StoryADay May – Day 8 – Conflict [updated: Sibling Rivalry]

Yesterday’s story, “Freya’s Return,” was meant to be a character sketch but wound up being a story about the relationship between two people, told through the life (and rebirth) of their dog.

I think I’m doing a pretty poor job of following the prompts. But … I’m writing stories!

Let’s get thinking about today’s prompt:

Day 8 Prompt: “Put your character in a mundane, everyday situation. Then introduce a strong element of conflict.” 

And as your character tries to resolve the conflict, throw obstacles in his or her way. As Nabokov said, “[t]he writer’s job is to get the main character up in a tree, and then once they are up there, throw rocks at them.”


When I thought of conflict I immediately wanted to write about sibling rivalry. And I decided to do something different and write my story in the form of a math problem. This is one of the nontraditional story forms suggested by John Dufresne in his book, FLASH! Writing the Very Short Story (see also, story as diary entry, personal ad, restaurant review, list, product advertisement, business memo, postcard). I was having some fun so I kept going and made it a little math test. I borrowed language from story problems I found on the Internet, but it has been a LONG time since I studied math, so please forgive me if the problems are not actually solvable.

Sibling Rivalry

1.  Carlos has taken several large doses of a prescription medication. The relationship between the elapsed time, t, in hours, since he took the first dose, and the amount of medication, M(t), in milligrams (mg), in his bloodstream is modeled by the following function:

M(t) = 20 ∙ e-0.8t

 In how many hours will Carlos have 1 mg of medication remaining in his bloodstream? Round your answer, if necessary, to the nearest hundredth.

2.  Five minutes before taking the medication, Carlos calls his younger sister, Graciela. Carlos and Graciela, long estranged, speak for five minutes before Carlos hangs up. Graciela, doubting Carlos’s sincerity and recalling past incidents that were mere cries for help, waits 5 minutes before leaving her house. But Carlos says he has a letter for Graciela. And he convinces her that it will be in her best interest to arrive first on the scene to retrieve it. Graciela leaves her house at 2:15 p.m.

Graciela lives with her husband Craig in a sprawling gated community on the other side of town from Carlos’s apartment. It is a small town, only three miles square, and Graciela owns a fancy new SUV, but she is careful with it, and never exceeds the posted speed limit of 25 miles per hour. At 2:25 p.m., a train will pass by, just a block from Carlos’s apartment. If Graciela has not passed the tracks, she will have to stop and wait for the train to clear the tracks. This typically takes 4 minutes, but seems much longer.

Six minutes after calling his sister, Carlos calls 911. After 3 minutes on the line, 911 dispatch identifies Carlos’s location and notifies the local fire department. The closest fire station is 2.6 miles from Carlos’s apartment, on Carlos’s side of the train tracks. An ambulance, lights flashing and siren blaring, is immediately deployed, travelling 45 miles per hour.

Who will reach Carlos’s apartment first?

3.  Carlos is a high school band teacher. Finding himself between jobs, five years ago Carlos borrowed ​$500 from a storefront payday loan operation. Securing the loan with his most prized possession, an $8000 tuba, Carlos agreed to pay $95 biweekly. After six loan extensions, and having paid the maximum fees allowed by law, Carlos has still not paid off his loan. What is the total amount of interest that Carlos has paid? How much does he still owe?

4.  As a side gig, Carlos hauls music equipment from Chicago’s O’Hare airport to the Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo, MI, 86 miles away. Carlos’s old conversion van gets 14 mpg. Gas is currently $2.78/gallon in New Buffalo and $2.92/gallon in Chicago. Carlos gets paid $150 per trip. What is his net profit?

5.  Carlos sometimes stays to play blackjack at the casino while he waits to meet the stage manager. He winds up ahead only 34% of the time. But he gets meals comped and sometimes gets to see the band for free. How long will it take for Carlos to realize this is not the same as breaking even?

6.  Three weeks ago, Carlos and Graciela’s mother, Esperanta Ruiz, died of natural causes on her 99th birthday. Esperanta’s last will and testament, drafted by the family lawyer when Carlos and Graciela were children, provides that her modest estate, including her single-family home on a quiet, tree-lined street (value: $380,000) and her collection of autographed George Orwell memorabilia (value: $25,000), should be divided equally between her two children. Under this will, would Carlos’s inheritance cover his current debt? Would it provide him with a nice little down payment on a home in Wisconsin he has been eyeing, up in the North Woods, where he can fish and meditate and write a New York Times bestselling novel?

7.  Shortly after Esperanta’s death, a second will surfaced, drafted by Graciela’s lawyer just weeks before Esperanta’s death. This will leaves everything to Graciela. Graciela hires a legal team to defend this will in court and it is upheld. Graciela’s lawyer charges $500/hr and bills 127 hours to her case. Two associate attorneys, each billing $300/hr, bill 230 and 97 hours to the case, respectively. Costs, including filing fees, expert witness and court reporter fees, plus the cost of the very fancy legal pads and fountain pens Graciela’s lawyer insists on using, come to $10,289.56. Did Graciela spend more defending the will than she inherited? Was it still worth it?

8.  Graciela is married to Craig, a multi-millionaire movie producer with expansive holdings. Craig owns a Park Avenue penthouse worth $3.6 million more than his ranch in Colorado, and a chalet in the Swiss Alps that is worth twice as much as his Colorado estate and three times as much as his serialization rights in a blockbuster Hollywood action film, but only 1/4 the value of his classic car collection and 1/8 the value of his shares in a Silicon Valley startup. What is Craig’s net worth?

9.  Graciela and Craig have just celebrated their third wedding anniversary. Craig, who learned the hard way when his first marriage ended, insisted on a prenuptial agreement. The agreement provides that, if Graciela and Craig divorce within 5 years of their wedding day, Graciela receives nothing. On their fifth wedding anniversary, Graciela will receive a 1% interest in Craig’s estate. On their sixth wedding anniversary, she will receive an additional 2% interest in Craig’s estate; on their seventh anniversary, an additional 3% interest; on their eighth anniversary, an additional 4% interest; and on their ninth anniversary, an additional 5% interest. Under the agreement, adultery is grounds for immediate forfeiture of any interest Graciela has acquired in Craig’s estate. When Graciela and Craig have been married for ten years, the agreement expires, and the laws of the great state of Utopia, a community property jurisdiction, will apply in full force. How much money will Graciela have after each of her wedding anniversaries?

10. One week ago, Carlos left instructions with his lawyer to randomly deliver one of seven sealed envelopes to Craig each year on the day before Craig and Graciela’s wedding anniversary. Six of the envelopes contain unsolicited screenplay submissions, of the sort Craig receives hundreds of every week. The plots of three of the screenplays center on a young(ish) wife having an affair with the grown son of her rich, elderly husband. The seventh envelope contains photographic evidence of Graciela’s longtime affair with Craig’s adult son, Carlton. The letter that Carlos has for Graciela, that she is currently making her way across town to retrieve, is a copy of the lawyer’s instructions.

What are Graciela’s chances of living happily ever after?

Please show your work.