I’m now teaching a creative writing class to an interesting group of folk who spend large portions of their day reading and scribbling, so they’re better writers than I am.
No surprise there.
After thirty years in the classroom, I admit that I’ve never been the smartest guy in the room, even when left alone with the kindergarten for twenty minutes when I was a computer repairman at the local elementary school.
Five minutes later, they were everywhere, lips on everything, fingers poking everywhere, pencils heading for electrical outlets, grins on every face. They knew lack of authority when they smelled it.
This new creative writing class wants to work on both fiction and non-fiction, so I started with something short and challenging:
Write a love story that includes a plumber and a marshmallow.
After hearing what they’ve already written, I know a doozy or six will emerge, and perhaps I’ll publish one in this space. We’ll see. In the meantime, you can’t lead from the back. Here’s my flash-fiction piece:
Staring sadly at the grey gruel on the tan prison plate, Stan falls back into his habitual daytime reverie: green marshmallowly Fruit Loops floating in a blue enamel bowl, a sweating glass of orange juice, a black English bulldog with a Winston Churchill grimace rubbing its red butt on the Oriental rug, back and forth, back and forth.
A plumber in another life before imprisonment, Stan spent years looking at the world from dog-level.
That’s what attracted him to Margaret.
Stan, on his back with his upper torso jammed under Margaret’s sink, notices her slim ankles, which lead to shapely legs when she walks up to the sink and asks how the work is going.
“No problem. Outta here in twenty minutes,” echoes Stan’s voice.
A few minutes earlier, Margaret seemed unspectacular. Dressed in a brown corduroy work suit, she appeared at the door like a banker demanding identification before a large withdrawal, but now she’s changed into tennis clothes before a light lunch of breakfast cereal, and the transformation bewilders Stan so much he bangs his head on the cabinet frame while rising to turn the water back on.
“That must have hurt,” she said.
“Sometimes I think I’m too big for this job,” he said.
They stood together looking out the kitchen window into the backyard. Margaret’s second dog, a beagle, was hiking up a leg to pee on Stan’s truck tire.
“Why a beagle?” asked Stan. “Too stinky for the house.”
“True,” said Margaret, “but we hunt rabbits on the grounds here, and he runs them right past you.”
“Ya’ll like guns?” asked Stan.
Margaret’s eyes flash, a crooked smile exposing her dark soul, and she takes his rough hand into hers and leads him deeper into the mansion, down into the basement, where the arsenal spreads across the entire wall in gleaming walnut racks, touting every kind of firearm, legal or illegal, Stan could imagine.
They both turned to look at each other, blood rising.
Staring back into the dark plate of greasy gruel, Stan daydreams of Margaret, her bright incarceration on that tiny pink-sand-beach Caribbean island, a slave to motorized sailboats and critical monthly shipments of steak, gin, and coke from Key West. A skinny brown plumber under her sink now, he reckons.
Stan ponders that shimmering blue water inside his head, gigantic cumulus clouds floating by like fat white pigs as the cacophony of a hundred prisoners rises to the cement ceiling, echoing in circles, but failing to alarm the unperturbed cockroach, who slowly breast-strokes out of the center, clears his eyes with a few blinks, rolls over onto his back, and glides across the plate in a lazy backstroke.