We meet once a month on a Monday to discuss our writing struggles and achievements (such as they are). For the past couple of months, we have been working through The Artist’s Way by Cameron. Now I don’t know if the member submitted this because of her work with that text, but she would love some feedback (grammar, style, content, form, etc.) from the editing junkies out there. Let her know what you think!

Fortune Cookie #1

Darren wiped the goop from his eyes.  Bending over he pushed aside the piles of dirty clothes to assess the least smelly article to put on.  The musty smell seemed to be imbedded in the fabric and the odor surrounded him as he pulled the black shirt over his head.

Wading through the mounds of his clothes to get his computer, he kicked a semi-circular area clean around the desk chair to sit down.  The blue screen flashed into view causing him blink involuntary.  At the request prompt he typed in his personal code: Always Sleep Late

Banging at the door, his chair squeaking loudly as he turned to face the man coming in.

“Are you going to leave the house today?” His father asked.  His round head crinkled in frustration.

“Maybe,” mumbled Darren, turning away from his father to look back at the monitor.  Darren tapped at the keyboard and the screen burst into vivid colors, and loud noises.  Creatures of odd shapes and sizes moved back and forth waging war against one another.

“Darren.  We have a deal.  If you are not going to apply for college then you are going to have to work.”

“Daaaad,” he whined as his head rolled in synchronicity.  “I told you, it’s the beginning of summer, and I have plenty of time to decide.” He moved his creature’s hand and swung an axe at an online opponent causing the creature to die.

Darren didn’t see his father’s brows lower and draw together or the red margin of his lips become thin; he only heard the door slam behind him and the sound of his feet walking quickly down the stairs. The front door slammed.  ‘Victory,’ he thought to himself as he killed one of his online rivals.

The next few hours passed in bleeps and buzzes of the game that never stopped.  Darren felt the pull of hunger drag him out of his room toward the kitchen below.  He began opening cabinets looking for gastronomical redemption.

His eyes widening as Darren opened each cabinet and found nothing to eat. Not the kind of “nothing” when there is only a box of stale crackers no one wants throws away but no one wants to eat. This was the kind of nothing that as he wiped his hand across the cabinet there wasn’t even dust on the shelves.

With the vastness of all the cabinetry verified, he opened the fridge to find that it too had been emptied of nearly all of its contents.  In the lighted box remained; a box of baking soda, a gallon of water, a jar of mustard, bottle of ketchup, a shriveled up carrot, a bottle of ranch dressing, and a container of pickles.  Grabbing the carrot, Darren drew a white line down the middle with the dressing.  Sticking the carrot in his mouth he grabbed the jar of pickles and headed back to his room.

More blasting and belching noises as the day wore on in a virtual vortex where time did not exist.  Involuntarily, he glanced up at the clock on the wall and remembered that his dad had asked him to put a new battery in weeks ago.  Glancing at the clock on the computer his dad would be home in thirty minutes hopefully bringing dinner with him.  Briefly, he wondered if the absence of food was punishment for something but the thought left his head shortly upon arrival as the next wave of galactic invaders rushed his virtual player.

The front door shutting made him look at the time on the computer, which read 7:30p.m.  He got up and yelled down the steps.  “Dad, what did you bring home to eat?”  Moments passed.

“Dad?”  He yelled making his way half way down the stairs.

“Hey, old man, what gives?” He went through the kitchen but there were no additions to the household food supply.

Darren followed the light source into the living room and saw his dad spread eagle on the couch with headphones running from the TV set.

Walking around to stand right in front of the TV Darren waved his hand back and forth, miming the word, “hello.”

His dad pulled the headphones from his ears with eyes wide looking straight at Darren, “I was watching that.”  His dad put the headphones back on acting as if he was watching the program through him.

Yanking the connector out of the TV the volume was ear splitting.  “Hey, I told you I was watching that! Plug it back in!”

“Dude, we’re out of food.  Didn’t you stop by the grocery store?”

A wicked grin crept up his father’s face, “I ate.  But if you’re hungry maybe you should walk down to the corner store and get something.”

His father rose from the couch removing the headphone plug from Darren, “Oh by the way, I’m not going to the grocery store any this next week so you’ll have fend for yourself.”  He plugged the head phones in and silence surrounded a stunned Darren.

Darren went back through the kitchen once more.  After four stale saltines with mustard that he found in one of the drawers where they stored cooking utensils and a glass of water Darren went back up to his room.

Disjointed from reality he logged into his Facebook account and posted: I think my dad is trying to starve me, what did I do to deserve this?  He tabbed back over and played his game until his eyes grew heavy and his character was making a lot of mistakes.  Shutting down the computer he walked over to his unmade bed and fell in face first fully dressed.

It was the overwhelming silence and the warmth that woke Darren.  Bright light poured in between the crack in the curtain, but there was no hum of electronics.  Looking over at the computer he noticed that the red light was off.

“Oh, no, no,” he jumped out of bed and flipped on the overhead light only to be greeted with a click and no light.

“What the–,” he walked out in the hall and tried to turn on the hall lights.  Nothing.  He moved cautiously in the dark on each step.  His bare feet making a slapping sound with each level.  Sweat beaded up on his face.  It was hot, hotter going down the stairs where the bright sunlight poured in through the living room and created a natural heat against the wood floors.

‘Good thing the fridge is empty or we would have lost all the food,’ he thought to himself.  He picked up his cell phone out of the cradle but not dial tone.  The message flashing on the cell phone screen, ‘service terminated.’

“Great! Just Great! What the hell am I supposed to do now?”

His stomach growled so loud it echoed in the quiet; food would be his first priority.  He had some money in his wallet but it wasn’t much.  His dad had ended his allowance because he never finished his chores.

The soft black leather squeaked from non-use as he opened it to see what was inside.  In the dollar bill partition there were ten singles.  Wow, he didn’t realize he had that much.   “Sweet!”

Darren made his way through the dark garage to get his bicycle having to push it through the house because the garage doors don’t open without electricity.  Grabbing his house keys off the table felt strange. He hadn’t been out of the house since summer started.

Stepping into the sunlight he let his eyes adjust.  The street was quiet. No young children playing jump rope in the front of their yards and no older kids huddled passing game cards back and forth.  Why would they be? They were all inside in front of their computers.

Heading down toward the middle of town he stopped to get a burger, fries, and drink.  The meal went fast and so did his money.  When he opened the wallet the next time there was three dollars in it.  “Jesus, what the hell do you do with three dollars these days?” sliding the wallet into his back pocket.

Riding through town he stopped at the library where he could use the computers for free.  The last time he actually walked into a library they still had little boxes of cards that filed all the books in the library alphabetically.  Walking up to the central check out, “Excuse me ma’am?  Do you have any public computers I can use?”

A derelict old woman came to the front counter, “Of course hon.  I’ll just need your library card.”

Darren fished the little piece of plastic from his wallet and handed it to her.

“My we haven’t used these cards in a while.  You’ll need to apply for a new one,” she pulled a packet of papers from under the counter and handed them to him with a pen.

He read through the papers his eyes landing on a rule that made his heart hurt, “Two hours, we only get two hours?”

“Only if there is someone in line waiting for a computer. We ask you to leave by looking to see who has most time logged in.”  Darren finished filling out the papers he handed them back to her.  There was no choice; there was no electricity at home.

Slowly she went to her computer screen and typed in his information.  Rolling his eyes while he shifted back and forth watching her return to the counter, there was similarity in her movement as that of watching grass grow.

“Here you go dear,” she handed him the new card.  “You can log into computer number 14 just down the hall and on the right.  But no porn young man, do you hear me,” her finger pointing at him right between the eyes.

“No, ma’am. Thank you, ma’am.”

“Run a long now,” her hand waved him away playfully.

Logging in he pulled the head phones on and drowned himself in fantasy play in the internet while chatting online with a few of his virtual friends in places he could not even pronounce.

There was a tap on his shoulder.  Looking at the clock three hours had passed by.   The old woman smiled down at him.

Pulling the headphones off, “Yeah?”

“Someone is waiting on the computer dear,” she pointed back at a young girl with a navy North Face backpack.

“Isn’t there any other computers I could use? In a corner, in the basement, anywhere,” he begged.

“Follow me,” she walked back to the front of the library.  He logged off and smiled at the girl as he passed her, blushing she smiled back.

The old lady was anchored behind the front desk motioning him to come around to her.  Darren slid through the narrow space between the desk and the wall, and came to an abrupt halt behind the desk.

The old lady pointed at a mound of books spilling onto the floor from the narrow hole in the main desk.

“Whoa, crap!  Don’t you have any help?”

“I have a part-time assistant 20 hours a week.  Obviously today is not one of her days.  But, if you were willing to volunteer your time and do a few jobs, like putting those books back on the shelf after I check them in.  I think I could see my way into letting you use that computer,” she pointed to a computer set up in the far corner behind the main circulation desk.  “But you would have to be willing do two hours of work for one hour on the computer.  I think that’s fair.  It’d keep you from having to wait for a computer.”

Darren thought about it.  He really wasn’t sure how long it would be before his dad turned on the power again.  This seemed like a good way to have access to a computer.  Alright, two hours of work for one hour of computer time and I get to collect my computer time and use it at my leisure as long as I do whatever jobs you request.”

“Ah, ah, ah, not so fast.  The first of my unbreakable rules; you have to be on shift before you can use the computer, so if you stay till closing which is nine o’clock, you can use the computer the last three hours we’re open,” she looked at the clock on the wall.  “But you better get started now.”

“You want me to shelve these books first?”

“Nope, I want you to take this,” she took a small key out of her pocket handing it to him, “and I want you to go outside with that cart and get any books in drops located in the front of the building.  By the way, I’m Miss Rita.”

Darren pushed the squeaky cart out to the front of the building watching the heads turn as he passed.  It surprised him that what he saw in their expressions were looks of respect not disgust at such a menial job.

Books filled every inch of the cart all the way up to the point they were tucked up under his chin to keep from falling off.  “Where you want these?” He huffed through clamped teeth.

“Leave them on the cart in the corner for now.  Your next job is to get all the books on the floor checked in and put back on the shelf.  But I need you to take a little online course on the Dewey Decimal System.  After you pass the test, print out the certificate and bring it to me.”

She ambled off to help someone find a book in the area marked Historical Reference.  Darren logged in to the website and listened to the perky young woman explain the different categorical choices of the Decimal System.  He didn’t know hardly any of the information before today but he felt a sense of pride as the certificate printed out and it made him smile.

“I see you passed,” she nodded unsmiling at him.  “I figured you for a smart kid, I’m not surprised.  Bring it here, son.”

The sheet was removed from his hand and slipped under the machine that stamped the time and day on it.

“Now, it’s time to teach you how to check the books in.”  Miss Rita demonstrated the process of checking in a book and organizing it on an empty cart.  Darren mirrored her until the cart was full. She gave him a playful shove and told him to go put the books back.

Stacks of multicolored books glared at him as he slowly put the books back making sure to keep in order according to the system.  Working his way through the quiet silence his thoughts began to wander.  He wondered at the large number of books and how so many people were all parts of a bigger picture of massive education.  Each one a contributing factor in furthering knowledge. Looking down the cart was empty.

Parking the cart in the corner, “Can I get on the computer now?”

Miss Rita looked over her shoulder while glancing at the clock and nodded.

Darren let himself meld with the game, but only part way.  Out of the corner of his eye he watched the patrons come and go and the way Miss Rita teased each one with personal little tid-bits she knew about them.   It seemed no one left the circulation desk without a smile.

“Darren would you go around to the computers and shut down any of them that no one is sitting at?”

Darren nodded his head and moved from computer to computer shutting each one down until there were only three still in use.  The girl who smiled at him looked up.  “Do you work here?”

“Sort of, it’s more like a volunteer program.”

“Do you know how to get this to save?”

Darren leaned over her shoulder he quickly moved through the screens saving her paper to her thumb drive.

“You make it look so easy.”

“It’s not hard.  I have a lot of personal practice with computers,” he pulled the drive out and handed it to her.

“Thank you,” he heard her gathering her things as he headed back to circulation.

At nine the last of the people left the library and the building was immersed in darkness.  Darren walked Miss Rita to her car.

He felt surrounded by a sense of yearning he couldn’t explain.  Thinking it was hunger he detoured to the convenience store near the house.  Using last three dollars he bought a fountain drink and two bags of chips.  By tomorrow he would be starving.  No money, no food in the house, no electricity.

His father’s car was sitting on the car port.  Running his hand over the hood the warmth almost burned his fingers.

With a click in the lock the door swung open to darkness.  Candle light poured out of the kitchen and he followed the smell of burgers.  His stomach growled at the delicious scent.

“You’re home.  Where’d ya go today?”  His father took a bite of a hamburger.

“Library.”

“Lights won’t be on till the week after next.  No reason to buy groceries that are going to go bad,” he shook his burger and took another bite.

“You hungry?”

For a moment he wanted to say, ‘hell yes, I’m hungry,’ but he shook his head and went up to his room.  Tossing off everything but his underwear he eased under the covers.  He wasn’t sure why he did that but when his stomach growled again, he almost wished he hadn’t.

An unfamiliar beeping noise woke him up.  His eyes popped open when he realized an alarm was going off.  In the middle of the night, stumbling quietly in the dark, he found his cell phone.  The service had been terminated but the alarm still worked and he had set his alarm for an hour before the library opened.

The week flew by.  Days at the library coming home to a dark house.  By the second day he realized that his dad had been slipping him a ten dollar bill each day and he used it to get something to eat on the way to and from the library.

Friday the assistant waved and point for him to meet with Miss Rita in her office.  The office was a small glass box.  Darren tapped lightly on the door remembering her scathing remark when he had banged on her door two days ago.

Looking up she waved him in.  “Please sit down,” her tone was more censored than usual.   “Darren, I’m sorry to say that I could not get approval for you to continue to volunteer here at the library.”

Darren’s heart sank.  His throat tightened and he looked down at the floor and nodded.  He wanted to talk but was certain his voice would fail him.  Fearing to look at her because the stinging in his eyes might end in tears he stared blankly at the swirly green patterns in the carpet.

“On the other hand your work here has been exemplary.  And if you can continue to do such a fine job I have a full time position for you.  If you’re interested?”

“You’ll pay me to work here?”

She smiled, “That’s what full-time means.  If you want the job you don’t even have to interview for it.  I mean you’re already trained.”

“When do I start?”

Miss Rita laughed out loud.  It was a warm motherly sound.  “Son, don’t you even want to know how much it pays or whether there are benefits?”

He shifted upright, putting a fake scorn on his face and resting his chin in the L of his thumb and first finger.  “I’m sorry how much does it pay and are there any benefits?”

She handed him a sheet of paper.

He looked it over studiously.  His eyes widened, “Really?”

“Yes, really, boy.  I know it ain’t much but it’s a whole lot more than you were making.  Would you like the job, or do you need to train your replacement?”

“No, Miss Rita.  I would love to work for you.”

“Then you take this sheet and head on up to the Human Resource Department on the second floor and talk to Miss Jennifer before she leaves for the day.”

The rest of the day was a happy blur of paperwork and questions and when it was through he was a full time employee at the Coastal City Public Library.

He didn’t have to work but he stayed at the library talking to Miss Rita about expectations and work issues.

Walking her to her car, “Miss Rita?” she turned to look at him.

He threw his arms around her and gave her a long, but gentle hug.  “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” she got in her car and drove away.

Walking up to the house he almost didn’t realized that the front porch light was on or that he could hear the TV stepping into the foyer.  “Dad, you better cut down the volume or you’re going to go def.”

“Eh,” was the response.

“Smart-ass.”

“I learned from the best, my son.  You should meet him sometime.”

Darren walked into the kitchen and stopped short at the sight of food from the local Chinese restaurant on the counter.  It smelled wonderful.  With a plate full of dumplings and rice he went to the living room to eat.

The Saints were playing the Broncos with only a few point spread.

“What’s the special occasion, dad?”

“Well, I was in the library yesterday and talking to Miss Rita.  She was telling me about this really helpful young man who had come to the library to trade computer time for work.  She also told me that she was going to try and get the boy a paying job.  She pointed to a kid putting books back on the shelf.  To my surprise, she was talking about my son.  This is reward for your initiative.”

Darren looked at his dad for the first time.  He was just a simple man in a simple job but he did what he had to do to get things done.  Darren may not stay with the library forever, but he was going to take the time to find out what he did want to do.  Every step is one step closer to some other step as long as we keep moving.

Taking a bite of the eggroll he watched the game.

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