Hello writers! A little teaser here for our next monthly writing challenge, StoryADay May. Check out my thoughts on this challenge and get yourself over to the official StoryADay website to sign up and receive prompts and motivation throughout the month of May.
Yesterday StoryADay participants were challenged to write a 30-minute warm-up story. So, here goes:
Prompt: Write a story in 30 minutes. At least 100 words. No more than 1000 words. Brainstorm a character, a desire, and a problem.
Carol needed to get her husband fired from his job. The man was seriously depressed. Okay, maybe that was overstating things. He was on a trajectory of unhappiness. He’d put in a good fifteen years as a claims adjuster at a respectable insurance company. He could actually retire in five years if he stuck with it. He’d be forty years old. Who retires at forty!? What are you supposed to do, buy a condo in Florida and take up watercolor painting? Start a brand new career? Carol knew her husband. He would be just as miserable as a 40-year-old retiree as he was now. The man needed a change. Or he needed to accept the fact that a job can simply put food on the table. It doesn’t have to define you.
She’d tried to get him to take up a hobby. If he was dead set on slogging out the next five years at this miserable job, at least he could try to take his mind off of it on the weekends. They’d started running. Carol now ran three times a week, had steadily increased her mileage, and even ran a few 5Ks. The expensive running shoes she’d bought her husband now gathered dust in the back of his closet.
They’d started a book club. Her husband cheated and read the Wikipedia page for the first book. She knew because she’d edited the page earlier that day to introduce an error. Something small, but that she was sure would get his attention. The book club eventually disbanded. Carol’s husband didn’t complain.
She’d taken him to some cooking classes and wine-tasting events. They’d started a cheese-of-the-month subscription service and bought expensive cast iron pans. She’d presented him with his and hers aprons for their anniversary. Here, she thought she had made some progress. When she was laid up at home with bronchitis he made her chicken noodle soup—from scratch. She could remember how happy it had made her. The shredded chicken, the golden broth, the little slices of celery and carrots. Only later, when the garbage bag ripped on the way to the dumpster, did she see the empty boxes of chicken stock, the greasy plastic shell that once held a supermarket rotisserie chicken.
None of this would have bothered Carol five years ago. But she was 39. And she wanted a baby. Her husband wasn’t exactly opposed to the idea. He would just prefer that everything else in their life be completely worked out before they took that final and irrevocable step. There were some things he could compromise on, sure. Maybe they could get pregnant first and then find a bigger place, and then pay off the last of their student loans. But his job. His horrible, slogging, khaki-pants-and-polo-shirt, black hole of time job! That’s what he meant when he said he didn’t feel ready, that he just didn’t feel like the kind of person who would be a good dad. The man had defined himself by his job. And he hated that f*cking job.
Their plan had always been “let’s just see how we feel in a couple of years, and if it happens, it happens; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.” Screw that! That was six years ago. Carol should have frozen her eggs. It was probably too late for that now.
And then Carol’s husband said something. Just an offhand comment. He would probably deny saying it if asked. “Sometimes I think it would be better for us if I just got fired.” She’d paused at the breakfast table, a spoonful of cereal half raised to her mouth. Was he serious? No. He’d already changed the subject. But Carol couldn’t get the idea out of her head. What if he was fired? There would be no time for him to recover from that before her biological clock ground to a halt. They would have to just pull the trigger. But he would never be fired. Mr. Reliable? Mr. Adjuster of the Year four years running, with a collection of stupid plaques and no raises, no promotions? Yeah right, he was the company’s workhorse. But still, she couldn’t get the idea out of her mind.
* * *
Carol watched the little circle spin in the center of her husband’s laptop. The one he’d received as a company perk a year-and-a-half ago, to make it easier for him to bring his awful, soul-deadening work home with him on the weekends. The last download was complete. She looked with pride on her handiwork. File after file scrolled across the screen: Cindy.mpg, Jacquie.jpg, Amber.mpeg, Chrissie.avi. Inside, enough porn to get even the Adjuster of the Year unceremoniously handed his hat. She turned off the laptop and placed it carefully back in her husband’s briefcase.
It was 8:45 a.m. The human resources staff would not be in yet. She dialed, waited for voicemail, and coughed, lowering her voice just a bit. “Um hi, oh god, this is really awkward. I’m a part of the cleaning crew in your building and I just wanted to let you know that someone who works for you is always leaving really inappropriate pictures on his laptop when he leaves for the night. I think he must have disabled the screen saver or put it on a timer or something. I don’t know. It’s really disturbing. And me and the other girls, you know, we just don’t want to be looking at that stuff! We’re just trying to do our jobs. So, please look into this. Thank you.”
Carol had just ended the call when her husband burst through the door, breathless. “Hey, I think I forgot my laptop.” He scooped up the bag and gave her a peck on the cheek. Exasperated, sighing heavily, he added “And, now I’m late. And I have a meeting. Just perfect. Bye.”
“Bye.” Carol stood in the doorway, hands on her hips, watching her husband run-walk to the train station in his rumpled suit.
She’d make him a special dinner, she thought. Meat loaf, maybe. Or roasted chicken. Real comfort food, with mashed potatoes. And good wine. They’d need a few bottles of good wine.