The instructions, paraphrased, for the longer assignment were to write a story about someone telling a story that has more to it than is being related, a story within a story, (so there’s a story of a story with a story behind it… got that?) so that the reader can see it but the person being told the basic story cannot.
It took me several days to come up with an idea, but I did and this is the result, edited with the instructor’s suggestions.
Rhythm and Voice – Assignment 3
It was after Dad got home late that he asked about the first day of my summer job, taking care of our neighbor Mrs. Finstermocker’s yard. She was the sometimes crabby lady who would yell and scare kids if they hopped her fence and cut across the lawn on her corner lot. She liked her yard looking neat and trim, and the big rosebush along the side of the house was her pride and joy. She always won prizes in the County Fair for the blossoms it would produce. The neighborhood boys she hired to tend her well-manicured yard worked hard to keep it that way, and earned their money. She paid well, but expected perfection, and today was the first day that it was my job. Dad told me a few weeks earlier that I was old enough to take on that responsibility and that he’d talked with her and had arranged it, done deal, so there was no way I could back out of it.
“How did it go with Mrs. Finstermocker’s yard today?” he said as he was taking off his light jacket and I was heading up to bed.
“Did you do a good job?”
“I asked her if she was okay with it,” I said nonchalantly in response to his question, “and she said she was.”
He stopped and gave me a look, and said, “You asked her that? Why would she not be okay with it?”
Oh brother, my heart skipped a beat and I’m sure I turned red.
“Oh, I just wanted to make sure that she was okay with it… I mean, that she liked it, y’know?” hoping he did. My heart was pounding and my stomach was clenched, but I maintained eye-contact and grinned.
He continued to look at me without saying anything, kind of like he was waiting to hear more.
So I tried again, “I mean, she likes it a certain way and it was the first time I did it, so I wanted to make sure it was okay.”
“And what did she say when you asked her?”
“Uhh… oh, she said that it was okay.” I hoped that that was the end of it, but of course it wasn’t.
“You know that she takes great pride in how her house looks and that she’s lived in that house since before your grandparents lived in this house when I was your age.”
“Yessir, I remember.”
“Did she come out and look at the yard?”
“Yes, she did.”
“Did she look at the edges along the walk?”
“Yessir.” Straightforward and honest.
“At the hand-trimmed grass by the picket fence?”
“Did she look around her rose bush?” His eyebrows raised in seemingly knowing insight.
“Uhh… Yessir.” And quickly, “…and I showed her where I’d found some dandelions and dug them up so that you wouldn’t be able to see that they had been there.”
“You did, did you?”
“Yeah, she said ‘Okay’ and that I did a good job of it and that she knew I’d be careful,” inwardly wincing as that particular, ‘Okay,’ was the same one I told him about in stretching her assessment of the whole job, but he didn’t catch it.
“Careful?” Dad asked.
“I dunno, I guess she liked the way I dug the dandelions.” I didn’t really understand myself what she meant, but she’s an old lady and they can be goofy sometimes.
Then he asked, “What did she say about the rosebush?” sending chills up my spine.
“Nothing,” which was the truth, but I could feel my face burning. I felt he just somehow knew there was more to the answer than that, and I braced myself for him to delve into the specifics of the rosebush…
“Good. Well done, I’m proud of you son. Now off to bed.” …and that was it! I swear I almost passed out with relief! I thanked him, told him I’d see him in the morning, kissed Mom goodnight and came on up here.
“Wow,” my brother said, after I told him all that while we got ready for bed, “you got really lucky! And Dad didn’t think anything was wrong either?”
“Nope.” I put on an air of smug bravado.
“I can’t believe how stupid you were to miss the weed and clip a branch off her rosebush!” my brother declared.
“Yeah, I can’t either.”
“But you were pretty smart to tell her about the dandelions just as she was going to look at the rosebush.”
“I totally lucked out with that!”
“Yeah, but it was still pretty slick thinking,”
“Yeah…” I agreed, “but then like an idiot I showed her the dandelions in the yard-waste bag, forgetting she might notice the branch stuck in it under the weeds! Sheesh! But she didn’t see it, although she did look at me a little funny somehow.”
“Close call, you dope!” he reassured me.
I shook my head, “Yeah, I figured Dad would just know something was screwy. Sometimes it’s like he has some kind of ESP or and just KNOWS when I goof up. I got lucky.” I finally felt the knot in my stomach unwinding.
My brother laughed and threw his shirt at me. I caught it, wadded it up and threw it back, first faking to let him duck and back up, throw smack in the face!
After the light was out and we were quiet I faintly heard Mom and Dad talking on the way to their bedroom at the end of the hall, with Dad saying, “…did a good job for her. I remember when she yelled at me when I was his age after I cut her lawn and missed…” and their door closed back to silence.
I know I was lucky to somehow have gotten away with my carelessness, and I’ll sure be more careful from now on, but… the lingering puzzle piece, that last bit to the whole story that I didn’t tell anybody, still nibbles at my mind and tempers my relief in the way things turned out. As I had stood there with the freshly cut branch in my hand, crying in fear and disappointment at my stupidity, feeling miserable in my foolish, clumsy guilt, I thought…through the freely flowing tears, …in the window above the rose bush …I thought… maybe I saw the curtain move….