I'm using NPR's Three-Minute Fiction
series as a format for writing practice. In this series, authors
present prompts, and writers submit stories which can be read in three
minutes or less. Here are two of my responses so far:
- Prompt: "a character finds something he or she has no intention of returning"
- Story: "Twenty-Three" (written May 2013)
Just because he had them, it didn't
mean he was using them. She knew that, she wasn't dumb.
But he had a box. And it was open.
A box. How weird was that? A box of 24.
Did he seriously think he was going to have sex 24 times in the near
She hadn't been snooping. She was
trying to find his old backpack, which he never used anymore. He
would have said yes if she'd asked him for it, but he wasn't home, so
she didn't ask. She just went into his room and looked. It wasn't in
his closet, so she reached her arm under his bed.
And that's how she found them. A
little chain of four first. She knew what they were, even before she
found the box. She wasn't an idiot.
Once she was sure she had found them
all she counted them. No one was home, but she closed the door to his
Five little chains of four, and one
that had only three. 23. The box said "24" on the front.
So he had taken one.
Had he used it?
It was entirely possible that he had
It was laughable, too cliche for words.
Her 17-year-old brother, stashing a box of condoms under his bed. She
thought he was more original than that. Hadn't he always made fun of
the meat stick jockstrap assholes who walked around with these things
in their pockets, denting the butts of their jeans, sending out a
signal to all the "lucky ladies" that they were ready and
willing and able to take action. And without any complications.
Babies, diseases. You know. He hated those guys. He was so
much cooler than them. Or so she had thought. So she had been led to
So who was his lucky lady?
Her stomach tightened. She had never
even seen him hold hands with anyone, let alone kiss someone,
let alone....this. He'd gone to prom with a gang of nerds and goths,
all of them had dyed their hair purple for the occasion. One girl had
even shaved her head.
God, was it her? The shaved head
girl? Her name was Lisa or something, but she said to call her L.
"Just L? Like the letter?"
"Yeah, or 'el,' like 'El diablo'"
the girl had answered, smiling.
"Cool!" she'd responded.
But maybe it wasn't cool at all. That
girl shaved her head, but not her armpits, which was weird. And more
importantly she wasn't nice, really. She was friendly that night, but
you could thtell that she wasn't, always. Friendliness was just a
tool to her, a weapon, even. She used when she wanted to get
something. Couldn't he see that?
Maybe not. Maybe he couldn't see
anything clearly. Maybe he was just another horny, sex-obsessed
teenager. And maybe she couldn't trust anything he said. Maybe
meatheads weren't always assholes. Maybe goths and nerds weren't
always the truly cool ones. Maybe being smart wasn't better than
being popular. And maybe she wasn't pretty in a funky, interesting
way, like he had said.
Or maybe she was. And maybe that wasn't
a good thing.
She heard the garage door open --
somebody was home. She ripped one of them away from its little
family, and stuffed it into her pocket. She shoved the rest back into
the box and tossed it under the bed. He was coming up the stairs as
she left his room.
"Hey," he said.
"Hey," she replied. "I
was just looking for your old backpack."
- Prompt: "revolves around a U.S. president, who can be real or fictional"
- Story: "President Oshiro Prepares for a Press Conference" (written September 2012)
President Oshiro Prepares for a
Paul watched her face as she read the
report, but as always, it betrayed nothing. Her back was straight,
and every sleek black hair was tucked neatly into the bun at the nape
of her neck. He tried not to fidget.
"You double-checked these
numbers?" she said without looking up.
He was staring at her, he realized, so
he coughed and looked away. Even after two years in this job,
something about her made him feel like a twelve-year-old at a middle
She folded her hands and raised her
"Alright. I'm ready."
"They're going to say you're not
going far enough."
"And not just because you're a
woman. They're really pushing the Asian-American angle."
She smiled as she stood, his cue to go.
"I think most Americans are aware that China and Japan are two
Her calm was a wall, and his anxiety
rose in a wave against it. "I don't know if you understand how
ugly it's getting out there."
"You mean Miller?" she asked,
leading him to the door.
"Not just him. Gina Sanders called
it 'Shakespearian' this morning. And she's our friend!" Did he
sound hysterical? He didn't want to sound hysterical. But she needed
to be prepared. "They're loving this -- an attack from an
Asian country during the first term of our first Asian-American
president? Who's also female? They're just waiting for you to prove
that you're too weak for this job. Or that you have split loyalties."
She looked up at him. "Thank you,
Paul. I can handle it."
"Of course you can, I didn't mean
"We're visiting mom's church on
Sunday, and Angela's planning a whole series of folksy appearances
after that. Believe me, she's not going to let anybody forget that
I'm half-WASP, too." She laughed and he faked a smile. Her rare
bursts of casual candor always jarred him.
"I'll see you downstairs,"
she said, closing the door behind him, and turned back to her desk.
The report floated there like an island, and her heels sank into the
plush carpet as she walked toward it. It had taken practice to move
around the Oval Office without appearing to lose her balance. She
studied the numbers again and then closed her eyes, testing her
memory. Yes, she had it down. She glanced at her watch. Carly would
be here for hair and make-up in five minutes.
She opened the top drawer to put the
report out of view, and the faces of her children smiled up at her --
Madeline's fifth-grade grin wide and excited, James with his lips
pressed together and the corners of his mouth turned only slightly
up. A second-grade Mona Lisa.
Suddenly something hard and tight rose
up from her belly and gripped her throat, closing it from the inside.
Paul was right, it was getting ugly. Less than 24 hours since the
attack, and already new threats were coming in, much nastier than the
previous fare. "The Service is handling it," she'd quietly
reassured her husband that morning, the kids in the other room. But
she could feel the tension in his good-bye hug. This was exactly the
kind of thing he'd been afraid of when she decided to run. Why was
she putting them through this? They were proud of her, she knew. But
there was something shameful even in that pride. All these firsts,
all this attention. So un-feminine. Un-Japanese.
She looked down into the faces of her
children again, and then pushed the drawer shut, tucking them away,
keeping them safe. The press conference began in less than an hour.
There could be absolutely no crying.
She sat up straight on the edge of her
chair and rested her feet on the platform she'd had installed to
discreetly lift her a few inches higher behind the huge desk. She
focused on her breathing.
She was ready.