Friday, December 3, 2010


Prompt: Here’s a 90-second drill: List items you can find in an airport. When the 90 seconds are up, write a story that includes all of the words on your list. Set your story anywhere but near an airport.


Response: stairs, food, people, planes, metal detector, officer, kids, suitcase, bathroom, music, announcement, gift shop, information desk, carousel, laptop

She was sitting alone on the stairs, knees turned in tweaking the black and green stripes on her tall socks so that they zigzagged across her calves. Her hair had too much texture, like it needed to be washed, and her heavy eyeliner looked like it had been put on layer over layer without bothering to wash away the previous day's smudges.

Ayden had just come from work and he was sick of people. He had been sitting behind the information desk in the university library for nearly eight hours listening to people whine about not being able to find what they were looking for, directing visitors to the gift shop that really was just down the hall like the sign said, and telling students to stop - to stop playing their music so loud, to stop talking so noisily, to stop eating food by the library computers. Just before his shift was supposed to end a young married couple with three obnoxious, squirrelly kids had come in, leaving a trail of snot and fallen books in their wake. He had finally managed to get away when one of the demons had screamed for a bathroom, but he was almost forty minutes late. And to top it off, on his way through a campus check point, he had tried to carry his laptop through a metal detector and the on-duty officer acted like Ayden was a terrorist, making him even later.

He was exhausted and all he wanted to do was gripe and moan about his awful day, but Ayden knew he could not. He into the big hall and saw her sitting on the stairs, looking forlorn and abandoned and he knew there was no room for griping. He almost called out to her, but he doubted, given her unwashed, defensive, punk-rock appearance, that anyone called her "Lissy" anymore.

"Alyssa," he said, walking up to the bottom of the stairs.

She was up higher than most people sat - almost at the top of the first flight. She pretended that she had not seen him, like she wanted to pretend she had not been waiting on him and given up on him coming. "Took you long enough," she greeted, standing to walk down to him.

Ayden was struck by how very small she still was. He was eight years older and she had always seemed tiny, but she looked underfed and she seemed not to have grown an inch. She was tiny, swallowed up by a ratty black skirt and her lurid striped socks and a black jacket that looked like a circus tent hanging on a clothing rack.

"How was your flight?" he asked. It was a lame question, but he did not know what she was interested in anymore. He could not very well ask her about catching frogs to make into stew which was what their relationship had consisted of before she moved away.

"I hate planes," she said, lingering on the last stair as if holding on to an illusion of height. Ayden opened his mouth to ask another question, but she cut him off. "And before you ask, my dad is old and selfish and has high blood pressure, but he's fine."

Alyssa passed him. She walked with her hands deep in the gigantic jacket's pockets, stepping with an odd bounce which Ayden realized came from the black platform shoes she was wearing.

Walking out of the university side-by-side was like deja vu; they had done it so many times before. But at the same time it was a foreign experience; Ayden’s dad had always been in tow, trying to keep the two riotous children under control.

"So how long are you here for?" Ayden asked Alyssa's back.

She did not turn. "Until my dad ships me back to my mom again."

Ayden shut his mouth. He did not know the girl walking in front of him; this moody, matured-but-still-tiny Alyssa was a stranger. He felt uncomfortably overdressed and overachieving next to her - pursuing on his Bachelor's in Anthropology and working at the school's library and participating in service clubs. He wondered what year she was in high school - if her father could even force her to go to school.

He had looked forward to seeing her again with an eagerness that had surprised him, but with her standing in front of him he struck by a heavy sense of unfamiliarity. Ayden smiled at a girl who passed them - Crystal or Kristen or something. The campus was sluggish; it was too cold to spend a lot of time outdoors so most of the students had retreated to the university hang-outs - the library, the cafe, the classrooms of the nicest teachers.

They got to the edge of campus quickly, where the trees came right up to the road. Ayden wished that he had driven, but it was only a ten minute walk to his house and it had seemed like such a waste of gas. He had pictured walking close to the trees where they had used to play with Alyssa and talking companionably. It was painfully quiet between them.

Then Ayden heard it - the circus-y music floating to him. There was a park just inside the woods with a carousel, he remembered. When they were little he and Alyssa had begged to visit it every time they passed. He remembered how it seemed so big and seemed to spin so quickly; Alyssa had always hung off of her horse, standing in the stirrups and laughing into the wind.

The girl in front of him stopped suddenly and Ayden almost ran into her. She turned her head toward the music as though she had only just noticed it. Her eyes were green and faraway. She jumped, as if noticing she had stopped, as if ashamed of something, and began walking again, her steps short and precise.

Ayden stayed where he was for a moment. He could not see anything but the image of Alyssa's face, touched by the carousel music. Beneath her heavy makeup she had looked like Lissy. And she had smiled. Like she could not help it.

Notes: I forgot to put the source for the actual prompt yesterday:

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