rebel before she found herself on the floor in front of the toilet, spewing yellowish liquid and four brownish-red ibuprophen pills into the bowl. Nothing solid. When had she last eaten? Her stomach roiled again, and Tina decided not to think about that right now.
“I can’t believe you’re doing this to me when I’m sick.” She hadn’t been aware of the thought forming until she uttered the statement in a thick voice. It felt right.
Steve said nothing.
Tina wiped her mouth with a tissue and flushed it along with the paltry contents of her stomach. She grabbed her hairbrush from the counter and her bag of hair accessories from the top drawer and returned to the bedroom. Steve stood near the hamper, staring at the floor.
“I said I can’t believe you’re doing this to me when I’m sick,” she repeated.
“You’re not sick,” he mumbled, not looking up. “And you did this to yourself.”
Tina couldn’t believe she’d married such an idiot. “I am sick, Steve. I just threw up!” Let him yell at me, she thought. It would be so much easier to hate him if he would fight with her.
Steve raised his head and met her gaze, and Tina wished he’d continued to stare at the floor. His face was anguished, not angry.
“You threw up because you’re hung over.” His voice was steady, but it cracked. “You are sick, in a way. And you need help. And I can’t help you.” He took a deep breath. “Don’t forget your underwear and socks. And pajamas.”
Tina sank onto the bed. There had been two weekends when they’d gone away together and she’d forgotten to pack her underwear and socks, and one when she’d forgotten her pajamas. Back when they used to go away together. Back when they were good together. How could he bring that up now?
Steve walked over to the dresser, opened her drawer, and stepped back. “I’m not going to pack for you. And you need to leave.”
“Mommy, where are you going?” asked a small voice from the doorway.
Tina felt sick again, and glared at Steve. “You didn’t tell her?”
Not looking at his wife, Steve walked to the doorway to meet their daughter and knelt before her. “What are you doing up, Rosie? I told you to keep your feet up and rest.”
“My show’s over and I couldn’t reach the remote,” the six-year-old answered. She peered at the suitcase on the bed and her mother sitting next to it. “Mommy, where are you going?”
Tina kept her gaze on the man on the floor. “Daddy’s making me go away.”
“Tina!” Steve turned on his knees, outrage making his face look almost comical. Tina was glad to finally have a target.
“Well you are,” she insisted. “I don’t want to pack this suitcase and go away from my family! What was it you just said to me? ‘I’m not going to pack for you, and you need to leave.’ Wasn’t that it?”
Rosie looked at her father in horror. “Daddy, please don’t make Mommy go away! I’ll be good, I promise!”
Steve hugged his daughter, being careful not to touch her legs. Below her shorts, her feet and shins were wrapped in gauze shiny from the burn ointment underneath. “You are good, Sweetie. This isn’t your fault.”
Tina sat silent on the bed, wondering if she was going to throw up again. Was this her family now? Father and daughter embracing in their shared guilt and misery, while she wallowed in her own alone? She wished the room would stop lurching.
“Tell her it’s not her fault, Tina.” Steve’s voice was hard.
“It’s not your fault, Rosie.” Tina couldn’t muster any emotion to put behind her words, and Rosie heard blame. The little girl disentangled herself from her father and waddled over to her mother. Tears trickled down her cheeks and dropped off her chin.
“I’m sorry I got you in trouble, Mommy. I’ll be more careful next time. I’ll use the teapot instead of a pan. I’ll make your coffee right! Just don’t go!”
Tina knew she should feel tenderness towards this poor, injured child, but she couldn’t feel much of anything beyond a sense of total wrongness. She felt wrong. The situation was wrong. There was only one thing she knew of that could bring rightness back, but she didn’t have access to it right now.
“It’s not up to me,” she said.
Rosie waddled back to her father. “Say she doesn’t have to go, Daddy! Say she can stay!”
Steve sat on the ground and pulled his daughter into his lap. “Do your legs hurt?” he asked.
The child shrugged in non-answer.
“Your legs hurt because you dropped a pan of boiling water on the floor and it splashed on you—“
“I said I was sorry, and I’ll do better next time!”
“You never should have been boiling water, Rosie. Mommy should never have let that happen.”
“Mommy was sick again and needed her coffee. I’ve seen her make it, and I wanted to help.”
“I know you did. But Mommy wasn’t really sick. She drank—something—that made her sick, and made her not really know what was happening. She should have been taking care of you, not the other way around.”
Rosie dissolved into tears. “But Mommy took so much care of me when I was little, and it’s time I started taking care of her.”
Tina looked away from the pair on the floor so she wouldn’t see Steve’s accusative glare. She had told Rosie that. It had made sense at the time, but now it seemed a bit ridiculous. The girl was only six. But still, there was nothing wrong with a six-year-old making a cup of coffee with a French press. Isn’t that what they called independence?
The prompt for next month is also from WritingPrompts.com:
“Write a horror story in which one character is an architect. Include a steak somewhere in the story.”
I look forward to seeing what you come up with!