I recently entered a 750 word short story contest where the submission had to start with “I never would’ve purchased this house if I’d known that…” and end with “That’s why tomorrow I’m setting it on fire.”
The story was written in 45 minutes, edited over a few days, and submitted to Writer’s Digest with a strange (but misplaced) sense of confidence. The story failed to make the top five, but I figured I’d post it here before I lose the original text file.
Comments, edits, and miraculously combined swear words are welcome.
“I never would have purchased this house if I’d known that you were going to do this again, Nicole. Not in a million years.”
“Keep your voice down. Emily’s sleeping.”
I lifted my head off of my pillow, straining to hear my parents’ muffled voices on the other side of the wall.
“Why don’t you explain to me how you rack up forty-five grand—”
My father practically yelled, “Are you kidding me?” Well, that’s not exactly right. He put a swear in there, but I’m not saying where. I had never heard my father swear before—not even when someone accidentally burned down our shed last summer. I wiggled out of the tangled covers and leaned my head against the cool bedroom wall. I tried not to breathe.
“Forty-two, forty-five, Nicole. It could be half that and we’d still be sunk.”
I looked over at my piggy bank. I knew I had ninety-three dollars and eighty-two cents in there that I had been saving for an iPod. I would’ve given them the whole thing if they’d just stop fighting.
My dad started again. “I’m eating brown-bag, store-brand baloney lunches and unwinding in front of a twenty-seven inch tube TV when I get home. You know who watches tube TVs and eats generic baloney these days, Nicole? Yea. No one. Even inmates have flat screens now. And you…you somehow blew through forty-five grand—”
“Well, look who’s suddenly interested in tracking expenses. Oh, please excuse me. You blew a mere forty-two grand, and I can’t begin to figure out where. I mean, where did the money go this time, Nicole? I’m dying to know.”
“You want to know where? You want to know?” I heard their closet door slide open, and the crinkling of overfilled plastic bags thumping on the carpet. “Take them all, Mr. Tightwad. Take my credit card. I don’t care. I stashed a few things away because I was sick of you climbing all over me about every single dime I spend.”
“A few things? You call this a few things?”
“I’m sorry, okay? Is that what you want to hear? I’m sorry. I was going to pay it off before you found out.”
My father laughed. “When? When aliens in diamond-studded space ships landed in the backyard and made you their queen? Seriously, what planet are you living on? There had to be some point where you knew—without a doubt—that you were too deep in the hole to climb out—”
“and you just kept right on digging.”
“And for the second time in five years I’m living with a financial terrorist.”
“And I’m living with a miserable jerk.”
“Maybe not for long.” My dad growled and stomped into the hall. “I’m not your father, Nicole. It’s not my job to follow you around cleaning up your messes. We have a daughter already.”
As I waited for the soft, muttered apologies that usually fill the loose pauses after their fights, the front door slammed shut. The house was suddenly math quiz quiet. I was scared.
When my friend Allie’s mom and dad got divorced, she had to live part of the week at home and part at her dad’s. She said that her dad lives in this tiny apartment that smells like sad, old sneakers, and there are no kids there at all. I didn’t want to spend half my week breathing loneliness and foot stink, but what could I do? I was only eleven.
I hugged my knees until I could hardly breathe. When I let go, I quietly took my stuffed ladybug from the nightstand. I know it sounds babyish, but when I really don’t know what to do, I sometimes ask my ladybug. I know it’s not alive or anything, but an answer always pops into my head somehow.
I stared into her black bead eyes and asked, “What should I do, Ladybug.” When the answer came, I felt myself well up. I shook my head and asked again. I could hear my mom start to cry in the other room. The answer repeated.
“Please, no,” I whispered to the ladybug before asking once more. For a third time I heard the same rhyme: “Ladybug, ladybug fly away. Your house is on fire and your children are burnt.”
I wiped my eyes and crawled back under the covers. The ladybug was always right. I’d rather have no home than a broken one. That’s why tomorrow I’m setting it on fire.
749 words, submitted 7/7/10