Second Annual ALWAYCT Writing Festival: Blast the page!

Welcome friends and writers!  Now is the time to challenge yourself to write something that you want to share and get careful feedback on.

For our Second Annual ALWAYCT Festival there will be two rules:

~Limit your piece to 1000 words or less.

~If you submit, you pledge to share careful feedback on all the other submissions from your fellow writers.  Your feedback should be more than, “I liked it!”  Share suggestions for improvements and mention specific things that you thought were done well.  We all want to learn.

The rest is up to you.  Select your own format and topic.  Fiction, creative nonfiction, essays, poetry–you pick!  Can it be an excerpt from a longer piece?  Sure; just let us know that.

Time frame?  It’s open ended, but remember that I tend to post new challenges fairly frequently, so older ones start to drift off into the nether regions of this blog.  Post soon!

Am I going to comment on your submissions?  I will if I decide to post something of my own.

I look forward to reading your work.  Blast the page!

153 responses to “Second Annual ALWAYCT Writing Festival: Blast the page!

  1. You nap on the porch, a cigarette held motionless between puffy yellowed fingers, its ash long and leaning like that tower in Italy. Grey smoke curls upward disturbed intermittently by your breathing. I think of stories of people falling asleep with a cig in their hands, clothing catching fire, burning to death. I wonder if, among the mourners, sits just one person who doesn’t mourn.

    . . .

    I look at myself in the church pew trying not to cringe when well-wishers pat my shoulder and whisper words they remember from the movies. “If you need anything, anything at all…”

    I need a mother I tell them. I needed one for years. Not this carcass lying amid a cushion of imitation silk cradled in brushed aluminum-bronze.

    It’s the smoke, not the flames, which end your life. The neighbors call the fire department too soon. I want it all to burn. You. The house. The memories.

    “It won’t be the same without her,” they tell me. “If you need anything…”

    My sister weeps. Cries. Her lap is filled with soaked tissues. She screams asking how I could let this happen. She apologizes. She is tired from her long flight. How did the house get in such bad shape she demands.

    Yes, it won’t be the same.

    Sister wants to sell the house immediately. Estate sale. Divide things up.

    Looks like I will finally have to find a place of my own, sister tells me.

    I clutch my car keys in my hand wanting to scar her face, shred her perfect makeup, leaving her physical appearance as tattered as my soul. Instead, I smile. I tell her I’ll take care of it. Like everything else.

    Sister gives me a hug. You’re the greatest she says. Got to get to the airport. Connections. Will be home really late and husband doesn’t like me being away too long. She kisses my cheek; her vodka breath nauseates. I turn away.

    I call a Realtor. A contractor. An attorney.

    Your curio cabinet beckons, the one with the porcelain dogs. You play with them. Talk to them. The figurine of the two poodles is your favorite. I fling it against the wall. From dust to dust, ashes to ashes. I grab another and fling, and another, until they are dead. Like you.

    I pile your wardrobe on the stone patio. The family album with photos of you and sister on vacation. You and sister at a party. You and sister here. You and sister there. I strike a match. Too bad pictures can’t scream.

    Or porcelain dogs.

    I sign all the papers. Walk to my car. Turn the ignition. Sit.

    . . .

    I pluck the cigarette from your fingers and crush it with the sole of my shoe. I walk to the curio cabinet and pull out the poodles and place them in your hands. Today is not the day.

    • Jeff – The interaction between the siblings is just great. The issues of the mooch, the favorite, the caregiver, and the drunk (just to highlight a few) all work very well. My single criticism, lovingly given, is that the sentence, “I wonder if, among the mourners, sits just one person who doesn’t mourn.” doesn’t seem to go with the opening to me. Maybe I’m missing the larger picture, but each time I read it, I wonder, “What mourners?” Of course there are mourners in the middle portion, but I see that as a parallel universe story, and that sentence, where it is, blurs that for me.

      • Bueno, Gary. I see what you mean. Perhaps instead of

        “I think of stories of people falling asleep with a cig in their hands, clothing catching fire, burning to death. I wonder if, among the mourners, sits just one person who doesn’t mourn.”

        I should say “their mourners.” Good catch.

    • A powerful story, and one that the “unfavored child” can especially identify with. Funny about the gender comment…I read the whole thing as coming from the brother.
      You grabbed me from the beginning and I couldn’t let go till the end, then wanted more.
      Very good, my friend.
      Jeri aka Meegiemom

      • Hi Jeri – that is indeed a complimentary compliment for any writer. Thank you.

    • Jeff, I’m not the best at editing. However, I always enjoy your posts and this is no different. You’ve mastered the art of a well-placed metaphor. You also do an expert job of setting a tone with each paragraph — taunting, annoyance, disgust, sarcastic, yearning. I felt different emotions with each paragraph. Your choice of words paints vivid pictures as well as set us up for a certain emotion. “Puffy yellowed fingers” — I was repulsed and disgusted before I finished the sentence. I’m not observant enough to point out minor flaws so I won’t try. I do agree with Gary, though, regarding “the mourners”. I’d never catch something that subtle. At least subtle to me. Well done.

    • Jeff, I enjoyed the rather staccato cadence of your sentence structure. The disjointed effect compliments the bitter feelings and the edgy back and forth between the siblings. Having been the one that stayed behind to be the caregiver, these thoughts and feelings are so true. I would gladly read a fully develop short story or novel based on this fine piece.

    • Jeff,

      I like the work that you do. Each piece that you write I find engaging. Dirty – but, that is they way you like it, right. 🙂

      The final paragraph indicates that the deed hasn’t been done. She is actually alive, albeit not fully functional – either mentally or physically. The homicidal thoughts are threaded with the frustration of bearing the burden of caring for the mother. It seems a very real ‘fantasy’ with the paragraph “I sign all the papers. Walk to my car. Turn the ignition. Sit.”

      I really like the last sentence. The only thing I could imagine that is missing would be a reason that today is not ‘the day’. Even if it was only a glimmer of a reason.

      I am with Gary on dropping the “mourners” sentence altogether. Or move it to the fifth paragraph and maybe modify it to a question. “Among these mourners, could there be one who doesn’t mourn?” Something to indicate the narrator’s mourning state.

      As an aside, How does everyone feel about sentence structure? I mean fragments and run-ons. I know that they can be used for literary excitement. They can even be used to show the narrator’s literate status. I just wonder if we sometimes go too far. Can our writing sometimes be too casual?


      • From the comments received through yours I see I still have some work to do to clarify the action.

        “I think of stories of people falling asleep…” I hoped that this would setup the subsequent “daydream” sequence introduced with the first *** break.

        The part that starts following the para break with the *** was to indicate the MC going into a thought process or maybe a fantasy, coming to grips with his/her resentment of the mother. I had hoped to make this point starting with…

        “I look at myself in the church pew…”

        The mother is still sleeping at this point with the burning cigarette in her fingers. The part in the first para about the mourners is the MC’s reflection of mourners in general, at funerals in general.

        Then with the introduction of the para following the second set of *** brings the MC back into reality where he/she crushes the cigarette.

        Yes, I do need to make things clearer.

        Re the writing style, it is an extension of my flash fiction voice. I draw a wide line between the requirements of “English composition” and “creative writing.” In this story, especially the daydream section, the MC is in mental and emotional turmoil. I wanted the writing to reflect that scenario.

        It all makes perfect sense in my noggin. Perhaps if you could climb in with me… but then, it is already a bit crowded in here. LOL.

      • Jeff,
        My comment on composition wasn’t really in reflection of your writing in general. I think that this type of thing, using fragments, is just seen as common. I have noticed it a lot in full length novels from some well-known writers as well. But it is most definitely used extensively in flash fiction.

        Sorry, I didn’t catch that it was a dream. If it was a daydream, I think that my observation might still apply. 🙂

        If we could occupy each other’s mind, imagine what mischief those of us who participate here could wreak. I just got a chill.

      • Walter – Re “If we could occupy each other’s mind,…” (with a subtle prompting from Gullie’s story)

        I don’t recall the day she moved in. It wasn’t by invitation or conscious thought. Perhaps it was during a twilight moment, either prior to falling asleep, or awakening, that I first sensed her presence.

        Our relationship was subtle at first. I would catch her smile. A casual touch. Her scent. But then she would fade until her next appearance. It wasn’t long before I was looking forward to her next visit. And on those restless nights when she refused my wishes, I would lie awake, empty.

        Then one night she appeared in my most deepest sleep. She took my hand and we embraced, not as friends having a flirtatious moment, but with passion and lust. And love. A feeling one must experience at least once in a life. And a feeling that cannot be described, but felt.

        I awoke that morning and my hand reached across the bed for her. The sheets were cold. The pillow untouched. The joy of our love was exquisite. The pain of her absence debilitating.

        I search my mind for a glimpse of who she might have been. A friend of a friend that I met but once. A sales clerk. A character from some now forgotten book. The more I think of her, the fainter my memory – the curve of her neck; the arch of her nose; the touch of her lips.

        I have tried prior to sleep to cast away her memory as in some emotional exorcism. But like a boy afraid to jump into a swimming pool from the high board, I fall to my knees and hold the rails in fear.

        If you ever notice someone looking at you with an unsettling curiosity don’t be alarmed. Just offer a smile and a shake of your head, and move on. It might just be a person looking for someone who doesn’t exist.

    • I won’t leave a long review.. you’ve got plenty here but I just want to say that I disagree with all the comments about the mourner. it works perfectly exactly where it is. I don’t get changing it..?? It is powerful and makes sense. Good essay.

      • Also disagree with the gender thing. I thought it was a man because of the clipped interior dialogue. Knowing isn’t relevant.

      • Hi bzirk – Thank you. I think I will let it rest a month and take a look at it fresh. Will you be submitting something? Jeff

      • Letting it rest is always a good idea. No, I won’t be submitting anything here. My characters are a bit unsettling for this audience.

      • That’s a shame. I am a huge fan of unsettling.

    • After reading the plethora of comments you received, I have comments about the comments. I completely understand “I wonder if, among the mourners, sits just one person who doesn’t mourn.” Not sure why others have problems with it. For me it set the tone of the anger, the bitterness of someone who chooses to kill herself, takes for granted the sacrifices made to be a caregiver, and the overly emotional sister who never did anything but soak up glory. I do not understand why the gender of the speaker is important – seems to me, you are not focusing on gender because it is irrelevant to the impact. Like others, I can relate as the one who did care-taking, at the same time received the rejection notice. Powerful piece. Powerful that it was all in the speaker’s mind. How many of us play out scenarios that have not happened. As usual, I find your writing gripping.

  2. This is a story that hit a nerve . The latent anger of the narrator is very well exposed. As he/ she goes on talking one can feel frustration and anger rising only to be knocked down until the next time when the situation will worsen.

    The portrayal of the sister illustrates neatly how one responsible for caring for another human is embittered by those family creatures whose mantra is “I’d like to help but.” These creatures are a fountain of advice but a desert of help. “You’re the greatest,” she says thereby excusing herself from rendering any aid having dry-cleaned her soul.

    There may be readers who would like the gender of the narrator known. Why? The feelings this human has are gender equitable.

    I might like this more if it were presented as stream of consciousness, one thought or emotion bringing on another. A perceptive work. As I said it hit a nerve.

    • Thank you Paolo: I do not understand your comment re gender, “There may be readers who would like the gender of the narrator known. Why? The feelings this human has are gender equitable.”

      • Perhaps, questioning why anyone needs to know the gender of the narrator. It’s unnecessary. I thought it was a woman.

      • Ah now I get it. I was ambiguous about the sex and other physical details about the character. I thought them superfluous to the mental and emotional state. By omitting that detail I hoped to leat a reader “let the shoe fit” as desired. If a reader has experienced a similar event or feelings, then I wanted them to better identify with the character .

  3. This is an excerpt.

    Chapter 40
    June 16 2:00 a.m
    Wilcox Chicken Farm

    The huge black dog had been sleeping soundly on Loretta Pierson’s bed until she heard the noises outside. Fully awake and very angry she charged into the kitchen barking and snarling leaping at the door impatient to attack the danger outside.
    Loretta came lumbering into the kitchen, her open bathrobe flapping, shaking off sleep, and turning on lights as she moved. She took one look at the dog and pulled a twenty-gauge shotgun from the gun rack.
    “Mitzi, the way you’re acting something out there needs to be shot.” She broke the gun open, checked for shells in the chamber and snapped it shut. Before the door was fully open Mitzi squeezed through and ran snarling out into the dark. Loretta hurrying out after her stopped, outraged and shocked at what she saw. “My good Christ,” she screamed, “My brooder house!”

    Bright orange flames were licking loudly at the little wooden house blotting out any noise from the small birds inside. Before she could react, she heard a shotgun blast, and heard a dog’s agonized scream. Another blast followed.
    “Mitzi? God! What’s happened?” Then she saw the dark figure moving up on her. “You son of a bitch,” she screamed, “you killed my dog!” Her gun came up too late. Three more blasts boomed in the night and what was once Loretta Pierson was now a bloody pile of meat, stomach and intestines steaming in the night.

    * * *
    Happy Sullivan, AKA Virginia, aged 65, widowed seven years, was driving a red MG TD along Beefeater Road enjoying the morning. She loved this early morning when everything was still quiet; the air was fresh and the countryside panorama of green grass, sprawling wild flowers, blossoming trees, all standing clearly against a cloudless blue sky gave her a feeling of belonging to the earth.
    Her late husband had called her Happy because as he said to his friends, “I’ve never seen her cry, and when I come home all angry and frustrated, I talk with her five minutes and every thing is mellow. Amazing woman, my Happy.”
    She leaned forward and pressed down on the accelerator, smiling at the remembered thought. How he loved to go driving with me, she remembered. What fun we had. But now she was on her way to see her buddy, Loretta Pierson, to pick up some eggs; but mostly to sit out with her, drinking Loretta’s coffee while both of them nibbled on Happy’s raisin bran muffins.
    As she neared the farm she saw the first sign, shaped like a large white hen; her wing raised and pointing down the road advertising the farm, Wilcox’s Eggsstordinary Eggs, Thata way. She had to laugh whenever she saw that sign and the next one, another huge bird this one smiling, holding a sign that read: Any Fresher and They’d Still Be In the Bird. There was one more sign right at the turn to the drive, this one was a recumbent bird with eyes crossed, feet pointing at the sky while holding up a card that read Ask About Our Chicken Retirement Plan. Eddy Pierson, Loretta’s brother, now dead, had done the signs and while Loretta did not get too enthused over them she let them stay and saw that they were maintained.
    Happy downshifted and swung the car up the little grade carefully avoiding a patch of dirt at the bottom. She was very proud of her immaculate little car knowing it made people look and smile when she went by. She pulled into the parking lot and slammed on the brakes and sat there horrified, her mouth open.
    On the little hill above the parking lot thin blue streamers of smoke were still rising from what remained of a brooder house. Now the stench of burned feathers and old lumber reached her and she began to gag, then she saw the mess by the back porch. She got out, walked closer and stopped. Then she vomited and started screaming.
    Minutes later Ian and Charlie were on the scene. Yellow tape was up across the road and their cars were parked laterally across the road blocking any interested spectators. When they arrived at the scene Ian had a brief thought about not calling Pulio and his crime squad. It was another murder in his town. Now three people were dead and still nothing was happening. But not calling was pointless. Pulio ran major crime; that was it. Feelings about him didn’t count. So now they were watching as his men went over the field searching for evidence. They had both talked with Happy Sullivan who could only say what she saw when she got there.
    Now as the medical examiner was finishing her work, movement by the road made Pulio turn. “Lady, this is a crime scene. Get the hell out of there! Can’t you read?”
    Minerva Sherman stood inside the tape, fingers locked over the back of her head, mouth open, gaping at the scene. Ian ran over to her grabbing her by the arm.. “Minerva,” he growled, “What the hell are you doing here?”
    She stepped back staring at him, shaking off his hand. In a barely audible voice she replied, “I brought her some blackberries for her pies. I left them in the car when I saw the lights and the tape.” Now she crossed her arms over her chest and looked tearfully at Ian. “What’s happened? Is Mrs. Pierson all right? Tell me! I want to know!” Her voice was high-pitched; her head was turning rapidly back and forth as she cried. “She’s dead isn’t she? And over there,” she pointed with a shaky finger at the remains of the brooder house, “The little chickens are burnt up aren’t they? Everything here is dead, isn’t it?”
    Ian just looked at her.
    “Oh, he did it,” she screamed; “Oh Jesus, he did it!” she sobbed. She turned away and ran down the drive.

    • Hi Paolo: overall I found the action to be passive with many opportunities for action and description lost to words and phrases such as “came lumbering” instead of something direct and descriptive; “Loretta hurrying out after he stopped” instead of a more active description showing some emotion. With all that happened in the first paragraph it came across more of an abbreviated description. I was not caught up in the action. No urgency or danger felt. Dialogue read stilted and unnatural. Unfortunately I lost interest quickly.

    • Paolo, the description of Loretta’s body was much too gory for my taste, but I tend to avoid gore at all cost. I think you have a good mystery developing here, but there are a number of areas that just don’t flow smoothly.

    • Pablo, I truly started enjoying the story when Happy entered. I think it started to flow more naturally. You did a good job with word choice, descriptions and detail once Happy came into the picture. And The last sentence did leave me wanting to know who did it. I think the first part just needs a little tweaking, possibly as simple as tense changes and stronger verbs. Good luck with your novel.

    • Palo, I almost gave up reading when you introduced the rifle in the same paragraph as the dog. I’m such a dog lover that I didn’t want any part of the dog getting hurt. But I kept going. I can’t say that I’,m ok with all the burnt up chickens and Loretta being splattered all over the porch, but you held my attention to the end. I got into the action and into your extensive descriptions. Now I want to know Who Done It. I am not naturally drawn to this sort of story, but I would probably read more of this mystery.

    • I think it is hard for all of us to examine a piece that has to be cut to 1000 words. I think you can intensify the opening scene, it needs more action to really capture the horror and mystery of who would do such a heinous act. I think Happy needs more detail surrounding her view of her friend’s demise. I think it is a good piece just needs some added detail to achieve the impact I believe you want to achieve.

  4. Das Hotel Bismarck
    Achtzehn Leopoldstrasse
    Dar-es-Salaam, Deutsch-Ostafrika

    July, 27th, 1912

    Dearest Annalisa,

    I received your letter of the 4th instant. You will be delighted to know, as much as I enjoy telling you perhaps, that I had my shoe fixed by a toothless Arab plying his trade in the bazaar. I was forced to pay in pounds sterling, and shall refuse to tell you the amount, but trust it was not terribly dear. As a result of my offering, and, in no small part to your kind encouragement, I no longer skulk about as a tramp.

    Let these few lines, in some measure, relieve me of my compunction for not having written you sooner, and so to forestall any future slight, I dash off a few lines to you now in regards to a most peculiar encounter I experienced last week. I trust this tale will bring that crooked smile to your beautiful face.

    I met an Englishman in the hotel lobby while checking my trunk with the concierge. He seemed the most accurate of stereotypes, as his hat was a bit askew and his teeth much the same. Gravy stains dotted his waistcoat, which was nearly threadbare in spots, and he appeared much distracted.

    Every now and again he checked his watch, which he kept in the breast pocket of that shabby waistcoat. Sitting next to him, I enquired as to his need to be so punctual, and I was quite taken aback when he informed me he had no schedule to keep, and that, in fact, he was retired from labor and it had become his custom to spend much of the day sitting in the hotel lobby making conversation with guests.

    As for his watch, he said wistfully, if one can wax wistful when discussing a chronometer, it had stopped some seven days prior and he continued to check it simply as a reminder of earlier times. Earlier times, presumably, when the instrument reliably kept accurate time.

    I suggested a competent jeweler in Berlin who might repair his timepiece at a reasonable rate, but he said there was no need as the watch had stopped for no reason other than a lack of winding. Confused, I asked why he didn’t wind the watch. “Memories” he said, placing the watch back in the breast pocket of that most disgusting waistcoat.

    I smiled, and bid him guten tag.

    A most typical Englishman.

    Wouldn’t you agree?

    I thought you might enjoy this little story darling. You should keep a scrapbook of these tales for our children to read. When they become old, as we.

    Tomorrow we sail by steamship across Lake Victoria. Stuart says we must depart early, and the lake is more often than not shrouded in fog at that hour. It is, however, the only way to reach the bauxite mines before mid-day. I think The Company has made the grand bargain in Afrika. Tomorrow shall tell.

    Much love to you all. The little pup too.


    • Mein Liebling Ehemann,

      Your most welcome letter from Africa arrived yesterday. After dinner last night – Nanna prepared a feast of sauerbraten and noodles, followed by a delicious schwarzwälder kirschtorte (I do hope you are eating decent food in Africa) – we retired to the parlor where I opened your envelope with care. Mutter and Nanna sat with great patience as I read the letter aloud. Young Karl fidgeted about the floor with his building blocks. Karl laughed when we did as I read your letter aloud ,but he is, of course, too young to understand such travels.

      My vision of an Arab without teeth was at first disturbing, if not repugnant, but after reflecting, it brought a smile to my lips.

      I think that Englishman was silly to have a watch that didn’t work. I bet it was not as beautiful as the watch you carry. You look so handsome and distinguished when you pull it from your vest. The English swarm about Berlin these days. They wear a sense of superiority as if it were some fine outer garment ignoring the tragedy of the loss of their wunder schiff Titanic and the ignorance of its Captain. They consistently order tea in the outdoor gardens and sometimes become belligerent when told that beverage is not available.

      I don’t wish to alarm you, mein liebe, but the newspapers of late carry rumblings and rumors of discontent in the Balkans. You know I often fret over unsettling events which I don’t understand, and I long for your return. I am not fearful for my safety, or the safety of our family. Nor do I think your distant travels face any jeopardy. Perhaps I am simply saying that I miss your company and the comfort you provide . Little Karl is in need of a father at home.

      After reading the letter, Nanna retrieved the atlas from your library and showed me where Deutsch-Ostafrika is, and the lake named after the English Queen. I don’t know what bauxite is, or what it is used for, but if it is important to you and the security of our family, then I wish you success in such matters.

      The engraving of the hotel on the envelope and letterhead shows a grand structure indeed. The next time you write to us, we would love for you to mark the window of your room so we can imagine you sitting there waving at us.

      We miss you but understand the necessity of your travels. I passed your greetings to Karl’s puppy who has taken a fondness to one of your slippers. I will have a new pair waiting for you when you return.

      Your faithful wife,


    • Gary, I thoroughly enjoyed your dialect, even though it was a bit hard to comprehend in places. That did not detract from the whole, however. I do agree that “Daddy” should have stayed in character with the rest of the piece. What’s daddy in German?
      Good piece!
      Jeri aka Meegiemom

      • garytreible

        Yup, originally the writer was from NYC. I changed that because I thought a German’s interest in aluminum ore more appropriate in the time frame. Then, I screwed up. You can’t “find and replace” an idea.

        BTW, “Instant”, and I love this stuff, is an archaic term for “this month”. At the turn of the last century it was common to use Instant, or Proximo (next month) or Ultimo (the previous month) in correspondence. Generally, these are written in our grandparents letters as abbreviations such as Inst, or Ult.

    • Gary, how wonderful to read your letter and by the end forget that you’re not actually in the early 1900s. The story about the typical englishman was a delight. Loved your description of him and his eccentricities. Would signing off as “Papa” be more appropriate? I’d go on but I’d continue to repeat what others have already said. I thoroughly enjoyed this as I do all your pieces.

    • Gary, I can always tell when I am engrossed in a story, I start reading with the accents of the characters in my head. I could actually hear the Narrator and the Englishman. I could smell that waistcoat and I could not hear the watch ticking. Each morsel that this story fed me was a delight.

    • Gary,

      I have been wading my way through ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker. Which is a story told via letters. This story has the same flair as Stoker’s. I have traveled a good bit around the US with my previous employment. Making note of what people do and say in hotel lobbies and bars was a splendid pastime of mine. This is something that I would have noticed straight away and so happily told my wife when I got back home. If I had lived in the early part of that century I might have written a letter similar to this. Lovely to read. Thanks for posting it.


  5. Gary – while the use of a “letter” to tell a story is not unique, I think you have captured the spirit of the medium with a delightful story that embraces the language of the day. You incorporated stereotypical images of different cultures most pleasantly.

    The story of the Englishman, his watch and logic was a delight.

    Travelling through the story I had no idea where it was going and really enjoyed the trip. (I even contacted Mr Google to see if there indeed was such a named hotel)

    I am guessing that the nationality of the writer is German. But I was puzzled a bit by the ending signed “Daddy” which is more English than German.

    It was refreshing to read this from you, a departure from your usual humor.

  6. Was anyone else a bit disturbed by the tone of Jeffswitts’ reply to Paolo’s work? I would never submit anything to this blog with the fear of this type of “critique”. Be helpful but kind with your words. Life is short.

    • Actually Switt’s suggestions work really well when applied – and the Paolo’s piece is worth the effort. Maybe he could have said that also; but basically he must be a pretty kind person if the dog in the Gravitar is any indication, or was he after your jugular Jeff?

    • I didn’t have a problem with the critique. This site is a learning experience for most of us. We’re here to advance our craft, and the input from other writers is very valuable. We all write from our own perspective, and can’t expect everyone to like everything that we do.

  7. Hi mates, good piece of writing and pleasant urging commented at this place, I
    am genuinely enjoying by these.

  8. Baggage

    What is there about the human mind that causes us to carry around a load of unhappy memories? The mother who didn’t love you, the best friend who betrayed you, the wife who dumped you…..the list goes on and on. Often these negative periods of our lives have a more powerful impact on our future than the positive events that we all experience.

    Sue’s beloved grandfather was the only father figure she had in her life. She spent a large portion of her childhood with her grandparents while her mother worked to support them. When grandpa died Sue was twenty years old, and she began a period of self-destructive behavior that goes on to this day, twenty years later. It seems all of her self-esteem went to the grave with her beloved grandfather.

    Lyle’s story is similar. His father died when he was eleven years old. He reacted in a not uncommon way, getting very angry. When he began to realize that his anger was so effective in controlling those around him, he began to use it as a tool, and continued that behavior for the rest of his life. His verbal abuse was a constant when he was married and raising his two daughters. He became so mean when he was angry that no one was willing to confront him with what this was doing to the family. His wife left him for a kinder man, and his daughters never formed powerful, loving relationships with the men in their lives. When he was an old man Lyle was confronted once, and, in his own words, destroyed the one thing that mattered most in his life, the wife he loved with all his heart. Unfortunately, that love was not enough to cause him to control his anger.

    Cam’s family members were devout Jews. A grandfather was a respected Rabbi and their faith had been with them for many generations. In World War II, Cam’s brother died of polio while stationed in Burma. The loss was so traumatic that Cam’s parents abandoned their faith, feeling that a God that could permit that much pain could not be. Cam’s negativism toward religion of any kind lives with him to this day.

    Alan’s father Mike was a highly respected engineer working on top secret government projects when he died on a business trip. It was 1944, and Alan had just celebrated his twenty first birthday the day before and happened to be home on leave from Officer’s Training. Still reeling from the effects of the great depression, many residents of Buffalo, NY had suffered huge financial losses and were struggling to feed their families. When news of Mike’s death reached the city, hundreds of people lined up in front of the family home to pay their respects. Unknown to anyone in the family, Mike had been helping many of these families during those difficult years. Alan’s father’s body lay in state for five days, and the family was upstairs all that time, dealing with having his body there. Alan simply could not deal with funerals after that time. Death was something to be pushed away as quickly and simply as possible.

    Ginny was raised in a stable, but sterile environment. Her mother, who may have been molested as a child, provided everything but love and attention. Ginny’s father, respecting his wife’s beliefs that a child was “to be seen and not heard”, kept his distance. The family sat down together every night to a good dinner, and went for Sunday drives, and did most everything else as a normal family at that time, except give their children affection and approval. Ginny was an outstanding student, and a talented singer, but at no time in her young life did was she ever praised for her excellent grades. Although she could likely have had a scholarship and gone on to study voice in college, her parents had no interest in her attending college. It was never discussed, and it wasn’t until Ginny was in her thirties and divorced that she returned to her education and began to attend college. She never heard either parent say “I love you,” and was never touched. A kiss or a hug, so taken for granted by most children, was never given. Ginny remembers standing behind her father as he read the evening paper, combing his hair. Only years later did she realize it was a way of touching him.

    Ginny’s story does have an upbeat side to it, though. She began to raise her own children in the same way she was raised, although she adored them. Several years after her divorce when the children were teenagers Ginny married Alan, and Alan was a hugger. It didn’t take long before Ginny and her children were kissing, hugging and telling one another “I love you.” They did manage to rise above Ginny’s upbringing baggage. However, Ginny will always feel the need for approval, and goes out of her way to do things that people will approve of. She still loves to sing, and will forever feel a huge loss that she was never able to pursue her voice studies.

    We all know people who carry personal baggage, sometimes more well-disguised than others. Many can actually discuss the losses they’ve suffered because of that baggage, and some have moved on to overcome those losses. Unfortunately for many of us, the memories of those painful experiences stay with us, and rear their ugly heads at the slightest opportunity.

    © Meegiemom

    • Jeri – I think this piece has commercial publication possibilities, so some suggestions.

      I think your treatment of the characters needs expanding. The way it is presented comes across like some powerpoint presentations I have seen regarding mental health recovery. I felt that each story was presented as though we already knew more about each individual.

      The ending: I wanted a positive ending to this instead of ending, “Unfortunately…”

      I did have a chuckle at the thought of “Ginny was raised in a stable…” (comma problem there. LOL)

      • After about a gajillion rereads, I missed the stable…it’s got me giggling. Thank you for your very helpful comments. I tried to end with some sort of resolution, but would never have managed a stay under 1000 words. I am going to rework and expand this.

    • Your story is well written and I enjoyed the character’s stories. I felt some stories read a bit more formal than others almost as if reading research notes. I think I would like the piece even more with more anecdotes and emotional moments thrown in. “Ginny was raised in a stable” tickled my funny bone as well. I think you should take Jeff’s suggestions and expand the characters and stories.

      • Thanks so much for your input Lisa. I had to make my character descriptions brief to stay under 1000 words. I intend to expand on this piece, though, thanks to the encouraging words from our peers.
        I cannot tell you how many times I proofed that piece, and still left Ginny raised in a stable! Sheesh!

    • Having been raised in a nurturing, loving family, I seldom take time to consider that many, many people did not have that gift. Each of your vignettes portray unique circumstances, but have a universal message of how deeply one can be scarred by their upbringing. Ginny could have done worse that being raised in a stable….Jesus started that way. I would encourage you to work on this piece and pursue publication. It has real potential to help people understand the stumbling blocks that so many face as a result of a negative rearing.

      • Thank you so much, Peanut. The input from this group has been so heartwarming. It’s very difficult revealing painful details about our lives, but if we can help others by doing so it takes on new meaning.

        Your kind words are sincerely appreciated.

        Jeri aka Meegiemom

    • Jeri, This is very good. The metric I use is, “Do I know these people?” The answer here is definitely “Yes, most of them in fact.”

      The only thing I’ve got for you on this one is, “When he was an old man Lyle was confronted once, and, in his own words, destroyed the one thing that mattered most in his life, the wife he loved with all his heart. Unfortunately, that love was not enough to cause him to control his anger.”

      I thought this a bit awkward because of the term “confronted” used with a person with anger issues. I read that looking for the fight. Also “said he had destroyed….” Makes it flow better for me.

      Very nice job!

      • Gary, I’m terribly sorry it’s taken me so long to respond, but I wanted to write a bit more than usual and needed to find time for it. First, you threw this at me “The metric I use is.” This is terminology I’m completely unfamiliar with except in mathematics. Asking Mr. Google about it didn’t help. Care to explain? Are you a wordaholic?

        Lyle was confronted by his soon to be ex wife (that would be me) when she was finally fed up with his abuse. It was the beginning of the end, and too long coming…thirteen years to be exact.

        Please tell me, do you think this is good enough to enter into the writing contest Ann just told us about. I’m so green here. I have no idea what the quality of my writing is, or how to make it better.

        Thanks for reading’ along, my friend, and thank you so much for taking the time to critique my piece.


      • garytreible

        Jeri, Sorry, please excuse the “business speak”. At work, when one has a goal, say ‘on-time delivery’ for example, there is a corresponding “metric” for that goal, which is simply how it’s measured. What I was (poorly) trying to convey is when a story contains intimate details of people’s lives, I want to feel like I’ve known someone like them. If I don’t, it seems foreign, or manufactured.

        I really liked this piece.

  9. It has been a rainy-drizzly night and morning, too wet to work outside in the pastures, too tired to resume my remodeling project. So I’ve been reading and playing with words.


    The two-lane blacktop passes an intersecting unpaved and unmarked road which, if taken, ends some two miles distant at a mound of dirt. A barricade with faded orange stripes tells anyone who makes it that far that it is time to turn around. In truth, few make it this far through the inhospitable environment.

    Tree frogs sing their mating songs beneath a canopie of pines. The musky smell of humus hangs thick and fetid, the air holding stagnant without a hint of breeze. The thickness of the forest sits in near-blackness in spite of a full moon.

    A trail wraps around the side of the mound in a south-easterly direction. A pine board driven upright into the ground stands as a lone and aged sentry. Once yellow and stout, now grey with decay, it bears a simple message in black block letters giving anyone foolish to have come this far a silent warning: TRESSPASSERS WILL BE SHOT. The board shows evidence of at least two shotgun blasts as if to emphasize the point. I am certain I am the first in untold years to come this far with the intent of going farther. I pray I will be the first one to make it back out.

    I pause and take two deep breaths. Through gloved fingers I touch a wrist; my pulse is rampant. I breath slowly and deeply for sixty beats. I adjust the collar of my Kelvar vest which needs no adjusting. I try to remember the last time I saw my daughter; what she was wearing; what she smelled like; what we said when I dropped her off at school. A mother shouldn’t have to try to remember such things.

    A glance at the compass on my wrist reads 120-degrees. Its freshly charged luminescent dial glows green. I can’t chance using a flashlight. I give a reassuring touch to the safety on my AR which holds one round chambered and thirty in its magazine. My foot steps silently on a blanket of pine needles. One-hundred yards to go before making my first turn.

  10. Wow, you have captured my undivided attention until I find out what the rest of this story is going to bring. Nothing to criticize, only compliments on a very good story. I hope you’re going to post more of it.

  11. ( True Story )


    “Hello, my name is Peanut Beranski and I am here for my interview with Mr. Fuller.”

    “Please take a seat and I will let him know that you’re here Miss Beranski.”

    It was 1973 and I was fresh out of college and about to interview for my first “Real Job.” There had been an ad in the local newspaper regarding openings for on-air announcers at a new radio station, WFIM-FM 103.9. This was the sister station to WTRC-AM Radio and WSJV Television in Elkhart. WFIM was going to be a revolutionary format.; it would play easy listening music but all the disc Jockeys were going to be female. As I recall, during that time in our history, the FCC was encouraging, if not insisting, that more women be included in broadcast media.

    I interviewed with Don Fuller, the station manager and Allen Stryke. program director. After they gathered some basic information, they handed me a script to read. As I made my way through the test copy, their faces conveyed a distinct look of being under-whelmed with my audition.

    ‘”That’s good, but can you sound older?” Stryke ask.

    I thought for a moment and then remembered the sound of my 8th grade, chain-smoking Gym Teacher, Biserka T. Wellington. I did my best to replicate her intonation and yelled. “Hit the showers.” They both jumped.

    To this day, I am not sure if I got hired because I scared them or if they were just impressed with my moxie, but I got the job.

    On the first day of my new career, I filled out the obligatory tax forms, signed some other official papers and was given a tour of the station. My studio had three glass walls and one wall of shelves that contained row upon row of records. There were two turn tables, several 8 track tape players, a console with numerous knobs, gauges and switches and a large microphone suspended in air.

    Directly across from the studio were, as Mr. Fuller put it, the two most important rooms in the entire station; the restroom and the bomb shelter. I knew what the restroom was used for, but I was totally unfamiliar with “The Bomb Shelter”. I thought perhaps it was code for the room where you went to be reprimanded after a bad show.

    “What’s the bomb shelter for Mr. Fuller?”

    He opened the door to the secured room and pointed out the amenities.

    “Over there, in the far corner, are the fifty-gallon drums of potable water and those boxes contain enough ration cookies for six weeks. These are the sleeping cots and this is the broadcasting console. You will be instructed by Civil Defense what information to announce so people will know what is going on and where they should go for safety.”

    “Safety?” I said in a shocked voice. “Safety from what?”

    Mr. Fuller looked me directly in the eye and calmly replied, “Nuclear Attack.”

    ”Oh, Mr. Fuller, I am so very sorry, but if we have Nuclear War, I am pretty sure that my Mom will want me to go home.”

    Fuller exited the room shaking his head and I followed at a distance. Once I was in the hall, I stopped to process what I had just experienced. I was 21 years-old, naive and totally out of my element. In short, I was scared.

    Within moments I felt a hand on my shoulder.

    “Can I help you?”

    I turned to see the most cheerful, welcoming face. He had sliver hair, jolly red cheeks and the biggest pair of glasses ever worn by mankind. It was Bill Darwin, who worked on WTRC Radio. I told him about touring the station and The Bomb Shelter. I told him what I had said to Mr. Fuller about my Mother wanting me to go home and how foolish I felt.

    I expected a reaction form him that would be somewhere between belittlement and laughter. Instead he looked at me with complete sincerity and said, “Don’t you worry, if the missiles are launched, you go straight home, I’ll cover for you.”
    That was the beginning of a long friendship. Bill and I worked the same hours, each in our own, sound-proof booths, separated by a thick glass wall. And even though we couldn’t talk to each other during our shows, we communicated through a form of charades, and big smiles.

    My friend Bill died Thursday, May 7th at age 80. He was a joyful man of charitable nature. He touched many people through his work, his community involvement, and his strong faith. Thank you Bill for all the years that you Had Us Covered.

    • Peanut, I enjoyed your tribute to Bill and as always your view of things always has me smiling, chuckling or roaring with laughter. I tell my daughter about your stories all the time so that we can chuckle together. I am sorry that you lost such a wonderful friend but glad you shared him with us.

    • Peanut, that was a heartwarming tribute to your friend, and also a reminder of another worrisome time in our country.
      Good work!

    • Peanut, lovely Tribute piece and personal memoir. Now, “Hit the showers!”

    • Awesome.
      You have an apparent innate ability to tell a story and I do love to read them when you post. We should all have someone that can touch our lives as your friend Bill clearly touched yours.

  12. Hi Peanut – what a lovely tribute. I loved the deeper voice and going home in the event of a nuclear attack. When we had those silly drills at school I felt totally safe sitting in the hallways with my head between my knees. ***poof***

  13. A silly thought came to me washing dishes this morning…

    A Tribute to Metaphors
    (Or whatever the damn things are called)

    The closeness of the buildings that defined the alley and the unfamiliar smells and sounds wrapped me in fear and my hands began shaking like one of those vibrating paint can machines at Jones hardware. Without warning the lid popped of the gallon of Seafoam Green and the contents hit me like an ocean wave at Pismo Beach.

    I wiped the salty spray from my eyes and spit sand and seaweed like a human mulching machine. A voice yelled to me, “Turn off that damn machine, I’m trying to sleep!” I mumbled an apology and stumbled from the alley like the town drunk.

    A policeman cornered me, smelled my breath, and ticketed me for public intoxication. I felt embarrassed like in those dreams where I am walking in public naked not knowing why.

    The policeman turned and cuffed me and took me to the station for booking for indecent exposure. I felt like a common criminal when they fingerprinted me and was told I had several outstanding warrants.

    I felt small and insignificant as an ant, and my 8 little legs scurried me down the floor into the break room. I was hungry and started eating crumbs on the floor like a starving lion and let out a roar. Swishing my tail and gnashing my teeth, I burst out the front door like a comet, and soon I was blasting across the skies streaming a long icy tail.

    The sky was as black as my ex-wife’s heart and I felt it beating like a drum. I strapped the drum to my chest and walked away to a different beat.

    I found myself walking down a familiar alley. My hands started shaking…

  14. Monica stared at the pile of bills scattered about the counter. She dialed 1-800-loans-r-us. An overly pleasant voice came on the line, “You have reached the voice mail of Loans-R-Us. Due to a large volume of applications we are not accepting new loan applications at this time. Please check with us at a later date.”

    She choked the handset with two meaty hands then repeatedly slammed the vintage-style handset onto its cradle. The phone crashed to the ground then cracked and spilled its guts onto the floor.

    Still holding the handset in one hand and the bill in the other Monica drew back her leg then let it sling-shot toward the few pieces within reach. A chunk bulletted to the left finding a target – a ceramic urn. It shattered vomiting its dusty contents onto the floor.

    She spat at the ashes and stomped on them attempting to drive each particle into the floor. “Damn you, Henry. This is all your fault. A damn second mortgage. Depleting the emergency fund. Selling off my jewelry.“
    She misstepped and her foot skidded across the ash as the force of her weight body-slammed her mass onto the floorboards. “Aaaagggh!! “ Monica shook her fists in the air, rolled onto her belly, and pounded at the ashes.

    “Of course, I’d fall.” She continued pounding. Each fist thudded in time with a verbal outburst. “Henry-” Pound. “you-“ Pound. “ bastard-” Pound. She continued to pound until her arms fell limply before her. Exhausted she rolled onto her backside. Her body deflated among the ashes as she whispered, “You’ve never been around to catch me when I fall, you piece of shit. You had to go and follow your dream. A stunt man, what a joke. And where’d that get you. Fell off a damn building trying to learn parkour.” She rolled onto her side drawing her legs up against her ribs. She hugged herself. Her eyes closed.

    Monica heard a ringing and saw Henry on his mountain bike with that silly little bell. She opened her eyes and realized the phone was ringing. The clock told her half hour had passed since she hung up the phone. Searching for the cordless she inched her large frame toward the source of the ringing.

    When she answered a husky but pleasant voice said, “This is Dwight Pruitt from the Agency for the Stuntmen of America. I’d like to speak to Henry Robinson regarding a stunt job.”

    Monica’s eyes glanced at the bill that had fallen to the floor. She thought of the pile sitting atop her counter. The bills totaled more than $15,000. A voice coaxed her from her thoughts, “Hello. Hello. Are you there?”

    “Uh, yes, yes. I’m here.” She picked up the bill and glanced at the word stamped on front in large bold print – OVERDUE. “Henry isn’t here at the moment but I’m his wife. Can I take a message?”

    “Well, we need him for a few falls – nothing too risky. It’s short notice but we’d make it worth his time. The job pays double time — $400 an hour. Can he make it to 114 Belmont St. by one o’clock?”

    Her eyes widened and she mouthed the words “$400 an hour”. “Yes, yes, of course, I’ll make sure he’s there. Thank you.”

    Monica stood up, grabbing at her leg, “Ouch.”

    She limped to the bathroom and stared in the mirror. She surveyed her short shaggy hair, stocky frame and minimal breasts. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d be mistaken for a man. In fact, she and Henry favored each other so closely that many of their friends had called them “the twins”. She swept up Henry’s ashes and placed them in a jar. Then she smiled as she grabbed Henry’s wallet and headed for Belmont St. hoping to pull off the stunt of a lifetime.

    • Lisa, that was delightful, and the twist at the end just polished it off perfectly.
      Did she make it?

      • Thanks for the kind words, Jeri. It’s nice to have you here. My heroines usually succeed on their missions. Monica went on to become one of the most sought after stunt women on the East coast. Have a wonderful Mother’s Day.

    • Lisa, I thoroughly enjoyed the trips, spills and overall mess of Monica’s desperate life. The ending is not expected but certainly leaves room for this tale to grow and prosper. At times, “shattered, vomiting its contents onto the floor” seemed a bit forced, but perhaps that is just my taste. I tend to gravitate toward “understated”.

      I think any time you spend refining this piece will be time well spent. You’ve got a winner here.

      • Thanks, Peanut, you’re too kind. And yes, I think the whole thing is overkill but in the end I had fun writing it. Almost as much fun as I have when I read your stories. When you publish your memoirs please let us know. It’s at the top of my reading list.

    • Lisa (my wife’s name, so I’m “extra” careful now) This is a great story. I learned what “parkour” was and that it can be fatal. A suggestion for you is not to short change the reader with a phrase like “vintage-style handset.” The subject of your story is far more clever than that.

      “I beat the receiver against the avocado beast. Connected only by the curly wire, it’s bell tolled a final time as it hit the floor.”

      You’ve seen that phone. So have I. 🙂

      • Thank you, Gary. I haven’t quite figured out metaphors but I love your example — “avocado beast”. That’s great stuff. In fact, I truly look forward to reading your pieces. I’m in awe of you. Hopefully, your Lisa is too. 😊Thanks for being “extra” careful.

  15. Lisa – I thought it an interesting concept for a story, It began with a conflict and ended with a (potential) resolution. There is, of course, lots more the story could unravel, but it was an ending that left a smile to a mini-tragedy, so that is good.

    NitPicking: “Monica stared at the pile of bills scattered about the counter.” It would be either a pile or stack of bills, or bills scattred. One cannot have a scattered pile because it wouldn’t be a pile, would it?

    I thought the smashing of the phone etc to be a bit overplayed.

    For emphasis, instead of “Each fist thudded in time with a verbal outburst. “Henry-” Pound. “you-“ Pound. “ bastard-” Pound.”

    see how :::





    “ bastard-”


    increases the effect. Perhaps, either way is overkill.


    In the para that follows that, you used the word “ringing” three times. See what other words can be used to tell the same idea. Myself, I am reluctant to use the same word twice in a short story, let alone the same para.

    “The clock told her half hour” – clocks don’t really talk and that is a bit of a cliche. Think how better to write this.

    It was refreshing to see that you don’t fall in the trap of using a lot of adverbs (Remember, show, don’t tell) I noticed only one. Try rewriting showing, not telling.

    (Note to all: most who know me here are aware that I rarely give editorial comment on stories posted. However, with this “challenge” we were instructed: “~If you submit, you pledge to share careful feedback on all the other submissions from your fellow writers. ”


    • Thanks for the critique, Jeff. I wouldn’t mind this sort of critique for all my posts. I never seem to catch those darn oxymorons I use in my writing. I need a full time editor.

      Though, I don’t mind your critique because I know you mean well someone newer to the sight may not be ready for it. We’re all sensitive writers after all. I’m hoping Paolo isn’t discouraged and continues to write. So remember to include positive points in your critiques as well. We all need the encouragement.

  16. I am very pleased to have your critique, Jeff. I don’t know you, but you certainly sound like you know your writing. Are you published, or isn’t that a polite question among writers? I’m pretty green here.
    Jeri aka meegiemom

    • Hi Jeri – I have had a few short fiction pieces accepted/published at various online sites. Nothing in traditional print except as part of collected quarterly works from one site.

      • Would you mind telling me where you found online sites to post your writing? I’ve looked all over and found nothing, but maybe I’m using the wrong search terms.
        If you’d rather, feel free to use my email address,

  17. Happy Mother’s Day to all the wonderful mothers out there!

  18. jeffswitt: Yes, we all read Anne’s instructions. Perhaps you should look up the word ‘careful’. I’m curious, why did you join a BEGINNERS’ writing class?

    • I’m curious. Why do you think this place is for beginners, and why do you think it’s a class? FYI I took Ann’s BWW course 2 years ago.

    • I looked up the word careful. I found two definitions. The one that applies to this task is as follows: done with or showing thought and attention such as
      “a careful consideration of the facts”

      synonyms: attentive, conscientious, painstaking, meticulous, diligent, deliberate, assiduous, sedulous, scrupulous, punctilious, methodical;

      So instead of trying to pick a fight over a critique that had nothing to do with you, why not write and post something that exemplifies your writing skills?

    • Iola, I don’t think this is the platform for this sort of personal complaint. We’re all here to share our writing, appreciate other’s, and hopefully learn a thing or two.
      Most of us appreciate Jeff taking the time to critique our pieces. He’s doing exactly what our mentor Ann requested.

      • In Lola’s defense, I was at first taken aback by Jeff’s critique. But having been on Ann’s blog off and on I know Jeff has never been mean-spirited. Let’s hope Paolo and Lola will continue to join in.

    • Lola, unfortunately when writing rather than having a dialogue I think the tone can be misunderstood. I agree that the critiques Jeff gives can seem harsh but I’m sure it’s not meant to discourage but to teach. Please don’t be discouraged if you’re a new writer. This particular prompt is given annually and critiques are encouraged. However, Ann’s typical prompts are for practice and inspiration. No critiques are usually given unless requested. Good luck to you in your writing.

  19. Sorry, I thought it was Iola.
    We are all very fortunate to have this blog available to us. Ann is giving us the opportunity to share our writing here, and that is so important. I thank you for that, Ann.
    I hope you’re pleased with what you’ve spawned.

  20. Can’t resist throwing in my lofty opinion about the critiques…
    Be aware that just because one person (okay, yes, of course you know I’m mostly talking about Jeff, we aren’t that dumb!) gives a personal critique in an authoritative tone, that doesn’t make it the only truth about the piece in question! We are allowed to have differing opinions on these!
    For example, I have no problem with a “pile of bills scattered about the counter.” I do, however, question someone’s ability to smash one of those old phones so easily! The ones I’ve dealt with seem close to indestructible!
    I agree that I’d like to see “the clock told her half hour had passed” rewritten, or removed.
    The phrase that doesn’t work for me is “Her body deflated among the ashes…” Maybe among isn’t quite the right word.
    Overall, I like this story idea a lot. It is always fun when the very thing that caused the problem turns out to be part of the solution in a surprising way.
    I liked watching Monica spit on, stomp on, and pound the crap out of her dead husbands cremains! I can imagine being that angry!
    Back to the point I was trying to make at the beginning: If you disagree with a critique, you are always welcome to contradict it with your own.

    • Thank you, Maureen. I’m very appreciative of the feedback. The specific examples help me much more than general statements since I’m not sure what someone may be referring to. Last year I posted something a little late and received some general feedback. My story was very confusing and I really didn’t know how to fix it. I’m terrible at editing. To me a story works or it doesn’t but I usually have no idea how to fix it. I need these sort of critiques for all my writing. In the two or three years (can’t remember how long it’s been) since I took Ann’s BWW I think My writing has only slightly improved. (I’m a slow learner) This is like a refresher course and hopefully, what I’ve learned will show up in my future pieces. Thanks to all who have commented here.

  21. And yes, I know I tend to overuse exclamation points!!!

    • I do too, Maureen, but I’d feel so limited without them. After all, how else can you raise your voice in print, or tell someone you know you’re being goofy, but can’t help yourself?

  22. Personal correspondence, email, etc aside, regarding exclamation marks in creative writing:

  23. Oh, Jeff, what a wonderful gift. I intend to refine and add to my Baggage piece and consider submitting it for the one time free edit/critique. Thank you so very much for sending this link! Oops, musta schlipped.
    Big Hug

    • Hi Jeri – I’m glad something I sent was useful. I don’t recall one being “one time only?” Did you perhaps misread or did I miss something?

      Hugs are good (exclamation point) Thanks, Jeff

  24. oliviascarlett

    Hi, I’m a recent graduate of Ann’s BWW class and would like to post a chapter from my YA novel them I’m working on. It’s a coming of age type story about a homosexual boy being raised in a home by a complacent mother and an abusive step-father. Here is my question, the dialogue in the chapter I’d like help with is raw and gritty, some “F” words, etc. Is it okay to post? I certainly do not want to offend anyone with my debut try! Thoughts?
    Thank you, Olivia

  25. oliviascarlett

    Hi Jeri, aka Meegiemom, and thank you. I just realized that I wrote “them” instead of “that” in my message above….how embarrassing, I guess I’m a little nervous. Everyone here is so very talented.

    • Welcome Oliviascarlett, I suppose that we all can take any language that truly adds to the tone of your story. The end decision will naturally come from Ann. The greatness of this forum is that it is open to just about anything….there are many, many different styles and views on life reflected here. I would say go for it, Ann has the Big Edit Button under her control.


  26. oliviascarlett

    Hi, Peanutberanski. Thank you for your advice. Like I said, the dialogue is a little raw (at least that was my intent) because it is what my protagonist is experiencing, being raised in a home with an abusive step-father who has just discovered that he is gay. This is Young Adult fiction.

    Chapter 4 (The Hill)

    When I came to I was curled up in a ball and lying on the tree house floor. Everything was fuzzy and I could barely see. I was sick to my stomach and felt a strong urge to throw up. Light filtering in between the cracks of the wood planked floor slowly brought everything into focus. My head pounded, my face was swollen and I desperately needed a drink of water. I remembered the canteen hanging on the wall, if only I could reach it. I tried to lift my arm. When I moved, everything inside of me felt broken until I heard myself cry, “Water.” It wasn’t until then that I realized Pete was still standing there, watching me, as I tried to move.

    “Git up,” he said flatly.

    “I can’t move,” I managed to whisper.

    He grabbed the canteen off the wall and threw it at me. I managed to roll over onto my side and take a sip. Wrong canteen. This one had vodka in it but I didn’t care. A little vodka might be exactly what I needed so I took a big swig and lay my battered head back down onto the unforgiving floor.

    “This is what we’re gonna tell your Mama,” Pete began. “You and your little lover boy, what’s his name again?”

    “Ben…” I whispered.

    “Right, fuck-ing Ben. You and your little lover boy, Ben, got into a knock out, drag out fight and that’s what got your pansy ass into this sorry state…you git me?”

    “She’ll never believe it,” I said, honestly.

    “She’ll fuckin’ believe what I tell her to believe! You got that!?” He glared at me. “You listen to me carefully now. That’s the story we tell her and if she hears another word different, outta you or your little lover boy, I promise you, next time I will kill you both,” he said as he spat on the floor next to my head.

    I continued to try and focus on the spot where he stood. The vodka wasn’t helping me any. “Yes, sir,” I said.

    “Now get your fagot-ass up and get dressed,” he said. “She’ll be home in an hour.” He turned his back to me and started to walk away. “And one more thing, if I catch you with that friend of yours, Ben, sniffing around here together, I’ll kill him and make you watch while I do, you got that straight?”

    “Yes, sir.” I said.

    I closed my eyes and listened while he climbed down the tree house ladder. I had to talk to Ben. I needed to warn him.

    I managed to sit up and find my clothing. It was difficult but I got myself dressed and tried to stand. I was rocky. Even the thought of climbing down the tree house ladder was more than I could envision right now. Besides, I needed to talk to Ben. I found my phone lying beneath the wooden stool and dialed his number.

    “Morty? Is that you?” Ben asked.

    “Yeah, it’s me. I can’t talk long….I just need to warn you. Do not come over here, no matter what. Do you hear me? Pete will kill you. Hell, he almost killed me.”

    “What happened? What did he do to you?”

    “He beat the crap out of me, that’s what,” I said, as I wiped some dry blood out of the corner of my mouth.

    “I’m going to kill him, Morty!”

    “No! Listen to me, let me handle this. Don’t tell your parents, or anyone, what happened here today, okay?”

    “Why not, the guy is nuts! He should be behind bars.”

    “Ben, please, calm down. I knew something like this would happen one day and now it has. I just need some time to think about it. Meanwhile, stay away from my house. I don’t need to be worried about you too.”

    “Morty, are you sure this is the best way to handle it?”

    “Yes, I’m sure. Now, please, promise me you won’t tell.”

    “I promise you, I won’t tell. Are you going to be okay?”

    “Sure, I’m fine,” I lied. “I just need to figure out how to get out of this tree house.”

    “What do you mean, can’t you walk?”

    “Yeah, I think so, I’ll be fine. I’ll call you later, when I can. Just don’t call me back, it‘s not safe.”

    “Right, but what’s your Mom going to say when she’s sees you?”

    “Yeah, about that…….,” I said as I filled him in on Pete’s story.

    • Olivia, this is such good work. You sound as if you’ve been at this for quite a while. I don’t feel equal to commenting on anything that might need tweaking, since you’re way over my head, my friend. There are others here who are far more qualified.
      BTW, I’m sort of an antique, and I was not offended by your language. It fit the situation perfectly.
      Good luck.

      • oliviascarlett

        Thank you, Jeri. Writing a novel is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do, but I’ll keep trying!

    • I like it. Just don’t say “dialed his number.” Dialing isn’t something young adults do.

    • Oliviascarlett,

      I thought the dialog went well with the situation. Often offensive people use offensive language. It is in our best interest to use the dialog that they would use. It certainly makes something more believable. Other things can go with the offensive language to make it stronger. Use a different sense other than sight. Sounds, texture, smells they are salad that make your meat and potatoes awesome (and OK, healthy, too).

      Great writing and good luck with the novel.


    • Oliviascarlett, I found your piece intense, raw and great use of emotion. I would like to see the rant explained more but I know how hard it is to cut for posting purposes. The language fits the characters and is not out of place. Great piece.

  27. Olivia my pal, this dialogue is gritty and close to the earth. I’m afraid this is what happens too often. There is something about homosexuals that really sets off the macho types. It happens, we have to say yes and write on it. Nice work. Keep going.

  28. Olivia – the story kept my interest. The dialogue was believable. I wanted to hear more detail of the stepfather’s rant and objections, his shame and disbelief, more emotion. (But perhaps these are revealed elsewhere)

    Minor things – there are several punctuation gaffs, and you misspelled a word that is critical to your story (or at least used a less preferred spelling for the application,) but these are easily fixed.

    Overall a good job. Jeff

    • And I stumbled a bit at the end of this para:

      “She’ll fuckin’ believe what I tell her to believe! You got that!?” He glared at me. “You listen to me carefully now. That’s the story we tell her and if she hears another word different, outta you or your little lover boy, I promise you, next time I will kill you both,” he said as he spat on the floor next to my head.

      I think the “he said” is redundant.

      How about something like: “…I promise you, next time I will kill you both,” He spat on the floor next to my head to emphasize his point

  29. oliviascarlett

    Thanks, Waldo. Your support is always appreciated.

    Thank you, too, Jeff. I agree, the second “he said” is redundant, thank you for the revision. As to my punctuation, I think this may mean that Ann will have a new student in her refresher course! Thanks again, Olivia

  30. Just a quick note. There is a fine writing contest ending in June that you all might consider since there is great quality writing going on here! Go to:

    Walk entered last year and won a place and saw his piece published as well.

    • May we see Walk’s submission that won? It would enable us to judge the quality of our work by comparison. I’d love to enter, but I have no idea if any of the stuff I’ve posted is worth expanding, and I’m not sure I could get 2000 words out of any of them.
      Wouldst offer a word or two of advise here, Ann?

  31. Once Upon a Time

    As I withdraw the slender book from the box where it has lain for more than four decades, memories rise. I hold quite still as they enfold me in their embrace. In my hands, I hold a cherished part of my life, and I see the two of us in another time, another place. We sit, he and I, side by side on the sofa as he reads from this book.

    The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam rendered into English verse by Edward FitzGerald. I believe this to be FitzGerald’s fourth translation of the Persian poet’s quatrains, though nothing on the frontispiece verifies that. It is a slim volume, less than a hundred pages, its dimensions the approximate size of a paperback book. The front cover is gray with white filigree, the title printed in pink inside a design meant to recall the Persian wellspring of its contents.

    He was my love, once upon a time, and was a poet, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I didn’t know until, after many years, I opened a newspaper and saw his picture and the award-winning poem he had written.

    I should have guessed as all the clues were there–his intelligence, his erudition, his mastery of the language. He recited vast quantities of poetry from memory, and frequently interspersed conversation with poetic allusions. Occasionally he selected this little volume from the many on my shelves and I sat beside him in silence as his voice and the enigmatic words of the “Rubaiyat” transported me to the ancient Persian realm of Jamshyd and Kaikobad.

    I was quite young then, only twenty-one, and much of the meaning of the verses escaped me. I wanted to ask him to explain it to me, to ask if his beliefs were akin to the passages I did understand, and more. Instead I kept silent, not wanting to break the spell. Then the years passed, as did he, and I no longer had the opportunity to ask.

    I hope those weren’t his beliefs. Are there words more final than these?

    Oh threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
    One thing at least is certain—This Life flies;
    One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;
    The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

    Strange, is it not? That of the myriads who
    Before us pass’d the door of Darkness through,
    Not one returns to tell us of the Road,
    Which to discover we must travel too.?

    I have always hoped that someday we will meet again in a place where age and station and public image were of no matter, where then I will ask the questions I’ve held to myself all these years.

    Then again, with all eternity before us, perhaps I’ll just sit beside him and let his voice transport me once again to an ancient Persian realm.

    • The only thing I can add here is that I wish it were longer.

    • Gulli: beautiful piece. I hope that someday you will meet this person again and enjoy eternity in an ancient Persian realm.

    • Gullie, I agree with the others – this piece is beautiful. I felt as if I were sitting in an overstuffed chair across the room listening to you tell your story in a deep baritone voice. For all of us who love to read and love literature, your piece brings such emotions. It reminded me of John Keats’ “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer.”

  32. Hi Gullie – Oh, my, where do I start? I think this is magnificent. It spoke to me as though the words were coming from my own lips. I am jealous of those who can write of literature and the arts (re FigMince and his love story from last year) , about things I have never read or heard.

    I am totally captivated by this piece and wish I had written it.


  33. Oh, this is so beautiful, it’s a privilege to read. I particularly love this line, “…in a place where age and station and public image were of no matter”

  34. Gullie, you really got me where I live with this beautiful piece. My late husband Ken was very much like you described your gentleman, and he introduced me to The Rubiayat early on. After reading your story I dug my old copy out and started leafing through it. It’s old and musty now, but still a lovely hard cover copy that he bought me.

    The Moving Finger writes; and having writ,
    Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
    Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
    Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

    I have always hoped that someday we will meet again in a place where age and station and public image were of no matter, where then I will ask the questions I’ve held to myself all these years.

    Wisdom for the ages, Gullie Thank you.


  35. Would one of our scholarly types please tell me where I should have put quotes in the above? I am quoting Gullie quoting Fitzgerald. Puzzling. Quotes within quotes?

  36. My wife won the Best Customer Award for the 1stQT/2014 at Home Depot.

    Yes indeed, she won it hands down and I’m very proud of it. She did it even without any strategy or intention to win which is the purest, the cleanest and the most uncontaminated way of winning anything.

    In any event, she won it by going to Home Depot. Garden Department 82 days out of the 90 days in QT1 including more than once on the same day.
    The final count, as we learned later, was that she visited HDGD 101 times during QT1, exactly.

    How does HD knows that?
    Easy. They have installed photographic devices at the entrance of their stores which takes pictures of the iris of their customer’s eyes and matches them every time they come in, creating a record as to how many times a particular customer visit the store.
    A Machiavelli but simple method of keeping record of your life as far as HD is concerned.

    Moreover, not only HD maintains record of your visits but also, they keep track of how much you spend per visit. Based on their per visit statistics they have estimated that, as an average, a customer spends $22 per visit.

    However, they are more sophisticated than just calculating the outcome of their business on the basis of average.
    The same photographic devices they have at the entrance of the stores, are also located next to each cashier which allows them to match each person that came in with what and how much that person spent on that visit.
    Based on those statistics, my wife spent $26 per visit which represents $4 more than average.

    Of course, as a good business practice for the advancement of their public relations and to gratify customer’s loyalty, HD has to reward such behavior.

    And that was the reason why my wife received a telephone call at about 5 PM yesterday, from the manager of the HD asking her to come to the store the following day at 10AM, for they have to give her a rebate in some plants that she bought few days ago.
    As this manager put it, it was important for her (for us) to come at 10AM exactly, otherwise the rebate couldn’t be issued.
    Imaging, asking my wife to come to HD when she is there almost everyday without the asking and without offering any incentive.
    So, we complied with the instructions and, exactly at 10AM of the following day, we pulled in the HD parking lot.

    Once we stepped into the store, we noticed HD employees in full uniforms and clean aprons forming a line of six at each side along the entrance hall at the end of which three important looking individuals wearing suits, stood around a rather large and ornamented golden chair. Adding to our initial surprise, every one, including the men in suits, started to applaud looking at us with a wide smile in their faces.
    A young woman with an angel face and a perfect white set of teeth approached my wife, took her gently from her elbow and directed her to the big chair while I was left alone standing on the same spot that we came in.
    Man, that’s some way to issue a rebate, I thought.

    Although my wife didn’t know what was this show all about, she was playing the game very well and going along fine, happy and radiant.

    On the other hand, I was skeptical about what was happening and thinking of the possibility that all this dog and pony show will cost me some money.

    After the applauses and the congratulations calmed down, the tallest and most elegant man of the three men in suits, approached the golden chair and addressed my wife.
    “Mrs. Lando, my name is Don Wells and I’m the Southeastern Director of Home Depot. In the name of all employees at HD, specially those in the Garden Department, it gives me a great pleasure to name you The Best Customer of QT1 of 2014 and to present to you this very well deserved award and this beautiful cactus arrangement. Congratulations.”
    The man gave a plaque to my wife and a woman from the Garden Dept., brought a large round and deep pot containing different kind of cactus on a rolling cart.

    Afterwards, more applauses and more smiles from every one around the honored guest.

    “In addition to that” the man continued with a happy voice “here is a certificate which entitles you to receive, free, 10 hot dogs at any Nathan’s store and another for a free breakfast at any IHOP. And for your husband…where is your husband? the man asked.

    At that moment, every one looked back and recognized me immediately, since I was still standing on the same spot with what probably was the must stupid looking face in the store. Then, the people encircling my wife sitting on the chair, open up al path and I walked forward.

    “And for your husband” the man continued with renovated energy. “we are offering him this HD apron and cap so he could wear them when he is doing some work around the house.” I received my gifts, thanked the man in the suit and started to wonder when would this guy will be asking for money.

    The ceremony ended few minutes after that.
    The three suits rushed out of the store, probably to be present at a similar event in some other location and the employees that took part in the function, disappeared as magic.
    We were left alone looking at each other, she still sitting on the golden chair and I still with a stupid look in my face.

    It took a few minutes for us to recuperate from the surprise and to get our thoughts together. Then, we walked out of the store with our gifts.

    It was the first time in 90 days that my wife had gone to HD and came out without buying another plant or another pot of flowers.

    We got home, opened the door and, almost at the same time, the telephone rang. My wife answered.
    “Yes, this is Mrs. Lando.”
    “What… a rebate to be issued?”
    “Yes we could make it tomorrow at 10 AM.”
    “Thank you for calling… we’ll be there.”

    After she hung up, I asked her was what that call all about.
    “Oh, nothing important” she replied “ it was from Bed Bath and Beyond about a rebate due us.”

    • Hi Lando – I can tell you put a lot of thought into this story with lots of details and story line. I think it your best so far. I was waiting for a sinister turn of events from the facial recognition technology, or a twist at the end with the second rebate phone call. Keep writing. I’m looking forward to your response to the next prompt.

      • Jeff, thanks for your message. You said this story was my best so far.
        Did you go to confession after writing that? Compared to most of the stories I read here, I find my stories so simpleton that I’m concerned about insulting the literary intelligence of someone by submitting them.
        Let alone me criticizing or making recommendations for improvement to others as Ann suggested.
        In any event your comments are always appreciated and welcome.

    • Lando, I was right there with you, standing on first one foot and then the other, wondering what I was supposed to do. Delightful tale, done in your usual chatty style. Now, please tell us what happened at Bed, Bath and Beyond.
      Good stuff, my friend.

      • Meegiemom: glad to hear from you. If I tell you about what happened at BB&B then I have to include Pier Import, Macy’s, Pottery Barn, and many other stores which I support and help economically.
        Thanks for your comments.

  37. Lando, This is a clever little tale, and I enjoyed the way you used statistics, and the days in the quarter to support the story (I did not check any math).

    I used to tell a similar story, generally late at night, to a mostly inebriated audience. It was about Harry, a trolley conductor. It turns out that Harry’s wife has a fancy for the finer things in life, and to afford them, Harry has to steal. A little at first, but a lot as time goes on. He is ultimately caught, and in a public outcry for law-and-order, Harry is sentenced to death by electrocution. The Governor himself throws the switch, but Harry doesn’t die. Why? Because, Harry is a “bad conductor.”

    That’s the whole story in about six sentences. When I was at my best, I could make the telling of this take half an hour. To make your story a bit more interesting (and wickedly misleading) you might explain what your wife did with her purchases, and perhaps (comically) why she kept coming back to Home Depot.

    Finally, as my only a technical suggestion, I would eliminate all the abbreviations (except for AM and PM). And yes, even IHOP.

    But that’s just me. 🙂

    • garytreble;
      I feel for your long-suffering mates. I hear them muttering ‘Bad Conductor’ as soon as you open your mouth. Maybe it’s time to try a new story? As usual it will help if you, as well as they, are on the outside of a few tequilas. Lets begin……..

      The land was so dry that even the word ‘water’ was a fading memory.
      The old digger once more needed to front the bank manager, a mean bastard who demanded respect. He brought out his suit and poured a saucer of petrol to sponge off last year’s stains.

      The old tom cat caught sight of liquid, rushed over, and gulped down the petrol before he realised what it was. Mania overtook the poor animal, he raced round the yard screaming like a banshee – up and down trees he went (this is the part you embellish a bit gary). Finally he shinned to the top of a fifty foot gum and fell flat on his back on the ground.
      … you make much of its stillness, even talk of the old man lifting his eyelid if you need to.

      By now one of your audience should ask “Dead?” (if they don’t your story’s stuffed)
      You reply, “Nah, he just ran out of petrol”

      I think the rules say I would have had to submit a piece to earn the right to tell you I hung on to every word of your story, shame about that.

    • Gary, I really, really appreciate your reading my story and, moreover, to take the time to write your comments about it. Your comments are well taken.
      Your line about “when I was at my best” intrigued me. I think you are still at your best. Is there anything I could read when you were at your best?
      Thanks for your support.

      • garytreible

        Lando, I used to tell the ‘Harry’ story to pick up women. When ‘I was at my best’ I could weave multiple tales into the basic story and keep a small group of people around for about 30 minutes.

        I actually started dating my wife after a fraternity formal where I told this story to a group of tired dancers in the barroom. I would like to believe it was my charm in relating the story, but it might have been because I was a graduate student with a job, and could pay for mixed drinks.

        Anyway, there are many and various reasons to be a competent storyteller.

    • Gary: you were so right in suggesting that I should’ve explained why my wife kept going to Home Depot. Actually, that was the reason for the story.
      Big mistake on my part and an opportunity lost for the improvement of the piece.

  38. thornyrosedechile

    Lando, I chuckled all the way through your story. Folksy and enjoyable. The “iris-matching” to track what you buy isn’t so far off the mark. Stores track purchases through those points redemption cards. Irises could be next.

    • Thornyrosedechile; Thanks for chuckling with my story, which, although I’ve exaggerated a little bit, is actually not very far from the truth albeit she never got any prize from Home Depot.


    While sitting on a bench waiting for the bus, a dry rain was falling gently pushed sideways by a strong wind. I was tired of being standing up for so long under a scorching, relentless sun , covered with my heavy winter coat trying to remain warm in the middle of the frigid night.

    At that time I was living in Las Vegas bored of looking at the rolling endless green hills of corn and alfalfa that extended all the way to the horizon in all directions.

    I was young, wild and married to a beautiful girl with a broken nose and a set of teeth to big for her mouth. We spent money like water and saved as much as we could.

    Just to keep afloat, we both held two jobs, six days a week with only two days off.

    During the day I was the head pastor of the Methodist Church downtown Vegas. In the morning I give advice and train croupiers who wanted to learn about how to steal from the casinos, while in the afternoon, I took confessions and supervised the reading and interpretation of the Torah.
    At night, I worked in a very clean and decent Burlesque show off the strip. You know, one of those low rated and less reputable entertaining joints in Vegas where you could get the most sophisticated drinks at very unreasonable prices, as long as they come in a bottle or a can.

    I worked on the stage with the girls who occasionally and without ill intentions showed part of their private anatomy. I used to make good money on tips that some of the refined customers formally dressed in hunting boots and flannel shirts and with good taste in selecting their brand of chewing tobacco, offered me so I connect them with a particular girl after the show.

    As I mentioned, my wife had two jobs also. During the day, on account of her being so delicate and feminine, she drove a big truck delivering concrete to construction sites. At night she worked as an assistant of the magician at the Mirage who makes her appear and disappear two or three times during the show.

    Now that part of my life is over and done with.

    I divorced Clara when I found out that she was having a sexual interlude with the magician who offered to pay for a large breast implant. I guess that a breast implant was more important to her than going to an orthodontist and fix her teeth which was what I offered her.

    After a long horrible and painful divorce process during which we made love every day, we finally settled our differences and parted in different directions.

    She moved in with the magician in Vegas and I came to Long Island, N.Y. to live with my nephew who is financially independent, and who is very well off living on food stamps on a studio apartment with no heat or air conditioning.

    • Please don’t ever edit this, strange turn of phrase and tense change here and there just add to the rivetting read.

      Made me wonder what the dynamic would have been if you and Peanut (of the bomb shelter experience) had been born into the same family.

      • Brighteyes: I wonder what’s the reason why I see stupid mistakes in my stories, AFTER I post them and not while I’m reading and re-reading them BEFORE I send them out.
        Thanks for your comments.

      • I know the feeling Lando, I even said gary treble when there’s only one of him. Thing is I did correct it, but somehow sent the first version anyway. I seem to have done that a few times, wish I could work out how I do it.

    • Lando, one word: Publishable. Thanks for that crazy tale.

  40. And I thought MY life was screwed up! Thanks for the laughs.

    • Jeffsitt: If I make you laugh, then you made my day.
      You aren’t screwed up, it is the rest of the people around you that don’t know if they are going or coming.

  41. I have out of touch for so long, I am amazed at the amount and the quality of work submitted here. I am submitting, but it was extremely difficult to cut. Seems it doesn’t make much sense now, but like all of you feedback is critical to improvement. So here goes a snippet:

    Our rugged, old split rail fence was never meant to establish boundary lines. . . . . . unfortunately one day that old fence witnessed a shocking event between best friends that left lasting splinters, a testimony to my permanent state of regret over a thoughtless decision.
    I first saw her on the other side of that old fence, her complete figure partly obstructed by the split rails horizontally connecting the fence to their respective posts. She was watering grass, various plantings, flowers, and even filling the bowl she used to water the pet rabbits scurrying about her yard. As I continued to survey her appearance, it seemed as if she had placed a bowl on her head and proceeded to cut her hair along the bottom edge. Dyed black, her hair reflected a rich color not at all like the cheap color often seen on the heads of women trying to avoid the presence of age-telling elements. She stood tall, though her physical height was not more than 5’7” on a slender, muscular frame. She knew how to wield a hose and tend to a garden. . . . . . As a natural introvert, I weighed the cost of approaching her that day. I opted to wait.
    Later that same week, I saw a figure of a woman who strangely resembled her except for one glaring detail. This woman had a thick plaited braid hanging down to her thigh. . . . . . .
    . . . . . . . . . .
    A week passed without much fanfare, when for the first time, I saw her full frontal at the fence. Oh my God, she was one in the same. On the left side, her hair was shaped in a bowl cut perfectly coiffed without a single hair poking out of place; on the right side, her hair fell in a magnificent, flawless braid conjuring up the thought that she had braided her hair daily for years. Who in heaven’s name was this interesting creature – . . . . . I justified reasons to overcome my intense fear of meeting new people. She loved to garden; so did I. She was not prone to community gossip as she rarely left her premises; I rarely left mine. She seemed quiet, sublimely at peace among nature, her fauna, flowers, and domesticated critters; I found peace without people long ago. All these commonalities urged me to overcome my insecurities about meeting her. Maybe tomorrow.
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    Like it or not, my introversion found its moment of confrontation – and sure enough – she was walking right toward me blocked by just the old fence. As she spoke, her deep voice startled me. . . . . . . She carried a coffee mug, well worn by the presence of chips, cracks, and stains. In her other hand, she delicately held a thin, long cigarette. Was this destiny – I loved my coffee, and I smoked regularly. She stopped several feet from the fence, seemingly in respect of my space. A soft glow caressed her face as a smile revealed wrinkles of age and teeth a little less than pearly white. Introducing herself, I marveled at her name. . . . . . I must have appeared slightly dim-witted as I stared, unable to utter even a grunt. Not until I offered my name as a sign of acceptance did she venture closer to the fence.
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    As I stood watering my garden strip around five o’clock, Adrienne came gliding across her yard. . . . . she and her husband were going to a party. She was strikingly handsome in white pants that accentuated her muscular legs, a fuchsia silk-like shirt, and a hand-woven oatmeal colored vest, which she continuously fidgeted with to fall straight not bunch up around her waist. Her hair was plaited in perfect symmetry on the one side and the sleek, straight bowl cut on the other side was equally coiffed. . . . . . . Instead of leaning on the top rail, she kept a small distance from the fence to avoid splatter from the dirt as I watered thoroughly around each plant. . . . . . My thought process suddenly shifted; maybe it was the heat, but it took a hiatus and vacationed to somewhere other than my brain. I looked down to inspect the sufficiency of water on my collection of marigolds, but something came over me, and I somehow failed to move the trajectory of the water from the hose to the next set of plants. Impulsively – a devilish, naughty thought that should have flown out of my brain as easily as it flew in grabbed hold. I strategically placed my thumb over the end of the hose to increase the pressure, raised the hose, and watered my dearest friend . . . . After acting on my impulsive hair-brain thought, I stopped hosing her down and viewed the damage. Her hair lay plastered against her head. Her make-up ran down her face as drops of water dripped off the end of her nose. Her clothes now weighed triple the dry weight and clung to her body. She never flinched nor backed up nor spoke a word to me. The expression on her face never registered the horror of what I had just done to her.
    . . . . . . . . . . . .
    She didn’t even wait a few days. The next morning after my husband had left for work, she knocked on my front door. She never rang the doorbell; doorbells were for strangers, unwelcome visitors. . . . . . As I opened the door, I was convinced vomit was hanging at the back of my throat. There she stood coffee cup in one hand, lit cigarette in the other, wearing her usual short shorts and rolled-up long-sleeved shirt. . . . . . . I have no memory today any more than I did at that moment what she talked about, but she carried on a conversation with my pathetic personage as I poured the coffee drop by drop by drop into my mug. How could I possibly explain? How could I possibly move forward and rectify this situation. As I sat down, words spewed from my mouth like trajectory puke.
    “I don’t know what came over me. I had this thought to squirt you and instead of even bothering to think, I just acted. I am so horrified over what I did. I have been agonizing over losing your friendship, over how I could make it up to you for the damage, over how I could take the moment back, over how I . . .” Feeling as if I rambled on and on for hours, I noticed she had not changed her expression. She was not the slightest bit uncomfortable nor was she angry. She didn’t take a drag on her cigarette or a sip of her coffee, she just watched me. Suddenly I just shut up. I was screwed, and no one could take the credit for it except me. I dropped my head to my chest, my lip quivering, my heart ridiculously heavy, wishing I could disappear.
    As I looked up, she had this incredibly mischievous grin and look in her eyes. Taking a puff off her cigarette and a small sip of coffee, she uttered these earth-shattering words: “Payback is hell!”
    . . . . . . . . . . . .

    • Hi Almond, nice to see you back. Just a couple comments.

      Early in your story you write, “Our rugged, old split rail fence was never meant to establish boundary lines. . . .” It looks like you edited what followed out, but I would love to read a description what it WAS meant to establish.

      A couple places the writing comes across a bit stiff such as, ”I looked down to inspect the sufficiency of water on my collection of marigolds.” – especially “the sufficiency of water.” Some of my women characters have been accused of sounding male, or from a male perspective. I get this feeling throughout your story wanting to read scenes with a feminine emotion more pronounced.

      I am confused about the relationship between the two women. Early the MC seems not to know her neighbor (ref the hair description) but later the neighbor is her dearest friend. Again, maybe due to editing?

      And, of course, I am sure we all want to know what the “payback” will be!

      Overall I thought it a story I would like to read in its completeness, especially more about the mystery neighbor with the asymmetric hairdo. I get the feeling that the story focus is about her and not the main character who is telling the story.


      • Thank you Jeff – the edit left out lots of information but then Ann has the right to rule, right? The story is about her, an ongoing piece that will eventually reflect our great friendship. She died August 31 last year after 37 years of friendship. She was one of a kind. Will you explain your comment about “sufficiency of water”? I would be happy to send your the complete piece, but I would need an email, if you are so inclined. It is almost 4000 words, so you can see the edit was brutal. She never gave me a payback, just her impish grin that suggested whatever my mind wanted to imagine. Even close to her death, she just grinned.

      • “Sufficiency of water” sounds so clinical, sterile. 4000 words is an admirable level. I am at gmail and you can use my ID here. It would be fun to read and see where it goes/is going. Jeff

    • Almond you wrote a simple and interesting story full of details. It seems that you haven’t lost anything by not being in touch.

      • Lando, thank you for the encouragement. I always feel intimidated by the great writers here.

    • Almond,

      First of all, who could possibly dislike a story about the friendship between two women that references vomit (twice) in 1000 words? There are a few ‘connection’ issues that I think are probably the result of the editing you did for this challenge. The only thing I would suggest, reading the piece as presented here, has to do with the last paragraph. I felt that “earth-shattering” was telling me how to interpret “Payback…” I think the point is made, more powerfully, if “she simply said, “Payback is….”

      I enjoyed this a lot.

      • Gary,
        Thank you for reading and commenting on my story. The editing was extremely difficult because it forced me to cut where cutting seemed impossible. I like your suggestion for the end – I continue to realize that sometimes simple words can be more powerful.

  42. So, does submitting this here mean you can’t submit it in the compdtition Ann mentioned above? I hope not, please consider

    • Brighteyes – I am not sure who you are responding to or if you are asking Ann.

      • Either I suppose Almond, I was just asking about the meaning of ‘previously published’ because I think this deserves to be in the comp.

      • If you are saying my piece deserves to in the comp I am very grateful. Like many of us here, I struggle from thinking my work is worthy when I read others’ brilliance.

    • You can certainly enter the competition with your piece. No problem.

  43. So, does submitting this here mean you can’t submit it in the competition Ann mentioned above? I hope not, please consider

  44. Is there anyone here who would be willing to look at the piece I’m preparing for the contest? It’s about 1900 words, so too long to post here, if I understand correctly. I have too may places where the only word that works is “we” and I have no idea how to correct it. This is my first submission other than this blog, and I’m terrified.
    My email address is Feel free to contact me there.
    Thanks so much, friends

  45. Bad boy Beta Bug was a fish with an attitude, and because of that attitude he had to live all alone in his fishbowl. His companion, Carol, tried to introduce him to a nice lady fish, but he made it clear he did not want to share his space with anyone.

    On occasions when Carol had to leave town, Bug would stay with my husband and I and our big black poodle Kiri. There was a special place on the bar over the sink where he could look out and see his home across the way. On the tile surface he couldn’t make too much of a mess when he tried to jump out of the bowl at feeding time. Not only did he have an attitude, he also had an appetite. That little fish was always hungry.

    A strange thing happened on one of these visits, and I’ve only recently learned about it. A fellow called Megatroid Armpit was doing dog psychic visits at my groomer’s, and I decided to take Kiri. I knew very well that this Merg couldn’t communicate with dogs, but curiosity just got the best of me, so off we went, Kiri and I, to the dog shrink!

    I must confess that Kiri liked this Mergatroid Armpit at once, even though she tended to be a bit standoffish with “different” folks. He was certainly different. Although he dressed to try to conceal it, he had a dorsal fin on his back…..not a very big one, but a fin nonetheless. Being unable to restrain myself, I asked him about it. He assured me it was no problem for him, that he was just one of those humans who were the last to crawl out of the water. Evolution had misplaced him.

    Merg told me this story, as Kiri told it to him. It seems she calls my husband and me Mom and Dad.

    On one of Bug’s visits to our home, my husband and I had gone out for dinner, and as we usually did, we left the TV to keep Kiri company. It seems as soon as we were out the door, Bug started splashing around and calling Kiri to come talk to him. Unfortunately, she was in the middle of an important cartoon, so she completely ignored him. Soon she heard a big plop! Bug had jumped out of his bowl and was slipping and sliding his way across the room to the TV set. “ Oh, now you’ve made a mess,” said Kiri. “Look at the water all over the floor. I guess I’d better clean it up before Mom and Dad come back,” whereupon she carefully slurped up Bug’s puddles.

    “I guess, since you’re already here, you might as well watch TV with me,” Kiri told Bug, so she leaned down and stuck out her tongue for Bug to climb on and let him climb out on the couch beside her. They watched more cartoons and had a wonderful visit. They talked about dogs, and fishes, and friends.

    Suddenly they realized the folks were at the door and they were going to be in big trouble if they didn’t get Bug back where he belonged, and do it very quickly.

    Kiri told Bug “here, jump into my ear and they won’t see you, since we’re both black. I’ll go over by your bowl and you can jump back in when they’re not looking.”

    This was working well so far, except when the folks came in and Kiri didn’t do her usual wiggle and jump to greet them. “I wonder what’s wrong with her”, said Mom.

    Soon Mom began preparations for dinner and forgot about the pets. “Finally,” Kiri whispered to Bug. “you’re beginning to tickle my ear with all your squirming around in there.” She strolled over to the other side of the bar, and, when no one was looking, shook her head and threw our Bug back in his bowl. “Boy, that was close, “ she told him.

    After dinner was over the folks sat down to watch TV, and, wouldn’t you know it, Mom sat on the squishy spot where our little black friends had been just a short time earlier. “Kiri, did you have an accident?” she asked. “Come here, and let me talk to you.” Although she hadn’t had an accident since she was a puppy, Kiri walked over with her head down so she didn’t have to look Mom in the eye. “She’ll suspect something, I just know it, “ she thought.

    As Kiri approached her, Mom sniffed the air. “Something smells funny in here,” she said. Bending over Kiri, she sniffed closer. “You smell like fish” she told Kiri. “ I think I’d better check your ears to make sure you’re not getting an infection, because that can smell like fish.” With that, Kiri decided it was time for some preventive action. She flopped down on the floor, where Dad had left his dirty socks this morning. Rolling over and over, and getting a wonderful stinky sock smell all over her before she returned to Mom for that ear inspection. “No, don’t come near me until you get Dad to clean you up, “ Mom said. “I told him some day he’d be sorry he left those smelly things lying around here.”

    “It’s OK,” Kiri told Mom with a look, “I just had a Bug in my ear.”

    And they lived happily ever after.

    ©Meegiemom, all rights reserved

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s