Many moons ago, I purchased from Amazon a fun little gift for myself called THE WRITER'S TOOLBOX. It is, in a nutshell, a game for writers. You are given a starting sentence, some writing prompts, a conflict idea, and a number of other random suggestions to use in your story.
I wrote the below. It's not a comedy, which is my usual preferred genre. It's also not edited, so if you find a typo or grammatical error, give yourself five points. Huzzah.
A Short Story by S.K.Deal
“I put tulips under all the pillows, and then I set fire to the house.”
There were so many things I couldn’t reconcile about what Sheila had just told me. But right now I wanted to know one thing.
“Why put tulips under all the pillows?”
“That’s your question? I burned down a house that killed a family of four and you want to know about the tulips?”
“Technically speaking, the family was dead before you burned the house down. It wasn’t the fire that killed them but the handgun.”
“Well, if you’re gonna get that fucking picky about it, it was the bullets really. What difference does it make?! I killed them all!”
“No one is disputing that. But I want to know about the tulips.”
She sighed and rolled her eyes at me. I was proving to be a disappointment during our lunch conversation today.
“Tulips symbolize the innocence that has been restored to the soul of the departed. That’s why you find them in every funeral home.”
She stopped and stared off into the distance while feeling around on her plate for the third-quarter of her tuna fish sandwich. Finding it, she slowly slid it into her mouth and bit off a piece, still unblinking. Between chews, she mumbled, “Shit, you’re right.”
“Did anything else happen in the dream you had last night?”
“I found a diamond bracelet in the back of his car.”
“The husband’s car? Or the teenage son’s car?”
This was something I was not prepared for. I’d visited with my sister in the sanitarium every week for the past three years and never once did she talk about Gerald or what happened the night he died. Not even when I asked her.
“Your husband Gerald?”
“Yep.” She continued to slowly eat and chew her sandwich and not blink.
“Was it yours?”
She stopped chewing and stared at me. “What the fuck do you think?”’
I lowered my eyes and she went back to chewing and staring off into the distance. I lightly suggested, “Maybe it was a gift for you?”
“Maybe. The tag on it said To Tiffany. Maybe he thought my name was Tiffany.” She stared at me again, this time with enough anger to spit. “Do you fucking think he might have?!”
“Probably not.” I wiped the partially-chewed tuna from my sleeve.
“I told the police about it, but they never found it. Said I was making up lies again. For the insurance money. It wasn’t even mine so how could I collect the insurance money for it?" I shook my head and rolled my eyes, signaling I shared her opinion. "I bet that fat bitch cop took it. She looked like she’d snuck a lot of crap from the evidence room. Jewelry, cash, drugs. Obviously half the donuts from the break room. Hayley used to do that at work. Except she was about as big as a stick. As ugly as one too.”
“I believe you.”
She swallowed, finally, and looked up pleasantly. “You do?”
“I do, Sheila.”
Her smile turned dark quickly. “Why? Is it because you knew about Tiffany? You knew and didn’t tell me?!” She started to raise out of her chair. I glanced back at the guard who was on duty in the dining hall. He wasn’t paying any attention to us. I’d have to get out of this one myself.
“No! I didn’t know! I just believe you! I always believed you!”
She sat back down, considering me. Then noticed the last quarter of her sandwich and went back to happily eating. She was always happiest when eating so I let her eat in silence.
When she was done, she asked me a most peculiar question.
“Do you think Gerald’s in hell for cheating on me?”
“Yes. Most definitely.”
“Am I going to hell for killing him?”
“It is a sin; however, if you ask the priest to be forgiven, then you can go to heaven.”
“I don’t believe in priests or God.”
“Then there’s no hell.”
“You wouldn’t say that if you ate the meatloaf they served last Tuesday.” She let out a howling laugh at her own joke. At least a half-dozen other patients laughed along with her. Not because they heard or understood her joke, but they were mentally deranged as well and enjoyed a good laugh.
“That’s funny, Sheila.”
“You know what else is funny?”
“What happened that weekend in Duluth.”
“Du-Duluth? When did you go to Duluth?”
“Oh, I haven’t. But you have.”
“Once. For a conference on advancements in laser-eye surgery. It was quite astounding really! The guest speaker was world reknown surgeon James McCardle.“
“Really? So you did leave the hotel room long enough to attend some of the conference?”
“What are you talking about? I was at the whole conference. The hotel wasn’t that nice anyway.”
“Funny. That’s not what Gerald said.”
“Did he stay at the same hotel that I did?”
“Well, he had to to fuck you.”
“I—I never slept with Gerald.”
“My name is Brenda. I’m your sister Brenda.”
“That’s what it says on your birth certificate. But on the hotel registry it was Tiffany. Tiffany and John Simmons.”
“Yes! Because that’s what he told me! And Gerald wouldn’t make it up.”
“Gerald made up stuff all the time!”
“And how would you know? Huh? Tiffany?”
“Because you told me he did. And you don’t lie, remember?” Sheila looked at me with disgust. I’d caught her in her own hypocrisy. “I think lunch is over now.”
“No! Not until I say it is. I still have my grapefruit.”
“Then eat your goddamn grapefruit.”
She pouted. “I will eat my goddamn grapefruit.”
Winnie, an elderly patient, came wandering over. She interrupted at least once every lunch. Usually halfway through the cottage cheese. She was late today.
“Look what I got, Brenda!” She held up an old Danielle Steel novel.
“How nice. Five Days In Paris. How was it?”
“I haven’t read it yet. I just got it today.”
“She’s had it for at least a year,” Sheila mumbled. “It’s all she reads.” I threw her a look to knock it off. Winnie was a sweet, harmless Alzheimer's patient. Well, harmless now that she wasn’t behind the wheel of a car. That poor dog.
“Maive is looking for you.” I pointed to Winnie’s roommate and she wandered over to show off her “new” book. Probably for the tenth time today. Maive had dementia herself and wouldn’t remember. They were a match made in heaven.
“Speaking of Paris,” Sheila said while fighting with her plastic fork to stab the last piece of grapefruit, “ever been?”
“I mean the Paris in France. Not in Texas.”
“I didn’t know there was one in Texas. But I’ve never been to either.”
“Huh. I wonder who he went with.”
I wanted to ask who, but I knew who she meant. For three years I wanted her to talk about her late husband, and now I’d give anything for her to stop.
“Do you smell peach pie?” I asked, looking around.
Sheila pounded her fist on the table. “Don’t try to change the subject.”
“I’m not. I want peach pie. Harvey! Is that peach pie?!”
“No! It’s apple!”
“Oh. I don’t like apple.”
Sheila grabbed my arm and I pulled back, nearly knocking over my chair. “Who did he go to Paris with?”
“I don’t know!”
“I know you know. You know everything.”
“I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about! Stop it! Frank! Frank!!”
By the time the security guard came over, Sheila had released my arm and was back in her chair.
“Sheila’s being difficult and it’s time for me to go.”
“You haven’t eaten yet.”
“That’s ok. I’m not hungry.”
“Girl, you never eat your lunch. Let me get you a to-go box so you can take it with you.”
“That’s ok. I don’t…” But he was already gone.
Sheila laughed. “See. You’re not going anywhere.”
“What is wrong with you today?”
“Me? Nothing at all. I’ve never felt so free. Now that I know the truth. And I’ll be leaving here soon enough. Tiffany.”
“You’re crazy, Sheila!”
“I’m crazy? That’s funny, considering I’m not the one in a crazy home.”
“Because you put me here! You killed Gerald and blamed it on me!”
“You confessed to it all to save your poor sister. Your guilt for sleeping with my husband made you do it!”
“You bitch!” I lunged over the table for her, wrapping my hands around her throat. “You couldn’t stand that he could love me more than you!” The guards pried me off before I could choke her to death. “No! She’s the killer! She did it! Not me!”
“Come on, Brenda. It’s time to go back to your room.”
“No! She killed her husband! She killed him! He loved me and she killed him!!”
“No more lies, girl. Let’s go.”
The last thing I saw before they dragged me out of the dining hall was Sheila waving to me with an evil smirk on her face and a diamond bracelet around her wrist.