Here’s the second 20-minute story I wrote during a writing workshop in Ohio. Though I have no great gift for fiction, I’d recommend this exercise to anyone interested in stretching their skills. Something about being in the crucible of the moment makes you focus on the essential elements of a narrative.
Mom wore an expression I recognized—the wary one she once showed strangers who dared to approach me in a playground or anyone who asked for “a moment of her time”—and she gripped Dad’s arm just above the elbow.
“May we help you?” Dad asked.
I moved to gather the backpack and duffle bag I’d dropped to ring the bell, and they stood squarely in the doorframe.
“How’re you guys? I had a break in the semester and—“
Sometimes you look into a different face when you deliver news it didn’t know or when you disprove facts it’s repeated confidently for years.
My parents’ faces steeled.
“Excuse me?” Dad said. My mother pulled herself closer to him. “Do we know you?”
They blocked my way as if I were our cat, instinctively and with a mind to try as many times as necessary. I should have visited sooner, but school work rose like walls before me. I’d just found time to see my way through.
“Look,” I said, “I’m sorry. I should have called, but—”
“I don’t know you, but if you try to come in here, we’re calling the cops!”
Sometime, my mother left him, retreating into the house, and her flight alerted me to all that was altered. The table in the entry hall was Pennsylvania Dutch instead of sleek Danish, adorned with a plastic bouquet in a teapot instead of three gray paper flowers in a glass vase.
I might have stood there longer, implored longer, insisted whatever prank should end, but my mother returned wielding a handgun and shouting for me to leave.