I've been following a writer's blog called Terrible Minds. It's funny, but I mostly follow it because the author, Chuck Wendig, gives some fantastic writing prompts. The latest one was this. He posted 10 randomly-generated titles, and we had to pick one and write a story about it. Here's mine, and if you click through you can see others' stories. Enjoy!
“For Claus’ sake! Can no one in this house hear me?”
The two teenagers sitting at the kitchen table looked up. Papers and coffee cups were strewn across the solid oak table. Crumpled papers, coloured pencil shavings, and several dried-up noodles littered the floor.
“What’s mum having a fit about?” asked Theodre, his long brown hair catching the light of the paraffin lamp as he raised his chin towards the top floor in question.
“Dunno,” answered Edraele, her bulbous nose crinkling in distaste. She returned her gaze to the sketch she was working on.
“What’s up, mum?” called Theodre in the general direction of the stairs.
“What’s up? I’ll tell you what’s up. I asked you, did I not, to tidy up your bedrooms. And did you do that?”
Penelo appeared at the top of the stairs. She was plump for an elf, and her dark eyes flashed behind her rimless glasses. Her dirty apron and flyaway hair, which she tried to tame into a bun with partial success, gave the impression of a witch more than an elf.
“We’ll do that as soon as we finish here, I promise, mum,” Theodre said in a soothing voice.
“Yeah, don’t get a fit, mum,” shot Edraele.
“You’re not helping,” hissed Theodre to his sister.
“Didn’t mean to,” she winked at him in a most infuriating way.
Theodre sighed as Penelo stormed down the stairs, muttering under her breath. She froze at the entrance to the kitchen as she took in the scene of destruction. Her mouth opened and closed, but no sound came out. Edraele looked up from her sketch and burst out laughing. Theodre rolled his eyes in exasperation.
“We’ll tidy up here, too, mum, don’t worry,” he tried to nip the gale in the bud.
Penelo threw her hands in the air, then went to the cabinet, took out a bottle of red wine, poured a glass, and strode out through the back door where she plopped down on the step, her back to the messy kitchen.
Theodre sent a disapproving look to Edraele.
“What?” she said. He sighed and chucked a crumpled-up paper in her general direction.
“Just finish this sketch and let’s move on, ok?” He said as he got up and filled a glass of water at the sink. He carried the glass to Penelo and sat beside her on the step. She wiped her eyes with a furtive motion that he nevertheless caught.
“It’s alright, mum,” he handed her the water. She took the glass and smiled at him.
“Thanks, love. I know. I’m sorry. It’s just…” she paused. As she took a swig of the water, she glanced over the rim of the glass at him. She seemed to have changed her mind about what she was going to say.
“I’m just tired, is all,” she said.
They sat in silence for a while.
“When’s dad back?” he asked, trying to make his voice casual.
“Not sure. I hope it’s soon, though,” she sighed. “He should get a night off either tonight or tomorrow. But he’s going to be tired when he’s here,” she said in warning.
“I know, mom, I’m not ten anymore,” Theodre rolled his eyes.
“I know. I forget how fast you guys grow sometimes.”
“We’re doing a school project, you know. Not just goofing around.”
“Yeah, you told me you were in charge of the Christmas edition of the school journal. I’m so proud of both of you.” Her smile was genuine, and it lifted her drooping eyelids a little.
“Thanks, mom,” Theodre blushed.
They sat in comfortable silence a little longer. Then Penelo rose.
“Better get dinner ready,” she said.
Theodre followed his mother into the house. He started picking up papers off the kitchen table. Edraele shot him an annoyed look but stood up and started collecting the papers and pencils she used. They cleaned the kitchen and took the bulk of the mess upstairs. Theodre found an old shoebox, and they used it to store the project materials. They then commenced tidying up their respective bedrooms in silence.
Later that night, after both children fell asleep and she finished mending the pile of clothes that waited for her, Penelo filled another glass of wine. She sat at the kitchen table, poring over a book and taking notes. She looked up as the door opened.
“Hi, honey,” said an old looking Garrik.
“Hey! Welcome home,” she smiled at him. Seeing his face, the beak-like nose and the hair that used to be flaming red and now was tending towards a tired brown had always lifted her spirits. It didn’t erase her weariness and frustration, but it eased them considerably.
He walked in and kissed her. Then he sank into the chair and laid his head on her shoulder.
“How was it?” she asked.
“Yeah. I think they call it the highest honour to convince people to do it. It comes down to sitting on the frigging shelf all day,” he sighed. “How’re things here?”
“Not too bad. Crazy busy as you can imagine. The combination of long shifts and trying to get all the housework done is a real doozy this year. Not sure why.”
He rubbed her shoulders affectionately. She smiled a tired smile, more to herself.
“What are you reading?”
“Coal: A History,” she replied, flipping the cover to show him while her index finger marked the page she was on.
“Why?” he asked.
“Because I like to read.”
“Don’t you think maybe with everything that’s going on you can take a break with the reading?”
“The reading is what allows me to keep going,” she examined him over the top of her glasses.
He smiled an indulgent smile. “Well, you can’t complain you’re tired if you keep reading instead of getting your sleep,” he got up and started to search the cabinets.
“Excuse me for trying to make something of myself,” she said. He turned around and saw her eyes were flashing.
“What are you making of yourself by reading about the history of coal?”
“Someone who knows things,” she put her quill down and crossed her arms.
“Like the history of coal,” he said, a smirk playing on his thin lips.
“Like something that isn’t wrapping gifts and washing dishes,” her voice rose. “Do you think I enjoy doing all the housework? Managing two teenagers who will never say anything but miss you till their hearts ache? Edraele’s sass is beyond annoying, and she only gets like this when you’re away. It’s how she deals with it. Do you think I don’t want to be sitting on a shelf all day taking a vacation?”
“Does it sound like a vacation to you?” he retorted, “sitting still like a statue all day watching the humans take credit for all the hard work we do? I’d sooner go back to wrapping presents and sleeping in my own bed, thank you very much.”
There was a silence in the little kitchen. Then, Penelo took a deep breath. Garrik imitated her. She rose from the chair and strode over to him, wrapping her arms around his considerable girth.
“I’m sorry I snapped. I know you work hard,” she said.
“I know it’s frustrating. I wish I could help out more around the house. When did life become so busy that we don’t have time to read?”
“When we had kids,” she grinned.
He chuckled and kissed her. She buried her face in his chest.
With his chin on the top of her head, he said, “We’re a team, remember? It’s a crazy time right now, but we can do it if we work together.”
She nodded. His tunic absorbed her tears.
“Come on,” he murmured, “Let’s get some sleep.”
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