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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Inspiration/Block (for the writer) (05/20/10)

TITLE: Toaster Ovens, a Dead Horse and a Cabbie’s Pug
By Anita van der Elst
05/26/10


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Hairiest slams the phone receiver down. “That woman married to our son is a devious witch!” she screams as Milktoast returns from fetching the newspaper.

Sliding the rubber band off the newspaper, Milktoast clears his throat. “Yes, dear,” he says meekly. “I heard you informing their pastor of that just now.” He skedaddles into the living room hoping to settle unobtrusively into his recliner.

Almost trampling on his heels, Hairiest rants, “She reported me to the authorities on false charges, you know! And they are rewarding our neighbors with toaster ovens for spying on me!”

“Dear, can I get you some tea?” Milktoast turns to her, his head bowed. He has no confidence his perceived safety zone will be respected. Drawing his shoulders in and with one hand raised to fend off any possible strike, he suggests, “Or maybe you’d like to take a nap?”


Hairiest and Milktoast are not their real names but in the years I knew them, my hairiest experiences were in her vortex and Milktoast fit my father-in-law well for obvious reasons. I don’t know if this scene played out as I’ve pictured but it wouldn’t be too far-fetched.

We chose safety boundaries for our family—they chose separation from us rather than mutual respect. Their behavior inspires me to spates of fictional imaginings.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


“We’re going to the races, the races, the races!” Janelle chants as she hops to the car. Her sister, Heather, imitates her gleefully. Their grandparents regularly go to the racetrack and today they’ve invited their twin ten-year-old granddaughters to join them.

Granddad gives each girl a twenty-dollar-bill to bet on the horse of her choosing. Janelle thinks Three Biscuit will be a winner, and Heather opts for Rear Admiral. Excitement mounts as the horses burst from the starting gate. Granddad points out Three Biscuit and Rear Admiral, both fine looking animals. Janelle yells, “Go, Three Biscuit, go!” Heather cheers for Rear Admiral. Rear Admiral takes the lead. Three Biscuit is nose to rump with Rear Admiral. And then! Three Biscuit halts in mid-stride and crashes to the ground while the racers thunder on.

“What happened, Granddad?” wails Janelle. “Why isn’t Three Biscuit getting up? He’s just lying there, like a, a, a…”

“Looks like Three Biscuit just…dropped dead, Janelle,” Granddad puts his arm around her shoulders. Heather, eyes fixed on Rear Admiral, pays no attention to Janelle’s anguish. Her horse crosses the finish line, nothing rear about it. Rear Admiral has won!

Janelle cries as Heather collects her winnings. Granddad, feeling sorry for Janelle, gives her some money too. The ache in her heart for the poor horse and the unfairness of Heather’s horse winning and hers dropping dead right in front of her knows no balm.


A smidgen of conversation overheard in a lunchroom, a quick scribble in my ever-present little notebook and a few years later inspiration launches a story from my mind’s starting gate. I wonder where Janelle’s life and my imaginings will lead her.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


I’d salivated over the gyros my boss treated me to last week at that café a mile out of town. My mind imaged the pita bread overflowing with diced lamb, onion and tomatoes. The site wasn’t close enough to walk to. Mouth watering anticipatorily, I jumped into the taxi I’d summoned with my cel phone. I gave the cabbie, a kelly-green tartan cap atop his head, the name of the restaurant and asked if he knew it.

“Nae,” he said, “What street, lassie?”

“Ash Street, West.”

“Aye, I’ll have ye there in no time, and I won’t rob ye much either,” he said with a nod.

I jumped a little when what I first thought to be an inert pile of rags on the front seat moved. The flat nose of a pug popped itself out from under its paws.

The cabbie glanced in his rear-view mirror, honing in on my alarm. Barking, the dog rose to its feet and began to jib. I had to avert my gaze. What would cause this animal to act so? I felt fear ooze up.

Raising his cap, the cabbie ruffled his curly black hair. “Th’ puir jo has been a bit on th’ edge,” he said. “Noticed it just aboot th’ time I was tempted to give up me vows.”


A challenge to use all the words from a Scrabble game I recently played inspires me on a strange ride.

Which of these stories shall I follow to the end? My keyboard beckons...


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Member Comments
Member Date
Robyn Burke05/28/10
Well the title certainly piqued my curiosity, and then the opening lines with names like Harriest and Milktoast made sure I read on.

Your vignettes were fun to read, as they also continued to play out conclusions in my mind.

Every little thing (and big thing) we experience in life has the potential to become a story. Good for you for paying attention to the details.