Travel Section


Every evening at eight thirty-two, after he starts the dishwasher and sweeps the kitchen floor and waters the plants on the patio, Thomas McMillan puts the box of cat food—Friskies—on the second shelf of the pantry to the immediate right of the flour.

For days after getting the cat, he'd debated whether he ought to put the cat food beside the currents or move the flour—Gold Medal—next to the gravy mix.

In the end, he settled for the present arrangement.

He's stuck to it faithfully ever since.


Now, he sits at the kitchen table drinking his coffee, reading the newspaper one article at a time. He prides himself on reading the entire paper, even the parts that don't particularly interest him: Wedding announcements and the employment ads. The awful business section thick with words and concepts his mind cannot grasp. He saves the best section—Travel—for last.

He hears a key in the lock. The front door swings open. Merry Jaffries bustles in, a brown paper bag tucked beneath her arm. “How are you then, Thomas?” She pushes the door closed with the bottom of her boot and Thomas immediately checks the door for footprints. There's a small smudge near the edge. He makes a mental note to clean it up after he finishes the newspaper.

“Brought you a surprise from the grocery store,” Merry says as she enters the kitchen.

“I don't like surprises,” Thomas says warily. He marks his place in the article with his index finger and glances again at the smudge on the door.

“Nonsense. Everyone likes surprises.”

“Not me.”

Merry sets the bag on the kitchen table and begins unloading it as Thomas watches. “Four organic bananas,” she says. “A bit on the greenish side.”

Thomas nods. “Good.” Again he looks towards the door. He reaches for the handkerchief in his pocket.

“Three oranges. A bag of carrots. Three quarters of a pound of turkey, shaved not sliced.”

“Perfect.” Thomas is pleased with how well his new housekeeper is working out. Although...Again, he looks at the smudge.

“Cat food.” Merry finishes with a flourish.

“Friskies,” Thomas corrects.

“No.” Merry beams. “Meow Mix was on sale. Buy one get one.” She pulls out a bag.

“I don't use Meow Mix.” Thomas began mentally scanning the contents of his pantry. Macaroni. Macadamia nuts. Manicotti (or had he placed that in pasta?). “Take it back,” Thomas says, shoving the bag towards Merry.

“I saved you eight ninety-five.”

“I don't care. And you smudged my door when you came in.”

Merry squints. “Where?”

He points. “There.”

“Anything else I'm doing wrong, then?” Merry pours herself a cup of coffee and sets the mug on the travel section of the newspaper.

“As a matter of fact, yes,” Thomas says. “You just put a ring around Romania.”

“Begging your pardon?”

He points. “Romania. You've ringed it with your coffee mug.”

Merry's face reddens. Her lower lip quivers. “You're impossible Thomas McMillan. You know what they say about you, down at the agency?”

He does. He does know.

“They say there's nobody—nobody in this wide world—who can please you.” She sneers. “You and your demands. Why don't you just go out and do your own shopping, then?” She picks up her purse and turns away. “I'm quitting you, Thomas. Just like all the others.” She sets her key on the newspaper, directly in the center of the coffee ring.

“Wait...” Thomas says. “I'm sorry...”

“Too late.” Merry heads through the front door and slams it behind her.

Thomas wets his handkerchief in the kitchen sink and rubs away the smudge of mud from the door.

He spends the rest of the afternoon rearranging his pantry to accommodate the Meow Mix.

“You know what this means,” Thomas's sister Gerri says that afternoon at four forty-nine.

“No.” Thomas sighs.

“It's a sign, of course.” Gerri puts great stock in signs and other signals from the universe. The only part of the newspaper Gerri ever reads is the horoscope section. “You're meant to travel.”

“Where?”

She points to the coffee ring. “Romania of course.”

“I know nothing about Romania.” Truth be told, Thomas knows nothing about traveling anywhere. The entire span of his life has been spent within one city block.

“We've a great something-or-other from there. A famous poet or some such.”

“I have no use for poetry.” Thomas thinks lovingly of his fiction collection—all first editions, arranged alphabetically by author and dusted every morning.

“You could go swimming in the Black Sea.” Gerri's eyes gleamed. “Think of it Thomas.” She gives him a smile. “It'll be good for you to get away.”

“Who will feed the cat?”

She smiles. “I will. I promise.”

That evening, after he starts the dishwasher and sweeps the kitchen floor and waters the plants on the patio, Thomas McMillan puts the box of cat food—Meow Mix—on the third shelf of the pantry to the immediate left of the molasses. He sits down at his computer and books a ticket to Romania.

He goes to his room and packs his suitcase. He packs his dress slacks. He packs four golf shirts—blue, red, yellow and green. He packs a belt and underclothes and handkerchiefs. He packs his swim trunks, folded neatly inside his striped beach towel, never used.

Three days hence, Thomas looks out his window at the Carpathian Mountains. The letter C reminds him of his cat. He glances at his watch. Just after nine o'clock back home. He wonders whether Gerri has put the cat food back in its proper place in the pantry.

~end~

For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, Katri at http://bookslikeher.wordpress.com/ gave me this prompt: Pick a country you've never heard of or know next to nothing about. Write a story about going to that country.

I gave Kirsten Piccini at http://www.thekircorner.comthis prompt: Paint-splattered jeans.

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Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: Travel Section

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Travel Section


Every evening at eight thirty-two, after he starts the dishwasher and sweeps the kitchen floor and waters the plants on the patio, Thomas McMillan puts the box of cat food—Friskies—on the second shelf of the pantry to the immediate right of the flour.

For days after getting the cat, he'd debated whether he ought to put the cat food beside the currents or move the flour—Gold Medal—next to the gravy mix.

In the end, he settled for the present arrangement.

He's stuck to it faithfully ever since.


Now, he sits at the kitchen table drinking his coffee, reading the newspaper one article at a time. He prides himself on reading the entire paper, even the parts that don't particularly interest him: Wedding announcements and the employment ads. The awful business section thick with words and concepts his mind cannot grasp. He saves the best section—Travel—for last.

He hears a key in the lock. The front door swings open. Merry Jaffries bustles in, a brown paper bag tucked beneath her arm. “How are you then, Thomas?” She pushes the door closed with the bottom of her boot and Thomas immediately checks the door for footprints. There's a small smudge near the edge. He makes a mental note to clean it up after he finishes the newspaper.

“Brought you a surprise from the grocery store,” Merry says as she enters the kitchen.

“I don't like surprises,” Thomas says warily. He marks his place in the article with his index finger and glances again at the smudge on the door.

“Nonsense. Everyone likes surprises.”

“Not me.”

Merry sets the bag on the kitchen table and begins unloading it as Thomas watches. “Four organic bananas,” she says. “A bit on the greenish side.”

Thomas nods. “Good.” Again he looks towards the door. He reaches for the handkerchief in his pocket.

“Three oranges. A bag of carrots. Three quarters of a pound of turkey, shaved not sliced.”

“Perfect.” Thomas is pleased with how well his new housekeeper is working out. Although...Again, he looks at the smudge.

“Cat food.” Merry finishes with a flourish.

“Friskies,” Thomas corrects.

“No.” Merry beams. “Meow Mix was on sale. Buy one get one.” She pulls out a bag.

“I don't use Meow Mix.” Thomas began mentally scanning the contents of his pantry. Macaroni. Macadamia nuts. Manicotti (or had he placed that in pasta?). “Take it back,” Thomas says, shoving the bag towards Merry.

“I saved you eight ninety-five.”

“I don't care. And you smudged my door when you came in.”

Merry squints. “Where?”

He points. “There.”

“Anything else I'm doing wrong, then?” Merry pours herself a cup of coffee and sets the mug on the travel section of the newspaper.

“As a matter of fact, yes,” Thomas says. “You just put a ring around Romania.”

“Begging your pardon?”

He points. “Romania. You've ringed it with your coffee mug.”

Merry's face reddens. Her lower lip quivers. “You're impossible Thomas McMillan. You know what they say about you, down at the agency?”

He does. He does know.

“They say there's nobody—nobody in this wide world—who can please you.” She sneers. “You and your demands. Why don't you just go out and do your own shopping, then?” She picks up her purse and turns away. “I'm quitting you, Thomas. Just like all the others.” She sets her key on the newspaper, directly in the center of the coffee ring.

“Wait...” Thomas says. “I'm sorry...”

“Too late.” Merry heads through the front door and slams it behind her.

Thomas wets his handkerchief in the kitchen sink and rubs away the smudge of mud from the door.

He spends the rest of the afternoon rearranging his pantry to accommodate the Meow Mix.

“You know what this means,” Thomas's sister Gerri says that afternoon at four forty-nine.

“No.” Thomas sighs.

“It's a sign, of course.” Gerri puts great stock in signs and other signals from the universe. The only part of the newspaper Gerri ever reads is the horoscope section. “You're meant to travel.”

“Where?”

She points to the coffee ring. “Romania of course.”

“I know nothing about Romania.” Truth be told, Thomas knows nothing about traveling anywhere. The entire span of his life has been spent within one city block.

“We've a great something-or-other from there. A famous poet or some such.”

“I have no use for poetry.” Thomas thinks lovingly of his fiction collection—all first editions, arranged alphabetically by author and dusted every morning.

“You could go swimming in the Black Sea.” Gerri's eyes gleamed. “Think of it Thomas.” She gives him a smile. “It'll be good for you to get away.”

“Who will feed the cat?”

She smiles. “I will. I promise.”

That evening, after he starts the dishwasher and sweeps the kitchen floor and waters the plants on the patio, Thomas McMillan puts the box of cat food—Meow Mix—on the third shelf of the pantry to the immediate left of the molasses. He sits down at his computer and books a ticket to Romania.

He goes to his room and packs his suitcase. He packs his dress slacks. He packs four golf shirts—blue, red, yellow and green. He packs a belt and underclothes and handkerchiefs. He packs his swim trunks, folded neatly inside his striped beach towel, never used.

Three days hence, Thomas looks out his window at the Carpathian Mountains. The letter C reminds him of his cat. He glances at his watch. Just after nine o'clock back home. He wonders whether Gerri has put the cat food back in its proper place in the pantry.

~end~

For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, Katri at http://bookslikeher.wordpress.com/ gave me this prompt: Pick a country you've never heard of or know next to nothing about. Write a story about going to that country.

I gave Kirsten Piccini at http://www.thekircorner.comthis prompt: Paint-splattered jeans.

Labels: ,

7 Comments:

At January 31, 2013 at 4:14 PM , Blogger Sandra Tyler said...

Wonderful character! You have to build a full story around him? Great conflict force for a longer story. And love that he's still thinking about the cat food...

 
At January 31, 2013 at 4:51 PM , Blogger j umbaugh said...

Looks at the Carpathian Mountains and wonders if the cat food was put in it's proper place?? What a great snapshot of the OBSSIVE Compulsive.

 
At February 1, 2013 at 5:45 AM , Blogger Comingeast said...

This character is painful to watch, especially because I know people close to me who are OC. I could really feel his inner turmoil. I love that he went away but didn't really go away. Great writing.

 
At February 1, 2013 at 5:45 AM , Blogger Comingeast said...

This character is painful to watch, especially because I know people close to me who are OC. I could really feel his inner turmoil. I love that he went away but didn't really go away. Great writing.

 
At February 2, 2013 at 7:23 AM , Blogger Bee said...

I love this character. I have OCD tendencies, but not so bad that it has affected my relationships. Either that, or my husband is very accommodating. I could totally relate to Thomas.

 
At February 3, 2013 at 2:17 AM , OpenID bookslikeher said...

Great job, I love where you went with the prompt!

 
At February 3, 2013 at 12:28 PM , Anonymous steph said...

What a great response to the prompt. Well drawn character, terrific details. I love that he's thinking about his pantry while looking out over the mountains. Because of course he would be.

 

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