navigation menu+


Posted on 18 Feb 13 by in the speakeasy, writing fringes | 12 comments

guitar photo prompt

Piece of short fiction for the speakeasy


The bottle was nearly empty. She’d already been watering it down, and now the rest was gone in one squirt, no where near enough to wash a sink filled with dinner dishes. Fuck.

Juggling the baby on her hip at the register under the blinding lights at CVS, Amanda was apologetic to the teen clerk. She’d forgotten she’d promised her older kids a few treats from the drug store if they’d kept their rooms cleaned a whole week, and here she was with all their goodies on the counter and a screaming baby and she’d left her wallet at home. The clerk accepted the mishap in good cheer and as the teen bent to help a flustered Amanda retrieve the car keys the baby flung on the floor, Amanda tucked a small bottle of dishwashing liquid in her pocket, thanked the clerk and walked the six blocks back home.

If the manager had come running after her, her excuse was ready and believable. Had the bottle in her hand, baby screaming, not thinking, tucked the bottle, could have been anything, in her pocket as she always did while cleaning up her kids’ messes. Here’s the soap back. I apologize for the mix-up.

No manager came running.

Marco, Amanda’s neighbor, killed his brother in a fight over a girl about 15 years ago. He and his brother didn’t even know the girl that well. She played guitar on Tuesdays at a local bar and they got into a drunken argument over which one was going to ask her out. Marco never told Amanda any of that directly, but she’d heard him tell Nick, her deaf 9-year-old son. Casually. Not stupidly, like most people who talk to deaf kids, but while Marco was folding laundry and Nick was playing nearby. It was a simple story of what might have been, and Marco had to tell it to someone.

“You get what you needed?”

Marco, always willing to watch Nick for a few minutes, began putting their card game away as Amanda let herself back into her apartment. “No one came by while you were gone, but I washed those few dishes in the sink just in case. Not that anyone is going to take them away from you again over two bowls of mac n’ cheese.”

“Well, there was a fork in there, too,” half-joked Amanda as she sat the baby next to Nick on the floor. State troopers will slow chase folk for way less than that. “What? You brought your own soap? You walk around with it? I was out.”

I may be old, starts Marco. “But I can walk six doors down with your boy, grab some Dawn, walk back to your place and wipe out some bowls. Hell, you coulda left the baby with me and I’d have cleaned your carpets with her strapped to my chest.” Marco was proud of his prison stint, it was the hardest he’d ever worked in his life, and he missed the necessity.

You’re not my maid, Marco. Less joking this time, much more quietly.

Got that. But no need to fuck with the system when you’re already part of it. CPS feels the need for surprise visits? Be ready. Possible not probable but possible someone could take these kids away over crusted food in the sink? Be ready. Who cares who does the cleaning? Amanda won’t ask for help which is how she lost them in the first place, but Marco didn’t need to be asked. Too many times as a kid, he’d wished for, he’d needed for someone to barge in and make it all work out.

“Hey, Nick, gotta go.” Leaned in and tapped the boy on his shoulder, dropping two twenties between the couch cushions on his way down. He’d left his muddy work boots in his own apartment and, in his socks, Marco made his way back home.



  1. Unique use of the prompt! Well, that’s what I’m assuming. I know that I would immediately think of alcohol when seeing the word “bottle.” Not only that, that empty bottle of dish soap becomes central to the story. Well done!

  2. So sad when someone has to steal just to make sure she can keep her kids. Great work, Erica!

  3. It must be awful once you’re in that cycle of social supervision, that constant feeling that you could be pounced on at any moment. You captured that feeling of desperation well, and a great take on the ‘bottle’. Well done.

  4. Excellent use of that prompt. I want to read more of this story, having lived at least part of it many many centuries ago; sometimes the familiar, no matter how unpleasant, can be comforting…

  5. Painful, yet beautiful story. I could really relate to the mother, that back-of-the-mind fear of CPS and not being able to scrape by despite the bravest efforts.

  6. Great to see you at the speakeasy Erica! And what a fabulous piece of writing! I love your characters – they are so well written and so believable. It’s too bad when people don’t ask for the help they need, and you’ve captured all the reasons and repercussions beautifully.

  7. I am always so blown away by how complex your characters are and how you do so much with so few words. So awesome ;)

  8. This feels so darn real. All of the characters and the situation are perfect. So glad to have read this!

  9. I love your characters – so fully developed in so few words . . . but I’d still love to know more about them! Great story and I love your use of the prompts!

  10. Dish soap was a perfect choice. I also think you nailed the title. Intriguing little piece.

  11. Wonderfully unique use of the prompt and such rich characters. What a sad situation so well portrayed.

  12. I love that the toughest, least-vulnerable character in the story is suddenly shoeless in the final sentence. Great, surprising detail.


  1. winner of the speakeasy at yeah write #97 | the speakeasy at yeah write - [...] A Sea Change.  This one was almost too close to call, people!  Erica stole our hearts with discounted by sketching …
  2. the speakeasy at yeah write #98 is open | the speakeasy at yeah write - [...] must start with the first line our last winner, Erica, has provided. “Everyone [...]

say something