a short story from the Sundance Screenwriters Intensive

Most of the writing exercises at the Sundance Screenwriters Intensive yesterday were fairly specific, but there was one where we were asked our series of questions about ourselves, and then told to use them to write something—anything. 

This is what I came up with...


Paulie Stutts regrets almost nothing in his life, because all of it—the stupid, shitty decisions; the damage he's inflicted on himself—has all contributed to the person he has become. And he likes... no, loves that person.

But there is one thing.

Paulie fathered a child. A son. When he was in his early twenties and a small part of himself was still trying to conform to his father's heteronormative expectations, Paulie kind-of-but-not-really on purpose got his "girlfriend" pregnant. I put "girlfriend" in quotes because they were more like partners in crime. He didn't even know her last name, they just collaborated in this scheme they had for getting large quantities of cold medicine to sell to some meth-cook they knew, in exchange for the cocaine he could get for them.

Anyway, she got pregnant and even made an attempt to stay clean throughout the pregnancy so the kid would be all right. Him, less so.

They'd managed to get on public assistance and the birth went fine, but he held that kid for the first time and all at once the whole world constricted. He felt so small and vulnerable and most of all mortal, watching this tiny piece of himself in his arms.

So he handed back the kid and said he needed some air, and then he went for a walk. He told himself he'd be back—that he would come back and love the kid and be the sort of dad his adoptive father never had been.

But while he was walking, and walking, and walking, he wandered into a low-rent area and came across this scene; this tableau; this moment-of-crisis, where five white men were standing around watching their buddy beat a woman. He was hitting her again and again in the face. She was on her knees begging him to stop. Saying she'd get the money and please-no-please...

It was only a second between when Paulie came around the corner of the building and when he clued into what was happening, but a stab of fear went through him and he thought about himself—a small, brown man alone in a sea of white anger—and so he hunched down into himself and walked on by.

On, away, and up the street. Away from the hospital. Away from his son. Away, away, away.


  1. I really liked this poignant story, Josh. It creeps up on you and you don't want, as a reader, to read the inevitable but you must and you do.


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