Short Story: Something To Do

Old fashioned steam engine train

Photo via Visualhunt.

The town looked deserted as it methodically swept past Thane’s train window. His face and hands were pressed up against the dark, cold glass as he tried in vain to see if anyone was out and about. No one was.

He slumped back into his seat completely bored. His governess was snoring softly next to him, and there was no one else in their compartment. Thane subconsciously kicked his feet as he looked around. It was a tiny space. A boring space. A brown, dull, baggage-filled space. There was nothing out the window to catch his interest and certainly nothing in the compartment, and he wasn’t allowed to leave to find something interesting elsewhere, not even to the dining car.

He dug around in his coat pockets, his fingers itching to find something to play with. When he found nothing, he rolled his eyes and sighed with his bottom lip pouted out, causing his fine blond bangs to flip up momentarily. He paused, then blew again. His governess had been mentioning hair cuts lately, but he kind of liked his hair this way. None of his friends could blow their bangs up like that, he was sure of it. Or at least, he had never seen them do it. Then again, they probably never had to sit on a boring train with nothing to do but blow up on their bangs either.

He crossed his eyes to look at his nose. Nope, nothing interesting there. He let his tongue slide out of his mouth to see if he could touch his chin with it. No, again. He flipped his tongue up to touch his nose. He stretched his tongue and contorted his face again and again, but he couldn’t get them to meet. So instead he wiggled his tongue all around while making funny noises and ended it with a wet raspberry. He smeared the back of his hand across his mouth.

Thane glanced up at his governess and noted she was still asleep. He sighed as he leaned against the wall and stared out the window again. Wasn’t there anything to do?

His eyes widened at a sudden thought: He hadn’t checked his governess’ pockets yet. Oh, he would get in so much trouble if she woke up with one of his hands still searching through her coat. But oh! What a game it would be; an excellent game—as long as he didn’t get caught.

Still against the wall, he let his fingers tip toe towards her. He slowly leaned forward as his fingers inched closer and closer. She was still snoring quietly, completely unaware of the situation.

Thane carefully undid the button on her coat pocket and lifted the flap. He wiggled his fingers inside and felt around until he touched something smooth and cold. He wrapped his fingers around it and gently pulled it out. It was a pocket watch. Thane didn’t know she even owned one of those, let alone carried one with her. He inspected it carefully with the eye of an explorer as he swung his feet back and forth. One of his shoelaces had come untied and was occasionally flicking at his leg, but he ignored it.

The gold watch didn’t have a chain, and the front covering had hundreds of tiny indentations that looked like swirly lines when he held it an arms length away. Thane brought it back up to his face. How did it open? The only ones he’d seen before had buttons that would pop it open when pressed. But there wasn’t anything like that on this one. Maybe it wasn’t a pocket watch after all. He shook it, but didn’t hear any rattling. He pressed it to his ear and squeezed his eyes shut. There was a faint ticking. Thane grinned as he opened his eyes. It was a pocket watch.

He nervously glanced at his governess again to make sure she was still asleep, and then turned his attention back to the watch. He was determined to figure out how to open it. He spent several minutes running his fingers over it and tapping or pressing certain places in hopes of finding the secret button. But when he still couldn’t figure it out, he started to get bored again. Why wouldn’t the stupid thing just open? Frustrated, he dug his nails into the side intending to yank the front off. Instead, it opened smoothly. Thane blinked at the open face of the watch. That was easier than he expected.

Now that it was open, and he realized it was just an ordinary watch, he snapped it shut and snuck it back inside his governess’ pocket. He had been hoping for something a little more exciting than that for all the effort he had put into it. Thane tiptoed around to the other side of his governess to check her other pocket. She stirred and mumbled something. Thane dove into the seat in front of him.

Getting caught could mean a week of staying indoors and no desserts after supper. Or even worse, he’d have to be “nice” and play dolls with his sister when he got home. He shuddered. He couldn’t imagine anything worse than that.

He sat with his ankles crossed and his fingers intertwined in his lap as his eyes fidgeted around the room. He was so bored! What he wanted to do more than anything was to get off the train and play outside. But he knew that wouldn’t happen.

Thane looked up at his governess again. She was still sleeping. He studied her face as he weighed his options. He could wither away with boredom while she slept, or he could have a little fun. If he had fun, he might get away with it, but she might wake up, too. Basically, it came down to dying, having fun, or his sister. He shuddered again as he moved back to his seat by the window. He stared out at the scenery for a while, but he couldn’t stand it for long.

He didn’t want to risk waking his governess up, so he decided to tackle her purse instead, which she had resting beside her. She often said a lady always keeps the entire world in her purse. If that was true, and if he was a real explorer, in what more convenient way could he explore the world than this?

He lifted the purse onto his lap and began quietly rummaging through the contents. There were pencils and paper, makeup, and some sewing tools. There were also several other things he had never seen before, but they didn’t look all that exciting, so he ignored them. He dug around a while looking for anything interesting and was about to give up when his hand touched metal. Confused, he lifted the object out of the purse and discovered a pair of scissors in his hand.

He looked at his sleeping governess and cocked his head to the side in thought. What could he do with these? He smiled mischievously. She’s the one who kept talking about hair cuts. Wouldn’t she be surprised to wake up and find that she had one? Thane covered his mouth to keep from giggling. Oh, this could be fun!

He put the purse on the floor and stood up on the seat next to his governess. He carefully lifted her large hat off of her head, and stifled a sneeze when a fat feather tickled his nose. He gently put the hat behind him.

Her hair appeared stapled to her head. She had dozens of hairpins tacking up coils of hair up off her neck and face, which had been hidden under her massive hat. After some thought, Thane decided to leave the hairpins as they were, rather than risk waking her up. He checked one last time to make sure she was still snoring before he started snipping the scissors through the coils. He cut each one twice—the large ones three times—but they were all still fastened tightly to her head with the pins. He gently placed her hat back on her head, and sat down.

Thane had barely put the scissors back in her purse when a loud horn sounded. They were arriving at the station! He shoved the purse next to the governess and jerked his hands back into his lap as her eyes fluttered open.

“What? Here already?” she asked. She yawned rather ungracefully. “Well, we’d best get ready,” she said as she picked up her purse.

It wasn’t long before they were on the platform with their luggage and their ride. As the driver shoveled the bags into his vehicle, the governess turned to Thane and said, “Now, wasn’t that a pleasant trip?”

He smiled sweetly and said, “Oh yes, Ma’am.” When she turned and walked away, Thane whispered to himself with a grin, “It was very pleasant, indeed.”

————

This was a story I wrote during college, over ten years ago. The assignment was to write a short story beginning with the line “The town looked deserted.” There are some changes I would make if I was rewriting this today, most of them involving pacing, but I still really like this naughty boy.

Feel like trying out the assignment yourself? Start with “The town looked deserted” and see where it takes you. We had about twenty or so students in that class and no two stories were alike, in spite of all of them beginning the same way. I believe the word limit was 1,500 words, since mine is only just barely under it.

I always write stories too long and have to trim it down to the word limit. How about you? Do you have to fluff it up to reach an expected word count or do you have to trim it down? If you’re the type who manages to write right on target, teach me your magic. Please!

Short Story: Doorknob

Pregnant woman in foreground, morose man in background

Photo via Visualhunt.

Once upon a time—or rather, many times—I suggested carefully chosen lists of names to my husband for our expected baby. Each time, every name was turned down flat without even five seconds of thought. The due date was approaching and I was getting frustrated. This child needed a name, and yet not only was my husband turning down every suggestion I made, he also was refusing to come up with any of his own.

I finally sat him down one night and told him we HAVE to pick a name. If he didn’t like my suggestions, he had to offer some his own. It was only fair.

“Fine,” he said. He took a quick glance around the room and said, “Picture frame, Xbox, TV, bookshelf, book, table, chair, doorknob, telephone—”

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“You wanted names, I’m giving you names.”

I raised my eyebrows. “You would seriously name our child Doorknob?”

“If it’ll get you off my case,” he said and slumped back into his chair. His look was defiant.

“Fine, his name is Doorknob,” I spat before leaving for the kitchen. He was being such a jerk.

“Glad you like it,” he called after me. I heard the TV turn on.

I stood in the kitchen for several minutes, just stewing and yelling at him in my head. After I had collected myself a bit, I breathed deeply and thought, “Okay, then. Two people can play this game.”

* * * * *

The following Sunday, a friend at church grinned and said, “So! Have you two picked a name yet?”

“Yes, actually,” I said. I noticed from the corner of my eye that my husband looked at me. “We’re naming him Doorknob.” I smiled.

Our friend’s smile froze, and her eyes darted between my face and my husband’s, trying to guess the joke.

“He suggested it, actually,” I continued calmly, “He didn’t like any of the names I came up with, so when he finally came up with a few suggestions of his own, I compromised and picked one from his list that I thought I could live with.” I intentionally avoided looking at my husband, though I could tell from my peripheral vision that he was shifting his weight and staring at his shoes.

“Doorknob,” our friend said, still not believing. “As in, the handle on a door?”

“That’s right,” I said. I finally looked at my husband. “I liked it better than Table or Chair.” When he glanced up at me, I smiled sweetly.

My friend laughed, but it died off quickly when she realized we weren’t laughing with her. “Really? Doorknob?” She looked at my husband. “You suggested ‘doorknob,’ ‘table,’ and ‘chair’ for names?”

He scratched the back of his head and avoided eye contact with her. “Uh, yeah.”

“So, that’s that,” I said cheerfully. “Now that it’s decided we can stop arguing about it.”

“Well,” she said, looking unsure. “So long as you guys are happy with it. I guess.”

* * * * *

As we were driving home, my husband suddenly said, “That whole bit with the doorknob, very funny.”

“What?” I asked and looked at him. His lips were a tight line and he was gripping the steering wheel.

“You win; you made me look stupid. That’s what you wanted, right?” He glanced at me, then back at the road. “Naming the baby Doorknob was all my idea and you’re the martyr-wife who has to put up with me. I get it. You can end the joke now.”

Keeping my tone calm, I said, “I wasn’t joking.”

“Of course you weren’t,” he said with a sneer. “After suggesting Matthew or William, you’re suddenly okay with Doorknob of all things.”

“I’m not in love with it,” I said as I looked out the side window. “But you didn’t give me much to work with.”

“That list was crap and you know it.”

“I asked you in all seriousness to please give some feedback. A list of names you’d prefer since you didn’t like any of mine. You gave me one. So, I’m doing the best I can to compromise.”

“You—” he shouted, and then clenched his jaw shut and hit the steering wheel with his fist. He drove in silence for several minutes. “Fine,” he finally said. “Tell the whole world his name is Doorknob for all I care. But I know you won’t actually name him that.”

“I will unless we come to a different agreement,” I said quietly.

“Sure you will,” he said.

* * * * *

So, over the next few weeks, I did exactly what he said to do. I told anyone who was interested that the baby was going to be name Doorknob. My husband often stood by fuming, but he never denied it was his suggestion.

We got all kinds of responses. Some laughed, some didn’t. Many were confused. I had a couple of people pull me aside with serious concern, but no one could talk me out of it. I don’t know if anyone spoke to my husband about it, but he never mentioned it.

As time passed, he grew less angry and more sullen. As the due date approached, he even gradually came to accept it. The defiance was gone. The anger was gone. Doorknob was just what the baby’s name was. I was beginning to lose hope.

Were we really going to name the baby Doorknob?

Two days after my due date, my water broke at home. Once the contractions got close enough, we drove to the hospital and checked in. I labored there for another 14 hours before the baby finally made its way into the world.

He was perfect. His head was misshapen and his nose was squashed, but he was puffy and pink and slimy and all ours. A beautiful, healthy baby boy.

The nurses and doctor were giving us some space afterwards as I nursed the baby for the first time. My husband sat on a stool near my head and just watched us. Judging from his expression, it was in awe and in gratitude. At one point he put his hand over mine, which was on the back of the baby’s head—and I thought, “We’re a real family.”

Not long after that the medical staff came back in. My husband left with a nurse and the baby for the first bath, and I was stitched and cleaned up.

Apparently they asked my husband to fill out the birth certificate at this point, because when they wheeled the baby back in, my husband pointed at the name card at the head of the bassinet and said, “What do you think?”

It said his name was William.

Before I could respond, he said gently, “We can still call him Doorknob if you want. Or DK for short.”

I nodded, unable to speak. Then the tears fell. He sat on the edge of my bed and hugged me, and I sobbed into his chest.

“I love you,” he said into my hair. I cried loudly and gripped him even harder.

I knew he knew I meant, “I love you, too.” And, “Thank you.”

* * * * *

Hope you enjoyed this bit of fiction I wrote based on a comment I saw on a baby naming site. The woman was venting about her husband who wasn’t helping at all with names, and when pressed for suggestions started naming objects around the room.

It struck me as funny and relatable, since my own husband and I had struggled with names with our children. So, I started to write about what that woman must have been feeling… and before it knew it, this little story had tumbled out of me. (But please note, I don’t condone this kind of behavior. It just makes for an amusing story.)

What about you? If you’ve had kids, did you and your partner struggle to agree on names? Did you have a name picked out before the baby was born, or wait to choose from a short list after the baby was born? Both of our kids were a few days old before we finally settled on their names, since it was so hard for us to agree. Our second child’s name didn’t even come from the list we took to the hospital!

If you don’t have kids, what’s the weirdest name of someone you’ve met? (We’ve all heard the Internet’s list of Abcde and Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii, etc.) I met a set of siblings once who were named Serenity, Roman, and Talon. And another set of siblings named Princess Raven, Princess Safari, and Prince Apollo.

True story!