This exercise works best if you do it first then discuss and analyze.
Write a composition on the subject “My Pet.” It must be a pet you have never owned. Describe how you got it, what it eats, where it sleeps, what tricks it does, how it gets along with your family, friends, and coworkers, what it looks like.
Many years ago, I heard a whisper: “You need a wife.” Yes, I thought, I do need a wife, someone to clean up after me, fix me meals, cheer me on, support me in my quest through the wild world, someone who will cuddle up to me on cold nights and bring me iced drinks on hot days, someone who will have but one need: to fulfill my needs. I kept hearing the whisper, and one day followed the sound of the voice to a strange place where, indeed, I found a suitable wife. This wife looked just like me, which surprised me; I did not think I would be a suitable candidate for wifehood, having failed many times to subvert my needs to those of others. But, the voice assured me, this wife is different, it is not you, it embodies all the qualities you need, and requires little other than food, water, sanitary facilities, and occasional exercise. Just like a cat. You can even go away for short periods and leave this wife alone, as long as you leave sufficient food and water.
I brought my wife home and it immediately fixed dinner for me: steak and salad with roasted potatoes and a tiny brownie for dessert. And it sat with me and ate the same thing, agreeing with me in a soft, kind voice, that yes, the steak could use more salt and the salad would be better without onions, and it would remember these things and improve as time went on until it served me tremendous meals every day. I was pleased.
At night, my wife wanted to share my bed, and I was not sure how to address this. After all, I am fastidious and wasn’t sure if I wanted the annoyance of movement, hair, and noise. But I allowed it, figuring I would purchase a bed for it later in the week. As it turned out, that wasn’t necessary. We did quite fine in one bed.
My wife learned many tricks, in addition to fixing meals and providing a clean house, over the first few weeks. It knew when to leave me alone to write or cry or get drunk, and it knew when to ask me what was wrong and listen to my harangues. It knew when to encourage me to try again, and when to hint that I should change directions, very gently, without indicating that I had gone too far already along a barren path. I began to succeed wildly at work, creating stories that charmed readers and wowed editors and won prizes and made money. And in my classes, I was able to weed the wheat from the chaff, to grade papers in half the time because I no longer dallied over whether an essay was acceptable or not: I learned to trust my instincts, because after all, my wife did.
I was on top of the world. And the problem with that, you’ll recall, is that there is only one way to go: down.
And down I went. I met a pleasant acquaintance at a party given by one of the magazines proudly displaying my talent. We came to my beautiful, clean, tastefully appointed home, and my wife, instead of coming to the door to greet me as was its usual custom, hid in the mudroom. I thought I heard whimpering at one point; my acquaintance did, as well, which prompted the question, “Is there someone else here?” I denied this of course, and closed the door to the mudroom, but when I returned to the salon, my acquaintance was at the door making excuses. I was quite disappointed.
My wife, it seems, was more than disappointed, for the next day, it ran away. This crushed me, as I need its reassurance, not to mention its timely tasty meals and clean clothes, to allow me to continue my conquering of the world. I walked through the streets of my neighborhood, unable to even call its name since I had never bothered to give it one and until now had never considered that it might need one. I could not find it. I visited the city shelter for naught. I considered putting up posters, but was afraid misguided souls might turn me in to myself.
I came to accept it in time. I had lost my wife.
I will get another one, some day, when I am ready. Perhaps first I will reconnect with the acquaintance whose visit precipitated my wife’s departure, see if that has possibilities. I wonder if someone else could ever accept what value my wife had to me, and that no matter what friendships, romances, and relationships I may have, I will need a wife, too.
Now let’s see what I did wrong.
What is the function of the pet in your response?
To take care of the MC. And of course to skewer how men, some men, see the function of wives.
Is the pet in your story like or unlike you?
Like, deliberately. The perfect complement.
What is the function of the character, relation to its owner, how could it be the basis for a short story?
It’s a satire. The idea is to have people think how ridiculous it is while at the same time thinking, gee, that would be nice. Because I have often thought if I had a wife, someone to take care of the bare essentials, I would be much farther along in the world. It’s the little stuff that gets you down – having a great idea or talent or a work ethic is fine, but then it’s time to go for an interview and there’s a spot on your tie and you’re screwed. Somehow society evolved to where wives take care of everything so husbands can conquer the world. Then of course women decided to do some conquering of their own, except now they have to take care of both husband and wife because it’s sure no husband is going to take care of them while they work their way up the corporate ladder – and once there, someone’s going to sneer at them for not making homemade pasta or not going to Mommy and Me class with the kids.
Wow. I didn’t know that was still in there – and that’s all from the 70’s. Hmm.