Sunday, April 14, 2013

Prompt: Where were you when…?

We sat opposite each other across the fire. The winter chill was fading, thankfully, but I still welcomed its warmth. He poked it with a hardened stick. “So, where were you when?”

You used to be able to tell a person’s age by what they meant by that question? Where were you when Kennedy was shot? John Lennon? Ronald Reagan? When the Challenger blew up? 9/11? But there’s only one meaning to that question now.

“I-64, in the middle of nowhere east of Richmond. I was heading from Durham to a conference in Williamsburg. I thought I’d enjoy the easy drive up on Sunday and be there for a fresh start on Monday.”

He snorted and poked the fire again, sending sparks up into the night sky. “That sucks,” he said after we sat in silence for a moment. I didn’t disagree.

“You?” I asked. I didn’t really want to have this conversation any more. Again. But it was the only one that seemed to matter these days. The one thing that bound us all.

“I was in my office in Manhattan. My wife had left on Saturday to drive with our two kids to visit her parents in Texas. They were tracked out of their year-round school for three weeks.” He fell silent. Remembering. Picturing. I bet Manhattan with no lights was really something. I wondered if his office had been high up, and I started to ask. But I really didn’t want to have this conversation again.

“Yeah, it sucks,” I agreed with his profound assessment. With an exaggerated yawn to cut off any further chitchat, I settled down in my sleeping bag. As I tucked my sweater-pillow under my head, I was grateful the ground underneath felt clear rocks and sticks. And after our earlier coming-to-terms, I was reasonably certain he wouldn’t bother me in the night. He made the obligatory pass, and I knocked his knees out from under him, then helped him up without a word and got back to building the campfire.

I dreamed. Driving along the scenic highway. Early Sunday evening, sunset colors already fading, the first few headlights appearing. The long stretch with no cars in view in either direction. My car stops dead in the road. No engine, no battery, no lights. Dead as a doornail. I swear a blue streak and think evil thoughts about my mechanic. Pull out my cell phone. It’s dead, too. No way. I charged it before I left. It chews through the battery these days, but not like that. Another blue streak. I debate my options, looking ahead and thinking back along my route. I don’t have a map, without my phone. Can’t call for help. I still think it’s my car. So I decide to get out and walk to the next exit.

I rolled over and stifled a sob in my sweater. I peeked up, but he seemed to be asleep. Knowing the dream still waited, I rolled back to look up at the stars. They were so much brighter than they had been, without any light pollution to down them out. I had never learned the constellations before, never learned much about camping or living outdoors. When Dana wanted to go camping, I had said I would take her in the summer, hoping she’d forget and find other things to do.

Back when we were together. Back when life was normal and made sense. Before the power went out. I swallowed a hysterical giggle as I thought of Locutus of Borg. “Your life, as it has been, is over.”

I missed TV. Would I ever see a movie again? I hadn’t seen a soda can in months. I probably couldn’t afford one anyway, unless I found it on my own.

Of course, I started thinking about the things I missed. But that path only led to one thing. Dana. It took me three weeks of hell to get home. And she was gone.

Dogs in house:
Time writing:
~40 minutes with interruptions
April word count:


  1. Prompt: Where were you when…?

    Poppop stood with his hands on his hips. His new straw hat was battered, and manure stains darkened the left side of his shirt and trousers. It appeared the new mare was not as easy to handle as he had expected. But that was not the reason behind his scowl. "Where were you when this was going on?"

    My flour-covered siblings turned their heads from Poppop to me. He should be mad at them, not me!

    I grasped handfuls of skirt with both fists, forcing myself not to fidget like a little girl. A swordswoman did not fidget. "Out back," I mumbled.

    "Doing what?"

    I fought the instinct to look down. I would not be ashamed of myself anymore. "Practising."

    "How many more times must I tell you--"

    "None!" I yelled. I spun and pushed out the back door. I grabbed my blade--given to me by the Earl's guardmaster himself!--and strode down the lane. I was still deep in our land when it occurred to me that I could have planned a departure considerably better. With, maybe, clothes and food and stuff. A real swordswoman would have.

    I stopped, then started back to the house. A little humiliation was worth making sure I did not come running home in a day or two.

    1. I love it! Great characterization! Nice humorous notes on the manure, feisty horse, fidgeting, and flouncing out in a huff. Not much world-building, so I don't know when or where, but I would definitely read more.