Each month, Writer’s Digest runs a contest based on a writing prompt. They give the prompt. You submit a 750 word original short story using that prompt. Judges select a winner. The winning entry gets published in the magazine the following month. I only entered the contest once and did not win. I still think I should have. I only say that because the winning entry, at least in my opinion, about as interesting as an hour in line at the DMV. The judges felt otherwise and that’s okay. This is the story I came up with. It’s called “Silver Lining” and I hope you enjoy it. The writing prompt is italicized.
A 20-something man sits in a taxi in front of his parents’ house, trying to find the strength to tell them that he had been… what? That he had been let go, down-sized, restructured, released, transitioned… There was no good way to say it. He’d been fired. He thought he’d been in line for a promotion. Instead, he had spent the afternoon cleaning out his desk. The afternoon? Hardly. The actual desk cleaning hadn’t taken more than a few seconds: one arm, one sweep, one metal garbage can, one very clean desk. After that, it was a bar stool at Charlie’s. Stan Herman, formerly of Brayer, Hawthorne and Squibb, had never been much of a whiskey drinker. Time to turn over a new leaf.
“Jack Daniels, Charlie. Straight up.”
How was he going to tell his parents? That’s what he’d been thinking about as he sipped. He finally convinced himself that it wouldn’t be that bad. They were, after all, his parents. Telling her parents would be a different story entirely. With a finger, a second drink was ordered. The sips got bigger and more frequent. In-laws–Bud was harmless enough. Give him a beer and a ball game and all was right in his world. But Ellen? She was, as the saying went, a horse of a different color. Who was he kidding? She was just a horse. No, better make it a mule. Nothing pleased that woman. She’d never liked him and rarely tried to hide the fact.
So what next? He doodled on a damp cocktail napkin. His artwork remotely resembled a park bench. Thank God they hadn’t signed the papers on a new mortgage. They’d be making other arrangements now. There was no room at his parents’ house. That meant that he and Julie, with baby on the way, would be moving in with Bud and Ellen. That cheerful thought had been worth another whiskey, dispatched in a single gulp. He could imagine the scene at the dinner table each night. Bud would have his head buried in the sports section while Ellen served up double helpings of disapproval with every withering glance.
With a wave, and a bit of a stumble, Stan left Charlie’s and hailed a passing cab. In a futile attempt to delay the inevitable, the pending confrontation with Mount St. Ellen, he’d given the cabbie his parents’ address. When the taxi pulled to the curb, Stan realized he’d spent all his cash at the bar.
“Downtown,” he ordered, trying not to sound like he’d had a few too many. “Take me downtown.” Then, mostly for show, he started searching his pockets for bills, coins, anything. He knew there was nothing there. He supposed he’d have to get used to that feeling.
When the cab slowed at an intersection, Stan leapt from the back seat and dashed for the entrance to the subway. The driver yelled but didn’t give chase. Stan had run halfway down the escalator before he realized he was going down the up ladder. He stopped and looked around. And there she was, Ellen, just five steps below him. Their eyes met. He expected to see displeasure, annoyance, the thinly veiled disdain that told him he wasn’t good enough. But instead, he saw guilt and even fear. Why? Were his eyes, bleary as they were, playing tricks on him? He knew they weren’t. He noticed her hair. It was carefully made up but tousled. Her make up, of which she typically wore none, was generously applied, her lipstick smeared. She was wearing jewelry; another anomaly. But her wedding ring evidently hadn’t made the cut. And her blouse, a silky red thing, was very out of character. It was also a bit too revealing, mainly because the top button was missing. He saw all this, and he knew. She knew as well. He could see it in her eyes. No one said a word. There was no need. When the escalator reached the top, Stan stepped onto the adjacent escalator and headed back down. Ellen presumably went about her business.
That night at dinner, she served him the largest piece of steak.
“Stan, Dear, I’m sorry to hear about your job. They were crazy for letting you go.”
He said nothing as she placed a huge piece of chocolate cake on the table in front of him.
“You’ll find a new job. I’m sure of it. We’ll start looking tomorrow. I’ll help you.”
Stan’s wife looked pleased, surprised, mystified. Bud read the sports page.