Practicing with some "Three-Minute Fiction"

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:

 Round Eleven

  • Prompt: "a character finds something he or she has no intention of returning"
  • Story: "Twenty-Three" (written May 2013)

Twenty-Three

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 future? Please.

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 room anyway.

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 used it.

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 believe.

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."

 

Round Nine

  • 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 Press Conference

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.

"Triple-checked."

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 school dance.

She folded her hands and raised her head.

"Alright. I'm ready."

"They're going to say you're not going far enough."

"I know."

"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 different countries."

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.

Inhale.

Exhale.

She was ready.