Writing Prompt #3

Okay, the prompt was: You have two characters, A and B, who have never met before. They are in a crowded space (a bar, a bus, a subway, a concert – whatever you like!) and A has bumped into B by accident. What happens next?

“Excuse me, sorry.”

“Why are you apologizing? I bumped into you.”


“Seriously, think about it. What’s wrong with your life that you feel the need to apologize to strangers who knock into you?”


“Like what, are you a terrible person or something? Do you just need to apologize for everything? Do you murder little kids? Do you torture adorable kittens? Do your parents wish they’d never had you? What?”

“I’m actually going somewhere, I gotta-”

“You gotta listen to me is what you gotta do. You handed me your will the second you thought it was your fault that I bumped into you. So now stand there and listen to me, fool. Just wait right where you are and get to wherever you’re going late, and hate me. Hate me a little more every second.”


“What are you gonna do, huh? Are you going to push me? Go ahead, push me. Get me out of your way. Achieve bullyhood. Just do it. Who knows what’ll happen. Maybe it’ll feel good, ever thought of that? Maybe it feels awesome to just get someone out of your way. Why do you think I do it? Why do you think I shove people away? Think I’m just rushing? What if I don’t have anywhere to go? What if it’s just the best way to get around?”

“It’s rude.”

“It speaks! The mouse opened its little mouth. Want to yell at me? Tell me off? Come on, let’s see if you can actually muster up the energy and the vocabulary to do it.”


“Blushing really isn’t as endearing as people make it out to be. You look stupid, red and flushed like a balloon. This has been fun, but I really should get going, but you know what? We should do this again sometime.”


Let’s write! Writing prompt #2 – My Own Response

Use these words in a story: asphyxiate, contraption, cherry

Here’s my own response to this!

Imagine A Breath

There were whistles and bells and blades and gears and string and everything that a bored twelve-year-old could think of. Terry’s contraption looked less like a machine and more like a Brooklynite’s senior thesis art installation. But Terry, dressed in a plaid button-down and dirty khakis, had no more awareness of his awesome power for sculpture than his parents had of his operations. He wasn’t working in his own garage, but at the empty one belonging to his aunt, Lena.
Lena was the kind of woman who believed in unsupervised play. She wore feathers braided in her hair and spent the majority of every day measuring, pouring, mashing and mixing fruit smoothies that she believed would cure what she was almost certain was breast cancer. She was puzzling out the last few steps of a cherry-muesli-aniseed recipe while Terry worked on the final additions to his invention.
He didn’t know that his Aunt Lena was a hippie. He didn’t know his parents were old hippies as well, and smoked marijuana during the long afternoons that he was away from home. Terry didn’t understand the language of adults, and when they – his parents, Lena, his teachers – tried to subtly tell him things, he would stare at their nostrils until they got uncomfortable and told him right out what it was they’d meant to say. His parents had recently begun telling him he should get out and play more, and so he did, but not before he’d made the deal with Lena. He would use her garage for whatever he wanted, and in return, he wouldn’t tell his parents that she was regularly being visited by a man she called “the witch doctor”, and who Terry was pretty certain was the alternate teacher he’d had once, in third grade, for math class.
Terry carried an inhaler with him. He had severe asthma, according to his pediatrician, but the inhaler didn’t really help. When ever he felt he was going to asphyxiate, he would take two puffs of it, as instructed, and then he’d sit down and wheeze for a few minutes, leaning his head into the dark space between his curled up knees and his hunched back, until he could breathe again. He hadn’t gotten a severe attack in almost two weeks, and he knew, at the back of his mind, that he was about due for one. He tried to keep his airways open and clear while also not breathing the dust of the garage in too deeply, a feat difficult to accomplish when his mind was so preoccupied by the finishing touches he was making to his bladed and belled machine.
When he was finally finished, he looked at the whole thing from far away, and he figured out immediately that something was missing. All good machines needed a switch, a lever, something to make them go, and Terry’s was sorely lacking one. It had a cardboard bellows, several cereal-box rings tying various parts together in an ingenious fashion, and various compartments that Terry could pull back to see the inner workings and make adjustments. But there was no switch.
Come to think of it, and Terry realized this with a tightness in his chest and throat that told him that the time had come, he wasn’t quite sure what it would all do, even if he did find the right place to start it from. Should it move from right to left or top to bottom or diagonally? He pulled out his inhaler and balled his free hand up to keep his fingers from contorting with the loss of circulation. Would the machine even work? Did it have a purpose? It looked like it must. Terry puffed on the inhaler and pulled his t-shirt away from his neck, which felt swollen and raw. Maybe he could use the machine to breathe. He squeezed on the bellows and made the butter knives tied in front shiver a little, but nothing else happened. Terry felt the tears running down his cheeks with exertion and turned his back on the thing he’d built. He walked towards the door that cut the garage off from the house and opened it.
Inside the house, Lena had turned on the blender, and the sound zoomed into Terry’s ears. He twitched.. He sat down in the doorway and shut his eyes, burying his head in his arms. If he concentrated hard, and pretended with all his might, he could almost convince himself that the blender’s noise was coming from his own machine. Slowly, his breathing steadied.

A Writing Prompt and Response


Alright, ladies and gents and gender-neutral folk, here we go, my first writing prompt.

Take the nearest book and turn to the 34th page. Look at the last full sentence on that page. That is the first sentence of your story. Write between 200-500 words. GO.

Alright. MY TURN. Let it not be said that I don’t respond to my own writing prompts (because that would be sad…)

The nearest book to me is More Pricks Than Kicks, by Samuel Beckett. The last full sentence on page 34 is: “We’ll pass him before we get to the main road.”



“We’ll pass him before we get to the main road,” you said. We were walking fast, basically jogging since you kept skipping ever third or fourth step and I had to run a bit to catch up. My pulse was so fast that I could feel it in my throat. When I answered you, I was panting.

“And? What’ll we do? Ignore him? Say hi? What?”

“Nothing, that’s the point. He’s an ass.”

“Yeah, but maybe he’s going through something.”

“That doesn’t make it okay.”

“Okay. If you’re sure.”

I wondered what you were hurrying towards, but I didn’t ask. You were all prickly, your porcupine spines were standing up, and I couldn’t get near enough to hug you, to tell you it would be okay, that you were allowed to be hurt.

When we finally saw his shape in front of us, you sped up even more. I caught your wrist and held onto my throat, trying to signal how out of breath I was. You slowed, but your cheeks swelled. You were pissed off. You wanted your prediction to come true, and the main road wasn’t that far ahead.

We didn’t catch up to him. He turned left and we were supposed to turn right. I didn’t even ask if you wanted to follow him. I knew that wasn’t the point. You weren’t going to go out of your way. That would be too much.

I pictured you leaving his bed and waiting, and waiting, and waiting for his phone call. Even though I knew that you’d been calling him nonstop and that it wasn’t in his bed, it was on the grass behind the party house, when you were both wasted. I wanted to tell you that you weren’t being fair, that he was probably embarrassed, maybe as confused as conflicted as you were. Freaked out, now, by how much you were calling. I wanted to tell you so many things, but you were too far away. You’d kept going as quickly as ever, and I was left behind, gasping for air.


“What do you want to be remembered for?”
“That’s a stupid question.”
“Not really. You know. Under the circumstances.”
“Sure, fucking whatever, but it’s not up to me, is it.”
“No, but that doesn’t mean I can’t ask. God, you’ve gotten to be such a dick.”
“Yeah, well, you know, that also shouldn’t surprise you, ‘under the circumstances.'”
“Look, you said I should be normal. I’m being normal. You made me promise. Like, months ago. Remember?”
“Yeah. I didn’t say I’d be okay about it now.”
“Fine. Well. Just as long as you remember that you asked for it.”
“So what do you want to be remembered-“
“Oh come on.”
“Seriously, just think about it for a second. Like if you were asking me-“
“Yeah? What would YOU want me to be remembered for?”
“Really? Did you really just do an ‘enough about me, what do you think of me’ line just now?”
“You love me.”
“Whatever. Look, if you’d asked me, what like I wanted to be remembered for, yeah, like, it’d be a hard question. It is a hard question. But I mean, I can think of a couple things.”
“Like I want to be remembered for things I did while I was around, not for things people find out about me after. Or like, I don’t know, mushy things, like I want to be remembered for being a good person, I guess, or for at least trying.”
“But that’s so fucking general. Everyone wants that. Or everyone says they do. It’s stupid. What’s the point anyway? No one’s going to say you’re mean after. Like what, we’re gathered here today to commemorate this awful fucking bitch? Nobody would say that about you.”
“I feel like you’re not done.”
“Even though it’s exactly what you are.”
“Shut uuup.”
“Anyway, it’s easy for you. You have people. Like lots. And family and shit.”
“So do you.”
“Not really. You know what they’re like.”
“Well, yeah, but-“
“But nothing. They’ll care. They’ll make the right noises. But then poof. That’s it. They already bought a place in Miami, did I tell you? For when they don’t have to spend winters here anymore.”
“Are you kidding.”
“It’s fine. It makes sense. You know. It’ll be good for Zach, he hates the winter here. He gets all seasonal affective disorder and shit.”
“Fuck that, he can buy a fucking SAD lamp. They don’t have to buy a house already.”
“It’s a condo. Like in an apartment building.”
“Look, don’t worry about it, it’s just how they are.”
“Insensitive morons? Assholes?”
“Nah, that’s pretty accurate.”
“Well, still, it’s not my place to-“
“As if you ever cared about shit like that. Gimme a break.”
“So anyway…”
“Want me to turn the TV on? See if Powerpuff Girls is on or something?”
“Yeah, sure, why not.”
“Cool. Want some water? I’ll go get some.”
“Yeah, sure. Thanks.”
“No problem.”

Doing a Karenina

   Red wine goes wonderfully with steak, but Mimi is vegan now. This is her newest thing. Linda drinks the Cabernet in the kitchen, alone, facing the wallpaper she regrets getting now. It is tapestry-like, black and white threaded workers in rice-fields wearing round conical hats. What did she hear someone call it the other day? Coolie hats? She’s sure that’s not the right name. It was probably her husband. He sometimes comes up with racist shit that reminds her that he is, after all, the man who hid a coke habit from her for years, sinking them both into debt.
    Mimi doesn’t help. Her newest thing, gluten-free veganism, means that Linda and Greg are both starving all the time. They sneak out to get pizza in the middle of the night sometimes, giggling and pulling on jeans and baggy sweatshirts, like they’re having an affair.
    The phone’s ring is a pathetic approximation of Fur Elise. Linda’s shoulders tense. She hates the sound so much. Tinny and obnoxious, calls mean work or bad news, almost inevitably. No one calls the landline anymore anyway, except for some of the older people at the PR company she works at and Mimi’s therapists and psychiatrist.
    “It’s Allison!” Greg yells from the other room. Linda looks at the rice-field workers, at the waving bamboo patterns, at whatever nonsense it is on her wall that’s meant to look comfortingly exotic to her Western sensibilities. She picks up the portable out of its cradle and takes another sip of wine before screwing the top back and putting in the fridge. The phone is between her shoulder and her ear, the same spot it’s nestled since she was a teenager. Since she first met Allison.
    “Hey, Greg, you can hang up now.”
    “Okay. Bye, Alli!”
    “Bye! Hi Linda. You sound tired.”
    “I am. It’s been a day.”
    “Want to talk about it?”
    “No. Tell me how Noel is doing.”
    Linda regrets this immediately. As Allison begins telling her about her daughter, a senior in college who’s just returned from an academically rigorous year abroad and is doing great, wonderful, fantastic, all Linda can see is the image of Mimi lying on the subway tracks that time she jumped and survived.
    When your own kid has tried to commit suicide half a dozen times, Linda thinks, you don’t find 4.0 GPAs all that interesting anymore. She knows that if she told Alli that she’d rather not hear about her kids – Alli has two, and the other, the boy, is doing equally well, with a long-term girlfriend who lives with him and makes more money than him – if Linda told Alli she’d rather not hear about any of these fantastic things, Alli’d understand. That’s what friends are for, right? She’s asked before, and Alli’s accepted, keeping quiet about her kids until Linda asks.
            She always does, in the end. She wants to know. She wants to hear about college classes, about PhD programs, about how the daughter is getting published here and joining a singing group there, about how the son has finished his qualifying exams to get into his PhD program and how he’s house sitting for two cats. She needs to know these things. Otherwise she has no images to superimpose Mimi’s face into. And if she doesn’t try to cut-and-paste her daughter’s face into situations other than the thirty-and-home one she’s in, Linda will continue to see her lying in between the subway tracks, or inside her bed in the ward where she’s basically got a bed named after her by this point, or sitting behind the desk of Greg’s office, the only place she’s managed to hold down a job in years. Then again, Greg also employs his no-good, asshole brother, so Linda never knows how much work Mimi actually does there, despite the praise Greg lavishes on her.
    Linda listens, her right ear pressed to the phone, her left ear straining for sounds of an emergency. The worst part of her conversations with Alli is the resentment. Allison’s children had their moments, their years of therapy and fucked-upedness, but then they got over it. They got better. Mimi doesn’t get better. Mimi jumps from veganism to Buddhism to exercising everyday to playing the viola and deciding to join the circus as a trapezoid artist. Mimi stays a constant, unchanging. Allison’s kids get to change. Linda hears the change in Alli’s voice, too, and she knows that she, Linda, will have to remain a forever too. It’s almost worth the train having succeeded in its mission that day.


A list. This is what this piece of paper is called. You read it, carefully, before leaving the house. As you shop, you refer to it, often. You don’t get anything – anything – that isn’t on the list. The items on this list are the only ones you are supposed to, and allowed to, spend money on. This is the deal. This is what responsibility feels like. You asked for it. So here goes.
*Half-baked cookie-dough, found between the yogurts and the organic milk/yogurt/butter section. It’s in a little area of its own, because it’s a guilty pleasure that most people don’t allow themselves to eat. You’re not allowed to eat it either, so if I see the package open when you get home, or if I see you bought more of it than arrives on the kitchen table, adult privileges are over. 
*Herbal-mint-tea sheep’s yogurt. This is in the organic section, near the cookies. You are allowed to eat this, but not at the store. You wait until you get home. 
*Half-and-Half for your father, because he is spoiled and won’t drink his coffee any other way.
*Honey Bunches of Oats cereal, which you will find in the cereal aisle (you should also get milk, but wait until the end for that, because it’s heavy, and you know how your back gets when you carry something heavy for too long. Also, we, that is unspoiled people, drink 2% milk in this house, not whole, not skim, so look carefully.)
*Honey-nut cornflakes for your little sister, but make sure that it is the gluten free version. There should be a round button-shaped thing in red or blue or green or yellow that says GLUTEN FREE in big letters like that.
*Healthy granola bars – I’m trusting you here. Choose some kind of flavor you like that doesn’t have chocolate chips or drizzles of caramel all over it. You know what I mean. Something with fruit, or with almonds or apple or pear in it or something like that.
*Holly’s Oatmeal. You need to go to the organic section of the grocery store to find this if you don’t see it in the aisle where the rest of the cereals and granola bars are. It’s near the produce section, sort of near the meat section, but not near enough to the meat for you to be able to see anything. Don’t worry, I’m not sending you into anywhere dangerous for you.
Now that you have the list, you can go. Remember before you leave to bring: keys, cellphone, sunglasses, sunscreen, grocery list, pen (for crossing off items), wallet (for money), and the whistle your father and I gave you just in case. Also put on your necklace that lets people know you have an allergy to penicillin. If anything happens, I don’t want anyone injecting you with anything you’re not allowed to be injected with.
The minute you’re finished shopping, while you’re waiting in line at the registers, call me, and I’ll come in the car to pick you up. After you pay – ask them to bag everything in double bags because we need the plastic for the cat-box – head to the door to the left because that’s where they let cars stop. If you have to wait for me for a while, don’t worry, don’t freak out, it’ll be fine, I’ll be there in a jiffy.
Put your calming music on while you shop. Sometimes people are scary in the grocery store. They can be aggressive, or impatient. But if you take your time and do everything you need to do, you should be okay and nothing will happen to you. If anyone asks you to move, move. If anyone asks you about your stye, ignore them, because it’s none of their business. People are just rude sometimes, just like we talked about. Remember that if you get nervous, you can call me anytime, but also remember what doctor Ronaldo said about you taking some steps. You wanted to do this, so.
Love, xox, hugs and kisses,


   Jarvis counts his fingers. He counts his toes. He gets to twenty-four and is pretty sure he’s made a mistake. He starts again. Mia is giggling in the corner. Her laughter makes him lose track. He forgot she was here. Now he remembers. She is pretty. So pretty. Grotesque. Noses are strange, bumptious organs, sticking out into the world, central to the face in that they can’t be ignored, can’t be gotten rid of. Jarvis has a sudden and itching desire to Google people without noses.
   “I need your computer.”
   Mia giggles at the wall.
   She lies on her back and giggles at the ceiling. 
   She turns her face and giggles at him.
   “I need your computer. Where is it?”
   Jarvis decides Google can wait. He crawls to Mia’s prone face, as it grows bigger in his sight, but the intensity of her separating features becomes too much to bear so he stops halfway across the complicatedly patterned rug. He flops on his stomach. Pancake-position, like the pandas in the Washington Zoo he read about. They don’t know how to have sex. Sex is very strange, if he tries to think about it. 
   “Let’s go to Washington and join the pandas, Mia.”
   “Okay.” She is serene now. Her voice is high and squeaky, Mickey Mouse in the old Disney cartoons when he looked creepy and long-legged, long-necked. Jarvis tries to remember what she normally sounds like, but there doesn’t seem to be a state other than this.
   Mia’s face is sharp-planed, her cheeks smooth runways, the line from her cleft chin up to the dip above her lip a perfect landing strip. Her eyes are luminous blue control towers, her forehead the arrivals hall of a thousand pock marks of adolescent zits, a once-chronic condition she hides with leafy bangs.
   Jarvis wants to fly away, somewhere. The yen for the journey hits him hardest in these moments, watching Mia. The only black girl in a small town, adopted by white-savior parents, she is beautifully innocent to him. He ruins her inch by inch, night after night, and she thanks him for it, making him feel more powerful than anything else could.
   He is an inner-city kid. He marched around, beat his chest, and proclaimed himself to be Trayvon just months ago. His father is in prison. His mother is on and off welfare. He is a stereotype he cannot stand. Going to college isn’t working. It isn’t escaping. His mom calls and makes him feel guilty. His father is no less in prison here than anywhere else. Mia is the one good thing.
   He sits up. It’s wearing off. He really wants to go see the pandas. Right now. “Mia, let’s go.”
   “Okay.” She’s still lying down. “But you have to get insurance. Travel insurance.” She rolls from her side onto her back and lifts her legs into the air. There is a scar on her left knee that was there when she was given to her folks. 
   “To get to Washington?” Jarvis starts to laugh and it honks out of him. So not entirely worn off. He can’t stop laughing. He can hear how silly he sounds, though. That’s something.
   “Mom always said to get travel insurance. Call-look-just-call.”
   Jarvis finds a number for a company on his smartphone – he realizes now he could have found people without noses right in his pocket but his phone is still new and he’s not used to it. He calls.
   “SmartFarm Insurance, this is Robbie speaking, how may I help you?”
   “Hi yeah, I want to go to Washington with my girlfriend to see the pandas and she says I need to call to get travel insurance? Like we’re going to just go in the car or something. Maybe take a train. A bus. A plane. A motherfucking canoe. I don’t know.”
   Robbie SmartFarm coughs. It’d been a long day. He knows that even with this kind of call, he is supposed to untangle what the customer wanted. But he doesn’t feel like it. His mother is ill, in the hospital, he doesn’t have a girlfriend to go to Washington with, and the vending machines are out of chocolate-covered pretzels. “Sorry, we can’t insure you for a journey like that.” He hangs up and waits for the next call to patch through.
   Jarvis looks at the red “call-terminated” bar on his phone’s screen. “The guy said we don’t need insurance,” he says. “Told you. Let’s go.”

Losing Her

To lose her is to actively admit that she is gone. To lose her is to fully understand that her cropped hair and blue jeans don’t dance around the kitchen table anymore. To lose her is to create a space that is still filled by her slamming door, her key in the lock, her shampoo bottle on the side of the wet bathtub – signs that she is there but not, a ghost made corporeal. To lose her is to push her beyond her comfort zone, it is to possess a vocabulary of words that she doesn’t wish to use when referring to the two of you. It is to say that you are there and she is not. It is to say that ‘busy’ is an excuse for ‘do not want’ and that ‘tired’ also means ‘bored.’ Losing her means connecting the dots between your collarbone and hers and seeing the height difference that used to be a comfort and is now an inconvenient bumpy road full of potholes in your ribcage where your heart has shrunken because she has taken away her part of it. Losing her means feeling your stomach roiling full of whiskey sours and late night sex with strangers, knowing she is held in the arms of one who loves her less than you do but who gives her what she wants, which is more valuable, in the end, than the abstract love that you express in emoticons and hugs. Losing her is accepting a fishing hook in your diaphragm that is more firmly lodged there than in any catch she makes on City Island. It is remembering the loping amble and seaside strut of her hips.
    Having lost her is a prospect yet unfathomed, a deep green sea unexplored. You take scuba diving lessons in preparation, consuming yourself in the hearty weekends of others and abandoning them to their pain, learning to punish your recruits as much as love allows and more. Stars align in the night as you ride out weepy-weary from your tent and gallop across a desert on four wheel drive. Having lost her you will be a series of little wrecks left on the road from where you will crash over and over again, each pile of rocks you choose bigger than the last, until there is no part of you that isn’t broken and bruised. You will never return to the ocean where she dwells with the sea creatures she has adopted, having lost her. You will become a cacti-eating desert dune of crumbled skin and sinew as she floats along the surface carried by the tides. You will grow your weeds in deep and keep the memory alive, the fairytale all deserts whisper after dark – that once upon a time, many aeons ago, the whole world was filled with the ocean, from end to end, and that one day in the future the seas will rise again and the desert will be reunited with the water and will drink deep, and you will drink deepest, deeper than ever before, even if it is only from the salty mix of your own once-shed tears.  

Quickie #3 – Uphill

She’d never experienced a more beautiful morning than the one on which her car broke down, her cellphone ran out of battery, and her period started while she was on the highway, waiting for the AAA people to come and get her out of the jam. She scratched her legs where they itched from the mosquito bites and thought, since she had nothing better to do, about how odd it was to stand there, on the side of the highway, with amenities that didn’t work. Even her own plumbing was betraying her, dripping uncomfortably into the expensive Victoria’s Secret underwear she’d gone to all that trouble to buy. Even with the fumes of the rush hour traffic creeping by, there was a natural beauty to everything. Even the man picking his nose in the car in front seemed particularly poignant on this of all mornings, as he dug into his nostril with a ferocity best kept to private spaces.
She leaned against her car, patted its hood, and told it that everything would be okay. “We can’t get any lower than this, baby,” she soothed the car. “It’s all uphill from here.”

Prompted: Explain Christmas to a young pine tree

I only know what they showed me on television. But you don’t know what that is either. It’s sort of like how you, one day, might want to feel what it’s like to fly. When you grow up, you’ll have bird families nesting on you. They’ll build their homes in your branches, and they’ll use the worms and caterpillars climbing down your spine to feed their young. And they’ll fly. They’ll fly around your topmost branches and even though you’ll be intimate with the wind, you won’t know what it will feel like to touch a cloud. But you’ll think about it sometimes. And maybe even wish for it. When you see the birds flying – that’s sort of how I think Christmas is. It’s a joyous thing that I’ve seen from far away. I’ve seen others stretch into it like it’s a habit, like it’s as easy as plunging off a branch and rising high into the blue. It’s not something they need to think about. But you and me, we have our roots in different places and no matter how hard we try to picture what it’s like up there in that space, we won’t be able to.

Someday, maybe you’ll learn the language of the birds. Maybe you’ll manage to talk to them. And you’ll ask them what it’s like to fly. That’s what I did. I asked what Christmas was really like. Not the pretend kind I saw from far away. But I don’t know if I ever asked the right question, not exactly. Because even if you’re speaking the same language as someone else, when your roots are in different places, can you be sure you mean the same thing when you say “always” and “regular” and “just”? Could you explain to the birds what it’s like to draw water from the earth?