Random Acts of Writing: When Miriam McNamara met the Breadbox

images-1In honor of NaNoWriMo, I’m  spending the month of November offering you all some writing prompts! Here’s the game: A few times each week I’m posting a picture and a setup. Your task is to write 500 words or less. That’s about a page (single spaced). If you want, you can email me what you come up with (linda dot p dot epstein at gmail dot com) with “writing prompt” in the subject line and I’ll pick a few to post on the blog. Please don’t submit your writing in the comments section, I’m not posting them there. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, for the next few days I’m posting some of my clients’ writing on a picture/setup I challenged them with. If you haven’t yet, try running with this one!

images 5.15.23 PMHere’s one from Miriam McNamara. The task was: Two people are walking in the woods and come across this object. Write a scene where they use the object. You can use dialogue, but it should be <50% of the writing. 500 words or less.

Birdie ran the last few yards, curiosity getting the better of her. The box was tucked neatly in the rotted out base of an oak tree, fitting so neatly that it almost seemed as if the tree had grown around its edges—but the box was freshly painted bright blue, it’s little sliding metal door closed neatly, the metal smooth and undented—it couldn’t have been there long. An round area the size of a dinner table was cleared in front of it, and marked off with rocks.

“Who’d put a mailbox here?” said Birdie. It looked neat, actually—a post office for squirrels, or fairies. Her fingers tingled as she put her hand to the cold knob on the door. What would be inside?

“That’s a breadbox,” said Izzy, wheezing a little as she caught up, and Birdie felt bad that she’d left her behind, even for a moment. “Ms. Gershwin’s breadbox, I’ve seen it on her counter. Gus must’ve made off with it for one of his games.” Izzy leaned on her cane, her skinny back rounding as she took the weight off her bad leg, but she looked unfazed. 

Maybe all Mom’s insistence was right. Maybe Izzy would get all the way better. 

Mom was never right, though. It had been three years since Izzy’s fall. If she was getting all the way better, it would have happened by now. She wasn’t right about Daddy, either. But everything was black and white with Mom—either you were sick, or better. Either you were here with your family, or you were dead and gone.

Birdie slid back the tin door and knew Izzy was right. A set of marbles, and a set of jacks, all jumbled together in a colorful heap at the bottom of the tin. The cleared ring must be where Gus and his friends came to play. She frowned at the hijacked breadbox. “Stealing and gambling, at eight years old! Maybe we should tell Ms. Gershwin.”

Izzy stepped to the edge of the circle and gingerly sat down, her left leg straight out to one side, cocked at an ever-so-slightly off angle. She looked up at Birdie. “Care for a game, my de-ah?” she said, in her best fancy accent.

Birdie cracked a smile. “I’m quite sure fancy ladies like use wouldn’t know the first thing about playing marbles,” she said, but she reached in and scooped out the bright bits of glass and metal. Her fingers caught a corner of paper, and she pulled it out. She unfolded it. It was a picture, creased inkless along the pleats.

It was Daddy’s Jenny.

She recognized the picture instantly, and her heart was in her mouth. That was Daddy’s plane, she knew it. The image was black-and-white but her mind painted it canary yellow, the star on the wing red, white and blue. 

DONT FAIL TO SEE
MERRIWETHER’S FLYING CIRCUS!
AERIAL INSANITY! DOGFIGHTS, THE DIP OF DEATH, THE SPIRAL DIVE!
FEATURING the INCREDIBLE HAZEL, the DEATH-DEFYING OSCAR “The Wizard of the Air”, and “AIRDEVIL” CHARLIE! 
COME SEE THE MOST STIMULATING SHOW YOU’LL EVER SEE! LOOP-DE-LOOPS! FLYING UPSIDE DOWN! DEATH-DEFYING AERIAL ANTICS!
Time: 3pm. Place: Coney Island. Admission: 25 cents.

“That looks like Daddy’s plane, doesn’t it?” said Izzy faintly, peering over Birdie’s shoulder as she sank to the ground beside her.

“It is Daddy’s plane,” said Birdie. His “baby,” he called it. The only baby he took with him when he left. 

“It can’t be,” said Izzy, her voice small, close to tears. She believed Mom, that Daddy was dead. But Birdie didn’t. 

That was Daddy’s plane on that flyer. She had to go to Coney Island and bring him back home.

Headshot Miriam

Miriam McNamara has her MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is currently deeply involved with an historical fiction manuscript featuring double lives, star-crossed romance, and lady pirates. She lives in Asheville, NC.

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