Twenty Minutes of Artie

For the past few weeks, I have been attending a writing group. Four writers–of which I am one–are given a prompt and twenty minutes to write. The rules are really guidelines and the guidelines are fairly malleable. In many ways, it’s felt like an exercise in writing hard and fast for twenty minutes.

I thought I’d share what I wrote today.

I pulled a card with this image written on it:  “Smoke-filled barroom with pool tables in the back.”

Here’s what I wrote:

When Artie quit his job at the machine shop he assured his wife that he would still be able to support the five of them.

“I have a plan, Annie” he said with a confidence borne of his third light beer of the evening. There were three more in the fridge; he would finish them all before finding himself, somewhat numb to his domestic life, in bed with his wife’s back facing his side of their bed.

Artie had been playing pool since he was twelve. His uncle had taught him how in the basement of their church. While betting was frowned upon by the pastor, the parishioners who wound up in the subterranean space of St. Andrew’s would occasionally be graced with the man-of-the cloth’s presence and watch as fives and tens passed among the players—including the pastor. Artie never pretended to be an amateur with these men. He played smart every time and usually left with three times the cash he’d had arrived with.

The firing from Young’s Machine Shop was fortuitous—of course, not so much that Artie told Anne that he was fired—but enough for Artie to stoke the flames of optimism around going downtown to play against men who placed their twenties and fifties on the edges of the green-felt covered tables.

“It’ll be a piece of cake,” he said the next morning—a Friday. “I’ll go in, lose a little and then win big.”

Ten-year-old Kenny, the oldest of their three boys, asked if he could go along and watch his father “win big.”

Before Artie could indulge the boy with a “yes,” Annie reminded the boy that he was expected to be in school and not in some smoke-filled bar watching his father wager on his pool skills.

On the walk to their cold, red brick elementary school, Allan, two years Kenny’s junior, made the point that Daddy learned when he was twelve and that in two years Daddy would probably teach him how to play, “just like Great Uncle Russ taught him.”

Kenny’s response was sharp: “I don’t care if I learn of not. I just wanted to watch.”

When Artie arrived to MacCallen’s Pub, it took a full minute for his eyes to adjust to the near non-existent lighting in the bar. Save the illumination from behind the horizontal brass bar rail and the hanging lights over the six tables in the back, there was no other light.

Makes it easier to hide your sins, he thought as he stepped past a man—likely in his eighties—hovering over a stout glass of room-temperature whiskey. The old man’s eyes shot up at Artie—on the diagonal—as if to say he didn’t care that it was only ten o’clock in the morning.

Artie ordered a club soda with lime and took it—along with his shouldered bag that held his pool stick and two chalk cues—to the back of the barroom. The tables were set out in a three by two array. Sipping off the bubbly, sour drink, Artie made circles around each table and by process of elimination selected the one from which he got the best “vibes.” Uncle Russ had schooled him in the idea that confidence and luck were as important as skill in the art of pool sharking. When Artie gave him his uncle a sideways juvenile glance questioning this, Uncle Russ extracted a rabbit’s foot from his pocket, shook it in the air for Artie to see, and sequestered it away in the folds of his dark blue pants.

Artie, himself, carried a coin. It was a bicentennial quarter, minted the same year Artie was born.

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Now, had I been given more than twenty minutes, I might have had Artie “win big,” lose everything, get into a bar fight, or something else. I ran out of time though.

However, I share this with you to illustrate the idea that creativity need not be a full-time career or even a pastime requiring hours upon hours of your day.

Twenty minutes to write or paint or sing or knit or sculpt.

Find your 1/3 of an hour and indulge.

And, as always, thanks for reading.



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