Thursday, October 30, 2008

Literary Challenge

My friend G challenged me to write a short, short story. The parameters were that I had to use Earnest Hemingway's one-line short story "For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn." It had to be no longer than 3 or 4 pages. Here is the result. Warning - It's horribly depressing. G cried. ****** For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn. Call 555-0212. I saw the one-line advertisement in the classifieds one week ago and have not been able to stop thinking about it. Who placed the ad? What could have prompted such a depressing thing; to sell unworn baby shoes? There had to be a story behind it and I was determined to find out. Sleuthing, after all, is what I do. I’m a journalist – and a damned good one, if I do say so myself. I could not, in good conscience, write about this without going through the motions – at least making an attempt at finding out the truth behind the words. Therefore, in my mind, the most logical place to start was at my office; a run-down concrete dump in the middle of the historic downtown district of a city in dire need of a face lift. The department I needed was a conglomeration of classifieds, engagement/wedding announcements, obituaries and other local crap I was usually not the least bit interested in. (Who knows why I even read the classified section this morning over my quickly cooling cup of dark roast?) I called Marilyn the second after I dumped my purse in the bottom drawer of my fourth-hand desk and explained what I was looking for. She told me to come down in twenty minutes, after the daily department meeting was over, and she’d see what she could do. Nineteen minutes and thirty nine seconds later found me waiting, impatiently, at Marilyn’s desk. She was a hulk of a woman, who, in her late-fifties, still presented an intimidating figure to those who didn’t know her. I really didn’t know her, but I knew her well enough to feel comfortable, if irritated, waiting for her to return from her all-important (God, what could they possibly have to discuss for twenty minutes every single morning?) meeting. Five minutes and sixteen seconds later, Marilyn’s imposing figure came through the doorway across room and made its way cautiously through the narrow gaps between the cubicles. “You’re late,” I called to her as she approached, looking sour. “You were early,” she responded, sounding sour. “21 seconds early, to be exact. Are we going to nitpick today?” I asked, flashing a grin which instantly made the sour look on her face dissolve. “Nope. What brings you to the bowels of Hell? You’ve got a window, dearie, I can’t fathom a reason for you to be slumming down here.” Marilyn said in an almost friendly way. In answer, I simply handed her the cut out advertisement from last week’s classifieds. “You expect me to remember every damn ad that comes across my desk? With all the work I do around here, they’re lucky I can keep things straight for the daily pub – forget the weekly shit,” she said, interspersing her brusque response with job lingo. “Sorry,” I responded, not looking or sounding the least bit remorseful. “You know I would never ask unless I thought I could get something good out of it.” I grinned at her again. “Well, as it happens, I do remember this guy. Yes, it was a guy – don’t look at me that way,” she added, when I’d raised an eyebrow at her. “He called late in the game – it was just hours before press time. We’d already done the layout and submitted everything for final proof – that’s why I remember him. He was so adamant that he make that day’s pub. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. He even offered to pay triple what the ad would cost and suggested there might be something in it for me if I could push it through on time. Can you believe that shit?” “What did he say? Did he give you a reason? Anything that might clue you in to why he’s selling the shoes?” I queried, in full reporter mode now. “Whoa! Easy girl! What’s with the third degree? No, he didn’t really say anything – he just made it clear that he expected to see the advertisement in the paper the following day and sounded very nearly like he was threatening me. I don’t do that shit, usually, but something about this guy...the sound of his voice, the desperation behind it. Well, I pushed it through, obviously. What a pain in the ass that was. Do you even know what it takes to completely rearrange proof that close to press? What was that, last Wednesday’s paper?” “Yep. I just happened to see it and haven’t been able to get it out of my head. I’m hoping that if I can talk to the guy that he’ll be able to shed some light on the subject,” I responded. “Hang on – let me see here. I haven’t filed crap in a week or so, so the order’s got to be around here somewhere,” she said, shuffling papers around on her overflowing desk. I positioned myself on one corner of her desk and waited, drumming my fingers on my knee while Marilyn searched. “I hate filing. Find things better if they’re on my desk. It’s an organized mess, you know. Ah...here it is!” She said triumphantly, holding aloft one small sheet of pink paper in her overlarge hand. “Ed. His name was Ed. He wouldn’t give his last name. Paid with someone else’s credit card – a Julian Moore?” It sounded like a question. “He simply told me what he wanted, gave me the credit card info (what do I care if it’s not his card?), made his threat, and hung up. Didn’t even thank me or nothing! Jerk.” “Can I make a copy of this?” I asked, taking the undersized pink sheet out of her hand. “Sure thing. I need the original back, though. You know, for when I eventually get around to filing all this shit,” she waved her hand dismissively over her desk to indicate all the papers there. ********** Later that day, I was at my desk staring at the copy of the classified slip I’d gotten from Marilyn. I still had last Wednesday’s copy of the paper on my desk and absently began flipping through it again. What if I’d missed something? Maybe there was some other clue; something that would get me closer to my answer of the shoes. (Why was I even curious?) The credit card had turned out to be a local attorney. He was unhelpful – flatly refusing to speak to me when I asked him if he knew anything about someone named Ed and a pair of baby shoes. He’d stated, “That’s Attorney/Client privilege,” And hung up the phone. I’d called back three times, only to be stymied by a bitchy receptionist. (Mark them off my list of people to use in case of emergencies!) I’d asked my friend at the police station to trace the number in the advertisement, only to be told it was from a pay-as-you-go cell phone and that no other calls had been made to or from that number. Another dead end. As I paged through the paper, I happened upon an obituary that caught my eye.

Madeline Elizabeth Underhill (34) left this life yesterday, October 23 at 2:34 PM; her family by her side. She leaves behind her husband of twelve years, Edward Ellison Underhill. Her parents, Michael and Ella Jamison and two sisters, Mindy & Eileen Jamison, all of Crossville. Funeral services will be held on Friday, October 25 at Crossville Memorial Funeral Home at 7PM. Interment will be Saturday, October 26th at 10AM Rose Foster Gardens. In lieu of flowers, gifts can be made to your local chapter of M.A.D.D.

Hmmm...” I thought. “That was somewhat interesting.” I pulled out Thursday’s paper and turned to the Obituary section. I nearly fell off my chair in shock as I read:

Edward Ellison Underhill (36) passed away yesterday, October 24th. Preceding him in death was his wife of 12 years, Madeline Elizabeth Underhill and their unborn daughter. The family of Mr. Underhill will receive friends at Crossville Memorial Funeral Home on Saturday, October 26th at 5:30 PM, funeral to follow at 7PM. Burial will be on Sunday, October 27th at 10AM at Rose Foster Gardens. He will be laid to rest beside his wife and their daughter. In lieu of flowers, gifts can be made to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

1 comment:

Kathy McGilvray said...

Jen,
My daughter read this and said you need to quit your job, and just focus on your writing. I would have to agree, but I would miss you.
Hugs,
Kathy