My father and I have a game we play.
On Sunday, we decide on a writing prompt – an idea. Then we have a week to write a story and share it with each other.
This week’s prompt was
A hotel is the location, loneliness is the theme. A shed is an object that plays a part in the story.
My father posted his story on his blog. If you would like to read it, click here. It’s called “The Obscure Line.”
This is what I came up with. Enjoy.
Rain Must Fall
By Emily Harris
Every morning at exactly 6:35 Simon Gilbert would wake up. He would take precisely seven minutes to shower, six minutes to dress, two minutes and 45 seconds to dry and style his closely cut hair, and another seven minutes to eat his breakfast of coffee and buttered toast. This would be followed by 37 seconds of rinsing his coffee mug in the sink, and then Simon would leave for work.
One of the benefits of living in such a small town as Clifton, Virginia, was that it only took Simon nine minutes and 23 seconds to get to work. He was the day manager at a local hotel, the Nightingale Inn & Suites, and he was, if he said so himself, rather good at his job. He was very organized, for one, and he was also very calm. It was rare for any guest to complain when Simon was on duty because Simon never gave any guest a reason to complain. He was always ready with a second fluffy pillow or a new toothbrush and a smile.
His boss, Jane Quill, the owner of the Nightingale, often joked that she should clone Simon and open a hotel chain. Simon always responded with an appropriate chuckle and carried on.
At precisely 7:30, Simon would take his place behind the front desk. He would check the messages from the night shift manager, Dave, and he would make sure that he had two blue pens, three black, two sharpened pencils, and a fully loaded stapler at the ready. Once he was comfortable with his workspace, Simon would wait.
Sometimes his assistant manager was on time. Out of the corner of his left eye, Simon would see the clock tick 7:45 just as the hotel’s front door would swing open and reveal Michelle. Sometimes she was late. The clock would tick 7:51 or 7:57 or – God forbid – 8:04, and Michelle would dash inside, frazzled and snappish. Simon would usually wait until after her ten minute break at 11 before he attempted any real conversation with her.
Sometimes Michelle would arrive with a coffee or a doughnut. During the month of February, which was always the month in which she would officially decide that winter must end and soon, she would arrive eating an orange. Michelle would only eat fruits and vegetables for exactly two weeks and three days before she forgot about her goal to slim down for July and her purple bikini.
Today, Michelle was on time. The door opened at 7:46. Today was a coffee day, and she nodded to Simon as she passed through the lobby to the staff locker room.
She returned, coatless and purseless, clutching her coffee and a battered book.
“Good morning, Simon,” she greeted him as she took her place at his side.
“Good morning,” was his reply, and the day began.
Simon took his lunch at 2:15 every afternoon. The kitchen closed at 2, unless a patron wanted tea, and Simon would take a seat at the table in the east corner and read the paper.
He disapproved of reading on the job. Reading was a distraction. Simon had often chided Michelle for reading at the desk, ignoring her excuse of nothing to do. There was always something to do. Eventually, they had reached a compromise: Michelle would give up Facebook at work provided that Simon let her read in peace.
Michelle would leave the premises during lunch unless it was Sunday and the cook had made cannoli for desert. Michelle loved cannoli. She always took the full 45 minutes, but sometimes Simon would let her stay out longer. It took him exactly fifteen minutes to eat his lunch and read his paper, and since he didn’t have anything else to do, he would often return to the desk and relieve Thomas with 30 minutes to spare.
Today, as Simon cast an only slightly interested eye over the tiny black print, Michelle returned 35 minutes early. Even more surprising, she entered the dining hall where Simon sat and kept walking. The dining hall had a pair of French doors that opened on the patio, and Michelle didn’t hesitate but marched outside, off the patio, and into the garden.
Normally, Simon didn’t react to sudden changes in his colleagues’ behavior. If they still continued with their work and didn’t cause him any problems personally, they could do whatever they liked. However, this was Michelle, and Simon realized that sudden changes in Michelle’s routine personally bothered him.
He followed her.
Michelle didn’t take any notice of her manager but continued to walk – no, Simon corrected himself, stalk – through the garden until she arrived at the tool shed at the far end of the property. There was a broken lawn chair on its side, a painted bench under a mildew-stained awning, and several rusted tools scattered about. Simon made a mental note to instruct James the gardener on maintaining his workspace.
Michelle faced him. “Well?” she asked.
Simon wasn’t sure what her question was referring to, so he kept silent. Michelle’s eyes were abnormally bright, and Simon realized she was crying.
“Well, Simon,” she repeated. “Aren’t you going to ask me what’s wrong?”
“I – ”
“Or why I’m crying?” She was beginning to shout.
“I – ”
“I’ll tell you why,” she cut him off again. “Because my life is a joke!”
She kicked over a watering can, sending rainwater splashing towards him.
“I sit at a desk and serve people,” she said. “I bring them towels and extra cots and I take care of their laundry and make sure their shoes are shined in the morning, and for what?”
Simon watched her pace. He wasn’t entirely sure what was happening, but he felt too afraid to say anything.
“I have a degree in architecture,” she told him. “I should be in Chicago working for some big time company, but instead I’m stuck here in this stupid town at this stupid job, and I’m nobody.”
She staggered and sat down on the bench. “I’m nobody,” Michelle repeated. She looked up at him and tears ran down her cheeks. “I’m too special to be a nobody,” she said.
Simon sat down beside her. “You’re not a nobody,” he said. When she protested, he stopped her. “Listen, I’m serious. You’re not a nobody. You’re Michelle, my assistant manager. You’re amazing at your job. You have a very sweet smile, and everyone adores you. You’re special.”
Something was wrong with his throat, and he had to clear it before he could continue. “You’re special to us,” he told her. “Isn’t that enough?”
They sat in silence for eleven minutes while Michelle wiped her eyes and composed herself.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “Sometimes I just can’t handle it.”
“That’s okay,” he said and helped her to her feet. They made their way back to the hotel.
“I must look like a mess,” Michelle laughed as they stood on the patio.
“You look beautiful,” Simon said.
“Now go inside,” he told her, “and be brilliant.”
She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. “Thanks,” she said and left.
Simon stood in silence, thinking about what had just happened. He shook his head and checked his watch.
He was three minutes late.
The next morning, Simon waited impatiently for Michelle to arrive. Even though it was Thursday, Simon had convinced Jenny the cook to serve cannoli for today’s desert. That would cheer Michelle up, he was certain, and he couldn’t wait to tell her.
The door opened. It was 7:44, but it wasn’t Michelle who entered. It was Jane Quill.
“Hello, Simon,” she called as she shook out her dripping umbrella. “Terrible morning. Thank goodness that Gaskell-Dean wedding canceled. Can you imagine all those guests crowded into our dining hall? With that bride?” She shook her head.
“You’re not usually here this early,” Simon observed.
“I know, darling, but I figured with the sudden change you could use a little reliable help.”
“Change?” he asked, the word like bile on his tongue.
“Yes, I can’t understand it either,” Jane said as she rounded the corner of the desk and shoved her wet coat and umbrella beneath it. “Sorry dear, I’ll move them in just a sec.” She took the phone and began to punch in numbers. “Don’t you fret. I’ll find someone perfect to replace Michelle.”
“Replace – Jane, what are you talking about?”
“Didn’t I say? Michelle quit. Said she’s moving to Chicago.” Jane gave a snort. “Said she’s going to be somebody.” The phone connected. “Hello? Employment agency? Rosita, is that you? I’m going to need someone, pronto.”
Simon tucked his hands under his armpits, trying to stay warm. Rain splattered beside him, but the awning kept him relatively dry. James had yet to clean the area up. James didn’t have much respect for Simon. If Michelle were here, she would have gotten through the old gardener. James loved Michelle. Everybody loved her.
Simon sat beside the tool shed for another ten minutes exactly. Then he walked back to the hotel and his life.
Into each life some rain must fall.
Henry Wadsworth LongfellowAdvertisements