I wish I could say there was rhyme and reason to where my story ideas come from. But the truth is, every now and then my brain just plays a random game of “connect the dots,” grabbing a series of seemingly unrelated things and weaving them into a tale.
The plot of the last short story I wrote came together as a result of a news clip about a shitting mailman, my knowledge of Lee’s profession (landscaping), some mildy annoying encounters with nosy neighbors, and a book I was reading about a special needs teen. None of these things have anything at all to do with each other, but by the time I was done with them, they did.
The main character isn’t the mailman, and he certainly isn’t Lee (of course not – who would cast their boyfriend as the dude who craps on a lawn?). But without both of them, he wouldn’t exist. The nosy woman in my story isn’t any former or current neighbor in particular, but she is bits and pieces of every bored, window-watching housewife with whom I’ve ever had the “pleasure” of sharing street space.
With this story, the various snippets of memory and experience came together over time, as I was writing the piece. Over the last few days, I had a totally different sort of “connect the dots” experience.
The office where I work has gone through a complete transition in terms of staffing over the past decade. For better or worse, I’m one of the ones still hanging around, but most of the faces that were there when I started are long gone. The other day, one of the other long-timers and I were taking a “mental health break” and doing a little reminiscing.
We were hanging out in the open space between our offices, which used to be a lobby and is now cube space. One of our co-workers now makes his 40-hour-per-week home where the ugliest couch in the world once sat. It was that awful shade of 70’s decor orange you thankfully don’t see much anymore, and it was covered with stains from years of students munching fast food while they waited to talk to some staff person. At least, we always hoped that’s where the stains came from.
For some reason, my co-worker (I’ll call him Rob) and I were remembering that old couch. That led to Rob recalling how another long-gone coworker, M, used to flip out when we’d get an eight-legged-invader in the office. Our building always was and still is prone to spiders, and whenever one would visit M would jump up on that couch and scream for someone to kill it. Since we were an almost all-female office at the time, the spider removal duties inevitably fell to Rob.
Notice I said removal, not kill. That’s because another one of our co-workers (I’ll call her Anne), had firm beliefs about how we should treat our bug buddies. She had a thing about spiders in particular, going so far as to say they were messengers from the spirit world and were there to tell us something. In other words, if you squash a spider, you might be missing that telegram from your dearly departed grandpa about where the family money was buried.
So, although none of the rest of us actually believed in spider-messengers, Rob always trapped the creepy crawlies and put them outside rather than splatting them with someone’s shoe. I’m just glad we never had a brown recluse pay us a visit. So our blast-from-the-past talk went from that hideous orange couch to M jumping on it to Ann’s weird spider philosophies. Rob and I had a laugh, then we went back to our work and I forgot the whole conversation. At least I thought I did.
On Saturday, after spending the Doomsday-That-Wasn’t reading to my heart’s content in my hammock, I came in and took a shower. As I was stepping out of my tub wet, naked, and slippery, I almost kissed an eight-legged freak.
You know how your eyes get a little misty and bleary in the steam of a nice hot shower? Well, I guess that’s what kept me from noticing the little spider who had dropped down from the ceiling on a thin line of web to say hello. He was smack dab in the middle of the bathroom, and I almost bumped right into him with my face as I was climbing out of the tub.
The Girl Police want to confiscate my chick card because I hate shopping and would wear jeans and tees every day for the rest of my life if I could get away with it. But they let me keep it because I make up for my ungirlishness in shopping and fashion by being super-girly-squealy-squeamish when it comes to bugs. So of course, nearly smooching a spider caused me to slip, slide, squeal, squeak and generally almost break my naked butt. I managed not to fall, but that was mostly luck.
Grace is not one of my qualities even when I’m not wet and nekkid.
I told Lee about my encounter with the spider (Bug removal is his job at home as much as it is Rob’s at work), we laughed, and I forgot about him. Or so I thought.
Lying in bed Saturday night, a series of strange questions starting zinging around in my brain.
What if there was a guy like Rob, the only male in an all-girl office, who got the “other duty as assigned” of workplace bug-killer? What if one of his co-workers was an aging hippie chick who warned him to treat the spiders differently? What if he didn’t listen, and insisted on squashing them? What if, this yet-to-be-created spider-squashing menace happened to have a girlfriend like me, who made him Master of Bug Removal at home? What would happen to him if he refused to heed the “let the eight-leggers live” warning of his zen colleague at home – what would become of him and his girlfriend?
In the real world, probably nothing. In storyland, the possibilities are endless. And just like that, the next freakshow of a tale was born. If it turns out well, I might actually be glad a spider saw me naked.
So, how do your plots hatch?