This Show Case features five pieces submitted in response to our fifteenth Writing Prompt: Out. You can see responses to each prompt in the drop down menu for this page. Try an item. They are all delicious. We hope they stimulate your mind, spirit, and urge to write. Maybe they will motivate you to submit a piece for our next prompt:
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A Train’s Journey
by Boris Glikman
I live in a train. I have food, warmth, a place to sleep.
I feel certain that I am its sole occupant, for if there were anyone else on it I would know by now, as I have lived in this train my entire life.
Train carries me, I know not where. Not only do I not know its destination, I am also ignorant as to what route it is taking to reach the terminus or if, indeed, there is a final point to its journey. On occasions, it stops entirely or even begins to move backwards, but I can never get off for all the exits are tightly sealed.
I can only perceive the external world as it appears through the windows of the train. I know not how veracious my perceptions are, for it may well be that the windows are made of distorting glass. I often wonder what it would be like to experience life directly.
In earlier times I would contemplate whether it is possible to survive outside the train, at least temporarily, or if it is indeed possible to live one’s life entirely apart from it, and if so, whether life in the outer world would actually be better. I cherished the hope that the train contains something that would help me escape it, this unwieldy metal hulk, and separate my existence from its course. I searched exhaustively for a button that would throw open all the doors simultaneously or a lever that would allow me to prise open a window. Yet I dared not go through every carriage and compartment, partly out of fear that I would find nothing of use and that all of my hopes would thereby be terminally dashed.
Occasionally, I see other trains go nearby and catch a glimpse of their solitary dwellers. My train might run parallel to theirs for a short distance but then the tracks diverge and I never see them again. There may be time enough to wave or shout out a few quick words, but the words get mangled by the noise of wheels on the tracks.
Once, and oh how the memory of that event heartens me still, my train travelled close to another, with a young woman occupant, for a considerable period of time—maybe as long as two minutes. I put my palms upon the window and spread my fingers and the girl did the same in her carriage. Our hands were perfectly aligned and, despite the glass between us, I was sure I could feel the warmth of her body.
I can not jettison my dream that I will see her again, that our trains will run side by side forever and we will never be apart. In every train that I see, I continue to search out for her sublime features, yet at the same time I am wracked by doubts as to how I appeared to her, whether the windows of her train distorted her vision of me.
Who is driving my train? Does it have a driver at all? Is there any purpose to its voyage? Is it moving of its own volition and choosing its own way through the land or has its journey been pre-planned by some unknown hand? Do I have any control or influence over its route, over its destination point? Is there a Master Scheduler who organised the timetables and the routes of every train? Shall I direct my prayers to him to allow me to see that girl again?
These are the questions, the answers to which I am still searching.
With time, I grow to accept having one’s existence tied up with the train. I yearn less and less to experience the external world; to know what the air tastes like, what the colours look like out there. The desire to leave the train now appears to be no less preposterous and unnatural than the idea of a foetus trying to make its way through the world, a walking miscarriage. Life outside would be so precarious and haphazard, without protection from the elements and other vagaries of fate. The train provides me with a solid cover, carries me forward, gives direction to my existence.
There may be things in the unexplored compartments that might make my journey more meaningful and fulfilling, things that might allow me to grow as a person. For all I know tools and treasures, placed there especially for me, might be awaiting my discovery.
But lulled by the rhythm of the train upon the tracks, I remain in my seat for hours, days, weeks, years on end. I look out of the window and watch the world go by, not moving, indeed being afraid to move, so accustomed have I become to seeing things from this vantage point. Sometimes I imagine that I can influence the train’s course and destination just by wishing for it hard enough.
Once, all of a sudden, the doors of my carriage swung wide open of their own accord. I stood before the unsealed doors, frightened and unsure as to what to do. With great trepidation I extended my hand towards the fresh air but jerked it back just before it crossed the threshold between the train and the outer world, the way one instinctively pulls one’s hand away from an open flame. I hurriedly proceeded to draw the doors shut as tightly as I could, for they most likely unlocked due to a malfunction in the train’s machinery, then went back to my seat.
Lately, I’ve been seeing vaguely familiar landscapes. Is the train taking me to the place from which it commenced its voyage and will my journey then be over? Will there be someone waiting for me when the train pulls into its last station, someone who knows where and when my train will make its final stop? Perhaps it will be the Master Scheduler himself and he will then explain to me the purpose of my voyage and why my journey took this particular route.
I live in a train. Although I have food, warmth, a place to sleep, sometimes a feeling comes over me that I have nothing at all, but I quickly push it away.
Maisie Blows the Chance of a Lifetime
by Mimi Speike
Maisie’s specialty was dancing seductively in foolish pictures. (She was a trained dancer, and had been a hoofer on Broadway). She begged (through her manager) to be given meatier roles, but B.P. Schulberg (head of Paramount) could not envision her used in any other way.
It was a dangerous time to make demands. Talkies were in the works. Established stars were in as precarious a position as anyone. At risk were actors with poor diction (generally those with no stage background), but top stars who did not record well on that rudimentary technology (John Gilbert comes to mind) also got the axe.
Wallace Beery, one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, had the leverage to insist his friend Marcelline Mulot be cast in Partners in Crime, a comic crime caper, as Roxy, a cigarette girl, a pal of his.
William Powell was in the film. They hung out together on the set. She would perch on his knee and sing, “I love him . . . because . . . I don’t know . . . because he’s just my Bill.” Not that he made out words. He picked up a tune. He initially responded with disbelief (was it all in his head?), and eventually–whatever!–with confused acceptance.
Powell’s next project was The Canary Murder Case. It was his first starring role (as detective Philo Vance). He asked that Maisie, with whom he’d had a pleasurable experience on Partners, be brought on. The silly script (no way was he going to be handed a first-rate project, not at that stage of his career) would benefit from her deft comic touch.
Maisie played another cigarette-girl, Peachy, in another top-hat-and-tails nightclub. Lou-Ann summoned by a customer, Peachy would strut across the table, deliver an item, and shimmy back to her boss-lady with the payment. Lou-Ann’s tips went through the roof. The other ciggy-girls schemed to get their hands on the teeny-weenie and see that she never did her sweet kick-step again.
The original script went like this: A showgirl billed as The Canary was murdered. Four men, summoned to a police station for questioning, played poker. Vance deduced from their style of betting who was cunning, and daring enough to have committed the crime.
On Powell’s suggestion, Maisie was written into the poker-game sequence. The revised story: Lou-Ann, going out of town, asks the Canary to take Peachy in her absence. Maisie sits in a birdcage overlooking the scene of a strangulation.
At a stationhouse, the suspects sit uneasily, waiting to be interviewed. Vance suggests they play cards to pass the time. Peachy’s in the next room. He speculates that the sole witness to the crime, recognizing the perpetrator, might recoil or otherwise react in a telling manner. Absurd? No more so than the original idea.
By the end of 1928, the major studios were rushing to add sound to completed silents by dubbing some scenes and adding others. Director Malcolm St. Clair was judged unequal to the demands of the new process. He provided 20 per cent of the film’s visuals as they exist today. Frank Tuttle was brought in to finish the job.
St. Clair’s work contains tracking shots and artful composition. Tuttle’s static camera is nailed to the floor; the actors are forced to stand in front of it and speak distinctly. The film is visually uncinematic. But sound enabled the nuances of questioning, and the back-and-forth sass that, in the Thin Man, propelled Powell into the star-system stratosphere.
Don’t look for Maisie in the final film. Her scenes, all of them, were cut from the talkie. B.P. Schulberg was a spiteful man.
I’ve dug into Canary’s reviews. They are sad.
Film Daily, 1929: “The mystery … never particularly impresses. The story is another instance of magazine material making indifferent film fare.” And: “William Powell is left to amble through a laughable plot which drives little audience engagement.”
Maisie adored Powell. She told me: “Junior Star me, intimidated by the fast company I was in, Bill went out of his way to be kind to me. We clicked. We were inseparable. He thought a lot of my acting ability, told me so, continually. Hey, they talk about being in the moment. In the moment means focus. I’m an expert on focus. I have to be. There’s a cat around every corner.”
Bea Wanger (Maisie’s manager) was set to lecture on Modern Dance at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. She wanted Maisie along to share the experience.
The animal would not be needed until the reconstituted film hit theaters. To trot her out at press events had always been a winning strategy. But Schulberg was not inclined to grant the request, on general principles. Walter Wanger convinced him to approve the hiatus. (B.P. being his long-time rival at Paramount, he must have called in one hell of an I.O.U.)
They weren’t in Paris two weeks when Schulberg demanded Bea haul her home. He’d seen footage of the reworked scene. Powell’s vocals were extraordinary. Maisie, riveting in her own right, must react to his sallies not in cutaway shots, but face to face, in the same frame. The two had a magic moviegoers would flock to see. Between Maisie’s antics and Powell’s stylish quips, the banged-together effort might be a feather in Paramount’s cap after all.
Given their incredible rapport, I like to think that Powell would have nabbed her for The Thin Man. She despised the twinkle-toes cut-ups she’d built a career on. She’d been type-cast, and she fought it tooth and nail. But I believe she would have been overjoyed to shimmy-shake atop a highly-polished bar for her beloved Bill-zee. She might have spun a cute cameo into a recurring role in the series. Nick and Nora, Asta and . . . Adele, maybe.
Adele Astaire had made it big, and I do mean big–first on Broadway, then in London. Adele had midwestern roots also. She’d begun her ascent in an Omaha dance school, probably a duplicate of Miss Florinda’s. Maisie worshipped Adele Astaire. Out of Omaha, featured in hit show after hit show. Out of Omaha, married into British nobility! And you know what became of her brother.
She told me once, “If Ted (Shawn, of the Denishawn Dancers) hadn’t named me Marcelline, I would have called myself Adele.”
Six thousand miles east, Maisie was having a blast. She was the toast of Paris, welcomed in the leading salons, invited to the grandest parties. She’d made up her mind to extend the visit. Cut it short? Forget it.
Schulberg wired Bea: Get her butt back here now.
Bea replied: Our cutie exhausted, needs long rest. Will keep you posted on her recovery.
Louise Brooks also refused to participate in the revamp. In her case it was because of a salary dispute. Schulberg was foaming at the mouth over the double defiance.
He wired back: Stay there till Hell freezes over.
Maisie Mulot was out at Paramount. She didn’t give a damn. She was in love with Paris. And Paris was in love with her.
by Curtis Bausse
‘What? We got up at 4.30! Just look at everyone in front of us.’
We joined the queue. I pointed out that the quota varied daily; sometimes they let in fifty or more. Besides, for whatever reason, many of those before us would be turned away. ‘I’ve just got a feeling,’ I said, ‘it’ll be our lucky day.’
Evelyn knew I was only trying to cheer her up but she was too weary to answer. This was our ninth attempt.
I counted the people turned away, unable each time to prevent a little leap of hope – but then came the fear they’d announce the day’s quota had been reached. But they didn’t, and after almost five hours we got to the barrier ourselves.
‘See? I told you, I could feel it.’
Again she didn’t answer, but this time in her eyes was a light of triumph.
The guard examined her form, scanned the QR code, and let her in.
Then mine. ‘You’re already in,’ he said.
‘What do you mean?’
‘According to this you’re inside already.’
‘But I’m standing here! How can I be inside when I’m right in front of you?’
‘Well, someone’s used this code. Maybe they copied it.’
‘That’s impossible. I printed it out this morning. No one else has seen it.’
‘Try form PX12 then. There’s no code on that one.’
‘We already did. We were turned away. That’s why we used this one. PZ39. You just let my wife through with it. Why not me?’
‘Look, I’m just doing my job here, mate. If you start making trouble, it won’t do your chances any good.’ The guard waved me away. ‘Next!’
Evelyn and I conferred. At first she was all for coming back home with me but I convinced her not to. ‘After all these months trying to get in? No way!’
She looked uncertain. ‘Once I’m in, I’m in,’ she said. ‘We won’t be able to communicate.’
‘It’s just a mistake. I’ll be with you as soon as I get it sorted out. A day or two, a week at the most.’
Before she could change her mind, I kissed her over the barrier. Reluctantly, she walked away to the bus.
Out is in, lose is win, turn the system outside in.
‘There’s a Reversal meeting tomorrow.’ Like me, Tim was split from his family; unlike me, he’s moved on. ‘You should come along. Just to hear what they have to say.’
‘I know what they say.’ Catchy slogans and a simple message: Stop Trying! By giving up, we put an end to the worrying, the wanting, the constant cycle of hope and disappointment. We come to appreciate what we have.
‘What’s it been?’ he asks. ‘Six years?’
‘Four and a half. But yeah, it feels more.’
‘We’re better off here,’ he says. ‘There’s nothing worth going there for, you know. Everyone who did is trying to get back. ’
In is out, do not doubt, turn your thinking inside out.
I don’t reply. There’s no point telling him he’s drunk the Kool-Aid.
I’ve got the new QR code. Tomorrow I’ll be up at four o’clock.
by Perry Palin
Eddie was a drunk and he was a bum. He lived in a shack on his sister’s property. The shack had been nailed up hastily of unseasoned lumber, and after the boards shrunk and warped, Eddie could sit inside and see the shapes of anyone walking by through the cracks in the walls.
Eddie’s normal condition was this. He was out of money, out of work, out of clean clothes, out of luck, out of wine and cigarettes, out of everything.
Everything about Eddie was gray. His unruly hair and stubble were gray. His threadbare clothing, some of which had once been yellow or blue or green, was now all gray. His eyes were gray. When someone offered him a few days of work, it was hard work. Stacking hay in a barn, throwing boards at a sawmill, peeling aspen bolts in the woods, all were hard physical work. He was a slow but competent worker until he got tired and then he needed some wine. His pay was in coffee, sandwiches, hot meals, a few bottles of wine, and the balance in cash which he spent on wine and cigarettes.
He drank the cheapest white port wine. He smoked Camels, and so did I.
Eddie and I sat on the pine logs I had ready to be rolled up to the mill. He looked down at the ground and said, “Give me a cigarette, will you?”
I took my pack of Camels from my shirt pocket and shook one halfway out. Eddie took the cigarette and I lit it for him with a match. I shook out another and lit it. We smoked slowly, delaying the heavy work we would share when the smokes were gone.
It was time to work. I stood up and told Eddie to pick up a cant hook to roll the logs up to the mill carriage. He asked for another cigarette.
“Not now. We’ve got to get to work.” Eddie frowned and looked at the ground. I reached into my pocket and took out my half pack of Camels and matches and handed them to him. I told him, “Smoke these later. We’ve got to work now.”
An hour later Eddie was leaning against a pile of last week’s drying lumber. He was smoking another cigarette. I said, “Can I have a smoke?”
Eddie paused, and he looked toward the alders along the creek below the mill. The cigarette pack stood out in his shirt pocket. “I’m all out,” he said.