Choose a scene. The possibilities are endless: a farmer’s market, a family Christmas gathering, a subway station, a forest glade, a landfill, an ocean beach, a ski slope, a football game, the home of one of those pathological hoarders you see on TV, etc.
Think about how you feel about that scene, or put yourself inside the mind of someone who feels a particular way about it. (If you’re a fan, describing his home from the point of view of the hoarder would be awesome. Or, say, describing a kindergarten from the point of view of a student on her first day.)
Describe the scene subjectively, through the lens of the personal experience of yourself (if personal nonfiction) or the narrator (if fiction). Choose details that contribute to the impression you wish to convey. Make your language (the metaphors and similes you choose, the diction—sounds and intensity—of the words, the connotations of the words) fit and contribute to that impression.
* * *
Just before 2000 (8 p.m.) on New Year’s day, my son Greg and I had a bit of a surreal experience that might fit into this SunWinks! prompt. I present the following in three parts: my story of what happened that day, Greg’s story of what happened that day, and a general wrap-up that includes his, mine, and his girlfriend’s thoughts.
* * *
I don’t remember why I came out of the office, but Greg and I were standing in the kitchen talking about something inane when the eastern side of the house started shaking. Okay, we’re in SoCal and earthquakes are common so that was my first thought. But... the floor wasn’t rolling and things weren’t being thrown off the shelves. Nope, not an earthquake. I looked at Greg and he was looking at the closed blinds and said something to the effect that he thought he saw someone moving around outside.
I opened the front door and saw a woman sitting on the low wall facing the door and she had a number of plastic grocery bags around her feet. I don’t remember the exact conversation but I asked if I could help her and she said she needed to go somewhere and asked if I could give her a ride. I explained that I was disabled and couldn’t drive and then she asked if I could call a taxi for her, saying that she had a credit card to pay for it.
I agreed and, knowing that it was getting pretty cold outside, I invited her into the house to wait for the cab. She gathered her bags (and, yes, I felt guilty that I didn’t help her carry them in) and came into the living room. As she was divesting herself of the bags, I dug out the phone book and tried to find a cab company. The first one I called (a local company) gave me just a recorded announcement listing their operating hours and asking me to leave a message. What!
I called a second and the dispatcher said it would be between fifteen and thirty minutes. Being the people person that I am, I immediately told her it would be a while before the taxi arrived and, excuse me, but I have to get back to work. I then walked back into my office, leaving Greg to handle our guest.
Work? Yes, I was tracking down videos from the Rose Parade that showed the USMC band so I would think that qualifies as work. Don’t you?
Ten or fifteen minutes later, Greg walked into the office, leaned down, and said that he had told her that he was a mute. I asked him what he meant, and he whispered that he didn’t want to deal with her so told her he was a mute and couldn’t talk.
The phone rang about thirty minutes later and the caller told me the cab should be pulling into my driveway just about then. I hung up, yelled at Greg that the cab was here, and walked out front. Hmm, no cab. The lady was picking up her packages and I motioned to her to wait because the cab hadn’t actually shown up. Greg was standing out on the sidewalk and he and I saw the approaching cab about the same time.
I went back inside, told her the cab was here, she gathered up her goodies (again, I was a bit embarrassed that I didn’t help her), and she went out to get into the cab. Greg and I came back into the house and he started to close the front blinds when I told him not to -- “I want to make sure that she’s gone.”
What did I mean by that? Did I want to get rid of her or was I just worried that she’d actually be able to get where she was going? I don’t know.
* * *
The Old Man was perched at his station above the breakfast bar. I was on the couch working one of my puzzle books. We were talking about the versatility of bat guano when we heard a rumbling at the front door. It had been a windy day and I thought the wind had been rattling the screen door. Pops thought it might have been an earthquake. We looked around the house trying to figure out what it was. He looked west out the window and I looked out the east window. Nothing on his side. My side had an undistinguishable figure moving about back and forth. This being his house, I let him answer the door. There was a woman standing in the cold carrying eight bags of clothing. As I stood in the house listening to the conversation, I wondered what the deal was.
“Sir, I have to get to Washington D.C. Can you give me a ride?”
“I’m sorry. I’m disabled and can’t drive anywhere.”
She quickly replied, “Can I borrow some money to take a cab there?”
“Sorry. The best I can do is call you a cab.”
“Oh, thank you, sir.”
Here’s strange part number one: The Old Man said, “Would you like to come in and wait while I call?” Now if anyone knows my dad, they should know he’s something of a skeptic. Some would say paranoid. To hear him offer sanctuary to a stranger in this neighborhood at this time of night is something of a brainteaser to me.
She gratefully accepted with the obligatory, “Bless you, sir. Bless you too, sir,” as she nodded at me.
She brought in her load of Ebenezer Scrooge’s laundry and put it down on the floor. She asked Dad, “Where should I sit?”
The old man pointed to the couch and said, “Anywhere is fine, I’ll call a cab.” He made a few attempts to call different cab companies. After a while, he got one and they said they’d be there in 15-30 minutes. At this point, he was nice enough to adjourn to his office and leave me with the stranger, alone.
As she sat down on the couch, I could get a better look at her. She was about 5’6”, had ragged maroon hair, and was fairly stocky. Her long white coat came down just above her knees and still had a price tag attached to the armpit. I hadn’t spoken a word when she asked for a cigarette. I kindly obliged and got one from the community pack. I held out my lighter and noticed that her peach mango lipstick was smeared up off her lips and coating her mustache.
I went back to my puzzle book without saying a word as she puffed on the nasty cancer stick. I started to feel uncomfortable with the silence and tried to justify it by making up a story. I wrote down on the back of my puzzle book, “Sorry I’m being so quiet. The doctor told me not to speak for a few days.”
Strange part number two: After spending thirty seconds reading my message, she finally nodded and mouthed the words, “OK.” For some reason she took this to mean that we weren’t allowed to talk in the house.
A few minutes go by and she looks at me and once again mouths a message to me. I played mute and signed that I didn’t know what she was saying. She started to mouth her message even slower without even making a sound. I got fed up and wrote another message. “You can talk.”
Strange part number three: She said slowly and silently that she just gave her friend a gajillion dollars to buy a house. Yes. She said a gajillion dollars. All the while, her hands were in the air drawing symbols of houses and dollar signs. She drew a picture of a male figure in the air saying it was a man like me. Apparently, she thought that mutes couldn’t hear either. At one point, she thought that I didn’t understand ghetto sign language and she started writing words in the air.
This was becoming too fun for me. I walked into the Old Man’s office and whispered to him that I told her I was mute.
I came back out into the living room where she was still drawing signs and words in the air and not saying a word so I wrote her another message. “I can hear fine if you want to talk normally.” She nodded her head in what I thought was understanding.
At that moment, my phone beeped and it was my girlfriend sending me a text message. The drifter put her fingers to her ear and mouth mimicking a phone call and mouthed silently, “You have a message on your phone.”
At this point, the office phone rang. The Old Man answered and it’s the cab company saying they’re here so I went out and flagged them down. We waited until she got in the back and left before I started talking again.
* * *
That’s our story and we’re sticking to it... or them. Each of those is the same story as we saw/experienced it. The cute thing was after she left. Greg talked to his girlfriend and she asked, “Was she wearing a white coat?” and “Did she have a bunch of grocery bags?”
She then went on to tell Greg that she had noticed a woman in a white coat and a number of grocery bags sitting on the corner of the street just down from my house when she brought Greg over. That was two hours before and Greg and I started trying to figure out what she was doing.
One of our thoughts had to be that she was checking out houses for some gang to find a good place to rob. Greg and I both agreed that we weren’t the right target. Yes, I have a flat-screen TV, but I also have a gun cabinet and guns mounted on all the walls. Hmm, probably not the right place to try to rob.
Why did it take nearly two hours for her to knock on my door? The best answer we could come up with was that she went from house to house all the way down the street looking for someone willing to help her. As long as she wasn’t asking for money, I can’t understand why anyone would object to calling a taxi for her -- unless she had a different story for each person.