“Coming Home” forms part of the fiction writing course I am currently busy with. For this exercise you had to write a piece of between 300 and 500 words in which you portray a character in a complex way, going beyond the stereotypical portrayal. I chose one of my own stories (“Beneath the Bed”) and wrote “Coming Home” based on the prompt “meticulous manager who lives in a messy house”. (You can read “Beneath the Bed” below “Coming Home”.)
Sarah moved the stapler on her tidy desk into its correct position before switching off her laptop and placing it in her matte black laptop bag. She glanced in a hand mirror to make sure that her hair and makeup were still immaculate before saying goodbye to her colleagues and heading for home.
The local pizza restaurant was her first stop on her way home. She ordered a four seasons as a take-away and hailed a cab home. The black Corolla stopped in front of a double storey house with a well-kept English cottage garden filled with roses and lavender.
She glanced around before she opened the front door, making sure that no prying eyes were watching. Tucking the pizza under her arm, she squeezed in through the front door, sidestepping the pile of mail and newspapers that kept the door from opening properly. A stale smell greeted her as she walked with careful steps along the tunnel that was her only access to the bedroom and bathroom. The piles and piles of useful and useless belongings barely registered anymore, but tears still pricked her eyes when she entered the bedroom. Only part of the king size bed could be used, the rest was piled with clothes that did not belong to her, but which she could — like the rest of the possessions — not throw away.
With a sigh she plopped down on the bed and turned on the TV to a random station for company. Before opening the pizza box, she picked up one of the men’s shirts on the bed next to her and held it up to her face, taking a deep breath. If she really tried hard she could imagine that it still smelled like her husband. New tears burned her eyes as she looked around her. How could she change anything in the house now that he was no longer with her? What was the use now, after all?
She put the shirt down and opened the pizza box. The smell of pizza replaced the stale smell of the room and she ate in the hope of drowning the empty hole inside.
Breaking stereotypes — “Beneath the Bed”
I wrote “Beneath the Bed” for Cracked Flash Fiction a few weeks ago. The prompt was “You’re my favourite monster”.
Beneath the Bed
“You’re my favourite, Monster,” Lisa said to the shadowy lump beneath her bed and smiled. Her two front teeth were missing and she was holding another tooth in the palm of her hand.
“There is no reason for you to be afraid of the tooth fairy, okay?” she said. “She’s a nice fairy who’ll bring me money and then tomorrow we can go buy candy.”
There’s a snapping of teeth and a scrabbling of nails beneath the bed as Monster tried to catch a stray bug that had found its way there.
“Okay?” she asked again. Monster had become awfully quiet and agitated since the tooth fairy started showing up.
“Okay,” a voice rumbled from beneath the bed. “Can we have chocolate, Lisa?”
The little girl nodded, blew Monster a kiss, and pushed a small teddy bear beneath the bed before she jumped onto the bed and placed the tooth beneath her pillow.
Monster crept further into the shadows, hugging the teddy tightly, when Mom came to say goodnight and shivered with the knowledge of what was going to happen during the night.
The witching hour came much too soon and, with it, monsters like the bogeyman, shadow man, and the tooth fairy. She entered the room through the window. A thin sliver of nothingness that took on the form of Lisa’s mother as she neared the bed and picked up the tooth. Monster held his breath.
“What of yours do you give me in return for her safety, Monster?” she hissed.
“Two years of my time with her,” Monster answered. It was always two years.
A banknote was shoved beneath the pillow. “I accept.”
The tooth fairy slipped out of the room again, her passing only a whisper in the wind.
Beneath the bed sounded Monster’s muffled crying.
Notes on the stories
I decided to use the prompt ‘meticulous manager who lives in a messy house’. In my piece I pushed her to two extremes – at work she seems to be perfect and have it all together, while at home her life is a complete mess because she lost her husband; she has become a hoarder. I think this method worked because I gave a concrete reason why her house is in the state that it is in, rather than simply having her leave her shoes by the door, for instance. I do think that I could have said more regarding why she is so meticulous at work.
Beneath the Bed
In “Beneath the Bed” I played around with monsters being scary, tooth fairies being good, and children being afraid of monsters. I turned each of these stereotypes on its head – the tooth fairy is evil and the monster and child are friends. From the feedback I have already received on this flash piece, I would say that this method did work and the characters did not remain typical. If I had more than 300 words I could have broadened the tooth fairy’s role and motivations – as well as those of the monster – which I think would have made the story better, albeit longer.