Hey! I’m writing again when I said I wouldn’t because I was kind of dared to do it. And because this story has been in my head for months. It’s a fiction piece for the YeahWrite Speakeasy. Enjoy!
The magic was all in the finishing touches. It wasn’t enough to circle a word or two here and there, place a checkmark in the margin. No, to make it look legitimate, the essay had to look like it had taken a long time to grade. The pages had to be creased repeatedly at the staple. It needed food stains.
Tonight she was even more rushed with the essays. It was time to write something worth selling. Her main problem had been the old adage, “Write what you know.” How could she make a novel out of her job of glorified babysitting? Ms. Cooke needed more excitement.
She chugged her second beer and turned on the computer. She headed to the personals section of Craig’s List. She had spent the last three weeks trying to find a story idea in the desperate messages there. She wanted something exciting that she herself didn’t have. But all she found were beginnings of maybes and more writing for her to edit and correct, evidence of other terrible English teachers. She decided the only way to get a story out of it was to answer an ad.
However, she only found ads that made her sad, not inclined to answer. Tonight was her last go at it. She read the first five new posts for the day and saw the usual dejected pleas. But then she opened the sixth one.
“My wife has hidden my car somewhere, and I need it for work tomorrow.”
Her nervous energy turned to adrenaline-fueled confidence. She couldn’t reply to the ad fast enough.
“How can I help?”
She hit send and tried to think of what might happen next. But either the beer or the Twilight novels had dulled her imagination. Why was this man thinking Craig’s List was his best option? Was his wife dangerous? Couldn’t he take the bus? How would she help?
In less than five minutes, the ad’s author sent her a reply. Her hand hovered over the mouse; she suddenly wasn’t sure if she should go further. Maybe she could just use that one line to get started.
“Oh, Thank God. Can you meet me in 20 mins?”
Now she was on full alert. The man would abduct her and steal her car, though probably not to go to work. Being a teacher was fine. Eventually her students would be more interesting, and she’d have literary gold.
“Are you insane? I don’t know you. I’m not meeting you anywhere.”
She stepped away from the computer and paced her living room. What was she thinking? Craig’s List for adventure? Death and dismemberment had been in play all along.
“Gah, I’m sorry. I’m desperate. I assumed anyone who answered the ad would be ready to act. It’s 8pm, and I am running out of time to get my car and what’s inside. I’m sorry to bother you.”
He wasn’t just wanting his car; he needed what was inside. Fast. That was interesting. Crap. She was getting sucked in to his trap. But, on the other hand, what kind of criminal apologized and used words like, ‘gah’?
“Okay, surely you can see why I’d be hesitant? Can you tell me what happened? Why did your wife hide your car?”
A conversation was the way to go here. Surely the other lonely losers did that before putting themselves at the mercy of a weirdo.
“It’s a long story, and, like I said, I don’t have much time. What I need is someone who can help me decipher the clue quickly. Are you smart?”
“Well, I’m answering a Craig’s List ad from a guy who lost his car; do I seem smart?”
“Look, are you going to help me or not?”
“You have to tell me what you need in the car.”
“It’s nothing illegal. It’s nothing weird. It’s just embarrassing.”
“Because it’s for my job, and I don’t like telling people my profession. They criticize it.”
“Do you want your stuff?”
“Yes! Listen, my wife said the car was where Jack Shepard met Kate to beg her to return to the island. There are zero words in that sentence that help me.”
Okay, this guy was a weirdo. Who didn’t recognize the characters from Lost? Ms. Cooke could practically rewrite that scene from memory.
“I know where it is. But, I still want to know what’s inside.”
“Just tell me!!”
“No, I just want to make sure I’m helping someone who deserves it.”
“Trust me. No one deserves what’s in that car. It’s awful.”
Now she had to know. It seemed like this guy was in a worse state than she was.
“I’m not trying to be mean. I’m trying to be less nervous about what I’m doing. I feel like I’m part of a crime now.”
“It’s not a crime; I promise.”
“Then tell me.”
“Fine. I’m a seventh-grade English teacher. I left my classes’ essays in my car, and grades are due in two days. I haven’t graded a single paper because I know they will be awful. My wife is sick of my whining and procrastination, so she acted out. There. Commence to telling me how pitiful my job is. Tell me that I am nothing but a glorified babysitter. Tell me, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Yes I have a novel I’d like to get published, so I can quit. But no, I guess I’m not a good writer if it’s been rejected 13 times. I’m stuck as a teacher.”
Ms. Cooke raised her shaking hand from the mouse. She reached around to the power switch and flipped it. She gathered her graded papers and shoved them in her tote bag. Then she backed into her tiny bedroom, threw the tote on the chair next to her bed, and perched on the edge. After several still moments which didn’t even rumple the plain white sheets on her twin bed, she turned off the lamp and let the dark cover her.