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Short Story Exercise

November 9, 2011

Ashley sat in the study, staring blankly at the soft glow of the computer screen.  Valiantly holding back a sigh, she leaned back on the soft leather chair that had once been Derek’s school chair.  It had been a week and no one had responded to her Craigslist post advertising a pet-sitting service yet.  One week wasn’t really all that long, but the post would end up getting pushed back further and further and then no one would see it.  She couldn’t understand it.  She knew that there were many people who didn’t have time for their pets or just needed a helping hand, and it had been a very broad post.  Any time, any pets, for as long as needed. Why hadn’t anyone responded?

Ashley powered down the computer and exited the pristine study to the disaster zone that was the kitchen.  Old glasses covered the table and the sink was full of dirty dishes.  The floor that Ashley had mopped just yesterday was already caked with bits of dirt.  Rachel and Sarah, busy slurping down Spaghetti-Os, gave beaming, spaghetti sauce smeared smiles to their mother.  She pulled out a chair and sat down to watch them, giving a tired smile at the childish glee they held at the Spaghetti-Os and wishing she could remember a time it had been that easy to be happy.

The kids were part of a reason she wanted to bring some animals into the house.  They had already shown her affection for all sorts of critters, not all of which she would want in her house, and their expressions on their first trip to the zoo reminded hers from so long ago.  She held a wistful smile as she imagined the joy those dark green eyes, so much like hers, would hold at seeing a puppy or kitten for them to play with.  The smile changed to a frown as thought of the reason why they couldn’t have their own puppy to not only play with, but learn how to take care of and nurture.  A slam of the door alerted her that this reason had returned home and the accompanying footsteps told her that he headed straight to their bedroom.  With a roll of her eyes, she left her children and followed him up the stairs.


“So, how was your day,” Ashley asked her husband, keeping a cheery, if plastic, smile on her face.  It was the only smile Derek had seen for a long while now, but she was sure he never noticed.  He ran his hands over his face tiredly and shot her an exasperated look.

“The same it has been for the past nine years, Ash.  Not much changes when you spend all day looking through other people’s money.  It was a shitty day in a shitty week in a shitty year,” he mumbled, lying down on the bed with a groan.  His dark hair framed his face, matching his dark eyes and Ashley wished he would get it cut so it wasn’t so messy.  After all, she kept her hair that dark blonde color he liked in a short cut he liked; the least he could do was keep his hair manageable.  “What’s for dinner?”

She swallowed nervously, closing her eyes and reigning on her temper.

“Well, the kids ate Spaghetti-Os tonight, and the babysitter will be by shortly to watch them so we can go out to dinner tonight, like you said we would last week, remember?” Ashley watched as he stilled for a moment, covering his face with a pillow so she couldn’t read his expression.  Finally, he pulled the pillow of his face with a sheepish expression.

“Geez,” he said, “I completely forgot.  I was just so busy today, and all that crap at the office.  It was such a messed up day.  Any chance we can just, I don’t know, put this on hold, just for a little while.  Maybe you can whip something up here.”

Ashley kept that same frozen smile on her face, even as she called up the babysitter and apologized for canceling again.  Even as she searched the kitchen for something quick to stick in the oven.  Even as she took of the nice skirt and blouse, the earrings and the necklace, and changed into a well worn pair of jeans and T-shirt.

She gave the kids a bath, wiping off all the spaghetti sauce, and sent them to bed and had a quiet dinner with her husband.  Well, quiet except for the complaints about the hastily-made meal, complaints about work, and complaints about how much noise the kids had made before she had managed to get them to go to bed in their shared room.  After dinner, she set about cleaning up the house as he retired to the study for the rest of the night.  After all, he needed his private space to surf the web and watch TV where he couldn’t be bothered.


In his study, Derek logged on to his accounts and checked his emails, half-heartedly reading through the spam and work bits.  Work just seemed to follow him everywhere, even when he was supposedly done for the day.  His eyes widened when he noticed a message from an old college buddy.  He didn’t get very many of those.  He quickly scanned through it and knew right away that he would be meeting up with Jacob later that week.  How lucky could he be that his old friend was moving here, and after all these years.  A small smile played on his lips at the thought of Jacob, the first real one in a while, though he was sure Ashley didn’t notice.

She was too busy harping on him about a damn dog.  As if it was a crime to not like the mangy beasts.  Some of his worst childhood memories involved the ferocious, little monster his parents forced on him in an attempt to make him “man up.”  One of his favorite childhood memories was the news that the stupid thing finally got the hint and “escaped” out the conveniently open door.  His loss of allowance, privileges, and chances to hang out with his friends had been worth the squeal of tires and high-pitched whine he heard from his bedroom window.  How was it fair that he was expected to let a dog take over the house he paid for, just because she had a case of the blues and wanted some companionship or whatever it is dogs are supposedly good for?

He was sick and tired of always being expected to do what she wanted.  She was always pouting and acting like the world was ending because she couldn’t get some disease-ridden cur.  It is not like she had to spend hours in a tiny cubicle, staring at pages of figures until the numbers blurred and he could finally go home, only to be met with an unnecessarily-frosty reception.  When he had got her pregnant,  and, honestly, what kind of cruel joke was that when they had barely been active, he had manned up like his father wanted and let go those dreams he could only barely remember.  Dreams that involved standing in front a classroom and showing all the so-called stupid kids how to get through the numbers symbols that most people just expected them to understand.

She acted like he was the one that ruined her life, when she was the one that had always started everything.  The only reason he had started dating her in the first place was because his dad was always riding him about getting a girlfriend and none of the girls his age was interested. Now he was stuck in a boring job that he cared very little about, though the pay was much more suitable to raising a family than other jobs.  He spent hours at the job only to come home to the ice queen act Ashley had taken to donning around him.  It was getting so bad that he was pretending to work late and actually going to see a movie or squeeze in a poker game after work, just in an effort to spend the least amount of time possible with his own wife.  The only part of his life that seemed to matter in the slightest was his kids.  His beautiful, loving, undemanding…


“Daddy! Daddy! Can we get a puppy,” Sarah asked as her older sister looked on, an unconcerned expression concealing the fact that she had been the one to prod her sister into action.  “The Petersons got a puppy, a Dalmatian, and it’s really cute and we would take such good care of it.  We’d feed it and pet it and take it outside when it needs to go bathroom.  Please!”
Derek nearly choked on the donut he was shoveling into his mouth, the weekly ritual of donuts before church being the closest they came to eating out as a family.

Ashley handed Sarah a napkin to wipe off the powdered sugar covering her face and looked to see her husband’s response. Derek cleared his throat and shot her a glance that she easily ignored; she didn’t feel the need to become the mediator between him and his own kids.

“Well,” he started nervously, “I would, uh, love to get a dog,” -he flinched as the children let out an excited squeal- “But, we can’t.  I’m allergic to dogs…and cats, most animals really, and, if we got a pet, I would get really sick.”

Ashley frowned at the lie, at the man, but continued listening.  Derek looked at the children expectantly, “You don’t want daddy to get sick, do you?”

Though disappointed, the children just shook their heads.  They were still charmed by their father’s gentle features and charismatic personality, just as she had been when they had first met, before they had settled into the dull suburban life.  Ashley shook her head as well, in exasperation instead of disappointment.  That was Derek’s answer to everything, lie to avoid confrontation.  He had given her many answers over the years to that very same request.  First the apartment didn’t allow pets, and it was too small really for an animal to have a happy life.

Then, when they moved into their house, the cost of a pet was really too much considering what they were paying for the house and, later, the children were too young to have an animal in the house.  Which was absurd, everyone knows pat stimulate young children’s development.  A dog or even a cat could help teach empathy and compassion, help their self esteem and teach responsibility.  Not to mention providing a friend and confidant in hard times.  And what was his response?

“Isn’t that your job?”

Finally, though, all his previous arguments were gone.  They were living in a nice neighborhood, owned a decent-sized house with plenty of yard space, and were bring in more than enough money for a pet… and apparently, now he was allergic, despite the fact that his mother had regaled her with tales of the puppy he had when he was younger.  The puppy he had grown bored with and started ignoring, and had grown angry with its attempts at getting his attention until the puppy grew sick of it and ran away like she should.

No, Derek wasn’t allergic, he just wasn’t fond of animals and they weren’t too fond of him.  But with a simple lie, he wasn’t to blame for the house being empty of a pet.  Just like how, with a simple lie, he was working late most nights, but couldn’t take calls in the office.

“How about it,” Derek’s voice jolted her out of her thoughts and she realized everyone was looking at her.

“How about what?” she asked, mentally trying to find out where she lost track of the conversation. Nervously, she started to clean up the napkins and half eaten donuts, stuffing them into the brightly colored bags.

“Pay attention to the conversation Ash,” Derek said, making the girls giggle with an over-the-top eye roll, “we were talking about how the girls really have been good lately and deserve a special treat since we can’t get a dog and I figured, why not a fish?  We could get a nice big tank with lots of little underwater castles and treasure chests and really pretty, really colorful fish. How about it girls, do you want some fish?”

Ashley knew by the squeals of joy on the girl’s faces that the discussion was already over and she would have to make room for an obnoxious fish tank and would, in the end, be responsible for the feeding and cleaning of the fish.  After all, a big fish tank like the one he was describing would be much too difficult for the girls to take care of, and Derek would be much too busy with his strenuous work schedule.  She crushed the bag full of garbage and followed the rest of family out to the car.


Ashley sat in the study, staring blankly at the soft glow of the new aquarium.  It was large enough to take up half the wall with and, like promised, filled with bright lights, underwater castles, treasure chests, and really pretty, really colorful fish.  In her hand, she clenched tightly a bottle of fish food that she had been sprinkling into the tank.  The girls were already in bed, it was the first school night of the year after all, and Derek had yet to come home from work.  They hadn’t been happy about that, of course.  They want their cool parent to be the one to put them to bed the night before the first day of school.  They want the parent that buys them donuts and fish tanks and takes them to the circus, not the one who gives them broccoli and new notebooks and has them do their homework.

But what can she do?  She couldn’t even let them call him on the phone so he could wish them good luck, and boy had she gotten a glare for that answer, because she knew he wouldn’t be there.  She had, after all, tried calling earlier and had been brushed aside by a snotty secretary.

“I’m sorry; Mr. Newbury has already left the office.”

Of course, he had, but what could she tell the kids.  ‘I’m sorry, honey, your father is too busy trying to get some bar bimbo into the sack to pay attention to you right now.  But, hey, at least you got a fish.’

She turned away from the fish tank and loaded up the computer, checking her email to see if anyone had replied to her post yet.  Nobody had.  The closest she had come to getting Derek to agree to let her have a pet and no one was responding.  She thought that over in her head, let her have a pet.  She snorted to herself.  How pathetic, like some little girl bringing home a stray dog, “Please let me keep it!”  She wasn’t some little girl and shouldn’t have to beg to keep an animal in her own house that she cleaned and managed.  He thought that just because he brought in the money he could just make all the rules and she would just follow them like a young child.

With a determined glint in her eye, she went and opened her old post, rereading it with a short laugh of disbelief.  No wonder no one had responded.  When she had written it the first time, it had been just an optimistic whim.  Sure, it had grown into a full opportunity in her head, but had started out as a half thought out idea that she wrote up in twenty seconds.  She hadn’t even had time to look over it because Rachel had been yelling her head off to get Sarah to leave her alone.  It was just as well nobody had responded, because soon she wouldn’t have time to care for anyone else’s pets.

In a bit of a hurry, and excited for the first time in a long while, she deleted the post and went to the local pet store website, and, after a moment of hesitation, also opened the local humane society page.  Her brother helped out there and, though they hadn’t talked for awhile, he might be able to help her out.  It was too late to call today, but tomorrow was a whole new day.  She could drop the kids off at school and stop over to both places.  That way there would be a nice surprise for them when they got home from school.  Still, the main reason would be to find an animal to provide her with some company; becoming her children’s hero for once was a secondary desire.

There was so much to do before she got dog though.  She would have to put a fence up around the yard, after all dogs like to stretch their legs occasionally.  She would still have the kids go out on walks with the dog, though, to prevent all of them from getting lazy and teach the kids responsibility.  And what type of dog should she get.  Probably a puppy, although the idea of an adult dog that already had experience with kids was nice, seeing the puppy grow up would be worth it.  Plus, watching Derek during the housebreaking phase and chewing phase would be a blast.

She imagined getting an intimidating dog, like a Great Dane or Doberman, but realized that might be overdoing it.  After all, she wanted a dog for herself and not just a torment Derek, and she wanted one that was fun.  She entertained the idea of a sporting dog for a moment, like a Setter or a Spaniel, but all that equipment and training might also be a bit much.  She’d probably go for a Terrier or Retriever, as long as it was a big dog, and wondered if she could train it to shed on only his side of the bed.

She gave a dark chuckle at the thought of her husband’s face as he explained how allergies could sometimes disappear with age.  Then chuckled even more as she imagined that face when he first saw the dog, lying in the bed as he came home from another late night of “work.”  He would have to get used to it, though.  If he was allowed to find a playmate to share a bed with, then so could she, so to speak.  At least the dog would be loyal.


“What is that,” Derek stuttered, taking a hesitant step back.  He was holding Sarah by the hand and pulled her closer to him as she struggled to get closer to the beast.

“Da-ad, I want to see the puppy,” she squirmed, kicking to get herself free.  Rachel, who had walked into the house on her own, already had the golden retriever in a hug that resembled a headlock and Derek could tell that this was half the reason she fought to get out of his arms so strongly.  He let her go absently, noticing the color on the dog and figuring it was safe.

He could see the color on the dog already, and could already guess where this unfortunate creature had come from.


From → Fiction

One Comment
  1. Wow, you’re writing is excellent. It sounds like an unhappy family for sure. I read somewhere, sometime ago that, “Every happy family is identical, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Is this the only story that you will write about this family?
    Also, I really enjoyed the character development.

    Keep writing!

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