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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

On Assignment

I write nonfiction most of the time.  But on 11/13/12, a day that’s just a little out of order, it’s time to mix things up.  What follows is a short piece I did or a fiction writing class I took last winter.  The assignment: write a two page story that focused on establishing time and place.  

One woman wrote an inspired tale about a family farming in the Midwest in the late 1800s.  Another person portrayed an angst-ridden adolescent coming of age to the music of Kurt Cobain.  I went for something far less high-brow. Don't judge.  But do chime in with your guesses about when this takes place (the location is self-explanatory, and if you guess wrong I reserve the right to judge you. Mock you, too, come to think of it.) Without further ado, I bring you some very bad fiction...Don't say I didn't warn you... 

Matthew Kelly wasn’t sure which he regretted more: the shots of tequila he downed during last night’s Chuck Brown show at the Bayou or the lunch invitation he’d extended to Jane Kensington after Property class on Friday. He and Jane were initially linked by the alphabet on their first day at Georgetown Law.  They were seatmates in the legendary Oscar Ness’s 10 a.m. Torts class.  In the second week of classes, a stronger bond was forged when Ness broke alphabetic protocol –the one courtesy law professors seemed to grant students—and took aim at Jane instead of Matthew.  

“Ms. Kensington, what is the procedural posture in this case?”  he asked.  Ness’s question was as startling as his choice of victims. He had plowed all the way through the J’s without once inquiring about the minutiae of the case’s journey through the legal system.  

Jane cast a panicked glance at her casebook and attempted to stall, “Well, this case, which is about negligence, went to trial and…”

“Fascinating insights, those, Ms. Kensington,” Ness said. His fat, ruddy face twisted into a sneer.  “Do tell us how you arrived at them. No wait, let me guess: You deduced this case is about negligence because that’s what every case in Chapter 3 is about? Brilliant! And your groundbreaking conclusion that there was a trial –is that perhaps because judges don’t write opinions about cases that settle, Ms. Kensington?”  

Jane had pulled her dark hair back into a severe ponytail that offered no cover. Her cheeks turned a red-orange that reminded Matthew of underripe tomatoes.  The minute hand on the clock above the blackboard lurched audibly past twelve.  Ness turned and looked up.  “Ah, out of time for today, I see. Looks like we’ll be left in suspense. Tragedy, that.”   He frowned with mock disappointment.  Jane leaped out of her seat and bolted for the door as Matthew trailed her, burdened with guilt.  Ness’s Socratic arrow should have been pointed at him.  He tapped her on the shoulder. 

“Jane?”  She pivoted on her heel and glared at him. 

“What do you want? My address, so you can send me a thank-you note for screwing up royally before you had a chance to?”

“No, I, um, well, I just wanted to say Ness is a real jerk.  Everybody knows that. We’d all have been in the same boat as you.  Oh, and I’m Matthew Kelly. You probably already knew that but we haven’t officially met.”  Her glare lost some of its strength and her shoulders drooped.  “Do you have time for coffee?” he said. 

Matthew and Jane had been inseparable since then.  They ate lunch in the cafeteria every day, studied at the library in the evenings, and went to Nathan’s for drinks on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But they’d never been to each other’s apartments. He knew she wanted to be more than friends, just as he knew most of his classmates wondered if he might be gay.  (The latter rumor, like so many on the L1 grapevine, hadn’t bothered to travel incognito.)  Inviting Jane to lunch at his apartment might at least quell the gossip about his sexuality.  It was a brilliant idea. Or so it seemed two days ago, before the tequila shots.  

Matthew’s stomach lurched as he forced himself upright.  Pressing a hand to his forehead, he shuffled across the cheap blue carpet that covered the living area to the puckered yellow vinyl of the kitchen.  The slope of the floors felt especially pronounced today.  Just another charming feature of the three hundred square foot studio that met his requirement for proximity to the law school, to the exclusion of all other criteria for habitable space.  Situated above a fast-food kitchen that catered to the inebriated late-night crowd, its wood-paneled walls seemed to exhale fumes of fried potatoes and burgers.  Matthew tried to blunt the odor with Renuzit air fresheners placed strategically in each corner, but the conical sentries were an inadequate defense against the smelly onslaught.

He opened the cabinet above the sink and extracted two dull, orange Melaware plates.  When he moved to D.C., his mom had tried to foist her fondue pot and stickers on him, too, but he’d refused.  The old fondue set would have come in handy now, he realized, on opening the fridge to find a block of Swiss cheese, mayonnaise of questionable vintage, and a half-drunk bottle of Blue Nun.  He reached into the cupboard under the sink where the dry goods were neighbors with the Palmolive.  Ah, the mice were back.  Relief quickly replaced his disgust when he spotted the square, blue aluminum container behind cans of chicken soup and tuna fish.  He had neither the time nor energy for a last-minute dash to the Food Mart down the street.  Spam would have to do.    


  1. "11/13/12, a day that’s just a little out of order, it’s time to mix things up." I love this subtle observation, it totally sets the mood :)

    I also totally (and unfortunately) really related (all to recently) to the law student lifestyle! Spam = ideal ending to a short fiction piece. Spam for the win!

    1. Thank you, Rowmie! It's hard to go wrong with Spam. It just never fails you. Doesn't cure you, either, but still, it never fails you.

  2. Replies
    1. You win the Spam Bobblehead Doll! (Yes, it exists. I know because I have it, of course.)

    2. I was fed quite a bit of Spam as a kid in the 70s. lol

  3. Now I find myself kind of hoping that Matthew Kelly is gay given that a Spam lunch is probably not going to work out for him as a romantic overture.

    Good for you for taking a risk and publishing fiction!

    1. Thank you! Is risk the same thing as the lazy person's way out? If so, I'm glad I took it, too!