Your Friday Prompt: The Terrible Decision

Hey writers,

At an old copy-editing job, I worked with a writer who thought it was hilarious to slip the occasional vulgarity—often spectacularly creative and monstrous—into one of the publication’s stories before I proofed them all. It became a sort of game, a sort of watching Zac over the top of a page as his eyes widened in final-proof horror. Sure, I chuckled, grumbled and deleted the intruder (albeit on the brink of journalism tears).

But what if I hadn’t?

Forget that for a second, and consider a moment from yesterday or today, a moment when you could have done something terrible if you had just changed one small thing. It could be anything stirred up in your imagination: bellowing a cheerful vulgarity to a co-worker who issued you the standard morning Hello!; mumbling, “No, more, all of it, everything,” when cashing a check at the bank; choosing not to extinguish a candle burning close to the curtains in a house you’ve lived in for too long.

How do you define “terrible”? And isn’t it sort of fascinating how one otherwise mundane moment, decision or turn of phrase can change a life, spreading alternate futures out like the branches of a tree?

So keep the terribleness confined to your writing (and away from poor, young copy editors), and have a great weekend!

And, happy birthday to Audrey.

Yours in writing,

Zachary

PROMPT: THE TERRIBLE DECISION
In 500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring:

Choose a moment from yesterday or today, an otherwise normal moment when you could have done something extreme, something terrible, if you had just done one small thing different. Do it in scene.  

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  4. Patricia A. Hawkenson

    We’re On the Road Again

    After yet another argument about the direction of the air conditioner vents, I was looking out the window of our truck telepathically bringing the next power line closer. Four days traveling with the dog and the kids, and my powers were dwindling. A wet hacking sound broke my concentration.

    "You shouldn’t have fed the dog eggs," Tyler said a matter-of-factly.

    "I can see that. Give me that toilet paper." Overlooking the spilled Cheeto bag and scattered CD’s, I pointed to the roll stuffed in the backseat door of our Silverado. Kayla chucked it up to me over my headrest and I retrieved it just before it rolled under the gas petal. I wrapped my hand with it before tackling the slime now oozing down my leg. I didn’t have to turn around to see the smirks exchanged in the back seat.

    My husband drove tightlipped for a few more miles, but then on Lincoln Way West, he pulled the camper into the parking lot of the Sunrise Cafe. I stepped out still holding the dog’s leash, and he handed the kids a twenty. "Here. Order yourself some dinner. I should check the camper’s stabilizing bars again. This thing is really surging." Tyler and Kayla got out of the truck and headed into the restaurant fighting over who got to hold the money. The dog was done heaving but took the opportunity to mark the spot again. When the restaurant doors closed behind the kids, we looked at each other across the hood.

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    "Come on, baby." I hugged our spaniel close to my chest as I got back in the truck. He turned the trailer north to get to I 80, and on our way to Freedom, Pennsylvania.

  5. Loveskidlit

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  6. S.E.Ingraham

    Racing Death

    Ever since I was little I’ve had this need for speed. In another life, instead of being a teacher, as expected, I would have been a race-car driver for sure. Instead I’ve just always driven my sporty-owned cars, far too fast, amassing way too many speeding tickets.

    So yesterday when I was about to go into the bank and I noticed a Maserati idling outside my branch, of course I paused to give it the once over. A god-damned Maserati – in my town – unheard-of, I tell you – only one of the fastest cars on the face of the earth – at least that you can buy and drive around, off of a race-track. And they’re what, a cool $125,000 plus, even in these recessionary times. Of course, anyone purchasing one of these babies is not troubled by a little economic down-turn.

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  7. J. Alvey

    Unwise Witness

    The officer struck me as young enough that perhaps he had never yet shaved, except perhaps as an experiment, or in an attempt to grow facial hair. Still, he had the uniform, the badge, the lethal weapon at his side noticeably uncovered, available at a moment’s notice.

    The flashing lights of several units parked out on the street, and more worrisome, the appearance of a couple of unmarked but obviously unmarked police cars, led weight to whatever the situation was, a weight I did not want to contemplate as I stood surprised at the front door.

    The shadows rushing furtively and not so furtively from here to there, ghosts of violence to come, were not comforting either.

    I could say one thousand thoughts went through my mind but, in truth, I had but two: Is this mistake? and What on earth has Cody done?

    Before the questions could even gel into words, physical words, real words I might express, while I stood there silent, stuttering within, the young man politely asked if the police might trespass with my permission into my backyard.

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    "Your neighbor, sir, Mr. Johnson? Mr. Johnson is in his living room with a weapon. We need access to your backyard in order to get to his backyard safely."

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    "Sir, the call came from his wife, who is still within the house and we believe in danger. He has a weapon. We don’t have much time here. We simply want to access his backyard through your backyard, and we ask that you keep your family, your pets, and you, inside your home until we advise you otherwise."

    "Do we have your permission, sir?" He was growing impatient with me, that much was clear. His baby-fresh face was turning red, probably as much from heat and humidity and adrenaline as from his growing frustration with yours truly.

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    Alerting my wife and son to the crisis and admonishing them to sit tight, I went to the backdoor, peered out into the night, watched more furtive shadows, wraiths, I thought, oddly, slither and writhe across my yard, around my deck, in the direction of Mr. Johnson’s house.

    Spotting Peach Fuzz, and ignoring every better judgement, I stepped outside, went up to the youngster and said, "You are going to kill him aren’t you?"

    He didn’t answer. "You are going to kill that old man, aren’t you?" I repeated.

    "Look," I suggested, "I will go over there right now, will walk in his front door and get him out of there. He’s a mailman! He’s not a madman!"

    "Sir, the wife advises," he finally offered, "that he suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s. It seems clear that he is not aware of what he is doing. It is a dangerous situation and we cannot let a civilian into that situation. Your concerns are appreciated."

    I started to go back into the house, but then noticed how the policemen, as they approached the Johnson home, appeared to be in assault mode, creeping up to windows with pistols and rifles at the ready, peeking over windowsills, standing next to doorways as I’d seen in countless movies.

    I walked up to the second deck, overlooking the pool, overlooking the Johnsons’ backyard, and when Peach Fuzz began to complain, I said, "This is my home. I am entitled to stand on my own deck. I will not let you kill him without being a witness to it."

    If stealth had not been pivotal, perhaps he would have arrested me or had me arrested. Instead he asked that I be quiet and that I be careful and that I stay put. Perhaps it was simply the difference between his peach fuzz and my grey stubble, but he did not have me forcibly removed.

    They did not kill him.

    Within half an hour they were walking him out the front door of his home, in cuffs, to a waiting cruiser.

    He never came home again. But they did not kill him.

  8. Daniel Ari

    When May is tired or hungry, she grows short on grace. Don’t we all? But her New Yorker’s sense of blatancy means that she speaks her discomfort even when she knows its cause. She’s learned to take care of herself, to eat some soup and go to bed, but on the way, she doesn’t stop herself from snapping.

    It doesn’t help that I’m French. At times like these, I clam up, the rudeness of my avoidance mainly ineffectual. My daughter clings to me. As May putters in the kitchen, I’m in the laundry room, grumbling at having to fold clothes after my workday. Where was May today? Home. But I know better than to think that she has been idle. Raising a child is more work than I do most days, sitting ergonomically, working only my brain, my fingers and my wrists.

    Now I fold laundry. Maddy keeps me company, and May goes quiet in the kitchen. I think she’s eating. I want to do the dishes next. Silently washing dishes in the kitchen will be my way to tell May that I don’t approve of having to wash dishes at the end of my workday. The truth is I don’t mind. I could almost enjoy washing dishes, framing it as meditation, as exercise and ablutions for my tired hands. But I don’t want to reframe tonight. Coming home, my greeting from May was like a right cross:

    “Finally. You take her.”

    I had heard Maddy whining from the front step, held my breath and bulldozed forward through the door. A full day of mother and daughter—with Maddy at an age where she is learning what she can accomplish from a well-timed whine—had put them both on edge.

    “I’m going to bed,” says May, leaving the kitchen. I’m looking for reasons to fight. In the same way that Maddy is learning that whining makes us pay attention to her—even just to say, “stop whining,” I am learning to engage with May when she is tired. I make a loud glass noise in the sink.

    “Don’t break those,” she says, as I know she will. My snappy comeback is an icy silence.

    May and Maddy are back form New York for only 36 hours now and still jet-lagged. The suitcases are still lying open by the front door. There is a lot of laundry still to do.

    “The sink’s been mainly empty,” I say.

    “That’s because you’ve been eating out every meal.”

    May hates it when I eat out every meal. She’s already in the bedroom, but I imagine the whole conversation. She says she’s disappointed at the state of the house. I tell her I spent all day Sunday cleaning. She says to look at the windows: they’re still streaky.

    “Fuck you and fuck the windows,” I scream and send a cast-iron skillet through the unopened French doors.

    The movie ends. May’s in the shower. Maddy has found something to play with. I bend over at the waist and touch the floor, hanging over myself for the length of three long breaths.

    Reframe it. Kiss May goodnight. Put Maddy to bed. I’ll have the evening to myself, to sip whiskey and play poker online. This is what marriage is sometimes.

  9. Kathy Booker

    The Carnival

    The Reese Carnival started on Thursday as it does at the end of July every year. It sports the popular rides like bumper cars, a mini roller coaster, and rigged games (although they swear they are not). There’s also all kinds of deep fried delicacies (if you can call such things as French fries and funnel cakes “delicate”).

    I’m a kid at heart. I remember the days when riding on the Tilt-a-Whirl didn’t make me vomit and walk like a drunkard. And the Ferris wheel at the church carnivals back in Bucktown in Chicago when I was a little girl – I loved summers back then, humming Beatles tunes while looking out high above the roofs of the houses, spinning around on that huge wheel.

    So it’s Thursday night, and I’m walking around the carnival grounds with my boyfriend. I stop at one of the rides where you sit in those metal bench-like contraptions as you’re swung around in huge circles, the seat spinning around in tight circles. Two forces against you – one small, one large – going faster and faster until mercifully the ride comes to an end.

    Some of the kids are screaming in fun, others are sitting there quietly, while others are chatting away with their friends. One of the seats is occupied by three young boys who look at me and yell as they pass by each time. One of the boys throws up his arms as he spins around, almost as if he’s trying to reach out and grab me as he races towards me then quickly spins away.

    They laugh, I smile. I like watching kids have fun.

    Then I grin. I have an idea. If they boys are looking for a thrill, I’m going to give it to them.

    As I watch their seat approach on the next turn, I scream and point to the center of the structure where all of the tentacles of the ride stem from. “Oh my God,” I yell. “The bolts are loose!” And I scream again and jump up and down as if terrified. My boyfriend jabs me in the ribs and asks me what the hell I’m doing. I punch his arm.

    The boys and of course the others on the ride and turn their heads towards the center of ride. I hear screams that are much different than those just a second before. The kids are bouncing up and down as much as the security bars allow them. They want to get out before (possibly) the giant arms of the ride detach and are thrown out into the crowd, perhaps flying directly into the two large propane tanks that supply the cooking gas for the food stations.

    The attendant runs over to the control stand to bring the ride to an unanticipated early stop. He hurriedly pulls everyone off the ride and a team of inspectors run over to the ride to check it.

    I fade into the crowd.

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