By Paul Roberts
I could swear I posted this short story before, but I can’t seem to find it anywhere in my blog, so I’m going to take a risk and post it (again?). It does happen to be one the favorite short stories I have ever written.
The short story “When In Disgrace With Fortune” is one of the few creative writing assignments that I gave to my students during my teaching career that I actually finished myself. I often had good intentions to write along with my students, in order to model what I expected from them, but rarely did I follow through and complete a final draft.
The challenge of the assignment was to demonstrate their understanding of the classic elements of a short story - exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution - in as short a space as possible, and still be entertaining.
You’re invited to take on the challenge for yourself, regardless of the direction your creativity might typically take you. Carol and I would love to see what blooms! I may even put another seed in the ground myself.
Finally, the title comes from Shakespeare’s sonnet 29, which holds a special place in my heart.
When In Disgrace With Fortune
It was hard to believe so many things could go wrong in one day. Thinking back on it, he should have just stayed in bed that morning. It had actually been pleasant, waking to the sound of birds sweetly singing outside his bedroom window, the sun shining warmly on his pillow.
Sunshine. At 5:00 a.m.? His eyes flew open, then squinted in shock at the blinking “12:00” on his alarm. Vaulting out of bed, he grabbed his watch off the dresser on his way to the shower. “Already 8:00” he groaned. “ Guess I’d better call work first, since there’s no way I’ll make it on time now.”
Pulling out of the garage twenty minutes later, he thought he was doing pretty well. A little wet hair wouldn’t hurt him, he thought, peering into the rearview mirror and running his fingers through his hair. He was going a bit faster than usual, which made the shock of hitting the garbage cans even greater.
Those few minutes in the driveway extricating one of the cans out from between the tire and the frame of the car cost him another ten minutes once he got on the road, where he found himself behind a school bus. The three stops it made before he could turn to get around it were frustrating enough, but the pig-tailed first grader in the back of the bus who kept sticking out her tongue really added insult to injury.
When the blue lights of the police cruiser came on behind him just before his freeway entrance, he began to suspect that the gods must be toying with him. At this rate, he’d be lucky to make it to work by 10:00. “Hello officer. I’m sure I wasn’t speeding.” Yet. “I hope we can take care of this quickly, I - yes, that is my briefcase...yes, I suppose I am fortunate you were behind me when it fell off the roof of my car...no, no, I didn’t expect you to chase down all those papers and me...well, yes, they were important but it’s...oh, I work for a company here in town - you know I really don’t have time for...okay, okay thank you, I will be more attentive, yes, thank you officer, yes, same to you.”
The rest of the day had not been any better. Two important clients called to cancel, but of course their information was the part that was still in his briefcase. The clients who did show left unhappy, the way any normal person would if they were told “Sorry, our network seems to be down, and I won’t be able to pull up your file. The hard copy is...not here.” By the time he was ready to check out for the day, the headache he had as a result of missing breakfast and lunch had combined with the headache from the fifteen minute lecture from his boss about “responsibility” to give him one major mountain sized pain in the neck. He wanted to say to himself “What more could go wrong” but he was afraid if he did he’d find out the answer.
Pulling back into his driveway as the sun was going down, his only thought was to go into his empty house, grab another TV dinner from his nearly empty fridge, head for his empty bedroom and spend another night with his empty self. Maybe if he went to bed early, he would wake up on time even if the power did go off.
He was glad to see there was only one message on the machine. He didn’t feel like communicating with any more disappointed clients that day. The voice that filled the room was not the one he expected. Sweeter than the birds outside his window that morning, she said, “My meeting finished sooner than expected. I’m catching an earlier flight. I should be home about the time you get there. See you soon. Bye.”
He turned as the front door opened.
That same sweet voice said, “Hi Honey. How was your day?”
“Couldn’t be better,” he answered.
And he meant it.
Time to take on the challenge. Write a short short story that has all the elements a good short story should have: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. I'm looking forward to your results.
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