Saturday, April 23, 2011

Writing Sample: "The Return"

It’s time for another sample of my writing, I think.

This story was another submission to the Creative Copy Challenge.  It’s a little different for me – evidently I’m a bit of a romantic.  ;^)

This one is also unedited – it’s exactly as it turned out as a rough draft, and as it originally posted HERE.

The ten words for this writing prompt were:

1.         Vaudevillian
2.         Snapping turtle 
3.         Spork
4.         Wielding
5.         Ninja
6.         Monkey
7.         Yard
8.         Belly button
9.         Lint
10.       Festival

I hope you enjoy this, and – as always, your thoughts and comments are always welcome.  
Thank you for reading!


"The Return"

I brushed the lint off my twill jacket, let out a sigh, and pushed my way through the door of Peterson's Five and Dime.  I normally wouldn't have set foot in the store, preferring to avoid the looks I get from Edna Peterson and her cronies, but this was a work assignment and my editor had insisted. 
I hadn't been inside in over three years, but once my eyes adjusted to the dim and dusty light, not much seemed to have changed.  Sam and Edna still stocked a hodgepodge of merchandise, with eccentric schlock mingled in among the usual fabrics, kitchen-ware, and tools.  As I made my way to the counter, I caught sight of a stuffed black monkey with a round clock shoved into its middle, the Roman 'VI' right where the monkey's belly button should be.  On another shelf, a ceramic Asian figurine perched, a quiver of toothpicks on its back and one clenched its hand, like a Ninja wielding its sword to help you clean your teeth.  I shook my head.  I couldn't believe the people of Coopersville actually bought this junk.
I reached the counter, but neither Edna nor Sam was there. I rang the tiny metallic bell on the counter and noticed that there was a life-size snapping turtle poised next to the bell.  I couldn't tell if it was stuffed or just a well-made imitation, but it did have a small shiny crank sticking out of its shell, so I knew it hadn't just been pulled from Langley Creek.  Edna came out from the curtain behind the counter as I was inspecting the turtle.
"Well, my word, if it isn't Andrew Lawrence.  I haven't seen you in ages.  Did you come in just to see our new music box?"
I looked up.  Edna was as prim as I remembered her.  A large lacey apron worn over her yellow dress; her graying hair pulled into a tight bun at the top of her head. She had a smile on her face, but there was curiosity in her eyes.
I suddenly felt flustered.  The words I had so carefully planned were lost.  "A music box?" was all that came out.
"Oh yes.  It's from France."  Her smile broadened and she reached for the crank.  "Listen to this."  There was clicking as Edna turned, but when she let go, instead of a melody, the turtle just gave out a metallic, "Clunk - Spork - Ching." 
Edna's face fell and I fought the urge to grin.
"Oh dear. Well, I'm sure Sam can fix it."  Edna tried to move on.  "Was there something I could help you with?"
I opened my jacket and pulled out my notebook.  "Actually there is.  We're going to run a story in The Daily about some of the tools of the new twentieth century. The Five and Dime is one of the first establishments in Coopersville to have a telephone.  I wanted to interview you about it."
The smile returned to Edna, and she patted her hair and smoothed her apron.  "Oh, I see.  Of course, we're very happy to help the paper however we can.  We've always tried to be at the forefront of any new invention, you know.  We were also one of the first to install electric lights.  Let me call Sam."   She turned and stuck her head behind the curtain and bellowed.  "Sam!  Andrew Lawrence is here.  He wants to ask us some questions."
I heard a deep response from the back and could not make out the muffled words.  But I had no problem with Edna's raised reply.  "No, it's not about his wife running off with that Vaudevillian.  It's about our telephone!"
I exhaled and looked down at the counter.  Three years later and it was still the first thing anyone in town thought of when they heard my name.  Although I was here to interview them, I knew I'd have to dodge too many questions myself.  Have I heard anything from Lizzie?  Did I know where she is?  Is she still with the Vaudeville troupe? 
I felt a heavy tightness in my chest. The dusty air inside the store had suddenly turned heavy and oppressive.  I spun and headed for the door.
"Wait," Edna called out behind me.  "Sam's coming.  Don't you want to ask your questions?"
The door closed on her as I stepped outside.  The interview could wait.  Or better, perhaps never happen at all.  Maybe it was time to rethink my whole career choice.  Maybe even head to Chicago.  There no-one would know me and I could just be Andrew Lawrence, reporter.  Not Andrew Lawrence, pathetic fool whose wife left him for a fast-talking comedian in a two-bit traveling variety show.
I walked aimlessly across town and found myself in the empty yard next to the Star Theatre.  Three years ago, the poles in the yard had been covered with advertisements for Whitman's Vaudeville Review.  'The Biggest Show in the Country', the shiny ads had proclaimed -- a lie as blatant as the ones Lizzie had told the preacher when we'd taken our marriage vows.
Damn.  I should have left Coopersville years ago.  The shame I'd endured only made the heartache worse.  The pain only deepened with each passing day, each furtive glance in my direction, each whispered comment behind my back. 
But I knew why I'd stayed.  In the depth of my heart, I'd always hoped that Lizzie would come home.  I'd stayed because I'd wanted to be here when she returned. 
But that was stupid, and I was blind as usual.  Lizzie was gone for good.  So I should leave also.  Coopersville was dead for me.
I looked up through misty eyes at the poles in the yard.  They were covered with new fliers, ads for the "Festival of Fabulous Song and Dance" that would begin at the Star next week.  Then, when I focused on the face of the smiling woman in the ad, I realized that I would be staying in Coopersville, for at least another week.
It was Lizzie.
She was coming home.

* * *
(C) Copyright 2011, Christopher J. Fries


Anonymous said...

Not sure how long this story is, but if it is under 1K words, you ought to submit it to EDF, it is the type of story they like to publish.

Good work.

Chris Fries said...


Thank you very much for the kind words. I'm happy that you enjoyed it.

However, since this piece was done as a posted prompt for another web site (CCC), I don't believe EDF would accept it. But I do actually have some other work currently in their slush pile, so who knows?