The night I asked Lena to drop out of high school and marry me, it was freezing. We were waiting out a fall hailstorm, hunkered together under the awning of Kennywood Amusement Park’s Haunted House which was Lena’s favorite ride, even though she rode it with her eyes closed. “Oh, Lennerd,” she said, “Yes. Yes!” Afterwards, we rode the neck-whipping wooden coaster, Thunderbolt, and she was a good sport about it.
This work is below our minimum word count. However, as we have said before, when something comes in that is just demanding to be published we are perfectly willing to be flexible. We have added our thoughts at the end of the post so that you can see our reasoning. Please feel free to comment – as always we love to know what you think.
She has a tattoo on her boobs with something written on it, but I can’t tell if it’s a quote from Marx or César Chávez and the uncertainty is killing me.
“Take a picture,” she says. “It’ll last longer.”
But a camera isn’t the issue, it’s the pronounced curvature.
“Don’t you think tattoos are like bumper stickers for humans?” I say. “It’s like the graffiti that used to be on walls moved on to the skin of people, making it much harder to read.”
She gives me a Frida Kahlo look.
“We’re alone in the universe with only our tattoos to express ourselves; they’re the only thing they can’t take from us. Show some respect.”
I apologize and change the subject, chat about the madness present everywhere and how we’re forced to squeeze a living out of whatever’s left.
“I work in a bar,” she says, “giving hand jobs. I need to get the guys early, while they still have money. It’s hard work. Some are older, and it takes forever, especially if they’re drunk.”
“You must have a strong grip,” I say.
“You can say that,” she says. “But work’s slow nowadays. No one carries cash and everyone’s on antidepressants. It’s like no one can handle happiness anymore.”
“It’s a damn shame,” I say.
“Happiness is in our Declaration of Independence, our Hollywood happy endings, our self-help books. Now it’s Citalopram and Prozac. It depresses me just to think about it.”
And I agree. America’s missing something, something vital. So, we keep lamenting our grim prospects, unpayable student loans, and I wonder how we’ll ever make it through the week, how will we ever survive. It’s an uphill battle, each and every freaking day. And I have no cash, and she has no hope.
I think it’s a real challenge to draw believable and visible character in such a short word count and that was the main thing that struck me about this piece, and what made me want to see it on the site. Just the very first line about the tattoo gives such a clear glimpse into the character of this woman. This is something with a literary quote on it, something more than just body ornamentation. Then we find more about her, her struggle and her despondency, her strength and confidence. I think the woman is the deeper character here and the narrator a foil for our look at her life.
When you consider that all this is packed into 294 words it is very impressive. It is a social comment of course and if it had simply been that – almost a rant – I wouldn’t have considered it for a moment, but it is a multifaceted story, a tiny slice of two lives which perfectly encompasses the problems of misery and struggle of modern life, mostly in the developed world.
Very clever writing in my opinion.
I have just read Diane’s views on this wonderful piece of writing.
The comments and points she makes are concise and well observed.
I can only add, for me, such a small word count only works if it has a cutting point that is perceptive and relevant. This powerful piece of work does all of that superbly well.
If you are going to write under three hundred words, this is the way to do it.
I experiment a lot with short pieces – 50 word fiction, drabbles etc. – because I love the challenge of getting depth into a story within the confines of a strict word count. It’s critical in my opinion that you get in two great lines – one to open and one to close – and that you keep it very simple for the rest. This piece opens well, closes well and is just a simple conversation. And yet as a reader I was able to picture the scene, flesh out the characters and feel a sense of hopelessness and despair. Clever stuff.
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Maggie and I sit on our front porch at dusk. We drink ice tea and watch the sun sink. In our fifty-five years of marriage, we have rarely missed a sunset.
Today, the sun bleeds through the haze, and the horizon is apple red. Maggie rocks in her rocker, knitting a shawl. I smoke a pipe filled with Captain Black tobacco.
Every morning he takes a Post-It, records exactly what she’s wearing, and sticks it on his desk phone. Today it’s “red blouse, green pants, purple sweater.” This way he can tell the police if he has to.
His sister had suggested he contacted the TV production company that made the programme about hoarders. Those strange folks who collect things from bins, who live in houses so filled with clutter that they’ve been reduced to a small window of space in a back bedroom. Sometimes they’re rescued through a gap in the rubbish bags by the fire brigade. They argue until they’re blue in the face about the possible future utility of a broken coat hanger or a plastic duck.
I’ve been running long enough that everything in me wants to collapse and the grass is looking like an awfully good pillow. Every morsel of my body is getting back at me for those sports I never played and the exercise I never did. Just to rub it in, time slows to a caterpillar’s pace. You could solve a Rubik’s cube in the time it takes me to make one step. Slowly, I evacuate my body parts. It’s a skill I spend my gym periods perfecting. You try and imagine you don’t even have a body. I start with my legs. They still move but I just don’t feel them anymore, like an employee that keeps on coming to work even after you fired him. Then I release my kidneys, pancreas, ovaries, and all those other miscellaneous organs. Finally I reach the basketball court, light splattered liberally across it. I take a breather and check my phone, just in case she texted me back. She hasn’t.
On the horizon, out of the dust of the Harvest Road, comes a small trotting tribe of misfits.