The Project contest entry

Here’s my third and final entry for the Build Creative Writing Ideas 1,000 Prompts, 1,000 Dollars writing contest.  I venture into historical fiction with this entry.

The Project

Julie Gilbert

“Two gallons of lemon flavoring,” Lyle said, reading the front of the carton.  “These fancy scientists can’t do any work without their lemon flavoring, huh?”

Annie suppressed a giggle as her mother snapped at them from the storeroom.

“We stock what they send us.  No questions.”

“But still, you gotta admit the food was better before they showed up,” Lyle said, nodding at the door of the commissary.  From the street outside came the constant pulse and shudder of hasty construction, dormitories thrown up before the next round of recruits stumbled off the bus at the edge of the mesa.

“The company was better, too,” Annie murmured as the doors burst open and a gaggle of freshly-scrubbed soldiers entered, followed by a group of women in pressed uniforms.  Annie would never admit it, but she secretly admired the women with their crisp hair and polished lips.  She daydreamed sometimes about enlisting in the Women’s Army Corps but her mother would never allow it, even if she were old enough.

“Well, Little Miss Annie, did you just say something negative about our boys in uniform?” Lyle asked, a trifle too loud.

“Hush,” Annie said, flushing.  She muttered a curt hello to the new customers and hurried across the concrete floor to stand behind the register.

“Watch this, Bob!” one of the soldiers called, holding up three heads of wilted lettuce.  He proceeded to juggle them, casting furtive looks at the women, but they ignored him, even after the lettuce slipped from his fingers and landed with a dull squelch.

“Imagine, they think this place is a home for pregnant WACs,” one of the women exclaimed.  Her friends laughed, running newly-manicured fingers over rows of unmarked cans.

“What’s worse?  That or the truth?” Lyle muttered.

“You don’t know the truth,” Annie said.

“C’mon.  Something’s going on,” Lyle persisted, tugging at her elbow.

“You’ve heard the rumors just like I have.  Something big is happening.  I’m going to find out what it is.”

“Lyle, don’t,” Annie protested.

“Mr. Arsenault, back again,” a reedy voice interrupted.  Lyle dropped Annie’s arm and stepped out from behind the counter.  “Surely the kitchen must be missing you,” the man said, his eyes narrow behind his glasses.

“I’m working the dinner shift tonight.  Sir.”

“He was just leaving, Mr. Hilligoss,” Annie said, hoping to placate the assistant manager.

Mr. Hilligoss crossed his arms over his thin chest and pursed his lips.  “Miss Lopez, I’ve told you time and time again that you are not to fraternize when you are on duty.  Have I made myself clear?”

Annie was spared from answering by a groan emanating from the meat counter.

“Out of steak already?”

“And there’s only one chicken left!”

“Ladies, please,” Mr. Hilligoss called, hurrying to placate the group of housewives standing at the meat counter.  “We’re expecting a shipment of meat tomorrow.  Remember, we all have to do our part for the war effort.”

“Does doing my part include paying thirty cents for a dozen oranges?”

“Serves him right,” Lyle said as Mr. Hilligoss’ voice was drowned out by complaints.

“You should go.  I’m in enough trouble as it is,” Annie said, glancing at the door of the storeroom, where her mother stood scowling at them.

Annie tapped the fingers of her right hand over her heart.

“Why do you do that?” Lyle asked, his shoulder rubbing against hers.

“Do what?” she asked, stepping away.

“That thing you just did, tapping your fingers against your chest.  You do that when you’re upset.”

“Oh.  It’s something my dad used to do.  I started doing it after he died, I guess.”

The sound of bickering housewives and rowdy soldiers faded away as the same uncomfortable silence rose between them like it did whenever Annie mentioned her father.

“Why did he do it, then?” Lyle asked, his voice rusty.

“He thought it would keep the ghosts away.”

“Did it work?”

Annie’s fingers hovered over the cash register buttons.  Lyle wasn’t going to leave until she gave him an answer.  So she told him the truth.

“No.”

Word count: 677

For this piece, I was inspired by the fifth prompt on the Memory page.  Once again, read more about the Build Creative Writing Ideas contest (and get 1,000 free prompts!) here.

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