Story Cube Fiction #1: The Girl with the Dirty Feet

Prologue

Story Cubes.

Roll the dice and invent a story pertaining to the iconic images.  My nephews and I had fun making up stories as I tried to explain why “and he dies” is not a good way for a kid to end every story.

These are great for some stream of consciousness — or roll of the die — creativity.  Here’s a pic of what I just rolled and here’s a short “story”.

Turns out my short story doesn’t go anywhere.  I thought I was going to write something more exciting.  Oh well.  It’s much more fun and Indiana Jones-ish when an 8 year old or a 12 year old are helping you out, but…

Sometimes you just have to let it flow.

Chapter 1 of 1

Jack trudged up the stairs to his apartment door, thumbing through a heap of letters, flyers and junk mail.  Just in time to avoid the pattering of fat, warm drops of rain on the sidewalk.  The smell of wet concrete wafted into the air.  He attempted to sort the mail as he walked.

Bills.  Bills.  Bills.

“Why do I keep getting Bill’s mail?” he said to himself out loud and then, tripping on the last step, watched the mound of paper scatter across the landing.  He was not in the mood for his own brand of finely honed inconvenient awkwardness.  He frowned with an inward disappointment and self flagellation that would have been endearing if he were a sitcom character.

Jack bent down to recover his local neighborhood coupons and grocery store mailers.  His neighbor’s door suddenly opened and his neighbor’s young daughter stood there and looked at him, smiling widely.  She said, in a not-indoor voice, “Hi, Mr. Jack!”

He noticed that her feet were filthy.  As he continued to clean up his mess he said, with much less exuberance, “Hello, Hope.”

She didn’t say anything.  She just stood there grinning, one hand behind her back and the pointer finger on her other hand getting dangerously close to her left nostril.  She looked at her feet.  Looked at Jack.  Looked at her feet and back at Jack until he took the bait, “Okay, Hope.  So — why are your feet so dirty?”

Ignoring the question she wanted him to ask, she said, “It looks like a mailbox threw up out here.”

Jack ignored her cleverness.  “What’s with the feet, Hope?”

“Oh I was helping mommy clean up,” she said innocently.

“I see,” Jack said, gathering up the last pieces of mail and cramming them unceremoniously under one arm.  “I think you and your mom forgot to clean your feet and your little piggies.  It looks like that one fell in the mud on his way to the market.”

Little Hope laughed, wiggled her dirty toes and did an impromptu jig on her doorstep.

Jack had to laugh himself.  Jack also felt a burning desire to drink a beer and collapse on his couch in front of his TV and watch nothing in particular.

With all the tact he could muster he said, “Where’s your mom now, Hopey?  I bet she needs your help.”

Hope said, “I knocked a plant over and stepped in the dirt and Mommy and me cleaned it up and then Mommy said she was tired and needed mommy time and she drank a lot of mommy juice and fell asleep.”

“Oh.”  Jack really wanted a beer.  His mouth watered thinking about it.  He sighed.  “How long has your mom been asleep?”

“Um.  I don’t know!” Hope said melodically as if it were a ridiculous question.  “I don’t know how to tell time.”

The words “dummy” and “duh” were silent but implied at the end of the sentence.

“Okay then,” Jack said after an awkward pause and started to turn away.  “I guess I’ll see you later, Hope.”

But Hope didn’t move.  The rain patter turned into a showering murmur and attempted to fill the silence.

“Okay,” Jack said again with the realization that she wasn’t going to take a hint.  He sighed to himself again as he did when his better nature took over.  It was the sound of the devil of self interest on his shoulder being blown away by a gust of conscience.

Hope said shyly, “I have a present for you.”

“Oh, really.  What is it?”

Hope took her hand from behind her back and held out a shiny apple.

“That’s for me?  How sweet,” he said trying to impart sincerity into his voice and failing miserably but Hope didn’t notice.

“There’s a bite mark in it.  You took a bite?” he said, holding it out for her to see.

Hope held out her arms and shrugged her shoulders as if that were an explanation.  “It was a test bite.  So I knew it was a good one.”

Jack said, “I’m suddenly feeling allergic to apples, but how about this.  I think I could use some help.  You can read, right?”

“A little,” she answered.

“Why don’t you help me sort my mail, kiddo.”  Jack sat on the top step and Hope stepped out of her doorway and sat beside him, leaving footprints.  He handed her half of his stack of mail.

“What’s ‘sort’?”

“You just hand me anything that looks like it might be important.  Mostly ones that look like this,” he explained while holding up a plain, crisp white envelope with fine black lettering behind the plastic window.

“That’s important?” Hope asked incredulously, her voice rising an octave.  “That looks boring.”

Jack chuckled and nudged Hope playfully with his elbow.  “Get to work, you.”

She proceeded to diligently go through the stack of junk mail, making up elaborate narratives about each one, while Jack opened the bills using his car key as a letter opener

“And this one says, it says you can buy a woman in a blue shirt for five zero — what’s that number?”

Jack looked over distractedly.  “That’s a percent sign.  Fifty percent means half the normal price.  That’s some bargain for a woman in a blue shirt.”

“Oh,” she said, pretending that she understood.

Every so often she handed him something colorful and glossy that was unerringly an advertisement or promotion and kept track using a system of mathematical calculations that could only have been invented in the head of a six year old.

“One.  Two.  Five.”

Jack said, “Three, sir!”

“What?” Hope said with a wrinkled nose and a confused look.  “Now I have to start over.  One.  Two.  Three.  Five.  Seven.  Ten.  Eleven.  Eleventeen.  Barbie and one.  Barbie and two”

Jack laughed out loud.  “Okay, now you’re just making up numbers.  How am I supposed to–”

“One.  Two.  Fi– I mean, three –”

“Then comes four,” Jack said.

“I know!  Duh!” Hope said in exasperation.  The “duh” wasn’t silent this time, Jack noted.

The sound of the rain grew louder, the drops of rain fatter, the breeze turned into a wind.  A lightning bolt shrieked across the sky and the boom of thunder rolled its way toward them.  Hope jumped at the alarmingly loud crackling boom.  Jack looked at her but she quickly composed herself, handing him a magazine subscription card.

“Hope?  Where are you?” a voice called from inside the apartment.

Hope’s shoulders sank just a little bit.

“Hope?!” the voice called again.

“Okay I have to go now bye,” Hope said as she quickly stood up.

Jack said, “Thanks for the help, LIttle Hopey.  Go wash those piggies.”

Hope turned back, walked to Jack and patted him on the head like he was a good puppy.  Then she stepped into her apartment and before the door closed all the way Jack heard, “Good grief, Hope.  Look at your feet.”


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