34 comments

American Contemporary Funny

It’s so tempting not to take the call. I've just sat down to enjoy a rare moment of solitude. The twins are watching cartoons in the basement. The scent of freshly perked coffee beckons. Sunlight is pouring in through the back door. If this was a Disney movie, birds would be singing on my shoulder.

 

I am easing my entire being into this puddle of serenity when the ominous “duh da…duh da…” of the Jaws soundtrack pulses from my phone. Kathy. She has issues. She will need to explain her issues. In depth. I desperately want to ignore her.


But you can’t leave a friend hanging.

 

I swipe to answer.

 

“CupKate! It’s about time!”

 

“Kath, quit calling me that.”

 

“What?”

 

She knows perfectly well what. “CupKate.”

 

“Cupcakes?” The twins appear, drawn by the gravitational force of their mother’s attention on something other than them. Let alone the word “Cupcakes.” Their eyes are like sweet seeking missiles darting about the kitchen. Where there are no cupcakes.

 

“Hang on.” I open the back door, inviting them to enjoy the great outdoors.

 

“You’ve been CupKate forever.”

 

“Kath, you are 34 for crying out loud. Call me Kate like a grown up.”

 

“How come you said there were cupcakes?”

 

“I didn’t, goobers. I’m on the phone.”

 

“Don’t be such a grouch, Kate. Anyway, I have to tell you about what just happened.”

 

“Are you ordering cupcakes?” Lizzie’s tone is hopeful.

 

“Like pizza?” Leo asks. Their expressions indicating they see the economic potential of bakery delivery.

 

“Guys, no cupcakes. I’m on the phone.” I point to it since my words have not been sufficiently clear.

 

“So, my washing machine broke down…”

 

“Out,” I mouth to the twins.

 

“But we’re bored.”

 

“Boring,” I sing, my standard response to this particular complaint.

 

“Thanks a lot. Jeez.”

 

“Not you Kath. Seriously, goobers. Out.” I add shooing gestures to my repertoire.

 

They trundle through the door as though being sent to the mines.

 

I realize I’ve missed the prologue to Kathy’s tale of woe, which is currently “…at the laundromat, you know the one on Whitmer St.? The people who hang out there are so disgusting. I had to swab with sani-wipes before I could even think about using the machines. Anyway, I’m waiting for the dryer and this guy walks in talking to himself, and I’m scared out of my wits. I mean what is he going to do?”

 

“Probably his laundry.”

 

“He didn’t have any, though he could have used sticking himself into a washing machine. I figured he could be dangerous, so I have Jesse on speed dial.”

 

“And Jesse’s supposed to drop everything and come to your rescue?”

 

“Look, that’s not the point. The homeless guy sits on a machine and starts arguing with his imaginary friend.”

 

“We don’t have anything to do!” Twin faces are pressed against the door, the screen waffling both noses.

 

“So, what am I supposed to do?” Kathy asks rhetorically.

 

“Don’t make such a big deal out of everything for starters.”

 

“Easy for you to say.” Kathy has somehow managed to imply I don’t have anything in my life to make a big deal out of in the first place.

 

“But we’re bored!”

 

“Use your imaginations. Make something, build something!” I exhort.

 

The twins look at me like I have suggested they invent the wheel.

 

“What do you mean?” Leo asks.

 

“I mean with your own hands. Be creative. Sorry, Kath. You were saying?”

 

“Well, I gather my laundry up. I mean, I’m not staying there listening to this looney tunes.”

 

“Looney tunes?” I circle my hand around to indicate that somewhere in our comfortable home there must be something for two 10-year-olds to do.

 

“Well, he was,” Kath says.

 

“Looney tunes?” twin voices parrot. Then their heads pivot towards each other, and some silent communication transpires that sends them racing for the garage.

 

Kathy is in mid-stream again. It seems the man followed her out to the parking lot. “So, he’s telling me the phone is going to scramble my brain like eggs and I will die, like right away, if I keep it pressed to my head like that.”

 

I’m wondering if that could be an excuse to get off the phone – brain cancer! – but before I can point out the homeless man’s wisdom, I feel a tug on my sleeve.

 

“Can we use the boxes in the garage?”

 

“The ones in the recycling, yes.”

 

“The next thing I know, he is tearing the phone out of my hand! Can you believe it?”

 

I “hmm,” because I would like to tear the phone out of her hand myself, and I’ve got my head half in the freezer to find the roast for defrosting.

 

“Are you listening?”

 

I am. It sounds like the kids are beating the boxes all to hell, but whatever keeps them occupied. “Totally,” I assure Kathy. “He tore the phone out of your hand. Then what happened?” Surely there is a point to this meandering anecdote.

 

“Well, he shouted into it. Something like, ‘Get thee gone Satan!’”

 

“Get thee gone Satan?”

 

“That’s not very nice,” Leo says at my elbow. “I just wanted to know if we could use the paint in the garage.”

 

“Yes,” I say to him, thinking we had those craft paints for three years and no one touched them, but as soon as I put them in the garbage, they have the allure of the one ring. Should that be capitalized? The One Ring?

 

“Yes,” Kath says to me. “Can you believe it? My phone. In his hand, which who knows where that’s been! He starts running down the road toward the convenience store. I forget what it’s called.”

 

“Long story short, Kath.” Her therapist has suggested this mantra to help her keep the narrative focus.

 

“Can we make peanut butter sandwiches?”

 

“Sure thing,” I tell the twins.

 

“Right,” she says and draws breath. “I literally chase him around the convenience store, and I’m wearing those heels, you know the ones I got on the Cape…”

 

Oh, for God’s sake, I think. I so should not have answered the phone. Now, there’s some kind of culinary disaster brewing on the counter. Leo is doing something with the flour bin for some reason while Lizzie is applying jam to the sandwiches by artfully channeling Jackson Pollock.

 

“So then he throws my phone in the dumpster and walks away screaming. But now my phone is ringing.”

 

“You mean now?”

 

“No. Then. In the dumpster. And I know it’s going to be Jesse wondering if I’m OK and if I don’t answer it, he’s going to be frantic.”

 

“Well, he would be since you two are joined at the cellular hip, so to speak.”

 

“Thanks, mom,” the twins call out, waving their sandwiches through the door.

 

“Thanks, CupKate,” Kath says frostily.

 

“You’re welcome!” I shout out the back door.

 

“Sarcasm, Kate, sarcasm.”

 

“I know. I was talking to the kids. Manners are important in our household.” I mop up the stray flour, wondering how that factored into the sandwiches.

 

“Well, mine too. And if you’re on the phone with someone you should at least act interested.”

 

“I am. Your phone was in the dumpster ringing.”

 

There’s a miffed silence. “Right.”

 

“So, what did you do?”

 

“I didn’t do anything!” Leo yells. “She started it.”

 

Oh shit, now what? I turn to see the twins are on the back steps engaged in a slap fest with the sandwiches. I smack the door frame menacingly.

 

“I, you know, got it out.” Kath’s voice is a little smaller than usual. Less like she’s trying to broadcast her news to the entire world.

 

“Get out!” I yelp at her.

 

“We are out,” the twins yell back at me.

 

“Really. I had to, you know, climb up on the rim and fish it out with my ice scraper.”

 

“That’s disgusting.” I guess at this point, I’m speaking to both the twins and Kathy.

 

“Tell me about it.”

 

“Use the hose to clean up. You are not coming in here like that.”

 

“I could have used a hose. I only had that dinky bottle of hand sanitizer in the car so there I am wiping down the phone and my hands and the phone slips out of my grasp and falls under the truck parked next to mine.”

 

I can hear hose activity outside, punctuated by Leo yelling, “Do it again!” and “Faster!” both of which set off alarm bells in my head.

 

“What are you guys doing?” I holler out the back door. Into the phone I yell, “So what did you do?”

 

“You don’t have to shout.”

 

“Sorry. I got my signals crossed. I think I need to let you go, Kath. The kids are up to something.”

 

“I haven’t gotten to the best part, yet.” Of course she hasn’t, because she thinks she’s freaking Homer and every snapshot of existence must be rendered as an epic.

 

I head out the back door, but the kids, both soaking wet, have turned off the hose and are coiling it up. There do not appear to be any casualties besides a pile of soggy boxes with the word ‘Acme’ scrawled on them. I head back into the kitchen to reheat my coffee.

 

“So, I’m on my hands and knees and I’m fishing around under the truck with the ice scraper, and my hind end is up in the air waggling around…”

 

She stops talking right when the image she has conjured captures my interest.

 

The cessation of noise, both from the phone and the back yard, catches me off guard. I look out the window and see Leo on the top of the slide. Lizzie is flat on her back under it taking a picture of him. Okay, whatever.

 

“Then the guy who owns the truck comes out and, hoo baby.”

 

“Hoo baby what?”

 

“Hot. Seriously hot.”

 

“You said all the people at the laundromat were, and I quote, ‘disgusting’.”

 

“Well, I’m glad to see you were paying attention. Obviously, I was wrong. The thing is, he starts coming on to me.”

 

“I am supposed to believe that some hot guy found you groveling under his truck in a laundromat parking lot, and he came onto you? After you had just been fishing in a dumpster for your phone?”

 

“Oh, very complimentary.”

 

“Kath, get a grip. What did he say?”

 

“He said I was stupid.” Lizzie is waving the phone as she barges through the door, presumably brandishing photographic evidence of Leo’s breach of etiquette.

 

“Leo! What did you tell your sister?”

 

“What’s a cute babe like you doing under my car?”

 

I am momentarily flummoxed by conflicting information.

 

“Hold on Kath. Leo, over here. Now.”

 

Leo approaches, preparing his defense. “I said she was being stupid.”

 

Ahh, yes. The word ‘being’ as opposed to ‘are’ a significant distinction in kid-world legal argumentation.

 

“Lizzie, you’re being stupid,” Lizzie’s phone echoes, proof of the veracity of Leo’s claims.

 

“She isn’t getting the best camera angles,” Leo adds to further bolster his case.

 

“He’s not the director. I am. He said he had to be the roadrunner. So it’s my decision.”

 

“Is that true?”

 

Leo sucks in his breath before heaving it out in an admission that these job designations are accurate.

 

“In which case, Lizzie gets to direct and you get to roadrun.”

 

They accept my verdict and turn back to the slide.

 

“Sorry Kath.” I try to remember the alleged pick-up line hoo-boy-hot-man had bestowed upon Kathy who is an average looking woman approaching middle age with no particular panache. It comes to me. “Cute babe.”

 

“Well, he was very insinuative. He said, “’Looks like you could use a hand with that.’” Then she begins to mumble.

 

“What’s that?”

 

“The phone was on. You know. Jesse’s call.”

 

“Wait, what?”

 

“Yeah, when I was sanitizing, I must have answered it, and the whole time I was trying to fish it out from under the truck, I was swearing, and Jesse could hear me and you know how he feels about me swearing, and then he hears this man being kind of…insinuative…”

 

I realize we have come to the real heart of the story. Which is when Leo jumps off the slide and lands on Lizzie.

 

“Holy shit!”

 

“No kidding, right?”

 

I drop the phone and race over in time to see Leo tumble over to one side and they both start screaming with laughter. Leo is yelling, “Did you get it?” Lizzie’s peering into the monitor shouting, “Yes! Yes!” I swear to God, motherhood is going to kill me.

 

“What are you doing?” I manage to wheeze out between heart palpitations.

 

“Something,” they say in unison. “Like you told us.”

 

“Fighting, obviously,” Kathy answers from the grass. She launches into a recitation of the inevitable altercation with Jesse, so I don’t think I am missing anything, but I pick up the phone and let her talk into my hand while I address the kids.

 

“When do I get to find out what the ‘something’ is?”

 

“Soon. Go back inside and we’ll show you in a little bit.” Lizzie waves me toward the back door.

 

“No. I think I should know what’s going on here.”

 

“We’re being creative. We’re filming.” Lizzie points to her phone.

 

When I don’t move, other than to tuck the phone into my pocket because Kath’s recitation is getting overly colorful and may not be for all audiences, Lizzie makes shooing motions at me. “In,” she says.

 

I’m not loving the overall tone here and am on the verge of a “Who do you think you are talking to young lady?” comeback when the familiarity of it all strikes me.

 

She’s doing a fair mom impersonation, putting me in the unenviable position of not being able to maintain the higher ground if I criticize her. Instead, I figure I can spy on them from the kitchen window so head back in as directed. I hear Leo say, “Now for the explosion,” just as the door slams on my butt. I book it over to the window.

 

Kathy’s misadventures have continued from inside my pocket. I pull the phone out and grunt into it occasionally as I maintain my surveillance.

 

The kids, no doubt savvy to my covert operations, are out of sight over by the garage. All is suspiciously quiet. I’m trying to decide if that is a good thing or a bad thing when Leo reappears, crosses the yard, turns around and yells, “Ready?” and then runs hell bent for leather straight at the garage and out of my sight. A cloud of white powder billows across the soaking grass. I hear shouts of victory. This is immediately followed by a car door slamming.

 

Kathy’s litany of grievances is a mosquito whining in my hand. “…I mean he was just so angry, and you know how upset that makes me. I don’t know why he’s so suspicious of me all the time.”

 

“Probably because you actually get excited when some stranger calls you a cute babe in a laundromat,” I think. Only I guess I say it out loud because she starts swearing, but it’s not as loud as the swearing coming from the garage. Damian appears, striding across the back yard, still in his work clothes, with a face several shades redder than is generally healthful in adult males.

 

“Do you know what the kids have done?”

 

“Do you know how insulting that is?” asks the phone.

 

“Sort of?”

 

“Sort of?” This comes from both my phone and husband.

 

“Leo! Lizzie!” Damian bellows.

 

They round the corner. The entire front of Leo’s body is black: face, clothes, knees, outstretched palms. He looks like a burnt gingerbread man. Conversely, Lizzie is covered in white powder which is thickening on her wet shirt.

 

“Kath, I have a problem.”

 

“You have a problem? Jesse is in a snit, and we had been planning a romantic dinner tonight, to, you know, rekindle a little romance.”

 

By the looks of Damian’s face, there will be no romance rekindling in our house anytime soon if I don’t hang up on her. Conflagration might be kindled. Romance, not so much.

 

“Good luck with that,” I say and hang up.

 

“They painted a black hole on the side of the garage. With asphalt paint.” Damian is enunciating a little too crisply. It sounds like someone throwing pebbles at concrete one at a time. “And then your son ran straight into it.”

 

Lizzie lays down, she’s laughing so hard. Leo is waving his arms around like the champion of the world.

 

I start assembling the pieces of the past forty-five minutes. The evidence if you will. The blackened child. The white powder, presumably flour. The sandwiches. The crushed boxes near the swings. The argument about camera angles. I am close to cracking the case when Damian croaks, “Were you on the phone the whole time this was going on?”

 

I draw on my dignity as a mother who has not had ten minutes to herself in as many years but is still supposed to be sane. “Yes, I was,” I answer a bit stiffly. “And I was giving the kids the leeway to explore their creativity. Which they did.”

 

“But you don’t even know what’s going on!”

 

“Of course I do.” I grin at the kids. “They were filming episodes of Looney Tunes “The Roadrunner,” starring Leo, who was lured off a cliff with sandwiches to smash into boxes of Acme product, and then ran away straight into a tunnel, with the enviable success we see here.” I wave a hand at his blackened exterior. “Though I thought they were using craft paint,” I add pointedly. “Cinematography credits go to Lizzie. There will be a viewing this evening after dinner.”

 

I turn on my heels. I can warm up my coffee for the third time while I do a search on how to strip asphalt paint from a child.

 







June 19, 2023 21:31

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34 comments

Lily Finch
22:10 Jun 21, 2023

Laurel, as a mother I appreciate the capturing so well of what we do and still stay sane. As for the stories they were both well represented. The girlfriend who loves to gab who doesn't have kids. So realistic. LF6

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Laurel Hanson
20:08 Jun 23, 2023

Thank-you Lily. Expressing what motherhood is truly like is quite difficult. Cheers.

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Lily Finch
21:01 Jun 23, 2023

You can say that again! LF6

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Marty B
04:30 Jun 21, 2023

You were able to keep me engaged in both situations simultaneously! I loved it and so true (the kids anyway, the dumpster disaster I haven't personally experienced ;) !)

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Laurel Hanson
09:31 Jun 21, 2023

Thank-you!

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Michał Przywara
20:37 Jun 20, 2023

Ha! Terrific :) Definitely captures the kind of scattered attention multi-tasking leads to, but of course it gets funny too because of the constant crossed signals. "sweet seeking missiles" :) Some good sleuthing at the end - indeed, I also wondered why they needed flour for sandwiches :) - and while the story is on the silly side, it's also entirely believable. Very fun, thanks for sharing! And it's nice seeing a new story from you, Laurel :)

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Laurel Hanson
09:35 Jun 21, 2023

Appreciated. I can't always access the internet (well, electricity), so I've been missing a bunch of prompts and your stories for which I apologize. I am in awe of the consistency of your output. Every week, no matter what the prompt, you are on it with such variety of style and ingenuity. My hat goes off to you weekly.

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Mary Bendickson
15:36 Jun 20, 2023

Precious,precious, precious. Has Motherhood written all over it. Perfect application of prompt. Little confusing having friend Kath and Mom Kate. Kept getting them mixed. Which was purposeful I am sure. Just as mixed up as the action. Still Mom knew what was happening. Never having ten minutes to herself... Otherwise genius all the way! Na, leave it as is. It works 'cause, like I said, adds to the mix.

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Laurel Hanson
16:11 Jun 20, 2023

Hmmm....good point. I should have thought that through a little better. Might be worth fixing but I have to disappear from the grid again so I may not have time. I appreciate feedback like this, in any case. Thanks!

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Delbert Griffith
15:26 Jun 20, 2023

Holy shit, this is good! Being off the grid agrees with you, Laurel. LOL This tale rings so true for any parent (especially mothers) who deal with kids and anything else going on at the same time. There MUST be some real experience behind this story. I love the adventuresome kids, and I really want to like the friend. On paper, she's fantastic, but in real life - I think I wouldn't like her. Riveting tale, my friend. It deserves a shortlist, certainly. Cheers!

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Laurel Hanson
16:09 Jun 20, 2023

Thank-you kindly. I respect your opinions and yes, this comes from experience with respect to the children. Not the friend. Mostly I liked the challenge of the prompt. Appreciate your kind words.

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Michelle Oliver
12:19 Jun 20, 2023

Oh my gosh this is motherhood! The way the two conversations kept intertwining was masterful. The whole piece had a chaotic vibe that made me really feel for Kate. I love the ending.

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Laurel Hanson
12:59 Jun 20, 2023

Thank-you and thanks for reading. I only had yesterday to write it and will be gone again for awhile but I really felt I needed to get my hand back into at least attempting some output.

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Helen A Smith
21:27 Jun 28, 2023

You cleverly and humorously draw a contrast here between two friends. One who has kids and one who doesn’t. They live in completely different worlds. You made the telling of it entertaining. She definitely shouldn’t have answered that phone!

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Laurel Hanson
09:58 Jun 29, 2023

Thank-you.

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Russell Mickler
05:07 Jun 27, 2023

Hi Laurel! Okay, I've had two horrors in a row, I'm ready for funny - shoot! Fresh coffee? Fantastic. I like CupKate, that's rather funny. The word "trundle" - lovely! I liked the evidence accumulation at the end. I think your description of the twins' behavior and ADHD is very relatable to a parent, a mom in particular, I'd imagine. A welcome respite ... R

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Laurel Hanson
11:50 Jun 27, 2023

Thanks!

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Zack Powell
21:35 Jun 25, 2023

This is a hoot, Laurel! What a great approach to the prompt. I figured a lot of the interlapping conversation stories would be a little messy, a little tough to get straight and tell who's saying what and when. Thankfully, this story was set up in a fun way that made the narrative (and this woman's growing exasperation) easy to follow. I'm not a parent, but I assume this is definitely what it's like having to juggle kids and a personal life all at once. Jeez Louise. This read so realistically too. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that this is...

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Laurel Hanson
22:16 Jun 25, 2023

Aww! Very kind words and from such a stellar writer. I appreciate your feedback from a non-parent, as it is hard to know how this might read from that perspective. I am glad if it seemed realistic. Thankfully, I do not have friends like this one, but the kids (and grandkids), yes. In fact, two days after submitting this one, I caught two of them filming a sequence from The Little Mermaid. It was hilarious. I've been sitting out for a bit, as I think you have as well. Just have to recharge sometimes, but I value the discipline of attempting ...

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L J
20:36 Jun 25, 2023

Loved it ! You nailed it and it was adorable! Congrats! Can't wait to read more!

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Laurel Hanson
22:10 Jun 25, 2023

Thank-you! Much appreciated.

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Wally Schmidt
03:33 Jun 21, 2023

When I saw this prompt I thought only a truly clever person will attempt this- and you did and I'm so glad. Everything about the story and the structure ring true. While you may have those kids, I have that friend and keeping a conversation alive while attending to life on the other end is no mean feat. These lines rang especially true for me, but the whole scene played out vividly: "They trundle through the door as though being sent to the mines." “I haven’t gotten to the best part, yet.” Of course she hasn’t, because she thinks she’s f...

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Laurel Hanson
09:31 Jun 21, 2023

Thank-you so much! I appreciate your thoughtful response here. I took one look at that prompt and thought, "No way," and then I thought I just had to see if I could make it work. Glad you liked it. Cheers

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S Fevre
06:42 Aug 29, 2023

Very original and creative, I loved the looney tunes ending :-)

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Laurel Hanson
12:01 Sep 01, 2023

Thank-you so much!

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Amanda Lieser
14:36 Jul 15, 2023

Ho Laurel, This story is hilarious! I have absolutely been the other person on the end of the phone call and I have certainly had my moments of frustration with my friends when they have little ones that they’re trying to parent while we’re trying to have an adult conversation. I think you approached the prompt beautifully, and I appreciate that you provided plenty of space in between each paragraph because it definitely helped me navigate the story better. This was a great piece and incredibly imaginative. I hope it all works out for everyo...

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Sravya Lekha
14:39 Jun 30, 2023

"I draw on my dignity as a mother who has not had ten minutes to herself in as many years but is still supposed to be sane." You somehow perfectly captured how moms are expected to have a perfect handle on everything but are never given the grace to be distracted even once. This was a treat to read and I was surprised how quickly I grew to like each of the characters (even Kathy)! You can really feel that Kate's annoyance with each of the characters comes from a place of genuine love. Really enjoyed your interpretation of the prompt as o...

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Laurel Hanson
18:33 Jun 30, 2023

Many thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.

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Chris Miller
14:13 Jun 26, 2023

Very enjoyable read. Having a conversation about multiple separate conversations while another conversation is happening simoltaneously, combined with the antics of the twins, builds up a lovely domestic farce situation. Fun stuff, well done. Thanks for sharing.

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Matt Wallace
16:49 Jun 24, 2023

This is such an amazing way to tackle this prompt! You tackle the conflict between motherhood and friendship and do it in such a believable manner. I swear I know these people in real life. Beautifully written!

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Laurel Hanson
19:19 Jun 24, 2023

Thank-you so much!

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J. D. Lair
20:01 Jun 22, 2023

So, this is what I have to look forward to as a father of young twins. 😂 Well done responding to the prompt. The multitasking with a phone call and trying to keep an eye on the kids was a great idea. Good luck this week!

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Laurel Hanson
20:10 Jun 23, 2023

Thank-you. And twins! Holy cow! Full disclosure: I don't have twins, but do have kids so hopefully I am not misrepresenting your up and coming experience. Best of luck!

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J. D. Lair
23:22 Jun 23, 2023

Not at all! They are siblings just like any other as far as playing together and also getting on each other’s nerves lol. Only difference I have noticed so far is they are both figuring out the phases of life at the same time, instead of the elder being able to show them the ropes. :)

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