Today’s blog entry was written by Kathleen Corcoran, a local harpist, teacher, writer, editor, favorite auntie, and very reluctant washer of dishes.
This is an update/response to a post originally written on June 9, 2017. I’ve decided to take up Vivian’s challenge and run with it as far as my over-active imagination can take me! (Spoiler warning: I can run pretty far.)
The program is simple. Take an ordinary event and consider all the ways you could add tension, conflict, humor, surprise, etc. For example, house-sitting.
My brother and sister-in-law live across the street from me. It’s a bit like having an extra WiFi connection, couch, kitchen, and bathroom, complete with pet-sitters and random free food. On this particular occasion, I was looking after my extended house while my brother’s family was out of town.
Mid-morning, I piled all my dirty dishes into a box and went across the street to take advantage of the dishwasher. And feed the fish. And water the plants.
- What if
- The box fell apart or dropped, smashing dirty dishes all over the street?
- I forgot my key and had to jimmy open the window to climb in?
- A neighbor called the police about the shifty-looking woman in slippers wandering around the yard with a suspiciously clattering box?
My niece is six-going-on-seven and makes her presence known even when she isn’t home. Little rainbow shoes and fluffy coats were left by the door. Exquisitely rendered crayon portraits covered the refrigerator. Scattered markers and Legos and hair ribbons and books and dinosaurs and a million other bits of her massive personality dominated every room in the house.
- What if
- I replaced all her artwork on the refrigerator with finger paintings by another niece, just to see if anyone would notice?
- Paint, glue, juice boxes, etc. had spilled, making a big mess or possibly indicating that someone else had been in the house?
- I stepped on a lego, screamed in pain, dropped the box of dishes on my other foot, stumbled back, tripped over a plastic sword-wielding dinosaur, knocked over a bookcase, crashed into the fish tank, and fell to the floor in an unconscious heap while fishy water and inevitable glitter dripped on my head?
When I go out of town, my brother takes care of my dog and turtle. When he’s out of town with his family, I feed his fish. I think I’m definitely getting the better end of the deal. All I have to do is shake a few pellets into the tank.
- What if
- The fish were floating upside down and I had to decide whether to dispose of the bodies and hope no one noticed or to save the bodies for a shoebox funeral when my niece returned
- I knocked something in the tank and had to dive into the cold, salty water to save it, feeling fish and slimy water plants drift through my fingers?
- A leak had developed in the tank overnight, leaving puddles on the floor and flopping fishy bodies on the gravel at the bottom of the tank?
While the kitchen robot washed my dishes (I hate washing the dishes), I wandered around the house to check that everything looked as it should.
- What if
- Broken windows or missing/ disarranged valuables showed that someone had broken in?
- An animal of some kind had gotten in through an overlooked air vent and clawed furniture, released bodily fluids, shed fur, knocked everything over, and then left? What if it was still there?
- Embarrassing items of a personal nature had been left out?
- A strange and not altogether pleasant smell was coming from somewhere?
- The mail I brought in included an envelope marked “Past-Due” or “Cancer Test Results” or something else worrying?
- I replaced all of the energy drinks in the kitchen with decaf drinks in similar cans?
So many possibilities! No matter how comfortable I am with my brother’s family, being in someone else’s home always feels just a bit voyeuristic. There are some things I can reliably assume I won’t find in my brother’s house, but a stranger’s house might contain anything a whole world of insanity!
- Someone else in the house unexpectedly, maybe sleeping on the couch or looking through the refrigerator…?
- The remnants of something illegal halfheartedly hidden in a trashcan…?
- Poisonous plants to water very carefully without touching the leaves….?
- A coffee table made from the taxidermied bodies of deceased pets…?
- Burst pipes, smoking outlets, fires, or any other kind of disaster in progress…?
- Sexually explicit photos framed and hung on the bathroom wall…?
- A chandelier smashed on the floor with no clear reason why…?
Your assignment: Choose any mundane activity from today’s wealth—anything from doing laundry to going to the gym to hosting six for dinner—and take a few minutes to consider what if?