Find more of my work at


Receive notifications when this site is updated:

Subscribe by e‑mail.

Subscribe by RSS.

List of categories

50/50 Fall 2008, Exercise #9: Reaching

The boy saw his youngest sister reaching for the handle. The pot of soup was threatening to boil over on the front burner of the stove. His mother had told him a thousand times, “You must always turn the handle away from the edge, because otherwise your little sisters will try to grab them, and then they’ll spill hot stuff all over themselves. So it is very important for you to turn the handle the right way.” It was only decades later that he thought about how much responsibility that was to place on the shoulders of an 11-year-old boy, even if he was tall enough to use the stove, and responsible enough to be trusted with cooking for the family, and handy enough in the kitchen not just to open up and prepare canned soups, but also to cook some simple recipes. So he was always very careful to keep the pot handles parallel to the edge of the stove when he stood cooking in front of it, and to turn them another forty-five degrees away from the edge if he ever had to step away from the stove—but never for more than a moment.

But the babysitter was not as careful, even though she was 17 and should have known better, so sometimes he had to be careful for her, turning the handles to a safe position when she stepped away to answer the phone and to have long, giggling conversations with her boyfriend or one of her girlfriends from school about boys and songs on the radio and hair and makeup and teachers. But this time he was not watching, he was in the family room in front of the television, and he wasn’t supposed to have to take care of his sisters, that’s what the babysitter was for, but even though he was mostly paying attention to an episode of Star Trek that he’d seen seven or eight times already, in the back of his mind he knew that something wasn’t right, and he could smell the canned beef stew cooking, and he could hear it bubbling on the stove, and then in a moment he was seized by the vision of his youngest sister, the one who had recently become very curious about the universe of things above her head, and he could see her standing in front of the stove and looking up at the rattling pot and wondering what to make of the bubbles of stew starting to splash over the edge of the pot, and he could see her reaching for the handle, and he could see her pulling the boiling liquid over, spilling it on her face and neck and arms and screaming with pain and fear while the babysitter stood transfixed in shock or panic or disbelief, so he jumped up from the carpeted floor and ran into the kitchen and turned the handle on the pot away from the edge, and then he stormed into the hall, grabbed the phone out of the hand of the surprised babysitter, slammed it down on the receiver, and stood rooted to the floor in front of her, his face red with rage, angry tears streaming down his face.

Note: The prompt for this exercise was to write a text that “starts with someone reaching for something.” I had a lot of trouble with this one, maybe because it was the next one up when Hurricane Ike came along, so I tried several false starts at moments when focus was somewhat lacking. I finally cranked out this mostly stream-of-consciousness piece to get past the roadblock.

© 2008 Edward F. Gumnick

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


Subscribe without commenting