(ED’S NOTE: Originally posted on my Tumblr.)
Several weeks ago while I was putting off a rather difficult assignment for my writing workshop, I fell into a rabbit hole — as I’m prone to do — and just started working on a flash-fiction piece for a contest put on by a journal that I started following years ago. I’m thrilled to say that it was selected. You can read it here.
I didn’t have any intentions of entering a contest when I sat down to work on my assignment. In fact, I’m not sure I had any intentions of writing anything that day. Over the years I’ve become much better at not procrastinating — except when it comes to writing. Although I truly enjoyed my writing workshops, I was quick to postpone an assignment in favor of, well, anything else. I blame doubt for this. I certainly had my doubts about the assignment, so I wasn’t feeling especially inspired. The workshop assignment had dealt me three impossible elements to work with — a beetle for my character, playing bridge as the action, and a cruise ship as the setting. And I had to use the phrase “battle won” in the text. I had to come up with a story from all THAT. I don’t know jack about bridge, and I’ve never been on a cruise ship.
So as I was “writing” the story for class — playing with the cats often counts as writing for me — I was reminded of the Doorknobs & Bodypaint short-fiction contests, which I’ve followed on and off since 2001. They were accepting submissions for issue 58 — and the deadline was midnight! Their requirements seemed a lot more manageable than my assignment’s, so I just started writing. I pounded out 500 words mostly according to their rules, and then over the next seven hours I cut the piece down to the required 250. No, it didn’t take me seven hours to cut 250 words; I did the cutting while doing a lot of other things, like playing with the cats.
The story was submitted about 10 minutes before the contest deadline.
After I hit “send,” I started doubting it, as I do all my writing, and then I realized that I had sent something out. I had nothing to lose. If it was published, it was published. If not, then fine. I had at least sent something — even if it’s only 250 words — somewhere for someone else to read. That had to count for something.
As for the bridge-playing beetle on the cruise ship, trying mightily to win some battle, I found some inspiration from somewhere and turned out a decent 375 words. None of this was Pulitzer Prize material, but it was all so much fun to write.
By Jacqui Barrineau
Playing bridge on a cruise ship was just as dull as playing bridge in her kitchen. As Marge glared across the table at Lorna, she noticed a beetle creeping closer to Lorna’s half-eaten piece of lemon meringue pie. Just a little closer, Marge thought. Go, beetle, go! All the beetle had to do was make it onto the plate and into the meringue. Maybe Lorna would think the odd crunch was a lump of sugar. Marge prayed there would be a moment when the beetle‘s legs tickled Lorna’s tongue as her sharp white teeth broke the shell – the bug’s final kicks in the split second before a bitter juice interrupted the glories of sugar, zest and graham cracker. Would Lorna swallow the beetle? Would she spit it out?
The beetle was on the plate now. None of the other players noticed, least of all Lorna who wouldn’t shut up about her new sunroom her fancy-pants contractor son had built. The hand played on as Marge watched the beetle climb up the remains of the still-jiggling lemon pie. The beetle burrowed itself in the fluffy egg-white topping, snuggling under a sugary blanket. After a lengthy description of the sunroom’s cathedral ceilings, Lorna picked up her fork. Now, now! Marge thought. But the fork poised in midair as Lorna expanded on the trials of finding “exactly the right rug.” Marge saw the meringue move slightly just as Lorna’s fork finally raked through the pie. A big bite for a big mouth. Would it be big enough? Marge watched as Lorna chewed. Marge couldn’t stand it. Chew, chew! Bids and suits were lost on her now as she fixated on Lorna’s orange, puckered lips. Hideous – Marge began to think, the thought interrupted by a quiet pop across the table.
“Oh! Oh dear!”
A rare grin crept across Marge’s face as she watched Lorna grimace and twist, unable to decide what to do next. Spit in the plate? Where’s a napkin? Play paused as Lorna fumbled frantically for a tissue and some semblance of decorum. Neither was to be found. Lorna spat the pie and the half-masticated beetle onto the plate, much to the the other players’ horror. Marge basked quietly in Lorna’s humiliation, declaring her imaginary battle won.