Chances are, if you’ve ever been in a writing class, you’ve been asked to do a “freewrite” in response to a prompt. Writers are routinely asked to produce such spontaneous writing at conventions and workshops–usually protesting that such exercises never produce anything worth the time. I’ve been a protester, but as I was browsing through the snippets I’ve written on such occasions, and I came across this one, written during Heidi ‘Thomas’s workshop on character. So I share it with you in honor of such much maligned exercises.
Roland, “Skip,” Barnaby scratched his grey whiskers and stared at the red and white FOR SALE sign with the black “SOLD” pasted to the front of it. The end of things. That’s what it said.
“Get a move on.” Daisy passed through the living room carrying a stack of linens. Her voice was weary, deadened by repetition. “Sittin’s not going to get that railing fixed.”
One more chore. Always one more going nowhere. He got up with a groan and turned from the browned out lawn beyond the window, and gazed around at the lumpy sofa, the threadbare rug, and Daisy’s collection of pictures that never changed. She kept dusting it all, picture by picture, table by table, kept vacuuming the threadbare rug with the stain in one corner covered by a crocheted footstool he kept tripping over. Like a flywheel that keeps turning long after the machine has stopped. He couldn’t see the point of it.
With a sigh, Skip headed for the basement stairs, testing the banister as he went down. Wasn’t that bad. Not worth fussing about that he could see, but the buyers had bitched about it so … just do it. The way he’d done everything else for who knows how many years. To fill up days that meant nothing.
He hauled the rusty saw from the pile of tools in the corner. He doubted he could get it running or do much with it if he did. The leg of the saw table caught on the edge of a box and dumped it. He swore.
Then bowls, vases, toy soldiers, and canons rolled in front of him and stopped his breath. Had he made those? He frowned as the memory of another man seeped through some crack.
“What was that racket?” Daisy called from upstairs.
“Just a box of junk,” he answered. Then he picked up a piece, and his being stilled.
A wooden steam locomotive, complete with pistons that rotated, a wooden engineer, and a funnel of a smokestack.
“That was for Billy.” Daisy’s voice came from behind his shoulder.
He didn’t answer. Didn’t need to. Their gazes came together on the gift never given. On the boy killed sledding on Christmas Eve.
Then the tears burst through the cracked barrier, and with them, the empty years. On and on until there was nothing left but a shell of himself with Daisy gripping his wrist.
“Here.” He handed her the engine, then gathered the other polished wooden objects and put them in a fresh box. “Pack these to go.” He saw that her blue eyes had lit with hope and patted her hand before turning away to polish the rust from the saw.