Twice a Day

The following writing prompt originally appeared in 642 Things to Write About by the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto.


Weekly Writing Prompt: Twice a Day

Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Give some good advice from a completely unreliable source, and convince someone to take this advice.

Post your response in 500 words or fewer in the comments below.

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46 thoughts on “Twice a Day

  1. cmariee

    “Have you ever considered dating his brother?”
    “I beg your pardon,” Amy responded. Apparently she had not. This surprised Dawn.
    “When you consider the attraction that you have had for Craig,” began Dawn, “The admittedly mostly one-sided affection that you have continued to either work past or work on the behalf of for the last five years that you and I have been meeting, I am just curious about his brother. You mentioned he has one. Is he attractive?”
    “I suppose,” Amy stated without much inflection.
    “Stable?”
    “Huh?”
    “Does he hold a job?” prompted Dawn.
    “He works at the Nice and Easy.”
    “Same as Craig or another store?”
    “He works at the one in Hamilton. Just across the bridge on Route 20.”
    “Okay. That’s a good start Amy.”

    “How so?” Asked Amy confused by the sudden change in direction this session with her therapist was taking. What was going on today? Her therapist was really working hard to help her set specific and reachable goals. She hadn’t paid extra, she hadn’t really asked prompting questions, and yet Dawn was really thinking outside the box.
    “Well you know where he works. Sounds like for now at least he is in the same job market as his brother. Okay. How does he smell? Asked Dawn.

    “What do you mean?” Amy added quietly.
    “Have you noticed if he smells good? They are brothers. It is likely they grew up using similar products; obviously the comparable DNA could work in your favor as well. It might trigger a hormone response, I’m thinking. It might help you begin to look past Craig and consider other options. To start, maybe you would find a comparable distinctive odor in his brother John. I’m not suggesting that you absolutely will. It is just a theory I’d like you to try out over the weekend.”

    Dawn was eager to help her client look past a romantic obsession. After all Amy and Dawn had been friends since grade school. Dawn knew her better than anyone else. She very much wanted her happy so that they could have their first-born child at exactly the same time. Amy had been working with Dawn to eliminate this deeply one-sided love affair with a man by the name of Craig Woods but so far Amy’s progress was slow. Mainly this was because she communicated with Craig almost daily at the Nice and Easy. What started as a crush eventually led to always paying for gas with cash or a card inside in order to converse with the handsome brunette.

    The ridiculous truth about Amy’s admiration was that her energy was so concentrated on one brother that she failed to notice the other viable option.

    “I feel like we are really making some gains. As you move ahead with future plans and take small steps towards the neighboring Nice and Easy, I want you to remember that you can do this, that it is perfectly natural for you to examine what you want in a relationship and search for opportunities. If you have any hesitations, if you find yourself pulling into the wrong parking lot, simply reverse your action (look both ways first), take a left, right, and another left and stay on that road until you arrive at your destination. Does this sound feasible?”

    Amy thought for a moment. Why had she preferred Craig to John? Was it proximity? The Nice and Easy on 20 was ten more minutes out of her way. Was she so focused on time and getting home to watch Netflix after a long day of cross training that she had ignored all the signs? How unbelievable. She felt dumb and yet somehow a weight was lifted.

    “Thanks, Dawn” she sighed. “You always know what to say and you never give up on me. I really think this time it’s going to work. There is no reason to keep putting myself out there with Craig. I’m totally done with him. Right now I don’t even care if I ever see him again.”

    “That’s the spirit!” Dawn cheered through a beaming smile. I’m happy the program could help. I have every confidence in you that you will be successful. Now go out there and grab that bull by the horns. I’m proud of you.”

  2. snuzcook

    Friendly Advice

    It was a freedom morning. My friend Traci and I were out of the house early the first day of 5th grade summer vacation. The sun was shining, the air was crisp and clear. most of the stores along Market Street weren’t even open, except for the coffee shop on the near corner. The Market Street was not yet crowded with parked cars and milling people.

    We were headed to the bakery three blocks up, on a mission for hot- out-of-the-oven maple bars and apple fritters.

    “You’re gonna need a hat.”

    My friend Traci and I stopped in our tracks. The croaking voice had come from the huddled form we kids all knew as ‘the bag lady.’ She sat on a bench or a sidewalk every day somewhere in the neighborhood. Her shopping cart piled high with unidentifiable bags and bundles served as a movable barrier between her and the rest of the world.

    We’d never seen her face, always hidden as it was by her broad-brimmed hat. Most often she was lying down
    or reclining against a wall wherever she happened to be, a formless cylinder of blankets. She represented to our inexperienced young minds a person who was foolish and unwise to the extreme, who didn’t know enough to come in out of the rain.

    “C’mon,” Traci hissed. I stood rooted in place. I couldn’t have been more surprised if the carved wooden bear outside the post office had spoken.

    “You’re gonna need a hat.” She had already tucked her face down so it was hidden between her own broad-brimmed hat and the high collar of the old coat she wore, so her words were just a mumble. “Just saying.” There was now no more sign of HER visible. Like a turtle tucked into her shell, she was once again an inanimate object perched on the sidewalk.

    Traci plucked at my sleeve impatiently, but I ignored her. I swung my little day-pack around and rummaged inside. I pulled out the little cloth hat that my mother made me take along for fear sun burn. With Traci curling a lip in disgust, I put it on. I looked one more time at the ‘bag lady,’ but she made no sign of awareness, much less approval.

    I felt a little silly as we ran on, leaving the awkward moment behind us. Who was I trying to please, anyway?

    A block and a half up, Old Man Hanson came out of the bodega as we were walking past, and dumped a whole grocery bag of bread crumbs into the middle of the street. Mr. Lorenzo stopped sweeping the sidewalk in front of the bakery and started cussing at the old man in Italian. We were caught transfixed in between them when there was a sudden explosive flutter of wings all around us. Traci and I screamed and ducked as dozens of pigeons materialized, diving and swooping for the bread. Right on their tails were another half dozen huge seagulls jabbing and keening.

    At that moment, a big beer truck came chugging down the block. It shifted down noisily and blasted its horn at the mass of birds in the road. As one, they took to the air, dropping poo like sleet on everything below. Traci screeched and wailed as little white bombs landed in her exposed hair and on her shoulders. We high-tailed it back home, the yen for doughnuts forgotten.

    The ‘bag lady’ knew this street and knew its goings on better than anyone else. She knew about the escalating war between the shop keepers who wanted to slow down traffic on the street and didn’t mind employing the birds to do it, and the shop keepers who resented the mess it made. She knew that this little skirmish was played out every morning at that particular time. Why she chose to take pity on us to try and warn us, I can only speculate.

    The next time I saw her familiar form, I aimed a shy ‘hi’ at her bundle of blankets. She didn’t speak or even show her face, but I could swear I saw the gleam of one eye peeking out between her layers, and that one eye winked.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      I love this story, it’s warm, heartfelt and.beautiful. the first thing that came to mind was the scene from My Fair Lady and that gorgeous song, ‘Feed The Birds. I guess I’m a romantic this morning. Thanks for a wonderful start on my week.

  3. SittingDuck

    INCORRECT METHODS

    I had only started my job four days ago, and already I hovered on the brink of quitting. If anyone would have asked, I would have told them it didn’t pay enough, or that it didn’t suit me. However, the main reason I wanted to leave was the not pay rate, or my manager, but the customers themselves. They were more difficult and high maintenance than any other aspect of the job I could think of.

    Four days ago, I walked into the supermarket that was desperate enough to hire me, and headed directly to the manager’s office in the back, as I had been instructed. It didn’t help that I was already several minutes late and lacking a good attitude. She gave me an uninterested look before motioning for me to sit down on the plastic chair beside her. Abruptly, she handed me a standard uniform with a small tag and sent me off to begin. After only five minutes of stacking tampons, I was ready to be done.
    Then, I met the fastidious person I will perhaps ever encounter. She stood about five and a half feet tall, wearing loud clothing, and sporting a cringe-worthy look of hair a color of red that obviously didn’t suit her, probably very cheap.
    At first, I didn’t notice her arrival (like any regular shopper, I thought she would just continue browsing until she found what she wanted) until she had been standing behind me for several minutes, arms crossed as if to look superior. It became clear that she was not satisfied with something. I sighed inwardly and turned my head at an awkward angle to face her, and then asked as politely as I could manage if she needed help finding anything. Instead of answering right away, she simply rolled her eyes and pointed at the box of tampons in my hand.
    “I’m not sure if you realize this,” she remarked, “but you are assembling those incorrectly.” Her voice was somewhat scratchy as if she had just finished yelling for quite a while. I found it odd that there was a certain way to arrange boxes of tampons, but I knew it was unwise to ignore a customer, even if they had strange requests.
    “I’m sorry ma’am, but I’m only doing as I was told,” I replied.
    She shook her head in annoyance. “Well, whoever instructed you did a very poor job.” She wasn’t incorrect, because, in fact, no one had instructed me at all. “You’re stacking those on a very high shelf, which is most inconvenient to those lacking both height and a ladder. If you were doing this correctly, you would instead put those here,” she motioned at a full shelf several rows down,” and put the smaller boxes higher up since most women buy these in bulk and can’t reach the large boxes you are placing up there.”
    I opened my mouth to say something, but nothing came out. Her statement made sense, to some degree, but I was not about to re-arrange an entire display of hygiene products to satisfy one picky woman. Unsure of what to do, I set down my box and turned to face her completely.
    “My apologies for your dissatisfaction; I will speak to my manager about how you suggest they be arranged differently.”
    Her look of discontentment didn’t change. “See that you do.”
    I nodded in acknowledgment and went back to stacking the boxes. However, she still did not continue shopping, but instead, she continued to stand there and scowl.
    Irritably, I turned around again and asked if there was anything else she needed.
    She narrowed her eyes as if scanning me for something. “Yes, you need to iron your shirt; It’s very wrinkled and terribly unprofessional.”

    1. snuzcook

      Nice one, Sitting Duck. I love the ironic lens you’ve given us for this little tale. I have to applaud your MC’s perfectly professional response to his antagonist. His actions were entirely reasonable and understandable–no, indeed, he doesn’t seem to belong in this particular Bedlam.

  4. Jennifer Park

    11. The Advice

    [Follows “10. The Memento”, posted under “Things We Lose”. You can see a listing of the Darth Barbara saga chapters—all of which are posted under WD prompts—by clicking on my name above.]

    “Never take the first projector they offer you. Take the second one, instead.”

    This was the fifth time Otto had offered this advice, and it was completely wrong. Barbara had actually done a rotation in the weapons dispensary, and no one knew which projectors were better, never mind try to give one that did not shoot as well.

    Nevertheless, Barbara looked over the weapon she was handed, and politely asked for another one.

    The on-duty trainee politely obliged.

    “And the targets on this stall always start on the left.”

    This was a silly advice, on top of being wrong. Why would Barbara skimp on her weapons training? Her first externship assignment was going to be as a body guard for an ambassador. A nice, inconspicuous way of observing everything that was going on in the frontiers.

    Wouldn’t one want to be better trained, better challenged? “Thanks.”

    Since finding out that Barbara was, like him, a member of the secretive-elitist Fourth Estate, Otto had given her many insufferable advice, such as:

    “The second batch of food is always better at the cafeteria.” Wrong.

    “The smaller tents, ironically, give you more space per person.” Laughably wrong.

    “When the sergeant blinks twice during his instructions, you are supposed to ignore it.” No, no, no, no, no.

    He was even wrong about facts and lore.

    “The name ‘Fourth Estate’ has nothing to do with the number four. It is a pun, you see. We’re about ‘going forth.’ Get it?” The pun was, in fact, in the word ‘estate’.

    “Externs assigned to Bummesh never return alive.” There was that string of bad luck, but still, overall, not true.

    At least he was a very good shot and had a good instinct for tactics, so Barbara did not mind being teamed up with him. As long as he kept his mouth shut.

    The first target, indeed, did pop up from the left, but it was a misdirection, so he was half-right.

    They made their way very quickly through the gauntlet of targets. 100% so far.

    Then a shadow appeared in the distance that made Barbara frown. It did not look like any of the other targets.

    “Oh, I’ve seen this before,” Otto whispered, which meant he was going to be wrong. “When I go, it’s going to take a shot at me, but miss. You should duck at first, then shoot after it shoots at me. Got it?”

    Barbara was still staring. Something was very wrong.

    “OK. Now! Duck!” Otto shoved Barbara down to the ground as he exposed himself.

    The target, indeed, shot at him.

    It was not a projector shot.

    It was a grenade shot.

    It completely missed Otto, but killed him nonetheless.

    As debris fell all around her, Barbara stayed ducked under.

    More grenade shots.

    It was a real-live intruder, a disgruntled former trainee, and it intended to take down the whole building.

    And Otto had saved Barbara’s life.

    And Barbara was able to take it down.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      A sacrifice of a life for another is in the highest rhelm of man. Who knows if he didn’t know or perhaps he did and sacrificed his life. We will probably never know but the valor is in the air. A very active segment you have written and written it well. Keep them.coming Jennifer.

    2. snuzcook

      I love the Otto character you created for this one, Jennifer. You’ve told us volumes about him in an economy of words, and — satisfyingly — you dispatched him with the appropriate self-determination of the totally clueless. Bravo!

  5. writer_sk

    A WRONG TURN

    Rounding the corner onto Elm Street, I got the familiar feeling of unfamiliarity – I was lost. As my two-year-old’s sweat-soaked hair formed a gross netting on her red cheek, she woke and stretched her chubby arms over her head. She wasn’t heavy, but carrying anything against your body in the heat was exhausting. I could also feel the weight of my pack, it’s straps pulling my shoulders back. Derick had left right before Anaise was born to “tour with his band” but a quick Google search at the library had proven no such tour existed and that his band was not known to many outside the local circuit. In need of water and a rest I sat on the curb stone, relief flowing through my back, the brick wall behind it upright and strong against my weary muscles.

    “Try the alley if you’re looking for the main road,” a sultry but strong voice came from next to me. The waitress from the diner beneath whose sign I sat offered me outstretched hands which held a hot cup of coffee and a cold glass of water. Though I needed the water the coffee tempted me so that I thanked her and took a nice long slug.

    “Cream and sugar,” she said, waiting then handing me the water. After letting me get settled she asked where I was headed.

    “Well, I have a cousin in Aberdeen,” I drank long from the water and took out my daughter’s sippy cup to give her her juice. She was sleepy but calm.

    I became self-conscious as Em introduced herself.

    “Yea,” she said lifting an arm adorned with a full-sleeve tattoo containing all kinds of mis-matched imagery. “I’m the assistant manager here and I own a place in the trailer park up in Magnolia Heights. I got a three-year-old son.” She hesitated.

    “I have a spare area you and your daughter could crash. And…we’re looking for help at the restaurant if you need work.”

    “My family is expecting us up in Aberdeen.” I said, feeling the dry, bad taste of my lie. I’d planned on just showing up at my estranged family’s home.

    Em’s trailer was small and only semi-tidy but it was better than the homeless shelter and the cheeseburgers, fries and milkshakes were heaven compared to the soup kitchen.
    Em’s 3-year-old played well with my little Ana who loved splashing and getting all washed up in the small bathtub Em had.

    The days became weeks and I never left for my cousin’s place just as Em’s “husband” never came back from his “business trip.” Work at the diner was busy but I felt good pinning on my apron and kissing Ana before my shifts. Working opposite shifts from Em gave us free babysitting and allowed for our friendship to grow as we hung laundry and drank cheap beer in the evenings after the kids were asleep and the summer sun sunk below the horizon.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      Sometimes it’s the simple every day stories that make the most impression.on.me and this is a great example.of what I refer to. We live today thinking about ourselves, when we should be trying to help.those less fortunate in life.. the story also.hives a great exple of people helping other people to manage to get.by.

      The last sentence of the story is an excellent example of a wrap

  6. Kangarooo

    I was on my way home from work that evening. My legs were barely keeping up with my body, and my stomach growled loudly as I kept walking. I noticed a bright light coming from the side. When I realized it was from a Bajji shop my legs went towards it on its own accord as if a fly hopelessly going towards the light.

    I felt a shiver as I felt the strong cold wind blow against my way. I bought the bajji and before I could take a bite, it started drizzling. My heart started racing. I ran away trying to hide. I found stairs in a rundown building. I walked up the stairs and sat down on the steps. My body was trembling. I closed my eyes in fear. I leaned on the wall on the right side and covered my ears with my hands. I could only hear the loud pour of rain and my heartbeat as if someone was playing drums very fast.

    I ate the bajji to distract myself from the rain. I suddenly heard a girl’s voice saying, “It feels so warm and good. Doesn’t it?”.
    I was startled by the voice and turned around to see a black shadowy creature vanish immediately before my eyes. I was scared. I ran home as soon as the rain stopped.I hate this. I hate rain so much. I’m Ombrophobic.I fear rain. I know it’s irrational to fear it but I just cannot help it.

    I went to sleep with this annoying feeling that night.I saw that black shadowy girl again.
    “It feels so warm and good. Doesn’t it?”She said, and I nodded in response.
    I was eating bajji again in the steps and it started raining. Only this time I was a boy. It was raining and I was afraid, closed my eyes and ears and I was crying. The creature caressed my back.
    “Why do you think eating the hot bajji felt so good? Because it was raining and was so cold outside. We wouldn’t have enjoyed it this much without the rain. They both coexist so that we appreciate them more. I wish you would someday get to enjoy it as much as I do.”
    Strangely, I calmed down after that.
    “Please call me back once you’ve reached home safely.” It said and left.It spread its arms and seemed to enjoy the rain when it went. Then, a bright light in the middle appeared and seemed to burn that scene like a paper. I woke up and realized it was all a dream. It could very well have been from a real memory, and I might have forgotten it. No way to be sure.

    Several days later, I was walking along the same path in the night. It had very few and it started raining. I remembered the shadowy girl, and I didn’t run away. I closed my eyes. I was trembling with fear. My heart was beating so fast, and I couldn’t breathe well. I fell down on my knees trying to take a deep breath, and I lied down on my back to calm down. My heart rate steadily decreased back to normal. I slowly opened my eyes. It was exhilarating. I was glad to be alive for the first time in my life. The rain looked like little stars falling down from the skies due to the light. It was magical. I was lying on the road in the rain whole time till it passed.

    1. snuzcook

      This is a very enchanting story, Kangaroo. I very much like the message that choosing not to run away is the first step to being able to work through an irrational fear. What a lovely image for your narrator to be visited by a magical creature to give her this wise advice.

  7. Not-Only But-Also Riley

    Pants On Fire

    “I’ll only be here a couple days, then I’m outta your hair for good,” Aero followed his only friend like a dog begging for scraps. His similarity to a stray was so uncanny it made one question the line between human and animal.

    “Absolutely not,” Charles said, managing to sound calm, yet intense, a combination of moods found exclusively in mothers and the friends and family of pathological liars. Charles was not a mother.

    “You gotta believe me Charles, I don’t have nowhere else to go!” Aero cried after Charles. Charles opened the door and gestured Aero towards it.

    “But… movie night…” Aero whimpered, turning away from Charles to instead make eye contact with the paused picture of Brad Pitt, who was making an expression he much preferred over that on Charles’ face.

    “I have stuff to do tomorrow anyway, it’s fine if movie night ends a little early.”

    “Charles!” Aero stamped his foot on the ground, Brad Pitt and the bland, microwaveable popcorn leaving his eyesight. “This is not fair! You know that I’ve been going to that group, you’re supposed to help me!”

    “Letting you live with me because of a lie is not helping you it is enabling you…” Charles did feel pity for the man, and it showed in his voice. He didn’t want to lie, he just wanted the benefits that often came with it. In the end, we all do, just some can get these benefits keeping the lying to a minimum.

    “I’m not lying this time though, my apartment really was condemned, I just need a place to get on my feet…”

    “Why were the apartments condemned?” Charles interrupted him, forgetting everything he’d been told by Randy, the man running the pathological liar support group, Pants On Fire. Randy would have explained in a soothing voice that such a line of questioning often leads to more lies, and to instead confront the liar with a question along the lines of “Why would you lie to me in this way?”

    “I don’t know, structural issues or something.”

    “Or something?”

    “Listen,” Aero stepped right up to Charles. His smell furthered the dog comparison, but Charles didn’t notice. Instead he noticed the goop coating the man’s eyes, which were on the verge of tears. He noticed the stains on his shirt, the stubble dotting his chin and neck, the sunburn across his face, and the grease matting his hair to his scalp.

    It struck Charles that Aero was lying, but only because the truth was much worse. He was homeless, yes, but for at least a week, likely more. Charles wondered why his friend hadn’t told him, what had driven him to wait so long to ask.

    Sorrow hit Charles harder than the smell, and he put his hand on his friends shoulder.

    “You can have the couch.”

    1. GrahamLewis

      A complex but human story. And a good one. At first reading I was a bit confused as to which was the pathological liar, but on second read I got it.

    2. snuzcook

      Nice story, Riley. The MCs sudden shift into compassion despite his more rational judgment was refreshing. Don’t we all wish we could simply act upon generous impulse and what we see with our hearts, not what we think is the better ‘grown up’ decision to make?

  8. jwismann

    I apologize in advance for not following the prompt exactly. If you can forgive me, I hope you enjoy…

    The music on the platform sounded like Peaches and Herb’s “Shake Your Groove Thing” and I bobbed to the funky beat with all of the rhythm of a middle aged, pasty white accountant. I looked at myself in the window of the new Maglev train as it pulled into the station in Las Vegas, I realized that I did not look as much like a man shaking his “groove thing” as I did a molting chicken.

    The Maglev was an engineering marvel for which the liberals in California finally talked their constituency into paying. It was one of the safest ways to travel fast. Japan and China had them and they were very successful at moving those large populations. It was environmentally friendly and I could get to and from L.A. in less than an hour.

    The doors to the car opened and I realized that it was not “Shake Your Groove Thing” playing in the background, but “Take the Groove Train.” “Take the groove train, take the groove train, yeah, yeah,” it played over and over. Now, I am not a believer in the supernatural or messages found in random songs, but something told me not to board this train and take the considerably longer Amtrak train. However, the “groove train” was a 20 hour trip and I could not even leave until the evening, but I had an overwhelming urge to board it that night.

    I arrived at the Amtrak station at midnight to as requested by the Herb impersonator, boarded the train mechanically, and took a seat. (In case you are wondering, the Maglev made it to LA and back again since this morning.) I was still dressed and packed to go to work. I figured I would go to work the next morning and then return to my normal routine once all of this silliness was over. The train lurched and we were off; I laid my head on the window to doze.

    It was many hours into the trip and thus very early in the morning when I was awoken by a man sitting next to me. I sat up with a start and screamed a little. The man looked over at me with a look of annoyance and humor at my squawk but quickly went back to sleep. I readjusted myself and also fell back to sleep.

    We arrived at the station on time and I disembarked the train. I began walking down the path toward the exit and noticed again the song playing on the speakers. This time it was “It Didn’t Matter Anyway” by Hatfield and the North. Just about the time I placed the song, I heard a pounding and squealing. I turned just in time to see the nose of the Maglev train before it crashed into me and sent me flying into a concrete wall.

    As I lay here dying, I wonder what the next song will be.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      I’m dying to know myself. JW. Could it be “Take the A Train”, or perhaps, “Chattanooga Choo Choo, Take Me Home. Glenn Miller took that one and DuKe Ellington took the A train. Don’t apologize for not following the prompt. You did a better job than I did and the ending was perfect. Loved the description ‘molting chicken.’

      1. jwismann

        Not at all better. As much as the “groove train” thing made sense yesterday, I thought this morning how it doesn’t really make sense at all. There are grooves in the concrete (which is what I was thinking when i wrote it) but once it hits regular rail it really is not “groovy” at all. Oh, well, I hope it still works on some level. I guess there are grooves on the wheels and the rail, sort of. LOL

        I really enjoyed your love/lust story. Those first loves/infatuations are such an important part of our psyche and character. I have fond memories of the girls with whom I became infatuated. Love is so intense and fleeting at those young ages. They are exciting to have lived through and to look back on. Thanks for the kind words and for sharing from your own life’s storybook.

      1. jwismann

        I have heard similar stories like this one told and I just read The Appointment at Samarra (which also seems familiar though I did not remember it by the title alone). I love how the seriousness of an issue like death allows the comedy to really break through. This is why I love tension so much, it breeds comedy. This is true in stories and in life. The funniest laughs are usually under some kind of intense circumstance or topic being discussed. Thanks for reading!

  9. Pete

    Quiz time and the classroom is quiet. Only a few sniffles, Brent’s jackhammer foot tapping. The mowers humming on the other side of the window. I search the page for answers I know off the bat. It’s not a lengthy scan.

    I have to pass this quiz. I’m already treading a C- and staring at a D. Dinner conversation has taken a turn for the worse. We’re talking a loss of privileges, meaning my Xbox, cell phone confiscation. I fear another hike at the parkway with my mom’s boyfriend.

    I stare out the window, as though a cheerleader squad might just parade past, hoisting a banner with the answer key. Never happened before, but you never know.

    “Thrash. Number four. I know that one, it’s B. The answer is B.”

    The hairs on my neck stand. I search the room. All heads are down, pens to the page. It’s like some secret I don’t know.

    “Thrash.”

    Oh no. No. No. No.

    “Hey Thrash.”

    My dad stands at the doorway, the same baggy t-shirt, low-hanging cut off shorts. His chain wallet bouncing with his excitement. I close my eyes, squeeze them tight, thinking maybe, just maybe he’s not really there. But he is.

    “Dad. Stop. Not now, please.”

    A few glances my way. I’m new at the art of whispering, just like I’m new at the art of seeing my Dad—a guy with horrible timing.

    He makes this big show of sneak-walking to my desk. When he leans over and taps the page, I get a whiff of him. A slight metallic smell, oil and grit. I’ve seen videos of Dad skating in the old machine shop turned skate house. The one demolished a few years back.

    “It’s B,” he says, no longer sneaky but excited, jumping around. His worn black Van’s squeak on the floor. How can no one hear this? I can’t help but study him. He was a skater, in the X-Games. Even got the attention of a few sponsors. Things were looking up, until…well.

    Mom said he used to duct tape the soles back on.

    I turn away from his…glow? Allure? His crackling energy. It’s hard to explain, but you can’t look at my dad and not fall into every word he says. But the thing is, he’s, well, dead. Even with his bright eyes and crooked smile that leave you believing, or wanting to believe, that you can live dangerously, that nothing bad could ever happen.

    But it can.

    It did.

    Again, I attempt to whisper out of the side of my mouth. “I do now. Please, stop.”

    My face goes hot, my brain thumping at the temples to get out of my head. I turn to him again. “Just go away.”

    Crap. More faces turn to me. Mr. Leonard—he of old tweed and gray grizzle, clears his throat, his chair squeaking as he shifts, his eyes flipping to the class then back to the book.
    Dad makes a face. Mom said Mr. Leonard taught him too, which doesn’t do me any favors. The first time this happened, I thought maybe he could see Dad, too. Then I realized it was ridiculous.
    Now Dad walks up to the front of class, stops and smiles at his old teacher, I can’t help but hold my breath as Mr. Leonard fixes his wire frame glasses, lowers his novel. His as in HIS—he’s reading his own novel.

    “Charlie? Everything okay back there?”

    Double crap. Dad looks at me then to Mr. Leonard. Back and forth. “Man, this guy’s getting old, huh?”

    “Da—” I cover my mouth before I say it. Dad leans close, an inch away, inspecting Mr. Leonard’s every wrinkle. A runaway smile hits my face.

    Mr. Leonard cocks his head. “Excuse me?”

    “I uh…”

    The entire class looks at me, the giggling crazy seeing\imagining\dreaming\watching his Dad do this goofy shuffle dance in the front of the room.

    Mr. Leonard finds a pen. “Charlie, do you need to take a trip to the office. Or perhaps see the nurse?”

    I pull it together, shaking my head as Dad circles around and scoots up behind Mr. Leonard, dancing around like he’s possessed. How can Mr. Leonard not at least feel it?

    “No sir,” I croak. Dad drops his arms, cranes his neck over Mr. Leonard’s shoulder, scanning the answer key to the quiz. He looks up and cracks a smile. “Told you it was B.”

    Mr. Leonard is getting impatient. “Very well. Shall we get back to our quiz?”

    I nod, drop my eyes to the guesswork that is my quiz. Dad makes his way to me, soles slapping the floor. He slides up next to me. “Shall we, Thrash?” he says, mimicking Mr. Leonard, tapping my quiz. “Shall thee get back to thou assignment? Thou shalt not fail thou assignment if thee listens to thou father.”

    I lose it all over again. I’m cracking up hard. Again the entire class whips around, gawking at the nut who sees ghosts. Mr. Leonard takes a deep, nasally breath through the thick forest of nose airs, sets the novel down. Great. Now I’ve failed the quiz AND gotten kicked out of class.

    “Is something funny, Charlie?”

    “No uh, no sir.”

    Dad looks confused, as though he has no idea. Almost like he’s, like he’s disappointed in me. Like he has any right. Shouldn’t I be disappointed in him, crossing that train trestle…when Mom was pregnant with me? For being stupid and dying before I ever got to know him.

    I hold my breath as he backs out of the doorway. Then he tops and mouths “B,” before vanishing for good. For today. I still don’t know if it really happened, but I fill in number four: B.

    It’s probably the only answer I’ll get right anyway.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      Great read Pete, so full of emotion and you clobbered me with being inside Thrash’s head while taking the test. It seemed so real to me. Mind telling me what inspired you so to write something with so much feeling.

    2. writer_sk

      I liked this. The description of the skater dad was really well-done down to the worn sneakers. I thought the image of the cheerleaders holding up the answers was creative. The main char was insteresting.

      You could expand on this “modern kid w skater dad ghost” premise – it’s intriguing.

    3. snuzcook

      Thoroughly enjoyed this, Pete! The visuals you painted were vivid and incredibly entertaining. Learning only at the end that your MC never met his dad added an entirely different take on the visions he was having. Nice response to the prompt.

    4. jwismann

      I really like the language in this piece. You really capture the mind of a teen (as best as I can remember LOL). The story is great. I agree with writer_sk that you could expand on this theme.

  10. GrahamLewis

    TAKE IT FROM ME

    “Don’t go. I got something to say. Please.”

    Seemed odd, a common-place phrase coming from what can only be described as an ugly ghost. Pale and floaty and luminous against the midnight black. Ghastly green except for the eyes, which were the sharpest red I ever saw, a scar-pocked and stitched face, and a sort of saggy and misshapen body. At the foot of my bed.

    I’d awakened to a rustling sigh of my name. I’d sat up, rubbed my eyes, and looked twice. Then jumped to my feet. It was the “please,” I think, that kept me from losing it altogether. I doubted an evil spirit would be polite. Besides, he was between me and the door, so I where would I go?

    I sank into my bedside chair and tried to steady my breathing. He cleared his throat. I didn’t know ghosts did that. But I’d never met one before. I waited for him to speak.

    “You don’t know me, do you?” The voice almost pleaded.

    I said I didn’t believe we’d had the pleasure of being introduced.

    “You’re wrong,” he sighed.

    The voice was familiar, but I couldn’t have forgotten that face — or stop staring.

    “Don’t look at the face, you dumb shit,” he snapped. “Listen to my voice.”

    The “dumb-shit” comment cleared it up. Ray the Rat. “Of course,” I said, politely, “how you been?” I’d been looking for him since he nearly got me killed in a double-cross and did get me 5 years in the pen. I found out later he ratted on everyone, hence the moniker.

    “How’m I doing?,” he snorted. “Look at me.”

    I said he didn’t look so good.

    “Damn right. I got dynamited on a bank job and it took me forever to cobble enough body parts together to make this visit. It really is Hell and I’m at the bottom. But I gotta chance to work my way up. You’re my first step.”

    I didn’t like the sound of that. “Meaning?”

    He sighed. “Listen, I only got a few minutes. Don’t go on that job tomorrow. Or any more jobs. Ever.”

    My turn to snort. “What’re you on about? It’s a cakewalk.”

    “Don’t matter. Trust me.”

    “Trust you? Ray the Rat?”

    “Here it is. You can avoid this” — he pointed at himself with one of his mismatched arms — “if you go straight, but it has to be right now. One chance”

    I laughed. “So some loser appears to me in a booze-induced dream and I become a model citizen? I don’t think so.”

    He moaned, and began to fade. “Take it from me,” he hissed, “if you listen I get redemption points and you stay out of Hell. If you don’t we’ll both regret it.”

    My alarm went off. I shook off the dream, and pulled off the job. And lots more. Never heard from Ray again. Now that I’m getting older I wonder about that night, if I’ll ever get another chance. Probably not. Dammit.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      Graham, it looks like we’re down here by ourselves. No matter. I loved this story and the premise. Life Time crooks are hard to turn around. Can.you imagine asking Clyde to quit robbing banks?.conversation between the two were of classic form. Tough enough to be realistic and amusing at the same time. This prompt was tough for me and I had to bend it a lot.

      1. GrahamLewis

        It’s lonely at the top, Kerry. And thanks for the kind words.

        Glad you’re here at least. This isn’t your first piece about Barbara, right? Is she real, or at least based on a real person? Because a lot of emotion shows through in your writing, even after all the years. And I’m not sure “lust” is the best word — your feelings sound more sincere.

        1. Kerry Charlton

          She is definitely real and I may have made the mistake of my life, not pursuing her more. Hell, no one has a brain at eighteen. At least not me.

    2. writer_sk

      Cool, GL, loved this.

      I would like to see what happened when your MC went on the job he was warned against.

      You got a lot across in the short conversation.

    3. snuzcook

      Nice choice, Graham. I liked the whole premise, and I was surprised that your MC didn’t take Ray the Rat’s advice, nothing bad happened, but years later still recognized that he should have done.

  11. Kerry Charlton

    A LUST FOR BARBARA

    When I walked into the student union building the first Friday I started at The University Of Miami, I had reached the glorious age of eighteen, thought I knew it all about girls from listening to my older brother and was ready to mix with three and a half thousand coeds who graced the campus. I had figured it might take more than four years to work my way through all of them and decided to go for looks, not brain power. [Shallow Kerry] For the fifties, my thinking was in sync.

    A freshman mixer dance was underway in the main room with a live band playing rumba, tango and foxtrot. At the Sigma Chi house, my fraternity brothers were drinking beer and telling wild stories. Not I you understand, on the prowl was my game. And then I saw her across the dance floor. She looked bored stiff dancing with a goof- ball, no neck football guy. He outweighed me by forty pounds but I knew I could out run him, so I cut in on them. Turns out he was polite and left us.

    She was brunette, tall with a gorgeous figure and a devastating smile. I could not believe my luck as she danced close and whispered in my ear,
    “I’m Barbara you dance well.”
    “So do you. I’m Kerry and I live in Miami.”
    “Oh, you’re a native born here?”
    “No, I’m from Philadelphia, you have a New Jersey accent.”
    “You’re so right, I’m from Trenton and my Father owns a shoe factory there.”
    I drove her through Coral Gables, Coconut Grove then over to Miami Beach. She had to be back in her dorm by eleven, so I dropped her off and kissed her on her cheek. Smartest thing I ever did. That Friday, I took Barbara to the movies, then over to ‘Jimmy’s Hurricane’ for a snack. The car hops wore skates which amused Barbara.

    She hinted to me she wanted to park by Biscayne Bay and I took her to my favorite spot. Underneath all the swagger, was me, shy, not sure of myself and un-experienced. She taught me how to kiss that night but nothing further. When I dropped her off and drove back to the fraternity house. it was quiet, I sat in the main room and closed my eyes. Our twenty pound calico house cat sauntered over and jumped into my lap. I loved this cat and she returned it to me. Her brown eyes stared into mine and I asked her a question,
    “Miss Kitty, what am I supposed to do now?”
    She lifted her head up and started to meow and meow and meow.
    “What are you trying to say old girl?”
    She closed her eyes and fell deep asleep in my lap. She loved to have her ears and face covered by my hand and I did so. I got another meow from her and she fell back asleep. I went to sleep myself and in the middle of the night, my eyes opened and I thought, ‘You’re way out of your league Kerry, go easy, go soft if you know what’s good for you.’
    I dated Barbara for a couple of months, treated her as she should have been and parted friends. In our senior year, Barbara made Who’s Who In American Colleges, was on the Student Board of Directors, editor of the Miami Hurricane and graduated Summa Cum Laude.
    Thanks for a good time Barbara.

    1. writer_sk

      Kerry – lovely piece. I agree w Graham – it was love more than lust. Seemed like the one that got away.

      Anyway, loved the scenery, sights and sounds.

      Saying I love cats is an understatement, so I really enjoyed hearing about your cat. A good man is kind to animals! (For the record my husband loves dogs, cats, birds, marine wildlife, insects and on and on! Haha.)

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