June 30, 2009

I’ve been thinking by my ability to write fiction recently–I really think that my short stories tend to be pretty crappy, though that’s at least partially just me being self-defeating. A major thing I have problems with, I think, is character creation and development. Probably has something to do with how I have trouble writing about myself and people I know personally, and by extension, creating and writing characters that are similar to me or people that I know. I’ve recently realized that this isn’t really how it works with a lot of writing–I think before I just thought characters were magically made up from scratch by really good, gifted writers, but now I’m pretty sure that I’m mostly wrong on that front. So! A mini-project for the next couple of weeks with me is going to be writing fiction scenes that are character-driven, and that borrow elements from my own self or from people that I know, in the hopes that I’ll get over my characters-I-know phobia and get some practice with prose in the process. Hopefully some of these scenes’ll turn into full stories, and maybe I will be able to write halfway-decent ones by summer’s end! That said, here’s the first entry. For this one I just focused on one main character–I have an idea of the guy’s son, too, so I might write a “sequel” with both him and his son after this.

“…You never really expect to be where you end up, do you? I mean, you run away from or towards whatever your dad was, right?” The old man pointed left and right. “And you always end up on the other end, swearin’ you’re your own man. But you aren’t! You just keep on livin’ out a life that’s been done before…”

“Um, yes, thanks, I just want to pay, here…”

He didn’t seem to notice. “…I mean, look at me! Said, when I was a kid, said I was gonna change the world. the whole world! Said I was gonna matter! And look!” The old man pressed his thumb hard into his chest. “Here, changing the world, swiping your goddamn carrots across a scanner and asking you questions about paper and plastic. Credit cards, money, bags, everything’s paper or plastic, now! Why, everything you buy’s all wrapped up in paper or plastic…”

The shopper, a clean-shaven professional-looking twentysomething, had become visibly angry, as had all the people in line behind him. This checkout line was the longest in the store–and usually was, too. As the old man began to talk about his son, the shopper interrupted: “Look, guy, just take my damn money! People are waiting–”

“Waiting!” The old man hesitated for a moment, and for the first time looked square into the young man’s eyes. “Huh! Waiting! Listen, you’re in the short run, kid, I’ve been waiting for years–!”

The two started arguing, and the only bag that the cashier had scanned as of yet fell over onto the ground, a few oranges rolling out of it onto the floor. A younger, rounder guy looked over, noticed the scene unfolding, and politely scurried over to the register, register number six. He lightly grabbed the old man’s left shoulder, but the old cashier kept going: “I’m just saying, kid, you don’t know anything about life yet! I mean, it’s just a thing with time…”

The younger guy shot back, “Like I come to the fucking grocery store to get a life-changing lecture from a cashier, gramps!”

The rounder manager interjected just as the cashier opening his mouth: “Is there a problem, here?”
“Yeah, this crankety asshole is pulling a fucking guidance counselor on me–”
“Here,” the manager covered the cashier’s mouth with his hand, just as he had started up a retort, “have a gift card on us. I’m very sorry for the inconvenience. I’ll ring you up, just a second…”

The manager gently pulled the old man over and quickly lost his gracious smile. “Mr. Higbsy, this is the third time this week I have had to deal with your lecturing.”
“Hah! Damn punk’ll thank me later…”
The manager sighed and ran his hand through his hair, slowly. “No… no, he won’t, actually. You can’t keep doing this to me, Mr. Higsby. This register is starting to become notorious with my customers.”
“Hey, I’m doing them a service, here–”
“Mr. Higsby–”
“They’ll thank me, you know! They’ll come on back some day and thank–”
“Lavender!” Some of the customers started to stare. The manager noticed and dropped his voice quickly before the word ended. Sighing, he continued, “Just… take the day off, Go home. Relax. Realize that your life isn’t so bad, maybe. Spend some time with your son. Whatever you do, I need to man this register now, so please sign out quickly and leave, alright?” Lavender Higsby stood there for a moment, almost indignant. He started to say something, but the manager stopped him– “No hard feelings, Mr. Higsby.”–and retreated into the register, suddenly smiling graciously once again.

Lavender turned around, scowled, and walked off outside through the automatic glass doors, quietly but furiously mumbling and cursing under his breath, still in his work uniform. He forgot to sign out.

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