The Prods…I Mean Prompts

This is my second attempt at weekly writing prompts from  BeKindRewrite called  Inspiration Monday II. Stephanie provides five prompts, and this time she has participated with a beautiful story of her own.

I chose two prompts and used them as titles:

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Raised Eyebrows at the Checkout Line

I placed my pile of slender plastic bags on the belt. The bags, carefully folded over and bound with stickers, appeared insubstantial but each measured the weight of hope. One shrimp, one slice of ham, one of roast beef, one liverwurst, one turkey breast, one corned beef, one bologna. I had already endured the discontent of the deli clerk—friendliness is ineffective when you’re out to personally ruin someone’s day. The checkout girl raised her eyebrows but was too apathetic to comment and I too weary to explain.

When I got home I ripped open every bag and tore the slices into pieces. I took them to Buck’s bed and held them in front of his nose. No reaction to the ham or any other savory cold cut—but as I held out the shrimp, he raised his head. I ripped the shrimp into shreds and he took a bite, then another. As he finished the shrimp, I grabbed my car keys, this time with a purposeful stride.

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Everyday Villain

The witch woke up midday, bleary from the last night’s bender. She looked older than her 50 years, a dessicated hag with a vindictive scowl. The fucking phone again, more idiots with their stupid complaints. Blah blah blah can you call me as soon as possible. Blah blah blah I have a problem. Blah blah blah what should I do. Screw ’em all, that’s what.

As in many depressed former mill towns of Connecticut, the witch inherited the position from her father. She hated the job, the callers, and the responsibility, but most of all she hated her wards. Today was cold and rainy and she’d be damned if she was going to walk all the way out to the kennels at the end of her property to shovel shit with this hangover. Ugly needy mutts with their empty bowls and dirty cages. Many complaints were made about the witch, but change is rarely on any town official’s agenda. One lone volunteer would come a couple times a week to clean the cages, take pictures for flyers, and cry with the dogs.

A year later the witch died of liver cancer. Nobody mourned. The nepotism ended when the witch’s deranged adult son was deemed unfit to be the new dog warden. The kennels were closed and the pound moved off the property. The long-awaited interruption of this family’s reign brought the town one step closer to outlawing this vile tradition.

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24 responses to “The Prods…I Mean Prompts

  1. “Prods ….I meant prompts”, laughs and smiles here to that. I know too many people who have threatened me with a cattle prod, figuratively of course not literally -that’s my story and am sticking with it.

    ‘Raised Eyebrows at the Checkout Line’, I was thinking neurotic all the way to end. I took the hook, thankfully it was barb-less, which made catch and release easy and painless. But, with the veracious appetite of a hungry bass I took the hook a second time to ‘Everyday Villain’ ………..good shtufffs!

    Nepotism leaves a foul taste in my mouth, as well.

  2. Thank you Hudson. Prod, smack, and shove is what works!

    I know I can be depressing so I wanted to write something with a more gratifying conclusion. So these are my ideas of happy endings. And even though I love a happy ending in a book, in real life it’s rarely so, which I guess is why we need to read books.

    You were right about neurotic!

    • I keep coming back to ‘Raised Eyebrows’. Can’t put my finger on it; just seems like there is something more to this story – perhaps it’s the style in which you wrote it, but am sensing it’s more in the ‘intent’. Just a feeling, just a thought. Regardless, it sparked my imagination.

      • Perhaps what you’re sensing is that my attempt at a happy ending is just that—an attempt to leave the reader with hope. But as discussed below, and I agree, that good or bad, we cannot know what happens after.

        In my life there have not been happy endings, and though unwritten, there was not one here. He ate the shrimp but did not live. It’s the story of the faith we desperately hang on to when we want something so badly that we grasp at any small instance of relief from our anguish.

        This was very perceptive of you to pick up on this. I really do want to write happy endings, but first I need to know what one feels like. I can only write about what I know, which I fear is pathetically insignificant.

  3. I admit I am not a fan of happy endings but yours were perfect. Occasionally, if done right, a happy ending can be satisfying but mostly they seem forced.

    On an entirely different note — I notice your blog stats are getting perilously close to 10,000! Congrats!

  4. Thanks Indigo. Maybe books with a “happy ending” are just stopped while circumstances are good. Because it sure doesn’t last. The lovers will quarrel, the child will become impossible, the cop will drink himself into oblivion, the dogs don’t get adopted, and everybody gets old and sick. But we can pretend.

    Jeez, I’m about as cheerful as a cold sore.

    • You could easily say the opposite: maybe most real stories are just stopped when circumstances are bad. We don’t know what goes on after.
      Until we see what happens after death, or after the universe implodes (or what have you) we won’t know whether happy or sad endings are more true to reality.

  5. As a past employee of a grocery store, your description of the employees is so accurate its almost amusing. I’m reading this, and I can picture two people I worked with who were always in the same types of mood as you describe in just two sentences. I love both of these. Your descriptions are rich with color and your pieces rich with feeling 🙂

  6. Thank you Jenna! I think the employees have to put up with a lot of difficult people all day.

    Some chains are trying to combat sullen employees, I think. When I first moved to AZ I applied for a job at Safeway and they made me take a psychological test—and I flunked!

  7. “Raised Eyebrows at the Checkout Line” is an inspirational piece of writing. I couldn’t quite get the hand of what it was about until the last paragraph when it all came together. These powerful short pieces are difficult to write yet you do marvelously with them.
    Very, very nice!

    • Thank you Wild Bill! I couldn’t do them without BeKindRewrite’s prompts. These prompts cause you to stretch your imagination in ways I’m not used to, which can be a curse or a blessing, I’m not sure yet. I have a very hard time writing anything that isn’t true, so it’s a strange brew of truth in a story form. Appreciate your encouragement, truly.

      • There’s a great quote from V for Vendetta: “Politicians use the truth to tell lies. Artists use lies to tell the truth.”

        Or Chaucer’s quote from A Knight’s Tale: “Yes, I lied – I’m a writer; I give the truth scope!”

  8. Great work again! I was totally clueless until the very end of Checkout, and pleasantly surprised with the closer. And a great glimpse into a messed-up reality with Everyday Villain – also kind of a goes-around-comes-around message; she didn’t care for anyone, so no one cared about her.

    It was also interesting to see you get into the head of someone who is your complete opposite. That is always fun. : )

    • I didn’t even think of that, acting the part of my opposite. I wouldn’t have tried that in a million years if it weren’t for the education I’m getting on your website. Well that wasn’t so impossible after all. Baby steps.

  9. I realized that I had an aversive reaction to the second story because it was too close to home. When I came back and read it again the story gave me a chill. This scene was way to close to things I saw as a child.

    Sometimes rereads are revealing. This short piece has a very strong story line that cannot be evaded. Powerful!

  10. In my experience dog pounds (not shelters, but pounds, which are run by towns rather than volunteers who do it for love) are run by people who see it as a job, a government job no less. A job where you do as little as possible, and lie a lot to cover your butt. I worked at our city pound here for two years and saw myself turning into a raving lunatic. The Animal Control Officer, just some dick with a government job, couldn’t have cared less about conditions there. He was hardly ever there but enjoyed throwing his weight around any time we wanted to make a change. (The answer was always NO.) He’s still in charge and will be until he retires with a fat pension. My friend Janice and I would leave there each night in tears, it was affecting our lives to the point where we couldn’t do it anymore. Then the guilt. Any animal rescue volunteer knows the vicious cycle of burnout and guilt.

    I went to the mayor, the police chief, and the town manager. I made appointments, was well-prepared, had documentation, etc. Though they listened sympathetically, not one of them would do a damn thing. I was told to go to the town meetings and get up and speak. I have no aptitude for that—isn’t that their job?

    I want to write about other things but this is what I know. Though I’m pleased the story had an effect on you, I feel bad it’s so bloody depressing. Thanks again for writing.

  11. Pingback: Inspiration Monday III « Be Kind Rewrite

  12. The checkout line one is my favorite. There is a flavor in that piece. Shrimp, maybe? No, not that.

    I think I wrote a story about a checkout line once, but it involved a man who was handcuffed and buying wine. I guess these checkout lines go all sorts of ways.

    Enjoyed,
    D

  13. I don’t know how you found my blog but I’m glad you did. I’m about to put up a new one. You into dragonflies? But seriously I enjoyed your comments esp about the ear buds. I didn’t put that into my piece but I could have. Loved your two short pieces. They have something in common with what readers say about my poems: quirkiness. let’s stay connected 🙂

  14. Hi John, nice to meet you! I think I found you on my tag surfer, where I sometimes look for likeminded quirks. I love dragonflies! They’re already flitting about here in AZ. I’m sure you’ll announce your new blog so I don’t miss it. Thanks for writing.

    Take care,
    Debra

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