- Prompt: Write a short story, of 700 words or fewer, based on the photo at left (or below for mobile users).You can be funny, poignant, witty, etc.; it is, after all, your story.
Thank you to everyone who entered and made Your Story #85 a success! The top 5 entries are as follows. Vote for your favorite in the comments or email email@example.com with “Your Story #85 Vote” in the subject line.
Voting deadline: November 29, 2017.
I’m leaning my head back, my face pummelled and smoothed by different fingertips, and each time I open my eyes to the horizontal band of sky ahead, I see more watery shades of inky blue. In spite of the early start, I like this time of day, the clinical smell of professional products, the clatter of plastic and metal on steel trolleys, the soft bristles as they sweep across my skin. The girls nearby tap at their phones and coo at the array of props being brought out, stacked in glossy, sugary colours. Across the stretch of car park, the set is still starkly underdressed; I see Rick discussing the shoot with his assistants, two lights directed towards the cavity of a limousine interior.
We will have billowing ballgowns, expansive, gold-flecked hair, and exaggeratedly sculpted champagne glasses in our hands. “Like an extravagant prom night”, I was told, with a forgotten fairy tale thrown into the mix, intersecting limbs, worn-out shoes, silver leaves and diamond branches, faces tantalisingly turned at different angles. The magazine had sent me a large coffee-table book of Rick’s work, and I did enjoy it – women emerging through clouds of pink smoke; landing on lawns in spaceships; famous faces dramatically obscured by asymmetric haircuts. In his mind, he envisages the inner section of the car transforming, mid-journey, into a forest, a row of steeply descending steps.
You would like Rick. He wears the same grey jumper every time I see him – his skin is soft, and his muscles are taut but soft around his stomach, and, close up, he has a spatter of freckles across his nose. He sketched me a few weeks ago, in the orange lamplight, converting my lengths and angles into smooth curves of gentle cross-hatching. My eyes catch the mirror and I see it again, that strange compound of heavily emphasised jaw and brows. I feel him watching me, across the concrete, and I ignore him, hoping he can see the half-smile on my painted lips.
He asked me, too, about our town – that’s why I think you would like him. I told him about the gritty dust in summer, insects thwacking onto the windscreens. I told him about your honey-coloured kitchen with its framed embroideries, and the silent industriousness of your house, your eyes flicking from book to paper as we did our homework together. I remembered that we had first seen a limousine in the cartoon strip of a cereal packet – it rammed through the panel, streamers and balloons flying, a swimming pool splashing out of the trunk. I laughed when I told him that we spoke about how wonderful that would be, to lounge about in water wherever we went.
It was you who first cast me as a villain, as a princess; the cardboard dress-up box allowed me to compartmentalise my expanding range of carefully manufactured behaviours. With my mother preoccupied with Jake, and my jeans constantly too short, it was something to retreat into, something that was entirely my own. And that’s why even before that day at the cinema, I felt as if I was able to glide around invisibly, precisely observing everyone else, while remaining completely hidden from view. So when they pulled me aside and took polaroids of me standing against a yellow wall, I looked across the thick popcorn-strewn carpet at your sceptical, disapproving eyes and honestly, it felt as if you were all snapping at a smooth shell partition that divided me firmly from the rest of the world.
And yet, it would feel better to tell you all of this in person, but even if we were talking at the moment, that would be a clear impossibility. Rick is not, after all, the person who calls the shots in this town, and I’ve decided, for now, that some arrangements are tolerable, if they help me, ultimately, to steer my own course. But I am interested to know if, a few months from now, when this photo shoot starts streaming down your news feed, our bids for the golden statuettes firmly in motion, you think of the plans we had for that freewheeling swimming pool, the floating lives we might have had.
Katherine watched as the crime investigators packed up. They’d brought her vintage limousine—its dated exterior allowing it to disappear into the sea of self-importance that flooded Washington, DC these days—to a nearby parking structure after they’d shipped the body off to the morgue. The death of her intelligence asset had been regrettable, but at least the CSI guys from the metro police hadn’t linked her or her driver to the accident.
Her asset—codenamed Ophir—was a special member of her coterie of informants that she handled for the DSS. Not only had the intelligence he’d provided over the years proven to be of the highest quality, but he’d also managed to get himself repeatedly promoted to increasingly sensitive positions within the Israeli Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations—Mossad.
Katherine regularly read his secure messages, but almost never met with him face-to-face. When Ophir reached out a few days earlier with the request to meet in person, one of her secretaries replied with a categorical denial. Standard procedure. But Ophir insisted they meet in-person immediately. Against her better judgment, she acquiesced. His urgency worried her.
She’d been waiting for twenty minutes when Ophir finally arrived. He walked by the outdoor café where she was sitting, only pausing long enough to be noticed. She slipped a few bucks under the saucer of her coffee cup and stood to follow him. She walked up beside him as they waited for the traffic light to change.
“You begged to have this meeting, and yet you have the audacity to show up late?” she said while staring straight ahead, her seething words pressed through her clenched teeth.
“It was unavoidable,” he said as he glanced at her. The lights changed and they walked forward. “I promise, it’ll be worth your time.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” she said as they strode ahead of the sluggish afternoon foot traffic. “Please, do tell me what is so damn urgent.”
“There’s a mole in the DSS,” he said without emotion. She laughed.
“There are moles everywhere in the State Department. They’re a nuisance for sure, but rarely amount to more than future double agents.”
“Not this one,” he said as they approached the next intersection. “This one is very high ranking. Very dangerous.”
“How do you know that? What’s your source?”
He glanced at her. “I have copies of secure cables from one of our assets in Damascus.”
“I’ll have to see them,” she said to him, and then looked ahead again. She pulled out her mobile phone and tapped out a message. He didn’t seem to notice. They walked ahead for the next few blocks in silence before stopping at another crosswalk.
“Have you told anyone else about this?” she asked.
“No,” he said as he looked at her. “I would never do that.”
“Good,” she said as she looked up and down the street. His gaze never faltered. “Come on. Let’s get ahead of this crowd,” she said as she took a hurried step off the curb into the street. Ophir followed without looking. He trusted her. That was his mistake.
She’d expected him to be thrown in the air in a somersaulting display like what happened in the movies. At the speed the limousine was traveling, the impact—his body smashing into the bumper and windshield before falling back to the concrete street—would surely have killed him. But that didn’t happen. Instead, he simply disappeared. The sound of the impact was muted as his body was sucked beneath the front of the car. She heard a crunching sound like sea shells being crushed in a wet bag of sand. The armored limo bounced over him and skidded to a stop. Bystanders screamed. Her plan had worked.
It was over now. The CSI team had cleaned up the physical mess—removing the bloody smear off the street and undercarriage with a power washer. Now she had to clean up the rest of the mess Ophir had left—like that Mossad asset in Syria. Whoever it was needed to be eliminated. She just hoped no one else knew. She was really getting tired of killing people to protect her secrets.
Wednesday afternoon, a handsome, wealthy, attorney handling only affluent clients came to the restaurant. At least, that’s how Lawrence described himself to me during his introduction. He was dressed in a sharp, fitted, navy blue suit, white shirt, and silk, monochromatic blue tie. He asked me, “How long have you been waiting tables?”
Jokingly I replied, “I’m new, so forgive me if your meal lands on your lap.”
He replied quite sternly, “Don’t make excuses for your mistakes.” I thought he was joking, but his face lacked a hint of a smile. In the same tone he continued, “Come to dinner with me Saturday night.”
I ignored his invitation, which seemed more like a demand and asked, “How long have you been an attorney?”
He replied, “As long as I’ve wanted.”
Confused and curious I questioned, “What kind of answer is that?”
“The only one you’re going to get.”
Lawrence placed his order: fillet mignon cooked rare, baked potato and green beans instead of the broccoli. Staring into my eyes he added, “I’ll have bottled water. Tap is for the wait staff.”
As soon as I brought his food to the table, he took his fork and inspected a piece of meat. “Saturday night I’ll take you to a restaurant that makes this one look like fast food.”
I quickly responded, “I enjoy fast food; it’s unpretentious. Besides, I haven’t agreed to any date.”
As I waited another table, Lawrence waved me over complaining his green beans were overcooked. I offered to replace them, but he didn’t have time because he was meeting a client. I carefully removed his glass, plate and utensils trying not to drop anything on him or the floor. As I cleared the table, he asked, “So, are we on for Saturday night?”
Something about him was mysterious and intriguing. Not to appear eager I replied with a tentative, “I guess so.”
With his phone in hand, he asked, “What’s your name and number? I’ll call for your address.”
I took out my phone and said, “First, you tell my your number,” and he did.
After the exchange, I left his table to get the check. He paid with cash; instead of a tip, he left a note stating he would make it up to me on Saturday night.
He waited until Saturday morning before calling asking for my address. I told him to park in the upper tier of the parking garage next to my apartment building at 7:00p.m. He asked, “Why can’t I just pick you up at your apartment?”
“I don’t know you well enough to come into my apartment. Is that a problem?”
“No, it’s not a problem, but it’s weird.”
“Not to me.”
“Okay, I’ll meet you there. Do you have any nice clothes to wear?”
“Lawrence, you better shape up before tonight, or this date isn’t going to take off! I look good in anything.”
“Okay, calm down.”
The adrenaline was rushing through my veins as I waited for Lawrence in the parking garage. I arrived early in anticipation of the evening’s events. The minutes passed slowly until I heard the sound of an engine circling slowly around the garage. Lawrence wanted to impress me and arrived in a black stretch limo.
Waiting for Lawrence were three FBI agents, colleagues of mine, with cameras. He was told to remain in the vehicle while it was searched. Lawrence wasn’t an attorney; he was an unemployed jewelry store employee and safecracker who stole hundreds of thousands in jewels. His ex-fiancée went to the police after he broke off their engagement. Her story wasn’t enough; we needed evidence. I ran the prints from Lawrence’s glass and utensils; they matched perfectly with the ones found in the safe at the store. In the trunk of the limo, Lawrence had suitcases packed for a getaway. Hidden inside one was a small sack of jewels: rubies, diamonds, pearls, sapphires and emeralds.
As I walked towards the limo, I heard Lawrence pleading, “Please, I needed the money to pay bills!”
I yelled to him, “Don’t make excuses for your mistakes!”
Drawing in a sharp breath of the chilly morning air, I rubbed the remaining sleep dust from my eyes. Willing my brain into action, I run check-lists and various scenarios for how the day would unfold. Determined to ensure the day’s shoot goes off without a hitch, but now desperate for a caffeine hit. I pick-up my cell phone ready to activate the assistant, but as I do he rings.
Having confirmed the coffee order I am thankful for how ambitious this young runner is. I catch myself thinking “he’ll go far” only to spend a couple of minutes contemplating what that actually means. Knowing all too well that success is a combination of both happy circumstance and hard work, and that often times the best people seem to have luck simply pass them by. I quickly change my train of thought, before the cynicism sets in.
As much as the early morning routine was now a habit, this was the third shoot this week with an early call time. I still battled with the early rise, and it had taken well over two and half hours for the gaffer to finally get the lighting “just so”. The director beckoned to me once again. I must sit in situ, a substitute for the 20-something recently signed starlet.
As I climb into the back of the limousine, the lights wash over me. I feel my childhood dreams rise to the surface, I allow them to, if only just for a moment to overcome me. It is beautiful, I feel giddy from nerves, with excitement mounting as I see the bright lights of New York glimmer across the windows, reflecting on the sleek black exterior as I travel towards my destiny.
Clack, I am torn from this abstract. The limo now in darkness except for the faint glow of the early morning light which is finally shining into the parking garage. Gone is the happy snapshot of how I thought my life would be.
As I step into the cold, embracing my job once more, I employ my usual deadpan expression. I call to organise the collection of the dailies for later that day. Then I move onto my to-do list for the upcoming shoots. I keep myself busy, my emotions easily distracted by my soulless mind-numbing work. In my world, there was no time for melancholy.
As the young artist arrives, she is ushered into wardrobe. The set springs to life with renewed purpose. The crew is hyped. The buzz lifts my mood, gently elevating me into a serene calm, it’s all good now, and we are on schedule.
I momentarily look down noticing the clapperboard, for the briefest moment I see my name where the artists should be. I barely let the thought linger, I will not live in the past, and I have been behind the scenes long enough to know how childhood dreams can end badly with broken dreams and bit parts.
The action around me increases as they prepare for the first scene, the make-up artist does her final touches. Before spinning the chair around and asking the director what he thinks. She is beautiful, radiant. My life pulls sharply into focus, as I think how I had looked like that once too.
As they begin a run through, I brief the assistants on what to do, and before I know it, they are ready to shoot the first take. It goes quickly with my expert crew, and soon we are sitting reviewing the first take. “What do you think?” she questions, needing reassurance just a little too much, but I do not miss a beat, “You did great! It’s a really good take!”
As they reset the scene, everyone settles back into first position and takes their places. I sit at the monitor just before the camera rolls. Before me, my beautiful vision is brought to life, but this time on 16mm. Again emotion overwhelms me, the enormity of this moment catches me at the back of my throat. “How do you know her again?” the assistant asks. I smile, holding back tears. “She is my daughter.”
I’d taken this assignment just to get some experience. If I waited here in the dark and she actually showed up, this could be a little bit of money in my pocket and a notch on my belt.
She evidently had her own camera men. They had their tripods set up already and were just waiting at the back-store entrance for her to come belting out to be surprised, wink, wink.
My legs had gone numb. The only place to hide in waiting was behind my own little Volkswagen van with my tiny camera. I’d have to get some money in my bank account before I could get anything even close to what these gents have.
I crouched there, my arms the next part to begin to betray me. They were trembling furiously with weakness as I tried to stay upright.
The underground garage was getting so cold that my nose had gone from dripping to icicles and I’m sure the next step was falling off onto the hard pavement. I can just imagine the offended appendage shattering as my quarry slipped into her car.
Just as I stood to give up, in dismay, I saw the star of the show come bounding around the hood of her car. What the …! It was supposed to be Marilyn Monroe, but instead appeared to be Lassie. She alluded her crew and leaped over to my van, scurried under it, completely coating her back and her belly with the oil that continually dripped from the undercarriage of my ride.
Her accompanying gang ran after her with shouts of anger. She seemed undaunted as she scooted to me and began to lap my frozen nose with exuberance. My nose quickly thawed with her administrations and began running past my lips and off my chin. It didn’t seem to bother her in the least and she continued until I just fell completely over backwards. I attempted to get up, but with my numb legs and my new friend the act was beyond me. I lay there like a turtle on its back and prepared for the next tongue lashing I would get. Maybe they wouldn’t notice me in the dark.
No such luck, they rounded the van to see what had attracted their charge and stood around me in a semicircle.
I must have been the funniest distraction, that pulled their four-legged friend away, that they’d had in a long time. They laughed until they could hardly breathe, shook their heads and walked back the way they had come. Not one of them even said a word to me. I was obviously beneath their notice. I heard one say to his buddy. “Hank, it’s your turn to give her a bath.”
I learned the next day that Marilyn Monroe was in the next car garage over. I never even told my boss I attempted getting the coveted pictures. It was just too embarrassing.
But to my chagrin, my own picture was in the paper the next week, titled Frolicking With A Star. Harvey called me into his office. He sat waiting for me with his fingertip stuck to the paper on his desk. It was his arch enemy. His main rival paper’s own reporter who had witnessed my debacle. “If it wasn’t so funny,” he said, “I could be mad. You got a week.”
I walked for almost a week, looking for an opportunity to find my perfect picture that would pull me up from my level of shame. Everybody was somewhere else and nobody was where I was. How was a newspaper man supposed to get a start?
I wondered a deserted alley. I looked up at a low laugh, and over the backyard fence at the swimming pool, I saw to my surprise a head pop up beside the collie’s wet locks. I snapped a picture or two just to make sure I had a good one.
As I dropped the picture on my boss’s desk the next morning, he looked over, did a double-take and grinned at my title, Frolicking With A Star: Marilyn Monroe swimming in a pool with her dog.