Exercising the craft—May 23, 2016

By Ekta R. Garg

Prompt: On the long flight to a foreign country, you wind up telling your seatmate much of your life story. Only it isn’t yours. You’ve always wanted to pretend to be somebody else, just for an hour or two, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Only now you find yourself falling for your seatmate, and you don’t know what to tell him/her. Write your conversation.



Shelly kept her goofy smile in place until Ben disappeared into the plane lavatory. When the door clicked shut behind him, she slumped in her seat and covered her face with a hand.

Way to go, genius, she thought. How long do you plan to keep this up? He actually believes that you’re an executive chef!

Her cheeks burned. The last time Shelly tried to cook something was in a pink oven that sat on her mother’s kitchen counter and had one crank with two options: on and off. Even those cookies had come out a little too dark.

The chefs on the Food Network made it look so easy, and she’d picked up enough lingo on lonely Saturday nights to impress Ben. She deflected every single inquisitive question with some of those fancy terms. Then she turned the questions around on him.

The flight from New York to London had started with friendly conversation. Really, Shelly answered Ben’s questions more out of a sense of good manners than anything else. When he asked what she did for a living, she almost answered with the truth.

She opened her mouth to say “cleaning lady” and instead out came “executive chef.”

“Wow,” Ben said. “That’s amazing. And what a great city to be cooking in! Where do you work?”

She’d trudged past the same swanky restaurant every day since she came to New York five years ago. First it had been on the way to auditions and acting classes. Then it had been to other temp jobs.

For the last two-and-a-half years it had been to apartment buildings on the other end of the next block to clean.

It was bad in the beginning, but eventually Shelly accepted the truth: she wasn’t meant to be an actress. She always thought she’d go to London as a performer. Now she was going so she could cross an item off her bucket list. After scrimping and saving for the last ten months, Shelly had bought herself a modest but informative tour of the royal city.

The only indulgence she’d allowed herself as she saved for the trip was her takeout. Her regular places knew her from their caller ID, and she didn’t even order for herself anymore. The people who answered the phones in heavy accents had started assembling orders for her based on what they knew she liked.

But how could she have explained all of this to Ben? That she’d left Mattoon, Illinois, with the heady illusions of achieving dreams and that New York had slapped her back into reality? Wasn’t the Big Apple a city of aspiration?

So she’d said “executive chef” and left it at that. And then Ben kept talking to her. And for the first time in a really long time, a guy had drawn her in. She didn’t have a chance to leave her guard up. Ben had snuck in through the back door. The more he talked, the guiltier she felt. She didn’t want to start a potentially awesome relationship with a lie.

He came back to his seat just then and grinned at her.

“I actually made it out of there without getting stuck between the toilet and the sink,” he said with a chuckle. “I wonder if there’s a contest between the airlines to see who can make the smallest bathroom.”

Shelly tried to smile back, but the smile didn’t quite make it. After a few seconds, Ben’s own smile faded. His eyes began searching her face.

“Hey, is everything okay?”

She looked down at her hands, but she didn’t want to take the coward’s way out. Not anymore. She lied to Ben, but he wasn’t the only one. Her parents knew she’d more or less given up acting, but she’d lied to them about her real job. They thought she worked as a secretary.

“I, um…I wanted to talk to you about something,” she said. “It’s about…well, you know when we were talking about our jobs?”

A hint of apprehension flickered in Ben’s face, and Shelly frowned.

“What?” she asked.

“How did you figure it out?”

“Figure what out?”

“That I lied about what I do for a living?”

Shelly blinked.

What do I do now?