Prompt: Imagine a character whose job—such as a banker, thrift store cashier, babysitter, college president—typically implies certain traits about this person and a certain lifestyle. Write a 250- to 500-word story in which this character's life outside of his or her work is drastically different from what is typical. Explore in your writing why this is so, using it to inform the plot and to create tension in the story.
His heels were heavy on the threadbare old carpet, and the squeak of rusty wheels earned him a few dirty looks. Caleb gave a sheepish smile under the scrutiny as he pushed the cart of books. From the return area to the aisles, he reshelved texts on anything from dog breeds to the Industrial Revolution. It was easy work. It was quiet work.
Working at the local library had only been the second step towards focusing on his growing family: a steady income with plenty of free time to spend at home. The first had been forgoing a third contract with the Air Force, and instead, applying for the Reserves. It had been decided soon after his wife announced her pregnancy, but neither he nor his beautiful bride could anticipate the complications or ultimate loss of their baby. And Caleb certainly hadn’t anticipated her leaving him shortly thereafter.
Second Lieutenant Caleb Sharp couldn’t immediately return to active duty; he wasn’t sure he wanted to.
He passed a cluster of study tables, one of which was occupied by a pair of young boys surrounded by stacks of books. After offering them a smile and a nod, he intended to continue on his way. He stopped short, however, when one of the boys approached him.
“Hey, Mister—” When he hesitated, Caleb watched as he glanced to his name tag. “—Sharp. Do we put the books back ourselves, or…?”
Caleb’s smile grew. “I can take them for you.”
And Caleb was handed a stack of books on various military aircraft. The irony didn’t escape him. He added them to his cart and continued to the next shelf where books were to be placed.
In the quiet of the library, his thoughts roared. Organizing, shelving and cataloguing had become so ingrained over his months of employment that they were automatic tasks. It allowed him to think of other things, like the apartment that was much too big for him, the unassembled crib gathering dust in the closet, or how waking up to an empty bed still shocked him each morning. The library was slow enough for him to analyze just how his life had fallen apart.
In two weeks, his thoughts would fade beneath the roar of engines. Gearing up and checking controls, taking readings and preparing for takeoff would build anticipation that burned like fire. There was nothing quite like flying, nothing quite like finding and obliterating a target with perfect precision. Learning new weaponry, testing innovative new devices, protecting his country would keep him busy. The Air Force base would be loud enough to distract him from analyzing just how his life had fallen apart.
But at the end of the day, despite the stark difference between a falling book and a falling barrel, Captain Caleb Sharp would still return to an apartment that wasn’t home. He would still sleep in a cold bed, and would still have to face just how his life had fallen apart.