O. Henry Short Story Prompt 5 – The Purple Dress Suit
Is it mid-October already?!
Time to start thinking about a holiday writing project. This O. Henry piece is perfect. It’s warm, humanitarian and set for Thanksgiving (however, feel free to change the holiday to Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, New Years, or anything that’s coming up).
With this prompt I’m trying a different approach to emphasize Short Story structure. I’m leaving it more barebones so you have room to fully explore/develop the characters and scenes. This means giving away the twist for just this one time.
I have also ‘gayed up the joint’ for the holidays, but you are more than welcome to return Matty and Grayson to the female gender (in which case their names are Maida and Grace).
Note: See my opening remarks on the purpose and intent of this prompt series here.
O. Henry Short Story Prompt 5 – The Purple Dress Suit
O. Henry begins with a few sentences on the color purple. You may do the same, or launch your story in a way to bring attention to another aspect of the tale. Whichever way you wish to provide the setup in the reader’s mind, don’t write it straightaway. Maybe sketch out a couple ideas, but only write the opening to the story once you’ve completed the other parts. The start of a Short Story is critical, and sometimes the last word affects the first one the viewer will read
The setting: the Bee-Hive is one of New York’s most influential fashion websites. They can make or break a trend. Working there means stress and low wages, but once a year, the boss throws one of the most anticipated Thanksgiving fetes in town. The day before the holiday, a hotel ballroom is rented, and Bee-Hive staff, contributors, suppliers and clients are thrown a fashion-centric party. Yearly bonuses are also handed out on Tuesday of Thanksgiving week by Mr. Ramsey, the second in command.
What is the spirit of this time of year?
You decide what conversations and scenes develop the three principal characters.
– Mr. Ramsey; sexy man in charge. Everyone knows the 28-year-old will eventually take over for Mrs. Bachman, the site’s owner. Lots of the Bee-Hive ladies have tentatively turned their sights on him only to learn two ‘negatives.’ For one, he’s a “health crank” who eats nothing that tastes good and has ideas about cold showers and walks in the rain (without coat and umbrella) being good for the constitution. The second item of interest to disappoint the girls is that he’s playing for the other team.
– Matty: young Midwestern transplant who’s passionate about fashion’s potential to make a person’s mark. He responds well to couture and has a wardrobe to show it. Ergo, most of his meager salary goes to him looking noticeable and tasteful. Several months ago, Mr. Ramsey presented a slideshow on the “color forecast” for fall and winter. He projected two colors would dominate and catch everybody’s eye later this year: Zanzibar red and murex purple. For eight long months, Matty’s been scrimping and secretly planning a stunning purple dress suit for the Thanksgiving party. He intends to break the Ramsey ice once and for all. No mere off-the-shelf piece, he’s contracted one of the website’s best-known clothes maker. He just needs the final flush of his yearly bonus to payoff the tailor; naturally, his credit cards are maxed out.
– Grayson: another Midwesterner and Bee-Hive fashionista, he takes life a bit more casually. For example, on a whim, he moved into Matty’s building in Soho. Now they live one floor apart in roommate situations, and have talked about getting a place of their own together at some point in the future. For now, it’s all they can afford. Secretly, Grayson noted Mr. Ramsey’s color forecast and has a department-store suit in red for the big party already hanging in his closet. His cards are maxed out as well, and he lives more hand-to-mouth than his buddy.
The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the friends are chatting at work and discover each other’s ‘secret.’ They agree to let the best color suit win the day tomorrow, and possibly Mr. Ramsey’s sexy heart.
Ten o’clock Tuesday evening finds Matty lounging in his room going over the in-progress pix of his new suit. All he’ll need to do is pop down to the shop tomorrow and pay off the last bit due. It will be close with his other monthly expenses, but he can swing it because his bonus is safely deposited in his checking account.
There’s a sudden clamor at the front door. It’s Grayson in tears. He sets down his numerous shopping bags. It turns out Grayson’s roomies have put a padlock on his bedroom door, insisting he pays up the two months back rent that’s due. He can’t get in, and informs Matty that his bonus money is already spent on Christmas gifts for himself. He does not know what to do.
Matty goes through some internal debate and decides there’s only one thing to be done. He writes Grayson a check for the amount due on Matty’s purple suit.
Grayson jumps for joy, and makes a hasty exit with the ill-considered words: “See you at the party tomorrow!”
Matty is sad. He spends most of the night sitting by his window, doubting himself, life, love – everything. He won’t be able to go tomorrow, and would not be seen dead at this fashion event in ‘old’ clothes.
Wednesday, Matty is alone and the gray skies make him stay in and clean the apartment. He tries not to think about the party now in full swing as late afternoon slips into evening. It seems to him that the good guys never do win.
Later, he gets a call. Reluctantly answering, it’s the tailor. Matty has to explain what’s happened and apologize that he can’t pay the man. The tailor says Matty is a good person and to come on by to pick up his suit; the man knows he’ll be paid eventually. Overjoyed, Matty dashes off, ignoring the rain starting to fall and the fact that the party is winding down and will soon be over.
It’s getting really late, so he dresses in the tailor’s changing room, and since the hotel is only one long Manhattan block away, starts to run. Now it’s really pouring, but Matty has never been happier and glowing in health.
Rounding the last corner, he literally runs into another nut out in the rain with no protection. Matty finds himself in the arms of Mr. Ramsey.
Speechless, Matty sees the man smile, but not at his suit, at the vigor and joy in Matty’s heart. Ramsey says he’s glad he’s not alone in preferring to walk in the rain. He missed Matty at the party, and wonders if they shouldn’t grab a cup of coffee instead.
IV. Denouement (optional)
O. Henry does not provide a glimpse of the future, but as there are many relationships at play (Ramsey’s future with the Bee-Hive; Matty and Ramsey’s future; the future of the friendship between Matty and Grayson) you can consider writing one for your version of the story.