Sunday, June 12, 2011

Writing Prompt #2: Wristwatches, Handguns, and . . .

A/N:  As you may have seen last week, our second writing prompt was posted, offering some possible threads to guide us through writer's block or into a story.  In case you missed it, here's the prompt (taken from Reader's Digest):

One day you come into work and find a cookie mysteriously placed on your desk. Grateful to whoever left this anonymous cookie, you eat it. The next morning you come in and find another cookie. This continues for months until one day a different object is leftand this time there's a note.

The following is my response.  My intention was not so much to write something unusual, but to develop a peculiar voice for the narrator that contrasted, yet complimented, the content.  As always, any reactions, thoughts, criticisms are welcome (story after the jump).


On June 7th, at 7:47 am, Michael J. Sloan entered his office building on Lexington Avenue.  He moved quickly enough down the halls that the air opened his jacket, like a young boy with a cape behind him.  Of course, Mr. Sloan was not running like a little boy, and he would have disliked the comparison.  It would be difficult to imagine that Mr. Sloan ever did anything with childhood enthusiasm, even as a child.  He was a man with hands in his pockets and hands on his watches, turning to meet the time.  No more than the minute and no less than his own expectations.  His subordinates would simply call him a prick. Regardless, Mr. Sloan still moved quickly through the hall to the elevator, and then from the elevator, now on the fifth floor, to his office.  It was now 7:49 am.

Mr. Sloan’s secretary, a Mrs. Quinn, was already at her desk.  Since 7:44 am, she had been arranging Mr. Sloan’s action items, meeting schedule, and memos awaiting review, each into their appropriate piles.  Her persistence and diligence to her work, often noted in her quarterly evaluations, was motivated more from her avoidance of Mr. Sloan than her commitment to her work.  If she met his expectations, even if inhumanly unreasonable, she did not need to suffer his “observations” and “concerns” regarding her work.  She too thought he was a prick.  Mr. Sloan, on the other hand, thought that Mrs. Quinn was the ideal, while imperfect, secretary.

“Good morning Mrs. Quinn.”

“Good morning Mr. Sloan.”

“I presume all is in order.”

“It is.”

For the eleven seconds that this interchange occupied, Mr. Sloan had been looking over the papers laid out for him on Mrs. Quinn’s desk.  He rarely looked her in the eyes.  This was not for embarrassment but rather a deliberate sense of utility.  Mr. Sloan did not see the need to consider Mrs. Quinn, save for the occasional slips in her work.  Better to keep to his own work and to his own papers and to the hands circling in the watch on his own wrist. 

“That will be all.”  He said and walked into his office, already reading and dismissing the papers in front of him.  It was now 7:51 am.  If he had stopped to look out his window, into the courtyard and the glass buildings and the blooming sunrise between, Mr. Sloan might have paused.  He might have thought it beautiful.  He did not look out his window though.  He instead looked from the paper, to the hands on his watch, to the note on his desk.

Nine minutes later, at exactly 8:00 am, Mrs. Quinn jumped at the sound of a gunshot coming from Mr. Sloan’s office.  She did not know that Mr. Sloan had waited, exactingly, for the second hand on his wristwatch to reach the 12 before he pulled the trigger.  She did not know the accomplishment he felt, feeling the hammer click against the cartridge at the exact moment the second hand of his watch ticked to its proper, final place.  She had only heard the gun shot and entered Mr. Sloan’s office to find that the watch had continued ticking.  And that Mr. Sloan was dead.

When security arrived, at 8:04 am, Mrs. Quinn was still standing in Mr. Sloan’s office, her legal pad and pen at the ready.  She looked as if awaiting to receive dictation.  The guards were sensible enough to guide her out of the room but also inexperienced enough to be unsettled by the absent look in her eyes.  For that reason, they quickly passed her to one of her coworkers, a Mr. James, in the cubicle across from the office.  He succeeded in guiding Mrs. Quinn to a chair.

“Sarah, are you okay?”  He asked.  Sarah was Mrs. Quinn's given name.  Mr. Sloan had never thought to ask.  Had never cared to ask.  If Mrs. Quinn had been in a more stable state of mind, she would have commented on that.

“Sarah, please look at me.”  Again, Mr. James went unheeded.  Growing uneasy, he worked the pen and legal pad from Mrs. Quinn’s hands.  While she did not resist Mr. James' efforts, she did not acknowledge them either.  He soon placed the writing materials aside and put his own hands into Mrs. Quinn’s placid palms. Her blank stare only continued.  Then out of habit, rather than thought, Mr. James finally asked, “Sarah, what’s wrong?”

Slowly, Mrs. Quinn’s hands tightened.  Slowly, she turned her head towards Mr. James.  Slowly, her eyes focused through her glasses onto his face.  Slowly, she spoke.  The eerie restraint in Mrs. Quinn's movements proved to unnerve Mr. James far more than her silence.  Expecting the worse, he heard her say,

“Where is the cookie?”

Mr. James’ inadequacy quickly rushed through him, even as his face flushed, desperately he stood, breaking from Mrs. Quinn gaze and grip, and began searching over the walls of his cubicle for someone else who could tend to her (his position was in human resources), but it was only 8:07 am and the rest of the staff would not be in until 8:30 am, even if Mr. Sloan had shot himself.

Mr. Sloan would have liked it that way.

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