WANTED: Your story prompts!
Prompts are the little nudges that inspire a story. They're all around us. A prompt can be a theme, a first line, a picture, or a memory. I love working with prompts -- the more challenging the better. Thanks to J.L. for submitting the prompts that led to the two stories below.
Story # 1: A CINDERELLA STORY
Marla opened one eye slowly, then the other. Sometimes she wondered whether she'd just imagined it. But her husband, Ray, was there beside her, snoring softly, his left arm stretched across the king-sized bed in search of her. Still reaching out for me after five years, she thought. That’s a good sign.
She closed her eyes again, drifting into the delicious semi-consciousness that a lazy Sunday morning permitted. She loved to bask in the “happily-ever-after” part of their story, but when time permitted, she enjoyed replaying their “once-upon-a-time” beginning.
It was a Monday, a slow night at Lou’s Tavern, where Marla tended bar. She’d seen Ray before and had admired his rugged good looks and quiet demeanor. Unlike the other skirt-chasers who filled her barstools, he didn’t seem to know how attractive he really was, and he wasn’t loud and obnoxious like the other guys. He’d come in with a few friends, drink a couple of beers, and always leave her with a smile, a thank you, and a generous tip.
On this particular night, their night, as they would come to call it, Ray came in alone. He sat at the far end of the bar and ordered a Scotch on the rocks. He seemed preoccupied with his phone, checking for messages but not answering them. When her last customer left, Marla checked on Ray. He was well into his fourth Scotch by now and was not handling it well. Lightweight. She was cutting him off.
“Looks like somebody’s trying pretty hard to get ahold of you,” she observed with a nod towards the vibrating phone.
To her surprise, Ray held it up for her to read.
"What have you been doing all this time?"
“Okay…” she stalled, not comprehending.
“It’s my fiancée,” he slurred. “She’s been waiting with Mummy and Daddy at the Country Club and she’s hopping mad that I was a no-show. Truth is, I just can’t bear it anymore.”
“Meaning the wedding date’s been set but it’s all a big farce. I don’t love her and she doesn’t care. I come from a short list of approved families so financially I’m a real catch. Sometimes I feel like a stud horse with good blood lines.”
“What are you going to do?” Marla asked.
Ray tilted his glass, studying the amber liquid before tossing back his last swallow. “I’m going to kill the monster before it kills me.”
He picked up the phone, punched in a few characters and hit the send button. With a rueful grin, Ray showed the phone to Marla.
“It’s over. I’m out.”
“Well, that should do it,” she said.
Ray slumped over the bar and began to giggle, the laughter quickly morphing into sobs. “Oh, my God. I can’t believe I just broke up with someone by text. That’s a new low even for me.”
Marla was glad they were the only two people left in the bar. Her boss would have thrown the guy out and lectured her once again about fraternizing with the customers. Lou had a heart the size of a peanut.
She poured two steaming cups of coffee and sat down on a stool beside Ray. They clinked mugs and sipped in silence until he had regained some control. He said he felt like dirt. Marla assured him he was anything but that. They talked for another hour about nothing and everything. Finally he rose unsteadily to leave.
"Can I call someone for you?" she asked with alarm.
“I’ve got a better idea,” he said, reaching for her hand.
Marla had heard plenty of lines in her years behind the bar, but one good look at Ray’s beautiful, ravaged face and she knew she was a lost cause.
“Give me ten minutes to close up,” she said. “I’ll drive you home.”
Story # 2: WOMEN'S WORK
The tantalizing smell of fresh coffee interrupted her daydream. Mr. Colson was in the break room making a fresh pot for the oncoming morning shift.
“Is this a joke?” She couldn’t resist asking. Mr. Colson had never made the coffee, always preferring to wait until one of the “office girls” took care of it.
He turned sharply at the sound.
“Why do you say that?” he challenged. “Just because I don’t like to do women’s work doesn’t mean it’s so difficult I can’t figure it out.”
Mr. Colson, her night-shift supervisor, had been a real pain lately. She never should have agreed to have sex with him in his office last week. True, there had been some chemistry, but it was way too risky. If they’d been caught, she’d lose her job. Fat chance he’d be in any trouble. The Cosmo Widget Factory was definitely a men’s club, and women were supposed to know their place.
Well, that will never happen again, she vowed. The best thing she could do was to keep her distance in the future. He did outrank her, but she didn’t get paid enough to put up with this crap.
Blinking in the unexpected sunlight, she hurried across the employee parking lot to her beat-up Chevy. She hoped it would start without a jump this time so she could just get home and go to sleep. Mr. Colson followed closely behind and quickened his pace to catch up to her.
Leaning into her car window, his breath reeking of coffee and cigarettes, he whispered lasciviously into her ear. “When can I see you again?” As if they’d been dating or something. She bit her lip, trying to think of a tactful reply.