Writing Prompt “Opera”
Your story must include the line:
“What do you have against Opera houses?”
- An Opera
- Valentine’s Day
Word Count: 1,200 (1207 with the required line.)
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The writing prompt for March 3, 2021, will be chosen by Roy York.
105 thoughts on “Writing Prompt “Opera””
Read the stories here:
(Please note – I am on vacation from Feb 21 – Feb 27, I will update the comment list as I can. Please be patient if it’s not updated right away.)
There are some, no doubt, who will mistake this as a political rant against giant tree sloths, or some kind of personal, out-of-body confessional, a la Shirley McClain. That’s fine. Not true, but fine.
Phil – I was repulsed by your repugnant story. (No mean feat, man.) I’m not sure I actually got it, your story, other than what’s obvious, a story about a very bad man, with very bad taste. Then throw in just a touch of the valentine somehow. Love – meatpacker style. Great dialogue. I think I was still in the dark until I read Ken’s comments. (Both.)
Roy – Regarding that spaghetti talk you gave, (your culinary homage to sausage?) Sausage is, and always should be, the essence (not essence, Foundation!) it’s the foundation of a good spaghetti sauce, but it didn’t belong in that story in my opinion.
Ken Miles – Fun story. Like an inverse fairy tale. I felt like a cat chasing a laser pointer right up to the end and then I thought, ‘What business idea?’ Scrolled back up to the beginning and there’s the title and the answer. ‘Pantyliners.’ Very clever story, some great lines throughout.
‘The first days after arrival are a blur.’
That—is a great opening line.
That’s were your story starts, everything before that is irrelevant, abstruse and belongs in a different story… if you like. (Or sprinkled sparingly into this one, if you must.) Everything after that strikes me as lovely, and beautifully written. I know nothing about poetry and/but thought the one in the story was great. (Really, I thought it was simple, but profound.)
A marvelous, magical mystery story. Wonderful dialogue. An amazing sense of intrigue permeates the story, set up very well by Madame H’s profession, her looks, the tent, and your descriptive brilliance. (All very well done.) The character is not so bad, that is to say unlikeable, (see Phil’s comment) so much as neurotic and repressed. In the end, I too wondered about the identity of the tall, dark stranger and am convinced that the stranger in question was Mr. Monk’s new self. This is a very clever story. My favorite. Easily. For the intrigue alone.
One criticism: The last sentence should not have been dialogue. I like Phil’s treatment. Short and sweet. (We, the readers, are already there, so, it’s close to redundant.)
Your story was like the first half of ‘A Clockwork Orange.’ No redeeming factor entered into the characters or the plot. The cold-blooded dialogue is chilling, ultra-realistic, but I’m not big into horror. Congratulations on the win, though.
(You’re 44! Years?! Old? Oh right, this is a fiction site. I keep forgetting.) Yeah sure, go ahead, make fun of an old guy’s bad eyesight and memory. (I’m wearing glasses, I’ll have you know, and can see quite well, I can see plenty of goddamned detail.)
Your story is very skillfully written, as pointed out by others. It has nuance and undertones. You don’t tell us the character’s state of mind, you show us. And showing us leaves room for ambiguity. Her behavior causes me to wonder what stage of grief she’s in.
I can relate to your character’s age and experience. When relationships end, it’s a massive rejection slip. (Intentional or not.) There’s a sense of unearned shame (I think) when we’re forced to accept the fact that we never really knew how the other person felt about us. But life goes on.
However, your story’s character is dealing with fear, not betrayal. That’s different, huge difference, and personal, and opens up a whole different can of worms. I think, what is most unique about this story, is its sense of ‘quiet desperation’ or ‘controlled panic.’ And there is a duality here, between fear and betrayal.
Obviously, there are times when you want to convey a strong sense of character qualities. As in Ken Frape’s story. (A Perfect example.) At other times, when it’s ‘everywoman’ as Phil described your character, it’s essential to avoid pinning your character down. Ridding your story of numbers would do the trick.
For the most part, I try to remove or change anything that reminds me of me… because, as far as characters go, the less like me they are, the better it is for them. If I was such a fascinating character, I would have more than two fans. (Actually, I only have one, and I’m not quite sure what I’ll do when that cat dies.)
So, good story. Good writing. Did I keep my response down to one sentence? You be the judge.
I had ‘em ranked like this.
Ken Frape. – A Tall, Dark… (Madam H.)
Ken Miles. – Pantyliners.
Vicki Chvatal. – Poetry in Motion.
Phil Town. – Valediction.
Alyssa the Dissa. – Wood Cabin Fever.
Carrie Zylkster. – The Good Life.
Roy York. – Spaghetti Detour No.
Fav. Character? Monk. Best dialogue? Alyssa Daxson.
“Yes, your Honor, I heard you loud and clear. I plead guilty as charged. Am I allowed to continue? I’d like to explain myself. Thank you your honor.
You see when I started writing my story, I fully intended to jump right into the prompt. Then, while I was trying to establish why my protagonist had been shipped off to summers away from home, I slipped right into what is now famously referred to as ‘The Spaghetti Story’.
I admit, your Honor, it sort of got away from me and the more I wrote, the more I fell in love with it. I know, I know, that’s not an excuse, but sometimes I just get carried away and it was so easy to write. I didn’t realize how long that story had been built up inside me and it all came bubbling out. I didn’t mean it to, honest. I felt so good afterwards, I considered making a longer version of it with other incidents from my childhood but couldn’t connect it to the prompt. Hence, the comment, “I digress”, and then I continued with the story intended for the prompt.
I should have known right after Phil said, “you have two stories there, that don’t have anything to do with each other,” that I wasn’t going to get away with it. Then, someone else said, they liked it, and like all authors, those are the Golden Words we like to hear. “I liked it.” Silly me, I never thought for a minute how that could distract some readers. Didn’t even consider it. I will consider readers in the future, you can bet your sorry ass on that. I mean, you can bet for sure I won’t do it again.
What’s that? You must have misunderstood me, I said, I’m sorry as, I won’t do it again. I’ve learned my lesson. You can count on me to stick to the prompt in the future, totally and completely. Just one story per prompt. That’s all you’ll ever see again.
I’ll take my punishment like a man. Realizing of course, that I finished in front of both Ken’s, to whom you have some sort of twisted loyalty, due to the Ken Thing, I suppose. So, I am still a happy man, because they are both top notch authors, in my humble opinion.
Where do I get my parking voucher stamped?
(I hope that was funny. If not? Oh well, I tried.)
So, you admit, that you tried, deliberately, to give us two stories for the price of one… but you swear on Lincoln’s hat that you’ll never do it again and we’re supposed to believe that? I don’t know about anyone else around here, but I’ll be keeping a sharp eye out, Roy, for extra stories in your stories. Don’t even think about thinking about it. (Whatever it is you’re thinking about.)
Seriously though? I didn’t actually see it as two stories, that spaghetti thing was an interlude, or an introduction, or maybe a backdrop to another story. It was genuinely vivid and interesting and should be put to good use somehow.
And all of my opinions are offered with unmistakable inherent humility. That goes without saying.
I agree with you too about Ken Frape’s story’s merits. I liked it a lot too, and it does have some depth to it. Alas, us two Kens didn’t place well at all. But the other stories had their great merits too. Alyssa’s particularly, IMO. I thought I was the worst monster in here, but she outdid me this time…
I won’t be taking part in this round – I have neither time nor an idea for a story for this prompt. Like many others of my generation, I have no idea what opera is even about. So I can’t tell what one won’t like about it…
But, like Terminator, I’ll be back!
He’s probably going to despise this prompt 🤣🤣
“What do you have against Opera houses?” Liz Fisher – 1112 words
I looked at Walter wondering where this was going. Why would he be talking about Operas at seven in the morning, we haven’t even had coffee yet.
Walter is an odd man and I know my family has wondered why we ever decided to spend our lives together. I’ve wondered now and then, not often, maybe once or twice over the 37 years we’ve been married.
I knew he didn’t have any expectation of an answer till after we had our morning coffee and usually at least halfway through breakfast. Neither of us are morning people and composing a coherent sentence before food is unlikely. Communication early in the day are mostly smiles, frowns, grunts or head nods, our shorthand.
Saved by the bell, Walter’s phone rang, he looked at it, looked at me as he rose from the table and put the phone to his ear and said into the receiver , “yeh, hang on a moment”, and walked out on the deck. This has happened before and I learned to not over react.
I never worried about Walter cheating. A long time ago I realized he just wasn’t the type to cheat, he’s not physical, never cared about sex much. At first I thought it might be me, maybe I wasn’t sexy enough and I worried he would leave. But he didn’t and our marriage turned into a partnership, a friendship, we had a daughter and he is an amazing father.
His biggest fault, well maybe his only fault, is an insatiable love of operas. I have never understood how or why he developed this obsession. He was raised in Mississippi, a simple state, was there even Opera or any classical music in the South in those days?
Opera never interested me, in a pre-law class at Wellesley we were tasked with giving a report on what Xavier Mayne’s 1908 defense of homosexuality, “The Intersexes”. Interestingly the self-diagnostic questionnaire had questions like, “do you prefer operatic or more abstract music? and what about Wagner?”. I don’t think that was my bias, I just don’t like screechy voices.
Not all opera voices are bad, I do love Pavarotti, he can sing almost anything and I love it and the The Tenors, the ones from Canada, I do love their rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody it’s almost better than Queen’s original. So opera music can be okay.
Walter likes other music, he loves mostly female singers like Cher and Celine Dion, even Bette Middler. I like Cher but Celine and Bette are just irritating. But why am I thinking about all this it’s time to shower and get to the office and Walter is still out on the deck.
I like my work, it’s interesting in it’s own weird way. I kind of fell into it after I met Walter, he was a writer on ABC Network. He was actually a freelancer but he had a lot of contacts in the news business.
The job was one I never even knew existed. When the main news anchors traveled on a story often they would send a “setup” either in advance or at the same time as the “important one”. So the job sometimes involved setting up the “setting” for a scheduled interview, or being the one running around securing food and lodging or whatever was necessary to be ready for the star while they were at the “scene or location”, you know stuff like plane crashes, freeway wrecks in bad weather, murders, kidnappings… sometimes I actually got to the scene, but most of my time was in hotel or motel lobbies, diners, fast food joints, grocery, pharmacies and liquor stores picking up whatever the “important” needed/wanted/craved. I spend a lot of time away from home.
The good news was being gone really helped me avoid Walter’s favorite pastime… going to operas. I do enjoy good musicals and so does Walter but he doesn’t seem to get the same satisfaction he gets from opera. Luckily his friend Jim has the same taste in entertainment so he doesn’t miss my companionship.
Last time I was on a setup it was in New Hampshire. I thought the location was a little odd for a story worth all the expense. New Hampshire is part of New England and is known for the 2nd Presidential Primary voting in the States, Iowa’s the first. New Hampshire was the first until 1972 when Iowa did something with Caucuses or town meetings and they became first, but going to the polls and voting is New Hampshires claim. It seems there was some question as to the votes in New Hampshires either some one voted more than once or the machines were whacked. The vote total was double the number of registered voters in one township.
It was a simple answer eventually, in spite of the townsfolk marching to City Hall carrying torches. The Election Clerk had brought her four year old son to work on election day and somehow the lever on the count machine had been tripped at count end and continued to recount with no definition. Although not everyone bought the reason wanting more nefarious reasons, the four year old boy got the blame, the machine was reset and the count was accurate and final, meanwhile every news outlet in the country had sent crews to cover the massive vote fraud that didn’t exist. It was a crazy setup with so many interlopers and so few accommodations. I got a farmer to let us use the barn loft and rounded up lanterns and sleeping bags.. it wasn’t really that bad but close. I do love my job.
The door to the deck opened and Walter walked in with a big grin.
“Honey you know Sunday is Valentine’s Day and I arranged the best gift ever, for both of us. Jim’s flying us to San Francisco in his private plane, the Opera House is giving a special Premier performance of Lou Harrison’s pioneering 1971 opera, Young Caesar, a portrait of Julius Caesar as a young man, and you, me and Jim have primo Box seats.”
I came back from my day dreaming and looked at Walter, so sweet, so naive, so happy, so blissfully unaware I had just recalled Xavier Mayne’s premise and everything I had ever wondered about our marriage had fallen into place.
With a brief smile I said, “that sounds great darling, I just got a text about a setup this weekend I don’t want to miss. Why don’t you just go with Jim, you get so much more joy from the Opera when you two are together.”
Your story forced me to do twenty minutes of research just to understand the nuances. Not your fault of course, that I know nothing of Julius Caesar as a Young Man. (I’ve read quite a bit about the Romans, but not Julius. – He was probably over-rated anyway.) And then, Xavier Mayne. (What a cool name. Must be fake.) Honestly, Xavier Mayne is, far and away, an impossible-to-believe-that-anyone-would-have-heard-of-it-reference though, isn’t it? I mean, the author has only written one book. I had to look that up too.
I certainly didn’t pick up any melancholy from the tale. If anything, there might have been some ‘subterranean shenanigans’ but that was not indicated in the story, and frankly, anyone, man or woman, who can be married for 37 years and only question the decision two or three times! Has clearly settled in with the right mate. (I’m figuring. Two or three times a month, for me. And no, I don’t remember which wife I’m referring to. Hell, I was only married once, but I still sometimes remember her.)
I felt like the story was kind of ‘a la Seinfeld.’ Kind of a nothing story about a happily married couple, and what made the story interesting was the backstory about the electioneering. If only the electioneering could have been the main story and Walter and the rather random words ‘Opera House’ could have been relegated to a more subliminal aspect of the story.
I too have trouble with character names. It seems as though there are a hundred reasons to reject them, (a character’s name) and almost no reason to recommend them. Which is actually what we’re looking for, an unrecommendable name. (It’s just a theory.)
It’s good writing Liz.
Ken (don’t code me bro) C.
OPERA TO THE RESCUE
My Spanish friend, Juan Casas, brought his new flame round for dinner. Always a good judge of character, my wife Harriet whispered to me as we were putting the finishing touches to the hors d’oeuvres in the kitchen.
“I don’t like her.”
“They’ve only just got here!” I whispered back.
“What’s wrong with her?”
“Can’t you see she’s got him under her thumb?”
“You’ve spotted that already?”
“A woman knows.”
I was placing sliced black olives on the tuna crackers.
“You’re …” I pointed to them.
She hit me playfully on the arm and I yelped.
I carried the tray through. Juan was sitting on the sofa, with Barbara on his lap, gazing into his eyes and playing with his hair.
“Erm … hors d’oeuvres,” I announced.
“Who are you calling a hors d’oeuvres?!” Barbara laughed, much too loudly. She sprang up, accidentally hitting Juan in the balls. He squealed. She laughed again, even harder.
“Sorry darling. Want me to stroke them better?”
Juan and I exchanged glances. He smiled weakly.
“No, don’t worry,” he said.
“He thinks I was serious,” Barbara said in a stage whisper that Juan heard as clear as day. His smile got weaker still.
She attacked the tray, devouring three or four crackers before we got a look in.
Harriet came through from the kitchen.
“Great snacks!” said Barbara with her mouth full, projecting flakes of cracker onto the Persian rug. It was Harriet’s favourite possession, and she began to say something. I cut her off at the pass.
“So, Houses was telling me you met on-line, Barbara?”
“‘Houses’?! Who the hell is ‘Houses’?” The cracker flakes kept a-tumbling down. I grabbed Harriet’s hand and squeezed. She looked at me and I shook my head; I hoped it was imperceptible to our guests.
“It’s Mark’s nickname for Juan,” Harriet said through gritted teeth.
“Why?” Barbara snaffled another cracker; the tray was already half-empty.
“Casas – Houses,” Harriet explained sharply.
Barbara stared at her, then at me, then at Harriet again, and shrugged her shoulders.
“You see,” I intervened. Harriet’s eyes were flashing; Barbara was treading the cracker flakes into the carpet. “‘Casas’ means ‘houses’ in Spanish.”
Barbara gaped, the cogs whirring. Then the penny dropped and she cackled like an old hag.
“That’s a good one. I might start calling him that, too. What do you reckon, Houses?”
Juan’s weak smile had disappeared and he was looking very sorry for himself.
“So,” I resumed. “You met on-line?”
“Oh, yeah. Meetfast, that’s the name of the site. Have you used it?”
I was still holding Harriet’s hand and I pointed to us both.
“Oh, course,” Barbara chortled. “Silly me.”
“Well, if you’ve finished with the hors d’oeuvres,” said Harriet sarcastically, staring daggers at Barbara, “I can serve up dinner.”
“Great,” said Barbara, grabbing two more crackers. “I’m ravishing.”
I explored her face to see whether she’d used the malapropism intentionally, but there was no sign that she had.
“No you’re not,” Harriet muttered as she made for the kitchen.
“Tell you what, Mick. I’m going to need the little ladies’ room before we tuck in.”
I let the mistake with my name pass; our conversation had become chaotic enough as it was.
“It’s just through there on the right,” I said, indicating the corridor.
She popped another cracker in and left, trailing cracker flakes as she went.
I turned to my friend.
“So, Houses …”
Whatever it was he wanted to say, he couldn’t get it out. I nodded.
“Why don’t you sit down at the table. I’ll go and help Harriet.”
He stood up and trudged across the room.
In the kitchen, Harriet was necking a large G&T.
“Steady on, Harry,” I said, grabbing the gin bottle to make one for myself.
“The first of many,” she said, finishing hers off and handing me the glass to make another.
The dinner had been great – Harriet is an excellent cook, and I’d made a very passable apple crumble for dessert. For Barbara, none of it had touched the sides. I must admit I found it quite fascinating: where was she putting it all? She had a very good figure, which I supposed was the reason Juan had hitched up with her.
It couldn’t have been interest; she’d regaled us with stories of friends at the gym, how many kilos they were lifting, who was the best fitness coach, who was getting off with who … and she’d just started telling us about the nail bar she frequented. I could see another half hour of idle gossip coming.
“Brandy?” I asked, addressing all three of them.
Harriet shook her head; she looked like she was regretting the third G&T. Juan smiled.
Barbara didn’t let him finish.
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough, darling?”
“Well, I’m not driving, so …”
He stopped; Barbara was giving him an icy stare.
“Well, I think you’ve had enough, so …”
That appeared to be the end of the matter.
“Go on, then,” she said, giggling. She seemed totally oblivious to her double standards; she’d already had almost a whole bottle of red to herself.
I went to the sideboard and poured a finger of what was a very expensive cognac.
“And don’t be stingy with it!” Barbara called from the table.
I brought it over and placed it in front of her. She knocked it back in one, smacking her lips.
Harriet had been quiet for most of the meal. The alcohol and the anger had made her face bright red.
“I’ll put some music on,” she said. She went to the shelves, chose an LP and put it on the deck.
As she came back to the table, the sublime opening chords of ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’ from Handel’s ‘Rinaldo’ drifted out of the speakers; I’d given Harriet an LP of arias for Christmas.
“What’s that?!” cried Barbara.
“Handel,” I said.
“Well, that’s funny because I … we can’t handle that sh…. We don’t like that kind of music, do we darling?”
“What do you have against opera, Houses?” Harriet slurred.
“I–,” my poor friend began.
“He doesn’t like it, and I don’t like it. So there!”
The drink had got to Barbara too; all the filters were down.
“That’s it!” said Harriet, leaping to her feet. She strode over to the deck, knocked the needle off the record with a sickening SCREEE and stormed out, leaving me to pick up the pieces.
I tried to engage in small talk with Juan, but my heart wasn’t in it anymore, and nor was his – not that Barbara was going to let us have a conversation just between us anyway. They left soon afterwards.
I met Juan a couple of weeks later in the street. He seemed like his old self.
“How’s Barbara?” I asked, after we’d exhausted other news.
He beamed, and I knew why.
“Good for you, Houses. What happened?”
“You know it was Valentine’s Day last week?” he said.
“Well, you see, she was expecting a special surprise. So I bought us tickets for the opera.”
Yes, you’re right. I actually had ‘Abigail’s Party’ in the back of my mind, though – a British TV play from the 70s. It’s on YouTube if you’re interested in seeing it. (Very good!)
It’s an old saw, but well told and aptly named. Nice woik!
Nice use of the prompt, even if you did stretch it a little. I saw it right away, but I forgive you, simply because it was something I wish I had thought of. We’re more casual on this site than most, I think, and we play it rather loose. When it first started I was more of a stickler for sticking with the prompt with no changes at all, but over the ensuing years I’ve mellowed. Unlike Cartisano, who seems to have grown a tad more cranky. At least I think I’ve mellowed.
The story is pleasant enough, even though your two harridans have managed to monopolize hatefulness to a new degree. It seems somewhere in my lifetime I’ve met them both. You captured them well. And, I liked your ending.
The characters are caricatures really … but then this IS fiction! 😉
I agree about being a little bit flexible with the prompt – as here (a capital ‘H’ for ‘Houses’). Cheating … but not much.
I also hate the name Barbara so that was also a nice touch to the story. Every Barbara I have ever met has had flaws and was not a very nice person, just like your story. 🙂
I don’t see a Valentine’s Day reference either.
I was trying to figure out if it was implied and I missed it!
I’ll think about it.
I’m out of town anyway, not much ops to post or read. I downloaded the other stories, comments, excuses, legal defenses and assorted rumors, tips and scuttlebutt, and will retire to my fortress on a bluff, to study them, the various streams of alleged consciousness that is/are flowing though the site. Then I will come down from the bluff, weather and buffaloes permitting, and render my chocolate wisdom infused opinion, as usual, at a later date on this timeline.
I remain, faithfully at large.
The Angel of Musical Chairs
“What do you have against opera houses?”
She asked it so casually, but Wendel could tell that she had been curious about this one for a long time and had been restraining herself from asking.
“Let’s just say that I am not a fan-tom of the opera.”
He blushed and beamed in a proud way that meant he was looking for acknowledgment of his awful Dad joke, even though he was a tad ashamed.
She knew that he just could not help himself. That he felt it was a misunderstood art or the highest form of comedy. Still, it would be a great Valentine’s gift just to go one day with no puns. Better than the current surprise that she had arranged for him: two tickets to a “haunted” opera house.
Even though Wendel was grating on her nerves, the night looked promising. This outing was exactly the kind of urban exploration stuff that they both enjoyed as a couple. Even better, the pandemic had made the tickets themselves dirt cheap… and the whole theatre was theirs for the next two hours!
“Seriously though… it has to do with the last time I came here. As a boy. I heard a story – that is, my Dad told me about a cursed seat in this very opera house”.
“You mean a booth, right? Like the one reserved for The Phantom in the story? I know you were sheltered and… impressionable as a lad, but were you that gullible –
“No – I mean the chair itself was haunted,” he interrupted with a stern look and a meaningful pause that meant he wanted her complete and rapt attention.
“Someone who sat in this seat would die of a heart attack or a stroke or something at the same time during every show. Maybe three or four people were ‘claimed’. It was even during the exact same line in the exact same song until they finally cancelled the show or tore the chair out the floor or…… whatever. Tell me you have heard of this and I am not just babbling on”.
“I have heard a variant, and for the record, you are babbling. The version I heard was just two people and then they stopped selling tickets for that seat. Easy fix.”
She flashed a coy smile, enjoyed the impressed look on his face, and promptly stopped herself from continuing. It would be so easy to tell him that haunted opera stories were a dime a dozen. That urban legends always surround creepy places like old theatres and opera houses. But that would ruin the night.
“Easy fix? I heard your cheekiness just then, little missy. You’re biting your tongue to hide your skepticism, aren’t you?
He cast a shrewd gaze in her direction, but it wilted when he remembered that it was supposed to be a spookily romantic night out and she was just messing with him. She noticed anyway.
The perspiration poured from his brow. Perhaps she had underestimated the dread he felt towards this place? It seemed unhealthy for that much water to come out of one’s skull all at once.
“You can mock me all you want, but some of us would rather stay on the safe side,” he finished in a tone that was less hurt now and more amiable.
“Besides, there are multiple cases of this sort of thing happening. The most infamous being the ‘Dead Man’s Chair’ of England, of course, but that had nothing to do with the opera. They ended up hanging that one from the ceiling – just to be safe – but not in time to save the hapless people it had killed! Why—”
Wendel took one of those jarring and cacophonous speed breaths and kept talking. Her mind lingered on the sound instead of following the thread of his narration. It was the kind of raspy intake of breath people take when they see that you might try to speak, but they want to keep going before you can get a chance to interject. Auctioneers would have been proud, but it was unnecessary (she had no desire to impede his longwinded digression into the history of cursed seating).
He went on in this fashion for a small eternity while his wife studied the floor and pondered. Just what was he hiding? What happened that made this place so deeply phobic to him? How could it just be the story itself that was so frightening? Frightening enough to avoid this opera house, and all opera houses, for your entire adult life?
Christine waited and waited for him to stop dithering and get on with it, but it seemed like she would have to be more direct.
“Which seat?”, she blurted suddenly.
Wendel blinked blankly, not expecting actual interest and wondering where this was going.
“Uhhhhhh…..not sure actually. I never had the guts to come here by myself or even look it up.”
There was a sheepish look and a sideways glance with that last bit. It struck her as odd that he would know so much about this one topic and be so afraid of this one seat, but not know any of the juicy details. He didn’t even know which direction to look in the voluminous space. She could see him struggling to get his bearings in her peripheral, sitting there all sweaty, confused, and out of breath from prattling on.
“Babe,” she squeaked as her hand jerked on his sleeve urgently.
“Don’t freak out, but I think you should take a look at this.”
Wendel finally saw it: there was a crumpled mass of caution tape on the floor by his foot, one end trailing from where it had been loosely taped to the adjacent armrest. His hand shot up and clutched at his heart as he jerked in pain.
She never got to hear him tell the backstory on his opera phobia, but that suited her fine. All she needed to know was this: whatever traumatic event had scarred him permanently; it had bothered him enough to induce sudden and fatal cardiac arrest (with only a little suggestion).
It took even less effort and prying to learn about his mysterious and crippling fear from his friends. After all, the man tells his whole life story to people who just asked the time. Secrecy wasn’t for the loquacious.
Christine laughed to herself. The plotting and scheming had turned out to be harder than the actual deed itself! All the pieces were already in place. Even the random, mysterious deaths fit perfectly into her machinations. The hipsters that obsessed over this kind of occult crockery were going to have a field day! Freedom from her spouse had only cost her two tickets to an opera and one roll of caution tape from the dollar store.
She rose and clacked down the aisle briskly, then caught herself and changed her gait to be more…mournful. The proper authorities would need to be informed, and there was only a little time to get the waterworks going.
And so, a new chapter in this urban legend was born from something deeper, darker, and more personal. Like the hatred of puns.
For every pun, regrettably, there is a pun-ishment.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
I really like this. ‘Angel of Musical Chairs.’ The beginning made me think it was a father and daughter, but that was clarified. And the idea of pulling in (gently) the urban legends stuff, gives the setting and circumstances more credibility. I really enjoyed this.
I also failed to mention that they were supposed to be sitting down the entire time!
But this is exactly the kind of stuff that I need to hear – so I can improve the way that I set a scene.
This site has really helped me finally write something…. because of the prompt forcing me to go with a certain concept and because of the community giving feedback!
Wait … I just found the line where they are seated: She could see him struggling to get his bearings in her peripheral, sitting there all sweaty, confused, and out of breath from prattling on.
And that was just before the reveal. Still, I think the story could be tightened up.
I didn’t think I would make it this far because I always give up on short stories before I submit them (or I never start).
I hope this is one big baby step among many and I will definitely work on my structuring!
I so liked your critique, I copied it to my hard drive, to be used at a later date when I publish my series of short stories entitled, ‘Fictionarial’. If only you had a more serious name. Not that there’s anything wrong with rumplefinkies, as a name, it’s quite catching, as it gets caught up in the esophoglottomissimal canal pocket. But what’s more important ‘Rump’, a writers words? Or his name? Can I call you Rump? No? Le fink? Rumple? Well, on the positive side, no one will think I made it up.
(Can I at least Capitalize it?)
It’s Over When the Fat Lady Sings
by Roy York
I was just finishing up at work and glanced at the calendar to see if I had any last minute items coming up I wasn’t prepared for. There, circled in glaring indelible red marker, was February 14th, Valentine’s Day. I shuddered – that’s today. I couldn’t remember why I had circled it. The phone rang and caller ID indicated it was my wife – as if she’d just read my mind.
She started talking before I could even answer. “I know you’re busy, dear, but just a reminder, Phil and Janice are coming over tonight for drinks and appetizers and I need you to pick up some things on the way home. I’m glad I caught you before you left.”
“I’m fine, thanks for asking,” I said.
“Oh, don’t go there. I’m your wife, for goodness sakes. I know how you are. You were fine when you left this morning. I don’t need to ask you at 5:00 O’clock to find out how you are.”
“Why are Phil and Janice coming over for drinks and appetizers tonight?“ I asked.
“Honestly, do I have to start tying strings on your fingers so you can remember? Last Valentine’s Day you forgot the day altogether, and to make up you promised that you would take me to whatever opera was playing this year. You even made reservations then.”
It all came flooding back to me and I stood in my office, no doubt looking like a trout out of water, with my mouth open gasping for breath as I realized the colossal blunder I had made. Not only once, by forgetting it was Valentine’s Day, but by compounding the error by committing to going to see La Traviata at the opera house this year, with Phil and Janice, no less.
“Did I lose you?” my wife asked.
My mind was reeling. My palms began to get sweaty and for a quick second, I thought I might be having a heart attack. I was having difficulty catching my breath.
“Paul, are you all right?”
I caught my breath and stammered out a “Yes, I’m fine. I was just wondering how I can finish this report and get home in time to leave for the opera. I might be late … perhaps I can just meet the three of you at … “
She cut me off. “Don’t you even think about trying to get out of this. You’re going to the opera with me tonight, or you can just contact our lawyer and start setting up how you’re going to split things up between us.”
“Now dear,” I murmured condescendingly, “don’t get in a tizzy. It’s just that you know how I am about going to operas, theaters or the like.”
“Why? What do you have against opera houses?”
“Besides the crowds, and tight seating, It’s just opera in general. I always think the sopranos are stretching their tonsils to the limits and to me it sounds like someone just stabbed a pig. Besides all that, I don’t like the thought of sitting in the upper deck so far back you need little binoculars to see the performers.”
“We’re not sitting in the upper deck. We have seats in the lower deck directly in the middle of the auditorium. Best seats in the house. Now, you just get yourself together and get over to Brunsen’s and pick up the list of things I just texted you. I’ll see you at home.”
I sighed. “Yes, dear.” It took years, but I have learned the two magic words that make a marriage work, and I use them successfully. I hung up the phone and turned off my computer.
* * * * * *
I made a couple of appletinis for the ladies and handed one to Cherise, my wife, and the other to her BFF, Janice. “Phil”, I said, holding up the bottle of Glenmorangie 18, “How many fingers?” He held up two. I nodded. “Neat or on ice?”
“Ice,” he said, “with a splash of water.”
I smiled. “Just like mine,” I said. I poured the two drinks for us and handed one to Phil.
“Janice tells me you tried your damnedest to get out of going to see La Traviata tonight. What is it about opera that you don’t like?”
“To be truthful, it isn’t the opera. I just have an aversion to theaters in general. Sitting next to people I don’t know in tight little rows.”
“So,” said Cherise. “I heard that. It is the Opera House.”
I turned to my wife. “It all goes back to that time Fred Erickson and I went to the Donaldson wedding. You remember what happened there.”
“What happened at the wedding?” asked Phil.
I took a sip of my drink. “I reluctantly went to a wedding with a friend of mine for an acquaintance at work. My friend, Fred, and I were joking about the last time we had both been in church. Neither of us could really remember. Fred said, ‘I’m always worried about getting hit by lightening, it’s been so long’. We both had a good laugh and then went in and sat down.
“It was so quiet you could hear the rustling of the paper fans the women were cooling themselves off with. The wedding was about to start and all of a sudden the guy sitting next to Fred starts to stand up while clutching his chest. He lets out an agonizing groan and goes down like a sack of potatoes.”
Phil said, “Did he die?”
I nodded a yes and took another drink of scotch. “He was dead before he hit the ground. Everyone did everything they could, and it took quite awhile. They cleared the church for about an hour. Eventually they decided there was too much money at stake to postpone everything. I mean, the reception, flowers and all.
They told us we could go back into the church when it started but Fred and I said no. “That was too damn close for me,” said Fred. “I figure that bolt was for one of us and God just had bad aim.” We did go to the reception, though.
* * * * *
It was intermission, and Cherise sipped at her wine to finish it. “Now, that wasn’t so bad was it?”
I had to admit she was right. I was enjoying it. “La Traviata is now my favorite opera. By the way, where are Phil and Janice?”
“They went back to their seats for the second act. We’d better join them.”
As we started to head for our seats, Phil and Janice suddenly came running toward us.
“You aren’t going to believe this,” he said, “But some guy just fell out of the balcony.”
I grimaced. “That can’t be good.”
“It isn’t good for him. But it’s good for you.”
“Me,” I said. “How’s that?”
“Because,” said Phil, “he landed on your seat.”
I looked at Cherise. “We are going home,” I said. “I’ll watch the rest on Pay Per View sitting in my own living room. No more churches or opera houses for this boy. It’s over and I don’t need to hear the fat lady sing.”
Roy. You, are, incorrigible, sir, trying to slip two stories past us again, after PROMISING us, that you would never do it again. (Are you Irish? Italian? Southern?) But it worked. You pulled it off this time. Yes. It’s a complete story in and of itself, wrapped within the larger story. Amazing. (Okay, maybe amazing is a little too strong.) A lot of stories have other stories embedded within them, but doing that with a short story is pretty cool, especially after swearing, so convincingly that you wouldn’t do it. What are we to believe about you, Roy? (If that’s even your real NAME.)
Anyhow, good story. It has your signature polish, although I saw one small thing you could do to improve it. Don’t mention the name of the opera more than once, or twice, tops.
Like here, you’re torturing the dialogue to over explain what we will find out later anyway.
‘but by compounding the error by committing to going to see La Traviata at the opera house this year’ (compounding the error by agreeing to see an opera this year.)
Janice tells me you tried your damnedest to get out of going to see La Traviata tonight.
“La Traviata is now my favorite opera.
It’s not a critical point, but stands out against your otherwise finely written story. (I think, by contrast, if you mentioned the name of the opera two or three times in one paragraph, skillfully, it could be funny.
Personally, I’ve seen two live plays. Macbeth, which I loved, and then, thirty years later I left the theatre after a performance of ‘Cats’ that left me totally clueless as to what I had just seen. I don’t believe I would survive 15 minutes of opera. And I’ve never loved a woman enough to find out. (C’est la vie.)
Good story, clever ending, clever double-story, and perfect title.
Besides, I’ve seen the inner sanctum of ‘a woman’ and was lucky to get out alive a couple of times.
And to me, your story represents an honest sketch of a healthy relationship, not perfect, but healthy.
I’m half a sleep and don’t know what I’m talking about.– probably.
Who’s Russ? Your husband? Field hand? Pool boy? Local hunter? Taxidermist?
“Well,” he said sheepishly, “I don’t consider the two paragraphs regarding the death at the church a story in itself, although I see how someone as discerning as you might consider that.”
Actually, on reflection, you’re right. I guess I’ll just have to be more careful in the future and do a better job of hiding my penchant for throwing in irrelevant (although in this case, highly relevant) stories within a story. Thanks for your critique, I can see it is well thought out.
Being fortunate to never have seen more than a couple of songs taken from the musical or movie ‘Cats’, I can understand your comment. I’ve heard several people gush over ‘Cats’ and, I’m sorry, but I just don’t see it. Stupid and idiotic comes to mind when I try to think of superlatives for such a venture, but then, some folks are probably shaking their heads right now thinking, ‘Yes, he’s right, he is idiotic and stupid.’ Be that as it may, I would not walk across the street to get free tickets to see it.
Once, when I was seriously ill and wasn’t sure of the outcome, (to the point where they said to my wife, maybe you might want to call the kids to come and see their dad while he’s still here), I woke up to the opera ‘La Traviata’ on TV. I watched it mostly because I was too sick to even reach for the remote to change the channel. For whatever inexplicable reason, I was captivated by the music, the song and the acting by the soprano who was singing the ‘death scene song’. (Maybe there was a connection there). It’s the only opera I have ever really cared about although I’ve heard excerpts from others and enjoyed some of the songs. I’m not sure I could sit through an entire true ‘Opera’ although I love musicals like ‘Phantom’ and ‘Les Miserables”.
Porcelain – Peter Holmes (1205)
Interlocked fingers, attached to bodies wandering down the street. Couples embraced, lips met under moonlight. Streetlights strangely hadn’t been illuminated yet, though the market alone provided enough light for gazing into lovestruck eyes. However, one couple in the crowd was not taking advantage of the fairy-tale atmosphere. Although they were beside each other, neither had even finished a sentence on their Valentine’s date. Eve had tried, only to be stopped with a kiss every time. To him, it was a chore. To her, a hobby.
Silence lingered until they passed a stall selling fish and chips. Upon noticing, Eve tapped Isaac’s shoulder, before swiftly retracting it when he turned to face her. “Can we get some food? I’m starving, I haven’t eaten since the brunch you took me to at that café.”
“Not from here babe it’ll ruin your figure, and I want to see you in that lingerie I bought you.” He looked her up and down. Then she looked herself up and down, a smile temporarily faltering, then reappearing once she looked back at him.
“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to lose a couple stone.” He pulled her closer, away from the stall. Paying little attention to her, Isaac didn’t notice Eve having to speed up to match his pace.
He pointed at a grandiose building that imposed on the small square perimeters of the market stalls. Lights surrounded it, the onlookers suddenly moths, drawn in. Stone columns stood guard at the entrance, along with various banners advertising the supposedly magnificent and marvellous acts performing. To Eve’s surprise, the night’s act grabbed Isaac’s attention.
He twisted round, instantly seizing her hands. “Come on.”
“Isaac, don’t be silly, it’s an opéra-ballet.”
“And we’re going to watch it, now.” Eve detected an ugly twinkle in his eyes.
“But you never want to watch this opera house stuff, you say it’s too boring.”
“I preferred it when you didn’t say anything,” something told her he wasn’t just talking about their lack of Valentine’s Day conversation “what do you have against opera houses?”
“I don’t have any issue with them I promise,” she pleaded quickly “I’m just asking why you want to watch it.”
“Well stop. I let you have your fucking night out, now we’re doing what I want.” There it was again. That gleam in his glare telling her it was the end of the conversation. As if that wasn’t enough, he yanked her towards the doors of the opera house, ignoring the way she winced when his fist clenched around her arm. She bit her tongue trying to contain her cries, knowing he would retaliate further if she made a scene, and the faintest trace of blood left a hostile taste in her mouth.
Isaac sorted out the tickets with a stern face and a gruff voice, until he got distracted once again. Making no attempt to conceal his grin, his eyes darted to the ballet dancers in their outfits. All women. He looked them up and down just as he had earlier, practically drooling. It was at this point Eve understood his sudden obsession with operas.
“They’re p-pretty, aren’t they, Isaa- darling?” Eve stammered, choosing her words carefully.
Without even turning to her, he responded “You kidding me? They’re the hottest girls I’ve ever seen.” He whistled at the group of dancers, winking in their direction. He wasn’t chasing any one in particular, instead throwing his net around the entire herd, hungry.
Eve chuckled uneasily, reaching for his hand to hold. But he was already walking away, approaching the second door on the right, as the ticket lady had advised. When she caught up to him, she spoke in hushed tones, promising to lose some weight.
They entered the room, the crystal chandeliers overhead a noticeable change from the eyelevel wall lamps within the foyer. Most of the stage was obscured by a crimson curtain, but the rest was stunning. Two more levels of seating resided above their heads, with booths along the walls as well. Eve strolled around the edge of the room to admire the artwork hanging on the walls; Isaac interrupted her curiosity by snapping his fingers at her, prompting her to their seats.
For the next nine minutes, Isaac stared at the curtain ahead, while Eve strained her neck to see the paintings behind her, framed in elegant golden wood.
A voice rose above the multitude of conversations occurring. “Please find your seats, the show will be starting shortly.” The room flooded with those that were buying food in preparation, making hasty toilet trips, admiring the grand architecture. They all shuffled awkwardly to their places, and eventually the sweet silence of anticipation reigned.
With the curtain’s suspenseful rise, the spotlights were positioned on centre stage. Each and every second of the performance was absorbed. It didn’t happen too quickly, it never bored her. Though the vocals were devastatingly impressive, Eve was more captivated by the dancers. As they spun, Eve repeatedly remarked to herself how majestic they appeared, countless pirouettes, no evidence they’d slow down while time moved on. Without sign of stopping, Eve began to wonder if it were even possible to spin forever, to be locked in a single dance for the rest of your life. Blurred images passing by, until the distorted view of reality became reality itself.
Leaping gracefully, their faces remained inscrutable, likely under orders to maintain serious facades. Whenever they left the floor, there was momentary doubt they’d land. Weight seemed to mean nothing to them. Yet when Eve jumped – dancing in her living room, playing with her nephew, whatever it was – she always knew the ground was close. In fact, she became familiar with it, almost enjoying her time anchored to reality. Still, she couldn’t help but think perhaps she’d join them one day. One bold jump is all she needed. And like the women in front of her, maybe she wouldn’t need a man to do it for her.
“Stop it,” she whispered to herself “you love him.” Ditching all ideas previously provoked, Eve glanced at Isaac. Her smile was stiff, strained. But it didn’t matter, since Isaac didn’t acknowledge her attempt to love him. She wasn’t sure if he was intentionally ignoring her, or if he was too preoccupied by the dancers. She glanced to the other side of her, subsequently seeing a couple similar to them, enjoying their Valentine’s date. Although they weren’t entirely like them. Their kiss was genuine, Eve could tell neither resisted it, neither forced it. Her arm was round his shoulder, not because he had no choice; they loved each other. This was something that was starting to feel so foreign to Eve. She realised the last time they’d held each other was right outside the opera house. When he brutishly dragged her inside.
Even with this awakening, she hesitated before standing. “I am not your porcelain doll, you walking erection.” She didn’t need to say more. Not wanting to interrupt the performance any longer, Eve made her way towards the exit, donning her coat as she walked. Isaac stayed in his seat, though he stared at her leaving, as if he were demanding an answer through his eyes.
Eve never bothered to turn around.
Nah, that’s no ending. Here’s your ending. (80 words. And since you’re already six or seven over, what’s a half dozen more?)
She stood, and started toward the aisle.
“Eve,” he hissed, and snapped his fingers. She hesitated, but found resolve in the upturned faces of the other patrons. Silently moving her toward the aisle, whispering, ‘God bless you,’ while Isaac twitched, fumed and slumped back into his seat.
She found herself in the lobby, sobbing into the shoulder of an embarrassed usher when the shooting started. He went through two magazines before an off-duty cop shot Isaac in the back.
I meant to add this before posting my previous comment, then I tried to add them together, but no edit function available so, two comments instead of one. (Kind of like one of Roy’s stories, when you think about it.) This story was riveting. I loved it right up until the last paragraph and final sentence, which, to me, left far too much unresolved. However, every word up until the last paragraph is magnificent. Fantastic writing. A fabulous building of tension for the duration of the story without ever ‘telling’ us anything concrete.
And while it may be easier to create and describe nefarious characters than all other kinds, this story is more than just a hate-able character. This is excellent story-telling.
And so, with apologies to all, I added a different ending, but it adds about ten words to your total which would disqualify it. In the interests of fair play, feel free to re-write the end of my story, which I’M not all that thrilled with either.
This is an example of powerful writing though, Peter, that’s the main take-away here.
As I mentioned to Liz, the ending was tricky, and while I am happy with it, I was always aware there would be different opinions on it, so fair enough. For what it’s worth, I thought your ending was well-written, and your story is so unique I can’t even begin to imagine how I would change any of it.
Bottom line though, thank you for the comment. This was one I was more proud of, compared to stories I’ve done in the past (admittedly some of them are rather easy to beat, but nevertheless). And so it’s nice to know my time spent editing paid off.
I wanted her to leave him and I wanted him to feel some kind of pain equal to what she felt.
Maybe I am just conditioned by Hollywood and video games to expect a dramatic, violent, and/or poetically just ending for fellows like these?
Your ending was more realistic and empowering than a piano falling on him, but I wouldn’t have complained.
I was writing my reply when everything shut down on me. Rats. Good story, Peter and welcome back. I loved your ending. I was surprised she held that much animosity because you didn’t relay that, although you did keep pointing out how he was mistreating her. I just didn’t expect her to leave that suddenly. Somehow, I don’t think you did either and as you were writing it, your character just up and left, surprising even you. Am I right? Anyway, good story.
THE THING WITH FEATHERS
“You know, there’s one thing I should tell you”, he says. His gaze does not waver. His confidence is a force. I can’t look away though I try. I feel the slight quiver of my lip, the tremble at the tip of my fingers. I feel seen.
“What”, I ask. My voice is feeble. I do not recognize it.
“You’re beautiful”. He says simply. It’s a fact. He believes it completely.
I’m awkward with compliments. I’ll smile and lower my gaze, twiddle my thumbs and shift my feet. I’ve got to learn to start calling people out for their polite untruthing.
“Suspicion is an unbecoming passion’, he says. He knows I do not believe him, that I do not see myself through the lens that he sees me.
In his eyes I see truth, and I wonder if I dare. Do I dare peak out from the grave of my insecurities under which I’m buried?
He smiles. Clearing them away is easy. I’m a phoenix, rising.
There’s no place large enough to contain so much happiness.
It flows out of me and into everything I touch. It’s strong, and it’s powerful. It compels me to laughter, to grow, to be better, to love, to live.
It’s a cliché. My heart sings. It’s the thing with wings. It soars. It’s to the roof. It’s free and it’s light. There’s no burden.
“Yes, but would you do it?”
Alex takes his time. He steps up from the couch and walks towards me. That smile that just strips everything away and leaves me bare, a child, only wanting him to own me.
“I love it when you get so animated”, he says as he pulls me into a hug. It’s hard to breathe but I have no complaints. There’s no other place I would rather be.
“You still didn’t answer my question”. My face is buried in his shirt, south of his chest. He says nothing at first and I wonder if he heard me.
He did. “Of course. I would do anything with you”.
We’re out for groceries. It’s been a long day. Alex never shuts up so when he’s quiet it’s a chasm. An abyss. I should have just agreed with him. I knew he was right. I’m stubborn. I didn’t even believe in what I said. I only wanted to have an opinion. Where did that get me?
Why do I always do this? I ask Alex for the umpteenth time if he’s mad. No, he’s not. But he doesn’t sound the same. I look at him, mulling over the noodle packets. He’s him but with different details.
“An Opera? Really, that’s what you’ve got?” Alex asks, his fingers twirling around the beard hair he has decided to grow out. Now that I think about, he seems to be doing that almost constantly lately.
“Yes really!” I instinctively reach out to pull his hands down and end up holding them in mine. He awkwardly moves them away and walks towards the fridge. He has his head in there for a good minute before he turns around and asks simply, “Why?”
I’m ready for this one. “Because it’s different”
“Different is, I don’t know, skydiving”, he says. His hands are back to the beard. The fridge door is still open and the light casts a glow across his face that’s almost hauntingly beautiful.
“You sound like a child”, I say. At this point I’m sure I’ve said it enough times for him not to care anymore. He grins knowingly.
“Does it have to be opera?” I know where he’s going with this and I won’t let him. Not this time.
“We agreed, Alex. We had a deal. A deal is binding”, I sound like a petulant child I know. I’m pot and he’s kettle.
He’s full-on laughing now. I see he’s catching on to my double standards.
“You’ve been up for everything else, Alex. What do you have against Opera houses?” I’m walking towards him now.
“Nothing. I just don’t want to spend Valentine’s day in one. It’s all dark. And Unromantic”, he says slamming the door closed.
“It’s on the list”. I’m firm. I won’t budge. Him not wanting to go only makes me want it more.
“Can’t we just do it some other day?”, he sounds defeated.
“I already got us tickets”, I say.
“This was never up for discussion, huh?” He looks at me with an unbecoming passion.
I can’t help the chuckle that escapes me.
“It’s sad how I can never get the shrill voice out of my head”, he sounds distraught.
I actually feel bad when I burst into laughter.
“I could think of a thousand better ways to spend Valentine’s”.
“I suppose. But then again this was pretty unforgettable huh?”, I say, trying to wink.
I’m not very good at it. I can see Alex start to loosen up. He drapes his arm over my shoulder as we walk towards the truck.
“There’s something I want to show you”, there’s a twinkle in his eyes as he says this. His voice is so low it’s almost a whisper. If I didn’t know any better, I would say he was nervous.
We’re at my favorite part of town. I love this place but I have no idea why Alex has brought us over here. He’s so excited, he can barely stand still. He takes my hands in his and thy are clammy. He is nervous. I have never seen him this way. He pulls me to the center of the square. He sits down right there, and gestures for me to sit down beside him. He says nothing, just beams at me.
A scene from my favorite starts to play from the side of the skyscraper to the front. People are starting to look now, trying to make sense of it. I hope the baffled look on my face makes them know I don’t either. I look imploringly at Alex, but he still says nothing. He points back at the movie that’s playing and that’s when I notice. It’s not Ferris Bueller on the screen. It’s Alex dressed as him! I know where this is going now. I don’t know how I know, I just do. Somehow that doesn’t make any less magical. It’s the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. It’s the best day of my life.
When I say yes, I have no doubts. It’s the surest I have ever been. I love this man and I want the whole world to know it.
Mischief managed huh?
Was it the scene with the parade that you were referencing?
I watched that scene again and it would be an impressive feat to recreate it….which would make it perfect for a proposal I guess!
Also, was that a Harry Potter reference at the end?
It’s a fine little love story with excellent dialogue. Although I felt that a few words were misused (again, at key points.) For instance: ‘Suspicion is an unpleasant passion.’ Suspicion is not a passion. It’s a trait or an emotion.
So when you double down on the word later in the story: ‘He looked at me with unbecoming passion.’ It doesn’t work there either.
This is why I try to avoid being clever because it always bites me in the ass. (If it wasn’t for the fact that I’m entirely ass, I wouldn’t have hardly any ass left for all the times I’ve attempted to be clever.) And so it is with you too. I’m sure you won’t listen to me. That’s why I give advice, so people can smugly ignore it.
One last bite of advic: Don’t use words like knowingly. Or wryly. (Or smugly, for that matter.) He grins, knowingly. (About what? What does that add? Why doesn’t he just grin? (With his knowledge, held, smugly under his hat?)
You know why? Because there is no knowledge. He has no knowledge. He can’t even remember what he was looking for in the fridge. The smile is good though. And the relationship is authentic and conveyed wonderfully well. It’s a quick, fun little story that meets the prompt too.
Outposts. (Version 2.6.)
I remember the first time I was abducted. Whisked away at virtual ‘probe-point’ to a distant galactic ‘depot’ called ‘Zudprillipud.’ Why? Well, that’s a good question. Anyway, they brought me back. It seemed like ten minutes had elapsed, but when they dropped me off, I soon realized I’d lost an entire week. A week! And nobody even noticed.
I asked Cathy where she thought I was. ‘Out in your boat,’ she says, chopping a potato.
“For a week?”
“Well, you were kind of vague when you left.”
“In that you said, ‘Don’t wait up.”
“And you think, ‘Don’t wait up’ means, ‘I’ll see you in a week?”
She had every reason to be livid, but wasn’t. “I bought you a valentine,” she said, pointing at a heart-shaped box with the knife.
‘I didn’t forget, I was in space, Honey.’ Try telling that to your gal pal. “Thanks, uh… can we talk?”
She was open-minded enough to listen politely and ask things like, ‘Were there any people?’ or ‘What kind of creatures live on Zudlillipudski?’
My answer? “I don’t know. I was in a rest area, okay? A galactic pitstop. And Zudprillipud’s a galaxy, not a planet, so, technically nobody lives ‘on-it. Any other brilliant questions?” She shook her head. Clearly, she was in on it too.
“Stan. Stan Waters. Private Detective, at your service.”
He claimed he was ex-military and looked it. Acted like it. He was all business, but I hadn’t convinced him to work for me yet. “I just don’t see it as a problem,” he said. “What I wouldn’t give to take a week off and not be missed.”
“You’d freak out,” I said. “You’re confusing a vacation with an abduction. Don’t do that.” I explained how speed and time are connected, the faster I went, the less time I experienced. It seemed like ten minutes to me because it was ten minutes, to me, everyone else aged a week, everyone around here, anyway. This much was clear, I’d already hired someone to do the math.
But this guy was pretty shrewd because he said, “You did the math, huh? How’d you know how far it was to Zudsparilla?”
And to that kind of question, hypnosis seemed like the only answer.
I was convinced that all hypnotists were incompetent idiots as I rubbed my eyes and sat up. I was on a couch and my belief was reinforced when the hypnotist audibly murmured, ‘all finished.’ I didn’t remember anything. I didn’t remember him, his office, walking in, laying down, or any recollection of Stan Waters for that matter. I barely knew my own name.
How do I know all this? I did a little research before rushing off to the mesmerist. It wasn’t that hard to break the post-hypnotic suggestions. I kept a video log, reference material, receipts, and a post-hypnotic trigger phrase: ‘What do you have against opera houses?’ As soon as I read that phrase in my notebook, all my memories came flooding back.
I was abducted again, not long after, somewhat more skillfully, and whisked off at near-light-speeds to another distant galaxy. 13 minutes each way with a two-minute layover in what I now call ‘outposts.’ At the far end of a 28-minute interval, I was discretely dumped back on earth three days later. I woke up in my boat, on the river, the anchor so deeply embedded in the shoreline I had to leave it behind, but the boat ran well, the car was in the marina parking lot and the keys were in my pocket.
When I burst through the front door Cathy greeted me cheerfully. “Hi, how were the fish?”
“Yeah. The fish. How were they?”
“There—were no fish, I don’t think.”
“Aww, no luck, huh? That’s too bad.” She patted the couch and I went and sat down next to her. She seemed nicer, and softer than usual.
The following night, after sex, in the dark, I said, “I need a new anchor, you know…”
“It’s fixed,” she said.
“I’m not mad, I just…, what’d you say?”
“I fixed it.”
“You got me a new anchor?”
“Where is it?”
“I put it on.”
“The end of the anchor line, of course.”
I got abducted again, it was different. And then again after that, and this time there was another person present. A human being, like me. I felt like part of a team, however marginal my contribution.
My ‘trips’ grew shorter, and the ‘returns’ neater and less awkward, as we fell into a routine. Cathy and I had the best sex ever, and, well, I knew it wasn’t her. It was a better Cathy than the one I’d had. I don’t know what they did with the original, but this was not her. She was too accommodating.
I admit, I was happy to play along. I had no control over aliens whose technology was so advanced I couldn’t even remember it, let alone explain it, but I felt like I was a part of something vast, some huge undertaking.
One night, I asked my duplicate Cathy, what is it that I do? And she said they use my brain, it has a hundred billion connections, and functions wirelessly.
“So why don’t I understand what we’re doing?” I remember asking.
And she said, “You don’t need to, you’re a node.” And that was it, that was all she would divulge about that subject, ever.
One night, Cathy entered the house looking dazed and stunned, walking around, looking at things curiously, picking things up. Then she looked at me as if she hadn’t seen me in a year. I approached her tentatively, and gently embraced her. Her voice was muffled against my shoulder but I still heard her say, “How long was I gone?”
I held her at arm’s length. “About three years.” Valentine’s day was a week away.
“Three years? Oh my God. How can that be?”
I shrugged. “Physics?”
She went to the fridge and grabbed a beer. “Yeah, I was on some kind of starship. I know. It sounds crazy.” She drank one-third of the beer. “God that’s good.” She looked around. “You kept my stuff. How sweet. So…” she peered at me over the rim of the can, “how was my funeral? Pretty small affair?”
“Uh, no.” I cleared my throat. “No funeral. They gave me a substitute. So how long did you think you were gone?”
“About three months,” she said. “It was…” she shook her head, “grueling but rewarding. They were very happy with me, I think. A substitute? What’s a substitute? What does that mean? Did you even know I was gone?”
“Yes. I did. I mean, I figured it out. Eventually.”
“How? Where is she?” She began circling the apartment. Opening closets and pantries, slamming them shut.
“She’s gone,” I wailed, a touch too plaintively.
“I’m sleeping on the couch,” she announced.
We waited anxiously for our next abduction, but it never came. I guess they fired us. We didn’t know what to do so we started a support group, Abducted Nodes Anonymous. We have over a million members and we’re still growing.
Nice explanation for what I sometimes think has occurred in my own home. Now I find out. Well, I’m in too deep now to consider another partner. Just kidding, of course, I know my current wife is the one I started with, although there was that time in Hawaii, I swear she was replaced for the duration of the trip. It’s why I’ve got to take her back there.
Interesting use of the prompt to write anything you wanted to and avoid the whole Valentine’s Day issue altogether. Nice job, Ken. Post hypnotic phrase. I’ll have to remember that clever bit.
Interesting and well written story, and just enough explanation as to why she is now pissed upon her return to find out WHY you didn’t even miss her. I might have thought there would be some extra incentive on her part knowing that, but she went the other direction.
Boy, you have to write! If you don’t write, it won’t work. Now don’t keep telling yourself that you can’t think of anything. You just have to write like a tennis player plays tennis. A tennis player doesn’t ask himself whether he can play tennis and how he should do it. He takes a racket and a ball and then he starts practicing. You only play tennis when you play tennis. If there’s no one around, you play against the wall. When you play against the wall, your muscles start to remember how playing tennis works. Then suddenly you feel again how it feels to play tennis, how it feels to play against an opponent, and then everything falls into place. So start right now; you’ve already done the first paragraph.
Yes, you have no idea. Opera is foreign to you, you haven’t been to an opera house for decades, but it doesn’t matter, your general knowledge is enough. You know what an opera is, and that’s enough. And earlier you had a little idea; you immediately dismissed it as bad, as a completely useless idea, nothing that a real writer can write about. Now just take this idea. Remember, we’re playing tennis against the wall. We’ll just try it out. It’s about a man and a woman. Quite simply, it’s usually about a man and a woman. Readers love to read about men and women, they know all about those, it’s a very simple topic. The woman asks the man if he loves her. Also very simple. It happens everywhere and anytime, a woman asks a man if he loves her. What should the man answer? He knows, of course, there is no right answer to this question, only wrong ones. If he says yes, it is wrong, if he says no, it is totally dangerous. He says yes, because first of all this is the answer that is expected from him, and secondly it’s the right answer too. He loves this woman, definitely. Maybe not exactly like the first day they fell in love, but he loves her. Except that he knows when the woman asks, something is wrong. When two people love each other, they know it. So when a woman asks if he loves her, she is probably asking herself if she loves him. And the man can’t answer that. So he says yes, of course, what else can he say? And he knows he can’t get away with it. He knows this is just the prelude to a series of questions. He now has to carefully figure out what it’s all about. The woman, of course, repeats the question, asking if he is really sure he loves her. A question like a ticking time-bomb, and again there is no answer. So he tries a counter question. He asks her why she is asking him. And we are already in the middle of chaos. She asks him why he asks why. He tries again very carefully, and finally she dares to tell him what it‘s all about. It’s about the Valentine’s Day gift.
Look, the story is moving forward. You got the idea when you were looking at kits of all-terrain vehicles from Lego on Amazon. You guess Lego kits are a typical guy thing. You think a woman would never buy something like that, at least not big, complicated kits. So how about if the man builds her something out of Lego and gives her the model as a gift. He thinks he’s giving her great pleasure, because he can’t imagine that a woman wouldn’t like anything made of Lego that much. He loves his wife, but he just hasn’t thought it through. He hasn’t delved deep enough into a woman’s soul to figure out that she can’t understand anything about Lego models and their fascination. And that’s exactly what she is now reproaching him for.
After all, he didn’t build her an all-terrain vehicle. He didn’t build her anything that came ready-made from Lego. Nothing with building instructions. Instead he came up with something himself, designed and built it himself, because he thought he could make his wife happy. Which obviously didn’t work. He built her a replica of the Paris Opera House out of Lego. A huge model, as big as a table and made entirely of red Lego bricks. It took him months to finish, and he’s quite proud of the model of the opera house. The roof can be removed to reveal the grand staircase in the entrance hall. He had thought that his wife would be able to see at first glance how much love went into such a model. But he was wrong. He still asks, “what do you have against opera houses?“ But too late. She only sees Lego as a man’s thing, and now she’s asking those dangerous questions about whether he loves her and whether he really loves her and whether he’s really sure he really loves her. He knows if she can’t see his love in the model, he won’t be able to explain it. But he tries.
He says that he could have bought her perfume, of course, or underwear, yes, he could have done that. But he wanted to give her something special, something that is unique in the world, a large model of the Paris Opera House, where they went years ago and saw the Nutcracker. Because she is a very special woman to him, who is also unique in the universe, and because she is his great love, and so on. He has no hope that his words will reach her heart, but he tries anyway. He has no other choice. He tries, and as he tries, he loves her more than ever. He feels completely vulnerable, it’s as if he’s standing naked in front of her and putting his heart into her hands. And as you already know, she says nothing. She still doubts his love and leaves him standing there.
But later that evening, her voice has softened and she looks him in the eye. Then she says that she has a very special husband who has given her a gift that is unique in the world. They stand together in the room where the model is, her head leaning on his shoulder. Then they take off the roof and look at the open staircase. On the staircase there are two small Lego figures, painted with felt-tip pen, and those were them, as they visited the Opéra Garnier during a romantic weekend in Paris a long time ago.
You see, you just have to start and trust your idea. Because that’s what writers do, they trust their idea – in the end anyway.
I have a lot of trouble writing and I complain about how I want to write constantly.
I will take these words to heart.
This is pretty peculiar.
Space. Shifting Snads of Slime.
I forgot to adjust my calendar reminder that today is voting day.
I’ll send out the email notification tomorrow morning that voting is open so keep your eye out for it!!
Ok writers – my apologies for the delay!
Here is the link to the voting link, you have 24 (technically 28 1/2) hours from the date of this email to vote!
I mean, I just assume that most of you would let me sleep on your couch for a few months if I needed to, right? You know, if I showed up on your doorstep with a backpack and a couple of chickens in tow? (On a leash, of course. You don’t let chickens run wild.) Am I misinterpretating the level of our friendship here? On this site? You’d at least let me wash up in your backyards, wouldn’t you? (In the lake?)
All kidding aside, if you and your significant other need an overnight or two, it would be welcome. Three months, man, we don’t even let our relatives stay that long.
Sorry I have not been able to join in with the banter and the writing this time around. I was involved in other projects and decided to stand aside this time round.
We have a spare couch if you are ever in this part of the world. Don’t worry about your chickens, I like chickens, well fried chicken anyway.
Hope to be on board with Foul Play or perhaps it should be Fowl Play.
Just watched a Netflix film “The Trial of the Chicago 7” A very interesting slice of American history. I wonder how much of it was accurate. Really enjoyed it. Made me laugh and cry and feel angry. A film that can do that is OK in my book. Hasn’t happened since One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and, before that, Bambi.
Hope you can make it back too. As you know, your absence has induced a mild case of hallucinations in me, (mild, as compared to what I’m used to. So it’s nothing I can’t easily explain away.)
‘Chicago 7 made you cry.’ I don’t know what to make of that because I never saw the Chicago 7 movie. I don’t know why.
When I first started my book, which turned into a trilogy, I avoided all movies for 4 years and read very sparingly, thinking other people’s plots would corrupt my own creative process. Then I read a writers advice thing that said, (in essence) ‘You don’t get corrupted by other people’s ideas, you get inspired by them and you may even incorporate some of what you see or read. Did all the previous books and movies you’ve already ingested corrupt you? Of course not.’ So I ended my self-imposed movie moratorium. Perhaps Chicago 7 came out during that period. Without seeing the movie I can only guess that it probably depicts, very accurately, a system of justice that is deeply flawed for minorities.
Now, when I watch a movie, I have my own tear-drop rating system.
One Tear , left eye. = Okay, most documentaries can elicit one tear in the left eye. If a squirrel finds a nut in the backyard, one tear.
Two Tears, left eye. = This can happen when someone puts skim milk in my coffee, or, when I take a bite of a particularly juicy apple.
Three tears, left eye. = Okay, three tears left, means there’s at least one tear in the right, or, at least it’s starting to water. Now we’re getting serious. This could happen when Bambi starts dating Dumbo, and you just know it will never work out.
An actual tear produced by the right eye. = This is VERY serious. This can be caused by Adam Sandler appearing anywhere in a movie, someone laughing at one of my jokes, or a clip of Billy Crystal talking about Muhammed Ali.
Three tears left eye, two tears right eye. = This indicates a ‘Significant Emotional Experience.’ Like: My soon to be ex-wife signing the divorce papers, a USB connector goes in the socket properly the first time, my chainsaw starting on the second pull. (It’s a little embarrassing when that happens, but hey…)
You get the general idea. This is why, while watching an episode of ‘Schitt’s Creek’ a few nights ago, after watching a scene where the gay boyfriend comes out of the closet to his parents and they accept him. I turned to Kim and said. “Both eyes Kim, I’m crying from both eyes, and it’s pretty even. Three tears each.”
The movie that made me cry the most, believe it or not, was that Mr. Rogers movie. (It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood?) I never watched Mr. Rogers growing up. I was way too old for that shit by the time he came on the air. But everyone knows he was a good man, and when that car full of hard-nosed New Yorkers started singing to him in that subway train, I lost it. I must have cried at least seven times during that movie.
But that doesn’t mean I’m not tough. Alright? I’m tough as nails. Nails that’ve been through a special hardening process that makes them emit little drops of water from time to time. I hope I don’t have to repeat that. A tear or two never hurt anyone as far as I know. (But what if it did, Ken? There’s an idea for a story.)
p.s. I love chickens. They taste like chicken.
Here are your winners!!
1st Place: What do you have against Opera houses by Liz Fisher
2nd Place: Opera to the Rescue by Phil Town
3rd Place: Porcelain by Peter Holmes
4th Place: The Angel of Musical Chairs by John Mansfield
5th Place: Trust Your Idea by berlinermax
6th Place: It’s Over When the Fat Lady Sings by Roy York
7th Place: Outposts by Ken Cartisano
8th Place: The Thing With Feathers by Savant
The story with the favorite Character was Eve from “Porcelain” by Peter Holmes
And the story with the best dialogue was “Outposts” by Ken Cartisano
Congrats to all!
Peter….you’re only 17???????
I don’t remember, but I have a terrible memory.
I would say that it probably slipped my mind because your writing is excellent and rather mature.
Kudos to you and a very Happy Birthday!! 🥳🧁🍰🎁🎂🎈🎉
(Though full disclosure: I didn’t actually vote for you this time, so I’m glad I didn’t slip past you by the odd vote! People might have cried “foul play!” …)
Very pleased with being on the podium, and pleased that I guessed the ‘bonus’ awards correctly. Sorry for not critiquing all the stories – life and bad time management getting in the way. But people are probably thinking: “Phew! Dodged a bullet there!”
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