Fifteen hundred words. One thousand, five hundred words. That’s what the contest rules stated. Surely I could come up with something to write about in fifteen hundred words or less. I sat at the kitchen table, spiral notebook open, pen poised. But my pen stopped after the word “Someday”, the “Y” becoming an ornate doodle of Elizabethan proportions. What could I write about? My life was so ordinary, so mundane compared to the experiences of those around me. I had no juicy stories of divorce to share; no exotic locations to describe, no secrets to expose.
I sighed, looking at the fancy “Y” on the paper. What about humor? I thought about some of the funny stories I’d heard through the years. There was the one about my husband’s childhood friend Meathead who built a go-cart out of a lawn mower engine and a ladder and some old wheels. It was direct drive, no brakes, no steering wheel to speak of — all it did was go forward. Meat took off, drove down the alley and right into a telephone pole, splitting the ladder by its rungs, the scene unfolding like something out of a cartoon. Or the time another friend tried to be George Washington on the point of their fishing boat, standing strong and proud as it came to shore. The boat slid onto the sand bank, hitting a sand hill just a little too fast, and he went flying into the air, making a perfect mud angel.
Naw, I wasn’t good at humor. What else? What about drama? I thought about tidbits I could turn into an entertaining yet meaningful short story. I thought about my father, a proud man who fought in World War II. He remembered the war as if it were yesterday, yet when he died at 85 he could barely remember what he had for breakfast. I remembered the story he told about being in a foxhole with a couple of his buddies. He turned to grab his thermos and pour a cup of coffee; a shell landed in the foxhole, exploded, and when he turned around his bunkmate was gone. Or the story of my friend’s daughter and her struggle with cystic fibrosis. The beautiful girl who died at twenty-eight because her lungs just couldn’t support her body anymore. It was the first funeral service I had been to where I’d had seen a “life” board; a bulletin board filed with pictures that spanned the girl’s entire life. I couldn’t believe her board could be so full at 28 years old. Or something sappy about family illnesses or faithful pets.
No, those weren’t the kind of stories judges wanted to read. Not in a mere fifteen hundred words. Surely there was something extraordinary I could write about. Oh, there’s my friend Ari — she’s wild and creative and just a bit eccentric. She talks to spirits and ghosts, and is delightfully in tune not only with her psychic powers but also her business sense. What about the friends I made at the Renaissance Faire? There was the gypsy wench from Germany and her artistic husband who created medieval magic from fabric. And there was the short, hairy artist with a beard that ran half way down his neck that worked marvels with pewter. Wild people, great people.
Or my family members. Loud and burly Uncle Bill, balding and boisterous, a loving man that enjoyed a beer or ten as much as burgers and brats; or Uncle Scott on the other side of the family, the one with the heart of gold and a passion for aqua shoes. Then there was Grandpa, the fishing guru and legend, someone who knew everybody and everything that happened in his little town. And what about my kids when they were little? Rooms so messy we’d need a bulldozer to clean them, or paintball wars, or wrapping Christmas presents while eating shrimp at midnight?
I kept doodling on the empty page. What about all the friends I’ve made through the years? I’ve known farmers and writers, mechanics and truck drivers. I’ve come to know special education teachers and helicopter pilots, football quarterbacks and massage therapists. Surely there were stories scattered throughout their lives. Well, I had friends, but no one extraordinary to write about. No one who spent time in prison or traveled through Africa on safari or had lunch with the President of the United States. No one that broke any records or invented something that changed the face of America. All I knew were people who worked for a living: ordinary people that fished or painted or watched movies on the side of a barn or made jewelry or delivered pizza or coached soccer teams.
I tore off the top sheet of paper, crumbling it into a tight ball, and started on a fresh, clean sheet. The black ballpoint rested on the thin blue line of the paper, ready. Yet nothing would flow. Not an “E” or an “S” or anything in between. I looked outside the window at the emerald green fields and weatherworn barns in the distance. The sky was electric blue, and the pine trees appeared as arrows pointed skyward. The chatter from the birds was almost deafening as cardinals, blue jays, and a handful of other serenaded from the edge of the woods. For all I knew there could be elves and fairies just on the other side of the sumacs, unicorns mingling with the horses at the farm next door, and aliens making crop circles in the field on the o]=her side of my house. There could have been CIA agents or ex-Nazi criminals posing as salesmen at the store in town. There could be a meteor heading towards my little town right at that very moment, or treasure buried under the lopsided oak tree at the edge of my property.
But I would never know, because I was convinced I lived in a vanilla-coated world. There wasn’t one single person to interview, nor one inspirational vista, nor one slice of comedy to fill my empty sheet of paper. There was never anything interesting going on in my life.
At least not fifteen hundred words worth.