Tuesday, October 9, 2012



Today's prompt, from P&W again, as I'm lazy from having only 4 hours sleep:


Disaster Revisited

Think about a time or incident from your past when you just barely averted disaster. Write a story about it, but change the circumstances so that the disaster actually happens.


 She almost didn't make it through the tree. Technically not all of her did make it through, or around, if you wanted to look at it that way; and likely you wouldn't, as parts of her did make it through, around, past, beyond. By 7:42 pm on the final Wednesday evening of her existence, Sheila Minkiewicz had forced the largest portion of her self, with the help of her 11 year-old Buick Regal, into and onto a half-rotted maple on her best friend's street, less than six blocks from her own apartment.

 She'd been on her way to band practice, running late. Running ten minutes late was on time, for her, but that Wednesday, she was running super-extra late, and had decided to take charge of it by not rushing anymore once she was out the door. Getting out the side door and into her car had been the hard part; getting out with her eye makeup cleaned up from crying, from another fight, from one of the fights that happened every time she and her live-in boyfriend had somewhere that they were supposed to go, together.

 What usually happened was, she was responsible for making sure that she was ready to leave, that the house was ready for them to leave it, that she had taken care of every possible problem and detail that he could have imagined (without telling her), and that she had not pissed him off in some way for a few days before they were meant to go. Which was impossible, since her least moment of contentment within their shitty life made him coldly angry. But all that was a cover for the real reasons.

 He hated obligatory social occasions but refused to avoid them. Traditional behavior, maintaining a middle-class standard, was more important to him than enjoyment, but he made up for it by making a scene just before they arrived wherever it was they were scheduled to be; or as on that Wednesday, while they were preparing to depart. Usually, by the time they had reached their destination, he would be calm, smiling when their host opened the door, or as they met their friends at the restaurant. He'd be collected, even charming, having vented his anger through her; and she'd be left crazed, upset, frustrated at having to shut off her emotion after he'd pried up the lid. She'd be a mess, embarrassed and vulnerable. She'd have a terrible time, and vow to herself not to accept another invitation or to do things differently, but it always happened again, the same way.

 Sheila was smart, well read, but she'd never heard the term "passive-aggressive." She didn't own the descriptives necessary to articulate their disintegration process, the pattern of Matt's control of their situation. She didn't have enough confidence in her instincts anymore to assert that somehow, through deliberately riling her up till she burst, his emotional needs were served. He used her to emote for him and she understood that, counter-intuitive as it seemed, but could not explain it clearly enough to avoid his rational decimations of her attempts to clarify. They'd get caught in a semantics battle, arguing about the details of their argument, caught up in a conflict that neither had the will to end. She wanted to understand, he wanted to negate her understanding of him-- there was no winning, and she was too optimistic to concede that unfortunate reality.

 That Wednesday, when she'd worked her waitress job, gone home and cooked dinner, then tried to warm up her voice while washing the dishes, the same fight started, as always, with him hinting about them being late well before it was a probability.

 He was tagging along to her band practice to hang out with the husband of one of the other girls in the trio. They'd go down to the basement to drink beer and talk Civil War strategies while the three women upstairs worked out a capella harmonies and wrote new songs.  It was a regular thing, and should have been pleasant for all concerned, except that Matt disliked any regular social schedule. He'd begun to resent the necessity of effort involved in maintaining any relationships. He resented Sheila's enjoyment as well, and so this, their one set social engagement, was beginning to pall for both of them.

 They went five or six rounds, a bout of meaningless anguish for Sheila, and then he'd stalked out, having decided to walk instead of wait for her, since she'd obviously be late in leaving. Now that he'd wasted her prep time and her throat was constricted from holding back sobs,  he was off to make sure that he, at least, wasn't going to be seen as rude. He'd be on time, if he hurried, and could blame her if he wasn't.

 When the door shut and she was left alone with her fizzing rageful grief, she let the serving bowl in her hands sink back into the bed of suds, and sat down at their round kitchen table to cry. A thought hit her then, a thought foreign to her basic premise of life, but she reached for it and held on long enough to see every edge clearly: he didn't love her anymore, really did not. And so she could leave him. She could float through tonight, and spend her day off tomorrow looking for a place to go. It didn't even matter when she found one, just that she start looking. He wouldn't be aware of any changes, because he spent all his time avoiding her company. All she had to do, was allow that. After nine years, she could let go, instantly, and feel better. There would be sadness at the loss, later. Now,  relief flowed up her arms, and neck, and back, relief and hope.

 She freshened her face makeup, thinking about a new apartment, a new roommate maybe, and changed into clothes that didn't smell of pizza grease and soda. Then she took up her tambourine and her song sheets, got into the car and drove, slowly, appreciating the cool of early Autumn, feeling huge pleasure at the sight of each tree and house she passed. Often she and Matt walked to Anna's place, since it was so close, but walking back home after a long rehearsal, after work, was too tiring. Matt would expect a ride, too, & be expecting her to act normal the minute he saw her-- and she would, right up till the day she walked out. So she drove, stopping at the corner convenience store to pick up a six-pack to loosen her throat, for singing. Her mood was high, now, and she drove faster, eager to get going on a song she'd just introduced to the group last rehearsal.

 A block away from Anna's, Sheila noticed a group of cute college guys walking, talking-- they were a couple years younger, but what the hell? When they waved and called to her, she waved back, feeling saucy, smiling and watching them in the the rearview mirror as she went forward faster than she'd meant to, into her new life, into the tree.


Anonymous said...

I love the way you structured this by presenting the ending first as an intriguing but detached piece of information for which/whom I had no reference. So okay, I filed it and kept reading. As the story builds, I nearly forgot where we were headed, all caught up in the scene between the couple, but by the time it was oh too clear again to me where it was inevitably headed, I was mentally begging and bargaining against the pain and tragedy of it, meanwhile the remaining words kept speeding relentlessly at me, forcing me to let go of celebrating her triumph. Very very effective! I was surprised at the level of intensity I felt to squirm and resist her fate.

Barbara (from FAWM/5090)

heavy hedonist said...

Thank you, Barbara-- as often happens, your perception has offered me new insights, which will surely help me edit this much more effectively!

Also, I'm just glad that the couple-ness stuuf isn't dead boring--- you never know, when you're writing it, if it will be bland.

Anonymous said...

I think your insights into character are too wicked to become dead boring, ever. On top of that, I can relate very closely to that arena of power struggle. In fact I found myself wondering if getting ready to go somewhere together must not be a sort of representative look into whatever power issues affect a relationship.

Meanwhile, I love reading your prose. I'm glad you can make use of my reactions (whether they're English Major caliber or not!).