As if having a 12 week old, teething, biting, super curious, super sweet, quite devious puppy taking up most my time wasn’t hard enough, I decided it would also be super smart to enter a flash fiction contest run by NYC Midnight.
Writers are put into groups, given a genre, location, and item, all of which must be written into a story of no more than 1000 words. Oh, and that story must be completed and submitted 48 hours after receiving the assignment. Super easy, right? Even under normal circumstances, I’d struggle with something so structured. Add to that some severe sleep deprivation and I was in for a rough weekend.
Still, I was excited to get the email, find out what sort of story I was going to be writing. At 10:59 PM Friday night, my path was revealed-Romantic comedy, a tropical island, a brick.
What? People actually write romantic comedy flash fiction? Visions of Love Actually and a half dozen Adam Sandler, Drew Berrymore movies instantly came to my head. This genre was definitely not in my wheelhouse or toolbox. I would rather have had romance, a soviet era gulag, a french fry.
My first attempt on Saturday Morning was a disaster. I had a couple, a clever way for them to meet, but that moment itself took 400 words. Scratch that. Delete. Try again.
A second idea had more promise, but also took up too many valuable words without getting me anything resembling a story.
Then the tiredness took over. I couldn’t concentrate, spell, type, do much of anything but stare at the screen. Also, the puppy needed attention, and the puppy comes first right now.
A few hours later, I tried again, this time with some more success. I had several awkward encounters, silly moments, and the outline of a story. An ending still eluded. I had Sheryl read what I’d written so far and while she liked it, she agreed it wasn’t quite right.
Sunday could not have been a more awful day. I didn’t rest well, and a very intense wave of puppy depression hit me early that morning. I felt overwhelmed and hopeless. Writing was impossible. The contest was out of my mind completely.
I did some heavy soul searching that day, spent a lot of time talking with my amazing wife. I am so grateful for her advice, patience, love. She is my best friend and perfect companion.
With less than 3 hours until I had to submit the story, I had no draft, no ending, and very few ideas, but I was determined. I sat at the computer and hammered out three very sloppy endings, picking one to flush out and use. I read through, edited, read through again, edited, then asked Sheryl for her opinion.
“It’s okay, but the ending lacks pop. It’s too sweet. Something needs to happen that puts them at odds again.”
I was crushed, out of ideas, ready for defeat.
“Something like…” and she said it. The exact ending. And I loved it. With forty minutes to go, I rewrote the ending, not worrying about word count. When it was finished, I was at 1020 words, but the ending was just what this brief romantic comedy needed.
I spent the remaining time cutting words (easier than I thought) until I was at 997. One more read and edit, just to make sure, and it was time to submit. My first romantic comedy was complete. I’m not sure it will get me enough points to move out of the second round (two rounds are guaranteed each writer), but that is fine with me.
I’ll keep you posted.
Wish me good sleeps. I still need them.
And dogs are awesome.
We will keep it secret and safe.
“Since I was a girl, it has been my favorite color.”
I nod, keep digging the earth with the jagged end of a stick, carving out my middle name, forwards, backwards, upside down, inside out. She makes a list.
“Tulips, dandelions, bananas, lemonade, the yolk of a chicken egg, perfectly cooked french fries, the bow tie my grandfather wore on my 10th birthday.”
I recall her party dress, lemon cake with lemon frosting, Lemonheads in a white bowl. Fifteen children sat on the carpet in broken circles, laughter between them and the crumbs on their shirts and skirts; the smell of warm confectioners sugar and food coloring.
She rolls over, presses her back to the ground, stares into the sky.
“The stars. I almost forgot the stars and sun.”
The clouds at sunset. The sound after a kiss. The breaking of my heart.
I stop digging. In my head, I sketch her outline, just like this, just like now.
“How we need another soul to cling to, another body to keep us warm. To rest and trust; to give your soul in confidence: I need this, I need someone to pour myself into.”
– Sylvia Plath
Only one more day of the A to Z blogging challenge remains. It has been fun and difficult. I have to admit, I almost threw in the towel around R. How about the rest of you?
Saw you on 34th and 7th. Thursday the 8th, around 2 in the afternoon.
Hey, Tall Dark and Handsome.
I like saying that as if it is your name. In fact, as I was typing this, I said it out loud five times. Hey, Tall Dark and Handsome. It almost dances off the tongue, don’t you think?
I’ve seen you many times before, and sometimes, I wonder if you’re everywhere, lingering on all the different corners, your back against a building, gazing over a crowd of tourists, walking briskly on your way to work or standing on the curb, hailing a taxi. I’ve thought to say hello, introduce myself, but there is always something holding me back- old anxieties, new ones, the monitor on my left ankle, always blinking up at me (that’s a joke, I promise).
I saw you again two weeks ago Thursday.
You were walking this time, right hand in the front pocket of those deep gray tailored slacks you like to wear. I sometimes wonder if you own five pair. They fit wonderfully, but you must know that, can feel it when you run your hands over the fabric as you pull them on, fasten them.
Instead of the pastel button down (and dark colored tie of the same hue) you usually wear, you’d chosen a forest green golf shirt, which surprised me a little. It’s alright, I like surprises. They keep me on my toes.
You turned left at the intersection (another surprise) and walked at a brisk pace for several minutes. Something important was on your mind. I didn’t like the way whatever was worrying you wrinkled the skin next to your ears and eyes. I wouldn’t say it made you unattractive, but it added an unwelcome element to your overall persona that gave me pause. I have to admit, I almost walked away, but I had to know where you were going first.
I didn’t hear what you called her (I’ll pretend it was Beulah, I’ve always hated that name), and I pretended not to notice the way she touched your shoulder, so natural, like her hand belonged on your body. I even tired not to notice if she was pretty (I guess some might find her so), or if she were thin, heavy, or athletic (she was frail, shorter than me, but more hippy, if that’s a thing).
The two of you sat out on the cafe patio in plastic chairs around a plastic table, and the server brought water first, then pretentious white wine for her, a glass of something caramel colored for you. I watched with fascination as you sipped without a grimace, the fullness of your lower lip exposed on the bottom of the glass. Then you winked at her. The act gave you an unexpected humanness, and for a moment, I had to turn away.
When I looked back, she’d placed her hand in yours, and it was clear the conversation had turned. I thought I saw tears on her cheeks, and a deep sigh come from your chest. For the briefest moment I hoped I was watching the break-up, the end of the relationship, and I almost felt sad, as if somehow I was to blame for what had transpired.
Then I saw it on her finger, a platinum band and six smaller stones surrounding an epic diamond in the middle. You’d asked, and she’d said yes.
I slumped down onto the sidewalk, feeling that all to familiar sensation: a mix of hatred, sadness and repugnance. A sudden sickness overwhelmed me. I stood and rushed to a nearby garbage bin. As I threw up, through the choking and stinging tears, it came to me. I knew what to do, I just knew.
They won’t find her body, at least not anytime soon. I observe and watch. I take careful notes. I’m cautious and deliberate. I make sure. I’m always sure.
In time, you’ll get over her. The sadness will be gone, and you’ll understand. You’ll be free. Any lingering memories will be like tiny pin pricks, moments when you’ll feel gratitude that her vanishing kept you from making the worst mistake of your life.
When that day comes, and it will, I’ll be ready, waiting.
One afternoon, you will round a corner, that placid look I adore so much back on your face, and I will be there, in the center of the sidewalk, arms open, ready to love you in the way you deserve. Because just like you, I am everywhere. Unlike you, I see everything.
Until then, I will be patient.
All my love,
The last of them had gone, leaving behind stacks of empty cans, tipped over bottles, crumbled and crushed food in the rug. It had been a great night.
Martin flopped on the sofa, letting the plush, welcoming cushions absorb his weight. Casually, he used his left foot to push aside a few items from the corner of the cracked coffee table (the result of an impressive night of mock wrestling gone too far. Jacob still wore the battle scar near his eye), then put both feet, one over the other on the glass surface.
Head back, his brain swimming, he finally realized how much alcohol he’d consumed that evening.
Many of his friends had come. Some he had not expected to see. He thought of Odette, the way she’d lingered close to the kitchen, her hand clutching a plastic cup to her left shoulder, the coy smile as he approached, and her subtle look-away when she lightly touched his arm (which made his heart skip).
He ran his finger over his lips, pretending the salty residue was a remnant of her kiss. He would call her in the morning, at least text, tell her how happy he was she had come. If overcome by a sudden surge of bravery, he might even ask her out. Stranger things and all.
Various scenarios ran through his mind. He closed his eyes and let them go where they wanted. Imagination obliged. He was happy in his distraction. So much so, he failed to hear the door creak open, didn’t notice the sound of someone walking across the floor into the living room, failed to sense the shadow as it passed over his legs, up his body, until it finally stilled, resting patiently on his face.
“I don’t like watching the sunrise,” she said, her face turned away from me, the blue and yellow of the coming day taunting and teasing her. “I don’t see what I’m supposed to see.
She was seated in a crouch, feet buried in the beach, her knees up against her chin, arms wrapped around her shins.
Foolishly I asked, “What are you supposed to see?”
She sighed heavily, then flopped back and stared at the sky, and I thought of the first time we met; rainfall, and her hand held tightly in his. She’d worn red and gray.
“Beauty, potential, new beginnings.”
She sniffed, and for a moment I thought she was crying. I started to reach for her, when she turned her defiant eyes to me.
“I don’t see any of that, Steven.”
I nodded like I understood. She turned away again, and gazed at the ocean.
“All I see is another reminder of what I have lost. No, a reminder of what was taken from me.”
She stood up, grabbing a fist full of earth as she did. A symphony of languishing elegance erupted from each of her three lithe steps forward. As she threw the sand and pebbles towards the sky, her scream was an unwinding, cold and forceful lament, like she was a punctured can of compressed air, all hissing.
Mark lifted the glass and took a slow sip, letting the acridness of the Cabernet wash over him. Despite his best efforts to train his palate, he never detected oak, cedar or any other woody flavor. Most fruity notes eluded him as well. He only tasted grapes, red and delicious, sometimes a deep purple, coupled with that always present acidity that melted his heart and warmed his soul. He could almost feel his teeth and lips darkening with each drink.
Across the table, Kathy closed her eyes as she savored the last drops from her stemless glass. Pretentious to the last, she could never say no to any trend, especially when it came to wine. It was one of her many talents.
He could admit he liked the look of the glasses. In the right light, with the proper amount of alcohol in his blood, his brain, they seemed to shimmer. Unfortunately, they were difficult to pick up off the table, and too many times he’d almost spilled, had spilled his wine, which always felt like such a waste.
He looked at the empty bottle. The estate house etched on the label carried some fancy French name he couldn’t pronounce. Mark knew she’d laugh if he tried.
“This particular winery is a few kilometers south of Bordeaux. I’ve been there. It sits on a raised knoll, and the curve of the vine covered landscape faces the morning light. The grapes are sun kissed to life,” she said, her voice a low, lingering, almost erotic hum, and he couldn’t help but wish he were as lucky as the fruit.
If I interviewed one of your friends or family, what would they say were your talents?
I have a knack for never answering a yes or no question without offering a long winded, unnecessary explanation.
I also adore wine. What about you? I also do not have the knack for tasting notes, but can tell the difference between certain styles of wine. I prefer red, dislike white.
The text message read, “I pick up Hannah at 3. Until then, I will be having coffee at the shop across from her school.?”
He looked at his watch. 2:30. It would take five minutes to get there. He had to leave for work no later than 3:00. She knew that. He shook his head.
The car hummed along city streets, the smell of slow cooked beans wafting from the back seat. Janet had planned a pot luck for staff meeting, and his beans were always a favorite. Simple really, slow cook them, super slow with lots of ketchup.
Ketchup made things taste better.
She was sitting outside with the autumn leaves (strewn across a wooden table that was bolted to the ground). When his car pulled in, she stood up; a half wave. She’d worn his favorite jeans, the right leg too tight against her calf. Steam rising from two cups of coffee blew to the east; a storm coming. He took a deep breath, opened the car door and walked towards her. The diamond she still wore winked back at him, conspicuous and violently cruel.
It’s Thursday. I’m a bit melancholy, and I’m listening to Wilco. I should make better choices. What are you doing?
Oh yeah, tell me what you think of this tiny tale, please.
She is overwhelmed (which she expected) when they put his small, heavy head on her chest. His breathing is loud, but she focuses on the feeling in her belly, the empty space where he used to reside, all six pounds and twenty inches of him. He sighs, and his arm moves, or maybe she imagines it.
Someone takes a photograph, posts it to social media.
Her first child would be 18 now. Her second closer to 12. The third she bled out at 2 months. She ignores the usual guilt that comes when thinking on them, focuses on the fourth. Here he is, breathing, living and she could not love him more.
Yes, this will trap her, make her stay somewhere longer than a year or two, but she wants that consistency, craves the responsibility. Her mother is near, which matters more than she thought. Her sister stands in the corner, smiling, and at last, they finally understand each other. The tears come easily and neither are ashamed.
Out in the night the photo makes the rounds, each friend, each family member sharing in her joy. Almost a perfect moment.
I wanted to give her a handwritten letter, something tangible that she could look back on through the years with either revulsion or affection, maybe both. Instead, I bought her dark chocolate from a local merchant and a too expensive bottle of red wine (a label I knew she adored), which was better than last year, when I gave her stolen clothing that happened to be just her size.
I’m lucky like that.
Like the time I found 400 dollars in a small paper sack while walking to the grocery store. I stood in the center of the sidewalk, holding the money in one hand, the empty sack in the other, looking around like I had actually done something wrong. When no one rushed at me or screamed, hey, that’s mine, I did what anyone would have done. I put the money in my coat pocket and continued on my way.
I think I bought a leather jacket.
“I’m preparing myself,” he said, a trickle of orange juice still lingering, beaded into tiny dots in his beard, the cup loose in his right hand. “Because you never know when the moment will present itself. I’ve not been ready before. I can’t think of a worse feeling than missed opportunity.”
From the bottom of her beach bag, she took out a tube of sunscreen. She preferred the lotions to sprays, as the sensuality of application was lost in the pressing of a button. Besides, it was near impossible to be certain as to the thickness of a spray-on screen. The patchy sunburn she dealt with last June was all the evidence she needed. She held the tube in her hand, waiting for him to take it from her, to not miss this opportunity.
He suddenly shifted subjects.
“Fifty pushups each morning. Seventy five at lunch. Fifty more before bed.” He patted his bare chest with his left hand. “Amazing for the shoulders and back. The best all over core workout there is. Don’t fall for the gimmicks or the fads. Good, old-fashioned pushups.” He laughed, drank the rest of his juice in one giant, open gullet gulp, then used his forearm to wipe his lips.
He was the same. Always and forever the same.
For the first time, she wondered why she was here on this beach with him, staring out at her favorite ocean. It sounded blissful at first, a day away, the sun, the sound of the water, maybe a back-rub or a few soft kisses. Now, all she wanted was to walk out and into the waves, let the current take her.
It was quiet for twenty minutes before things shifted a third time. The sound of the water, the laughter and rustling of other beach-goers hung between them. He looked at her, sunglassed eye towards sunglassed eye.
“This morning when you called, I almost didn’t answer.” He waited for her to respond, when she didn’t he continued. “It’s because everything means too much, or never enough.”
He stood, the darkness of his shadow surprising and heavy across her face and neck.
“I’m going in. You can come if you like.” She winced. He turned and ran down to the waters edge.