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A story in 36 minutes

Last Tuesday I went to the Mini Sledgehammer writing contest at Blackbird Wine on Fremont. It’s a writing contest that is put on by Indigo Editing here in Portland. We are given four prompts and have 36 minutes to write a story. Normally the shop is quiet except for the clicking of keys and scratching of paper, and when all is done everyone reads their creations. This time around the place was too loud with a wine tasting event – the gall of those people to drink wine at a wine shop!  – and both reading and judging were delayed.

I just found out I won!  Here is the story:

Prompts: Writer, Moving in, Vet’s office, “out of nowhere came” 

Simon, Ariel and the Cat.

When Ariel moved in with Simon she expected that he would be an eccentric roommate. He was a freelance writer, working on his second novel.

He paid for his little house with the advance from his first book. Not long after he closed on the house and got his keys he realized that the royalty checks weren’t as big as he imagined they would be. He decided to get a roommate.

Being a bit disorganized, combined with his focus on writing rather than living, he didn’t manage to unpack until Ariel decided to agree to live in his extra bedroom. Actually, she took the master bedroom. A caveat of living with him was that she was allowed to assume the largest bedroom and the adjoining bathroom. A princess needed her privacy, you know. And she was willing to pay a little extra for the privilege.

So Ariel’s moving day was Simon’s moving day. She unpacked quickly and efficiently, knowing that she would need to put her prickling feet up later. Some days the pins-and-needles were bad. Today they were worse.  

When she finally took a moment to lay back on her freshly made bed with the seafoam green duvet, she closed her eyes and hummed a little tune she knew from her childhood. She started to think of her father and the song trailed off. 

“Don’t stop,” Simon said from the doorway. “You have a beautiful voice.”

Ariel smiled and touched the base of her throat, but didn’t continue singing.

“Do you need any help unpacking?” Simon asked.

“I’m done,” Ariel said in her prim, high pitched voice. She swung her legs, both at once, off the bed. “Do you need any help?”

“Uh, I don’t – well, sure,” Simon said.

They unpacked the kitchen together, starting by throwing away all the pizza boxes and takeout containers that had accumulated over the past several weeks.

Ariel had been right about his eccentricism. Simon only owned a few plates, all mismatched. He enthusiastically told her about each of their stories as she put them in the cupboard. All told it took over an hour to clean up the kitchen and put away four plates.

They had moved on to the pans, pots and griddles in a large box in the middle of the room.

“Do you actually use these?” Ariel asked him.

“I love to cook, when I’m not writing,” Simon said. “You?”

“I never really had to cook for myself.”

“Oh,” Simon said, not really knowing what to make of that comment. “What do you like to do when you’re not,” Simon paused there, because he didn’t know what Ariel actually did. “Uh, in your free time.”

“I used to like to sing, but I don’t really any more. And I like to swim.”

“Oh, that’s good,” said Simon. “I’m not really into working out. Why don’t you sing anymore?”

“I used to sing with my sisters,” Ariel said, “It’s not actually much fun without them. And Eric got sick of it after a while.”

“That’s your ex?” Simon asked. He and Ariel had met through a mutual friend and had only met once before becoming roommates. They didn’t know a lot about each other.

“Yes,” Ariel said. “He turned out to be…not what I imagined.”

“I was married once, too,” Simon said. “She was a bitch.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Ariel said. She turned prim again, uncomfortable with revealing her background. Out of nowhere came a cat that leapt up on the counter and stared at Ariel. “What’s that?” she said, startled. She was staring at the black and white cat, sitting on the counter.

“That’s Princess, my cat,” Simon said.

Ariel glared at the cat, who was still staring at Ariel, switching her tail back and forth, back and forth. The cat batted Simon’s arm away when he came toward her.

He held his arm and drew in a breath. “Damn! She is usually really sweet,” Simon said. She hissed at Ariel. “I’ve only ever seen her attack a goldfish. I don’t know what’s going on.”

A few minutes later, as they were waiting with the cat in the vet’s office, Simon said, “I don’t see why you had to hit her with a pan!”

“I’m sorry,” Ariel said, hoping she wouldn’t have to find a new place to live. “Cat’s just really freak me out.”

She peered down at the cat in the box on Simon’s lap. The cat stared back. Ariel considered it a victory that the cat looked away first.

[I’m taking the liberty of adding that last sentence now. I ran out of time to write it into my official entry, but I like it better now.]

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The Dancing Jacket

It seems appropriate that I post this on Father’s Day. My Dad, who is fabulous in his own right, learned from one of the greats: my Grandpa Mal. Yesterday I went to a great writing workshop where we were tasked with writing a very short piece about an article of clothing. The most obvious, for me, was a certain blazer that took on a persona of it’s own at my wedding. It became an ode to Grandpa. So, to the wonderful fathers in my life, Dad, Grandpa, and John, Happy Father’s Day!!

The blazer was the life of the party. It had its beginnings a long time ago and was reborn at my wedding.

I was the first of my cousins on my Father’s side to get married. Just before the ceremony, my Mother said, “Grandpa was going to wear a terrible jacket. I told him he could not!”
I didn’t know what coat she was referring to, but I knew that my mom was misguided in admonishing my Grandpa. I was disappointed that it wasn’t making an appearance.
Later, after the ceremony, as we were making our way around the reception, Grandpa mentioned something wistful about the coat.
“Your room is close. Go get it!” The bride had given her blessing, so he did.
The Blazer in Action

On the dance floor a handsome, mustachioed gentleman appeared. He sported a blazer of the finest polyester. White background, shades of red and blue weaving together into a plaid pattern that, sadly, you just can’t find today. Silky(ish) brown lining. A wide collar that has probably come back into style and will again.  

“Grandma and I used to go dancing every Saturday.” Grandpa’s friendly tanned face pulled into a grin, white caps showing.
He wasn’t dancing, just standing with the smile. “So, let’s dance!” I said. And we did.
When he got warm Grandpa Mal needed to take the jacket off, but the jacket didn’t seem to want to leave the floor. It quickly found its way on my brother’s shoulders. He insisted it had climbed onto his back of its own accord. Todd, once wrapped in the blazer, seemed to need to dance. An uncontrollable urge took over. He danced like he was on Soul Train, with a continued performance out of Solid Gold. His exuberant dancing tore a little bit of the seam in the lining.  
I put the blazer on. It compelled me to dance like a moron and like it.
It had become magical. It stayed on the dance floor, the center of attention all night.
And when the blazer made its way back to its true owner, Grandpa Mal, that’s when I could see the real magic of it. This amazing man was getting all the attention he deserved and had earned in his long life. Sure, it was just dancing after a wedding, but everyone knew who the star of the night was.
The blazer has made its appearance at several more weddings since then. Each time the lining is a little more worn, and it smells a little more like body odor. But also, each time the coat’s magical owner has strutted his stuff and by doing so has taught us so much about how we want to grow old: Happy, surrounded by family, and still willing and able to dance.