As an author, I write a lot. On average I’m at the keyboard for seven hours a day, or until I hit ten pages. The words usually come at a steady clip, and when I’m in a particularly good zone, my fingers fight to keep up. But every now and then, they’re just not there. The flow doesn’t flow. And when that happens, it often means one of two things.
#1: I need a break from writing, or
#2: I need a break from my current WIP
Sometimes it’s best to let my brain rest and do something completely different—sew, work out, hang with my pups, etc. Other times, it helps to write something completely different. The latter is like a mental cup of coffee, the effects of which can be achieved in a variety of ways.
How many, you might ask?
I bought 642 Things to Write About a few years ago and am still making my way through its fun, quirky prompts. After immersing myself in one project for days, weeks, or months on end, it can be really refreshing to write about a totally unrelated topic. It doesn’t take much for that creative jolt; even a few paragraphs can do the trick. And it’s so enjoyable I’ll occasionally pick an exercise just for fun—like I did for today’s post!
Here’s the prompt:
A woman is struggling with a large package. Her son doesn’t get out of the car to help her. Write the scene.
And here’s my completely unedited—sewing-related!—response:
In thirty seconds, I will explode.
Because in about twenty-eight seconds, the yellow door will open. A girl with sunset eyes and golden mermaid hair will appear. My heart will stop. My lungs will freeze. For an instant, it’ll be only us. The unearthly, record-setting swimmer, and her oddball nerd-boy neighbor. Only I won’t be weird then. In that moment, I’ll be tall. Strong. Capable of both eye contact and coherent sentences. I’ll be the yin to her yang, hip to her hop, bread to her butter. Unless—is she vegan? Probably. Someone that sweet couldn’t hurt a mosquito let alone a cow.
And Sadie will be…well, everything. The way she’s always been.
But then that instant will end. A second figure will appear. Hulking. Lurking. Cackling. Standing behind her, he’ll survey his land in the early-morning light, grunt, and take a swig of liquid breakfast. The gray concoction, which he hauls everywhere in a plastic water jug, consists of milk, protein powder, and rocks. Like, from the dirt, not the freezer. That’s my guess anyway, since each of his calves is wider than my waist. After he gulps down his power potion, his gaze will swing this way. He’ll see our old station wagon with the fake wooden panels. Despite my sunken position, he’ll spot me in the passenger seat. Like a lightning strike, he’ll be hit by the memory of yesterday, when, in my most mortifying social display to date, I became a full-fledged alien among humans. Flinging one gorilla arm in my direction, he’ll recall this moment gleefully, for the whole neighborhood—and his perfect sister—to hear.
And then it’ll happen. My heart will pound. Blood will rush. Veins will bulge. Pressure will build. Until—POP! I burst like a balloon. Or a pimple.
I make this correction automatically, under my breath. Not that it matters. I could shout it into her ear and scrawl it across the sky, and Mom still wouldn’t get the message. I thought things would change this year, when I started high school, but so far, no such luck. I am, and will forever be, her baby.
“Hold ‘em up!” she shouts.
Shifting slightly, I peer over the dashboard and through the windshield. I see Mom on the front stoop. She’s wearing her typical Tuesday uniform of jeans, flip-flops, and a pink “Love Machine” t-shirt. The machine, by the way, is for sewing. According to her, that’s the most exciting kind there is. And she’s not the only one who thinks so. The hobby even has clubs. She’ll be going to one this morning, after she drops me off at school. Or the funeral parlor.
Seeing me see her, she pouts. Heart thumping, I glance to the right. The yellow door’s still closed. Heart thumping faster, I look at Mom and shake my head.
“Your hands!” she shouts.
Confused, I hold them out, palms up. Both to show her, and to ask why.
She punches the air. “Aha! You do have two. Come give me one!”
Oh. She wants help. With a massive cardboard box that I only notice just now.
I glance next door again. All is still. The same can’t be said for my pulse, which, at the thought of leaving my hiding spot and exposing myself to more potential humiliation, has reached jackhammer status.
“Really?” Mom calls out. “You remember who labored seventy-three excruciating hours to bring you here, don’t you?”
Yes. I do. And it’s not that I don’t want to help. But has she even seen my arms? The pasty-white limbs that resemble limp pasta noodles—angel hair, not spaghetti? On top of which, the instant I try to lift a cardboard corner, the yellow door will open and—
“Morning, Mrs. Fink!”
“Need a hand?”
It’s too late. The yellow door has opened. Our planet’s loveliest angel, and its jerkiest jock, have emerged.
Mom smiles. “That’d be lovely! Thank you, Duke. You’re such a sweet boy.”
Sweet boy? The insult-hurling hulk? Who, just hours ago, in my Most Mortifying Moment ever (which is really saying something), made me the hilarious butt of an endless joke? In front of the entire school—and his sister?
Mom has no idea. But I can’t blame her. She doesn’t know what happened yesterday. And though Duke’s brutish reputation has infected young social circles far and wide, it hasn’t reached parents. Not yet. The kid puts on a good show.
Now’s a perfect example. Casting a sly look my way, he swigs his power potion. Hurdles the white fence that separates our yards. Bounds toward Mom. And beams. As if helping her is a gift for which he hoped but never expected to receive.
Speaking of gifts, my name is a wind chime. A church bell. A bird’s sweet song. At least that’s how it sounds when Sadie says it.
And just like that, she’s here. I mean, not HERE here. Not by my side for the rest of eternity. Unfortunately. But five feet away. On the other side of the fence. Looking right at me. ME. The dork next door.
“Okay?” I manage.
Our eyes meet. My heart stops. Everything—houses, Mom, Duke, the ancient weeping willows that line our street—fades away. My world is now dusky blue and soft violet and warm. Very, very warm.
Sadie’s pink lips lift in a small smile. Her head turns toward the right. Her sunset eyes aim at Mom, Duke—and the box. It’s so massive, even her gargantuan brother is having a hard time picking it up.
Something’s wrong with me. It must be, if I’m sitting inside the car instead of helping my mother. That’s what she’s thinking. That’s why she asked if I’m okay. And once I connect these dots, I’m definitely not. I’m so not okay, in fact, that a fresh wave of embarrassment completely eclipses yesterday’s.
Which is probably why I’m able to do what I do next. I sit up straight. Throw open the car door. Lower my head. And charge toward our house like it’s engulfed in flames and my noodle arms are fire hoses.
“Stop!” I raise one hand. “I’m coming!”
Duke smirks. “A little late to the party, Timmy.”
It’s TIM, though I don’t bother correcting him. I don’t have to. For once, strengthened by Sadie, whose presence is a power source of positivity, my body does the talking. Reaching Mom and Duke, I grab one end of the box. Still holding the other, Duke tugs. I tug harder. He leans all of his weight back. I do the same. He has about eighty pounds on me, so this fight isn’t exactly fair—but I give it everything I have. Even as he pulls harder still. My knees buckle. My legs begin to give. My leaning torso forms a near-ninety-degree angle with the front stoop. Bracing for impact, I close my eyes, squeeze my arms around the box, and—
Okay. Technically? I don’t combust. The box does. It rips right down the middle, releasing about a thousand pounds of sewing supplies that spiral around us like party streamers. But my heart still stops. My lungs still freeze. So it might as well be me.
“Oops,” Mom says.
“Nice work, muscles,” Duke says.
“Is that silk?” Sadie asks, coming this way.
I want to hide. Under a rock. In the house. Back in time. But before I can even try to move, she’s here. Kneeling on the stoop. Sifting through the damage. As I watch, barely breathing, she holds up a bundle of soft green material.
“It is silk. Timmy—” Mom stops. “Tim picked it out.”
Sadie’s sunset eyes find mine again. “You did?”
I swallow. Nod. Too embarrassed to speak—or lie.
“Do you sew, too?” she asks.
Guessing how this will sound to Duke, I wish for a sinkhole to open up beneath my feet. And I nod again.
“Sometimes,” Mom explains. “When I ask him to.”
“That’s awesome,” Sadie says.
“It is?” I ask.
“It IS?” Duke echoes.
“I’d love to make my own clothes. Maybe you can teach me?”
She must mean Mom. But she looks at me.
“Okay,” I say, just in case. “I’d like that.”
She smiles. “So would I.”
And then as quickly as this bizarre moment begins, it ends. Not wanting them to be late for school, Mom insists that Sadie and Duke leave the mess for us to clean up. They head for his truck, and I’m stunned speechless yet again when Sadie looks back not once, but twice.
The second time, Mom waves at her, and elbows me. “See?”
“What?” I ask.
She motions to her shirt—and to the two words around the fabric-fusing cartoon contraption. For the first time ever, they read less like a punchline, and more like a possibility.
Thanks for reading! Have a wonderful weekend!