May 31, 2021
Write a story about someone who has just completed a huge challenge. What have they learned? What did they sacrifice? Was it worth it?
She looked at the test results and let out a long sigh of relief. Right there, in all caps, she could read UNDETECTABLE. But she knew that that didn’t mean her ordeal was over, only that the first step was behind her. She hadn’t talked to Chris in a couple of weeks, but from what he had told her the last time, his tests kept coming back negative. Doctors had explained that in some cases, very rare but still, it was possible that one of the partners didn’t get the virus, in spite of having unprotected sex with the carrier party frequently. That, she felt, was a small miracle of sorts, a compensation so that she could live with herself and focus on getting better. Because that was the one thing she had been clear about from the beginning: she could live with the consequences of her actions herself, but not with the damage that they could cause to a third person, more so if that third person was the love of her life.
Luke had made a number on her and now he was gone, almost as randomly as he had appeared in her life. Even if in the beginning this had made everything harder to process, she understood with time that it was exactly what she needed. Had he lingered, he would probably have made it harder on her—making sure, as he always did, that things turned out worse than they needed to. Without him in the picture, she had learned to forgive herself—but even that she refused to thank him for. All he had done from the moment he had appeared in her life was to cause destruction in the guise of helping, made himself a part of her life all while using her, not really pretending to care but making sure he went along whenever she believed he did.
The day she had called him to tell him he had given her HIV, she could tell by the tone of his voice when he picked up that he thought this would be the usual getting-back-in-touch call. She could feel it in his voice, and it set her blood on fire—she could finally see him for who he really was, and it was too late.
“You fucking idiot!” She shouted, and her voice retorted in her car, parked out in the middle of nowhere, as if she was worried that the walls in her house could hear her if she stayed. “You gave me HIV!”
She would have driven the three hours to Orlando and slapped him in the face for all it was worth, but even that seemed like a huge waste of time. The other end of the line went dead—she checked a couple of times, but the call was still connected, he was probably just as much in shock as she had been about an hour earlier when they’d called her back from the clinic.
“You fucking liar! You told me you were clean! I believed you!”
And that had been her undoing, of course. It had always been. Only that before it had been with stupid stuff like letting him take credit for her hard work, or lending him close to five thousand dollars after he had convinced her he was going to repay as soon as he got his next salary. But all that seemed so minor compared to this.
“What are you talking about?” He said in a little voice, lost maybe, incredulous too. “You have HIV?”
“Yes,” she doubled down. “Because you gave it to me.”
“Wait, no, that can’t be,” he said, and she knew where he was going with it. “It’s impossible you got it from me. I was clean, I told you, I didn’t lie about that.”
She put the phone away to take a deep breath. About that, he didn't lie, right. What about the other stuff? That was the reason she had decided to finally kick him out of her life, and eventually the reason why it had been so hard for her when she had gotten that call from the clinic earlier. She thought that it was all said and done whenever she had blocked him from all her social media and deleted his number. Little did she know that she’d have to go looking in her bookshelf for the old planner where she had jotted down his phone number that day they had met at the conference.
“Are you sure you got it from me?”
And there it was, the thousand bricks she somewhat was expecting but didn’t think he’d be able to throw at her just because, for some reason and with all she thought she knew about him, she didn’t expect him to sink that low.
“Are you insinuating that I got it from my husband? Is that what you’re talking about?”
But it wasn’t, and all she wanted was for him to have the guts to admit to her face what she knew he thought of her, probably from the time they met. That she was a whore beyond redemption, a flirt and a tease who enjoyed laughing at lousy comments in a hotel bar before heading back to her room, and would call it networking. Just because of that, to his eyes, he deserved everything and anything coming her way.
“You were the only one I ever slept with without protection, so I’ll let you draw the conclusions for that one.”
What a waste that was, and she didn’t even wait for him to reply and hung up before releasing a big sob and starting to cry uncontrollably, with her head against the steering wheel. It was almost impossible not to feel guilty; this was her punishment. From now on she’d be a cautionary tale, one of those her grandma would love to tell… And you know what happened to this woman that decided to sleep with someone other than her husband? She got HIV.
May 30, 2021
Take a story you wrote earlier this month, and write it again in a different way.
“Pain happens in different ways and exists in different dimensions. We can’t always understand the areas of our lives that it affects until it’s too late,” Lauren said, and for a split of a second her eyes met his. “Today, I want to introduce you to a friend. His name is Şerzan, we met at NYU.”
“Hello,” they all said in unison before proceeding to butcher his name.
“Şerzan is here because he works with the Art Museum, and he wants to put together an exhibit of art pieces created by refugees. I thought it’d be a great idea for our group therapy to have you all work on different pieces that can illustrate your challenges both before and after coming to America. So, what do you think?”
They nodded, but Lauren could tell that many of them didn’t really understand what she was talking about. Even though most of them had been in the program for close to a year, and were taking at least 3 hours of English lessons a day, they could barely understand her at times. She knew, though, that it was normal. With the things that most of them had seen and been through, it was a miracle that they had the mind to learn any English at all.
Şerzan discussed the project, and when he was done and the class broke to go get the refreshments, he was the first to stand up, grab a cookie and a cup of coffee, and walk to the big glass window that looked out to the city.
“A lot of them do the complete opposite, you know?” Lauren said, visibly intruding in his thoughts.
“Say what again?” He said, looking at her.
“Many of my clients, in this group. They tend to go to the inside of the room, far from the windows, so that if a bomb explodes they are less likely to get hurt with shards of glass and stuff.”
“I need a breather,” he said.
“I never said you didn’t,” she drew a vague smile. “You know, uh, you don’t need to do this if you don’t want to. I know that it must be hard for you to be here with people that trigger you.”
“What do you mean?” He turned again towards the window and took a bite of his cookie. “I want to be here, this is an important project for me. Besides, I already told my manager I’d put it together.”
“Look, I’m here if you need to talk.”
“Except that I don’t,” he said, calmly, but she could sense the dismissal in his voice. “I’m fine, I told you. I’m not some refugee who came here through a resettlement program. You said it yourself, we met at NYU.”
“That doesn’t change anything.”
“It changes it all.”
But it didn’t, and they both knew it. Still, she was certain that it was, as usual, the best way he had to cope with things. Lauren hadn’t always known Şerzan’s story, back in Turkey. It had taken him a lot to warm up to her, months if not years. In the beginning, they just used to hang out together at the Starbucks on campus. Lauren had done some mission work in the Middle-East, and it turned out that she had been to Kurdistan, in northern Iraq. That detail, that she had somewhat let slip during their casual introduction at a graduate school mixer, had become crucial in making Şerzan want to keep in touch, or at least that was how she felt.
“How’s Angie?” She asked, in turn looking at the window. It was none of her business, she knew it, but she still wanted to ask, “you two still sleeping together?”
“You know we are,” he said, nonchalant, almost as if wanting to rub it in her face.
“She has no clue about what you’re going through and somewhat you’re using her as therapy. Don’t you think she at least deserves to know some of the stuff her body is taking your mind away from?”
“Jeez,” he said, “that was one complex sentence. Are you always that poetic?”
“You know what I’m talking about, Şerzan,” she said. “Angie thinks you’re her friend, but you’re just using her.”
“That’s not really something you get to diagnose.”
“I just know it, Şerzan, and that’s not okay. She cares about you, about what happens to you.”
“Did she come to see you again?” He asked even though he already knew the answer.
“Look, she’s worried about you, that’s all. And to be honest, she deserves better than what you’re doing to her.”
“She has her boyfriend all the way in California, doesn’t she? Who’s playing who?”
“Oh. My. God. That’s not what I’m talking about but, you know, comments like this have me purposefully reminding myself that you’re not a bad person, just a good person who has been through some awful shit. But don’t expect me to play into your stupidity. You two are sleeping together, idiot, she’s not in love with you. She legitimately thinks you two are friends.”
“And I’m assuming then that she's sleeping with all of her friends?”
“Okay. Look, you’re being a jerk right now. She just cares too much about you, that’s all.” She took a deep breath, “you should at least have some human decency and tell her what’s going on, you know, with your village and your family.”
“She already pities me enough as it is, I don’t need her thinking that a hug can cure my afflictions—”
“Well, you don’t seem to have any problem with her believing that sex can.”
He didn’t say anything. Lauren liked Şerzan a lot, but there were times when she couldn’t handle his way of seeing life and of categorizing people, specially women. That had been something she had noticed a couple of times already, and it really bothered her. But that wasn’t her main concern, not yet at least, and sometimes she hated herself for caring more about what he could be feeling than how he was behaving.
May 29, 2021
Write a story in three sections, each section recounting the same event from a different character’s point of view.
Mami didn’t get along with Babaanne, and it was the worst-kept family secret. Both women were courteous when in the same room, but there was always this uncomfortable tension that could be felt from the moment you came in. And for that reason, among others, honestly, it was a pain to have Babaanne and Dede visit. But they still would, sometimes for months at a time. It was obvious that it was hard for Baba, certainly more than for the rest of us. It was, after all, his mother and his wife that couldn’t get along.
That one day we had guests coming in the afternoon. It had been 40 days since Hasan was born, and Babaanne had organized a little event with some of the Turkish women that lived in town. Mami hated them all, there was really not a softer way to put it, but it’s important to understand that the feeling was completely mutual. It’s also important to understand that Babaanne organized the event behind Mami’s back, giving her little more than a two-hour notice right after Mami asked Baba why she was cooking so many dishes. Baba would lie for years before actually admitting that he had known about the party all along but had never found the right way to tell Mami. He didn’t want to upset her, yet at the same time denying his mom the right to organize a Mevlud for who would be her first and only grandson was out of the question.
Baba and Dede left so that the women could feel more comfortable and, as they started arriving, some of them with children my age, we kids retreated to the toys’ room. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have left Mami alone in a room full of people that had never acted with anything other than disdain towards her. But I was a kid then, barely eight, and I didn’t understand the harm it could cause. Next thing I knew, there was a loud sound—glass breaking. I ran out to find Mami in tears, a tray upside-down in her hands, glass chattered at her feet, tea running over the floor. Babaanne’s face was white with fear. For the longest time, I thought that she was afraid of Mami, that in her angry streak she might do something to her. Later I’d understand that it was Baba she was afraid of, and what he’d say once he knew she’d driven Mami over the edge. That, also, was the reason why Babaanne didn’t reach for the phone or made any attempt to call Baba. It was me, horrified and worried, who had to call Baba and tell him to hurry back home because Mami’s feet were starting to bleed.
When her son called her to tell her that the baby was a boy, Sude Hanim told herself that that useless Colombian had finally done something right. It wasn’t a secret to anyone that she had been wanting a grandson from Murat for a long time now, but that good-for-nothing woman that he’d ended up marrying kept dodging the idea of a new child. The moment Murat said he was going to the US, Sude Hanim had known that her best bet was to have him get married and then move there with his wife. There were a lot of bad things that could happen to him in America, but the worst possible one was that he ended up marrying an American woman. It had happened to Filiz Hanim, whose son was supposed to get a master’s and then head back to Turkey but had instead found an American woman and had been living outside New Jersey for close to ten years. He had divorced his wife after five years together, as it was to be expected, but now he was stuck in the US because the wife had kept custody of their two kids, and he didn’t want to leave them behind.
Sude Hanim hadn’t gotten Murat married, there just wasn’t enough time, but she had succeeded in the second-best thing she could do—getting him engaged. The fiancé was an engineering student who had it very clear that after graduating she wanted to get married and start a family. But it was all in vain. Not even five months into his life in America, Murat had called off the engagement. It was too much pressure, he’d said. A couple of months later, when Sude Hanim had visited, he had introduced her to his “coworker”—a tiny little thing from a country called Colombia, who was unusually quiet and smiled all the time for no apparent reason. The next day, organizing his son's drawers he’d found a couple of t-shirts and underwear that they’d probably forgotten to hide. Eight months after she went back to Turkey, Murat announced over the phone that he’d gotten married, and six months later his wife had given birth to a premature little girl, that by the look of it was the biggest and fattest premature creature the world had ever seen.
But all of that had taken her to that moment, to the moment where she’d finally be able to introduce a grandson, named Hasan after her husband, to society, to all those women that she knew judged her for raising a man who—unlike their husbands—had turned his back on his Turkish culture the second he’d stepped foot in America. All she needed was that plain daughter-in-law of hers to take it easy and behave for a couple of hours, that was all she asked. She had made all the food, since in the eight years they’d been married that woman hadn’t even taken the time to learn how to cook something appropriate, and she had moved the furniture around to make sure that everyone could fit. She had asked Murat to drive her to the houses of all the Turkish families in town which, granted, weren’t that many, where she had enjoyed some tea while personally inviting them to little Hasan’s Mevlud. She had even found a woman who knew how to properly read the Quran and asked her to lead the ceremony.
The house was full within half an hour, and the women were talking with one another while Sude Hanim patted herself in the back looking at what seemed by all means like a successful event. All that Patricia had to do was bring the baby, sit down, and stay quiet. She had heard a little bawl earlier in the morning, but she didn’t know English so she wasn’t really sure what it was about. One thing she was sure of, though, was that her son had the patience of a saint. Sometimes, when they argued, that woman would be incredibly loud, and she couldn’t understand for the life of her how a woman dared raise her voice to her husband like that.
Patricia was sitting next to the chimney, with Hasan in a car seat on the floor next to her. The car seat was facing her, and to top it all she had covered it with a blanket, so no one could really see the baby. Sude Hanim was starting to get bothered. She tried to be cordial to Patricia every time other Turkish women were around, not wanting to give them the smallest reason to feel sorry for her daughter-in-law, but there was no way she could keep it going for much longer. It was then that it occurred to her that she should send her for tea. It was the bare minimum, and somehow the only one thing she had learned how to do. Patricia rolled her eyes but obliged, and as she walked toward the kitchen, Sude Hanim sat down on her chair, took the blanket out, and reached for little Hasan. He smelled like baby powder as she took him to her chest and the women started conveying towards her. Then, a noise, and when she turned around there was Patricia staring at her in anger, a tray upside-down in her hand, teacups shattered at her feet.
Years later Patricia would look back at that incident and recognize the beginning of the end of her marriage. That day, when Murat came home to find her, standing in the middle of broken glass, unable—or unwilling—to move, tears rolling down her face, there was very little he could do besides kicking all the women out. Of course, she had done it on purpose, she’d later on explain, lying in her bed with bandages on her feet; she simply hadn’t been able to stand his mother interfering in her life yet again. Who did she think she was to take her son out of his seat, more so when he was sleeping, finally, after being awake and crying all night? My mom probably didn’t know, Murat attempted to justify in vain. That same night Patricia would burst into the guest room, infuriated, taking every single one of their clothes and throwing them into the front lawn. She didn’t want to see his parents or their clothes when she woke up the next morning, and she’d made it very clear to Murat before retreating to their room and locking the door.
She knew something like that would happen, that was why she’d told Murat her parents should wait to come to meet the baby for a least a couple of months in order to give her some time to fully heal. Contrary to Hazel’s birth, Hasan’s had been incredibly long and painful and had ended in an emergency c-section that had saved both their lives after a placental abruption. She’d had nightmares months after the fact, in some the baby died, in some she was the one who hadn’t made it, leaving two kids behind. But he had already prevented them from being there for the birth, so there was no realistic way he could keep them away any longer. Murat felt guilty, and Patricia had known that even before she’d agreed to marry him not to outrage his mother. He felt guilty for breaking off an engagement he didn’t want, for falling in love with a woman who wasn’t Turkish or a Muslim, and for daring to make a life with her. He was so plagued by that guilt, that he had a constant need to overcompensate.
The thing was that, as patient as she had been, Patricia was starting to get fed up with him and his permanent need to make it up to his mom. That morning, she’d discovered in horror that Sude had organized a celebration for her son without her knowledge or consent and she’d invited those women who hated her so much and who she frankly despised. It was like being in a perpetual courtroom, always on the defendant’s chair. Those women would always find a reason to criticize her, her culture, her way of life—when Patricia frankly couldn’t see what was there to envy about the way they lived theirs. When she had confronted Murat about it, he’d made a half-assed apology about how he’d forgotten to mention the ceremony, and that it was an important tradition—funny how he’d later add insult to injury by telling her he wouldn’t be there because it was for women only.
Sude had ushered her to the kitchen to get tea ready for the guests, and she figured that it’d be a good time to take a break from all the unintelligible chit-chatting and weird stares. She went to the kitchen and carefully placed the tea the way she had been taught, then started walking back with her eyes on the glasses. But when she lifted her sight and saw Sude with the baby in her arms, that baby that she’d worked so hard to put down, she lost it. Enraged but without really thinking, she put the glasses down. As they broke, the boiling tea splashed on her feet and ankles, burning her skin. Tears were streaming down her face as she heard Hazel’s voice calling her name. She was there but she wasn’t there. It was too much for her already.
May 25, 2021
Someone finds two dates listed on a piece of paper. The dates are in their own handwriting, but they do not know what the dates mean. They have to find out what the dates signify.
Ximena wrecked the place. She remembered seeing it somewhere, she just didn’t remember where. There had always been this thing that happened to her every time she was looking for something, where she would see it everywhere except where it actually was. It was following one of those images in her mind that she opened the last kitchen drawer, the one next to the oven, in hopes that that would be the one. It wasn’t there either. Instead, there were a bunch of old take-out menus, and one in particular caught her attention. It was from a little pizza place that had gone out of business a long time ago, back when she was still living in that old apartment downtown. It seemed impossible, though, that she had kept it for so long. That would mean that she had taken it with her through two moves, including one overseas. She took a look at the menu, and, in the back, she noticed something—a phone number and two dates, 10/22/2001, 3/3/2001. Clearly her handwriting, but she wasn’t really sure what the dates were for.
October 22nd, 2001 she would’ve been nineteen, in Paris for her semester abroad, loving life. Fall 2001 had been by far the best semester ever, but there wasn’t a particular memory attached to that date. For March 3rd, 2001 she didn’t have that much recollection either. Second semester of Freshman year, one that she had tried hard to forget. She’d been struggling in a couple of classes from the get-go, Calculus and Lit. She remembered pulling a bunch of all-nighters trying to cram all the formulas in or write the perfect paper. One memory: not being able to turn in her first paper, even though she clearly remembered working hard on it. It took her only a couple of seconds for it to come back. She had missed the paper deadline because she was taking Jacob to the hospital after he had tried to kill himself. Or at least that was what he had made her believe, but then the doctors told her that the amount of pills he had ingested would at most cause him a very bad stomachache and diarrhea.
He had set up everything just right, the perfect scene. He had texted her, telling her that, since she wanted to end the relationship, he had no other option but to kill himself, because he couldn’t conceive living in a world without her. She had rushed to his place and had found him passed out on the sofa, bottles of pills scattered around. It’d turn out that most of them were from old prescriptions and were already empty. She remembered crying that night, back from the hospital, thinking that there was no way she could ever be in a relationship with someone so manipulative. A couple of days later she'd found out that she was pregnant. She had to be, after all, Jacob refused to wear a condom, even after she had told him that she still hadn’t been able to make an appointment to get on the pill.
Those were the dates, she remembered now. October 22nd was supposed to be her due date, and March 3rd was the date by which she had to go to the clinic if she wanted a medicated abortion. Wow. It had been nearly twenty years and, not once had she revisited that episode. There had to be a part of her that wanted to remember, though, otherwise there was no reason why she would’ve kept that take-out menu all those years. It’d been simple enough, and the nurse practitioner was a true angel. Over the phone, they had told her that she could bring someone with her—the child’s father, a family member, a friend… but everyone she knew at the time would’ve been too judgmental to bring along. She had made a decision even before she saw the two lines on the pregnancy test, so she didn’t really need anyone guilt-tripping her, trying to change her mind when she clearly wouldn’t.
She went to the clinic alone and left with an escort who offered to drive her back in case the blood loss would make her feel dizzy. It had been the most relieving feeling, to know that she wasn’t bound to him anymore, that she’d be able to move on with her life. She had hardly given it a second thought and, once the bleeding was over, it was as if she had been reborn. By the time October came, she was going around Paris, discovering places she'd never thought she’d be able to see. As fate would have it, she’d meet Marc close to the end of the semester, and they’d start a long-distance relationship. After graduation, she moved to France, where she lived for a little over ten years and had two children. They eventually divorced, vowing to remain friends, and she took the kids with her back to Florida.
Now, as she looked at the take-out menu, it became clear for her why she had kept it over all those years. It represented the moment in which she had been given a second chance—the chance to live the life she wanted. As she smiled, her oldest daughter, Cathy, fourteen, joined her in the kitchen.
“Earthquake?” She said, gesturing at all the open drawers around them.
“I was looking for the measuring tape, I wanted to hang some pictures in the living room.”
“And you need the measuring tape to…”
“Because I have this thing where I like to make sure everything is properly centered. But, of course, you know that already.”
“Weirdo,” she whispered as she reached for a hug. “I’m going out with some friends, there’s this movie we want to watch.”
“Sure,” she paused, then moved forward. “Hey.”
“Tell me,” Cathy looked at her and smiled, visibly in a hurry. “What’s up?”
“Nothing. Be careful.”
Clinging to the piece of paper, she waved her daughter goodbye. The day would come when they’d have that conversation, but for now, the story would remain hers.
May 24, 2021
I love concept albums, albums in which a singular story is told throughout the tracks. Some are silly, some are deep, but all of them are fascinating. Write the story that comes to you out of this lyric from Eagles’ Desperado album:
“The towns lay out across the dusty plains like graveyards filled with tombstones waiting for the names.”
She handed him a big mug of hot tea, then lied down and started sipping her own. The alarm clock next on the night stand indicated 2:06 and the window, that he had opened in a frenzy hoping to get some fresh air, showed a clear sky, pitch black, except for a couple of lights coming from the other buildings. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, facing the window, the mug in his hands, not moving a muscle.
After a couple of seconds, he rested the mug next to the alarm clock and turned around. His face was still pale, confused, his eyes lost somewhere else, half a world away.
“I think it’s better if I go back to my place,” he finally said.
Angie sat straight up, “At two in the morning? C’mon, just stay.”
He didn’t say anything, he never had. After having known him for close to two years, she was well aware that there were dark corners in his mind to which she would never be invited, and she had learned to accept it as part of their friendship. That night, there had been a call. It had woken her up, but not him. He was already awake, she could tell because he picked up right away, and started speaking in a language she couldn’t understand.
“I just—” he started. “I just want to be alone, if that’s okay.”
“Yeah, sure,” she said. “At least let me call you an Uber. You shouldn’t be driving at this time, and distraught as you are.”
She grabbed her phone, knowing that letting him go like that was probably not the right thing to do. But, what else could she do? In the beginning, when they’d met at the Museum where they both worked, she craved the intimacy of knowing things about him. He was very secretive, though, and all she could gather was that he was from Şırnak, a town in south-east Turkey and that he had graduated from an MFA program in NYU.
Even if with time they had grown closer, it had been with the silent agreement that his life had started the moment he had landed in JFK, and most of the things he shared were from his times in the city. Occasionally, he would share with her anecdotes from college. It was like that that she had learned that he had attended a prestigious Fine Arts school in Istanbul, nothing more. Whatever had happened before that, was a mystery to her.
“Remember that one time you asked me something about my hometown and I got really, really mad?”
Yeah, how to forget? That was at the beginning of their friendship, when they were still working at the same wing of the Museum and they had to see each other all the time. She had decided to google his hometown and had found out that in 1992 it had been nearly destroyed by the Turkish government. It was intriguing to her because that was around the time that he was born and she was curious about what it would be like to be born in the middle of a war zone. Her question to him was simple. Had he ever heard any stories or did he know anything surrounding his birth, the conditions, maybe, or how things had turned out for him at the time?
“I overreacted,” he said after a brief silence, probably understanding that she wouldn’t say a word. “Look, I want to apologize for that time, I was really bad to you. I don’t know how you still talk to me afterwards.”
Because she could feel the pain in his words—but she would never tell him that. And yes, that day tears had started rolling down her cheeks as she looked at him in the eye and he continued yelling at her how that was none of her concern, how she had to stop being so fucking nosey and mind her own fucking business. But she wasn’t crying because he had hurt her in any way. It was because she could see in his eyes how much he was hurting, and she knew that she had unearthed something he had fought way too hard to keep buried and presented it to him as some sort of evidence—like a puppy who unknowingly digs up something meant to stay buried. That was the reason why she had talked to him afterwards, and why she had continued to care about him because in his eyes she could see the same pain she had seen in the eyes of Papi all through her childhood. Papi, who had hidden in a closet while soldiers raped his mother and made his dad watch, accusing them of helping the FARC guerrillas. Papi, who had never really talked about it, other than when he would get drunk and beat up Mami as he shouted that he didn’t know what else to do to shut down the cries for help of his mother playing in his head.
“It’s okay,” Angie said, putting her phone away. “I’m serious when I say you can stay. The guest room is empty if you’d feel more comfortable.”
He didn’t say anything. Instead, he hugged her and she started getting a damp feeling on her shoulder—he was crying. She had never seen a man cry, ever. In her house, it was a sign of weakness, so neither Papi nor her brothers had ever let anybody see them cry. She wasn't even sure they had ever cried at all. For some reason, she had always assumed that it’d be the same for Şerzan. War is this thing that dries up peoples’ feelings to help them survive.
“They're evacuating my hometown,” he finally said, after gasping for air. “The Turkish military is coming again.”
And just like that he crumbled—the flood gates opened. All that he had concealed for so long was overflowing. Angie remained silent because she knew better than to probe for answers. He was finally starting to trust her and maybe, just maybe and with the right amount of patience, that would be the time that she’d learn what she wanted to know about his past.
May 23, 2021
Two options today: write a story in the form of a list, OR use this list of words in your story: gallery, contemplated, identity, point, behind, tastes, followed, forty, like, generations.
May 21, 2021
Write about the boy you see on either side of the reflection.
There was a little pond by our house. Rumor had it that it was there that people would go to score, and I would confirm that as a teenager, when Marco would send me in the middle of the night to pick up his dope. But back then we were only kids, Marco and I, and during the day, while Mami was at work and we were supposed to be staying with Güela, we liked to go hang out at that pond. It was easy to sneak out because Güela didn’t like to take care of us, and all she needed to hear was that we would be staying home watching TV and she would let us go. Then, about half-an-hour before Mami was due to arrive, she would come to our apartment and make it look like she had just brought us in to save Mami the five-minute detour to her place.
In the summer, a lot of children would play at the pond. Most of them were like us: kids whose parents worked long hours and didn’t have money to pay for a summer camp or other form of childcare, and resorted to leaving them with people who didn’t really take good care of them. Amadou was one of those kids. His parents were from Mali, and I knew that because we went to the same school, and had actually been in the same class since kindergarten. His mom was a part-time language teacher in the middle school, and I remember thinking they didn’t belong in our neighborhood. They seemed awfully sophisticated, and their French was definitely better than our Spanish. But over the summer, their struggles were the same as ours, and Amadou and Youssouf would be at the pond pretty much every day.
That one summer in particular we were ten. Our days in the pond were becoming more of a needed rendez-vous, and I was starting to miss Amadou whenever he didn’t show. He would always bring Cry Babies and would give me the blue ones because blue was my favorite color and my favorite flavor, too. In the beginning, whenever he wouldn’t come, I thought it was the candies that I missed. One day he told me he wouldn’t be there the next day, but that he had hidden extra candy for me right next to the pond to make up for it. The next day, as I unearthed the little ziplock bag with three blue Cry Babies—one more than usual—I understood it was him that I missed. I asked him the next day whether he’d let me hold his hand, and he said yes right away, so we just sat close to the pond, his hand in my hand, but without looking at each other.
“Yuck,” I heard someone say, and turned around. It was Carlos, a kid who was also in our class. He kept going, “Amadou’s holding a boy’s hand, gross.”
Amadou looked down, evidently ashamed, but he didn’t let go of my hand.
“You’re dumb, Carlos,” I told him. “No wonder your mama doesn’t love you and left your sorry ass.”
In my defense, I was only ten. But even then I knew it was wrong to say that to someone, so I might not have a defense after all. Carlos’ mom had left them, yes, but it was because she had been deported back to Guatemala. I’d only learn that later, though, when Mami had explained to us that that was the reason why we had stayed at home for a week, no school, no work, without turning on the lights, working the stove, nothing. Mami was scared that they would take her, too.
But, as wrong as I could’ve been, Carlos was still a goddamn snitch, and that same afternoon he went to his tía, who then went to Mami. Of course, I only learned about that the next day, when I was holding Amadou’s hand by the pond again and I saw Mami rushing to where we were, the devil in her eyes.
“Jesús sacramentado!” She shouted.
Amadou ran to Youssouf, who was playing ball with his friends, and I just stayed there, frozen.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” She looked at me in the eye, and I knew it was over, whenever there wouldn’t be people around, she’d kill me. She’d kill me and throw the body to the pond so that nobody could find me.
She dragged me back home by the arm and shouted for Marco to follow behind. She closed the door and looked at me as she grabbed the electrical cord. She’d never hit us while school was in session, that was how one of her friends had been deported—when the school had reported her daughter’s bruises to DCF. But during the summer, it was the perfect crime. She’d beat us up to her heart’s content, and require Güela stays with us and made sure nobody saw us while the wounds healed. I was bracing myself for quite a paliza at that time. But instead, she let the cord fall to her feet, approached me, got on her knees, and looked into my eyes.
“Papito, for Dios,” she told me, “don’t do that again, that’s not okay.”
I knew that what she was saying was important, because she was saying it in English. She had this thing where she’d talk to us in English whenever what she had to say was important and she wanted to make sure that we would understand her.
“What, Mami?” I asked, genuinely curious, “what did I do wrong?”
At the time, to be honest, I thought it was the candy. Mami didn’t like it when we ate candy—she didn’t have money to pay for the dentist.
“Boys can’t hold hands, papi, that’s wrong. Plus,” she said, resting her hands on my shoulders, “that boy is black.”
“So what?” I asked her, confused because our skin wasn’t exactly that many shades lighter.
“Maybe it doesn’t make sense now,” she told me, “but believe me, one day you’ll understand.”
As I grew up, many things she said turned out to be true—she was right about many of them. But for that one, she wasn’t. And as it turns out, I never understood.
May 20, 2021
Food can trigger visceral memories and strong emotions. Think of your favorite thing to eat and also your least favorite. Today, write a story inspired by food. Maybe your character is at a grocery store, or maybe they’re cooking at home with the kids. Maybe they’ve come across a fruit stand on the side of the road. The item you choose can be of central importance to the story or not. Anything goes!
Mami woke up early on graduation day to prepare breakfast. We usually had a bowl of cereal while we waited for them to get ready, but that day there was a smell of bacon coming from the kitchen—halal bacon, as Baba would say. When I approached her, I could tell she was in a good mood. Peepa and Cabi hadn’t woken up yet, and Baba was taking his shower, so it was only the two of us. Mami smiled when she saw me walk up to her, still in my pajamas, my hair a mess. She looked amazing, as usual, with her hair in a bun and her fleece pink sweats. When I was a little kid, I remember thinking that I had the most beautiful mom. And now, more than ten years later, I felt exactly the same way. Mami’s eyes were always smiling. I always thought it was funny to describe them that way, but it was the only adjective that would come to my mind. There was just something about them, a spark, that indicated that she was happy.
And she was happy, at least most of the time. She was bubbly and loud and laughing—like a good Colombian, she would say. It was true, though. Every single memory that I had of our visits to Colombia was of people in a backyard, eating carne asada and drinking beer, while they talked loudly over the music bursting through the speakers. Mami was happy then, too, visiting her familia and getting, like she would put it, to be herself if only for a little bit. That little bit was apparently enough for her, and after a week or two, she seemed all too willing to take the Bogota-Houston flight back to the life she had built in America.
There had been a time, though, when Mami hadn’t been so happy. She had been miserable, even. We were kids at the time, so there were a lot of things that we were unable to understand. There was always a screaming match going on between Mami and Baba, and it had all started around two or three years after we came back to America. The first five years of my life, as it would turn out, had been nothing but a blur. I was born here, then we went back to Turkey, Baba’s home country, only to come back not even five years later. “We didn’t come back,” Mami would always clarify, “they kicked us out like fucking dogs!” “Watch your language, please,” Baba would say, and that would only infuriate her more. “Oh, so ‘fucking’ is a problem, but it’s not a problem what your people did to us.” There was a lot of shouting and finger-pointing after that, and it wasn’t hard to tell that Mami’s words would hurt Baba at times—and that was why she chose them.
“Ready for the big day?” Mami said, as I dragged one of the bar stools and sat on the island. “I cooked your favorite.”
“Halal Turkey bacon,” I said.
“You know, you don’t need to call it that.” She rolled her eyes, “it’s just fucking bacon, you don’t need to make sure everyone knows you’re eating halal.”
I laughed, “I know, Mami. I just wanted to see your reaction.”
“Ugh, me da dolor de cabeza,” she said, massaging her temples. She had that thing where, whenever she would say something in Spanish, she would mimic it—her way of saying she didn’t trust our knowledge of her language enough to understand.
Before, back when Mami used to be sad, she would fight with Baba over a lot of that stuff. Food, religion, things like that. Mami understood that for Baba his religion was the only connection to his family and his country that he had left, but even though she understood it, it annoyed her beyond measure. When the fights happened at the time, neither of us children understood why simple things were such a big deal to one or to the other. Why Mami didn’t like when Baba emphasized that they only ate Turkey bacon, or why Baba found Mami’s annoyance particularly disrespectful. They each carried their own baggage, their own background to those conversations that we weren’t quite aware of, because we had either not been there, or were too small when it had happened.
Mami told me once that when we first came back to America, I was constantly drawing people behind bars. When baba was late coming home, I’d ask if the police had arrested him, and I’d wake up in the middle of the night, crying, thinking they had taken Baba away. Mami said she felt guilty, mostly because it was probably my reaction to the conversations they were having at home or in the car, or whenever Baba’s friends from Turkey came over. She often thought that they should be more careful, but sometimes the pain was such that they had to let it out, regardless of who could be listening. However, Mami also told me that back then I wasn’t alone in my fear. At that time, there had been a wave of kidnappings orchestrated by the Turkish government. Not in America, or even in Europe, of course—Mami would always clarify it that way—but in former Soviet countries and parts of Africa. Still, she was scared to death at the time, thinking that Baba could be next. Logic, I’d learn, did little to counter fear. Whenever Mami would call him and he didn’t pick up, for whatever reason, she’d go into a panic. They took him, she’d think, and he’s being tortured or in an unmarked plane on his way to Turkey. When she had told me that later, I remember thinking it made sense, after all, how she would break with every single little thing—what didn’t make sense that much was how she had held it together for so long.
“Mami,” I said, leaning close to her. “There’s a question I want to ask you, but you have to be honest with me.”
“Sure, papi, ask away,” she said, as she put the sizzling bacon on a plate in front of me.
“That night, the night of the Texas freeze, remember?”
“Uh-hum,” she said but didn’t make eye contact. She knew what I wanted to ask her.
“That night I found you sitting on the grass, in the backyard. You weren’t wearing any clothes and you were just there, not moving, just waiting in the freezing cold. What was that all about?”
“That,” she said, her eyes welling up with tears, “was me hoping to die.”
May 19, 2021
Venture into an unfamiliar thrift shop or antiques market and find an object you’ve never seen before. Even better–one whose function you can only guess! Then, tell a story in which that object plays a key role. Perhaps you can explain how it arrived there; perhaps it’s a lost heirloom or the key to unimaginable power. Or perhaps the object itself isn’t as important as how it brings two strangers together–or sunders a seemingly impenetrable bond.
Mamie had given María the cross the day before she was due at the convent. It was a gift that she wasn’t giving lightly. After all, María was the granddaughter who was finally fulfilling Mamie’s dream of devoting her life to Jesus—a dream she had had ever since she was a little girl. At the age of fifteen, Mamie's mother had agreed to let her join the Carthusians at Chartreuse Sainte-Marthe d’Aix, giving her the old metal cross that had belonged to her aunt, a nun herself. Mamie had never been happier, everything was going according to plan. Prayer, catechism, mass, everything. But then, two weeks before finally taking her vows, she’d followed one of the sisters to the market. Something innocent and innocuous that had been her first mistake. Her second mistake had been falling head over heels for a Mexican student who was attending a boarding school in the region, and who so happened to be on grocery duty that day. Her third mistake, and perhaps the biggest one, was to run away with him the night before her ordainment, having known him for not more than fifteen days.
But Mamie had been very happy. She'd gone back to Mexico with Abu where they lived a good life by all standards. Except maybe, of course, by money standards. When Abu’s family, strictly Catholic, learned that Abu had seduced a soon-to-be-nun—their words—they cut him off. All Abu got from his family, and probably out of pity, was a little rancho outside Matamoros, and when the air was clear enough, Texas could be seen not so far away. For Mamie living in austerity was okay. It was supposed to be, after all, one of her lifetime vows. Plus, being poor just seemed like a fair price to pay for having chosen a man of the world over God Himself. In spite of Mamie’s happiness, her seven children had grown up fully aware of the guilt that plagued her. They felt for her, although not enough to want to take on the vows their mom had refused. Lili, the youngest child, had been the one closest to give in, always going with Mamie to mass, the youngest in her group to receive the sacrament of confirmation. But Lili, too, would fall under the spell of a man.
None of Mamie’s seven children, it was worth saying, was ever lucky or even happy in terms of love. Mamie thought at times that the happiness that she had enjoyed had been stolen from her children. Lili had gotten married, and eventually had two daughters. Her husband was un bon-à-rien that one day had decided to cross the border, supposedly to find a better job and send money for Lili and the girls to go meet him. But instead, he ended up getting married and starting a whole new family over there. He had sent money for a couple of months before going off the grid. Badly depressed, Lili moved back in with her parents. Abu’s death only made matters worse, and it became Mamie’s duty to raise her granddaughters. She was a little more direct with them than she had ever been with her own children: she had a debt with the Rey de Reyes, Señor de Señores, and unless one of them decided to pay it off, all they would ever know was pain. Magdalena didn’t really seem to care much, she had always lived life her way, but María was particularly touched by each and every word Mamie uttered. She was two when they had moved back with her grandparents, and barely three when Lili had started slipping, so Mamie was the only motherly figure she’d ever known.
And María was very special for Mamie, too. She was, after all, Abu’s spitting image—out of their kids and grandkids the one that bore a resemblance to him the most, so, to Mamie, Maria was a clear reminder of the worthiness of her sacrifice, of the love that she had decided to live. That only made Mamie’s happiness that much greater when María told her that she wanted to become a nun. She was only ten at the time, and Lili had just died, drunk and alone in her room. In María's mind, it only made sense—she didn’t want to end up like her mother. And seven years later there she was, just hours away from the start of her adventure, ready to leave for la capital to start her journey, sitting in front of Mamie as she handed her the cross. It was only the two of them then, it had been for a while. Magdalena had left a couple of months earlier to reunite with her father in Texas, or at least that was what she had told them, but Mamie didn’t know if she should believe her, especially since she had picked up a heroin habit after Lili’s death. But there was only so much Mamie could do, and one thing was for sure, she couldn’t save them all. Mamie couldn’t, but maybe María could. If she was able to devote her life to the Lord, without fault or failure, she would bring back to her family the peace and order that only He could give them.
“I was about your age when my mother gave me this cross,” Mamie had told her, putting it in her hand. “Believe me when I tell you that you’re starting the best journey you could ever imagine.”
“Have you ever thought about going back to France, Mamie?”
It was a random question that had come to her mind just then. She knew Mamie had left France with Abu never to come back, but María wondered if, much like the light accent that still stained her Spanish words, there was something about Mamie that still remained connected to her country.
“Maybe one day,” she said, without much hope. “I don’t have much left there, if anything. As far as I know, everyone is dead. Maybe I have some nephews or nieces, but I’m not even sure about that.”
“If they ever give me the option, I can choose to go to a monastère over there.”
She had thought about it multiple times—about leaving Mexico. Yet there was no way she could leave without Mamie, and she knew Mamie would never leave the village where she’d been so happy—the village where she’d brought up two generations of cursed individuals.
May 18, 2021
There is a llama sitting on the seat beside you, drinking coffee. No one else finds this odd. He turns to you, about to speak.
“That’s what you get when you give them everything,” the llama said, looking me in the eye.
I turned around, just to check if there was someone behind me, someone those lines could be directed to. I had no idea of who that was, no idea of what they wanted. I gave the llama a half-smile, then looked down at my cup of tea.
“But where are my manners?” the llama said, “I’m Paco, and you are Juan, right?”
Yeah, I was Juan, not that I ever mentioned that, much less to a llama, but Paco seemed to know exactly who I was. The confidence with which he said my name had me revisiting all my memories, past and present, trying to figure out when and where we could’ve met before.
“It’s such a nice coincidence, finding you here.” He continued, “I heard about you and Emi and I have to say, I’m so sorry. You two were the nicest couple. How old is Evie, by the way? She must be around five?”
I wasn’t sure about what to tell him, mostly because he was right about everything. Yes, Emily and I had decided to call it quits after nearly ten years of being that couple—the one that all friends and family envy because they just look so happy whenever people are around. And then, yes, Eva was due to turn five in a couple of weeks. I looked around, ready to ask people if they were seeing what I was seeing. Granted, everybody was minding their own business, which was what I ultimately wanted, but I couldn’t understand how they could just behave normally when there was a freaking llama sitting down and drinking coffee right there, in the middle of the café.
“Oh my god!” The waitress said, approaching us.
Finally, someone would prove I wasn’t crazy, I looked at her, but she didn’t look at me, instead, she went straight to the llama and shouted, “Paco! Good heavens! How long has it been?”
“Trish!” Paco said, taking the last sip of his coffee, “darling, it’s been ages. I didn’t know you still worked here!”
“I do mostly night shifts now, so I guess that’s why. But, oh my, you haven’t changed a bit!”
“That’s sweet of you to say, ‘cause neither have you.” He then pushed his cup forward, “Can I have some more?”
“Oh, absolutely!” She refilled his cup with steaming hot coffee, then turning to me added, “so, who is your friend?”
“Juan. You don’t remember him? Doña Lolita’s son.”
“No way!” She said, then looked at me, “Boy, have you changed! How long has it been since you were last here in town?”
“I’ve—I’ve never left, actually,” I said. “You’re probably mistaking me for someone else.”
“Isn’t your mom Doña Lola, lives two houses down from Limón’s Auto Shop?”
“Yes,” I said, but that wasn’t that hard to guess. “How come I’ve never seen you around either?”
“Me?” Said Trish. “I’m always around! I usually work nights here, but you know that already, I usually take your order when you come here after your shift.”
“But didn't you just ask me if I'd left town? You didn't recognize me at first,” I said, confused. “Now turns out you take my order every night? Which one is it?”
“Clearly the second one, son,” Paco said. “Trish here knows you well, serves you coffee every night. Maybe you're too tired to remember, but you've known her for a while.”
It was the first time I was seeing her, I was sure of it, and now, as I looked around in more detail, it did seem like I didn’t know most of the people there. Weird to have so many tourists in such a little town at this time of the year. It usually happened during the summer, when people came to Brownsville and decided to explore the surroundings. They landed in our little town, shy of an hour away, and since La Cafeteria de Doña Ana was the only decent place that sold coffee, most of them ended up here, a bunch of new faces. But in October? Highly unlikely. Maybe a tourist or two, but as I looked, every single one of the tables was occupied by some complete stranger.
“How’s Emily doing?” Trish asked, and Paco immediately gave her a look, as to make her aware of her mistake. She immediately corrected, “Oh. Well, I’m sorry. You’re both great people, I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
Would we, though?
“She’s seeing someone else, you know,” I finally admitted, not even knowing why.
“I know,” said Trish.
“I think everybody knows,” Paco added, with some discomfort in his voice, as if he didn’t want to twist the knife she’d plunged inside me. “But she’s good to her, and Emi deserves to be happy.”
I know that I wanted to say, but that doesn’t make it any easier. In the end, I’ll still lose her. I guess it pained me to feel like she didn’t love me anymore, yet at the same time, I knew that I couldn’t ask for her to stay somewhere she didn’t want to be.
“She’s leaving town soon, I’m guessing,” Trish said, nonchalantly sitting in front of Paco and me. “Well, at least that’s what I heard.”
“Yeah,” Paco said. “New girlfriend has this big tech job in Houston. What I don’t know is if she’ll take Evie with her.”
They both turned to me, an inquiring look on their faces, almost as if I owed them the answer. The thing was, I wasn’t sure myself.
“I didn’t even know she planned to move,” I confessed. “She said she was waiting to see how things worked out.”
“Like no one has heard that one before,” Paco muttered to Trish.
“Look,” I said, “in all honesty, I don’t really care about what Emi does with her life. But Evie, that’s a whole different thing. I’m ready to move to Houston if need be, just to be with her.”
“Sure,” Trish said. “It’s because you want to be with Evie and not because you’re sick and tired of this old town.”
“Who told you that?” I asked her, somewhat offended by her comment.
“Everybody knows it, Juan,” Paco said, pushing his cup towards Trish again to get another refill. “You've always thought you’re better than us, haven’t you?”
May 17, 2021
Here’s a prompt from Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem Travel:
. . . there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.
Create a character who cannot wait to leave their town. Why do they want to leave? What or whom will they leave behind? Will the decision to start anew prove to be a good one?
She used to call it pueblo quieto, or quiet village, mostly because there was not much going on there at any given time. Everybody knew everybody, and most of the families had lived there for generations. It was the case for Vera as well. Her family, apparently, could be traced back as living in that same village all the way to when Texas was a part of Mexico. “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us,” Apá used to say. The rancho had been in the family for more generations that could be counted, always becoming a source of dispute between its members whenever the current owner died. It was usually a matter of days, weeks at most, before a long lost relative came to pueblo quieto to claim the rancho was their mother’s or father’s to begin with, and bring the legitimacy of the deceased owner into question.
That was the reason why Amá had decided to put Vera to the deed of the rancho when she first got sick. There was no reason to leave any loose ends. With cancer, there was no way of telling how long it would take for Amá to go, and the least she wanted was to leave Vera encombrada with family issues. She didn’t find out about what Amá had done until after she passed and pueblo quieto was flooded with relatives wanting to take back their rancho. Apá told her there was nothing to worry about, that everything had been taken care of. That was the last she had heard him say, before he decided to take his own life. He and Amá had been together since they were fourteen. Nearly forty years in, Apá found it hard to conceive a life without her.
Tía Felicia, Apá’s sister, moved in with her afterwards. She was Apá’s elder sister. Never married, she had lost a bit of purpose since their mother had passed away—she had been Abuela’s sole caregiver and now she was going to be hers. Vera was twelve at the time. That spring, like all the springs before, the most exciting event to ever happen at pueblo quieto took place. The seasonal workers arrived from Mexico, and would stay all the way until the end of the summer. Tía Felicia thought it would be a good idea to rent out the three rooms of el rancho that nobody was using. They had lost a lot of crops, mostly due to the fact that Apá wasn’t exactly clear on how they should care for the land, and Vera had never cared to learn either, so renting out the place seemed like the easiest source of income.
It was that spring that she'd met Ricardo, a seasonal worker that rented the room right next to hers. Tía Felicia was smarted than that, though, and she’d made sure that she stayed on top of her niece, not allowing her one minute alone. But no matter how hard she tried, Tía Felicia couldn’t be with her every second of the day, and Vera would cut class sometimes to go see him work the fields. It was purely platonic until the third spring that he came and rented the same room. It was clear that that time he had noticed her, too, and it was probably because by the end of the summer before, right after he had left town, she had finally flourished into what could be considered as a woman. He was nearing thirty and she was barely fifteen, but if he didn’t see the problem, there was not a reason why she should.
Vera had lost her virginity to him and had spent the whole six months he was there sneaking out to see him, knowing full well he was her first love where she could only aspire to be one of his pit stops. He never said anything to that effect, but his inability to write to her after he’d left, or let her know anything about his life, his real life, his life outside pueblo quieto, told her all she needed to know.
Ricardo came back three more springs after that and, on their last night together, when she was finally eighteen and she had told him that they could be together without asking permission from anybody, it was that he told her that he wouldn’t be coming back to pueblo quieto after all. He then added that he had a wife and children back in Mexico and that, although this—seeing her grow up into a beautiful woman—had been magnificent to him, she was no longer of his interest. Vera felt stupid after all those years longing for March while fearing August. Years where she hadn’t seen anybody, dared to talk to anybody much less love any other man that wasn’t him.
“You’re lucky he didn’t get you pregnant,” Gracia told her, as she was packing for Brownsville, where she’d start college in the fall. Vera had been too dumb, thinking that maybe Ricardo would want to move in with her to the rancho, not leave anymore, and that they could have a fairy tale life, working the land with plenty of chamacos running around.
But yeah, Gracia wasn’t necessarily wrong. After all those years it was only to be expected that at some point she would have gotten pregnant—and her curiosity only intensified when she learned about two girls in a neighboring town who had both given birth to children they said were Ricardo’s, even though Vera refused to believe them at first.
Seeing Gracia that day had a deeper effect on her, though. There she was, packing up to go after something better, to somewhere better. Gracia would go to a bigger town, study in a bigger school, probably build a brighter, better future for herself. And all Vera could ever aspire to was to stay in pueblo quieto, caring for el rancho. It was right then that she told herself it couldn’t be so. There wasn’t any reason for her to stay anymore. Maybe there wasn’t much waiting for her elsewhere either, but it couldn’t possibly be worse than seeing her life repeat the same monotone pattern as the last five or six generations.
“I’m going with you,” Vera said, resting her hand over Gracia’s bag as soon as she closed it. “I want to try out life somewhere else, too.”
May 16, 2021
This prompt idea came from an episode of Valley 101, a podcast about Arizona [https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona/2021/01/18/who-writes-the-highway-signs-in-arizona/4183558001/] This episode was about who writes their funny highway signs, the history of them and what sort of messages they deliver. The idea of constraints appealed to me, often it drives creativity in unexpected directions.
Arizona’s highway sign messages are three lines long, with up to 18 characters per line. You can have commas, spaces, apostrophes, and dashes, which all count toward the 18 character limit. Now 18×3 characters isn’t long to tell a story, but it is long enough to deliver an important message. So the prompt is this:
Your character is in the middle of doing something mundane when they see a message that causes them to change course. The message could be something they see on a highway sign, a sign on the window of a store, a dashboard displayed in an office, or even a text message, but the limit is 18×3 characters and the message causes the character to change what they were doing/going to do.
Camila was late, and it was dark when she left home, locking the door behind her. For the past couple of weeks she had been taking the 10-to-6 shift at the McDonald’s right across the street. It was a seven-minute walk, five if she sprinted, and she’d get out of work on time to go back and change her clothes then be ready by seven-fifteen for the school bus to pick her up. Graduation was only a couple of months away, but she wasn’t excited anymore. About three weeks ago, she had found out that she was pregnant. It was Sebastián’s alright, from one of their hookups when he was back from Boston for winter break. It had happened like so many times before, only that this time the result had been different. He, of course, didn’t want to know anything about a baby or about being a father, neither did doña Consuelo, his mom. Mamá had forced her to go to her doorstep and tell her what her son had done—more like, what they had done together, but mamá insisted that it was better to put the blame on him. Everybody knows, mamá had said, that in the end it was you who let it happen. But if we admit to it, we’re never gonna get anything out of them.
It wasn’t that mamá wanted a whole lot from them. All she wanted was for the baby to have a father on the birth certificate, unlike Cami, who had to grow up with both her last names because un vago irresponsable had left her preñada then forgotten about them. Mamá would always say that if she had been una muchacha de bien and had known to keep her legs closed, then maybe she would’ve had the family she deserved, one with a loving husband and a beautiful house to raise her children in—instead of having to leave her country with her daughter under her arm to come clean toilets in Miami.
Turned out Sebastián wasn’t un hombre de bien either, nor was doña Consuelo, who had barely opened the door when she kicked them out saying that she knew all they wanted was for her muchacho to marry Cami and that way give her a path to citizenship. Quédese con el DACA, desvergonzada! were her words as she closed the door, followed by some muttering about how she should’ve thought about it before giving it around.
Sebastián had called Cami, though, a couple of days later, offering to pay for the abortion. It was unthinkable for mamá for her daughter to do such a thing. In her mind, if she had been able to raise a daughter singlehandedly, then so could she. But Cami wasn’t sure. She wasn’t strong like mamá, and, even if she could be, should she? That was what she was thinking about that morning, as she walked, hands in her pockets, towards the lit yellow sign. College wasn’t an option anymore, at least not in the foreseeable future, and despite the fact that she had been offered four full-ride scholarships so far. Maybe when the baby is older, mamá had told her, as she hugged her. For now we’ll take turns working and caring for the baby. Maybe you can take one or two classes at the community college, depending on how much money we have left over after taking care of the basics. A baby can be expensive, mamita. Cami knew that, she knew it even as she walked late at night to a job that no matter how many hours she’d work, would never give her more than pocket money, all while Sebastián was living his best life as a college student, free from any worry.
She had been going to a local clinic to see a counselor, a therapist was too strong of a word for her to use, but for a while she had been needing for someone to listen to her. She knew she couldn’t have an abortion, but the more she thought about it, the less she felt ready to raise a baby either. Babies were loud and annoying, she knew it because she used to babysit when she was younger and mamá didn’t make enough money to buy her new shoes or clothes for school. Caring for Rosie, doña Lucero’s younger daughter, had made her promise herself that she’d never have children of her own. Just thinking about caring for a child that she would in no way be able to give back to their mother, a child that would be her full responsibility, made her anxious in a way nothing else had before. That’s why she had needed to see a counselor—because she was long past overwhelmed.
All she had to do was to cross one more street, when she caught a red light. Granted, there were no cars around, and she probably could cross regardless, but she decided to wait. For the first time that morning, she lifted her sight, looked around and noticed the dark sky, splattered with stars, the businesses closed, the traffic light changing. And then there was that paper, plastered in one of the poles. A flyer. Something about a graffiti expo of some sort, street art or whatever. And in the picture, blurry and in black and white, a graffiti on what looked like a brick wall,
TAK CARE OF URSELF
BE4 U CARE
4 SOME1 ELS
And, just like that, random as it was, it made absolute sense. She could not remember the last time that she had actually taken care of herself. There had always been something else, something more important to do. Helping mamá take care of the house, cleaning and cooking, tagging along to the doctor, the post office, to pick up her check… Always being the person to read and fill out the paperwork. Now, when she was finally seeing the end of it, when she was preparing to spread her wings and fly away, be on her own, build her own life, being pregnant had sent her back to square one, where she would have to do it all over again, this time for her child. But she didn’t want that, and no one could make her. The decision was still hers. She told herself that, later that morning, on the way home from work, she’d call Sebastián back.
May 12, 2021
“One Thousand and Two Arabian Nights.” Story as survival: Your protagonist tells a story within a story in order to avoid some kind of disaster.
Whenever there was a crisis at home, or simply a situation that needed to be mitigated, we would send Tony, el pequeñito. There was something that came with being the little one, I thought at the time, that made him the favorite to the eyes of Mami. Tony was always the one to get the biggest piece of cake, the fullest plate, whatever he wanted. Growing up, Tere and I were convinced that it was because he was the youngest. Only later would we understand that it was because he was the son that Papi had wanted for so long, and that was why he was Mami’s pride: she had given papi the boy que la otra nunca pudo.
That Thursday, Tere and I thought it would be a good idea to teach Tito to swim in Mami’s bathtub while she was en el mercado with tia Lori. Papi was coming for dinner, and when that happened Mami usually took her time. But Tito didn’t like the bath and started running all over the bathroom, living a trail of soapy water and fur behind. He put down Mami’s perfume, the one papi had given her for her birthday, then the toothpaste, which Teri stepped on trying to catch him, and now there was toothpaste everywhere. When we heard the front door open, we knew there was no way Mami would let us live after that. One thing that she was always telling us was how when Papi came over, everything had to be perfect. We had to be the perfect children, just like she was the perfect wife. All together, we would play the perfect family, show him what he was missing every time he left.
“Maribel! Teresa!” Mami called, and I just knew she was headed for the kitchen. “Come here, I need help with la cena!”
We ran to Tony’s room, knowing full well that we would have to do some begging. He had, after all, asked us to let him play with Tito as well, but we had kicked him out, saying he was too lame. Surprisingly, he offered to help without asking for anything in return. He must’ve sensed how deeply in trouble we were. Instead, he went straight to the kitchen, where Mami was waiting. He could be sweet at times, when he wanted, and when that happened I used to stare at him in awe, thinking about how lucky I was to have him as my little brother. Even if I knew Tere was up in the bathroom, waiting for me to come and help her clean up, I couldn’t help but to hide behind the staircase, occasionally peeking to see what Tony was up to.
“Mami,” he said, as he sat on the bar stool. “You look very beautiful.”
He knew all the right words. Mami would often go to the hairdresser and then get her makeup done whenever Papi was coming. Tony had grown to understand that he was the first to give his approval. He looked like Papi alright, so if he thought Mami looked beautiful, then chances were Papi would think so, too.
“Gracias, mi niño lindo,” she said before squeezing his cheek. “Where are your sisters?”
“On their way, Mami, but you won’t believe what happened to Joaquin today.”
“What happened to Joaquin today?” Mami repeated, like she usually did when she wanted to try and improve her English.
“Well, it’s a long story, Mami, but you have to bear with me. The ending is really funny, but it only works if you listen to the whole thing.”
“Okay, then, tell me the story.”
Only six years old, but Tony was definitely more clever than Tere and I had ever been. In moments like that, to be honest, I almost agreed with Mami in that he should be the favorite. In moments like that, he was my favorite, too.
“So, Yolanda decided to bathe Chiles in her mom’s bathtub,” Tony said.
Before, there were times when I’d get nervous, but not anymore. Every time he would tell a story, Tony would take something that had happened to him and put it in the third person. It was always about a teacher, or a friend, or some random story that someone had told him at school. In reality, it was him telling his story through a different person. I had picked up on that fairly recently, and I thought that I was the only one to actually know that—maybe I wasn’t.
“Isn’t Chiles a cat?” Mami said, taking the vegetables from her carrito de mercado. She opened the faucet to wash her hands as she continued, “cats don’t like water. This Yolis is definitely something else.”
“I know,” Tony agreed. “But listen to the story, because there is more. So, Yolanda decided to bathe Chiles, and she set up the bath for that. She filled the tub with warm water and one of those body lotions, like the ones you like.”
“Ay papi, I’m telling you, that’s what happens when mothers are not around.” She started dicing onions, “Milena is always doing something, but never with those children. And now that she has that new boyfriend, ay Dios mio! Ramiro esto, Ramiro aquello… And that Ramiro ni se aparece, we don’t even know what he looks like!”
I’d grow to appreciate the irony of that comment, not only because she was inadvertently criticizing things she herself was guilty of, but because we would subsequently learn that the infamous Ramiro was no other than Papi, that had decided to follow his heart to the bed of yet another woman del barrio. But at that time, no one knew it, so we were both enjoying Tony’s story.
“Pero Mami, pay attention.”
“Perdón, papi. Go on.”
“So, she filled the tub, and then tried to put the cat inside the tub.”
“Did she?” She said, with that tone she would always use when she wanted to let Tony know that she was paying attention, but actually couldn’t care less about what he was saying.
“Yes, Mami, por Diosito,” he said, and Mami smiled. “But, guess what, who would’ve thought that cats don’t like water? And as soon as she touched the water, Chiles just jumped out and started running all over the bathroom.”
May 11, 2021
Write a story in exactly 100 words
She was drunk that night and thought it might be a good idea to cheat on her husband. That cute guy, tall with broad shoulders, was looking at her from the other side of the hotel bar and she was done being shy. She approached him, he offered her a drink. Five, maybe six dirty martinis later, he followed her to her room. They spent the night together doing everything but sleep, and she was surprised to find him there the next morning. He didn’t want to leave, but she had a flight to catch and a night to forget.
May 7, 2021
Write a story that doesn’t use unhappiness as its narrative catalyst. That is to say, write a happy story, one that is textured, interesting, not overly sentimental, but that is at its core, a happy story, however, you choose to imagine that.
It took me a minute to see her waving frantically in the crowd, a cardboard sign with my name in her hand. She knew how much I hated that, and that’s why I smiled—because she'd wanted to make sure that the first thing I felt when I saw her was annoyed. But, instead, I was grateful and happy that she still remembered even the smallest detail of our time together. LOUE MAGOO, in her firm, all-caps handwriting. The first time we had met, in the dining hall in college, we had reached for the same tray. Silly as we both were, we took a couple of minutes trying to convince each other, with little hand gestures and nods, that it was okay if the other had it, we could both have the next tray.
“Okay, I’ll have it,” she'd finally said, “but only if you tell me your name.”
“Louise,” I'd said, blushing a bit. “But you can call me Loue. You need to spell it with an E in the end, though, because I’m a girl.”
“I see that,” she'd smiled. “Loue, Loue, Loue Magoo.”
The singsonging of her voice still melts in my ear every time I remember our first encounter. The beginning. Somehow, whatever the reason, I knew right then and there that this simple moment would define the next four years of my life. I guess I’m one of the few lucky people who know they're living a special moment right when it’s happening.
I ran to her arms and hugged her like never before, with the longing of the years, with the immediacy of yesterday, as if we hadn’t been apart for more than a few hours, a day or two maybe, instead of six years. It was almost as if she was coming back from England after summer break, when I’d go pick her up at the airport with sunflowers, wine waiting for us back at the apartment. And she hadn’t changed a bit, either, her hair was still wavy, long below her shoulders, auburn, like she used to call it. But she had let it grow out, I knew that because I had seen her pictures of a couple of years ago, and she had a sharp blonde bob cut. I remember thinking she looked nothing like the Mara I knew, and even though I never told her, she’d probably sensed it.
Me, too, I had tried my best to hide the passage of time. My hair was natural once again, the way she liked it, how it used to be when she’d run her fingers through it at night. I made some effort to put back on the few pounds I lost after Leo died early last year. I didn’t want her to see me and think that life had treated me badly while we were apart. Well, first because it hadn’t, but also because it would be admitting to the fact that time itself had passed and, with that, that we inevitably had changed and that maybe, just maybe, we weren’t the same two people who had said good-bye at JFK that Friday in August.
“I can’t believe you’re finally here!” She hugged me again. “Oh my God, you haven’t changed one bit.”
“Neither have you," I lied.
“Welcome to London,” she grabbed my hands in hers. “You’ll see, we'll have a great time! I planned a lot of fun activities, and I’m going to take you in the second floor of the red buses, remember? Like you always wanted.”
So she remembered that, too. I felt my cheeks burning in embarrassment. One night, as we watched a movie set in her hometown, I told Mara that I’d always wanted to ride one of those red buses. “On the top floor, of course,” I added, “because otherwise it doesn’t make any difference.” She laughed sweetly, but for years to come I’d question if she’d laughed out of pity. We were so different, after all. She was the sophisticated British girl, trust fund baby, and I was the DACA girl, trying my best to make my parents’ hardships and struggles worth it. It was doomed before it even started, but even things that are meant to end can bring with them endless happiness.
“I’m sorry about Leo,” she said, as we walked towards the subway.
“It’s okay, I guess,” I lied, again. I wanted to talk about it to someone, to her, but at the same time I didn’t want to talk about it at all.
“How’s your mum holding up?”
“She’s doing well, you know, her life’s just a constant ode to grief and pain. And I guess it doesn’t help that I’m the one who’s left.”
Mara rolled her eyes, and I felt a flutter. She always thought I was so dramatic, and even that I had missed. I smiled because maybe she hadn’t changed after all, and neither had I.
When Mami had made the five-hour drive from Miami to Tampa to visit, we'd made sure to hide everything as best we could. Mara would stay in our room and I would move a couple of things to the spare room. We would offer Mami the sofa that turned into a bed and then, when I was sure that she was sleeping, I’d slip back into our room. Except that mami had different plans. The whole week that she was there, Mami requested to sleep in my bed. “Mi espalda mija,” she had said, “está bien mala. No aguanto el sofá.” But her back had always hurt, ever since I could remember, ever since she had taken extra shifts cleaning houses and then at the warehouse to make ends meet after Papa had died. She did what she had to to make sure Leo and I would be okay, and that my aunts wouldn’t follow through on their threats and send us to Haiti with Louise, Papa’s mom.
Mami had always been suspicious. They say that mothers know everything, and I guess so did mine. There was a glimpse of hope for her, I believe, when at fifteen one of her comadres from Church told her that I had lost my virginity to one of tía Maribel’s sons. Mami didn’t know that it was Juanjo, who was almost twice my age. She also didn’t know that he had tricked me into going to his place promising me I would get to see his newborn. She also didn’t know that it had happened because my tía, much like Mami, was concerned that I seemed un poco muy interesada en las mujeres. Maribel thought her son could help me understand how good it was to be with a man. Sometimes, though, in one of those sleepless nights I’d usually have, it’d occur to me that maybe Mami knew and just didn’t say anything, because nothing that could happen to me would ever compare to what would happen to her, if her daughter turned out to be una machorra lesbiana. “Your dad and that stupid name,” she had told me once, in English to make sure it hurt me more. “Louise, what is Louise? It sounds like Luis, nombre de hombre! But you’re not a man, Louise.”
No, mamá, I’m not a man. I knew that already. I’m Loue, Loue, Loue Magoo, and today I’m happy, with the woman I love, and I’m not letting anything get between us again.
May 5, 2021
A character has lost an object that is of great value to someone they love.
Mami’s white gold hoop earrings were in that bag. How stupid had she been, bringing them with her? Dani had turned the place inside out, and there was still no sign of her bag, nor any of its contents. That was it, those were the only thing she had to remember her by, and they were gone. She sat on the floor, against the bed frame, and brought her knees to her chest. Sobbing, she looked around at the room that was blurring away with her tears. Maybe Roger would find the bag at some point, with time, when cleaning during the weekend or later on when moving out, and then maybe he’d call her and tell her to come get it. She couldn’t count on that, though, could she? But, where else could they have gone?
There was a little bag she always carried with her. Flower pattern, red and blue, her favorite colors. In there, her pills, two or three tampons for emergencies, and then the little terciopelo baggie with the hoops. She liked to wear them when she was celebrating something and then, wherever she'd spend the night, she would place them very carefully back in the little baggie, then in the bag, to make sure not to lose them. But that morning, after waking up to an empty bed, she had gone to the bathroom and discovered that the bag was gone. She’d had one or two drinks too many, she knew that, and Roger had insisted that she shouldn’t go back to her place alone and instead go home with him. But she remembered her reflection in the bathroom mirror when she took off the hoops and put them in the baggie—there were not enough drinks in the world that would make her forget to do that.
She knew she couldn’t stay there any longer. Roger expected her to be gone by the time he came back, that was how it usually went ever since she had broken off the engagement six months ago. She didn’t have it in her to just get married and have children, she had told him, the white picket fence was just not the right thing for her after all. She was more of the apartment type, on a busy street, the lights and noise at night, feeling alive at every moment. He had taken it well, promising they would stay friends. Ironically enough, the white gold hoop earrings had been mami’s gift to her for her engagement; it was abuelita who had given them to mami for hers. According to abuelita, once a woman got married, hoops were out of the question; she had to move on to more discreet earrings that represented married life. Until then, however, a woman was free to live to the fullest.
Of course, back when mami had gotten engaged, engagements didn’t last that long anyway. It was one, two month tops. Or sixty-three days, as mami liked to put it. Dani’s engagement to Roger had lasted three years. Three years, two months, and seven days. It had been after mami had died that things had gone south. Roger liked to blame grief and depression, playing good psychiatrist, but she knew that there was more to it. Once mami’s voice had been put out, it had been easier for her to see that a future with Roger wasn’t what she really wanted. Mami had always been crazy about Roger, ever since they had started dating during their first year of nursing school. To mami, Roger could do no wrong. He was the most dedicated, because he used to spend long hours at the library with her, cramming in books, and he was the sweetest, too, because he would drive her home after their study sessions, and bring some flowers or chocolates for la suegra. But to Dani, Roger was boring, plain, too predictable. He wanted to try and get into med school, which he managed just a year after becoming an RN, and then the next normal step was to get married and start a family.
For the engagement, he had invited her and mami to a fancy dinner at the best restaurant in the city, and his parents were there, too. Dani could tell that mami was uncomfortable in her modest clothes and simple hairdo, even if Don Roberto and Doña Cecilia, Roger’s parents, were from Colombia as well. Si vivieramos en Colombia, mamita, mami had said after Roger had dropped them off that day, yo estuviera de empleada en esa casa. Actually, mami wasn’t even sure that at some point, when she had first arrived in New York, she hadn’t been their empleada. But they had always been nice to Dani, and to mami, too, which was another reason why mami thought theirs was a match made in heaven. Not to mention that he was going to be a doctor, alguien de bien, much more than mami had ever dared to dream of, even for herself. Even after fighting tooth and nail to put herself through college and become an RN as well, mami didn’t seem to have much luck with men. They were all half-drunks and the occasional junkie—and mami was always proud to say, until her last breath, how proud she was that she had never, ever tried as much as a joint or a drop of alcohol.
But the beatings, that was different. Those were recurrent, and Dani had always seen mami in front of the bathroom mirror, concealer in hand, getting ready for work. Not once had she seen mami cry, but she had heard her sobbing a couple of times through the paper-thin walls. No man had ever come close to killing mami, even though Dani was convinced that she was already somewhat dead on the inside. The thing was that, for mami, those men had always had a redeemable quality. This one had brought her soup after chemo, this other had taken her out for dinner for her birthday. After some time, though, Dani had started seeing mami’s love for Roger not as a good thing but more as a red flag. She had called the engagement off two months to the day mami was buried, and it had been the biggest relief she had felt in months.
May 4, 2021
Write a 1000 word flash fiction story that ends with the line: “That’s how a small cut in her finger led to the end of the world.”
April got up out of obligation. Lately, there wasn’t really a lot that motivated her to get out of bed other than the immense dread of having to deal with Joe if ever she decided to sleep in. He had to work, after all, and it was inconceivable for him that she could stay in bed even a minute longer than he did. She was to get up when he got up, and god help her if he got out from his shower and saw her lying there, checking her phone or staring at the roof. The breakfast wouldn't prepare itself. The kids weren’t going to wake themselves up—he had made sure of that. Part of the reason why he categorically refused to let them learn to do stuff on their own was to guarantee that she’d always have to be there to do it for them.
But she was tired, more than she had ever been. It could be the sleepless nights tending for her six-month-old, or the early mornings to get the kids out of bed and into their clothes on time to set up their computers and log them on to their classes. It could be the fact that she had had to agree to be demoted because she couldn’t find the time to make everything work so now, on top of the pay cut, she had to do twice the work if she wanted to keep her job at all. It might also be the fact that Joe wasn’t seeing any of that. In his head, she was at home, she was fine, it was him who had to drive the long distances, work the long hours. It was him who deserved a plate of warm food when he came home and no one bothering him while he drank a glass of cheap liquor in the studio. After such long hours, didn’t he deserve a quiet afternoon?
He would shout at her every time the kids bothered him. It was her fault that they didn’t know how to behave. Lockdown had turned them into wild animals, and since she was with them all the goddamn time, she should know better and teach them how to behave. She was doing something wrong, and he knew that as well. He didn’t know why she insisted on keeping that job instead of quitting altogether, until he understood that it was to justify her lack of involvement at home. An excuse for when she was too tired, a reason for all the headaches and muscle aches that she’d come up with every time he wanted to have sex.
Breakfast was the most important meal of the day, that was what mamá had always repeated while Joe was growing up when she woke up before dawn to make sure that breakfast was ready by the time he and papá came to the dining table. Because that was the right way, women wake up early while men sleep in. To Joe, it was out of the question that it could be the opposite. And April knew it as well. She had been to their pueblo, cooked tortillas with mamá en la cocina, woken early with her. In the beginning, she thought it was cute or even fun, a foreign yet interesting way to live one’s life. She had lived it like that for a couple of weeks, as one of those reality shows. She never imagined that that life would cease to be a game to become her reality.
Absolutely drained, April took a deep breath and stared at the kitchen island—at the eggs, tomatoes, onions, and peppers ready to be diced, the tortillas ready to be cooked. She started off with the peppers, one by one, then two, three pieces at the time, until she felt a sting in her index finger. When she looked down at the cutting board, she had a little gash and a little scarlet thread pouring out from it. She brought the finger to her mouth like she’d always do when something like this happened, not that it did that frequently. But then, the taste of her own blood brought a moment of realization—the life she was living tasted like death.
Before he could come and see what a mess she had made, the trail of blood on the cutting board, almost touching what would become his breakfast, she rushed to the bathroom. Aren’t always the best surprises those that you don’t get to give but that you receive instead? When he turned around, she stabbed him right above his belly button and the feeling of the knife cutting through his flesh reminded her of that nochebuena she had helped her abuelo skin a whole pig. He had told her to stab the dead animal just once, for fun, para que veas como se siente. And she had, and it was weird and satisfying at the same time, almost like now.
His eyes showed a glimpse of shock, but also intense disdain. He hated her, she knew it, and he hated him, too. The thing with strong passions is that they burn so bright, that no one can see when they change directions—they couldn’t either. He tried to reach for the knife, but she managed to avoid his hand and plunged it in a second time, then a third, then a fourth, and a fifth, until there was enough blood on her face to blur her vision. She let the water run for a moment, as the blood gushed out of his mouth. She thought of her kids, sleeping peacefully on the other side of the house, waiting somehow for their mommy to come to wake them up. And then she realized that, since they had always relied on her to wake them up, nothing would happen if, for one day, she decided to just make them sleep in.
That’s how a small cut in her finger led to the end of the world.
May 3, 2021
This prompt comes from thinking about point of view and you could use it to write the whole story in two parts.
For the first part create a character who does something that you did during that week: e.g. go to the grocery store and you buy oranges. now. Now write about it in the third-person perspective and fictionalize it.
In the second part move your story 10 years into the future. Change perspective to make it a first person perspective. And it turns out that that non-momentous moment from your life (e.g. going to the super supermarket and buying oranges) ended up being extremely important to this character.
Don't forget to include how the world has changed from 10 years ago to now and how the character's world has changed, how they think of the world, and how they move through the world differently.
When she went looking for her car keys that morning, she found a note instead. Sorry, I was running late, it said, in Veronica's hurried handwriting. Not today, Rosa thought as the sun shone brightly through the window. She had saved just enough money to get that second-hand half-beatdown Corolla so that she wouldn't have to wait for the bus under San Antonio's scorching heat. And, just like that, her little sister had felt entitled to it. Not out of character for her, though. Ever since she was a little girl she would take whatever she needed from others just to make her life easier. After sighing briefly, Rosa realized that she needed to get ready if she didn't want to be late.
The bus stop was less than a block away from her house—when they had rented the place, that had been one of the dealbreakers. Still, the weather was warm and humid, and she could feel her t-shirt clinging to her skin as her toes stuck to each other with sweat. She had barely made it to the bench when she saw the bus coming her way. Perfect timing, she thought, and it was a relief knowing that she would make it to class on time.
He left early in the morning, after making coffee like he usually does when he spends the night. It was unexpected that he stayed yesterday, though, since he usually only stays the second Thursday of every month, and then every other Wednesday. But yesterday was my birthday and, after he cooked us dinner, he thought he might as well spend the night.
As I drink the coffee he left for me, alone in our apartment, I start thinking, like I use to from time to time, what ever happened that things ended up this way. Me, the lover of this man. Us, his second family. I like to think that had I not been so stupid and careless, it would've never happened, we would've never met.
That summer day, when Veronica had the great idea of taking my car and I had to rush to the bus stop, I ended up dropping one of my books as I was getting in. A man behind me, a man I hadn't even noticed, dark hair and sunglasses, picked it up and handed it back to me. It was him. I don't believe in love at first sight, still don't, but I do remember his smile, wide and pristine, just being the most beautiful thing I'd ever laid eyes on. He wasn't there to take the bus, though, and when the driver asked him if he was going to pay, he turned to me and asked me to get down and walk to his home with him—he would take me wherever I needed to go.
I didn't hesitate, and I'm well aware that this story could've had a whole different ending. To this day I'm not really sure of what made me trust him the way I did, and there are days when I feel that he didn't deserve all the trust I put in him at all.
But he was single at the time, single but not that much available. He was living with a couple of roommates, all from the same country, Turkey. I had my suspicions already, from his accent as he handed me the book excusing himself, that he wasn't from around here, but that didn't really matter. I didn't make it to class that day, or back home that night. He was honest about the true nature of our relationship only when it was too late and I was already head over heels.
You don't become a woman in the shadows overnight, it happens slowly, without you even realizing it. It takes first understanding you're in love with someone who is in love with you, but who will honor his culture and his parents more than he ever would the woman with whom he sleeps every night. It then takes trying once, twice, three, or even four times, to leave that person, just to realize that your life is incomplete without them, and that you'd rather take whatever little you can get, than to face the idea of living like that. Then, it takes courage, to see him build a life in the public eye, introducing the fiancée his parents' found him to his friends, his coworkers. Watching him post pictures of his engagement, then sleep with him the night before his wedding, knowing that, once he's back from his honeymoon in Puerto Rico, he'll go to the house he bought with her, not to the one he shares with you. Then, it takes patience and learning to share. Waiting for him to come home, and being ready for when he does. Knowing exactly what he likes and what makes him upset, and making sure that you're not busy if he decides to come over. It also takes a lot of determination and commitment, knowing that he needs to be your only one, even if he is the one with a second home—and you're that second home even though you got there first. Then, it also takes not losing hope. Hope that maybe he will think things through, that he will know that his place is with you. It takes empathy in acknowledging that it is hard for him as well, that no matter how hard he tries, he just can't let you go. Then it takes using that as leverage to make him understand that it's not because you're in the shadows that you don't deserve some normalcy in your relationship. That having a child will be good for you, that it'll give you something to do when he's not at home. It takes a lot of resignation, too, like when you have to deliver your baby at the hospital alone because he is on the other side of town, next to his wife who also just gave birth. And as time goes by you understand that it has all taken a lot of effort, mostly from your part, but that, for some reason, as much as it hurts, you are glad that you got to build a life with him, and that, however imperfect that life might be, you wouldn't trade it for anything.
May 2, 2021
Write a story or a scene in a setting you have never used before. It can be somewhere you have been or somewhere you have always wanted to go. It can be real or imagined.
The bedside lamp was still on from the night before when Lena woke up and noticed the sunlight seeping in through the blinds. Face first against the pillow, she stumbled to get up, her body sore, her lingerie spread across the floor, her heels close to the bed. She grabbed her phone and the glass of water that she kept on her bedside table. It had ice the night before, but now it was lukewarm. Still, she took a sip as she opened her text messages. Nothing new, no new rendezvous waiting.
The noise of Catherine and Amber watching TV in the living room reverberated against the silence of her walls. Those two didn't like to work on Sundays, it was their "me day," or so they called it. Self-care is the best care, they would always tell Lena whenever they tried to get her to join them. She never caved; she didn't need a full day for self-care. Self-care was also soaking in a warm bubble bath in between appointments, or reading a book while those who wanted to spend the night snored away. She loved her job and, to her, taking a full day off was depriving herself of doing what she liked the most.
"You're gonna live in your own whorehouse?" Makayla had asked her in the very beginning, after Lena told her that she had decided to rent a small house with two of her friends from work, instead of spending their money in hotel rooms every night. "What does that even look like?"
Yeah. What did it even look like? It looked like an average little house at the outskirts of a big city. Trimmed lawn, a cute mailbox. Three friends pursuing their graduate degrees, that was the cover story. They said hi to the neighbors, took turns walking the dog, smiled at the little children trying to learn how to ride a bike. The inside, too, was pretty average, boring even. Not a lot of pictures of themselves hanging on the walls, just random pictures of not-so-random places. Their hometowns, the places where they went on holidays, the places they were planning to visit someday. And occasionally, while they hung out waiting for their dates to welcome them to their rooms, one of the Johns would see those pictures. Later that night, he would ask his date if she wanted him to take her there. Those were Lena's favorite clients, the ones who cared about the little details. She had been to London and Paris that way, but also closer to home, like on a beach cabana for a weekend.
Not everybody knew what she did for a living. Not because she felt ashamed, because she didn't, but more because once she told them, a lot of people didn't keep an open mind. At times she wished they would. It would definitely make things less awkward.
OMG Lena, I need to see you.
The text came from Michelle, her supervisor back when she worked 12-hour shifts at Wal-Mart while putting herself through school.
I need to talk to you about something, but it's a bit sensitive. Could we meet in person?
Lena said yes, not really knowing what to expect. After all the "how have you been"s and expressing her profound regret about the sudden way she had to fire her for taking too many sick days to take care of Mikayla when she almost died of acute appendicitis, Michelle proceeded to tell her the reason she was really there.
"I'm afraid someone out there is using your picture for something horrible," she said, and then showed her a screenshot on her phone. "Edgar sent me this. I don't know if you remember him? The manager?"
Oh yeah, of course she remembered him, not only because he was unbearable but also because he was harassing pretty much every one of his employees, with the knowledge and blessing of Michelle, of course. Better shifts for better treats, he used to call it. Thank goodness she had never had to deal with a date like him.
"Look, that's your picture, on an escorting service page. And those pictures, sweetie, I'm so sorry. Probably an old boyfriend, huh? Revenge porn is so not cool, but it happens a lot nowadays."
Lena zoned out for a little bit, there was nothing she wanted less than to be there, listening to Michelle. In her mind, she was already driving her car back home, ready to soak in a bubble bath and browse on her phone while waiting for her six o'clock. When her soul finally made it back into her body, Lena noticed that Michelle was quiet, staring at her. She knew she knew.
"Oh, well," was the only thing Michelle could say. "I guess I was wrong to call you here, then."
Lena felt that she could almost read her mind, judgment splattered all over her face, already landing a guilty verdict. Lena figured she'd also not helped herself by just sitting there quietly instead of pretending to be devastated at Michelle's discovery. The lack of excuses had probably thrown Michelle off—that was how it usually happened. People were expecting to see someone apologetic, repentant, ashamed. Someone who would try to hide the nature of her job at all costs, and when that didn't work, then would attempt to justify it. I'm going through a rough patch, I have a lot of debt, bills are piling up, etc. etc.. And then this would give whoever was listening the false idea that they could just jump in and try to solve inexistent problems. You're much better than that, don't do this to yourself, there's always a way out, I know a friend who can help you find a job, even if it's 7 dollars an hour, it's still more dignifying, you should respect your body, and so many others that she had heard time and time again. What people didn't do as much, was listen to her and believe her, understanding that it was a choice that she had made and that she would stand by it. Everybody wanted to play savior, but she didn't need to be saved.
May 1, 2021
~ The Bridge ~
There is a point, in the distance, that your character very badly wants to reach. What is it?
What is the point from which they've started out, what are they willing to do to get to that point in the distance? What will they sacrifice?
The bridge is the point between those two places. The bridge is where what they must do to get there, what they're willing to sacrifice, and the consequences of those decisions coexist.
Write their story, on the bridge.
Carlota hesitated, like many times before, but she knew she couldn't look back. Right there, in the middle of that bridge, she stood between what had been and what could be. If she turned around, like he expected her to, there was no way she would ever get to where she was again. He was waiting for her, though, with his candid smile and his big, brown eyes. With his strong arms that protected her just as much as they could harm her. She needed to let go, but every time she tried to, the good times they had together would creep in and hold her back. If only she could get to the other side, know what was there, get a sense of what her future would look like far away from everything she knew. The last time she thought she was ready to cross that bridge, she had panicked and turned around a couple of steps in, and back into his arms, and their safety. Arms... arms... arms... harms.
This time, she had run with all her forces, at least at first, trying to use her momentum to get as far on the bridge as she possibly could, thinking that a careful sprint would help her make it to the other side quickly. But she hadn't gotten there yet, and she had grown tired, so now it was more like little steps, the ones that require you to stop and take a deep breath, and bend, and hold your knees in your hands while you pant. And then, she did what she didn't want to do, what she shouldn't do. She turned around, just for a second. But she couldn't see where she had come from either, so she just stood there, somewhere in the middle. There was no way to tell how far she was if she was closer to him than she was to the other side—but there was no way she could find out.
Maybe she was meant to die on that bridge, unsure of which way to go, regretting leaving but knowing full well that staying would kill her just as much.
It hadn't always been like that, though, she thought which each little step into the unknown. It was hard to tell when love and lust had turned into survival. She couldn't pinpoint the exact moment it had all changed, maybe because it hadn't been a particular instance but many little episodes. And when those episodes made their way back to her, it didn't matter if there was something waiting for her on the other end—she knew trying was better than staying. Once the unknown started becoming less dangerous and worrisome than the thought of a new morning, she understood that she had to leave.
Beware of your heroes, mamá always used to say, they will seep into your life little by little until they become your saviors, and then they'll own you forever. And come to think about it, that's all it really was. Mutual admiration gone wrong, nothing more, nothing less. And the charming lover that once praised her for her free spirit, that once wanted to be his companion, his partner of achievements, had turned into her verdugo, the pain-inflicting one, the one who decided how she would feel on a given day. The puppet-master, mamá had said, leaning over a hot cup of café con leche, the warm humo staining her glasses. That day was the last day Carlota had seen mamá, meeting her for breakfast instead of rescheduling for the third time. She thought she had done a good job with the foundation, pero a una madre no la engaña nadie. Mamá's eyes filled with tears as her fingertips contoured the end of Carlota's eye. He did this? Mamá asked. But Carlota didn't reply, and a quiet tear rushed down her cheek and onto the untouched arepita, her favorite. What was the point of coming clean? How exactly would that make things better? There wasn't a lot of time left for mamá; she may have won many battles, but cancer had already won the war. The best thing she could do was to tell mamá that everything was fine and let her die in peace. So she lied, like many times before, this time telling her she had read something silly on the internet and had moved her furniture exactly one inch to see if it was true. And it was because she kept hitting the sofas and chairs until she fell face-first into the corner of a coffee table. Of course, mamá didn't buy it, but it was easier for both of them to pretend that she had.
He was happy, the day mamá died. Finally, Carlota was alone in the world, at his mercy. But he did still attend the funeral, all in black, crying fake tears. He spared her that night, too, to show how much he cared—and for the first time in years she got to cry herself to sleep for a whole different reason. But then, every time after that, whenever things happened—and happen they did—he would remind her how alone she was, how there was no one left in her world, and that she should be thankful that he had been the only person who hadn't yet left her. Because he hadn't. And that was what kept her next to him, that one truth among all his lies. He hadn't left, not when times were hard, much less when they were easy, he had always been there. Her hero, her savior. She could see him, waiting by her side at the doctor's office, in the room when she'd first opened her eyes after surgery, offering his arm for support when she struggled to walk...
And when those memories hit her, she'd look back at what she'd already walked on that bridge, and wonder how long it would take to go back, to run to safety and never leave again. Because ahead of her was an unknown road, but also a lonely one, and she didn't know who to turn to—he'd always been the constant. At the same time, she wanted to believe that if she kept walking, she might find someone. Or, at the very least, find herself.