WRITING 101: Lessons learned at night


The following is part of a 20 day challenge to get into a better habit of blogging. Each day presents a new prompt. Today’s prompt: Craft a story from the perspective of a twelve-year-old observing it all. For your twist, focus on specific character qualities, drawing from elements we’ve worked on in this course, like voice and dialogue. Each post is a rough draft, so please excuse typos, flights of fancy, or hyperbole. (But feel free to leave suggestions for improvement, corrections, constructive criticism or crass remarks in the comments below.)

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Tommy and I sit on the front stoop of my porch when the fluorescent street lamp at the end of the driveway crackles to life. I’m still panting from racing around the block to my house before my mom and dad start yelling my name at the top of their lungs. It’s hot. And even though it is the middle of summer and no school, my parents still have rules.

Rule 1 (delivered in a stern voice): “You will be home before dark. If not, you’re grounded for a week, no excuses.”

Other rules include: Stay in the neighborhood; DO NOT cross Madison Road, the two lane main route in town, to the convenience store; No trespassing onto the farm behind our house; No stealing dad’s supplies to build clubhouses (a rule made last summer after, well, never mind).

And finally, the worst rule: Be nice to your sister, even if she’s pestering you, and sometimes you have to let her follow you.

Thankfully, my sister is at a slumber party.

“Wanna watch Star Wars, when we go in?” I ask, still breathing hard. I quit baseball this summer and got a Nintendo. I think about all the Coca-Cola and Doritos filled afternoons and flinch. Then I think, “I’m hungry.”

“Sure,” Tommy says, kicking an ant hill with his foot.

We’ve both seen Star Wars a million times, but it’s about all my parents will allow me to watch on the VCR. Tommy’s parents have shelves full of movies. His dad also has a secret stash of dirty magazines we found at the beginning of summer. We’ll sometimes sneak them out when we know absolutely for sure his folks are asleep. I’m not quite sure what’s so fascinating about naked women but I can’t stop looking. And I always feel guilty looking. I mean, we did have that one class last year, but I know I’d get my butt kicked if my parents found out what I was doing.

Suddenly, there is a commotion next door. My neighbor Bill comes flying out the front door of his bi-level house. He’s about my dad’s age, a little taller. He’s always nice, usually waves at my sister or I when we’re outside. Sometimes he comes over and helps my dad work on his car. This time though he doesn’t notice us as his front door almost flies of the hinges. Bill’s big German Shepherd, Brutus, starts barking like crazy in the backyard. I’d swear that dog would eat me given half the chance. Plus, Bill’s wife Cindy isn’t as nice as Bill. If it’s just her at home during the day we’ll usually leave whatever ball gets kicked in their backyard there. I heard my mom once say Cindy doesn’t like kids too much.

“Bill, wait! Please, Bill come back inside,” Cindy suddenly says, barreling out the door. “Please don’t leave. Let’s talk.”

Cindy’s sobbing. Her tears make me uncomfortable, like I’m hearing one of my parents conversations I shouldn’t. I look over at Tommy. He glances back, then starts poking the ant hill with a small twig. We both stare holes into the ground as we listen.

“Look, look, we can talk about this,” Cindy goes on. “I’m willing to try. Just come back inside.”

“We’ve talked enough,” Bill thunders back.

Tommy and I jump a little. I’ve never heard an adult raise their voice like that.

“Talk, talk, talk,” he said. “We’ve talked about this for years. I want kids.”

He says this last part in one breathy hiss. I know frustration, the kind my mom has in her voice when I come home from school with a note explaining I talk too much in class. Bill’s voice is kind of like that, but different. He almost sounds hurt when he says it.

“I’m willing to consider,” Cindy pleads, again. “Please.”

I peek up, Bill looks a little calmer, standing shoulders slumped in the street lamp light, near his car, keys in hand.

“I’m done considering,” he says, flatly.

Cindy’s body is shaking as she holds herself on the edge of that light. I feel sad and ashamed.

“It’s time to come in,” I hear my father say in a low voice.

I did not hear the screen door open behind me, completely taken in by this adult drama. Tommy and I stand. We avoid looking as we turn around.

I wonder how long my dad stood their listening. Before I’m completely inside, a door closes. I look back to see tail lights head up the street as Cindy stands in the dark, alone.

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