Creative Challenge: People Watching, Part 2

On Thursday, I introduced a new series on the blog where I challenged you (and myself) to push the creative envelope. In case you missed it, click here to get up to speed.

I hope you remembered to go people watching and that you enjoyed the challenge as much as I did. My location was at the doctor’s office. The scene I wrote came from a thirty-second interaction that I witnessed. Remember: post your location and short scene in the comments below. And if you didn’t do it, there’s still time. So get out there and do some people watching!

Here’s my story.

Just another Monday, Chet thinks as he pushes the wheelchair across the dirty tile floor of the doctor’s office.

“Be careful. He’s a bad driver,” the elderly woman says to the health care worker as they leave the main waiting room and head through the doorway, deeper into the building.

The nursing assistant, clad in scrubs decorated with rainbow poodles, glances up from her clipboard for a moment as they pass by. She gives a polite chuckle which Chet thinks looks completely unnatural, first eyeing the woman in the wheelchair and then at him, as if probing for a response. He meets her gaze evenly, not allowing even his eyes to accept or deny his wife’s insinuation.

Without a word, he pushes Vivian’s chair to the next waiting room, taking care to position her out of the way of traffic yet in a prime spot for watching whatever garbage happens to be on the television. Then, he eases himself into one of the uncomfortable and too-small waiting room chairs. The wooden arms dig into his elbows, but he tries to ignore it.

On the television, a married couple is demonstrating how to cook something. Their instructions are only interrupted by flirtatious pokes and kisses thrown at each other in a way that borders on being inappropriate. What is appropriate nowadays, anyway? he wonders, turning his attention instead to a little girl in one of the other waiting room chairs. She kicks her feet, each swing of her tiny red shoes clearing the floor by a good six inches. Her giant eyes are fixed on him. He feels his wrinkled cheeks begin to bunch upward – the start of a gradual smile.

“I feel a draft.”

Before the smile has a chance to fully form, Chet looks away from the girl. His wife is frowning at him, her eyebrows pulled down over her sunken gray eyes. She gives him that look that says he’s the one responsible for her misery and it’s his responsibility to do something about it. He knows that look well.

“Can you move me over there?” A bony finger accompanies her shrill voice, pointing to the other side of the waiting room. The only area large enough for her wheelchair is in the opposite corner. The only available seat by the corner is between an obese middle-aged woman and a hefty quarterback-looking jock.

Chet stifles a sigh and pulls himself upright – no small feat once seated in the chair. Poising himself behind the wheelchair, he heads for the corner, but before they make it, a nurse calls Vivian’s name.

Changing direction, he navigates the sea of chairs and people, carefully pushing his wife to where the nurse is waiting.

“Be careful. He’s a bad driver,” she says to the woman.

The young Latino nurse smiles down at Vivian and then over at Chet. Her radiant glow boasts that somehow she’s managed to find happiness despite the monotony of her job. He returns the smile, wondering what she must see when she looks at them. Is she clueless to the fact that on the inside he still feels the same age as her? That growing old is a most ironic part of life?

“She gives you a hard time, huh?” the woman says to him as they pass in the doorway, her smile holding. He’s pretty sure that Vivian didn’t catch the comment – her hearing’s so bad these days.

He pauses a moment, glancing back at the nurse. “Always has,” he says, and then throws in a wink for good measure.

As they settle into the exam room – Vivian’s chair parked in the corner and his own derrière fixed in yet another uncomfortable chair, he takes in the sight of his wife. Age spots and wrinkles cover her face, her arms, her hands. Her clothing isn’t deft enough to hide the fact that everything underneath is sagging. Her white hair is thin and brittle – he can see her scalp through the teased afro. And her eyes, once a beautiful soft gray blue, have clouded and become a dull, listless gray. Like the sky on an overcast day.

Oh yes, she gives him a hard time. Day after day she complains about her aches and pains. She criticizes everything he does. Maybe he should wise up and tell her off once and for all. No doubt none of the workers here would understand why they are still together. Why he’s remained steadfast and silent for fifty-one years.

But at seventy-two, he’s no spring chicken himself, and not eager to face the outside world. He’s pretty sure it has changed since he was single. And despite Vivian’s dried-up appearance, when he looks at her, he still sees her like she used to be – young and carefree and full of vigor.

So she can go on giving him a hard time. Because when it’s all said and done, he needs her.

5 thoughts on “Creative Challenge: People Watching, Part 2

  • Great job, Becca. I could see this unfurl in front of you. I will watch people and when I find the perfect one, hopefully a story will come easily.
    Thanks for the challenge.

  • Interesting — I wrote mine before I read yours. 😉 (But then, I can’t seem to get away from Grace and Jack when it comes to short stories!)

    Location: Redhawks game
    Person: overweight blond woman with huge purse and cowboy boots

    Play Ball (A Grace and Jack Story)

    I’m late to the game. My sister angles her bulk in my general direction as I slide into the seat next to her. “Jack,” she says, “your problem is that you have no imagination.”

    I close my eyes and count to five. Around me, the crowd groans. I open my eyes. The batter has swung, struck out, and made it back to the dugout. The next man up takes a few practice swings, his bat swishing through the air, and I consider asking him to take a hit at my baby sister’s head.

    I look at her. “Is that why you offered me a ticket? So I could sit here and hate getting out for an evening because I’m listening to you criticize me?”

    Reese flips her long, blond hair over her shoulder and locks her gaze on the pitcher. “You’ve never listened to me, so I don’t guess you’ll start now. But that’s not gonna stop me from saying what I’m gonna say.”

    “I’m not going to ask, Reese.”

    The batter swings, and there’s a sharp crack. It won’t be a homerun, but it’s enough to keep the opposition busy for a good ten seconds. He makes it to second base, and I wish I were on a date with my wife before she was my wife.

    Beside me, Reese isn’t even pretending to watch the game. I am the most fortunate object of her most generous attention. Her purse could hold a bowling ball. Her purse is half the size of her stomach. She wraps her silk-sleeved arms around both purse and stomach, holding them close. When she stretches out her legs and rests booted feet on the back of the seat in front of her, I finally realize I’m in trouble.

    “You should divorce her, Jack.”

    As generous as Reese is with her sisterly scrutiny, so I am stingy with my brotherly attentiveness. One of the players is edging away from third base, anticipating. His cap is askew. “Grace is my wife,” I tell him.

    “Grace is is a lunatic,” Reese says. “Grace is crazy, and Grace is gonna stay crazy, and there’s nothin’ you can do about it, Jack.”

    Before she was my wife, I visited Grace in her sunny, white room with the daises in a blue bottle on the windowsill. At the end of the visit, she told me that when I’d arrived, I’d dropped my leather bomber jacket on the floor. I took her into my arms and kissed her, and I tasted like chocolate.

    Three things were wrong with this scenario. One, I’ve never owned a bomber jacket. Two, every part of my body wanted Grace then, but I still thought she loved me as nothing more than a friend. I couldn’t have worked up the nerve to sweep her off her feet.

    Three, I am allergic to chocolate.

    “You need to have her committed,” says my sister, who has a lifelong and disturbing habit of knowing what I’m thinking. “And this time, you need to not get her out.”

    The player with the crooked cap has been replaced by the guy who was at second base. Around us, the crowd is standing, whistling, cheering. I’ve missed something. “She’s my wife, Reese.” I am yelling, and not just to be heard above the noise. “I’m not going to drop her in the trash because she’s broken. She deserves more.”

    “What do you deserve, big brother? If you had any imagination at all, you’d know how wonderful your life could be without her.”

    Reese has leaned in to talk to me so she won’t be the one yelling. I hate her for that. The hate lasts a few seconds longer than I’d like.

    We’d been married eight months when I told Grace about the jacket, the kiss, and the chocolate. She reminded me that during that visit, she jumped dimensions. When I arrived, she was still in a dimension in which I owned a bomber jacket, showed her every bit of my passion, and loved dark chocolate. By the end of the visit, Grace said, she had slipped into a dimension in which her Jack held back and had allergies.

    I take a deep breath, slump in my seat, and squeeze my sister’s hand. Reese lays her chubby, blond head on my left shoulder.

    “I offered you the ticket so you’d get out,” she says.

    We stay that way, Reese and I, until the game is over.

    • A Grace and Jack with no Grace. Interesting turn. I like how people watching broadened your character list…or did you already know Jack had a sister?

      Anyway, as always, I like it. The series feels so honest and real.

      Thanks for playing along!

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