On the first Friday of every month, the Australian Writers Centre reveals a new set of story prompts. Writers have 55 hours to submit their best 500-word (or fewer) story.
THIS MONTH'S CRITERIA
Rachel at the reception desk is confused. I’ve had my appointment, paid my money, and am still here. In the waiting room, but not waiting. Just catching my breath. I’m in shock.
The television is quietly playing in the corner, an encore edition of “Welcome to Serendipity!” Of all shows?! I try to change the channel, but it’s stuck on Channel 9. I stare at the impossibly handsome host, Mike Moloney. Young women of various heights (but inevitably blonde and buxom) stand next to a man with a colourful tattoo peeking above his collar, biceps threatening to burst open his new suit in a Hulk-like scenario.
I scoff to myself. Serendipity. What is remotely serendipitous about carefully orchestrated dates? Scandals. Secrets. Ratings. I scoff again. And they call this ‘reality’ TV.
Rachel’s more focused on the TV than her computer, no doubt counting down the minutes until home time. Pretty sure she was here when I first met Michael. In the waiting room of all places. Now that was serendipity! Would my secret send ratings soaring? Or plummeting?
A mother and daughter enter. The girl is little – a three year old maybe? Like Shirley Temple. She looks at me and squirms closer to her mother, whispering in her ear. A loud whisper. Not a secret, just a request for juice. Neither of them look particularly sick. I wonder why they’re here.
I don’t look sick either, yet here I am. Procrastinating. Can’t quite face Real Life.
I glance at the TV. One of the contestants is ugly crying, receiving half-hearted comfort by others keen for the limelight. Mike Moloney looks sympathetic, and then looks directly at the camera with a sad smile. “We’ll return after the break.” I’m caught off-guard. I look away. I try and blink away the tears.
Shirley Temple walks over to me, pats my arm, and goes back to her mother. She’s been watching me the whole time. She looks just like her mother. I wonder what the father looks like. The doctor calls them in.
I’m alone again, still mesmerized by the TV.
A charming and distinguished older man is talking to Rachel. Oh no!! I grab a magazine and hide, wishing I’d left sooner.
“Joey? Joey Strachan? Is that you?” His eyes light up. “Joan and I miss you,” he whispers. “Michael misses you.”
Frank looks at the TV. “Oh, my dear,” he says. Like Shirley, he pats my arm.
A doctor looks at his folder. “Frank? Frank Moloney?”
We smile a sad smile, and he follows the doctor in.
I start ugly crying. Rachel half-heartedly comforts me, looking at the Serendipity host with dawning realisation.
“Do you think he’ll really be back after the break?” I’m barely coherent. “Not the break on the telly, the break with me.”
Rachel’s suddenly interested, and pats my arm. I pat my tummy. “We need him.”
Rachel stares, and spins to look at the TV.
“God, I hope the baby looks like him."
My reality on TV.
Grateful to the Australian Writers Centre for sparking creativity each month with the Furious Fiction competition.