Friday, December 29, 2006

December Wordsmiths Challenge 2: The Gift

The sexy beasts over at Wordsmiths Unlimited have unleashed a second writing challenge this year because we've all been good (or is that naughty?) little boys and girls. This time, we have the picture below and a default beginning, and we are tasked to write an additional 500 words. I put the default in red italics.

The Gift

A loud rapping at the door awoke me from a deep dreamy sleep.

It was early, too early to be awake, and certainly too early to be out in the streets pounding on doors. I thought that there must be some emergency in town and ran to the door to find out whatever news there was from whoever was there. Much to my surprise, there was no-one at the door ready to identify themselves and their message, and yet a package with my name on it had been left at the door.

It was a most curious circumstance, and yet I saw no real harm in it, because secret gift giving was the hallmark of the holiday season. I myself had delivered many a gift in that manner over the years. The package was heavier than it should have been from its size, and once I had it indoors I eagerly opened it to find out what it was and who had sent it.

Alas, there was no identification of the giver, and more's the pity because what was inside was a most remarkable carved wood box, worked with figures of animals and dragons all over, in a magnificent shade of red. Whoever sent it to me must have been a prankster, though, because I could see no way into the box, no clasp or lock announced itself, no hinge or platen presented itself as a means to the inside. I was locked out, and most frustrated by this unfortunate turn of events.

"So, what do you think so far?"

I had read my husband's story while I waited for the curling iron to heat up. He was in the doorway of the bathroom, perched on the edge of his wheelchair, awaiting my judgment.

I shrugged. "It reminds me of 'The Raven' a little."

"Poe? Yeah, I can kinda see that. That's good, right?"

"I guess," I dropped my copy of the story in the sink, and the corner of it started to absorb the tepid water pooled at the bottom. I wrapped strands of my hair around the barrel of the curling iron, heard the faint hiss of it being gently scorched.

"Do you want some lunch before you go?"


"I can make you a sandwich, Rachel brought some roast beef over- "

"I'm eating at the Christmas party."

"Oh. Oh yeah. Do you think you'll be home early tonight?"

Ten months ago a drunk driver neatly divided our lives into two categories: before the accident and since the accident. We bought this house before the accident, but since the accident it's become a maze of ramps and gauze and bedpans and metal railings bolted to every vertical surface; our tables and kitchen counters had been lowered. I stumbled through the house, banging against modified furniture and my husband showing me his latest project: model airplanes, crossword puzzles, watercolors of me camped out in the guest bathroom, the one place that we hadn't changed. Before the accident I might have used a smear of lip gloss and called it a day, now I have an hour-long beauty ritual.

The red box that he based his story on sat in his lap and every so often he'd rub the pad of his thumb against its carved enameled surface. He'd seen it on the clearance table at Pier One a few weeks ago and bought it, saying that it reminded him of me, and I had cringed inwardly at the pitiful, awkward metaphor: beautiful to hold and fused closed for good.

"I don't blame you if you don't want to come back."

I looked down at him, saw that his hairline was receding, his jawline was softer now, and for the first time since the accident I didn't feel pity.

Somewhere in the city there was a young couple wrapping presents for their newborn child, there were cups of thick egg nog enjoyed by handsome men who were able to place the angel on the top of the Christmas tree, there was a man in a dark car waiting down the block for me. In this house, since the accident, there was a small Frasier Fur that was decorated only along the bottom half and a man who couldn't fit his wheelchair through the bathroom door so he could touch his wife. I put my lipstick down and sat in his lap, though he couldn't feel it.

"So this story you're writing..."


"Who left the mystery box? And what's in it?"


Biff Spiffy said...

I'm coming to expect this from you. Poetic running-through with a lovely, rusty spear. I really like your stories, even though every one makes me shiver.

I can relate to the ache and disappointment of things not turning out according to plan. The carried-on conversations and attempts at escape.

The metaphor bit is brilliant. I thought the story-within-a-story was a copout at first, but I got over it. I'm starting to think these challenges could use another cuppa two tree hundred more words.

Cravey said...

Oooooh. NOT fair. I want so much more out of this couple.
Pretty please? (Insert batting eyelashes).


Marisol said...

Instantly I relate to this woman! For every heroic martyr in the world there must be a realist somewhere right?!!?

Bravo...well written! If JC's batting eyelashes won't get us more, please indicate what will so we can GET CRACKIN'!!!!

tiff said...

Ah - a turning point. Good for this tired wife to choose patience and forbearance. There is some hope, then, in these 500 words.

Well done, beautifully written, no word wasted (and by my count you have one to spare).

I was going to comment that a lot of your stories are painful to read because of the hurt and cheating and such, but then realized that maybe that's the voice you need to use right now.If I hadn't read any of the other stories, after all, I'd never know that this voice existed and needed to be heard.

the only daughter said...

I loved it. Full of pain and possibility.

Kingfisher said...

This misfired: The description of the accident. The rest of the story is a great example of how to move plot and character without telling. This stretch needs a little softening of rough edges. Also, "gently scorched." If I had written this, I would have loved it. As an impartial reader, the two words seem a little too opposite to work.

This worked: Pathos. I cried for her because I thought she was a bitch. Then I cried because I was unfair in my initial appraisal. A skilled hand misdirected me here. Also, using a writing challenge to describe a challenged person participating in a writing challenge. This elevates the "whoa" factor.

Thanks for joining us! Again!

(BTW: Tiff is the sexy beast. I am the overbearing ogre.)

Anonymous said...

Wow, at first I thought she was just a real bitch... putting the story down to get wet was just cold.

But you switched that up.

And then I thought he was whiny and manipulating.

But you switched that up.

It ended up being quite a beautiful and human story.

The description of the accident was a tad awkward, but not so much that it derailed the story.

Oh - and when I read the description of the curling iron as "gently scorching" I immediately thought that was the PERFECT description of how wet hair reacts to the curling iron... that hiss - I could almost smell the hair curling :)

Rosie said...

This is such an exquisite little piece of writing that I wouldn't change a thing.

You show a true mastery of written dialogue and it makes me wonder if you've worked much in the screenplay or dramatic format. If you haven't, then you need to.

I feel that you are drawing on reserves of personal experience, whether that is fact or not. That's a rare quality. There is a naturalness and ease to your work that is very accessible to your reader.

No notes. I'm impressed.

Dragon said...

I wish I had your talent. Your stories always move me.