Writing Prompt: I Told You
June 14, 2011 § 1 Comment
People communicate with other people in a lot of ways. Sometimes we don’t even notice. Someone brought to my attention the fact that we so easily fall into step with the people we’re walking with. How difficult is it for a baby to recognize all the little signs of a person’s pace and keep up? We learn over time, but it’s never taught to us through words. I love that fantastic, unspoken communication. Spoken communication can be just a nice, however, and not necessarily easier to understand.
What if someone said to you: I told you not to tell anyone where I was.
Out of the blue. You had no memory of ever being asked to keep this secret. What would you do? Feel free to warp this prompt anyway you can. I did. Here’s my response, and remember to post your own in the comments!
Frankie had been her mother’s dog
There was a telephone line that hung down in front of the deli so that when Katarin looked out the window, ham or baby socks, sausage or linen shorts in her hands, she could see pigeons raising their tails and turning, turning, trying to decide which way to look on the telephone wire. The line had been knocked loose during the bad storm last week, and no crews had been by to fix it yet.
Katarin kept one sign taped to the front register. It said “No checks, please” and “Finish with your cell before you talk to me, or the ham that you ordered goes straight to Frankie”. She didn’t know the rhyme didn’t quite settle, but she knew the threat was true. This was a business.
Frankie was her small, yappy dog. He usually sat underneath the bench at the side of the room and woke up to snap at waiting customers who forgot he was there, when they slid their feet back under the bench and caught him in his stomach. Katarin filed his teeth down so they wouldn’t cut flesh, but they still pinched. People usually stood in Katarin’s deli.
Margot made a point of standing when she came in the Tuesday after the storm. Katarin’s laundry was spread out over the top of the meat case in neat piles. Why waste time moving back and forth between the shop and the living room?
“Could I have a pound of turkey, please?”
Katarin winced to hear Margot because she knew that she had a cell phone, knew every time she came in, Katarin was tempted to ask to use it, ask for a customer to help her, do her a service. It would ruin the deli. It would make it go soft like a woman who realizes she’s old. Kids would hang out on the bench and tame Frankie. Maybe the meatballs would go mad. Who knows? She couldn’t have that.
But she hadn’t heard from her mother since the storm, had no idea where she would be, embarrassed to ask after a homeless drunk she was unfortunately and blessedly related to.
“Sure,” said Katarin. She took out a lump of what she’d shaved that morning, then grabbed more to bring it to a pound. “Anything else?”
“No thank you. How are you by the way?”
Katarin finally felt the chill from the cooler case on her thighs and closed the door, distracted by the paint that was chipping from the tiles across the room.
“I’m okay,” she said, eyes turned to focus on the numbers that registered on the scale. “All your family do alright in the storm?” She wrapped the meat.
“Yes, yes. Everyone’s fine. Seems like everyone in the whole town’s fine. Only damage was some flooding and of course you know about the power lines.”
“Yes. Could I actually have half a pound more? Thanks.”
From the chill, as she pulled out more turkey, Katarin said, “Say, Margot…” The words were cut off from the rest in a big nervous slice. Asking about the storm was polite. Business. Authority. Using her first name was already too familiar. She remembered the last time she had seen her mother, dirty and curled around a toy stuffed duck, stroking her stringy gray hair like she was preparing to go out.
Already to familiar, so she might as well sign it and seal it up. She could already see the surprise in Margot’s honeyed eyes.
“Could I borrow your cell phone for a minute?” She kept her eyes down, at the turkey, as she arranged it, felt it slip and stick on her plastic gloves. Margo dug in her bag, “of course,” and set the phone next to a pile of hand towels.
Katarin took the phone into the back room.
She dialed the number of the pay phone where her mother was supposed to be, the number her mother had written on an old chip bag.
It rang. It rang. It rang…
“Thank you,” said Katarin, placing the phone back on the counter. She gave Margot her total, took her money, watched her leave, whistled at Frankie to get back under the bench. The sky outside was gray and hung close to the buildings like matted hair.
Katarin went to try her ground line again, turned back to the counter, folded a shirt, went back again to check for a dial tone. She didn’t know which way to look.