Monday, May 03, 2010

"Sweet Dreams" Flash Challenge

Back on April 1, Patti Abbott came up with this starter for a story up to 1,000 words:

It begins in a food/drink establishment of some sort. The radio/jukebox/band is playing "Sweet Dreams" by the Eurythmics. A red-headed woman in an electric blue dress comes through the door. And then what?

The story doesn't have to center on these elements. I'm just giving you the initial setting.

You can take it from there.

And so I did:

Bad Timing

by Gerald So

Tom and I were at the Carle Place Diner, on lunch break from Formed Plastics. I was two bites into a massive turkey burger when a gaggle of teens bustled in. They looked sleepless and smelled of red wine. Must have had prom the night before.

They clung together conspicuously, but one of them stood out to me, a redhead in an electric blue prom dress. I noticed her hair more than the dress. I've always had a thing for redheads.

None of them seemed to be paying attention to anyone else, so the waiter tossed his question into the air: "How many?

The group giggled for a good five seconds before the redhead said, "Nine?"

The waiter led the group toward Tom and me, stopping to to pull three tables together. The teens sat four-facing-four, with the redhead on the corner. If I looked past Tom, I could see the back of her dress, her freckled arms, her long red hair.

Beth Duncan.

I knew it couldn't be, but every redhead since high school had reminded me of Beth, how hard I crushed on her, how much of our future I saw. The Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams" was playing either in the diner or in my head, and I held on to the fantasy.

I forced myself to eat the turkey burger, just to pretend I wasn't looking past Tom. With all the other conversation going on, I couldn't hear what the teens said to each other.

Tom was talking about something between bites, too, but I'd forgotten what. I just nodded or shook my head at him.

I did notice when one of the teens shot out of his chair. He looked at least six-three, two-fifty. He tossed bills onto the table the way game show hosts used to give away cash. Then he trudged out, people moving aside like there was a force field around him.

The redhead slouched. Her friends closed in around her. I made to get up.

"Whatsa matter?" Tom said. He checked his watch. "We got plenty of time."

His face came into focus. "Sorry," I said. "Guess I shouldn't have gone with a burger today. Think I'll hit the little boys' room."

"Sure," Tom said, but his expression said, Little boys' room?

I really did go to the men's room, splash water on my face, wash my hands. On my way back, I still felt like comforting the girl. Like I would have comforted Beth if she had only let me. I broke my stride. The room didn't look right. The teens were gone.

Tom got up. "Man, don't take this the wrong way, but I wish I'd gone to the little boys' room with you. Second you leave, prom queen rips off her wig and starts bawling. Sounds like a wounded seal. Everyone in here looks at her. Finally, her and her friends split."

Wig? "Shit."

"I know," Tom said. "Like a freakin' episode of 90210."

"You watch 90210?"

"Fuck you. Back to work."



I know several of my stories feature a guy pining unrequited for a girl. I didn't want to write another of these, but I've always had a thing for redheads. I also remember a friend who returned from Peace Corps service in Namibia and scarfed a Carle Place Diner bacon cheeseburger—her first in two years—while 80s music played.

The story had to start in an eatery. With The Eurythmics playing. When a redhead walks in. So you see, I had to write this.

What I didn't do was let the narrator have his full fantasy. The more details he wanted, the more I wanted him to miss. Finally I decided he should miss the turning point of the redhead's story.


Others Tackle The Topic

Patricia Abbott, "A Good Day for Redheads"
Cameron Ashley, "Super Enka Redhead Blues"
David Barber, "In an Instant"
Fleur Bradley, "Strapped"
Paul D. Brazill, "Close-Up"
Cormac Brown, "Type"
Jimmy Callaway, "Everybody's Looking For Elisa Ortiz"
Loren Eaton, "Sum"
Christopher Grant, "Family"
Evan Lewis, "Skyler Hobbs and the Sweetest of Dreams"
Kassandra Kelly, "Beadie and The Blesser"
R.L. Kelstrom, "Looking for Something"
Dana King, "Lily in Blue"
Rob Kitchin, "Sweet Dreams"
Eric Peterson, "Electra Blue"
Ron Earl Phillips, "On the Sly"
Richard Prosch, "A Paradigm is Twenty Cents"
Keith Rawson, "Taking Out The Trash"
Randy Rohn, "What He Deserved"
Kathleen A. Ryan, "To Go"
Sandra Scoppettone, "Yesterday"
Sandra Seamans, "Repeat Offenders"
Kieran Shea, "Bulls"
Deegan Stubbs, "Sweet Dreams of Red and Electric Blue"
Katherine Tomlinson, "Dude Looks Like a Lady"
John Weagly, "Friday Night With A Femme Fatale"
Steve Weddle, "The Favor to Sawyer"
WellesFan, "Cool Blue"


Kathleen A. Ryan said...

You've done a good job with "Bad Timing," Gerald. I enjoy reading your "notes" for some background info. It's fun to incorporate details that have stayed with us for years into these flash stories.
Thanks for linking the stories!

Steve Weddle said...

Good stuff. That game show host line is really nice.

r2 said...

Great story! Interesting take on the theme. I liked it alot.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Funny how nostalgic some of these stories are. I think it's because so many of you were teens when that song was out. Nice job of balancing nostalgia with today. I like the notes idea too. Let's hang on to that idea for next time.

sandra seamans said...

Nice one, Gerald, though I thought you might go for the fantasy angle when he came out and she was gone. Really liked that you didn't do that.

Fleur Bradley: said...

Very nice--and I liked hearing the story behind the story.

Evan Lewis said...

You pack a hell of a lot into a few hundred words, Gerald. Nice work.

Gerald So said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone. I'm busy writing reviews today, but I hope to read all your stories later in the week.

chad rohrbacher said...

Poor sap -- doesn't he know romanticism is dead? hehehe -- not to mention, the bathroom seemed a perfect place for him to figure that out. Seriously though, a well written sad tale.