NPR logo Tabula Rasa

Tabula Rasa

For Round 8 of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that begin with this sentence: "She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door." Our winner was "Rainy Wedding."


She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door.

Jean was only a quarter-way through her read on sustainable living, but it had to stay behind. With her keys in one hand and wallet in the other, there wasn't room for anything else. She was naked after all, except for the socks and shoes on her feet.

Five minutes earlier, she stripped out of her work uniform, folded the black apron, pants and polo shirt then set them in a tidy square on a folding chair in the break room. She was preparing for what would be a somewhat explicit resignation from the diner she worked at the past two months. Jean was about to terminate her employment by streaking the establishment.

Three weeks into her job, she started making suggestions to the diner's cook and owner, Tommy Itch: Ever consider offering meat-free bacon? Could he switch to cage-free, organic eggs? Would he mind if she took down the dated paisley curtains and put up her own hemp fabric design?

At 76, Jean viewed Tommy as a vulnerable old man who grew weaker with every pancake he flipped and each sausage he turned. She saw his restaurant as a clean slate at her disposal, poised for organic transformation.

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"Diner's fine as is," Tommy told Jean.

She tried a different approach. "I don't want to change the diner, I just want to help." And Tommy told her the only thing he needed help with was taking the customer's orders. At first, Jean believed it was a changeable enterprise, but now saw the diner as a relic so layered with old tendencies, the only way for change to ensue would be through Tommy's death.

Progressive woman she was, Jean wanted to make a symbolic exit and could think of no better way to do so than in the nude. With a fearless twist of the door knob, Jean set course for her departure and paused just past the kitchen where linoleum and the dining room's shabby carpet intersect. The diner wasn't busy, only three elderly regulars — Nellie, Bo and Kenneth — occupied their normal tables. Jean stood naked before them, hands on hips, as if waiting for a cue to start her walk-out.

She heard an irritating but familiar sound, one that Jean would forever associate with the diner. It was a habit of Nellie's to constantly rock back and forth in her seat so the old vinyl beneath her butt squeaked in steady rhythm. Noise that she previously tried to block, now prompted Jean to proceed. She focused on the sound and marched in time to Nellie's squeaks.

Squeak, squeak, squeak. Left, right, left. Jean approached Nellie's table. The old woman smiled sweetly.

"You're naked," Nellie whispered as if Jean was sincerely unaware of her own nudity. She marched on. Left, right, left.

Bo watched Jean with respectable interest as she approached. He took a bite of his egg salad on toast, then returned it to his plate so he could give Jean a thumbs-up. She was almost at the door. Left, right, left.

As Jean closed in on his table, Kenneth instinctively held out his coffee mug for a warm-up. He didn't notice she was naked at all. Left, right, left.

Left, right, left.

Jean stiff-armed the front door and was free, her hands clean of the diner's stubborn ways. She felt triumphant and transformed, but for the people inside, nothing had changed at all.