As noted, in my writing group one peson comes up with a prompt and everyone in the group produces something based on the prompt. A few months ago, the prompt was a random page from Coriolanus (the end of Act I, Scene 1 as it turns out) and the suggestion to pick a bit of it and create some fiction. I chose the following lines and came up with the bit below.

‘Half all Cominius’ honours are to Marcius.
Though Marcius earned them not, and all his faults
To Marcius shall be honours, though indeed
In aught he merit not.’


Connor was lying on his stomach on the top bunk of the bed he shared with his brother Mark. The room was less of a mess than it could sometimes get because every afternoon Connor put his brother’s stuff away to keep anyone from tripping on it. Occasionally a toy car or a discarded sweatshirt would trip him in the middle of the night. How did his little brother manage to sleep through when he always had to get up and tiptoe to the bathroom? The house they lived in with their father and his new girlfriend was small enough that they had to share a room. They never had to share a room when they lived with mom and dad together, but now in this two bedroom house on the south side, they had to take every care. The house itself was clapboard and creaked enough in the wind that it was a wonder anyone could sleep an autumn night through in there. But the others managed to.

So Connor grabbed a quiet afternoon moment while Mark was at baseball practice and dad and his girlfriend were out shopping to read on the top bunk. He liked having the top bunk – it was warmer there when it got cold and closer to the rattling ceiling fan when it wasn’t. Good thing Mark didn’t mind the bottom bunk, Connor guessed. He’d hate to have to fight his little brother for the thing, especially because hours of batting practiced gave his brother a mean punch.

While it was quiet in the house, Connor could just sink into the comic books – especially if the toys were off the floor and all the clothes hung back on their rack. It didn’t matter whose clothes were on the floor, if dad’s girlfriend saw even one article or one toy out of place in their room, Connor got the blame. So before he could relax with a comic book, he had to make the room neat. He didn’t mind so much, except when there was blame to hand out.

“Like last week,” he told one of his friends, “All of my things were neat as a fucking pin. My books were all neat on their shelves, my socks were rolled tight, and the top bunk, where I’ve slept since we moved in to that place, was made.” Connor really knew better than to swear out loud, but he had to. He couldn’t spit out any anger at home at anything or he’d be lucky not to be sent to stand at attention in the back yard until dad or the girlfriend let him back in to the house. “Honestly, I’m supposed to make both beds now? What is wrong with him that he can’t make his own bed?”

“I don’t know, Conn, but you’re too close to home to be talking like that.” Connor and his buddy Brad were at the other end of the block and across the street, but close enough that if dad was sitting on the front porch looking at his paperwork, he might catch a word or two if the wind was right. That had happened, too. “Best get home. You know I always look forward to tales of your house, but if you don’t get to your homework, you might not have one to talk about.”

That was another thing. No matter how much he cleaned, how well he did on his tests, how hard he tried to keep out of everyone’s way, there was always the threat that they’d boot him out. The girlfriend, when she was upset (and when was she not?), always said something like “We can always just send you back to your mother. Oh right. She’s not really anywhere she can take care of you. Best fly right then, young man.” As if Connor needed any reminder that his mom had taken the fall for them. “Yes, ma’am,” was really all he could say. Any third word and she’d go off on another tear. And he didn’t dare look at his father in those moments. Dad was so ashamed of what would happen that when the subject of his ex-wife came up, his cheeks would burn and he wouldn’t look anybody in the eye until something innocuous came into the conversation. A minute’s silence might be enough that he could turn to Mark and talk about sports.

I hate sports,” Connor told Brad later. “Do you think that’s why she hates me? I don’t care about hoops or batting averages or which lineman ended up in intensive care this week. Is it wrong that I just want to read and do decently enough in school that I can get out of here?”

“Do you think,” his buddy always replied when Connor talked like this, “that it might be that you have ambitions to get out?”

“Ambitions. Big word that, my friend. I don’t think I’m allowed to use such big words. Shows I think above my station. Or something. The only one they think should be able to get out from under their roof is Mark. I swear, everything I do right, they give him credit for, and every god damn thing he does wrong they blame on me. Can you explain that too me, Brad? Can you find any reason they might not give me credit for any single thing I do. I study hard and do well on my history test – highest grade in the class on that one. Highest. Grade. In. The. Class. And they find something to praise Mark for. As if praise has to be meted out but they cannot bear to expend the efforts of their tongues to my benefit. So he doesn’t get credit for my grade, but they praise him for something.”

“I can’t explain it any better this week than I could last, Conn. I count my blessings when I split for my own home, though. My mom always wishes we could adopt you when I tell her about that harpie.”

Once again they were close to Connor’s house and he had to hush his friend. “Don’t let my dad hear you talk like that. I’ll never get free of the house again.”

“Sorry, mate. I’ll watch it too. Take care.

So while Connor was lying on his stomach on the top bunk reading his comics, a howl came from downstairs.

“Connor August Reynolds, get yourself down here right now.” It was the girlfriend. As he stretched himself out, Connor asked himself what he could have missed. The dishes were done, the dog’s water bowl was full, he’d vacuumed the living room. “I’m in the kitchen, Connor. Where are you?”

“I’m on my way, ma’am.” Dad’s girlfriend had never been married and was maybe 35, but Connor had never figured out a better way to address her. Her given name would never have done. He could imagine getting one of those whithering praying mantis looks she gave his father sometimes if he ever called her Caroline. Or Miss Harvey. So ma’am it was.

“There were two packages of cherry tomatoes in here I was going to use for dinner. What have you done with them? Did you snack on them in your room? I tell you over and over again not to eat in your room.”

“I’m sorry ma’am. I didn’t touch them. I don’t eat in my room.”

“Don’t talk back to me. You might be able to get away with that with your father, but not under my roof you won’t. Not with me, young man. Where are my tomatoes?”

That was the crux of it. The house was hers. No matter how cramped it might be with four of them living under that roof, it was paid for with her hard-earned money, and they were an inconvenience at best. So anything they did, any word they uttered was really at her sufferance. What could Connor do?

“I’m sorry ma’am. I didn’t touch the tomatoes. You know I always ask before I eat anything.” That was a risk, Connor, he thought to himself. Sean would give him the what for too for letting his tongue slip like thatTelling her what she should know. There was no getting out of it, now that he’d let the words slip out. No getting away from Caroline Harvey’s punishment.

The reasoning always varied. This week, missing tomatoes might be one thing everything else depended on, next week it would be leaving clothes in the dryer more than five minutes after the drum stopped spinning. But at least once a week he got it. “You know, Sean, it’s not even as though she administers it. She tells me where she wants me to stand and then tells my father I’ve done something horrible. Like eat a tomato. What am I supposed to do.

“Go to the corner, Connor. I’ll have your father deal with you when he gets home. Is it too much to ask that you have even half the grace the good lord gave your brother.” Connor always tried to turn away before she started talking about Mark. She got this faraway look in her face whenever she mentioned him, and sometimes when he was right across from her at the table. “It creeps me out and I don’t want to think about why.” “I have a good idea why, mate, and I don’t want to think about it either. So Connor and his mate Sean had a pact not to talk about why Caroline Harvey’s faraway looks creeped them out..

Connor was 13 and a half and his brother Mark was twelve, but a big twelve. Some uncle was built of bricks and Mark got all those genes. Even though Connor was older, he was slim and couldn’t put on a muscle to win a bet.