Monday, February 26, 2007

Short short story

Here's a very first draft of a short story based on the prompt of a woman dumping out her purse. Comments/suggestions welcome!

It had been one of those mornings. Sarah woke up late, thanks to a middle-of-the-night power outage that messed with her alarm. Then she and Ben got into a snippy fight over who was hogging the bathroom, and he stomped off to work without saying goodbye. Now, standing at the bus stop, she is frantically searching for her pass. Her coat pockets are empty. The pocket in the lining of her purse: empty. The bus pulls up with a loud creak and sends a spray of dirty snow Sarah's way.

"I just need a sec to find my pass," she says to the driver. She smiles at him, but he just stares at her.

"What, you think you're special or something? No pass, no ride."

Sarah thinks all sorts of nasty thoughts about the guy, whose shirt is busting at the buttons and whose hair doesn't look combed.

"Listen, buddy," she says. "I have a pass. I just need to find it. Give me a sec."

"Oh sure. Go right ahead. Look away. Me and all these passengers will just wait til you find it. Then we'll all be on our merry way."

Sarah knows she should just get off the bus, that she should wait for the next one, assuming that that driver wouldn't be such an ass. But now she's pissed. And, as Ben knows, she never backs down when she's pissed.

"Fine," she says, barely opening her mouth to throw the word at him.

She puts her purse--a big leather thing with way too much stuff in it--on the floor next to the driver, and sqauts down next to it. She takes out the bigger items and puts them on the wet, dirty floor. A book. Her planner. Her wallet and a pack of tissues. No pass. Then she takes out the many papers lining the bottom of the bag--receipts, business cards, stamps. Still no pass.

Her heart is beating loudly in her ear, but she can hear the sounds of the passengers getting restless. A few are asking, “What’s going on? Why are we just stopped here?” She looks up and gives a smile in their general direction.

The busdriver is staring at her. "It's in here somewhere," she says in a fake cheery voice. "Just give me one second!" And with that, she dumps her purse over. Out pours a roll of lifesavers, two lipsticks, a handful of change, some sample-sized lotions, her cell phone. No pass.

The driver is laughing now. A deep belly laugh that sounds to Sarah like a laugh the devil would have. "Still so sure it's in there lady? Like I said, no pass, no ride."

“Oh yeah?” she says. “I’ll just pay cash. What’s a ride cost? A dollar fifty? Here!” She is kneeling on the ground now, water soaking through her beige pants. She opens her wallet and takes out six quarters—-the quarters she had planned to use to buy Twizzlers out of the vending machine. Those bright red sugar swizzles are the one snack that can always get her out of her foul mood. Raising herself up into a high kneel, she blindly shoves the quarters in the bus’s slot.

“Now look what you’ve done! You’ve jammed the machine? What are you some kind of idiot?” Sarah tries to take a deep breath. She tries not to let her anger get the best of her. But who the hell was he, this mean, mean bus driver, to be calling her an idiot? Try as she might, she can't help herself.

She pulls herself up to standing, stepping on her book and a few other items from her purse. “Here, just take your stupid quarters and start driving.” She plucks up the quarters that are stuck in the machine’s coin reservoir, and, with a quick overhand flick of her wrist, throws them at the driver. They bounce off his meaty chest. One makes a "tink" noise as it hits the metal of his seatbelt.

“Alright lady. Just get your stuff, and sit down.”
“Thank you,” she says as if nothing out of the normal had happened. She squats to pile her stuff back into her purse. She gets most of it in before the driver pulls away from the curb, but a few things roll out of her grasp. “No big deal,” she says to herself, trying to get her blood pressure down.

She pulls out her shoe-print-covered book and opens to the bookmark. There, holding her place, is her bus pass. Best Blogger Tips


Carolee said...

isn't this the kind of day that makes us want to lie down in front of that bus? it makes me ask what's worse: never finding the pass or finding it?

as requested, here are a couple comments: i like that it's short, and i think it could even be condensed more if you wanted to.

except don't cut anything from the relationship b/w ben and sarah. if it's in the story, i actually need to know more about why it's important to the story. i get that it's part of her bad morning. i get that you use his perception of her as not backing down to make her behavior believable. but in a short piece where every word counts, i want the relationship to really count. does this make any sense?

thanks for sharing this. i love what you did with the prompt!

Bug said...

Thanks so much Carolee. Great comments, and I appreciate them!

bostonerin said...

Ugh. I've had those mornings. You did a great job of capturing that awfulness!

My comments revolve around the moment when she decides to dump the purse. I'd love to see the frustration that pushes her over the edge--the moment comes and goes too quickly. You could trim a little in other areas and draw that out.

TI said...

I love this story! You've got all kinds of dramatic tension in this everyday incident, and I'm really on the protaganist's side, against the busdriver. I was a little thrown by the comment "as Ben knows" in that context -- I wondered whether Ben was there with her.NOt a big deal, but jarring nonetheless. I also wondered how on earth she would be calm enough to open her book to read after that all happened to her. Defintely a great first draft.

Bug said...

Great comments TI and BE. Thank you both. I'll revise some this weekend!

Repeater said...

I also thought this was excellent- you really made me tense all the way through. The only issue I had was with the character of the bus driver- I think you could cut the "do you think you're special" because he's too invested in her, I think "no pass, no ride." is enough at first, and then if he's laughing it should be clear it's a sinister laugh- I thought the laugh made him seem jolly, like she'd won him over. I also think you could cut Ben altogether. We don't even need to know that. You've really captured a great moment here. Good work!

FatCharlatan said...

I'm late to this party, and I'll pretty much just be echoing what everyone's saying. You captured (so well!) such a relatable moment, yet you gave it its own identity. I agree with BostonErin's suggestion of fleshing out the part where she loses it and dumps the purse.

Good work, Bug! You're going to post it to The Writer's site, right???

Bug said...

Thank you all! FC, I will revise and post to the site. (yikes).

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