Freshers Creative Writing Competition: Best entries #3

Topic: Use the advertisement as the starting point for a short story that explores the people and situations behind the ad. Who wrote the ad? What was the writer’s motivation (beyond buying or selling an item)? What kind of life does the writer have? What is the social setting behind the ad? What kind of family or community is involved? Using the advertisement as your starting point, create the story behind the ad that you’ve chosen from the classifieds page.

-Nandini Negi

For sale. Square brome hay bales.

It is Tuesday morning, crack-of-dawn hour and I am wide awake in the anticipation of today’s newspaper. That’s right, newspaper. No, I’m not winning the lottery today. I was never a lucky fellow. Had I been one, I wouldn’t be lying awake waiting for today’s newspaper to be delivered. I would be sleeping comfortably, in my own bed, with my wife and kids, content and happy. But that’s a story for another time. Right now, I’ve more important things in my life like my classified advertisement. I gave it up for print last week. I’m Dave, by the way. I’m 54 and alone. I live in a large, empty house in a small farm in Kansas. Right, back to the ad. It’s appearing in today’s newspaper. And as I shift my gaze from the random crack on my ceiling to the grandfather clock, I see it’s 6.00 am and it’s time to bear the fruit of my sleepless night.

I run to my porch to pick the newspaper up before the neighbour’s dog does. Willy tends to do that a lot. It’s just one of the reasons why I don’t like that evil thing. I’m pretty sure, his mistress, Mrs. Perkins is somehow behind the whole “Oh dear lord! Willy got your newspaper again Dave. Bad willy,” thing. But today is not the day to dwell over Mrs. Perkins and her wretched dog’s misadventures. Today is the day my ad comes and today is the day I begin the long, painful process of moving on.

I had been involved in hay bale business since I turned 21 and inherited it from my father. It was never high paying stuff but it kept me and the missus floating. The country life was smooth, slow and satisfying. Then came the kids and I thought it was time to expand, make hay while the sun shines. So I ventured into animal rearing. I thought it was the logical thing to do. Horse, cows and bales of hay go together like bacon and breakfast. I started going into the city. When you are running a farm business, sometimes you have to lick some city boots to make do. Usually the boot-licking is reserved for corporate giants and people in theatre. But, like I said before, I was never a lucky fellow. The city became a second home to me. Let me correct that –  the city, became the only home for me. I don’t know what it was, whether it was the bright city lights, the ever-flowing booze, the larger-than-life society or the woman. May be it was the lack of all those things in my early life that made every single morning with strange people in the city feel like a Christmas morning. The erstwhile satisfying life of country was long forgotten and satisfaction of that kind no longer appealed to me.

Meanwhile, my wife and the children were back home, living the slow, agonizingly mundane life in every sense of the word. Waiting for the dutiful father and husband to make a rare appearance, bringing them food and clothes. I did bring them food, and clothes, and money. What I could never bring my children was my laughter, their laughter, our laughter. What I could never bring my wife was fidelity and honesty. In their eyes, I was making the great sacrifice. Foraging into the city day-after-day, living there for weeks, probably working my fingers to the bone for them. The chasm between the reality and their beliefs was wider than the distance between my real home and the city. But they never complained, neither my wife, nor my kids.

In the midst of the boot-licking, the hay-making, and the animal rearing, my children grew up. My life in the city was over. I was 50 and no woman would now look twice at me. No market would buy my hay bales and my animals anymore. No random strangers would sit with me and share their exciting life stories over a pitcher of ale. And it was at this golden year of my life that I realized what I threw away. I was truly homeless, in the sense that the home I believed to be mine was just an illusion of youth, a mirage of exciting possibilities borne out of years of boredom. On the other hand, the home I had left behind was full of people that were my own blood, but were more of a stranger than the elderly bartender in the city bar.

Soon my elder daughter was getting married and going to live 3000 miles away. Soon my son was moving to a city in another country. And soon my wife was leaving me to marry a guy who would never cheat on her. Soon, very soon, I was left all alone in the big house in the small farm in Kansas. I never cared for them. And I was careless to the point that I never expected them to care for me. May be that’s the reason that I didn’t feel a pang of regret seeing my wife go and my kids leave. I felt the same amount of sadness that a passerby might feel seeing a death procession go on the street.

The last I talked to my kids was three years ago. Since then, neither have I called them, nor have they. I haven’t talked to my ex-wife in two years. I neither expect, nor have any inclination to talk to her. I just want to sell my last batch of square hay bales. I made them a month ago and they’ve been lying around in the empty farm. There are no longer any animals to eat them.  I open up the classifieds and see my advertisement. ‘For sale! Square brome hay bales. Call Dave’.  In the entire page, my ad stands out. It’s colourful and has a small cartoon of a guy holding a square brome. May be it’s some sort of irony. The colourful and cheerful ad for a guy’s one month old stack of hay bales contrasts nicely with the sheer greyness of his bleak life. I sit on the porch and stare at the ad, wondering whether I’ve packed everything up. A few clothes and a few old books only take up so much space. I wonder about the family that would come in this house after me; I wonder if the man would be a good father, a loving husband. I wonder if he would care about losing his family, his home.

The thoughts swirling in my head, I continue to stare at the ad. I can hear Willy yipping close by. It makes for certain poignancy in the story of my life that the last eventful thing I would remember is my ad and Willy’s bark. As I close my eyes for a second, I see the beautiful city lights twinkling, beckoning me, or perhaps taunting me. I can no longer hear Willy’s bark.

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