This round of NPR's Three Minute Fiction contest had the following challenge: Write a story in which a character finds an object that he or she has no intention of returning. It can be no more than 600 words. My Entry is titled above:
“Pardon me, Sir…” was how it started. It ended with him slipping a beautifully crafted piece of someone else’s writing into his briefcase.
Had he worn his ear buds, he’d have ignored the kid’s request for “an honest opinion.” Instead he replied, “Sure, I’ll read it.” He spent the next few minutes reading what he felt certain was the winning entry in NPR’s Three Minute Fiction contest. Problem was he was entering the same contest.
He was Dr. Leo McKenna, the self-proclaimed Dr. Grammar, Winona Community College’s healer of the grammatically inept. He also expanded students’ reading horizons from website blurbs, social networking dribble, and science textbooks, to the likes of Twain, Dickens, and Shakespeare.
He’d never seen the kid before, and he’d logged enough hours grading papers in that coffee shop, that he recognized everyone. Just a typical high school kid. Nothing noteworthy except he was the only one in the place without a book or laptop, opting for pen and loose leaf paper.
“Excuse me. Do you know if someone is coming back for these?” It wasn’t until an employee found it under some newspapers that he’d realized the kid had left, and without his story. McKenna took the pages and laughed, “My damn friend. He’s so forgetful.” He put the competitor’s work in his briefcase, adding, “I’ll hang onto them.” He laughed to himself about the baffling, still-developing, teenage brain.
“If not for me, the story would’ve been tossed,” he justified. It wasn’t stealing. He saved great writing from a landfill. Besides, maybe next time the kid would learn to check around for his belongings.
“It’s all for the best,” he told himself. His story might not be the winner, but when you’re already the second best entry coming out of the neighborhood coffee shop, things aren’t too promising. Besides, he was so sick of the comments. “It’s just NPR. Since when does a radio station know anything about writing?” But what really got him was when friends stated, ”Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”
Maybe this was his chance.
So he checked and rechecked his entry, a masterfully painted, visual picture sure to captivate the reader, while maintaining a style that would reduce Strunk and White to joyous sobs. However, the simple fact remained. The kid was a natural and he was not. He had the gift the professor never had. McKenna struggled putting together the words to describe such talent, proving his exact point.
He pondered his options for awhile, but there wasn’t much McKenna could do, so he just typed. Without motive or purpose. No filtering or editing of any sort. Just putting fingers to keys, words to cyber-paper. His tunnel-vision focus muting all noise and movement.
He stared at the Save File screen. “Pardon me, Sir.” said the kid, having returned and pointing to his sheets beside McKenna, “Is that my story?”
McKenna stared at the handwritten sheets, then at the kid and replied, “No, that’s my story.” The befuddled kid stared as McKenna showed him his laptop. “You story is right here. I entered it verbatim and I’ve been trying to figure out how I could submit it on behalf of a brilliant, albeit, absentminded, young author. Now that you’ve returned, I’ll let you do the honors.” He spun around the laptop and the kid sat.
McKenna smiled and placed the handwritten story in front of the kid. He handed him a pen and continued, “But before you do, you’re signing my copy. After your first Pulitzer Prize, it’ll be worth big bucks.”