F for First

A rare foray into fiction.

NPR used to do contests called Three Minute Fiction, I’m unsure why they stopped. In 2013, I wrote a piece for this and sent it to Tim and to NPR. Round 11 in May of 2013 was “Finders Keepers: Write a story in which a character finds an object that he or she has no intention of returning.” I (obviously) did not win but what’s weird is that one of the winners chose the EXACT SAME object as I did. Here’s that story.

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And here’s mine:

“A S D G H J K L,” Mr. Filbert reads from his keyboard. Its home row had 8 keys only yesterday.

“A S D G H J K L!” he crescendos. Lenore glances quickly enough, she thinks, toward his desk. Mr. Filbert, however, is hardly deterred from drawing her into the 23rd time today he’s bemoaned his missing F key.

“I just don’t see the lure, Lenore! Miscreants, their games!”

He continues his rant, but in Russian. Lenore crouches behind the laptop cart feigning Mr. Filbert’s required power button checks.

“21 – off, 22 – off,” she pretends to scratch on the clipboard he’s provided. Instead, she’s drawing a dog. Her mind replays Mr. Filbert’s accidental poetry. I just don’t see the lure Lenore. Its paws are wheels, five careful dots along each edge. Lure Lenore. Lure Lenore. Lure Lenore.

A student enters the office as she focuses on a cartoonish left eye, her Bic wearing a label pre-scolding: MR. FILBERT. Three years have taught her the cadence of pre-pubescent gaits.

Dale Tyne squeals, “Mr. Iiiillllbert, can I have my computer password again?”

A pregnant pause and Mr. Filbert breaks into his vigorous pacing ritual – desk right, desk left, by the microwave, a loop around the shelf, and back to desk right. Knowing what Mr. Filbert’s disregard means, Dale’s untied shoes scamper past the laptop cart.

Midway into lap three, Mr. Filbert blurts words Lenore has translated herself. Lately, he’s been favoring “bull shit” in Portuguese. Her delicate script leaves “Lure” above the dog’s pointy ear.

“Did you hear that scoundrel? Ilbert? Ilbert?”

At Lenore’s silence Mr. Filbert peers over the cart. Looking up at him, her head hovers above her seated bottom, which spills out around her, coated in polyester brown.

“Lenore, we need to find our villain. Is Tyne on the suspect list?” he asks, his torso flanking the top of the cart.

“I – do think we added him earlier.”

“Well children cannot destroy property and go on their merry ways, Lah-nure.”

“We’ve already called in so many for questioning–it’s become a joke in the entire 7th grade.”

“Oh really, Lah-nure? Well why don’t you just go back to drawing your puppies?” he says under gray eyebrows. “Yes, I will defend the integrity of our equipment uh-lone. Tyne moves up the list!”

“Principal Glick said we can’t profile a student because he has a pas-”

“Profile? I can’t even spell profile right now, Lah-nure! This is about more than F or all the other keys. It’s about respect! And Glick? She has some nerve! She’s on the list!” he exclaims raising a hairy hand above a bald head, index finger protruding.

“Always suspected she has it out for the library. This is our 10th missing key in three years!”

Mr. Filbert huffs to the cafeteria in hot pursuit of his daily cheese steak sub. In 13 minutes he will be seated, dipping French fries into the center of the yellow paint and faux leather scooped from a bucket into a sub roll for his blissful consumption.

Lenore takes note of the time, retreats to the back office, and opens a drawer near the old transparency machines. Lenore unscrews the cap of her E6000 superglue. Chemical concoctions fill her nose as she pulls a small black square from her pants. She introduces the clear goop to the back of a small F key. She affixes both to a wooden board in the drawer.

“F – REELENORE,” she says out loud for finality.

She gently closes the drawer, unsure what step lies next but certain that her backwards project is the first step of many.

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