Tuesday 15 November 2016

An Overheard Conversation

I am still having a great time taking my online Creative Writing course from Wesleyan University via Coursera.  It's inspiring to learn from other published authors and to get feedback from fellow writers.

I am currently studying the Craft of Character with Amy Bloom.  For this week's assignment, I was to imagine a conversation between two people overheard by a third person.  The first person was to be an "insider", the second and "outsider" and the third the eavesdropper.  In addition, we were limited to only three "speech tags", ie he said, she said.  Here's what grew in my imagination:


Guidance Counsellor
Pamela leaned over the giant industrial stove to stir the macaroni.  It was an ongoing battle to keep it from burning.  It had happened before and now the will to burn seemed ingrained into the oversized stainless steel pot.
            “That’s not how you do it, dufus.” 
Pamela heard a familiar, bored teenaged voice behind her.  She turned toward the buffet line-up and recognized Erika, a senior with striking long black hair and perfectly penciled cat eyeliner.  What was unusual was that she was speaking to one of the new grade eight students.  The boy hardly looked old enough to be standing in the cafeteria.  His hair was cut too neatly, his clothes looked brand new and his voice, when he spoke, had an unmistakeable squeak.
“I know how to get food, Erika.”
Pamela whipped her head from the scene to return to the noodles.  She wound the spoon around the pot, focussing on the bottom to release any resting pasta.
“You do not.  You’ve never done this before.  Let me help you.”
Erika’s voice had lost volume.  She must be worried that other students would notice the exchange.  She hissed.
“You have to get a tray first.  You can’t just grab a plate like you’re at home.”
“Why not? Look, it works.  I have food on my plate.  I’m going to be able to eat it.”
Pamela stole a peek at the pair and noticed that Erika had turned her back on the boy.  She bunched her long hair between her fists and gave them an exasperated squeeze.
“Where are you going to put your cutlery?  Or are you going to eat with your hands.  Seriously, how did Mom manage to raise you with so little brains?”
Pamela hid a chuckle in her white cooks uniform.  So, the popularity queen had an annoying little brother!
“Shut up.  Leave me alone.  I don’t need you.”
There was a loud clattering of broken plate and thudding food.  Pamela left her post to attend to the scene, but Erika and her brother were nowhere in sight.  Little hooligans!  But, when Pamela peered over the top of the sneeze guard she found the siblings bent over the mess, their heads together, scooping food and glass onto an extra tray.
“Don’t cut your fingers.” 
Sniffling was the only answer. 
“You’re gonna be okay.  I did this exact same thing my first day.”
Pamela gazed about, hoping no other students noticed the commotion.  Fortunately, it was halfway through lunch and most kids had already eaten and left.  No line formed behind the two students.  Pamela returned to the stovetop, whisked the steaming pot from the heat and poured the cooked pasta into a waiting sieve.
The rest of the conversation was too low for her to hear over splashing water and the clanging dishwasher.  She abandoned the noodles to check on the leftover food.  Erika was wiping the remainder of mashed potatoes from the floor with a handful of rough school napkins. 
“Thank you.  I should’ve listened.”
“That’s right you should have.” 
The mess was cleaned and Pamela reached out for the tray.  “Thank you.  Why don’t you help yourself to a new tray?  I won’t charge you for the spill.”
The boy’s dark eyes filled with tears. 
“Just a joke!  Really, the rest of the food’s just going in the trash.  Thanks for cleaning up.”
Pamela turned away.  She should have kept out of things.  She separated the macaroni into the prepared chafing dishes and then poured on the cheese sauce.  Kids always loved cheesy noodle day.  Even the seniors. She was all ready for tomorrow.  Now to clean up the rest of today’s mess.
The bell rang for the cafeteria to close and Pamela noticed Erika paying for her brother’s meal at the cash register.  He carried a tray with a full plate, cutlery and a glass.  He gazed out at the crowd of students and took a deep breath.  Erika murmured something before she strode away to her usual table.  Whatever it was made her brother smile, stand taller and face the chaos before him

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