Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Tautly Pulled Rope

Samantha and her husband Curtis, stood together facing a dilemma. It wasn't that the cage was empty. If only it had been, the two could have torn apart the house searching until they found Max trembling and hungry inside the laundry basket or another suitably absurd place. As the situation stood, Max was dead, completely still, absolutely lifeless, a situation completely beyond repair. Trevor would be home from school in 45 minutes and the two would be caught, staring into a dead gerbil's cage.

“Let's just get rid of the bloody thing,” Curtis spat out. “We'll tell him we took it to the vet and buy some time.”

“It's dishonest.”

You've got a lot of nerve.”

“Don't start.”

Samantha was watching the Spiderman clock on Trevor's dresser blink to 2:32 when the dryer buzzed. Thirty-three minutes until he should be home. The couple drifted to the laundry room where wooden-framed family photos were shifting slightly under the pulsing turbulence of the dryer. Samantha meticulously began folding jeans and shorts while Curtis hung dress shirts up on hangers.

“For Pete's sake, just take care of it,” Curtis asserted.

“It's just like you to pin this on me.”


“Well, you do that sometimes.”

Seven minutes later, the two were loitering around in their respective parts of the kitchen. Curtis finally slumped to rest his palms against the counter in front of a bubbling coffee pot and began thumping an empty mug with his thumb. Samantha stood stirring pasta noodles and turned her head towards a mechanical whirring sound drifting in from the living room.

“I think our living room fan is a little off kilter,” Curtis remarked.

“Are you going to take care of it?”

“The fan?”

“You know what I mean.”

“I don't know, dear. What would be the right thing to do?”

“We can just get rid of it.”


“Just like you said.”

“I'm sorry, I don't think I heard you right.”

“Forget it.”

It was 2:45 when Curtis backed into the pot on the stove and spilled Samantha's noodles onto the kitchen tile. The pot emitted a resonated bong that lingered in the air long after it rolled away to the carpeted living room floor and rested in front of the recliner. Samantha hollered and leaped onto the counter top, avoiding injury. The couple stood motionless for four minutes.

“I'm sorry, Curtis.”

“No. You were right, let's go.”

“No. I mean I am sorry.”

“That's all over now. Let's go before Trevor gets home.”

Curtis was hurriedly flapping his wrist to usher his wife over to an acceptable gerbil-clone of Max at the pet store when Samantha's eyes found a goldfish clock on the east wall. 2:57. Trevor should be home in eight minutes. She nodded emphatically in agreement and tapped her toes in her boots anxiously while they checked out with the new pet.

“OK, you open the lid and take out the dead one and I'll drop this one in,” Samantha suggested.



“This one's bigger.”

Samantha shrugged. When she did, the rodent wriggled out of her grasp, dropped onto the floor and scurried to the kitchen. Samantha checked the clock: 3:02. The couple bolted for the kitchen and on hands and knees desperately began searching in the nooks of the water-logged and pasta-strewn kitchen floor.

“You knew the whole time, didn't you? That the rat we got was too big.” Curtis asked.

“Stop blaming me for everything.”

“You actually want Trevor to find out.”

“You, of all people, should know I can keep a secret.”

Curtis stopped and squeezed his knuckles tight until they turned white.

“Look, you just go get rid of the dead one.”

“I don't know if this is going to work, Curtis.”

“You do want Trevor to find out!”

“Did you ever stop to think maybe it'd be good for Trevor to think about death?”

“I don't believe you're actually questioning my consideration of our son.”

“I can't touch it, I really can't.”

“When did you start getting picky?”

Trevor returned home from school twelve minutes late because Alicia Ruscoe from school had beaten him up and stolen the bag of marbles he'd gotten from Santa the year before. Arriving home, he tucked his face and traveled quickly past the kitchen where his father was crouched peering into the nook betwewen the bar and kitchen wall and reaching inside. Trevor didn't look left to his sitting mother, cheeks blood-red and eyes glaring at a dead gerbil clutched tightly in her quivering fingertips in the hallway.

In his bedroom, Trevor searched for a suitable make-shift tissue to swab the blood on his eyebrow and rid himself of any evidence of defeat at school. Finding nothing immediately, he dropped the contents of his pockets onto his dresser: a rolled five-dollar bill and three rescued blue marbles Alicia had accidentally dropped on the sidewalk after school. As Trevor pulled a dirty sock from under his bed, two marbles spread in opposite directions against a smooth wooden surface and got caught between the dresser and the wall.

“They're going to call me for dinner any minute,” Trevor mumbled to himself, pressing the sock to his face. “They're going to know.”

The last marble rolled around a bit before making its way to the dresser's decorative lip where it eventually stopped, teetering the edge.


Blogger runken55 said...

That was great! I liked the way you made me feel that I was really there watching the whole thing!

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Blogger Dena Marie said...

I liked this story. I am one of those who likes a clear ending, however I do know that many writers don't do this in stories and in movies. BUT, I now want to know what happened with the boy and his gerbil. I am not much of a story writer, so when someone leaves it to me to finish in my head, they ending sucks because I wrote it. Anyway, I think that what you have written is wonderful, and even though the ending is not clear, I still like it and appreciate what you were doing when you ended it there. Love you!

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Blogger wvaltv said...

Ok cuz. Another post said you left them hanging and I pretty much feel the same way. I don't understand why Samantha & Curtis were afraid of telling their son about a dead pet gerbil. Didn't they get this for him as a gift? The unclear element of this story is what makes your story a very, strong visual comment on how parents and children's fears play into weird and sometimes dumb actions. I think I understand why the couple didn't want to tell their son, however you have to make that clear (in dialogue) or actions. I'm turning into an English Lit teacher (and I apologize for that) however this story has great visuals and descriptive cues along with the building drama. When you re-visit this story, ask yourself these questions: why are the parents so afraid of their son finding a dead pet? Is the family trying to survive a death of a loved one and this pet reminds them of the pain? Why is the couple home (not working) on a weekday? Did the husband or wife lose a job? The fight that happened w/ the son... how can this build on the action taking place w/ the parents (hiding the dead animal). Alright, that's enough to chew on for now.

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Blogger teeta said...

I thought it was great....and very visual. But not as complicated as the last commenter tried to make it. It was life. And a moment in someones life defies all the answers as to the "why did they....". Parents try to protect their kids from pain cause they love them. Kids try to hide their shame cause they don't want to seem weak. We all have issues and problems. and they all seem more important or serious to us than the other persons. And they are. I love your writing. but i always have. My favorite is still Mollaxandra's walk.
Like this story.....simple and real...yet complex. love ya ...mommy

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great story. There's a lot of subtext going on, and I like the cliffhanger ending. The gerbil is totally a euphemism for their marriage. Secrets, dishonesty, wanting/not wanting Trevor to find out... it's not just me thinking about the adultery poems, somebody's cheatin', or maybe both, and the gerbil is them trying to figure out whether it's better to try to stay together for his sake or split for his and their sakes. And you don't say which is better: it's a cliffhanger. You're good at writing about strain in romantic relationships: remember to tell that to your biographer when you go big-time. I'd like to see more dialogue tags: the lack of he said/she said made it harder to read than necessary. I thought the weakest part was Trevor's... the marbles seemed to be there just for the last line, and they took precious attention away from the gerbil, which is a really, really well-done euphemism. Yeah, good stuff. --Kyle

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Blogger RD Larson said...

I'm awriter and have written a lot of stories. I like this. It's a slice of live with undercurrents. I'm wondering what happened before, were the parents older, had their other children died mysteriously? Lots to work with here. Good job. RD Larson (goolge me or check out www.RDLarson.com or blog: writeratlargeFlash. Keep writing.

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ummm.. what can i say... its a good story and it's obvious that u have a talent for story telling. i think there is no need to tell u what to polish in your story, u'll learn it as you go along taking the journey. and, years from now, you will look at this short fiction of yours with nostalgic eyes as how you started your writing career..gud luck... i'll link to you so as to join you in your journey :)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Initially I thought the story was a lot like Hemingway's Hill's like White Elephants,but as it progressed your message seems to become clear. I guess it is preference with each reader which they prefer. Personally, I like the hanging ending. I did love the way the story ending. Your final words seem perfect. Although the story was about secrets with in the family, the beginning made me think that the smaller conversations with the husband and wife would reveal a big secret with them. I would like to know what the larger secret is. Overall, it was a really good story!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, it's Ciara, the girl at the towers who needed resnet assistance! I just read this short and i really liked it. The story had a natural flow and I especially liked how both the parents and Trevor had things they wanted to keep hidden. Good, clear describtions (such as the rolling marbles and the pan dropping on the floor). I love visual stuff like that. If you are interested in reading some of my shorts let me know: Kansas82@ku.edu.
again, great story!

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