I took yesterday’s prompt quite literally and for my story “A Nice Pinot Grigio,” not only stole an idea from myself, but a whole passage I’d written almost a decade and a half ago. Save those old notebooks, writers!
Today’s prompt is all about how character can drive a story. Put her in a situation and show us her reaction.
Day 7 Prompt: Pick one of the following 4 scenarios. How would your character deal with this situation?
- Backed into a corner, your character tells a lie to protect him/her self.
- Your character has been plotting blood-chilling revenge on someone. Now both are sitting down to dinner together.
- Your character goes to a psychic, who tells them something frightening that changes how they see their future.
- Your character is obsessed with something. They think they will do anything to obtain it. The person they love most in the world stands in their way.
Well, I tried to do no. 4. I intended to write a story about a wife obsessed with cloning her dead dog, and her husband, who thinks it is a mistake and tries to keep her from doing it. It was supposed to be funny, and all about the wife’s character and her obsession, but it turned out to be a sort of tender story about the couple’s relationship, and their relationship to their dog. The obsession and the struggle sort of receded into the background.
Freya was a good dog. Steven certainly couldn’t argue with that. As a puppy, she’d been remarkably easy to house train. And she was a fine specimen of her breed. A beautiful toffee brown color, with a white nose, chest, and four white feet, as if she’d tipped forward into a bucket of paint and then scrambled out. Steven had done a fair amount of research, he recalled, before bringing her home to Dolores. Norwegian Lundehunds were small dogs, agile, hearty, advertised as “easy-to-live-with,” but quirky too, evolution having provided them with six toes on each foot and little pricked ears that could rotate like satellite dishes. Bred to roust puffins from tight spaces along the sea cliffs of Norway, lundehunds had extraordinary range of motion. Freya always concluded her morning stretch by bending her head backwards and touching her nose to her spine.
Dolores had been delighted. And little Freya had taken to her immediately, climbing the stairs to the writer’s loft he’d built above the garage and waiting patiently for attention, her little white muzzle resting on Dolores’s bare foot, her little back-springing tail twitching contentedly.
This was in the early days, when Steven and Dolores were both still aching, not only from the loss of their spouses, from the agony of their own powerlessness in the face of ravaging illness, but from the complete disruption of their life plans. Coming together at this time, they had fused to one another, almost as a matter of survival, selling the homes they had each intended to live out their days in, and purchasing this quiet house by the lake, with the big garden. They’d bought green Adirondack chairs and a firepit. In the evening, sipping wine and staring into the crackling fire, Freya content at their feet, Steven and Dolores were reassured that a Plan B could be built, not only on survival, but on happiness.
But time passed, and little Freya grew old. One morning she ran straight into a wall and sat, shaking her head as if a bee were buzzing in her ear. “All right there, girl?” Steven had taken her by the chin and looked in her eyes, and though she’d panted in recognition, she’d stared back at him with clouded eyes. When she could no longer manage the steep steps to the loft, Dolores had carried her, or wrote in the garden, where Freya could nap in a patch of morning sun.
There was, as there always is, eventually very bad news. They brought Freya home from the vet and Dolores just held her, for the longest time. Barely responsive, when they took her into the garden, Freya still raised her little nose to drink in the sweet summer air. Dolores wrapped her in blankets and sat, as Steven quietly made a fire and took his place beside her. After a while, though it was the middle of the night, he lit the grill and made hamburgers. And they cried together, briefly, when Freya tried to eat a mouthful but couldn’t. By morning, she was gone.
Dolores was calm. Resolute. Although this passing brought to mind other passings, perhaps reminded them that, by joining their lives, they had years ago accepted the dark cloud of future passings as the price paid for having someone nearby, for waking to see that person still sleeping, for moving, in a million silent, unchoreographed ways, in and out of each other’s space. But this time, Dolores had a plan. She had given it a great deal of thought. An unhealthy amount of thought, Steven had suggested, one morning at breakfast. Her plan was disturbing to him, in a way he could not quite articulate. But in the end, he could deny Dolores nothing.
And so, when Freya’s little heart had finally stopped beating, when her little curving tail had given its last flutter of recognition at Delores’s voice, Dolores had wept, had stroked her little friend and wept some more, but then had closed the lids over the little clouded eyes, wrapped the dog’s body in wet towels, and placed it on the top shelf of the refrigerator, where it would remain until the VitaGen representative came the next morning to swab Freya’s mouth for skin cells.
The cells would be flown overnight to Maryland. Eggs would be harvested from a donor dog and pulsed with ultraviolet light to strip them of their genetic material. Then Freya’s DNA would be inserted, and, in a scene straight out of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, a burst of electricity would be applied, to fuse the DNA to its host and jumpstart cell division. And voila, an embryo, ready for implantation in a surrogate dog. In approximately 60 days, a puppy. Dolores had explained to him that, miscarriages being common, and the runt of the litter sometimes not surviving, it was standard to implant five embryos at a time. The probability of more than one or two surviving was slim.
But probabilities are just that. As it happened, delivered to their house one sunny spring morning were four carbon copies of the puppy Steven had brought home with him a decade and a half ago. Emerging from a tiny dog carrier like clowns from a circus car, they stumbled over one another to explore their surroundings before falling asleep in a little exhausted heap on the sun-warmed slate of the patio.
They would keep them for two weeks, just long enough for Dolores to determine which was the most Freya-like. She was strictly forbidden from naming the other three, who had adoptive homes waiting for them.
* * *
Steven rose early, the Sunday paper tucked under one arm, and slipped out to the garden with his coffee. As he turned to pull the sliding door behind him, Freya II wriggled through the gap and stared up at him, her little head cocked to one side. Come on then, he muttered, leaving the door ajar so he would not have to come back and let her in if she changed her mind. Freya II followed him somberly to the patio and watched him sink into one of the Adirondacks. She sat on her haunches, her great wealth of toes all lined up in a row, and observed him, not impolitely. Her demeanor was so serious, so unlike that of a frolicking puppy, that Steven could almost believe that she was the original Freya, reincarnated.
Dolores soon joined them—Freya II’s three sisters padding along behind her—and took her seat, sitting, as she always did, with one leg bent beneath her. Freya II bounded over and settled at the base of the chair, her little white muzzle draped over the top of Dolores’s slipper. Steven glanced up from his paper, in mild surprise, when two of the other puppies, having observed their sister, draped themselves in like fashion over his own two feet. The fourth, looking about in dismay, finally clambered up onto Steven’s lap, circled once, and settled in, nose to tail.
They sat like that for a few moments before Steven ventured: “Are there many other goddesses, in Norse mythology? Or is it just Freya up there in Valhalla, with Thor and Odin?
“Oh no, there are others,” Dolores said evenly, not looking up from her writing.
“Who are they, then?”
“Well, there’s Sigyn. She’s like a mother nature or earth goddess. And Zisa, goddess of the harvest.”
Steven flexed his feet, one at a time, still covered with sleeping puppies. “And …?” He set down his paper and picked up the puppy in his lap, as if to inspect her.
Dolores didn’t miss a beat. “And Frigg, of course. Goddess of love and marriage. And destiny, I think.”
“Goddess of destiny, huh?” Steven set the puppy back down and patted it on its head.
“Mmm-hmm.” Dolores glanced up, suppressing a little smile.