Everybody has a backstory. I know because I dole them out for a living. I borrow pieces of lives from people I know and combine them with kernels from my mind to make characters for my stories. My current story, “Half Baked,” is about a man named Charles who left his wife and kids to pursue his dream of becoming a pastry chef in Paris. It’s loosely based on my roommate Marty, who left his wife and kids because he’s selfish as hell.
Charles owes his most annoying habit to Marty. Every morning Marty sits up in bed, hacks loudly four times, yells out “God Almighty,” rolls over and goes back to sleep. In my story, Charles’ hacking habit is the result of a childhood bout of tuberculosis he’s convinced himself he’s never been completely cured of. I knew the hacking was just a way for Marty to annoy me. He recently took up this habit at night in addition to the morning. He waits until he hears I’m asleep, then lets his throaty cough fly. This nightly chorus coincided with his finding a draft of Charles’ story on my bed tray when I was on an extended trip to the john. To even the score, the next day I gave Charles Marty’s incontinence problem.
Despite my best efforts, Marty found my story again and finger painted the word “bullshit” across the first page with chocolate pudding. I don’t have to tell you what that looked like. In return, I made my final edit. I red-lined the name Charles and replaced it with Marty. In ink.
Nurse Maggie comes into my room. “Edgar, put your notebook away. It’s time for lunch.” I ask her why a lovely girl like her is working at this last rest stop before death. Doesn’t she find it depressing? She says caring for us gives her joy and then I stop listening because the pitch of her voice tells me she’s sincere and I know she isn’t going to give me any material to work with.
I wheel myself down to the cafeteria, the stench of longevity and medications chasing me all the way. I spot Alice across the room, soup dribbling down her chin and onto her orange sweatshirt that has a ghost peering out from behind a jack-o-lantern yelling “BOO!” It’s April.
My next story is already taking shape in my mind.
Cindy Mundahl is a writer based in Minnesota, USA. Her work has previously appeared in “1000 Words,” “The Bookends Review” and “Mothers Always Write.”