This week in Writing I, I gave my students the following prompt:
Write a somewhat-cliché/boring/run-of-the-mill scene that is interrupted by something whimsical or unexpected.
My students wrote several I-fell-asleep-in-class-and-had-a-crazy-dream stories, yet this was my contribution.
And yes, I “brainstormed” by thinking about several episodes of The Office, but hopefully this is just un-Office enough. Otherwise, I’ve just written fanfiction. That won’t do.
Note: The name of the law firm is a nod to what we’ve been recently studying in Literature I.
“Holmes, Watson, and Adler. How may I help you?” Gretchen said into the receiver for the one hundred and forty-seventh time that day. She only half-listened to the man at the other end of the line before connecting him to someone more capable of handling his inane whining. Taking a sip of her water, she returned her attention to the flashing red light on her phone: “Holmes, Watson, and Adler. How may I help you?”
The door to the law firm opened as Carlton Spencer-Hampshireford III entered. He had a horrible habit of breathing through his nose as he paused between words while speaking, and – as he was a very large man – he had to pause to catch his breath quite often.
“I’m here” hmm “to see” hmm “Mr.” hmm “Watson.”
“Of course,” Gretchen smiled as she tried very hard not to stare at his flaring nostrils. “He’s expecting you.”
“Is Cookie” hmm “here yet?”
Mr. Spencer-Hampshireford had a rather large booger clinging desperately to a nostril hair. It took every ounce of Gretchen’s self-control to keep herself from flinching as he spoke.
“She’ll be here shortly,” she said. Pressing yet another button at her desk, she buzzed Mr. Watson and announced that his 2:30 was there to see him.
“Go on in,” Gretchen said.
“Thank” hmm “you.” The booger was gone. Gretchen waited until the client had vanished into the conference room before she frantically searched her face, blouse, and even hair for the snot rocket.
“What are you doing?” A voice asked. Zachary Turner, one of the firm’s paralegals, stood before her at his desk, just returned from lunch.
“Oh, nothing,” she blushed. He gave her a grin before continuing on. Gretchen watched him walk away. She hated her incredibly dull job as a receptionist, but getting to see Zach every day was a very nice perk.
Unfortunately for the law offices of Holmes, Watson, and Adler, the Wicked Witch of the Upper East Side chose that moment to whirl in on her broomstick.
“Is my pathetic, cheating husband here?” Cookie Spencer-Hampshireford drawled as she strutted into the waiting area. She snapped her gum loudly and removed her sunglasses, her ridiculously long French nails getting in her way as she folded them closed. From the obnoxiously pink purse under her arm, a small nose peeped out and yapped sharply.
“Mr. Spencer-Hamsphireford is with Mr. Watson,” Gretchen informed her. She nodded to Mr. Sinclair, Cookie’s munchkin of a lawyer, but he ignored her. Instead, Mr. Sinclair took his client by the elbow and began to steer her down the hall to her impending divorce.
The lights on her phone were fighting for her attention, but just as Gretchen was about to answer the neglected callers, Cookie stopped and shouted: “Wait!”
Gretchen looked up.
“I can’t go in there!” Cookie said. “Not with Napoleon Fluffy Sprinkles!”
Dumbest name for a dog Gretchen had ever heard, and she had an aunt who named her golden retriever Sir Poppycock.
“Now, Cookie –“ Mr. Sinclair began.
“No!” Cookie shrieked. “Carlton hates me! He’ll try to take my baby away from me!”
The last came out as a wail that made Gretchen wince. Napoleon Fluffy Sparkles howled.
“Cookie,” Mr. Sinclair said. “He can’t take Napoleon away from you. Now, come on. They’re waiting for us.”
Cookie’s bottom lip jutted out.
“Please, Cookie, we’ve almost reached a settlement.”
The bottom lip trembled.
“We have to go now.”
The eyes flooded with tears. Cookie opened her mouth to wail.
“Give Napoleon to the receptionist!” Mr. Sinclair shouted.
“What?” asked Gretchen.
“What?” asked Cookie.
“Give Napoleon to this young lady. She can watch him during our meeting, and Mr. Spencer-Hamsphireford will not know he’s here. You don’t mind, do you? Attagirl. See, Cookie? No problem.”
Mr. Sinclair took Napoleon from his client and deposited the Chihuahua on Gretchen’s desk. After a moment’s hesitation, Cookie allowed herself to be escorted away.
“What’s that?” he pointed.
“Mrs. Spencer-Hampshireford’s Chihuahua.”
“And you have to baby-sit it?”
“I think that’s what happened.”
Zach laughed. Napoleon began to sniff about Gretchen’s desk.
“All in a day’s work, I suppose,” she tried to say as if she didn’t care. Zach grinned down at her, and she blushed.
“Um, Gretchen?” Zach asked, his voice worried. He pointed to her desk.
Napoleon Fluffy Sprinkles had discovered Gretchen’s half-eaten chocolate bar and was diligently eating his way through it.
“No!” Gretchen shrieked, swiping the rest of the candy bar into the trash. “Oh no, he’s going to die!”
“Now, hold on,” Zach said. “We don’t know that for certain. Check Google.”
Gretchen’s fingers flew over her keyboard as she searched. “Okay, here’s something. W-w-w dot chocolate kills dogs always dot-com.”
“Sounds legit,” Zach muttered as he carefully picked up the Chihuahua.
Gretchen read from the website: “Chocolate is very dangerous for dogs – blah, blah, blah. It contains – a lot of things I can’t pronounce.”
“Um, okay. Is he experiencing hyper excitability? Increased heart rate? Restlessness?”
“He’s a Chihuahua, Gretchen. That’s normal behavior.”
“Well, now, yes. And this was a new shirt, too.”
“Then maybe there’s still hope!” exclaimed Gretchen.
Napoleon puked all over her desk.
“We are in so much trouble,” Zach said.
“I am in so much trouble,” Gretchen corrected. “Good grief! How could so much come out of something so little?” She grabbed the box of Kleenex on her desk and began cleaning up the sick.
“What happens before death?” Zach asked. In answer, Napoleon slumped against his chest and was still.
Zach shook his head. “Still breathing.” He carefully laid the dog on the desk.
With the worst timing in the world, Cookie Spencer-Hamsphireford reappeared, shouting insults at her equally angry husband as their two lawyers shouted for them to calm down. Cookie scooped up her comatose pet and dropped him into her purse with a thud. The angry group – red-faced and shaking their fists at each other – marched out of the office completely ignoring the paralegal and receptionist.
When silence had fallen, Zach straightened his tie. “Well,” he said, but he couldn’t finish his sentence and left.
The light on her phone was flashing angrily. She took a deep breath: “Holmes, Watson, and Adler. How may I help you?”
A weary Mr. Watson returned, sans Spencer-Hampshirefords. He gave her a small nod as he passed her desk. Then he sniffed.
“What is that horrible smell?” he asked.
Gretchen just shrugged.