[Write on Wednesday] That Wasn’t There A Minute Ago

Your character is at work, in a place they know well. Suddenly they notice something that wasn’t there last time they looked…

This week I’m giving you a fairly specific prompt, and guiding you through the story opening with a series of questions. Use this prompt in any setting, any genre, any time period. Use it again, in a completely different setting. In fact, why not bookmark it now (do people still bookmark things?) and come back to it whenever you’re stuck.
The Stare (243/365)

The Prompt

Your character is at work, in a place they know well. Suddenly they notice something that wasn’t there last time they looked.

Tips

Don’t try to answer all these questions at once. Write a sentence or two before you look at the next question:

  • What is your character seeing/experiencing/smelling/touching/thinking about as part of their daily grind?
  • What do they notice, that is out of place?
  • Why does it suddenly stand out?
  • How does it relate to the character? (Pause here to think about your character’s backstory. Don’t put this in the story yet, but in your own head give your character a reason to connect/recoil from this new thing.)
  • Describe the object, bearing in mind how your character feels about it (but don’t tell us how your character feels about it or why)
  • What does your character want to do? What will you let them do?
  • What happens next?
  • How does it end?

Go!

One thought on “[Write on Wednesday] That Wasn’t There A Minute Ago”

  1. Wednesday morning. The coffee is stale, surprising since they put in those new machines in the break room. It was supposed to make it easier, just pick out one of these little pods that are filled with grounds and drop it into the holster. Select your size and presto, the absolute perfect cup of coffee. Except that it never works. I couldn’t tell if the machine was broken or not, everyone else seemed to enjoy their choices, savoring each sip, watching the round of their nose as the steam drifted up underneath their nostrils. Then, on the other hand, there was me; peering into the stream of hot water that was pouring into my mug, black and slimy with the promise of caffeine, and then suddenly clear and cloudy, and then nothing. Every cup was hot dishwater, bitter smelling and even worse once it hit the buds on my tongue.
    It didn’t bother me that this was how I had to start every morning. I wasn’t used to the bitter coffee water, but there was plenty I wasn’t used to. I guess you could say I never really sank into a “routine,” despite the fact that I did the same exact things every morning, like clockwork. I came in through the same door, wearing the same oversized grey and white plaid coat that looked like it was for someone staying at a shelter (this is how I bought it, brand new. This was the in thing, this was chic.) I took the same hallway, every day; avoiding the too-toned women who wore their sneakers to work, took the stairs, and worried about changing into their heels afterwards. This is not to say I’m not chipper when I walk in. I always pass everyone by, flashing a smile, but every morning (and I guess this has become part of my “routine” as well,) someone will catch me drop the smile like a candle dripping wax all over my hands. Behind my eyes you can see me cursing the burns on my fingers, the analogy fitting for how condescendingly drippy people who make more money can be. I make it to my desk, mostly walking with a feigned confidence as if I can conquer the day, and I do feel that way sometimes; but then there is the coffee. The coffee always fucking gets me.
    Once I have my mug, I have to sit down at my desk, a desk like every other in the pen, wrangling in all the different walks of employee, ranging from the ambitiously heartfelt to the well-meaning nitwits to the pessimistic under-achievers. It was getting to be such a grey area that I wasn’t sure which category I fit into more. I had constant conversations with myself about my next step, all the things I would say to my boss and her boss (who also happens to be her husband.) Things like, “I would rather be broke than completely soulless,” “in what universe did someone tell you that you could talk to me that way?” And my personal favorite: “Fuck. You.” I spent at least three minutes of every hour daydreaming about just getting up and walking out, letting them think I died or was kidnapped because I never cleaned out my desk. But these people; they weren’t the type of people that worried.
    I was. I am. I find myself terrified of everything. Losing my job lately has been the key obsession, but it always has to be something. Losing my home, losing my husband, even my dog. The way she sleeps makes my blood trickle inside me as if all the capillaries had lungs and they all were gasping at the exact same moment. She slumbers lazily, the skin of her body drapes over her bones like a blanket, like someone tried to tuck her in and she fussed with her own living, breathing covers. The way her paws curl in, and she whimpers and snores at whatever she is pouncing on or running from, I am vigilant when I watch her, making sure she snores every once in a while, running my nose along her snout not to comfort her, but so I can test for breath.
    It is a safe assumption that I am not the worlds greatest sleeper.
    You would think life would be easier for me. On the rare occasions that I do sleep fully, I sleep next to a man twice the character of me, in depth and warmth and love, and without any of the begrudging or paranoia. He has patience, and is uncomplicated, his hands the ultimate contrary to his self, they are rough and calloused from meaningful labor. He is long and lean, all the muscles and sinew of his body winding down and around from his skull, all laced up in blood vessels and a hearty laugh.
    But then there is the coffee. So I digress.
    I have glasses, I should note that. It’s part of the “routine” now, taking the glasses off, wiping them down from skin oil and air pollution, and fixing them on my face, pulling them around my ears and following my lobes with my fingers. I didn’t have glasses before I settled for this meaningless office work. Staring at a computer all day, at numbers and figures and data that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things; this sort of thing can rot your brain out, and it starts with the eyes. That should have been my final straw, the glasses. But it wasn’t. I’m a quitter in theory. Too afraid to open my mouth but I can dream about it all I want, so there.
    After all this, I sit. I work. I daydream, I laugh at someone’s awful joke about the work we are doing, and “who said this to him and she did what? I can’t believe it!” I’m very good at being accommodating. Some days I can even manage to convince myself that I am happy, that I like what I do, that is makes me feel fulfilled and part of the world. Truly, I would hate being unemployed, but that’s because I am fidgety, not because I am dedicated. There are very few things I believe in being dedicated to, and none of them are non-conceptual.
    A lot of things around here catch the corner of my eyes and ears. A murmur here about my bosses’ husband sleeping with the her supervisor friend; a girl who just found out she was pregnant and doesn’t know how to report it to H.R. or when; a colleague checking their cellphone on their lap, their chair rolled in tightly to their desk. And then I noticed this strange, strange thing: Someone was packing up Valerie’s desk, and it wasn’t Valerie.
    It was in this moment, out of my eye’s corner, that I realized no one else was talking. Well they were talking, but on their phones, and it was all about work. Every person in the pen became masters of evasion, and Valerie was no where to be seen. But that was her mug that girl was touching. The purple mug, matte ceramic, with the obnoxious cartoon character, a thermometer sticking out of its mouth and a talk bubble that said “I hate mornings.” And those were her pens and highlighters, all being haphazardly dumped into a file box.
    It wasn’t as if Valerie was deserving to be fired; she was steadfastly on time, and never had papers scattered on her desk; usually a sign of a scattered employee. I felt the palpitation of fear start in the upper part of my ribs and quickly hopscotch into my throat. Why was she being fired? Was she being fired? For what? That supervisor slept with the bosses’ husband and she’s still making phone calls, what did Valerie do?
    It was happening too quickly. There wasn’t a goodbye. Whoever this person was whisked away with the file box, saying nothing out loud and saying everything in her haste. This was no sick day or maternity leave. This woman was gone, vanished into static, and the only thing my brain could stammer to me was ‘who is next?’
    I got up and walked to the bathroom area, searching for someone to bump into, someone in the know, someone with the word. Empty.
    How is it that in such a brief moment something could be taken from someone like that? I holed up in the bathroom to think. Oddly enough, I pulled down my slacks and sat on the toilet, not peeing, not having to pee, but feeling the need to authenticate my being there. I had to take it all in. Why would they rip something like a job out of someone’s life like this? Was there any warning? Did she plead? Did she get angry? Or worse yet, did she cry? No one knew, and if they did, they weren’t there to say anything. I suddenly felt the pressure of my health insurance on my shoulders. What was Valerie going to do? Was she going to find another job? Did she already? No, she couldn’t have otherwise she would have given notice, right? She didn’t seem like the type to just disappear. I had to know.
    My bosses’ office, a small, blaringly beige room with carpet tiles and two computer monitors, was on the way back to my desk. I tap danced around outside her door momentarily before going in, and as though I was ripping my foot out of my mouth for air I gushed, “Did she get fired?”
    She didn’t even look up from her desk. There was no sentiment, no calming, sad shrug as if she too were as lost as I was, disappointed and hurting for the tragic end of Valerie’s 401K. “You need to learn not to eavesdrop.”
    Look at me, I thought. My angry side was bubbling up, no where to go but out. I opened my mouth, finally having enough of whatever it was she was thinking of me, having enough of living in a judgment day that I never registered for.
    I could say nothing. What could I say? Please hire her back? Please, tell me everything, as if we were dear friends who barbequed together? I had a choice, I could pry some more, or I could reside in my anxiety, as was my usual route.
    “Can I do anything to help you?” I touched my nose, rubbing it off.
    “You can do your job.”
    I walked back to my desk, head held straight ahead, but laden with disdain. I had my two options, I could get up, and run the play in my head for real this time, go out in a blaze of glory; or I could listen, like the rest of the drones, and do my job.
    This was my moment, this could be my victory. I sat down and rolled my shoulders back. I felt my fingers clicking against the keyboard. I picked up my phone and dialed.

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