Greg Bales

Writers Are Temperamental; or, “A Story Can Always Wait until after Dinner”

FIVE-YEAR-OLD's story
Once I went into a fores then I saw a ha[unted house]

Scene: A kitchen, early evening. FIVE-YEAR-OLD sits at the table. In front of him is a sheet of construction paper, a box of markers, and a box of crayons. His FATHER stands at the stove cooking veggie hot dogs.

“Daddy, I’m going to write a story. How do you spell once?”

“What’s the first sound?”

“Wh-, wh—y!”

W is the sound, but the letter is o. O-n-c-e.”

“How do you spell went? Is W down then up?”

This continues several minutes. FIVE-YEAR-OLD sounds out his words’ first sounds, as he has been learning to do in kindergarten. FATHER continues cooking.

“Oh! I messed it up. I need to start over. How do you spell once, Daddy?”

“Look at what you’ve already written.”

“Okay.” He writes. “I want my story to say ‘Once I went into a forest then I saw a haunted house.’ How do you spell forest?”

“What’s the first sound?”

“Ffff-, fff-, f!”

“That’s right! And the next sound is two letters together, or. And then there’s e-s—.”

The conversation continues similarly until they get to “haunted.”

“Oh! I messed up again! I need to start over!”

“No you don’t. Haunted is a hard word! Why don’t you just scratch out the letter you got wrong?”

“I WANT TO START OVER RIGHT NOW.”

“If you’re going to act like that, you’re going to stop! Anyway, it’s time to eat.”

FIVE-YEAR-OLD shouts and begins to cry. He crumples his paper and throws it on the ground. He hits FATHER.

“That’s it, you’re going upstairs! TO YOUR ROOM NOW!”

Exit FIVE-YEAR-OLD, loudly. Deer grazing in the cemetery four blocks away start with alarm as they hear FIVE-YEAR-OLD’s screams. Seismograph needles bounce perceptibly as they register his stomps on the stairs. Toddlers in Missouri check on their Thomas the Train toys when they feel the midichlorian disturbance created by FIVE-YEAR-OLD’s throwing his own trains on the ground.

Meanwhile, FATHER pulls one of the hot dogs off the stove, slathers it with mustard, ketchup, and sweet pickle relish, and eats it quietly. It’s nothing special. A dinner to pull together before swim class begins in less than an hour is all. He wonders whether he’ll find the kid’s goggles or whether he’ll have to buy some on the way to the pool. He folds his napkin, sets it next to his plate, and exits.

Scene: FIVE-YEAR-OLD’s bedroom. THOMAS, PERCY, EMILY, GORDON, JAMES, HENRY, TOBY, ANNIE and CLARABELLE, and TROUBLESOME TRUCKS are strewn about on the floor. FIVE-YEAR-OLD is sobbing and sniffing, searching for something.

Enter FATHER, who sits in a rocking chair. FIVE-YEAR-OLD stops searching for whatever he was looking for and climbs into FATHER’s lap. They hug.

“Daddy, I really wanted to start over.”

“I know you did.”

They sit quietly for several minutes.

“You know that what you were doing was writing?”

“Yeah.”

“I work with writers all the time. Mama’s a writer. Every writer gets frustrated. Sometimes, the best thing frustrated writers can do is set aside what they’re writing and come back to it later.”

“But I really did want to start over.”

“Sometimes writers have to do that, too. Whatever the right thing to do is, though, a story can always wait until after dinner. Should we go down?”

He sniffs. “Okay.”

Exeunt.

Update

After a good night’s sleep…

The story (rewritten)

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