Most days I open the laptop, start a new document, and just start writing. This is part of training for me. If I think about it too hard or make a plan for what I’ll write, it feels forced. And while I imagine that kind of discipline to be quite helpful if I were actually writing a novel, for this warm up, it doesn’t seem the best approach. A free flow of ideas and words is what I need to get started. In time, I anticipate being more structured, having an outline, etc.
Thank you to those who provided feedback on the start of my short story in yesterday’s post. One of you replied in the comments, others on Facebook, and my most trusted friend as well as my husband responded via text. All shared insights that have me thinking and revising in my head. While my husband liked the idea of starting the story in the middle of the action, others wanted to know more about the couple before the plot changed. And I had the same nagging thought that there should be something about them that makes us care what happens next. We don’t have to like them necessarily, but we have to be intrigued enough to want to see what happens after they are sucked in.
Let’s try this again with a few tweaks. For a start, I need to change the female character’s name. I don’t know why I originally chose Elizabeth and Alan. They literally just came to me as I was typing, so I wrote them. I have no special feelings about those names. But then my husband referred to the female character as Liz. Oh dear. Anyone who knows our family will know that’s not a name I wish to attach to an endearing character, or really any character. Hence forth the female will be known as Amy. Again, no thought to the name; it just came to me as I paused in writing, raised my tea cup and took a drink.
Without further preamble, here’s my rewrite…
It was early autumn. The days were still reasonably warm and the sun shining into the evening. But in the house, it didn’t matter if it was winter, spring, summer, or fall. The blinds were drawn, and the temperature remained at an even 76 degrees. Amy and Alan had settled into their side-by-side armchairs hours ago. They’d made a pot of tea in their trusty forest green teapot with the chip in the spout, and this sat on the small table between them, though it was long empty. And while both of them might have liked another cup, neither had a strong enough desire to actually get up and make it.
And who would? Amy’s armchair was both lovely to look at (a rich brown and bittersweet paisley pattern) and as comfortable as the mattress the Princess in the “Princess and the Pea” sat on, pre-pea. Alan’s chair was a bit sturdier. It was a deep caramel leather wing-back, with wide arms and a generous seat. Both chairs also had matching footrests, which made the prospect of getting up for anything other than an obligatory bathroom break undesirable.
Bathroom breaks. This was something both Amy and Alan knew quite a lot about, actually. For both worked on the janitorial staff of a large office building downtown. They spent their days pushing carts full of supplies and cleaning equipment through the corridors of Wiley Properties, a real estate agency that employed several thousand. It wasn’t work that took creativity, unless you considered working out the best time to get in between visitors creative. But it was work that required energy. Amy would pause outside one of the 18 restrooms in her side of the building, taking a worn handkerchief from her pocket, and wiping it across her forehead. She liked to listen to podcasts of cooking shows through the tiny headphones plugged into her cell phone, which she kept tucked into the pocket of her coverall. Oh Amy didn’t cook. Heaven’s no. She was far too exhausted after a day’s work for that. But listening to cooking shows made her feel like someone who might cook, and she liked that.
Alan was different. No headphones or distractions for him. He approached each restroom as a general might approach a military invasion. First, he waited patiently to make his move. Seeing that the coast was clear, he’d plow through the door, pushing his cart heartily in front of him. Then he’d quickly grasp his spray bottle and rag and attack the counter tops. Dirty toilet bowl? No problem for Alan. With gusto he would fill the bowl with cleaner, plunge away as needed, then wipe the whole of it clean with industrial strength cleanser. Each time he finished working in one of the 18 restrooms he felt he’d won a battle. And no rest for the weary; time to move on to the next or start over again if he’d already made is way through the lot of them.
At the end of their shift, Amy and Alan would gather up their belongings from their respective lockers, and walk the six blocks together to the subway. They were fortunate that the office they worked in was so near a subway stop. For after a day of cleaning, wiping, emptying, and repeating 18 times, they were exhausted. They didn’t talk much on the walk home. They didn’t hold hands either, for most nights, even though they wore gloves at work, their hands ached.
Once they were home, they had a routine. They would prepare a meal of heated up left-overs. This was usually something Alan had made at the weekend. Despite Amy’s love of cooking shows, and fancying herself to have a desire to cook, she truly didn’t have the energy, even on weekends. So Alan would find a simple recipe on the web, usually something that could be done in a crockpot, and make up a large batch, so that they’d have meals for the week.
After dinner they’d settle into their chairs for the evening. But tonight, tonight something was different.
As the light outside the windows faded behind the shuttered blinds, Amy and Alan felt something odd. They both felt it simultaneously. Amy exclaimed, “Oh! Oh my!” at the same time as Alan shouted “Ouch!” They looked across the teapot at each other. Their eyes locked, and then a great and terrible whooshing sound roared through the house. And like two giant hairballs being sucked backwards down a drainpipe, Amy and Alan were sucked down through the seats of their chairs….and…
Whew! That was fun. I truly didn’t have any idea what I would write before I started. I just let the words come from my brain through my fingers to the keyboard. I did go back to reread and make a few edits, but they were minor. Better? Did you see Amy and Alan differently? Do you care what happens next? All thoughts and suggestions welcome. After all, this is just an exercise. I could drop this story like a hot potato, though I don’t think I will. I’m even more intrigued now to see what happens to them.
My tea cup has been empty for some time now. But my hour is nearly up, so until next time…