From the book, “Just Write One Thing Today; 365 Creative Prompts to Inspire You Every Day” by John Gillard
Photo by Diego Torres Silvestre from Flickr Creative Commons https://flic.kr/p/28rffpV
Write a short story based in one or all of the following settings: a casino, a pool hall, a disused subway station, a Turkish bath
Eleanor flipped through the book she’d picked up from the library. It looked interesting. She looked around the subway station, then flipped open the book and began to read. She got through the first two chapters before she heard some commotion from benches nearby. Eleanor read a few more pages, trying to ignore all of the noise and chaos around her. Still, it was hard to block it out. After a few moments, she couldn’t focus with the yelling going on and she found herself needing to know what was going on. She could hear a man’s voice yelling at another man. He seemed angry and upset. She set her book down and took a few steps towards the benches to hear their conversation more.
A man was pacing back and forth, yelling at anyone who looked his way. Eleanor peaked out from behind a pole, watching him and watching the other man to see what they would do. The pacing man seemed nervous and agitated. She stared at him for a second. He had shoulder-length brown hair, and when his brown eyes met her gray ones for a second, she could sense a deep pain within him. His clothes were worn, and she assumed he was homeless by the way he was dressed. His beard was raggedy and unkempt. She looked away quickly, half expecting him to yell at her or come after her. He began shouting out. “I’m gonna do it! I’m gonna kill myself! I’m going to stab myself.”
Eleanor’s eyes grew wide. She turned and realized he was holding a knife in his hand. She listened, waiting for someone to say something to this man, to help him out. By now, the few people in the subway station had started gathering around him. One man tried to trip him and several people started laughing. “Go ahead, man. Do us all a favor.”
“Yeah, we don’t need your filth around!”
Eleanor could not believe what she was hearing. People were encouraging this man to take his own life instead of trying to help him. More people shouted at him and one person spit in his face. “Go on now, would you like us to help you put the knife in?”
Eleanor was horrified. She couldn’t understand why anyone would want someone else to hurt themselves. The man seemed to grow more agitated with the people as they encouraged him to hurt himself. Eleanor waited, hoping, praying someone else would intervene. No one did. Finally the man put the knife to his chest as though he was going to stab himself. She looked away, not wanting to watch. She tried to focus on the book in her hands, but she couldn’t bring herself to rea when this man was trying to hurt himself.
She didn’t want to do anything, but if no one else was going to then she had to say something. She stepped out from behind the shelf. The man had the edge of the blade pressed tightly into his chest and was holding it with both hands as he started to push it in. “STOP!” Eleanor moved towards him.
The man stopped and starred at her. She noticed he had tears running down his cheeks.
“Sir, please. Just give me the knife.”
He screamed at her. “Why does it matter to you? It doesn’t matter to anyone else here and you don’t know me.”
“But you matter.” She took a step closer to him.
He laughed. “Matter? To who?”
Eleanor took a couple of more steps closer to him. “We all matter, sir.”
He scoffed at her. “You don’t know anything about me, and yet you say I matter?”
She nodded, taking yet another step closer to him. “We all matter, sir.” She was almost to him now. “Please, just give me the knife.”
“What do you care?” Tears rolled down his cheeks and dripped off his chin.
“The world cannot loose you, sir. Please. Give me the knife.”
He looked at her, nervously moving the knife a little away from his chest. His hands shook, and she was afraid he would accidentally stab himself. “Sir, please.” She held out a hand for the knife. His shook his head no, his hand now shaking so fast the knife was vibrating.
Eleanor felt tears come down her own cheeks. She brushed them away, but noticed him staring at her. “My lady, why do you cry for me?” He moved closer to her, moving the knife away from his chest and holding it in his shaking hand. He lifted his other hand up to her face, and brushed tears away as more fell. “Do not cry for me, my dear. My life is worth nothing.” He started to put the knife back up towards his chest. She put her hand on his arm. He stared at her, and for a moment, she felt him tug on his arm a little and her tears came faster. He relaxed his arm and brushed her tears away again. “My dear, don’t cry for me. Your tears are wasted.”
“No, sir. Every life has value. My tears are not wasted on you. I do not want you to die.” Her eyes pleaded with him and she reached for the knife in his hand. For a moment, she was afraid he might even harm her with it, but he released it into her hand and pulled her into a hug.
Eleanor tossed the knife as far from him as she could. She heard it clank on the subway station floor, and everyone began to clap. She ignored the crowd. A moment ago, this man had been about to take his life and they encouraged it. Now they praised her for saving his life. Fickle they were indeed. She heard someone move towards them, and out of the corner of the aisle, saw man in a uniform retrieve the knife. A sense of relief washed over her. At least he couldn’t get it back easily now if he changed his mind.
The stranger held her in a warm embrace for several minutes. She let him hold her, ignoring the smell of dirt and alcohol. He needed a friend right now. After a few minutes, he released her, then pulled her close again as he pressed his lips against hers. She was taken back. His lips were dry, and his breath stank of alcohol. She wanted to push him away but she feared he would take it the wrong way. Right now, she was just glad he was still alive.
He leaned back from her and noticed the shock look in her face. “I’m sorry, my lady. I got a bit carried away. It won’t happen again.”
She tried to give him a smile and nodded. “You’ve had a rough morning already. I’m sure you have a lot on your mind.” It was all she could think to say.
He grinned. The crowd began to disperse. She heard someone say the police were on their way. He turned to her. “Well, this is cue to leave. I should get going.”
She shook her head. “Please, don’t go. You need help.”
“I promise, I won’t try that again anytime soon. For you, I will stay alive.”
She stared at him. He was acting as though she was his reason for living now and it seemed so very strange to her. Everyone should know they have a purpose in life and it shouldn’t just be living for another human being. Human beings fail, but a purpose remains.
He turned and started to walk out the door. No one stopped him. Surely the police would find him soon enough. Eleanor gave him a small wave and then headed back to the spot where she had been sitting. She tried to focus on reading it again. She could only think about the stranger, but she wanted to at least to read.
After a moment, she felt eyes watching her. She ignored it at first, but the feeling wouldn’t go away. She looked up. He was sitting in a nearby seat, leaning over to watch her read. The same man whose life she had just saved, the one she watched walk out of the subway. “Hello again.”
She smiled, putting her book down. “Hi. I thought you needed to go?”
He shrugged. “I did, but then I realized, I never got your name. I couldn’t let a beautiful lady such as yourself get away without knowing your name, now could I?”
“It’s Eleanor. Eleanor McAllen.”
“Miss Eleanor. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” He stood up from his seat and gave her a little bow.
She grinned. “And do I have the pleasure of acquainting?”
“The names Ivan. Ivan Ivanov.” He held out a hand to her. She shook his hand. It felt rough and calloused, as though he had been doing some heavy work.
“It’s nice to meet you, Ivan.”
“Do you mind if I sit with you?” He released her hand and motioned to the empty seat next to her. She nodded and smiled.
He came around the seat as she moved over so he could take the outer seat. He sat down next to her and stared at her face, then put up a hand to brush her blond hair away from her eyes. “I didn’t thank you for what you did for me.”
She shrugged. “It’s what any decent human being would have done.”
“But no one else did.”
She shook her head. “I’m not sure what that was all about.”
“No matter now. You saved me. You didn’t have to, but you stepped in and saved me.” He leaned in to kiss her. She quickly looked away, pulling back from him. “You don’t want me to kiss you?”
Eleanor shrugged and made brief eye contact. “I don’t really know you, sir.”
“Please, call me Ivan.” He grabbed her hand and brought that up to his mouth instead. She nodded and relaxed the corners of her mouth up into a smile. “What do you say we get to know each other then? Let me take you to lunch somewhere.”
“I don’t know. I have a full day ahead of me.”
“A full day? A full day of what, reading in subways? Reading some romance book?” He pointed to the book she was reading. She had chosen a Debbie Macomber book called “Dashing Through The Snow,” but now she wished she had chosen differently. Her face turned red and she looked away. She didn’t need a stranger to know that her life was greatly lacking when it came to romance.
Eleanor sighed. She was supposed to be traveling to Howard Street, then writing an article about a little coffee shop there. She wasn’t sure what her next job would be, but Mr. Loray was really good about giving her another assignment as soon as she finished each one. “I’m a freelance writer. I’m supposed to write about North Perk Coffee today on Howard Street. After that, I wait for my boss, Mr. Loray to give me a new assignment.”
Ivan looked deep in thought for a moment as he stared at her. “I’ll take you to North Perk then. You can do your assignment, and then we can go from there. How about it?”
She stared back at him. Her boss wouldn’t like someone else added to the tab,as it was covered by the magazine, and it was unlikely he had money to pay for it. She shook her head. “I’m sorry, I can’t. My boss wouldn’t like that.”
“I have to turn in my receipt to prove I was there. Plus I get reimbursed for it.”
He rubbed his head. “So? You can turn in your receipt, I don’t need it.” His brown eyes watched her face, moving back and forth as though he expected her to just change her mind.
She sighed. “My boss won’t approve of two people on the tab. I’m sorry, he just won’t like it. I can’t do it.”
Ivan laughed. “Sweetheart, you think I was asking you to pay for mine too?” He shook his head. “I’m paying for yours and mine, we’ll just put them on separate tabs. Then you can turn in your receipt to your boss and get money back. It’s like two free drinks.”
Eleanor stared at him. “I can’t do that. I can’t ask you to pay for mine too.”
“And why-ever not? You saved my life. I can at least buy your cofee.”
She sighed, looking away from his eyes and turning back to her book.
“Hello?” He waved a hand in front of her face. She glanced at him, then stared back at her book. “Nora, come on, talk to me. I just want to know why I can’t buy you a cup of coffee.”
She turned back to him. “My name is Eleanor. Why did you call me Nora?”
He shrugged. “My mom’s sister was Eleanor, but everybody called her Nora. I guess I just assumed it was the same for you too.”
She shook her head. “No one’s ever called me that before.”
“Then that will be my pet name for you.”
She grinned but shook her head at him. He acted as though they’d known each other a long time and were good friends. In many ways, she felt a close connection to him already too.
“No, you don’t like Nora?”
She shrugged. “It’s ok, I’m just not used to it, and I really don’t know you.”
“Then let me buy you coffee, Nora. I want to get to know you better. Please? A pretty girl like you should be able to enjoy your coffee, even if it is with an ugly mutt like me.”
Eleanor stared at his face. He was far from ugly. Scruffy looking, and a little dirty maybe, but still he still had many handsome features. She shook her head. “You’re not ugly.”
He grinned. “No?”
She shook her head again. “No. You’re not a bad looking guy at all.”
He laughed. “Well, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you thought I was good looking.”
She blushed and looked away from him. He laughed again and nudged her elbow. Coffee then, Ms. Nora? Unless you think your husband will be bothered by that of course.”
She took a few deep breaths and whispered “I don’t have a husband. I’m not married.”
“Well, your boyfriend then?”
She shook her head and glanced at him. “I’m not in a relationship with anyone.”
His face lit up and she suddenly realized he got the answers he was hoping to get. She met his eyes, trying to read his face. He smiled at her, and put a hand up to stroke her face. Coffee it is then, my dear.”