Greetings! Welcome to the final installment of the My Princeton Summer series. Like all good things, my summer research at Princeton did ultimately come to an end, as did my fling with their local writing group. On the last day of my attendance with them, I penned a short story starter that, in a few brief paragraphs, packed in lobsters, kidnapping, and a fabled magical capybara.
Like one of the previous snippets about defenestration of a cerulean crayon, this snippet was prompted by a set of three words, suggested by various members of our group. In this scenario, I don’t remember who posed each suggestion, but I do remember being excited that it was approximately as crazy as our aforementioned defenestration prompt.
As you’ve likely noticed over the past several MPS snippets, I tend to be somewhat . . . autobiographical in my scribblings. As my college creative writing professor often said to us, “Good writers borrow; great writers steal.” The easiest place to steal from is your own life.
Especially when you have ten minutes to write a story about a capybara, superstition, and lobster.
As a fun fact about myself, I suffer from a sensitive, deathly shellfish allergy. Cross-contamination is a constant concern when eating out, and I’ve experienced mild reactions from breathing particles from the air. During my Princeton summer, I shared a kitchen with sixteen other people, originally from around the world. Many cuisines were cooked in those shared pots and pans. Some of those cuisines included an abundance of seafood. And by the last week of my program, I was so sick of the pervasive smell of shrimp that I could scream.
Therefore, I used this silly prompt, in the context of a silly story, to express some of my allergy frustrations in a thinly-veiled rant.
I give you: the Magical Anti-Lobster Capybara.
“There’s only one way it can be cured!”
My best friend rolled her eyes at me. “You’re really still on this?”
“I’m serious! I saw it in a dream last night! A capybara appeared to me and told me that the only way—”
“Do you realize how crazy you sound right now?” She looked out the passenger side window at the buildings flickering by on our way out of town. “You’re really suggesting that we go on a quest to find some giant rodent? Because it’s the only way to cure you of your shellfish allergy?”
“Come on, Addie! It’ll be an adventure!” I cried. “We get to go see a capybara! How often do you get to see a capybara?”
“I don’t care about the stupid capybara,” she growled. “I just want to go to the store and get home.”
My hands tightened on the steering wheel out of nerves, but a wry smile twitched its way onto my face. Slowly, Addie turned her head around to look at me. Her eyes roved from my face, to the road in front of us, to the cross street that we’d just driven by—the one that would take us . “Emma . . .” she said slowly. “You missed the turn.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“You can’t be serious!”
“ROAD TRIP!” I cried. The declaration trailed off in a gleeful cackle. There was no way she could jump out of the car now. We were going too fast. I had her locked in until we discovered the capybara I so powerfully sought.
“You don’t know what it’s like!” I whined. “Last week, you and everyone else at the office went out for a lobster dinner! And me? I was stuck at home, eating leftover popcorn, because I can’t stay in the stupid restaurant without breaking out in hives!”
“Emma,” she started again in that scolding tone of voice she had.
“Having to ask at restaurants whether they fry their French fries in the same oil that they fry their shrimp in—”
“A capybara? Really?”
“Not being able to accept Asian food from friends, because you don’t know what kind of weird sauces they used—“
“Isn’t that a little superstitious? And ridiculous?”
“This capybara is my one shot at freedom!” I cried. I turned to look at her, and I could feel the desperation flooding through me. There was no way she could understand. Maybe I was being superstitious, but nothing else would work. I had to find my hope somewhere.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my silly snippet series from my summer at Princeton! I have plenty more dusty old story fragments to share in the coming weeks, plus some updates on ongoing projects! Stay tuned!