Usually I don't do the assignments I give. This week something turned inside, and I felt absolutely compelled to join in. So when handing out plotting assignments to my Intermediate Fiction Writing Workshop, I grabbed a slip for myself.
I grabbed "Day in the Life," a story shape from Jerome Stern's marvelous book, Making Shapely Fiction. The job is to use someone's quotidian existence to make a point.
Here's the plot I came up with. It's tentatively called "The Pacifier." This was really fun for me. I never get the chance to write anymore, and this just came in about thirty minutes.
Wallace Coventry got ketchup on his tie. He's in the bathroom at the shoe store, trying to wash out the spot. His boss, Ned, hassles him about being late for his shift. Wallace thinks of his gym teacher, who used to "dock him" for not wearing a jockstrap. Wallace's mother was widowed and didn't know those kinds of things were necessary. The ketchup is gone, but the spot is too apparent, so Wallace wets the whole tie and presses it between two wads of paper towels.
He goes on the floor, and a mother is attempting to fit some shoes on one child, who is screaming and kicking. The second child, still an infant, is also crying. Wallace offers to help, and the mother hands the screaming child to Wallace, who doesn't know what to do with it. He sets his Brannock tool on the floor and bounces around, trying to calm the child. The woman talks to Wallace and to her child. It is hard to tell who she is addressing, both by the content of her remarks and the direction of her attention. It is clear that her husband has left her for another woman.
After she buys the shoes and leaves, Wallace notices a binkey under one of the chairs, which is still wet. He goes to the register and gets her address off the check and decides to return the binkey. After his shift he rides his bike to a trailer park, and finds her single-wide. It is in shambles. Wallace recalls the fancy home of a girl he took to a dance in high school. She was nice, but Wallace jammed himself up, worrying that she wouldn't like him because his father was a foreman at a window manufacturing plant and his mother was a school nurse for a different school. Wallace leaves without delivering the binkey.
The next day, the mother returns. Wallace is getting dressed down for something. Ned won't stop, even though the mother is standing right there. Both children are crying again. The older one is wearing the new shoes, and is running around the store, knocking things over. Ned asks the mother to get her kids under control. The mother says they need the binkey--it's the only one he'll take, and the store is out of the right ones. Wallace says he hasn't seen the binkey, but he'll keep an eye out. When the mother and kids are gone, Ned completes his dress down and goes in the back. Wallace remembers a time when some guys at his school were talking about "finger banging" a certain girl, just as the girl appeared around the corner with the drama teacher. She is devastated, and Wallace did nothing. The pause is terrible. Wallace opens the till takes all the money and drives 50 miles to buy out all the matching binkies.
When he gets to the trailer park, the woman is sitting on the front porch with a man drinking beers. The woman notices him and says hello. Wallace takes the original binkey from his pocket and presents it to her. She thanks him. Wallace goes to a grocery store and gets a chicken and some cokes and eats them on the hood of his car. When he's done he goes to a pay phone and calls his mother and tells her he's taken a job in New Mexico and he'll be moving.
When she asks him where, he pauses. He says he has to work out the details. She tells him to be careful. He says the work will be dangerous, then he hangs up.