Mysterious Actions

Mysterious Actions

Backstory: April 14

Adding the surprising or inexplicable

In workshop this past week we explored mystery in character.

Participants developed characters that acted one way and made choices that were surprising or inexplicable. Writer Susan Bull wrote a piece that introduced elements of mystery, but she was cut off by the time limit. This is sometimes a challenge in class, but participants have material to continue with at home, at least! What follows is her draft. I like that we don’t know where it’s headed.

By Susan Bull

He called the answering service for Methodist Hospital.
“Hey, Louise, it’s Dr. Day. Any calls for me?”
“No, Doctor. All’s quiet on the home front.”
“Great. How are you, Louise?”
Dr. Day always asked how she was doing. He was by far the friendliest physician that Louise answered calls for. Louise felt as if they were friends because she had been taking his messages for over 20 years. He was always personable and kind. Just last week he had given Danny a pair of expensive cowboy boots. Danny was the housekeeper that did the cleaning for both Louise’s switchboard and Dr. Day’s pathology lab. Danny had six kids and could never have afforded such a beautiful pair of rust colored leather boots.
“I’m A-OK, Doctor. What do you have planned this sunny day?”
“As a matter of fact, I am going to let Dr. Keffler take my calls for me. I am headed for the lake.”
“Roger that. I will spare you and torture him for the rest of the day.”
“Sounds good, Louise. I will call you when I am back on.”
“Good-bye, Doc.”
“Bye-bye, Louise.”
He hung up the phone and took the next hour to clean off his roll-top desk. After organizing all of his insurance papers, bills and investment notices into separate piles, he placed five photos into a neat stack. The first photograph was of his wife, Kathy. She had finished her bachelor’s in nursing a few years before when she was 45. She looks happy with her white nursing cap and uniform contrasting with her black hair and red lipstick. Next, he stared at a small picture of Andrea, his oldest daughter. Her eyes are blue against the blonde of her hair. She is in a fitted bridal gown at her wedding to a man she will divorce in a few years, but he doesn’t know this now. Julia, his second daughter is in the third photograph; she is riding the brown and white pinto that he bought for her 25th birthday. Sarah, his youngest daughter, is standing in line with the ice skaters pictured on the front of the program of the Broadmoor Ice Revue. He had paid for her training in Colorado Springs when she had taken lessons from Peggy Fleming’s pro. This photo marked her success. His only son and namesake, John, is standing next to the red Porsche that he had purchased for his son’s 17th birthday. He gingerly placed a rubber band around the photos and deliberately placed them into the top left-hand drawer.
His boat was already hooked to his van as he had been planning this trip to the lake for quite some time. He climbed into the driver’s seat and opened a small package of Little Debbie powdered-sugar donuts. Alternating between bites of donuts and sips of hot coffee from his thermos, he managed to back out of the driveway. Kathy wasn’t home; she had picked up an extra weekend shift at the psyche hospital in order to help out a co-worker. He thought back to their last conversation.
“Have you heard from the kids?” he had asked her while she was brushing her teeth.
“Nope, not a word. I’ll have to make the rounds and call everyone on Sunday.”
He had patted her on the butt and she had jumped away laughing.
“Not now, John, I’m late for work.”  She kissed him on the lips. “Maybe we can have a quiet dinner.”
“That would be nice.”
He hadn’t told her he was going to the lake. He just felt better not bringing it up, as he wasn’t sure what he would have said. And now as he drove out to White River Lake, he thought about how much he loved west Texas. The sunrises and sunsets were gorgeous, so much sky and nothing blocking the view. He didn’t even mind chewing dirt after a dust storm. The sky was massive and the clouds full of shapes and hope. Driving down the highway was always a straight shot; hills and curves in the road did not exist in west Texas. Not much was the color green.
After arriving, he backed the van with the boat leading into the lake. He put on the emergency break and stepped out to unhook the boat and lower it into the water. He had practiced doing this by himself for the past three months and had become quite proficient.

No portion of Susan Bull’s writing may be reprinted without express permission from the author.

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