Her writing professor insisted the Halloween essay should scare him silly but must not exceed 300 words.
Impossible, the protagonist decides.
Yet the second place entry consisted of only three words and the winning entry only two!
Pic of the Day
A Halloween Party of the Scribes
The last time I signed up for a writing class, five people in the class ended up married, including myself. Here I am in yet another writing class and now assigned to write a non-fiction love story so there is no question that I should write about this love story.
It may sound like fiction but even so, it is true, albeit slightly hilarious and greatly coincidental. But this comes later.
My last writing class was two years ago. The course title was "Creative Writing: Creating Characters." There were some characters in this class all right. The biggest character being the instructor himself.
"This is crap!" Melvin Swann screamed, immediately after reading my essay aloud to the class. I ran out of the class in tears.
"He is the meanest sunovabitch on this planet is what he is," I alternately sobbed and screamed to my boyfriend, Jack. "He makes fun of all our writing, he calls us names, he tells us we are talentless hacks! I mean...Jesus....that's what we are there for...to learn how to write. Apparently he doesn't want to teach us."
"Maybe that's what he's doing," Jack said quietly.
"Explain this please. He is teaching us to write by telling us we can't write? If I want to teach you how to fly an airplane, I should tell you you can't fly a plane?" I swiveled from facing Jack to face my computer screen. I most needed to call up Word Perfect and spend my vitriol with the word processor.
"Writing isn't like flying an airplane, Sher. Writing is a very creative activity. Conventional instruction methods won't work. Maybe this is how the creative juices are unleashed."
Jack said this to my spine.
I pounded the keys and watched my verbal rage march across the screen.
I started writing when I was five years old. I wrote a poem for my mother's birthday. She sent it in to our local newspaper. They published it! It's the last thing I have ever had published.
And that's not for want of trying by this, my twenty-eighth year of life. I had written poems that would make Byron blush. I had written essays that Buckley would envy. I had written short stories that would scare Stephen King. The editors did not agree nor did my Creative Writing instructor, apparently.
"The problem is...you tend to be wordy. You want to tell the reader everything. Sometimes I get exasperated that you'll never get to the point."
Jack was tossing a salad while reciting this lecture. As if he was even the slightest bit interested in my hopes and dreams. Guy was thirty years old, never married and showing no such inclination. He seemed content to drift along on life's river. I loved him with all my heart but had accepted that marriage would come, if at all, when Jack decided. Meanwhile, I was going to be a writer, mostly because, well, I like to write so much.
"I don't understand that, Jack Schneider. I don't understand that at all.
People that like to READ like to READ. So why mince on words? I'm not saying to get ridiculous, although some have accused James Michener of this. I'm just saying what the hell is this obsession with word count?"
Jack sighed, rested his salad weary arms at his side, and gazed at my indignant self.
"Everyone in the world is competing for the reader's eye. Brevity, as they say, is the soul of wit."
I turned from Jack's speech and fumed. Now he could go ahead and use a stupid cliche that I had learned to avoid in Writing 101. For myself, I was going to write and I was going to write my way. If I couldn't write my way, then why write at all?
"Mr. Swann has some interesting ideas for Halloween, I hear."
I pulled my sweater tight against me to ward off an early autumn chill. Taking a quick drag of my cigarette, I turned to the voice that brought me gossip.
Carey Albrecht loomed from the shadow to the light of the street light. As he appeared, he lit a cigarette and took a long drag.
What a dork, I thought. Always he wore those cardigan sweaters, the kinds with a V-neck to expose a conservative tie and an tiny alligator on the chest. His look shouted nerdy prep to anyone with vision.
"Okay, I'm game," I said to my smoking partner. "What'd you hear?"
"First I heard...on Halloween, all the students have to come to class in costume. Only we have to put our costume on in class and behind a screen. Then we have to read a list of adjectives that describes our costume. Only adjectives. Heard it counts as one test grade and the more people that guess your costume the higher your grade."
Okay, I thought, this was do-able. I knew adjectives. I blew a smoke ring in the air, signaling by smokers' agreement to continue.
"Then, I heard you have to write a story describing the costume you would wear that would be the exact opposite of your normal personality."
Again, I thought, this was do-able.
"Finally....and I heard all this from one of his last year students...he is going to have us all enter a writing contest. And he is going to be the judge! " Carey took another drag of his cigarette to leave me considering this revelation. After a ostentatious exhalation of smoke, Carey offered more.
"What we have to do....we have to write a poem, essay or short story. And it has to scare him. And I heard it can't be more than 300 words."
I took a long drag on my cigarette and looked up to the dark sky. 300 words? I couldn't write a sentence in less than 300 words. Yet I am supposed to write something that scares the scary Melvin Swann?
Within the next ten minutes, several more students came out to join us in a smoke. Within one minute of this, conversations of writing Halloween exercises designed to thrill, chill and embarrass punctuated the night air.
"I think a poem. I would try a short but scary poem." I couldn't believe these words from Buck Walinsky whose stature suits his name very well. The guy looked like he was a football fullback. Yet here he stood, deciding to write a short, terse poem that would scare Mr. Swann.
"Well, I wouldn't get myself too involved in any decision making here," Linda Devon said while simultaneously flossing her teeth with her long black fingernails. "We don't know Swann's going to do the same thing this year."
A swath of blonde hair blew into my face at the cusp of a wind gust. I swatted it away because it sure didn't belong to me.
"I think the ideas are wonderful and will definitely make better writers of us all."
We all turned to look at this insect with blonde hair to discover it was only Sharon Shelle, a real Valley Girl only now living clear across country in Baltimore, Md.
How 'bout you Wayne? Got any ideas?"
Wayne Gruen threw his cigarette to the ground and self-consciously chased it across the sidewalk for shoe-smashing. And just as he always did, he responded directly to the surface below his feet.
"I...I don't know. I will have to think about it."
I threw my own cigarette to the ground for smashing. Why this guy got it into his head that he should be a writer I would never know. I think a writer has to be a forceful person, a person not afraid to lie and vent his/her own spleen for the reader's consumption. Wayne couldn't look anyone straight in the eye.
"So Berthe, what you think? Think you can scare Swann?"
Berthe Myers leaned against the lamp pole and paused in thought. "I can only do the best I can. I don't expect to win, anyhow."
And now here again was another forceful personality that expected to be a writer.
"Three hundred stupid words. You know how few words that is?"
Jack shooed our cat Wilamena off the bed and prepared to rest his weary bones. He didn't seem to care at all about word counts.
"I have no idea how many words are 300. I guess that it is not many?"
"Jack, maybe a recipe is 300 words. How can I scare someone with the same amount of words as a recipe?"
"How many words are in 'The Raven'?"
I yanked my robe off angrily, then stopped to consider. Darn, I didn't think "The Raven" had all that many words now that I thought of it. But what the heck, did Jack think I was Edgar Sherry Poe?
I pulled the covers down and slid next to Jack. He pulled me in his arms.
"You worry so much about your writing, Sher," Jack whispered softly into my hair, "and I know it's important to you. But it can't be the focus of your entire life."
Writing wasn't the focus of my entire life. First, there was Jack right here and holding me tight, whom I loved dearly but I was not loved by him enough to discuss marriage. Then there was my job, which I didn't particularly like, but then who does? Then...then...then there was my writing.
I just wrote all the time and the truth is, I rarely submitted anything for publication. The truth is, I just didn't have time to work a full time job as Office Manager for a busy retail chain, write, and then market what I wrote. But I was only 28, I had often reasoned. Time to write and learn and learn while writing. Then, maybe I could finally start that book.
"Jack, in a few years, I'd really like to try writing as , and I'm serious here, a career. I mean like stay home and write and make enough money from writing to, you know, stay home and write. That's why I'm so serious about it. Some people go to night school to get a Master's Degree or a doctorate. I go to learn all I can about writing. You don't have to believe it will ever happen, but you have no right to denigrate this which happens to be very important to me. I mean, I don't know if I'll ever really do it...on a professional level I mean....but I don't want to walk away from it either. That's why I keep on writing and taking night courses and trying to learn. This is my...."
The sound of soft snores ended my soliloquy. Not only did Jack Schneider not want to marry me, he didn't want me to be a writer either.
"This instructor is so mean, Laura. He rants and raves and tells us to develop thicker skins. He says he's doing us a 'favor' by 'toughening' us to constant rejection. All he's doing to me is scaring me out of my mind. I'm not going to quit the class though, leastwise not until after Halloween. I hear he has some interesting writing exercises planned."
"Yeah? Like what?"
My best friend and confidante stuffed a french fry in her mouth after this short inquisition. I took the cue and recited the rumors about hiding behind screens, adjectives and scary writing tasks.
"An adjective? Ain't that like a describing word? Like 'bad'...that's an adjective?"
"Yes, Laura, 'bad' is an adjective. Only I can't imagine using the word 'bad' to describe your costume. It's supposed to be adjectives that are germane to the costume."
Just before stuffing another french fry into her mouth, Laura wisecracked, "Germane? Ain't that one of them red flowers?"
She was impossible. If sarcasm ever becomes a valuable commodity, Laura will be wealthy. We formed an unusual friendship, she and I who were almost twenty years apart in age. There are some that have accused my own self of considerable sarcasm. I bonded with Laura the night we met at a nearby disco and spent the evening making fun of all the men. Such activities as dancing were usually entered in with the intention of meeting a potential male partner, and generally for more than just dancing. But the night I met up with Laura, I was delighted to find a partner in the art of the nasty word. Laura was better at sarcasm than me, and mainly because she could usually do it in less than 300 words.
Laura Williams had been married four times. In addition, she boasted over five live-in boyfriends.
"Men are like a bus. You miss one, stick around, another one will come along."
Amazingly, this Laura witticism did hold true. At least for her.
She wasn't an especially pretty woman, although she was attractive, well-groomed and very witty. With all her marvelous wit, Laura had never written a word in her life and I doubted she had read all that many. And while she listened politely to my writing woes, she thought writing was a rather stupid occupation.
"Why sit behind a computer and type out your life? Why not go out and live it?" was how Laura use to phrase it.
"Are you seriously suggesting that no one in the world should write anything, Laura?" I would respond, serious at the moment but not too committed in converting Laura. If writers depended on Laura for their living, there would truly be no need for them.
"Nah. I guess not. There's a need for books and stuff, I guess. I read Cosmopolitan sometimes, but that's about it. I get antsy sitting around trying to read. I don't know how people do it."
I was smiling in muse at the hopeless Laura when the very real sound of her voice intruded my thoughts.
"So what's got you all worked up? So...you have to use some adjectives. Don't writers always use adjectives? Ain't adjectives a regular tool of the trade, so to speak?"
I had to chuckle at the question as Laura phrased. And actually the adjectives did not concern me. It was that darn 300 word thing. I explained my worry to Laura.
"Gee. 300 words sounds like a book to me. You telling me that ain't enough words?"
I finished off my coffee, wiped my lips, and regarded this Laura person who would think 300 words was a book.
"I bet I could scare your teacher in less than 300 words."
I looked again, this time in a squint at the Laura across from me and my current lunch companion. You know, I bet she could scare Swann in less than 300 words. If Swann thought we were a bunch of illiterates, he ought to meet up with Laura who had such disdain of his craft. I'm sure that would scare him.
"Oh Laura. You just don't understand. It's a writing thing. I shouldn't expect you to get it."
Laura threw a half-eaten french fry to her plate.
"I'm not an idiot, Sherry Bellmain. I respect that you're trying to be a writer. It's just that I will never be one of your customers, if you get my drift. I bet I'm smarter than most of those would-be writers in your class too. Sometimes I wonder that people become writers as substitute for a real life."
Now I was getting annoyed. I really hated that people thought nothing of making fun of writers. Not that the same people would make fun of Stephen King or Alex Hailey or Leon Uris or just anyone that's making a lot of bucks for people with no real life. But a fledgling writer? Even though we may someday be the ones making the dough, we are free
sport for the mocking predators.
"I think I have a real life, thank you Laura. I have a job and a boyfriend...."
"Speaking of boyfriends....has Jack asked you to marry him yet?"
Laura's sudden change of subject shocked me to comfort. Now we were on a more familiar area of our friendship. Laura and I both often discussed the men in our lives and I greatly valued her input.
"We don't discuss it, Laura. We just do not discuss it."
"Do you want to get married?" Laura asked, taking a bite of hamburger now that her french fries were gone.
"By the time I'm thirty, I would like to be in some sort of relationship that would be heading toward a permanent commitment, yes," I intelligently responded.
Laura opened her eyes wide as if a mental lightbulb were switched to "On". Being that she had a wad of food in her mouth, she had to wave her hamburger in the air to indicate I should wait until said food was swallowed to hear the brainstorm.
"No wonder you're so worried about 300 words. Like I said, I don't know how many words this is but I know you just said a whole bunch of unnecessary words to tell me that you want to get married. Jesus, Sherry, do you write as long as you talk sometimes?"
Not that Laura would ever know, but she was right. I guess I did write as long as I talked.
We had both finished our lunches, and I was ready for some fresh air and a much needed cigarette. After paying the bill and gathering our parcels, Laura and I took a nicotine stroll around the block.
"Are any of these writers in your class married?"
"God, Laura. There are 28 students in the class. The only ones I know even a little are the smokers. And then because it's only civil to talk when in someone's company and sharing a smoke."
"So tell me about the ones you know."
This request allowed me to launch into an interesting narrative about Carey Albrecht, the pompous prep person and Wayne Gruen who spoke to the ground and Buck Walinsky who played football and wrote poetry. Then I had to describe the females. There was Berthe Myers who was half french and half jewish and with no self-confidence. And Linda Devon who painted her nails black, rode a Harley-Davidson and wrote beautiful poetry. And I couldn't forget Sharon Shell, blonde, vapid and an aspiring romance writer.
We had gone through three cigarettes by the time I finished my narration. I also further described the Halloween writing exercises as rumored to me by Carey Albrecht. Besides the 300 word scary thing, there was the screen thing and also the costume in opposition to our real personalities. Laura and I had walked around the block three times before the class characters were described and the writing exercises re-visited with appropriate angst. I also informed Laura that none of my scribe smoking buddies were married, such important information having already been gleaned at the smoking pole.
"You know what you need?" Laura asked as we walked toward our cars to end our lunch date. "You all need me to join that class."
I didn't quite guffaw at this notion, but I had to stifle a giggle.
"Sure, Laura, we all need you in our writing class. You who has never written a word and read only several more than this."
"I'm serious. I listened to you describe these people and it's like...instantaneous....I got this flash. These people need me! Plus, I think I could help with those writing exercises. Is it too late for me to sign up?"
I just smiled and sighed at this thought. I told Laura I had no idea if it was too late and that she was a nut.
It was only two days later that I realized just what a nut she was. I was standing by the lamp post for one last smoke before class begun. Immediately behind me I heard the screech of tires and jumped to avoid pedestrian death. Before my heart could recover, Laura's Trans Am pulled up to my side.
"Hey, I signed up for that writers' class today. They told me I could if the teacher agreed. I called Mr. Swann myself and he said he would love for me to come along."
After shouting this to me from her car's passenger window, she pulled her Trans-Am away from the curb to swing into a nearby and more permanent parking spot. I watched her, mouth agape, as she rushed across the parking lot, complete with a briefcase!
Before I could ask the million questions rolling around in my mind, several of the other students joined us under the lamp post and for one pre-class smoke.
"Christ I got my period today and I'm crampy and grouchy as hell. Did you get that story outline done?"
Linda Devon had rode in on her Harley, parked the thing with great roaring, and loped across the lot, lighting her cigarette while en route.
Before I could respond to Linda regarding my outline, I was distracted with greetings and introductions of Carey, Berthe, Sharon, Buck and Wayne to Laura and they to her. Conversation then focused on our short story project.
"I'm writing a love story that takes place in ancient Greece. My protagonist is thought to be Greek goddess by everyone around her. She is so lovely and soft but also very mortal. You'll have to read the story to find out how it all turns out."
Sharon the Valley Girl described her story thus while both Laura and myself avoided any wisecracks. My arched eyebrows sent a body message that would roughly be interpreted as "fat chance I will read the story."
"I'm writing a story about an attorney that starts out very poor but is so successful that he becomes very wealthy and very busy. He has everything but can't find a woman to love him just for himself."
I sent another arched eyebrow to Laura at this story line by Carey Albrecht, tiny alligator man.
Carey, the perpetual prep, then slapped Buck Walinsky on the back and asked him what his story was about.
"I got an idea that takes place in medieval times. The protag is a court jester. Only the jester learns to read, a practice forbidden by his sort, and wishes to become a wise man, the kind that decide the fates," Buck said, then his voice faded. "I don't know...I'm still working on it."
"How about you, Sherry?" Sharon of greek mythology asked. "Got any ideas yet?"
I was afraid someone would ask this. The assignment was to write a short story with a strong protagonist. We were learning character building after all.
"I'm thinking about a story with a female protag who loves this guy but can't get the guy to commit. So she leaves him because she just gives up. Only the guy decides he really loves her and tries to get her back."
I was pretty vague about my story line and in the description it sounded pretty lame. I had, in fact, spent the better part of the prior evening outlining a plot that involved three protagonists that end up being their own antagonists. There was also several sub-plots that would all lead to a surprising end.
Laura responded by raising her eyebrows to me to say "*I* will definitely read this story. Is the antagonist named Jack Schneider?'
I ignored her eyebrow talk. She had no clue that my story was complex and sub-plotted enough to amaze even the skeptical Melvin Swann.
"Well, they say 'write what you know', so I'm thinking about a story of a little girl raised by a band of outlaw bikers." All eyes turned, understandably, in amazement, to Linda Devon who just described possibly the most unbelievable of plots.
"So, Wayne, what about you?"
Somebody at the lamp post asked this question of the reticent Wayne who responded by looking at the ground below him.
"I thinking of a story about a guy who sends in a novel manuscript to a publisher over the Internet. The publisher loves it but the writer is too shy to have it published. I think....well, I can think of some good tension in this....," Wayne's voice trailed off as at least I wondered about a publisher chasing after an unknown writer.
"My story's a little like that!" the unconfident Berthe exclaimed to Wayne who continued to regard the earth.
"Only in my story, the writer gets published and is excited until she realizes all the public speaking she has to do. She begs the publisher to return her manuscript, but she has already signed over the rights and it gets published. So the writer decides not to promote the book, but it is a big success and...," Berthe blew a hair from her lip with a billow of smoke and stopped her talk. Suddenly, it appeared, Berthe realized that she was, well, sort of speaking in public.
"Well, since this is my first night here, looks like I've got some catching up to do. Goodness, I guess I better think of my plot," Laura said while snuffing her cigarette with a vengeance. Of all of the group, only I could realize the humor in this statement.
"Two minutes to class, guys," Carey Albrecht called out to his rear as he headed inside. Smoking group individuals gathered their materials and took last puffs. Before I could begin my trek to the building, Laura grabbed my sweater.
"Sher," she stage whispered as she pulled my best cardigan hopelessly from its original shape. "Come here."
"Laura, I don't have time to come here. Class starts in a minute and besides I'm royally miffed at this little joke."
"Sherry, listen to me a minute! I was right!" Laura's whispering held so many exclamation points that I had to tune in.
"These people. They need my help. There's three couples here alone that ought to be in love and planning marriage. Plus...you and Jack, I think I could help you and Jack."
With less than forty-five seconds left till class, I tried to understand this woman who has had four husbands and many would-be's all of a sudden becoming a professional matchmaker.
"Listen, Sher. I know I'm no winner. But this past year alone, I matched up two people on my job and my brother-in-law who is an unemployed bum. I tell you, I got the touch. I thought of it the other day when you were describing those guys. Now I know I was right."
There were about a thousand questions on my mind re Laura's mind, but I pulled my sweater loose and rushed to class.
"Okay, we've been in this class three weeks. We have a new student tonight. Folks, meet Mrs. Laura Williams." Mr. Swann opened with this and the class greeted Mrs. Laura Williams politely.
"While we have a little talent in this class, Mrs. Williams, we could always use more. Since you seemed so determined to join this class, I hope that foretells the writing we will read from your own mind."
Laura flashed her famous smile and wiggled in her seat.
"I'm very good at adjectives, Mr. Swann....and thank you."
Even mean Mr. Swann had no response to this Laura who excelled at adjectives.
"Okay scribes. Listen up! In three weeks, it will be Halloween. And I have planned some excellent writing exercises that will challenge even the best of you."
I wiggled in my seat along with Laura, who I could have spit upon for having the audacity to come to my writing class to play some kind of match-maker. Still I couldn't help but wonder how she could help with my Jack situation.
"Ten adjectives! That's it! So pick ten good adjectives and hope they're good enough to have the class guess your costume."
The loud voice of Melvin Swann pierced my ears and tore my thoughts away from my Jack boyfriend who avoided matrimony.
Oh boy, I thought, more word limits. And only ten. But with good enough adjectives, I could probably do it.
Laura was smiling in joy over the request for adjectives.
"So, Mrs. Williams, you can finally get to use all your adjectives," Mr. Swann said to Laura as he walked around her desk as if examining a bug.
"How about asshole, Mr. Swann? Is asshole an adjective?"
Swann stopped at this strange question and answered quite seriously. "No, Mrs. Williams, asshole is not an adjective."
"Well, that's too bad, because that's the only word you'd need behind that screen and everybody would know it was you."
The whole class hooted at this. Mr. Swann surprised us all and laughed along.
The rest of the session went like this, with Laura openly bantering and Mr. Swann rejoindering with zeal. The class served as audience and provided appropriate laughter.
"I just can't believe she joined my writing class. You know how I love Laura, but she can't write. What...does everyone in the world think writing is so stupid that just anyone can waltz into a writing class?"
Jack and I were sitting on the porch and listening to crickets while I ranted about the word-obsessed Melvin Swann and the outrageous Laura Williams. As the conversation often did, it came round to the 300 word problem.
"I sat down and wrote a paragraph. It was an honest to God paragraph that I would use to start a scary story. Only the opening paragraph was 343 words and I had only described the scenery!"
Jack chuckled at this. He did think my 300 word problem was a joke didn't he?
Perhaps it was just the sound of Jack's chuckle that set me off. The chuckle sounded like a cackle. Or maybe it was the sudden sense of peacefulness that overcame me as we sat together on the porch of the tiny rented house. It seemed so perfect and yet there was no permanence.
The man didn't want to marry me and he thought writing a joke. I knew then that we had no future and strings would have to be broken.
I didn't yell or scream or in any way indicate my anger. I simply got up from the porch swing, went into our bedroom, and began packing my clothes. It was time for this writer to go out and get a real life.
"Sherry what are you doing? Why are you packing?" Jack followed me into the bedroom to ascertain my miff. He pulled away from my packing chore and pulled me into his arms.
"Aw, come on, Sherry, I'm sorry I laughed," Jack said into my hair. I held my body stiff as a board.
Jack gave up on affection and dropped his arms from around me. He ran his fingers distractedly through his hair and paced the room. I returned to my packing.
"It's just this 300 word thing has you so upset. I can't imagine anyone getting upset over such a thing. When I went to school, everyone loved it when the teacher limited the page count. But I tell you what, Sherry. If you calm down, I will help you write a REAL scary story. In fact, since you've been talking about it so much, I sat down and tried to come up with something scary in a few words and I had some great ideas. I was afraid to mention it because you might be insulted that me, a mere stock clerk, would dare to help you write. But now you tell me about Laura and it doesn't seem so stupid any more."
I continued to pack with dogged determination. It wasn't about the 300 words but I couldn't explain that to Jack. I was afraid to mention the words yet I didn't want to continue on this way. How weird that I, who could vomit verbally as well as almost anyone, could find no words to approach this unapproachable subject. My fear was no doubt predicated upon the fact that when I first met Jack, he was just emerging from a relationship that didn't last because, to hear Jack tell it, she wanted a commitment and he wasn't ready. For myself, I had just broken up with a boyfriend of over three years because he headed out of town when I mentioned marriage. This entire relationship of Jack and Sherry had a foundation formed from fear of marriage.
So I couldn't say what I wanted to say to Jack. But, then again, I considered, let me get this bag packed.
Just before I walked out the door, I turned and looked at the perplexed Jack.
"Jack, I can finally say what I was so afraid to say because it doesn't matter any more. I can't lose you because of what I am going to say because I have already lost you."
I had set my suitcase down for this narrative, but still paused from fear. After a deep sigh, I plowed on.
"I can't live forever like this. I want to get married yet I could never say this because I was too afraid I would lose you. Now I've decided to take your cliche bull by the horns, do the saying, and leave."
I picked up my suitcase at the end of this speech, turned with purpose, walked to my car and drove away. I headed directly to Laura's house.
Even before my knuckles first hit the door I could hear the laughter.
"Sherry! Goodness, this is a surprise. Come in."
I tentatively walked into Laura's small rancher, afraid of the laughing sources. I was as surprised to see Buck, Linda, Carey, Berthe , Wayne and Sharon all in Laura's living room, as Laura was to see me.
"Come on, have a seat," Laura commanded as she took my coat.
I was really in no mood for a crowd tonight, but then I couldn't turn around and return to Jack either.
"We were all just practicing our skits for the Halloween exercises. I never knew there were so many adjectives in this world. We talked a bit about our buddy Swanson, too," Laura updated me as the smoking crowd laughed at the reference to Swanson.
"I already have my essay ready. Had to cut off about 200 words to get it within word limit, but I thought it was scary."
Sharon of the Valley offered this and scared the hell out of me who hadn't even started the thing.
For the next half hour the group discussed, laughed, whined and complained about Halloween writing exercises, word counts and weird writing instructors. I tried to join in with enthusiasm, but Jack was on my mind. Laura sensed my distance and shooed off the crowd.
"Before you tell me about what happened between you and Jack, I just want to tell you that I fixed them up and you have to admit it was perfect."
"Fixed who up?"
"The couples. Linda and Buck. Both of them looking like something they ain't. What do you writers call that?"
"Illusion, " I answered mechanically.
"Yeah...that. Anyways, Sharon and Carey...come on, they're perfect. Valley Girl meets Izod Man. Sounds like...what do you writers call weird stuff that ain't true?"
"Science Fiction," I answered more mechanically.
"Yeah...that. And Berthe and Wayne. He stares at the ground and she apologizes for being on it. You writers got a name for that?"
I was now quite tired of the match-making and shifted in discomfort.
"Okay, Sherry. Let me get you a cognac and you tell me about Jack."
It was the same old story and I re-iterated to Laura.
"You two are too different," Laura stated at one conversation pause. "You need someone more like you...someone with the same interests. See how I matched those people up and it was always based on their personality similarities. Now, I know you love Jack, honey, and I don't mean to make light of it."
Laura patted my thigh and pulled me up from the couch. As she led me into her spare bedroom, she made a promise.
"Just as soon as I can, honey, I am going to find you a man. You think a woman that had all the boyfriends and husband as I've had ain't learned a thing or two? I always marry men opposite of me! Next guy I meet, gonna be just like me. And I'm gonna look for the same for you."
I was now quite sleepy from crying and talking. I had no time to ponder a man just like me. Then neither one of us could make it in under 300 words and I didn't know how that would help matters.
The night of the Halloween Party for the Scribes, as it had come to be called, had finally arrived. I was living with Laura while making arrangements to find my own place. My conversations with Jack were brief and mostly concerned our mutual finance concerns. Jack never mentioned my parting speech and I knew I had been right. Laura went about her business of finding a man for me.
I did managed to write something scary in under 300 words but I thought it sounded stupid. It didn't matter because I wasn't going to do any better than a C in this course anyway. Not only would I never be married, I decided I would never be a writer either.
The writing exercises were creative, and even fun. Rory Martin got behind the screen and donned a sheep outfit. One of his ten adjectives was "ewe-like" which caused Mr. Swann to go into a tirade about the questionability of this being an adjective and did he know how stupid that sounded when spoken rather than being read?
The class was about falling out of their chairs with laughter at this.
Then Carey Albrecht said the character he would be that was the exact opposite of his REAL personality would be a Nerd, with a capital N. The class was silent to ponder just what Carey thought he was.
The Mr. Swann announced that he had read the scary submissions and was ready to announce a winner.
"There were no Pulitzers in the submissions," Mr. Swann said as he sat on the edge of his desk with a sheaf of papers in his hand.
"What I think you will find really surprising, was the first place submission was only two words."
Heads turned and whispers buzzed. Two words? What two words could scare Melvin Swann and have him announce them first place.
"What's even more surprising," Mr. Swann went on in spite of the turmoil, "is the second place prize was for a submission containing only three words."
Of course, the class was abuzz with this. I just held my chin with my open palm and placed my elbow on the desk. I knew for sure that I hadn't won with my fake letter from the IRS and a proposed audit. My submission was exactly 300 words and then I had to use every contraction I knew. Still, two words and three words? I was most interested in this.
"The second place winner was submitted by Sherry Bellmaine," Mr. Swann soberly announced and I almost didn't realize that he meant me. My chin fell off my hand when dawn broke.
Mr. Swann rattled a paper importantly and proceeded to read my alleged submission and second-place winner:
"I Saw You" Mr. Swann read with an ominous pause on each word.
The class remained quiet for five seconds after the reading, then sent whispers into the air. All around me were soft congratulations at this genius of mine. I didn't know whether to deny or accept, so I remained mute. I didn't write those words, although, I thought them quite effective in their ability to convey fear in their vagueness. Brevity could also be the soul of fear, I thought with Jack's cliche.
"And first place," Mr. Swann then announced importantly. He rattled the paper , cleared his throat, and pushed his glasses up his nose.
"The words that scared me the most...a submission of only two words. And the author is none other than our latecomer, Laura Williams!"
If my chin had fallen from its hand-holder at my winning entry, it was now on the floor with this revelation. Laura wrote the winning entry? And it was only two words?
"Marry Me," Mr. Swann read aloud, the lowered his glasses to regard the class over their frames. "It is signed, Laura Williams."
The class laughed for a full five minutes. Even I had to smile. Woman was a dingbat, that was sure. Yet, hey, those two words did seem to scare quite a few men including my own estranged Jack.
"Now here's two words that are going to scare you, Mrs. Williams," Mr. Swann said in his loudest tenor. He walked around Laura's desk as if looking at the same bug of Laura's first night in the class. After several revolutions, he bent over and shouted into Laura's ear:
Here is where the pandemonium began, because persons named Berthe, Linda, Carey, Wayne, Buck and Sharon all jumped up to announce recent or not-to-distant engagements. There were even some happy dances going on, with Laura leading the pack.
"See, Sherry, I told you I was a match-maker. I even picked a husband for myself!" Laura shouted to the writing class, then gave Mr. Swann such a long kiss that even the most obtuse knew their little charade was NOT a joke.
There was more going on in my head than had a right to be there. Where on earth had my three word entry come from? And what is with Laura the matchmaker marrying this writing teacher who had to be her exact opposite when she expressed adherence to the "like-as-like" principle of mating? And why on earth was everyone in this class getting married except me?
And before I could sort any of it out, what with the dancing and kissing and flashing of engagement rings, Jack ran into the class.
"Sherry, I'm sorry I'm late...but I had a flat tire." Jack ran across the room and knelt down before me and amidst all the revelers.
"Did you win?" he asked.
"Did I win? Oh...you mean you wrote the three words...'I Saw You'?"
"Sher, I didn't want to make you mad, but I wanted to show how much I loved you and how much I cared about your writing. So I stuck my thing in the envelope before you came over to pick it up. I'd thought you'd win so you wouldn't be mad. You didn't win?"
Jack bowed his head at the admission. I couldn't believe any of this night and still the class danced and hooted.
Jack reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper.
"I was saving this as a surprise. It's another wonderful piece of writing in just a few words so I knew you would like it."
I was unfolding the paper, when Jack stopped my actions.
"Sherry," he said softly, "before you read this, I just want to say that I guarantee that it will make you happier than any two words you will ever read. At least I think it will."
I opened the paper and read the words: "Marry Me". The note was signed 'Jack Schneider'.
I laughed and cried and danced a few dances myself. If Laura followed her own advice, she'd be marrying this Jack Schneider who had the same two words as she.
Only she was too busy kissing the weird Melvin Swann so I just smiled at the coincidence and kissed my own Jack Schneider, husband-to-be.
It's been two years now and everyone that got so strangely engaged is still married, even Laura and Melvin. So this is my submission of a love story for "Creative Writing: Plot Development" only I didn't have to develop a plot. And I bought the thing in at a little under 7000 words!
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