Hello all and welcome back to short story corner. While I don't feel any closer to solving the mystery of short narrative, a few people did tell me they enjoyed the previous one I posted, #OccupyTrump.
I decided to give this another go, posting a story I've been working on over the last few months. This one is called "Flossing." I don't think this one is quite ready for submission, so I welcome any thoughts or criticisms you all might have to round it out.
As always, thanks for reading! jA_W
I open the decrepit bathroom mirror. The remains of a previous life stare back at me. I avoid looking at the floss in its small white box.
She used to make me floss, every night. Said it was good for me. Haven’t touched it since she left. I don’t notice a difference.
My eyes land on other containers. The shaving cream I bought after she moved out. It’s not as good as the stuff she bought me, but I don’t care. Don’t have to anymore. My razor, the dull blade reflecting the glare of the bathroom light.
Long cotton swabs representing how often she would clean the disgusting wax from my ears. Peroxide for my little cuts, and bandages for my others.
My eyes roll to the tweezers. She used to pull the hair right out of my skin. God, how I hated that. God, how I loved it. Even the pain.
Next I see the soap. Delicate, she said, because of my hands. Don’t have to worry about that either.
She left behind what she didn’t want at her new place. Took all the girly stuff. The makeup, her hair ties. All the pills she took for allergies. And the bottles that made her smell nice. I don’t need to smell like a damn thing. I’m a man, after all. Our species was never supposed to smell like roses. Or meant to clean up after ourselves. Don’t even think about that kitchen right now. Focus.
My eyes arrive back at the tiny white box with the writing on the side. If I’m going to do this, if I'm going to affirm that I’m ready to move on, if I’m using this as my first experiment towards that goal, it’s best to get it over with now while I still can. I don’t notice any difference in my teeth. But maybe I’m not looking hard enough.
I pull the little box toward me. A tiny string dangles from the edge. I grab it taut and start on the back. That was always the worst. Where the dentist said the cavity was beginning. That was one year ago. She told me to just take care of it then. I should have.
Damn, that hurts. More than it did before. Shouldn’t have stopped flossing. Shouldn’t have stopped doing a lot of things.
Moving up, along the right side. This hurts worse. Another cavity? I can’t bare to go back to the dentist. Not after last time. She shouldn’t have taken the kids. I lost control over the narrative of the situation. God knows what she is telling them every day about their absent father. About what a jerk, a loser he is. Doesn’t even floss.
Forget about all that. Keep doing it. You are doing this because you want to, not because it was a routine like all the others that only she could keep you doing. Not because it reminds you of the ways she affected your life. Doing this painful exercise because I want to, not for any other reason.
This part doesn’t hurt so much. What it’s supposed to feel like. Nice, clean feeling. Doesn’t that feel better, she’d say. And I’d say grudging: yes, it does. You were right. You were right about a lot of things.
Enough of those thoughts. Time for the other side. This side hurts even worse at the back. I must be developing more cavities. It’s my diet. She used to make me eat the most disgusting yet healthy crap. Vegetables. Cooked vegetables. Can you imagine anything worse? And this was a nightly occurrence. Said it was good for the kids. What’s good for me?
Now I’m going to have to look for a second job to pay for this place. Or I could just find a cheaper one. Not likely to happen. This is all that remains of our life together. This, and the floss.
We used to have all sorts of routines. Get the mail together. Go for a walk, with the dogs, out in the forest. Sitting up by the fire late at night. I don’t even remember the last time we went to the movies. Not since the kids, obviously. They go see their own stuff now, and we never went back. Routines are only held together by commitment. I’m finding that out through this little exercise. I keep telling myself I’m doing this for my own good, but I know the truth. I’m doing this because she made me do it, and I can’t not do it. I wanted to be made to do it.
Circulating the miniscule string into the lower regions now. It still hurts, not as bad. I should go to the dentist. You’d want me to do that, even after all this.
But you’re not around anymore. Not since that night. You had your suspicions. The lipstick on that envelope from my co-worker. You never had proof. You had all you needed.
Why was I so stupid? I left the envelope in the open knowing you’d find it. You always tried forcing these routines on me because you knew I could be better. Even through my resistance, you knew I wanted better. For myself.
Rounding home and getting to the front teeth now. A piece of the frozen pizza I inhaled earlier comes flinging at the mirror.
It’s time to be done. I can’t believe what came of such a simple act.
I take a lingering glance at the cabinet. You knew I’d want to floss again someday.
I close the creaky mirrored door with a shriek of metal. Gotta get that fixed. The kitchen first.
The gums in between my teeth are on bloody fire. I remember you telling me I had to endure pain before I could learn to understand it. To love it. And the worst pain of all I brought upon you. And me, and the kids. Eternally. You were right to take them. I’m unfit. Can’t even take care of my freaking teeth.
I tear open the cabinet with a fury, grab the floss and shove it in the trash. I can’t be bothered to remember to floss.
Hello and welcome to this installment of Another Year of Fiction (AYOF). Lately I took a gander at the master of comic/gothic stories Neil Gaiman and also posted a story of my own. Now I’ve turned my attention upon two of whom I would consider to be the greats of the form: Ernest Hemingway and Mark Twain. I dove into both collected stories of theirs (for Hemingway just the “first forty-nine”) and found solid lessons for writers within, much as we all can. Let’s get to those, then I’ll conclude with some of my favorites from each author.
Use of language - This is an obvious strength of both authors, but they use it in quite different ways. Twain is ever the master story-teller, filling his yarns with impeccable illustrations of local dialogue and language, making it abundantly clear how much he understood his own country. Hemingway as I’ve covered before, generally has the opposite quality, but manages to tell an impactful story nonetheless. His characters come to live in equally breathtaking ways, despite the use of such basic structure.
Good first line - Both authors really understood this, and I was quite taken away by how much better a story can be by just having a great opening sentence. “When he saw us come in the door the bartender looked up and then reached over and put the glass covers on the two free-lunch bowls.” (“The Light of the World” - Hemingway) - and “Somebody has said that in order to know a community, one must observe the style of its funerals and know what manner of men they bury with most ceremony” (“Buck Fanshaw’s Funeral” - Twain) were two of my favorites, but many of these memorable tales have a great beginning.
Overall, while I didn’t get to every story in each collection, I felt I took a pretty decent tour through each author’s oeuvre. These two knew exactly how to tell a story for a certain number of pages, and in the introduction to the Twain collection Charles Neider notes that most of Twain’s novels are basically interconnected stories. The Twain collection also included some passages from Roughing It, which I’d never read and enjoyed quite a bit. Some other favorites were: “The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg,” “The 1,000,000 Bank-Note,” and “Journalism in Tennessee.” For Hemingway it was definitely the greats: “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” “The Big Two-Hearted River,” and also “A Clean Well-Lighted Place,” and “Soldier’s Home.”
But of course, I would be bereft in my writerly duty if I did not recommend these two for anyone looking to hone their short story skills. They were quite possibly the two greatest American short story writers, and they set down the guidelines by which many of us writers tread even today.
And on that note, I’m now going to head in another direction by reading two books I’ve never encountered: Roald Dahl’s bizarre stories for adults, and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (and others). I also hope to submit one of the fifteen stories I’ve been working on to a lit journal, send another to an editor, and (if I can summon the courage) post one more on this here blog. I still will get back to the novel re-write by the winter months, but for now I’m content to remain in this “sub-experiment.” Thanks for reading!
Short stories: what are they? This is a question I'm taking another run at this year, and while I continue to read some of the greats (and will craft more essays on them coming soon) I thought it was high time I started posting my own work on the blog again.
Readers from last year may recall I did something similar with an older college story (check out parts one and two here), but I feel my abilities have grown a bit since then.
To that end, I'd like to present a rather political story, influenced by the events of the last year. This takes place in an unknown, uncertain future in which even Trump supporters have finally started realizing who they elected into office. Please enjoy "#OccupyTrump."
“Thanks, Stan. I’m standing here in the midst of hundreds of people who have camped out at the White House for weeks. As you can see behind me there are dozens of people with camping gear, guns, ammo, and enough supplies to last for quite some time. I spoke to some of the leaders of the OccupyTrump movement earlier today.”
*roll interview footage, then B roll*
“Well, he ain’t done what he said he would. That’s why I’m here.”
(voiceover) “Richard Derby says he came to Washington on a whim, after a friend told him about a bus that was going out here for the protest.”
“He told me they was rollin’ up here to protest The Donald. Now, I like the man, I like what he’s done for the country, how he’s revitalized our side. That ain’t the problem.”
(interviewer) “So what is?”
“I told you. He ain’t done what he said.”
(voiceover) “That’s been the common refrain among many Trump supporters camped out here today, leaving their lives to come bother the president who said was on their side.”
*roll footage of Trump backing out of building the wall, and of replacing Obamacare, and firing his white supremacist advisors*
“I’m mostly upset about the Obamacare thing. How many times did he say it? Repeal and replace, repeal and replace. I counted on our GOP brethren in Congress to do it, and they never did. Trump said all along the campaign that this was a huge priority. Now he’s going to keep most of it? Give me a break.”
(voiceover + B roll of hospital footage) “This woman was speaking about Trump’s many promises to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Despite pledging to get rid of the legislation, the President has failed multiple times to sign any repeal legislation. That gets under the skin of supporters like Max Caldwell of Mississippi, who rode all the way up here with a caravan full of Trump supporters from his state.”
*roll footage of bikers, huge recreational vehicles, people dressed in leather*
“It’s the Obamacare thing, goin’ back on his word. It’s the Hilary thing, basically refusing to prosecute her for the many crimes she committed. And it’s the illegal immigrants, many of which we still see crawlin’ all over my wonderful state. It ain’t their state to do what they will anymore. I’m coming’ to DC to try and get this man to listen to me: these people need to be deported, just like he said he would do.”
(voiceover) “For others, it’s that he hasn’t followed through on anything he said he would. Supporter Casey Rogers of Iowa said she was disappointed about how quickly Trump turned into what she describes as a ‘regular’ politician.”
“It was just shocking to me. I mean, he said all these things on the trail. Made all these promises. Then, after he wins he starts going back on them. Don’t he know these things mean something to us people out here? That he can’t just take advantage of our support? That we’re gonna send our people out to DC to make sure he hears us?”
(voiceover) “When I mention to Ms. Rogers that this movement bares more than a passing resemblance to the Occupy camps that sprung up years ago, she is dismissive.”
“Nah, they was a bunch of hippy dip liberal punks pounding drums in the street. We’re here to spur action.”
“Perhaps the biggest concern here, Stan, is the lack of focus on employment. Despite early promising signs that Trump was cutting deals with some companies here in the US to keep them from outsourcing jobs, that effort has largely failed in the wake of recent mega-mergers, which the administration’s Justice Department signed off on with barely a comment. This might be the biggest reversal that Trump’s fans find upsetting.”
“Oh yeah, that’s been on all of our minds lately. Sure, maybe a few hundred people got to keep their jobs in Ohio. So what? We down in South Carolina been hurtin’ for generations. This week he says he suddenly believes in climate change, so we can’t have no more coal burning here? That’s weak tea, buddy. How am I gonna feed my children?”
(voiceover) “Supporters like Randy Wilson think they’ve been duped. And they want our newly elected President to feel their pain.”
“I sure wish he’d just come out one of these days. I know he’s in there. People spotted his helicopter landing’ yesterday. He’s spent a full week inside there ignoring his own people. We ain’t gonna sit by and let this happen.”
(voiceover + B roll of protesters) “But that’s exactly what the President seems to want to happen, keeping his full schedule of roster events this week while not issuing a single statement to the press about the demonstrators camped out in front of his official residence.”
(footage of protesters) “Build the wall! Build the wall! Lock her up! Lock her up! Deport the illegals!” (illegible crying, screaming)
(quick zoom in on one of the front windows of the White House, in which an orange visage seems to be peeking out before ducking back)
(voiceover) “For now, these protesters will have to be content to not have their cries heard.”
“Well, we ain’t goin anywhere. I emptied my bug-out chamber for this. Since we got Trump elected I have less fear about the world ending. So I felt we could take a chance, since he ain’t been following through on his promises. We got to let him know what we think.”
“Some have been grousing that given Mr. Trump's spurious business record and his history of treating people he does business with as disposable, why couldn’t his supporters see this coming?”
“I just thought he was different from all the other politicians. He said he’d drain the swamp. Instead he invited it right in the front door. That’s not The Donald I know from the campaign trail. He said he’d be our advocate in there. He’s not.”
“And until that goal is met, these Trump supporters are not going anywhere. At least not until police start turning on fire hoses, which is expected by early next week. Back to you in the studio, Stan.”
“Thanks Desiree. We’ll keep you folks updated on the #OccupyTrump movement, and of course you can make your thoughts known using that hashtag on social media. With last week’s major reversal on climate change, here are a few peoples’ thoughts on our own site regarding this.
It’s total bs. He said it was a hoax made by the chineses weirdos, and I still believe that. It’s not like he would make that up for votes. We the ppl need to call him out on the lies. #OccupyTrump
He’s going back on his word. We used to excoriate Obama when he’d do this for lot less. Can you imagine what we could have done with his ‘white house is a dump’ comments? Come on people, we have to up the pressure. Come join us. #OccupyTrump
I don’t trust a lick of politicians, but this one hurts more than most. I thought he was one of us. Come to DC and #occupytrump
Are you serious? You people really thought this guy was telling the truth? No wonder he took your support like the rubes you are. Good luck in 2020, if the planet survives. #OccupyEverywhere
“And now we turn to local news….”
John Abraham is a published author and freelance journalist who lives in the Twin Cities with his wife Mary and their cat. He is writing a speculative dystopian novel and is seeking representation and a publisher.