Flash Fiction Friday: Where to Begin

A special thanks to Mike for suggesting the spark sentence for this week’s flash fiction. Don’t forget to leave a sentence in the comment section of this post for next week’s flash fiction (if you’re confused, click here).

___

journalist

The local paper called Harry and asked if he would participate in a “unique human interest piece” they were doing. He was picked at random, along with 19 other subscribers.

The reporter showed up 10 am on the dot. It was Harry’s first interaction with a reporter and he secretly hoped the man would be wearing a tan trench coat and fedora with a little press card tucked in the ribbon. He had to hide his disappointment when he opened the door to a young man in jeans and one of those baggy plaid shirts all the young men seemed to own. He hadn’t bothered to shave or comb his hair. This must be the look, Harry figured.

Harry offered coffee but the reporter smiled and lifted up his own cup of Starbucks. He sat down on the couch and took out an iPad from his backpack. Since when did adults use backpacks, Harry thought to himself while taking a seat in his favorite mustard, yellow recliner. The reporter looked at him and then ran his hands down his thighs. Harry did the same.

“So,” the reporter started.

Harry thought of all the possible questions he might be asked. What was it like to fight in Vietnam? How did it feel to outlive the love of his life?  What was retirement like? What wisdom did he have to share after 82 years on this planet?

“Did my assistant tell you anything about the piece we’re doing?” the young man asked.

Harry was surprised a man who couldn’t bother to shave had an assistant. In his 40 years as an electrician he never had an assistant. “No,” he said, shaking his head. “Can I offer you some coffee?” As soon as he said it he realized he already asked. The reporter held up his own coffee again with a polite smile. Harry feared the reporter would dismiss him as senile.

“The piece is called, A life in Tweets. We’re asking older people, like yourself, to summarize your life in a 140 characters.”

“140 characters? My whole life?” Harry covered his mouth and coughed. He didn’t know if he should be humored or insulted.

“It doesn’t have to be 140. That’s just the maximum.”

He didn’t know where to begin. Harry stared at the young man, and wondered if even his brief life could be summarized in so few words. He ran his fingers down the corners of his open mouth and then rested his hand on his chest. “I think you better go,” Harry said.

The reporter furrowed his brow. “Did I say something wrong?”

“This whole piece is wrong,” Harry said, pushing himself up from his chair. “I’m sorry you had to come all the way out here for nothing.” He moved to the door.

The reporter returned his iPad to the backpack. He stood up and swooped the bag over his shoulder in one swift move. “Seriously, I didn’t mean to offend you. We just thought this would be a fun little piece. Our research shows that younger readers stay more engaged with this brief format. We had to think of a way to compete with social media.”

Harry opened the door. “Either you care about something or you don’t. 140 characters is just an excuse to say you paid attention when all you did was take a glance.”

The reporter stood by the couch. “I’m just doing my job. We need to keep people interested.”

“Try writing a real story.”

The reporter looked as if he was going to cry. Harry couldn’t believe the boy was already out of high school and even college. Harry had pointed a gun at strangers when he was the same age as this reporter. Was this how he looked before he went off to war?

“Maybe,” the reporter paused to chew on the inside of his cheek. “We can do a full interview, and I’ll see what my editor thinks of it.”

Harry tapped the side of the door. He ran his tongue along the inside of his mouth.

“I can’t make any promises that it will get published, though,” the reporter added.

Harry shut the door and moved back to his seat. “Ok, where do we begin?”

4 comments

  1. I love this!! Tracy, what an awesome idea to spark out of just once sentence. I completely believe that someone has tried to do something like this before. And it would be so offensive! I really enjoyed this. I like the image created when the older man wonders if he looked like the reporter before he went to war. I also like all the things the old man thinks he may get asked about. There’s great tension between the two of them.

    My sentence:
    We met under strange and unusual circumstances.

    Like

    1. Thanks, Tricia! I am always amazed at how the mind works. This exercise reminds me of what we did at our writer’s retreat, when we all wrote short stories based on the same first line. One second we had no idea what to write and the next second we were pulling characters and plots out of thin air. It’s pretty incredible. Thanks for the sentence 🙂

      Like

  2. I really like this one.

    I think this speaks to the power of artistic constraints. Once you make an arbitrary decision about one detail, your brain just starts putting together how to make it work. It works for music too, I think. This is a great idea for overcoming the blank page.

    Like

Comments are closed.