In today's story, Sheet Music, a daughter's visit sparks memories of monkeys and music
Today's prompt was inspired by a glance up from my desk, which landed my gaze on the sheet music sitting on my piano. A look around the room is often a good way to choose a prompt for a short story or other writing exercise.
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More about Susan Quilty
Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society. Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.
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Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 82 of Freely Written, a podcast by author Susan Quilty:
Welcome to Freely Written where a simple prompt leads to a little unplanned fiction.
[Light piano music]
Hi, friends! I’m Susan Quilty and today’s prompt is Sheet Music.
Today’s prompt is brought to you by a glance up from my desk where I can see sheet music sitting on my piano. Looking around the room is a pretty good way to come up with a prompt for a short story or other writing exercise.
Remember, the point of this Freely Written podcast is to let go and write without planning or limitations. Well, except for the time limit since I do try to keep each story to around 10 minutes. Otherwise, the goal is freedom. My process here is to choose a prompt, then write whatever comes to mind with no planning and very little editing, and then share that story with you.
Sheet music seems like a promising prompt. It could go in a lot of directions, including some saucy ones, but I’ll be sure to keep this story PG. If you have ideas for a completely different story, feel free to use the prompt to write one of your own. It’s fun to see how the same inspiration can lead in so many ways.
Here’s where this prompt led me:
Debbie tucked the second sheet corner firmly in place, wedging her arm awkwardly between the nightstand and the bedframe, only to see that the sheet had pulled free of the adjacent corner. With a sigh, she moved back to that corner and tugged, partially uncovering her recently tucked corner.
Rob laughed from doorway.
“That’s the short end.”
“What?” Debbie studied the sheet, comparing the corner she held to the nearest one hanging free. She then, muttered, “Oh, geez” realizing that he was right.
“Here, let me help.” Rob grasped one side of the fitted sheet and they rotated it a half-turn, lining the proper corners with the corresponding parts of the bed.
“You think I’d get that right by now.”
Debbie wedged her arm back into the space beside the nightstand, wincing as her wrist scraped against a rough bit of wood. She was still a little skeptical of her mistake, but this time, the second corner she tried was a nice, snug fit without untucking anything else.
“You’re distracted,” Rob allowed. His corners were also tucked into place, and he leaned to give the sheet a gentle tug, smoothing the wrinkles.
“Maybe a little,” Debbie admitted.
It was their daughter’s first visit home since her summer wedding. The first time her son-in-law would be staying at their house for a full week. She stood back, surveying the crisp tan sheet.
“I can’t say she’s coming home to visit anymore, can I?” Rob didn’t answer right away. He seemed confused by the question until Debbie said, “I mean, she has her own home now.”
“She’s had her own home for several years,” Rob reminded.
Debbie pictured her daughter’s apartment. The one where she’d shown Kate and her roommate how to plant an herb garden in a raised container on their small balcony. That had been Kate’s first apartment after college. One she’d lived in with two different roommates over four years.
Debbie hadn’t seen Kate and Liam’s townhouse yet. Not in person. She’d seen pictures and a short video. Which wasn’t the same.
“It’s different now,” Debbie answered, but didn’t explain why, and Rob didn’t ask.
He shook out the top sheet and tossed half of it across the wide bed, unfurling it with a snap that pulled it back too fast and left it crumpled in folds beyond Debbie’s grasping fingers. Debbie laughed and fumbled to find the edge of the fabric.
“Remember when Kate wouldn’t use a top sheet?” Debbie giggled at the memory, though she’d pulled her hair out over it at the time.
“Do I remember?” Rob laughed loudly. “The two of you nearly started World War Three over that one! Every week: Did you put fresh sheets on your bed? Yes! And the top sheet? Top sheets are stupid!”
Debbie smirked at his imitation, knowing how angry she’d gotten over such a little thing.
“But it wasn’t a little thing really,” she said defensively, responding out loud to her own silent thought. “A top sheet is hygienic. It keeps the comforter clean longer.”
Rob held up his hands in surrender.
“I’m on your side,” he reminded gamely. “I like the feel of cool crisp sheets all around me.”
“But she wouldn’t let it go,” Debbie went on, beginning to frown. She smoothed the clean sheet and folded the top edge carefully in place. “Kate insisted that none of her friends used top sheets. That they were pointless. Passé.”
“Stupid,” Rob agreed, using one of Kate’s favorite teenage words. He watched Debbie reach for the clean pillowcases, seeing how her mood had begun to shift. Not to anger but to sadness.
“What was that song we’d sing to her?” he asked suddenly.
“Which one?” Debbie frowned, tugging a case over a thick pillow. She was barely listening, more tuned in on whatever thoughts—or memories—were in her own head.
“You know, the monkey one?” Rob clarified, pulling the half-cased pillow from Debbie’s hand, and dropping it on the bed. “The monkeys jumping on the bed.”
He held her hands, shaking them side to side as he sang, “I’m a little monkey jumping on a bed… uh… um… tip me over and I’ll fall on my head!”
Debbie broke into laughter, letting him dance her around the room.
“Those aren’t the words!” she shrieked between giggles. Rob was undeterred. He repeated his botched lyrics and added to them.
“I’m a little monkey jumping on a bed, tip me over and I’ll fall on my head! Then you’ll be sorry, and the doctor will say… uh… that’s what happens when you jump all day!”
They twirled awkwardly around the small room, nearly tripping over the laundry basket until Rob kicked it away with a dancerly flourish.
“Let’s buy them sheets,” Rob suggested, halting them near the foot of the bed. “As another wedding present. A half-year anniversary gift.”
“Sheets?” Debbie was skeptical but smiled at the twinkle in Rob’s eye.
“Sheets with monkeys on them!” Rob laughed, then started their dance again with another round of “I’m a little monkey jumping on a bed…”
By the time the bed was finally made, Debbie was in a considerably better mood. She went to the kitchen to prepare some pre-dinner snacks, while Rob played the piano. He stopped when the doorbell rang, and Debbie hastily wiped her hands on a flower-patterned towel.
After coats were hung and bags were stowed upstairs, they settled in the living room over drinks and snacks. Debbie was so happy to see her daughter and so pleased that she was happily married. But she could feel herself putting on her company manners.
They still didn’t know Liam well and she wanted so much from this visit. For them to get to know each other better and for him to feel comfortable with them. Which he clearly didn’t.
Liam sat upright on the couch, stiff and proper beside Kate’s casual sprawl. He sipped his drink and ate his cheese and crackers politely as they talked about work and the weather.
The conversation slipped into a lull. They glanced at each other, pretending the silence was comfortable.
Finally, Rob put down his glass and said, “I thought of a great gift for your anniversary, but your mom vetoed it.”
Debbie flashed him a warning, praying he wouldn’t launch into the silly story of the monkey sheets, or worse, belt out his monkey song in front of Liam.
“Oh, that reminds me!” Kate jumped off the couch and ran toward the stairs saying, “Liam found a gift for you! At an antique store…”
Liam watched her rush up the stairs, then put down his glass and said, “It’s not a big deal, we were just in an antique shop, and Kate had once told me the song at your wedding was…”
Kate interrupted his explanation, rushing back into the room and brandishing a brown paper bag taped shut and decorated with a half-squashed stick-on bow.
Debbie accepted the package and opened it carefully. She reached between the folds of brown paper and slid out several pages bound in a folded cover.
“It’s sheet music!” Rob exclaimed, looking at Debbie with such joy that she burst into laughter.
“Oh, go ahead,” she told him, laughing harder at the expectant amusement on Kate and Liam’s faces.
Rob began to sing, letting them in on the joke. By the end of the night, they’d added four verses to the new monkey song, which eventually became a favorite among the grandchildren.
Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed that story, please share it with your friends! You can also go back and listen to past stories in any order, or learn more about my novels and other projects by visiting my website at SusanQuilty.com
Until next time, try a little free writing of your own. Let go of any planning and see where your imagination takes you.
[Light piano music]