So, my bestie, Steph, talked me into participating in a writing contest, which I hadn’t done since college. It was a fun endeavor, though, more like improv comedy than short-story writing. The premise is simple: on a designated Friday night, you receive a prompt that includes a genre, a place, and an object. You have 48 hours to incorporate these elements into a story.
For this round, I received historical fiction, a phone booth, and toilet paper. I hated this prompt, and I
spent a good 36 of my 48 hours avoiding my task, until I decided to just tell the story in my heart and make the required elements fit. When you’re immersed in a learning journey about race, it can become all-consuming, and this story was a wonderful outlet for it. (Shout out to my mom for posting this meme on Facebook – it is actually hilarious and totally how I feel every day now!)
I loved the resulting product. So, I decided to share it! The contest requires a maximum of 1000 words, but I am including the authentic draft instead of the trimmed version. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Alicia fumed, stalking her way out of the Italian restaurant, her chunky pumps slamming against the sidewalk and leaving her blind date in her wake as he settled up the bill. She had earned every single nickle of her sirloin steak – after all, she’d had to fight for that when her inconsiderate date ordered a salad for her.
And after listening to him talk about himself for an hour, she’d had no patience left when she found out he voted for Bush! As if. No way she was dating a republican. She was a Clinton girl and relieved that the handsome governor had won the presidency. Now just a couple of lame-duck months of the republicans, and then it would be smooth sailing.
It was a chilly December afternoon, and Alicia pulled her stylish, shoulder-padded blazer tighter around her as she stepped up to the sidewalk to hail a cab. A gust of wind up her mid-calf length floral dress, though, sent her muttering curses under her breath when the first two were occupied.
“My place is just two blocks from here,” her date, Carl, piped up behind her.
“Thanks,” Alicia said, only turning halfway back and hoping he would take a hint. “I’ll get a ride.”
He didn’t, and she deflected him three more times before he finally left.
To add insult to injury, the skies opened up and a trickle of rain plopping drops on Alicia’s nose soon became a downpour. Her outfit would be ruined in this weather, she worried, and these pieces were classics. She ducked into the first shelter she saw, a telephone booth.
“Oh ho!” a deep male voice exclaimed in surprise, when Alicia pressed her way into the small space.
“Oh oh!” her own voice returned, just as surprised – the windows on this phone booth were dingy, and with her eyes downcast to keep the water dripping out of her once perfectly-teased hair, she hadn’t noticed him inside already. The discomfort settling on her, though, was more than the surprise, more than being shoved in a space the size of an airplane bathroom with a man, and she felt her elbow clamp down on her purse under her arm.
“What are you doing here?” Alicia asked, noting that he wasn’t holding the phone. He didn’t look homeless – if anything, he sort of looked stylish, in that urban way. His dungarees had one shoulder unfastened, and his striped yellow-and-purple t-shirt matched his dual-colored baseball hat that he wore forward, not backward, like a hooligan.
“Waiting out the rain,” he answered, with a lifted intonation that seemed to call her question obvious, although he followed it with a light hearted laugh: “These fresh digs will get trashed up in this storm, feel me?” Alicia laughed – that was precisely the reason she had ended up here, too. “What are you doing here?”
“….Waiting out the rain,” she echoed, with a timid laugh. “Do you mind…?”
“Want me to leave?” he asked, and Alicia tilted her head. She had burst in on his shelter, but he didn’t feel entitled to it?
“No!” Alicia said, reflexively, politely… although the truth was that she did want him to leave. She just knew that wasn’t the right answer. With a smile, she tried to play it off, as if this were about anything except her own discomfort. “I bet the rain will let up soon. Although there’s… there’s an Italian restaurant, just there. It would be more comfortable.”
“You for real?” he returned, incredulous. He glanced toward the street, and when he spoke, it was with the inflection of a joke even though somehow Alicia doubted that it was one. “A black man walking into a nice restaurant just to wait? They’ll probably call the cops.”
Alicia’s brows raised, and she took the last two-inch step back and her back hit the grimy wall, and her elbow knocked the phone loose from its cradle. The muted dial tone filled the awkward silence in the breath before her forced laugh and excuse: “Oh I don’t… I mean, I don’t see color. I’m sure they won’t either!”
She knew that was a lie, though, and her eyes fell in shame… and she noted that his shoes were purple, his tube socks, a bright mustard yellow. He had probably put more time and thought into his outfit than she had.
“For real? That’s not why you grabbed your purse the second you stepped in here?” he asked. His voice had an easiness to it that Alicia liked – he managed to discuss the elephant in the room, but… without judgment. He wasn’t angry, wasn’t accusing. Just saying, straight up, what Alicia knew was true, but hadn’t even been able to acknowledge to herself.
All of the sudden, Alicia’s eyes were burning. Discomfort turned to shame. She was a democrat! She believed in equal rights! She wasn’t a racist! But now she felt like one, and it was unbearable. Groping blindly in her purse, her hand fell on the roll of toilet paper she carried around everywhere, just in case she ever got caught in a public bathroom out of supplies. She drew it out, tore off a few squares, and tried to save her face before running mascara destroyed it…
“Whoa, girl, it’s okay,” he reassured her. Through blurred vision, she saw his hand lift as if he might want to touch her shoulder in comfort… but then he withdrew it. She knew he was worried she would take it the wrong way, and all the sudden, she realized how much danger she’d put him in, being here alone. And she realized how his back was pressed against the door, like he might need to make that break for it through the rain after all. Both those thoughts made her just cry harder.
Overhead, thunder cracked.
“Now it’s raining in here, too,” he laughed, when he realized all he could do was lighten the mood.
Alicia glanced up – did he think her tears were funny? She couldn’t decode his face, not quite, but if she had to guess, she would say he wasn’t judging… he just wasn’t surprised.
“Look, it’s not your fault.” Racism. He spared her by not using the word. “It out of our hands; it’s the world.” He glanced out the window with a smirk. “It’s the rain. Best we can do is hide from it.”
Alicia sniffed, hard enough that she snorted. She hadn’t grabbed her purse because of this guy. Hadn’t wanted him to leave because of anything he did. Nothing she’d felt had been a conscious choice. Instead of trying to look anywhere else or only notice the acceptable things, Alicia let herself actually see her shelter-partner. He was a little younger than her, she guessed. Tall, thin, clean-shaven. When she smiled back at her, his grin was lopsided and it gave his face a handsome boyishness to it.
“Then let’s go hide in that Italian restaurant,” Alicia proposed. His smile waned hesitantly. The question they were both asking themselves was so absurd that neither could voice it: had she just asked him on a date? Alicia couldn’t answer it herself. So instead, she just tucked her toilet paper roll back in her purse. “They won’t call the cops if you’re with me.”
He nodded, and Alicia noticed that his nose scrunched up in the cutest way when he smiled. He cracked the door open with a press of his shoulder, as if he was some action star in a movie, like Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard she had seen last week. “Let’s run – in three, two, one…!”