Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is “A character faces an important decision” with bonus points if it doesn’t mention COVID 😊
This week’s tale comes to us from Val Muller, who is in the home stretch of the longest and weirdest year of her teaching career. She wrote this tale while driving (composed via speak-to-text) during a particularly stressful week. If you’d like lighter fare, you can check out her Corgi website at www.corgicapers.com.
By Val Muller
When I was ten, I had a dream—a nightmare, really. There was this creepy glowing clown. It happened the one time I watched a scary movie from the top of the stairs while my parents thought I was in bed. I swear, as I crouched at the top of the banister to peer at the television, I heard breathing behind me. I never turned to look, and the breathing left me too terrified to return to bed. I only sprang back to my room on an adrenaline rush when I heard my parents coming up for the night.
I’m sure it was the clown breathing behind me, toying with me. He certainly came to me in that dream, where he showed up, laughing maniacally, and told me I would always choose the potatoes.
I was terrified of that clown, let me tell you. I don’t think I can really put it in words. It’s not circus clowns and super-slow kid songs sung off-key. That’s the fun kind of scary. This clown wasn’t the fun kind. He’s sort of like zombies—the idea of being dead but not. Souless, maybe. A monster. The whole something-beyond-mortality… or maybe nothing. The way he said potatoes. I know it sounds comical when I say it out loud. Believe me, if I could erase that dream from my life, I would. And I only wish this were funny instead of pathetically terrifying. When he said potatoes, his voice was the grizzled rasp of death. His assertion—that I would always choose potatoes—was a threat I didn’t understand.
Starting that next morning, whenever I had an option to choose potatoes, I chose them. I mean ridiculously so. It earned me the nickname Tater in school because every day at the cafeteria I would choose tater tots. I mean, I would have potatoes covered in ketchup, tater tots on my salad, mashed potatoes with a side of French fries. If potatoes were offered—on a menu, in a conversation—I took them.
I never actually told anyone the reason for it. Everyone just thought it was my quirk. I can’t tell you how many potato gag gifts I’ve received over the years. Potato figures, t-shirts, plushies. To be honest, I don’t even like potatoes that much. They remind me of a grave—you know, how the dirt kind of piles up and is clumpy but moist. That’s what potatoes are like. A freshly-dug grave.
When I went away to college, I promised myself I would start fresh. But every line in the dining hall has potatoes of some sort. I could hardly disguise my strange choices, and though I managed to shed my “Tater” nickname, my freshman hall affectionately called me “Spud.” Now, after my second year of college, I feel like I’m at that point where something has to be done. Am I really going to let a dream from when I was ten dictate the rest of my life?
Dad came with the SUV to pack up my sophomore year dorm room. I would be living off-campus the next year, and I had fantasies of going grocery shopping and not buying any potatoes every again. But the back of my mind wondered: if I walked past the potatoes, or a box of potato flakes, or a frozen case of French fries, would I have to choose them? I imagined my future apartment’s freezer, packed full of frozen spuds.
Things were becoming ridiculous.
We loaded Dad’s SUV with all my stuff, and then I fell asleep on the way home. I woke when we took a sharp turn off an exit ramp. My dad kind of reached over and kept my whole body from sliding too far to the left on the leather passenger seat. He said “Good morning, sunshine” the same way he said it when I was a kid. And then he offered me the choice.
It was a split-second decision I had to make while still not fully awake. He said we were stopping for lunch. There was a food truck with lobster rolls advertised with hand-written signs along the highway. Then there was the typical fast-food corridor that I knew would be chock-full of potatoes. My dad smiled sadly at me.
“I know you have a thing for potatoes, and since you’re the guest of honor this summer, I’ll let you choose, but I sure could use a good old New England lobster roll.”
“Does the food truck have fries?” I asked.
Dad shrugged. “I need to know. This is our turn.”
We approached a traffic light. On the light post, a handwritten sign pointed left with “lobster rolls” written in permanent marker. Metal signs with all manner of fast-food logos pointed to the right. I looked left, down what seemed to be a country road. Dad hovered between two lanes, and the car behind us beeped: we had to choose a lane.
It was a split-second decision, and I said “Food truck.”
I imagined how the lobster roll would taste—the delicious sweet lobster meat, the friend butter-grilled roll with its subtle crunch. There would be no need for French fries. In fact, I hoped there would not be any.
Dad shifted to the left-turn lane, which had a red light. The right lane, where the impatient car behind us sped, had a green arrow. I watched him turn, and I watched as out of nowhere, a huge truck barreled through the intersection just as the car in the right-turn lane turned right on the green arrow.
I’ll never forget the crunch of that truck hitting the car. Hitting the car that would have been ours if I had chosen the potatoes.
The Spot Writers—Our Members:
Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/
Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/
Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com
Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.com/