This is the third round of the Title Writing Prompt Challenge. For them not familiar with the challenge, you can read about it HERE and HERE. For them interested, the Round 3 Title voting results are found HERE.
As a quick summary, we solicited titles, readers voted for their favorite title, and we each wrote a story using the winning title.
The winning title for Round 3 was Of Broken Things.
The writing challenge has no restrictions and the stories span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the G and PG rating range with a few perhaps pushing into the soft R-rating. Those ratings are guidelines but they are subjective. If you find a story disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, stop reading and move on to the next one. It may seem like obvious advice, but these days many people go out of their way to experience outrage (and then complain about it).
This, then, is my submission. I’ll be the first to acknowledge the Twin’s offerings are much better (juicier?) than this uninspired tale, but I have to post something under my byline.
Oh, before we begin, I solicited blurbs from each writer. Here’s mine:
Feeling as if things are falling apart? Well, you’re not imagining things. Still, it comes down to attitude and perseverance . . . and maybe a River.
Of Broken Things
Copyright 2022 — E. J. D’Alise
(3,450 words – approx. reading time: about 13 minutes based on 265 WPM)
“Did you hear? Alice and Kincaid broke up!”
Bob looked up from the report he was writing.
“Already?” he answered. “I’d have given them a few more weeks.”
Phil’s surprise wasn’t unexpected. As a romantic and eternal optimist, he gravitated toward believing in the best of outcomes.
“Hold on a moment,” Bob replied. “Let me save this so that I don’t accidentally lose what I wrote so far.”
“What are you working on?”
“It’s the update on stuff needing repairs. Anyway…” Bob continued, swiveling the chair to face Phil, but a loud screeching noise caused him to stop and swear.
“Damn chair needs fixing, but I can’t get the parts!” he said as he stood and repositioned the chair before sitting back down, a final screech punctuating the statement.
“Anyway,” he resumed, “Alice and Kincaid were iffy from the get-go. Both come from broken homes but were affected differently. Kincaid yearns for a perfect relationship, and Alice mistrusts relationships. Whatever bond they had was bound to break under the strain.”
“What makes you an expert?” Phil’s question carried a bit of an edge, probably because he suspected Bob had similarly judged his personality and possible failings.
“I’m not an expert. I just read a lot.”
Bob turned back to the computer and the report, the accompanying screech hopefully signaling the end of the conversation. As it was, Bob had broken his resolve not to speak his thoughts aloud, especially when it came to observations about people. It was easy to resolve but challenging to maintain.
Leaving Phil to his thoughts, Bob moved the mouse to awaken the screen and return to his task. The screen awakened, just before making a fizzing noise and blanking out.
“Damn cheap electronics!” Bob swore aloud, venting his frustration at the company’s policy of buying refurbished components.
His workstation was on its third monitor, second keyboard and mouse combo, and the CPU showed signs of wanting to call it quits, all in the last three months. Bob didn’t understand the logic of buying something that had been fixed after prematurely breaking.
With a sigh — and an accompanying chair screech — Bob rose and made his way to the IT department. They’d finally gotten in a new shipment of equipment after two months of waiting for the broken supply chain to resume operations.
As he reached for the door to IT, he noticed the hand-written sign on the door. “PULL HARD” it read. Bob already knew about the issue because it was in his report. Three months back, a delivery person had bumped the door frame with the heavily-loaded cart and bent the door hinge. Maintenance had tried reshaping it, but it still put up resistance to doing what hinges were supposed to do.
On the plus side, Bob thought as he struggled with the door, this could count as a bit of exercise since the gym he belonged to was still closed due to the broken water pipe which had flooded the main floor and shorted all the exercise machines.
IT wouldn’t be able to replace the monitor until the day after, so Bob took the afternoon and the following day off. He had chores that had been adding up, which offered a rare opportunity to take care of stuff.
Bob pressed the unlock button on his car key . . . and nothing happened. The function had been erratic, even after replacing the battery and reprogramming the remote using the instructions he found on YouTubeTM. He held the remote above his head while walking toward the car, remembering reading it helped extend the range . . . but once just a few feet from the car, he lowered his arm and looked around to see if anyone had been watching his antics.
Fat chance; everyone in sight, whether walking or sitting, was immersed in their phones, their necks bent in a way that guaranteed problems later in life, if not sooner.
Stopping by the driver’s door, Bob felt a momentary panic before remembering he could use the key to unlock it.
Heading down the parking structure’s ramps, he counted the number of broken lights and noted two more had gone out. He’d have to update his report, but the number would probably change before he got back to his report. At the exit, he waited as the attendant manually raised the gate for each car. It didn’t occur to the man that he could prop it open and signal the cars to stop.
Once on the road, he automatically zig-zagged around the major broken asphalt areas. After years of them getting progressively worse, he’d developed the muscle memory to avoid the worst ones without conscious thought.
Instead, he thought of the stuff he had to take care of. His new kitchen faucet had developed a leak. He’d tried cleaning the trap and o-rings, but it hadn’t helped. Making a claim on the guarantee meant navigating various automated voice systems, and who knows how many semi-helpful humans stuck in odious jobs involving dealing with angry customers. If anything could break a person’s spirits, dealing with pissed-off people all day had to rank up there. Oh, and trying to fix the faucet is when he also discovered the light over the sink had stopped working. He’d called a few electricians, but none even responded to the messages he left. Such a small job wasn’t worth their time. Maybe he could entice them by asking them to install new bathroom fans. Quieter ones.
He noticed the mailbox door partially open as he pulled into his drive. The box was embedded in a brick structure, only a few inches sticking out of the front. However, the hinges and latch of the door had rusted and were barely hanging on. Replacing the box would mean trying to rip it out of the cement that was holding it . . . and possibly redoing the whole structure. He’d ordered something that might let him replace the door but was skeptical of it working.
As Bob backed into the garage, he avoided looking at the birdbath in the flowerbed. The concrete had cracked and crumbled, turning the birdbath into a cement eyesore instead of an avian oasis. The one on the patio was in similar shape. The birdbath brought to mind two of the round stepping stones that were also cracked and crumbling. With the image of crumbling concrete in his mind, Bob wondered why Roman aqueducts, walls, and roads survived for two-thousand years while modern concrete didn’t make it past a year.
He tossed the car keys on the table, switched on the TV, and grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge. As he sipped water and stared out the window at the overgrown shrub he would trim as soon as the replacement battery to his electric hedger arrived, he realized he wasn’t hearing the TV.
Turning, he saw the odious “no signal” notice on the screen. Annoyed, he checked the cable modem and router. The router was working fine, but the cable modem wasn’t receiving any signal, which meant no cable and no Internet.
A call to the cable company status line confirmed his fears; loss of service due to a broken cable—repairs underway with an estimated timetable for the resumption of service at five hours.
That scratched half his to-do list; reconciling credit cards and bank statements would be postponed. He could probably use the phone to pull up the data since his budget plan included unlimited data, but the plan also had the provision that his speed would be throttled during heavy usage, and with the Internet down, heavy use was guaranteed. All but the most basic functions would be severely hampered. Not as slow as the old phone modems, but not that much faster.
He might as well do some of the repairs he’d been putting off; the slow toilet, the stuck windows, the torn screen door, and a few more he had written down somewhere.
Two hours later, he plopped down on the stuffed chair, leaned his head back, and looked up at the ceiling. He’d gotten the screen door repaired and replaced the toilet’s water valve. It was now too late to work outside, and he was too tired to do much else.
As he stared up at the ceiling, he remembered the antenna he had bought a few years back. Most people didn’t know the country had excellent high-definition TV signals available for free. All one needed was a relatively cheap antenna, and you could pull in multiple local channels. What’s more, each channel offered multiple streams.
A half-hour later, the antenna hanging from a West-facing wall, and the cable snaking along the floor from it to the television on the opposite wall, Bob searched for the local channels. All but one came in clearly. Not just that, but with a better picture than cable’s. He might have to work out a more permanent solution and forget about cable since he rarely watched any of the 376 channels in his subscription package. He’d have to see about just carrying the Internet, although he suspected going outside the offered packages wouldn’t save him much.
He turned to one of the local channels and sat to watch the local news. Really, he should watch more local news. Smaller problems, less anger, and a general feeling that things were at least somewhat manageable.
By the time the national news came on, he was in a good mood and settling to eat his dinner.
His good mood didn’t last long, and he didn’t enjoy the meal . . . war, inflation, pandemic, and topping it all off, hyper-partisanship. As he listened to the arguments from one side or the other, he wondered on what planet these people lived. The extreme views of small but increasingly rabid factions of the Left and Right drove a broken two-party system that, lacking the balls to be honest about anything, made promises they couldn’t possibly keep. Two parties content with blaming each other instead of collaborating to solve arguably difficult and increasingly pressing challenges.
Of course, he had more contempt for the people who kept re-electing incumbents with a track record showing nothing other than being able to criticize the opposition while offering no solutions.
Disgusted, he turned the TV off and decided to water the flowers. Not that he’d planted many, but he had a few pots adding a bit of color to the place. He maintained the shrubs and ornamental bushes, but they weren’t flowering plants, so while neat in appearance, they didn’t add to the place’s curb appeal.
Chrystal had spoken about helping him spruce up the place with some flowerbeds. Bob liked Chrystal a lot, their relationship on the verge of getting serious. If it progressed, he’d planned on asking if she’d consider leaving her apartment and moving in with him. The place could probably use a woman’s touch.
He turned on the water, and immediately the hose sprung a leak and flooded his shoes with water. Swearing, he hurriedly turned the faucet off, his feet making squishing noises inside the shoes. At least the shoes worked. Dubbed waterproof, they did as good a job holding water in as they did of holding water out.
Bob examined the hose but couldn’t see past the mesh. Somewhere, the hose had failed. It was only a year old, and Bob remembered it was guaranteed for life. It said so on the box. For a moment, he contemplated making a claim . . . had he kept the box. He thought he might have snapped a photo of the warranty before discarding it, so he’ll have to decide if making a claim was worth the investment in time or if it was wiser to buy a new hose. The principle of it pushed him toward holding the company to its warranty. His practical side knew he would be in for an hour or more of effort. What was his time worth? Probably more than the cost of a new hose. He closed his eyes and controlled his breathing.
“How goes it?”
The voice intruded into his self-healing moment, but Bob turned, sporting an easy smile, and replied without a hint of the kind of day he’d been having.
“Hey, Bill. I’m doing fine. How goes it with you?”
“Mostly OK. Going up North tomorrow because Linda called and said the well wasn’t drawing any water. I hope I don’t need a new pump, but we’ll see.”
Bill and Linda had serious money, and they’d bought a place up North. It turned out to be somewhat of a money-pit. Some of it was of their own doing — improvements and such — but a lot was bringing the place up to code. They said they loved it, but it sounded like a big headache to Bob. Then again, when someone dumps a load of money to buy something, they’re not going to say it was a mistake.
“Well, good luck,” Bob replied. “I’ll keep an eye on your house while you’re gone. Say hello to Linda.”
“I will, and thanks,” Bill called out as he resumed his daily walk.
Looking down at the pitiful hose and then his watch, Bob decided he’d wait one more day to water the flower. He’d go to the hardware store in the morning and pick up another warranted-for-life hose.
Back inside, he put down the boundary strips for Roy, his vacuum robot. He’d given it a name that was easier to say than vacuum robot. It would do the kitchen tonight, so Bob moved the chairs to the living room before switching Roy on. It was necessary since Roy tended to get trapped by the chair legs. Pressing the ‘CLEAN’ button, Bob headed to the office but stopped. Roy was beeping and not moving. Frowning, Bob pressed ‘CLEAN’ again, and again Roy moved . . . about an inch, stopped, and started beeping. Fifteen minutes later, having tried resets, checking the wheels, and anything else he could think of, Bob turned Roy off and placed it back in its cradle. He considered vacuuming the kitchen by hand but decided he’d do that in the morning.
Bob went to the office, got Roy’s manual, and put it on the kitchen table. He’d read it in the morning while eating breakfast, perhaps finding help in the troubleshooting section. About to walk away, he changed his mind and picked up the manual, and found the troubleshooting section. The first item listed under solutions for the unit not working dashed his hopes of finding useful help. It said: “Make sure the unit is turned on.”
Bob put the manual down, shaking his head. He was tempted to feel scorn for the writers, but his experience with people suggested it wasn’t something that could be discounted.
Deciding to call it a day, he dialed Chrystal. They chatted for a half-hour, and, at the end, Bob felt better for it, the world looking a little rosier. A few minutes after ending the call, he sent her a “goodnight” text . . . Or would have had his phone powered up. Even after plugging it into the recharger, the screen remained dark. With no Internet — now well past the estimated five hours repair window — Bob had no way to research how he might revive the expensive brick he held in his hand.
Mentally exhausted, he retired to the bedroom and eventually troubled sleep.
The pleasant surprise the next morning was that the Internet had been restored. He tried to make an appointment at the phone service provider store, but since it was the weekend, all the slots were already taken. He’d have to wait until Monday, after work. This was the first time in many years that he didn’t have access to a phone, and it made him uneasy, so he drove to the local Wal-Mart and bought a disposable phone. He’d only use it for emergencies, but he felt better for having it. No Internet, but he could make calls and text. While at the store, he made sure it worked by calling his cell number. There was no answer, but he could access his voice mail. There were no messages, but he changed the greeting to one giving his temporary number.
More relaxed, he got home to find the mailman delivering a package. It was the replacement door to the mailbox. Once inside, bob opened the box and saw it was a no-tools installation. You removed the old door and latch, and pressed the new door and frame into the opening of the mailbox.
Excited to try it out, Bob delayed breakfast and went out to the mailbox. He had to cut the old hinge using his Dremel tool, but it only took a minute or so, and, after pressing the new door into place, he was pleased with its look and function.
In a good mood, he decided to call Chrystal to let her know his temporary number and invite her to an outing. Maybe a picnic or a scenic drive.
Just before it went to voice mail, the call was answered.
“Hello?” the voice said.
Bob was speechless.
“Hello?” the voice said again, and in the background, he heard Chrystal ask who it was.
“Phil?” Bob asked.
“Shit . . . hi, Bob,” Phil replied.
Bob heard muffled voices, and then Chrystal came on the line.
“Uh, hi Bob. You got a new phone number?”
Bob hung up and stood there, stunned. He jumped when the phone rang. It was Chrystal calling back. Bob switched the phone off and went inside, the old mailbox door in one hand, the phone in his pocket, and the Dremel in his other hand.
He threw the door in the trash, put the Dremel away, went inside, and sat on the sofa staring straight ahead without seeing anything.
After ten minutes, he got up and headed out. This time, he was going to do it. He’d read a lot about it, and it now made more sense than ever.
“Hey, Bob! How goes it?”
“Doing fine, Bill,” Bob replied as he walked toward Bill and Linda at the curb. River, the rescue dog he had adopted after finding out about Chrystal and Phil two months ago, followed by his side and stopped when Bob stopped, happily accepting a quick rub behind its ears.
“How are you guys doing?”
“We’re fine,” Linda answered, “and thanks for all the help last weekend up at the cottage.”
“I enjoyed getting away. You have a beautiful place up there.”
“Well, you’re welcome to use it whenever you want,” Bill said.
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to impose.”
“Nonsense!” Linda said. “You know the lockbox code, so feel free to go whenever you need to get away. And bring River next time. She’s a great dog.”
“OK, thanks,” Bob replied. “That’s very nice of you to offer,” he added. It was unlikely he would take them up on it, but it was nice that they’d offered.
“You should seriously consider it,” Linda insisted. “Diana would love to see you again.”
“Diana would love to see me again?” Bob asked, surprised.
A friend of Linda, and their interior decorator at the cabin, Bob had met Diana this past weekend. He liked her a lot but had assumed she was in a relationship. In his experience, nice people were seldom single.
“Linda has been playing matchmaker for a few years now, with no luck,” Bill said.
“Bill!” Linda exclaimed but recovered quickly, happy for the opportunity to explain. “But, it’s true. I’d almost given up on her until she asked about you. She was surprised you were single. She said that in her experience, nice people were seldom single.”
After a few more pleasantries, Bill and Linda continued on their walk as Bob, followed by River, walked back to the house.
In the kitchen, Bob was careful not to interfere with Roy even as River eyed it with distrust. Grabbing a drink and a dog treat, he went out the back to the patio and sat in the chair in the shade of the overhang. River hopped on the other chair and accepted the offered treat.
“If this thing with Diana goes anywhere, you might have to find a different place to sit,” Bob said as River cocked her head and struck a quizzical pose.
After rubbing her head again, they both relaxed and watched the birds visit the composite birdbath sitting between two flower pots spilling with vibrant and plentiful flowers.
There was still some broken stuff to fix, but overall, for now, life was good. And that’s all one could hope for. That, and a trip up north this next weekend.
If you’ve already read the other two stories and are ready to vote, click HERE<<<Link and you’ll be taken to the voting poll.
If you’ve not read the other two stories, they can be found at the following links:
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