Last week at home, we ordered Chinese food twice, an unusual occurrence. I'm pretty much the only one who eats fortune cookies, so we had 8 of them. I looked at the pile of fortune cookies and thought "Well there's a writing prompt." I asked around with my coworkers, and somebody else brought me 3 more, so I'd have enough just in case.
There was a bit of hilarity when we got down to business at the workshop. I had the cookies in a Wal-Mart bag, and I went around, giving each person one. Then I said "This is your writing prompt. Use the fortune. Use the lucky numbers. Use the cookie itself, I don't care. Open 'em, eat 'em, whatever. Write for fifteen minutes." And we got down to business.
This was what I produced in those fifteen minutes. I'm sure I can turn it into something "real", and if and when I do, it will not resemble this much. This is how many of my drafts start (and remain, I guess, if I want to be brutal); a whole lot of telling, some symbolism if you know how to catch it, and I don't really know what the main point is just yet.
As was so often the case, he found himself at the race track. Oh, it was cleaned up a lot from what it had been twenty years ago, or even ten. Far less litter. Fewer ashtrays; in fact, there was no smoking on the entire premises, signs posted within sight of each other all over the place. There hadn't been a fire here, not that he'd heard about, but horse people were and would always be terrified of a barn fire. If they knew what was good for them.
He was wearing last night's suit, rumpled tie trailing from his pocket, but they let him in anyway. The ticket clerk was a blonde in her twenties, and had clearly been out late last night, some mascara feathered beneath her eyes, bottle of water and twisted single dose packet of aspirin on the counter in front of her. She looked at him incuriously, gave him a race ticket, and her attention had already moved to her phone, blue cased and flashing in her lap with a buzz like an angry insect. The kind of thing that could make a horse shy, for sure. It was early, hours before any races were going to start, the morning mist still hanging over the dirt track, burning off the stands. A couple of jockeys were doing exercise runs, two horses in collected canters going opposite directions, rippled muscle under satin skin softly gleaming.
He lounged on the rail in front of the grandstand and paged through the race ticket. He didn't know any of the jocks, at a glance, and went back through to see if he recognized any of the farms. There was one, always had descendants of Seattle Slew. He'd have to see the horses before he decided, of course. He bet on reds and blacks, the occasional grey, and that was it. His stomach announced its dubious presence, and he looked at the concession stand, still shuttered and locked. A Jamieson's at lunch would do him good, but lunch was hours away. He hadn't thought this through. Like so many things.
He rummaged in his coat pockets and came up with the usual detritus, pen caps, gas station receipts, a phone number written on a match book. A fortune cookie, and he didn't remember how that had gotten there, but it was the only thing resembling food he was likely to have unless he left the track. If he was going to place a bet, he never left the track. Superstition, sure, but who wasn't. He peeled open the cellophane and almost dropped it to the ground, then stuffed it into his pocket after his tie. He cracked the cookie open and stuck half into his mouth. Had he ever in his life had a fresh fortune cookie? It seemed like they were all made in China sixty years ago and shipped over in big red oil drums. He'd heard they didn't eat fortune cookies in China. He pulled out the fortune and chewed on the other half of the cookie. "Avoid taking unnecessary gambles," it said. He laughed, the sound booming off the empty stands, and one of the now-walking horses flicked an ear at him, whites showing around her eyes. A bay, not a horse he'd bet on. On the other side of the fortune, lucky numbers were 34, 35, 31, 53, 21, 25. He consulted the race ticket again; the Seattle Slew great great great grandkid was number 21. Maybe things were looking up.