Things to Do
Updated: Apr 27, 2019
This is a funny one: in my first year at film school I decided to adapt one of my short stories that I wrote in 2007 into a screenplay. I remembered having the story ready for adaptation, and the screenplay went through a couple of draft, but nothing was made out of it.
Thinking this would be a good short story for the blog, I looked for it in my stories folder on my computer, and to my surprise I actually found that back in 2007, I wrote only the first paragraph.
I did remember vividly that while I was writing the script I had the full story for it, so apparently I had everything in my head, but never got it on paper.
So here is a completely fresh and new short story, based on a script I wrote, based on an idea for a short story...
Things to Do
By Oded Naaman
She was sitting in front of him, waiting for his reaction. Caroline felt like a sixteen years old again, coming back in the middle of the night, getting caught sneaking in. The expression on his face was the same as those times – harsh and motionless. Even the position of their bodies – his on the big old chair he brought with him when he moved to America and hers on the same dusty couch from her childhood.
Why she felt this way, she didn’t understand. These were good news she brought to him. Or so Caroline thought.
“Say something Dad.” She begged.
He said nothing, and instead he picked up his cup of tea and took a long and loud sip.
“I just told you Eric proposed. And you say nothing.” She decided to be angry. She walked on eggshells around him since her mom died, even when his behavior and mood became heretic. But no more.
He said Nothing.
“Fine. Have it your way.” She stood up and walked towards the door.
“When we came from the Old Country, your mother and I decided we were going to raise you as a true American.” He stopped her with his cracked and thick accented voice. She turned to him, but stayed standing, her hand on the door’s handle.
“We said we weren’t going to enforce our old ways and customs on you, let you live your own life. But…” He stopped for a second “I know Eric is a good man. And he makes you happy. Maybe if your mom was here, I could have looked away…”
“Look away from what dad?” She was impatient with him.
“Traditions. There are traditions to consider.” Her concluded.
“What traditions?” Eric was amused “Did I had to go and ask for his blessing or something like that?”
They were sitting at their kitchen table, eating the pasta he made for dinner.
“It’s a bit more complicated than that.” Caroline said “Apparently I am a descendent of a glorious tribe from the Old Country, and in olden days we were not supposed to marry outside of the tribe.”
“What about your mom and dad?” he asked
“They are, as I just learned, from the same tribe. Distant cousins.” She said with a hint of disgust in her voice.
“Oh wow. That’s a great thing to discover about your parents when you are almost thirty.” Eric said, facetiously.
“Right?” Caroline agreed “Anyway – if someone from outside the tribe wanted to marry one of us, they had to go through twelve tasks, missions to be dimmed worthy.”
“Only twelve?” Eric obviously found this hysterical.
“Don’t make fun of me. I’m miserable.” She shoved pasta into her mouth.
“So no blessing from him?” Eric asked.
“He’s right. If my mom was here this wouldn’t happen.” Tears started flowing on her cheeks. Eric noticed.
“Hey, Hey… Don’t cry.” He reached out an grabbed her hand. She started sobbing even more.
He looked at her with compassion.
“I’ll do it.” He said nodding to himself.
“Do what?” She asked, while blowing her nose with the napkin next to her.
“I’ll do the tasks. I’ll go see your dad and do whatever it takes to get his approval.” Eric was confident.
“You sure? We have no idea what this is…”
“I’m sure.” Eric reassured her “After all, I love you, and I want you to be happy.”
She smiled at him.
“And besides – it could be fun!” he added.
The sound of a key turning in the middle of night woke her up. She didn’t even realize she fell asleep on the couch, the TV still on, shining flickering lights on the walls of the dark living room.
Eric opened the door and walked in. He was holding a small metal cylinder, engraved with strange symbols.
When he saw she was awake on the couch and looking straight at it, he hid it immediately inside his coat.
“Sorry. Didn’t know you will be here. Thought you’ll be asleep.” He said, a bit anxious.
“I was. Fell asleep here. What’s that?” she gestured toward the bump underneath his coat.
“You know I can’t talk about it.” Eric reminded her “Part of the deal.”
“You can’t tell me anything?” She was so curious.
“I think I’ll go to sleep.” He said “I need to bring this to your dad first thing in morning”.
She watched him walk to the bedroom.
“You know” she called to him without moving from the couch “We can still call this whole nonsense off. I’m sure my dad will come around.”
“Nahh” he said “It’s fun. This was a piece of cake.”
Caroline heard the shower being turned on.
“OK. As long as you are enjoying yourself.” She shouted over the sound of the water, but she didn’t think he heard her.
At one point, she found herself pacing back and forth in the apartment, and she thought to herself it’s not healthy, so she went into the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea.
That was the moment Eric walked into their house.
For a second Caroline’s brain didn’t register what she was looking at.
He was wearing a heavy fur coat, the kind you would see an eskimo wearing, in one hand holding a cane, and the other a scroll.
For a moment they stood motionless, facing each other. Caroline was the first to speak.
“Where the fuck where you? It’s been three days!” She was angry.
“Hello. Nice to see you. I missed you. Are you OK? These are some of the things I would except to hear when I come back home. Especially after three day.” His voice was tired.
“You should have called. Tell me where you are.” She was still angry.
“You know I can’t, and you knew that some of these… tasks… will be demanding.” He took off the coat and dropped it on the floor.
Eric dragged himself into the bedroom and dropped on the bed, spreading his hands and shutting his eyes. He was still holding the scroll in his hands.
Caroline walked slowly after him and watched him for a second. She looked left, and she looked right, and then carefully, with two fingers, tried to pull the scroll out of Eric’s hands.
He opened his eyes and rolled quickly on his back, embracing the scroll to his chest.
“What are you doing?” he said suspiciously.
“Nothing.” She sat next to him on the bed.
“You have to be patient.” He said “There’s nine more of these to go.”
“I know. I was just worried.” She placed a gentle hand on his stomach.
He immediately flinched with pain.
“What’s wrong?” she pulled her hand back.
“Nothing.” He was clearly in pain.
“Let me see.” Caroline insisted.
He took of his shirt. His entire body was covered with scratches, some of them were pretty deep.
“What the hell?” Caroline was shocked.
“Apparently those penguins can be quite vicious when they want too…” he almost whispered.
“Those what can be what?” Caroline was not sure how to react.
“Never mind. I said too much already. I just want to sleep.” He whined.
“Let me just clean these.” She got up and went to the bathroom, to get some alcohol and band aids.
When she got back, Eric was already snoring quietly. She lied next to him, and soon after, fell asleep as well.
The next couple of tasks did not take him long, so things got back to more or less being normal. Eric would come back home with a sense of accomplishment, reminding Caroline that this is for a good cause. Caroline still thought it was all a bit ridiculous, that it was boys playing games, but all and all she was happy that Eric and her dad where bonding.
On the seventh task Eric disappeared for almost two weeks.
Caroline went insanely worried and pleaded her father to give her a clue where Eric is. But he only assured her Eric is fine as far as he knows.
It was when she was driving home when he caught her eyes sitting in the bus station. His clothes were torn and dirty. He was holding a large rusty sword, a knight’s sword. Next to him was a large cloth bag, covered in what she thought were blood stains. He looked exhausted, depleted completely.
“Eric?” she asked him, as she stopped the car next to the station and opened the window “What are you doing here?” For a second, it seems like he didn’t recognize her.
“I was waiting for the bus.” He said quietly.
“Why didn’t you call me to pick you up?” it took her a second to understand they are having a normal conversation, even though it should be nothing but.
“I lost my phone.” He answered, as if this resolved anything.
For a few seconds Eric stayed motionless, and then he stood up. He dragged himself to the car, with the sword and the bag.
By the time he stepped into it, Caroline’s eyes were already filled with tears. He noticed.
“What’s wrong?” He asked.
She didn’t know how to answer, so she just started driving. She pointed at the sword.
“Is this what you needed to find for my father?”
“No. He gave this to me. Apparently, it’s the only thing that can kill those fucking armored gorillas.”
“Leave it.” He gestured with his hand.
For a while they drove quietly.
“This is getting out of hand.” She broke the silence first.
“Just say the word and I’ll stop.” He said, but she heard in voice he didn’t mean it.
“I just… I just want things to be normal, but you choose to go and fight imaginary monsters than being with me. Why is that?”
“It’s for us. For your father approval.” He said, with a tired voice.
“Is it? Or are you enjoying this more than you should?” She honestly believed that.
“I…” he started to answer but then stopped to take a deep breath “I’m not sure you’re right.”
Caroline shrugged, but did reply. She continued driving.
“There’s nothing to eat at home.” She decided to restart “what do you feel like getting?”
“I don’t know. Pizza?” Eric answered.
“Sure.” She answered.
She saw he was starting to doze off, so pulled next to a pizza place.
“I’ll just get the pizza. You wait here.” She opened the car’s door.
He made a sound of acknowledgment, but as she slid out of the car, she thought she also heard him whisper.
“Monsters are real. You know?”
Caroline was slamming on her father’s door.
“Open up dad!” she shouted “open up right now!”
He opened the door wearing a robe.
“I was just about to go to bed.” He said.
“I don’t fucking care! I want you to tell me where he is right now!”
Her father stared at her, saying nothing.
“Well???” She screamed at him.
“You’re making a scene.” Was all he said in a quiet voice.
“My boyfriend, my fiancé, my future husband, has disappeared for more than three months because you sent him on a ridiculous mission, to fight monkeys, or penguins or dragons or whatever and all you have to say to me is that I’m making a scene?” rage was filling her every breath, and even though she thought she was still screaming, for a second it seems to her she was actually whispering.
And her father stood there and did not answer.
She looked at his sealed face for a few more moments, hoping something will change, and when it didn’t, she turned, still sobbing and walked away.
It was the middle of night, two weeks later, when Caroline woke up startled by something. She looked around and her gaze stopped at the door. A silhouette of man was standing there. She first thought “Eric!” but something about the dark shape felt unfamiliar. With a trembling hand she reached for the light next to her bed and turned it on, scared of what the light will reveal.
It took her mind a moment to register it was Eric. Dirty, smelly, raggedy. He was holding a large carton box, covered with tape. It was also dirty and banged up. A metaphor for Eric’s state.
They were motionless, staring at each other, for what seemed like a very long time.
“I’m back.” Eric was the one who broke the silence.
“Ok” was all Caroline could say.
And then silence again.
“I really need a shower.” Once again, he was the one breaking the silence.
He placed the box in the corner of the room and slid into the bathroom.
She listened to the water running, sinking into a state of trans, her eyes locked on the bathroom’s entrance.
It took her a couple of minutes to come back to her senses and she quietly got out of the bed and opened a crack in the bathroom door. She watched him shower. Indeed, he was different. He grew muscles and rigidness he never had before, and he seem larger, taller and more confident. Her breath became heavier and heavier as she watched him standing under the running water with his eyes close.
In a swift motion, she stepped into the shower, with her pajamas on her, hugging him, letting the water wash them both. He did not move and kept his eyes close.
They made passionate love that night. It has been a while.
Afterwards, Eric fell asleep almost immediately, and Caroline stayed awake, her head resting on his chest, and her finger drawing shapes on his skin.
She suddenly heard a rattling noise. She lifted her head and looked around. The noise came from the box on the floor. It was moving and shaking, as if there was something alive inside.
Caroline looked at Eric, making sure he is sound asleep, and slid out of the bid. She slowly walked towards the box. She checked again if Eric was asleep, and when she was certain, she started very slowly peeling the tape that sealed the box.
She was half way through when she heard Eric.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING???” he yelled and jumped at her, putting the tape back in its place.
“I heard noises and…”
“Do you know how dangerous what’s inside?” he was truly angry.
“No I don’t!” She yelled back “I have no fucking idea what’s inside, because you wouldn’t tell me! You disappear for so long, and you come back with a BOX? Who gives a fuck about that?”
And just like that she collapsed on the floor, crying.
Eric took a deep breath and came down to hug her. After a few moments, he gently directed her towards the bed, and they fell asleep embracing one another.
In the morning Eric left again.
It didn’t take long before Caroline discovered she was pregnant.
At first, she was confused and worried, but as time passed by, she found confidence.
In a desperate attempt, but in calm and relaxed manner, she told her father about his coming grandson, hoping it would shake something and make him tell her where Eric is, and how to contact him.
But he said nothing, except a faint and distant “Congratulation”.
Eric’s parents received the news with more warmth and love, but the confusion over their son’s whereabouts was clouding their relationship.
At the end, Caroline was all alone.
Her dad did come to visit her at the hospital when little Joseph was born. It has been months since they saw each other, and again, all there was between them was a lamp of silence. Caroline didn’t even try to ask about Eric. She knew what the reaction would be, and she was too tired and sad.
But she was also Happy. Joseph brought new joy to her life, and slowly she came accustomed to her new life as a single mom. She even dated occasionally, but the focus was on Joseph.
It was just a little over Joseph’s second birthday when a knock on the door was heard. She was in the middle of feeding the child dinner in their fairly new apartment. She needed a change from the little home she and Eric had. A fresh start.
“Just a second!” she yelled at the door, and to Joseph, in a strict voice “Don’t throw anything on the floor.”
When she opened the door, her heart skipped a beat. Eric was standing there, skinny and sickly, with a long beard and hair flowing down his back. He was wearing a robe and holding a large wood cane. He looked biblical.
“Hello.” He said.
“Hello.” She said back “How did you know where we lived?”
“Your father told me.” He answered, “Can I come in?”
There was a moment of hesitation, but then she moved aside and let him in. He walked by her and stopped when he saw Joseph, sitting at the dinner table.
“Oh yeah. This is your son. Joseph.” There was true chill in her voice.
Eric, with eyes full of tears, kneeled next to Joseph, looking at his face. The child didn’t really react and continued to eat his dinner.
“Are you here to stay?” asked Caroline.
“No. I need to head out again in the morning.” His voice was trembling.
Caroline was still standing next to the door, holding it open. She tried to hold her own tears back.
“Then I think you should go now.” She said with conviction.
He nodded and stood up slowly. He ran his hand through Joseph’s hair once and turned towards the door.
With baby steps he passed the threshold to the apartment and stood there.
“Unless… Unless you want me to stay.” He said quietly, almost whispering.
Caroline looked at his back, the long hair, his dirty feet, the shape of his body.
Then she closed the door.