AARPing the Artist

13 Nov

“Your name, sir?”  The front desk clerk at the Holiday Inn Express did not look up from his screen as he asked.

“Ruben Esquire.” Ruben responded. All was going well with Ruben’s holiday away from fame. So well that he began to feel a little neglected and added, “The artist.”

“I’m sorry, sir. What did you say?” The clerk did raise his eyes to Ruben this time and examined his face. A little thrill of excitement went through him. “Just like the first time I was recognized on the street,” he thought.

“I am Ruben Esquire, the artist.” Ruben bowed his head to graciously accept the praise he knew was coming.

“Oh. Okay. Cool. Would you like to use your senior citizen’s discount today?” The clerk was now looking back at his computer registration screen.

Ruben, feeling a bit more of his full forty years than he’d ever wanted said, “No. That’s okay.”

prompt: Ruben

12 Nov

Use one or more of the elements of the prompt. It’s completely up to you!

  • Name: Ruben (40)
  • Profession: Artist
  • Wish: To be less famous
  • Location: On holiday

If you have any questions about Character Project, contact me.

See upcoming prompts here.


11 Nov

Paulina had barely moved in three days except to reach from under the covers to grab the food and drink the water that her roommates left beside her bed. They’d knock on the door, and she would turn her  back to them as they tentatively entered. Sometimes they would sit a while, touching her shoulder, muttering platitudes that she knew they meant but that she didn’t want to hear.

Tissues covered the floor in a half circle where she lay. It was easier to sleep, to try to forget it all. But now she was slept out, cried out, worn out… kicked out. She lifted herself out of bed and saw that next to the sandwich that Martin had left, was also a card.

She opened it and read, “Dear Paulina, I want to make sure you know we know you didn’t do it. We told Dean Johnston that you’re a really hard worker. That you would never cheat. He’ll meet with you, if you want. I think he’ll listen and I think it’s a good idea. You don’t deserve this.  xo, Martin.”

Paulina shook her head, pushed her lank hair out of her eyes, and fell back into the bed. She wished, with every fiber of her being, that what Martin said was true. She pulled the covers back over her face.

Because I Am the Best

6 Nov

If I could perform in finals slightly better than Regina

I’d easily surpass by far that stupid girl Christina,

(Any challenge would be trifle from Chris, Lester or Athena.)

And when the test scores were announced the cries would echo through the dorms,

“In Neurology 440 one new student surpassed all norms!”

And I would stand with arms akimbo in the hallway like a hero,

The proud freshman with the highest grade– the farthest one from zero!

And all the other classmates whose points fell somewhere betweena’

Would talk into the night about the Legend of Paulina!

.      .      .

How did she do it? They would ask, she’s so young and seems so free!

She’s so beautiful, obviously not as predictable she appears to be!

She is some new kind of perfection, superlative, indubitably!

O I can just imagine how my world will become ideal;

(O I may ever again be made to pay for my own meal.)

Celebrity in my first year, because I’m just so smart,

And within no time I’ll be pursued, but what man shall win my heart?

I’ll have my choice, I’ll have my way, so easy, I can see,

A genius, yes, but my greatest gift is my humility!

A Grace Period

30 Oct

The tourists were to file back onto the bus precisely one hour after getting out at the Santa Barbara Mission. Jerome was allowed to give them a five minute grace period, but then he had to be on his way, no variation, whether everyone made it or not. “At the hour you’ll hear the old mission bells ring as they have rung for over two hundred years,” he always said before the passengers got off the bus, “Within five minutes, be on the bus or you’ll end up waiting for the four o’clock tour and hope there’s room. There’s forgiveness in there,” and he’d point to the parish, “But out here we’re on a schedule.”  It sometimes got a nervous laugh, but so far never a hearty one.

Each group would debark and scatter about the same way. Some would take the mission tour, some would walk the grounds, some would go inside and gawk and talk, or maybe even pray, and some would head for the gift shop. Nine times out of ten, children would head straight for the fountain. Today was a hot day for Santa Barbara, nearly 80 degrees, and sure enough at least one little boy, maybe six years old, broke ranks and ran to the fountain, his mother dashing after him.

At the noon bells the hubbub commenced. Friends beckoned each other on the adobe steps for one last photo op, parents herded their children away from the fountain as they threw their pennies into it wishing. Wishing at the fountain seemed genuine to Jerome; wishing inside the House of God seemed a little self serving.

Jerome wasn’t a Catholic anymore, in college he’d thrown the baby out with the bathwater, but by thirty he’d decided it was okay to like what he called “the good parts” of Christianity, the loving kindness, the compassion, the peace. He accepted the idea of Jesus as the political activist the small world needed at a dire time, but as a rule the fighting and vitriol that came with religious packaging had lost the heart, made theology an encumbrance, eclipsed a savior.  Jerome accepted Jesus as a presence to be found in human compassion.  His quiet wish was that one day Jesus would come walking out of that mission, get on his bus and sit down for a ride along, even for just one day–and here came the passengers, back and boarding. Counting each, recognizing some, they wended their way down the aisle to plop down into their seats nattering about their souvenirs, chattering with speculations and fresh memories. Whatever reverent states of mind they might have held while in the church were abandoned; they were gabbing tourists now.

Two missing. Jerome looked to the fountain to see the little boy and mother were still there in the sun and shade of the willow, just talking, watching dragonflies, listening to the birds. The boy would drop his hand into the water and lift it out, holding it up to the cooling air and sunlight. The same scene could have played out for generations at this same fountain before buses, engines, touring throngs, photographs, gift shops or loud-talking part-time spiritualists. The five minutes were up and the two were lost in timelessness. No one on the bus noticed, enamored of phones and comparisons and what they’d have for lunch.  None responded when he called, “excuse me,” to ask someone to go get the stragglers, so he closed the doors, put the bus in gear and began to crawl the bus along slowly, just to give the mother and boy a second chance.

Mother and child both looked toward the sound of the rumbling engine. The mother put out her hand to the boy and he took it, and they walked quickly to the bus. Jerome slowed the bus to a stop and opened the doors. As the mother ushered the boy on board she put her hand on her heart and offered a gentle, “Thank you.” The boy did not make eye contact, and flinched slightly at Jerome’s, “Hiya.” The two sat down in the front row right behind Jerome, the mother holding the boy’s hand and listening intently as he looked out the window to the fountain, happily murmuring indistinguishable things.

prompt: Paulina

29 Oct

Use one or more of the elements of the prompt. It’s completely up to you!

  • Name: Paulina (19)
  • Profession: Student
  • Wish: To pass *or* to be top of class
  • Location: At the university

If you have any questions about Character Project, contact me.

See upcoming prompts here.


28 Oct

The unfamiliar gears crunch as Jerome misses second on the turn into James Street. Everything is set up wrong, but it doesn’t feel right to adjust the wing mirrors and tweak the seat height and settle himself in. This isn’t his bus. His bus is in for repair…

And he tries to shrug off that thought, pushing back the pictures which crowd into his mind, battling the seasick queasiness rising in his throat. Left from James Street into Taunton Road. Red lights on the crossing. he waits, willing them to stay red. Wishing they’d been red yesterday. Twenty seconds delay to the journey. No penalty for late runnng, but just enough time, twenty seconds more…

Focus on the road. Right from Taunton Road into The Westway. Through the chicane. A beaming lady in an incongruous orange dress marches proudly on at the Green Dragon. Her cheerful humming follows her on, but then Jerome hears it fade, stifled by the silent staring eyes of the regulars on board. As he pushes up Windmill Hill the shuddering growl of the engine sounds eerily loud, without the usual babble of voices. Right into Nesbit Road. Right again onto South Parade. He feels, rather than hears, the collective flinch as a police car wails in the distance.

The cold sweat begins to from as he heads across New Square, the rock sitting solid in the pit of his stomach. He can see down the hill to the turning into Mill Street, the lights, the beginning of the hedge bending away round the corner. The bus lurches violently as he fumbles into first instead of third; there’s an intake of breath from the passengers, but none of the usual griping. His foot sinks heavy on the brake, eking out the closing distance, oblivious to the queue of traffic building behind him. Wishing the lights will stay red, to buy a few more seconds. They turn amber, and he makes the turn.

Now he’s committed, the curve of the hedge draws them onward down Mill Street. Carpenter’s Rest. Queue outside the post office. Fresh red paint on the pillar box. Just the same as yesterday, as every day. He rounds the corner, and rolls into the bus stop. The doors shudder open with a hiss. Jerome waits. The draught circles amongst the motionless feet, blowing a discarded sweet wrapper in a slow spiral. His tries and fails to drag his gaze away from the alleyway across the road. The hand on the dashboard clock flicks decisively onto the hour. A leaf falls from the conker tree, pirouettes for a second, and then catches in the windscreen wiper. She’s never late. Never. Except yesterday. The pictures crowd back. The blue car, hurtling out from behind him onto on the wrong side to overtake. He sees her turning towards him, realising she’s keeping him waiting, stepping out.

He can feel twenty eyes, drilling into the back of his head. The open door shudders in the wind. A slow shuffle of feet begins at the back of the bus, punctuated by a tapping stick. The shuffle persists, row after row. He sets his jaw; clenched teeth the only thing keeping his tenuous grasp on composure. A hand sits lightly on his shoulder.

“Katie isn’t coming, Jerome. Time to go”.

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