As much as I might like to be, I am not really a black and white thinker. If you hand me a multiple choice test I can usually make a pretty decent argument for reasons any of the answers could be correct given certain circumstances. While this is not a trait that lends itself to standardized test taking, it is well suited to a career as a fiction writer. Since I write mysteries, a life spent entirely in shades of gray is particularly useful. I have much more trouble winnowing down motives for murder for each of my suspects than I do thinking up reasons someone would poison her neighbor.
You get used to yourself, of course, and don’t realize how weird it is to think of these things until you do so aloud in the company of others. A couple of years ago a friend and I were following an ordinary looking sedan down a quiet, country road. Framed in the rear window of the sedan was a plastic laundry basket. The basket appeared to be empty, in decent shape and of a deep gold color that was last popular in the seventies.
How was it possible, I asked my friend, for such a thing to have lasted so long and why would anyone stick it in their car where it would block the driver’s view. I kept throwing out possibilities that could solve the mystery. Had they used it to transport a lost kitten back to its home? Was it holding a work of art flat in the bottom? Had the driver, in a fit of unbridled optimism, purchased the contents of an abandoned storage unit and the laundry basket was the only thing worth saving?
And why wasn’t it placed on the backseat instead of in the window? After all, no heads were showing and I couldn’t make out tops of child safety seats either. Was there a sleeping dog sprawled across the seat? Or, could there be a body cooling there instead? Was it a rare vintage laundry basket worth killing someone for?
My friend let me ramble on for several minutes and then sighed deeply.
“Jess,” she said, “it’s just an ugly laundry basket and I couldn’t care less why it’s there. I wouldn’t give it another thought.” But I did. Every now and again when I am doing laundry I still get to thinking about that basket and what could explain it. Sure it’s crazy, but I can’t help but think one day it will end up in a story.