It’s #FictionFridays number 6, hooray!
As promised last week, I am not going to write a rambling prelude today.
Anyway, this story*is* new..I stayed up way too late last night writing it so be sure to check out this fresh-hot-draft!
I appreciate all the support that I have received since launching Betty’s Battleground last January. Truly, it has been incredible, and meaningful, and helpful.
Fiction is my baby. It’s the thing I loved before I loved any lover. It’s the dream I had before my abuse. Writing these posts is my way of making one day about something I chose for myself, instead of about the choices my abuser made for me. Because of that, it is really important to me to have the comments focus on the fiction..either the winning story from last week’s prompt contest, my story, or something about the prompt itself. This is why I ask that if you leave a comment on Friday post, please make it related to fiction. That is the best way to be supportive, on FF posts :). If you truly have nothing to say about those things but feel compelled to say something, then please share the post somewhere that will help it be seen by potential contest entrants, and then leave me a comment letting me know where that was!
If you want to comment on one of the stories, but don’t know to give feedback, the “compliment sandwich” is a great guideline. This is how you do it:
-Give a compliment about the story. I like to go specific here and leave a comment about an aspect I liked, ie: “your dialogue is very realistic and convincing.” Try to avoid things like “it was good” or “I liked it.”
-Now, dole out your criticism. Criticism is helpful, but be respectful. A great way to ensure your criticism is helpful rather than rude is to avoid judgmental language (no “that sucked”) and to provide a way to correct the problem, ie “I was a little jarred by the flow of the narration. Try changing up the sentence structure. It may help to read it aloud to yourself.” If you truly have no corrective suggestions, then at least try to be as specific about your critique as possible, so that the writer can gain something from your feedback.
-Last step! Give another compliment. It can be about whatever you genuinely liked,but, again, try to avoid general statements like “Good story” or “I like your writing.” Those are great ego boosts, but they aren’t ultimately very helpful. I like to go more general here and say something like “I loved how varied your vocabulary is; you have a great command of language,” but that’s just a personal choice. The basic structure of this is “compliment, critique, compliment.”
Super easy! Personally, I have been writing for a long time so the “compliment sandwich” suggestion is mostly to help you feel comfortable providing feedback. If you’d rather give me a litany of helpful critique, that’s fine too. Keyword: helpful. I will still get annoyed if you just say my story was boring or something and give no corrective suggestions.
Finally, Here’s the Fiction Fridays 5 winning story and author!
Awesome Blossom loves to read, write, and code. Visit their blog at blossawe.blogspot.com.
Look At The World With Eyes Of Wonder
He woke up grumpily at the sound of the alarm and got ready to work. When he was making breakfast, his 3 year old kid came running to him and hugged him-or specifically his leg with all fours. That hug jolted him and he dropped some sauce on his shirt. “Great, now I have to change my shirt” he thought to himself and got his leg out of his kid’s grip with great effort. He got the kid ready which was a great feat in itself- getting the kid out of his clothes, washing him while he relentlessly moved everywhere in the tub, drying him, getting him into clothes and grooming him. He first fed the kid and then stuffed himself with some breakfast. He was already running late and he still had to drop his kid at day care. “It’s hard being a single parent” he thought. He walked his kid to daycare which was 2 blocks away from his home. All through the way, the kid kept jumping around and pointed his tiny fingers in every direction his brain got attracted to. The man only saw the road, traffic and his watch just kept ticking away. Finally, they were at daycare. He dropped his kid and was about to go, when the kid demonstrated his hugging skills again with even more energy. That breakfast was working well for the kid. Suddenly something clicked in his heart, he probably remember his childhood- when he was free, when he looked at everything with wonder. He was having a black and white day, but the kid saw his favorite person, had fun in bath tub, enjoyed every bit of his breakfast and discovered several things on the way to his daycare. The kid was living every moment, absorbing everything he saw and listened to. The man realized that however routine our life can turn into, one should always look at the world with the eyes of wonder. He hugged his kid back heartily, lifted him up and kissed him. He went to office smiling and spread his infectious smile.
Aaaand here is my story. Don’t forget to look for this week’s prompt and contest instructions at the bottom of the page so that YOU can be featured next week!
The Little Girl and the Copier
The signs of poverty were everywhere. The dingy beigish carpet, tamped down and threadbare by the doorway, the TV, the couch; the crayon swirls adorning the walls, spotted with the occasional dusty orange finger print or hand smear; the cheap, Christmas-colored string lights attached with drooping duct tape to the ceilings; the couch, covered in whitish stains and layers of animal hair, which exuded a tangy and slightly alcoholic musk; the random doll arms and plastic rings and teeny unscrewed car wheels strewn across the floor; the TV, which was massive and old-looking and hulked atop a cinderblock stand, blaring brightly colored noise that seemed to be a permanent member of the household .
Some of the families at least made an attempt. Astrid could forgive those, even though she suspected they probably reverted to something more like this when she wasn’t around. But she figured that if they could at least tidy up for her, toss some picture books on a coffee table to make it look like they read, then maybe they had enough shame, if not love, to try to be somewhat decent parents.
She saw none of that in the Dansons. They were one of those couples who looked like siblings. They were both pale in the same sickly, beige toned shade that comes from lack of fresh air, or too much drugs and alcohol, or both. They were both fat. Not heavy, or big, or prone to carrying extra weight, as Astrid herself was, but fat. Globular and expansive, they seemed to Astrid the very embodiment of consumption. When the mother swept the smattering of Legos and cheese puffs and random unidentified parts from the couch to the floor and beckoned for Astrid to sit, the pallid, blubber-like fat on her arms and neck trembled. As she settled uncomfortably into the rocking chair facing the couch, which seemed much too small for her ample bottom, this trembling continued across the various crests of fat that dangled from her body. The tremor was almost erotic in its quickness and delicacy, like the tremble of arousal. The father, apparently, found this phenomenon titillating; his eyes had not strayed from his wife since she began the process of welcoming Astrid into their home.
The youngest child, Colby, whom Astrid of course knew from the daycare, was crawling lethargically across the cluttered floor. He was also pale, and his features seemed to sink into the largeness of his cheeks, which were too fat even for a baby. His migration across the floor was slow, cumbersome; it reminded Astrid of a turtle. When he reached his target, a bottle half-filled with dark, foamy liquid, he popped it into his mouth. He gave a small start after the first sip, then grinned and continued sipping, staring at Astrid without blinking, but also without any discernible intent.
“Hi Colby,” she said, expecting no response.
Another boy sat curled against his father in a wide leather recliner. She was surprised they both fit, as they were each not only hefty but clearly quite tall, and the recliner was also cluttered with burger boxes, various wrappers, and a small collection of soldier figurines arranged on the uplifted foot rest.
Astrid did not know the boy. He must have already been too old for the center when the Dansons had gotten involved. He looked too old to be curled on top of his father like that, and certainly too tall. He was an enormous boy of no younger than thirteen, but he peered at Astrid from atop his father’s chest without lifting his head, the way a young frightened child might.
Before Astrid had taken the job at the center, she had been a firm believer in the unconditional possibility of children. She had believed that any child, every child, had the inherent potential for greatness, or at least goodness. She’d believed that if one were diligent enough, one could, through nurture and structure and compassion, counteract the effects of abuse or neglect in the home. It was the reason she had taken the job at the center, despite its poor pay and inconvenient location. It made her laugh now, to think of it, but she had truly believed that she-O Holy, O Noble, O Selfless She-could really Make A Difference.
Looking at the Danson family, with their matching sets of squinting eyes, and low-hanging, jowly mouths, Astrid knew she had wasted her life.
The mother grunted.
For a moment Astrid forgot why she was there. She was lost in the shock of the animal grunting and the way this beige beast of a woman leaned toward her, tremoring like a Jello statue, a greyed mangle of fanglike teeth protruding from the open hang of her lips.
Then she remembered that this was her interview. She glanced at her clipboard.
“Miranda,” she said. Too lovely a name for the woman panting before her. “How are you?” Astrid stretched her mouth into what she hoped was a smile.
The woman waved a hand and leaned back. Astrid was surprised by the tiny delicacy of Miranda’s hands. They even seemed to sit in a different light than the rest of her body, somehow pinker, their fleshiness fresh and vital, unlike the dull malaise that characterized the rest of her body.
“These brats, you know, they’ll make a killer outta a saint!” Miranda’s laughter was shockingly loud, though no one besides Astrid seemed bothered by it.
Astrid shifted in the couch, unsettling the lumpy cushion and sending a bundle of junk sliding into her lap from its precarious place on the other half of the couch.
“Oh that’s okay,” she said, brushing the stuff off of her lap, though no one had made a move to help her. Astrid swallowed. “Well, I’m just here to touch base, talk about the kids, see if there’s anything you guys need.” She looked pointedly at Miranda’s husband, who had not yet spoken. He stared back at her, with the same watery blue eyes as the boy on his chest; both staring, silent, at Astrid.
There was a crash of noise, like something heavy falling, or rather a collection of heavy somethings falling. Then a shrieking giggle and the pat of feet skittering across the floor, followed by the bounding thud of an animal in chase.
Daniella ran into the room. Astrid felt her face immediately draw into a smile.
If there was any child who allowed Astrid to cling to a shred of her former hopes, if only just that single small shred, it was Daniella.
“Hi Daniella,” Astrid said, too enthusiastically, she knew, in comparison to the other children.
Daniella was plagued by the same unnatural heaviness and pallor as the rest of the Danson family. She was, afterall, only a toddler, and subject to the same diet. But there was a brightness to her eyes, which made their shape appear diamond and lovely, rather than squinting and illiterate as they looked on the rest of the family. She had long, dark, curly hair, which someone had attempted to plait, but the curls popped and frizzed from the braids to defiantly frame Daniella’s face anyway.
“Hiya Astrid,” she said, shooting Astrid the rakish lopsided grin which all the daycare workers loved. She skipped over to Astrid and placed her hands on the woman’s knees. They were like carbon copies of the mother’s Astrid noticed, except that they were marred, each one, with a thick scarlet scrape that ran across the tops of them from fingers to wrist. Astrid would have to make a note of it, once the child was no longer on her lap.
“Whachu doin in my home?” Daniella said, still grinning, obviously pleased with herself. She tapped a long purple curly straw-the kind Astrid remembered kids winning at those arcade centers, if they even still existed-against Astrid’s chest.
“Oh I’m just here to check on you and tell your parents how good you’re doing in school.”
Daniella beamed. She loved praise.
The boy, her brother, rose suddenly from his perch atop his father. He was taller even than Astrid had realized, she guessed he may even have been taller than she was. He ambled toward Daniella, who watched his approach with pursed lips and furrowed brow. Once he had reached her, she tried to dip away, but he was just too much bigger. He pawed her, knocking her back into Astrid’s knees, and snatched her straw. She shrieked for a moment as she tried to pull it back, but he was too much stronger. He stuck the end into his mouth and began to chew it aggressively.
Astrid glanced at the parents. They both watched the interaction with bland expressions, their small eyes staring, unblinking at Astrid.
“Well,” Astrid stood. “It’s not so nice to grab from your little sister.” She felt awkward in the presence of the parents, even though this was supposed to be her specialty, and they were making no attempt to stop her. “We can share can’t we?
“Put it in the copier,” the father said. It was the first time Astrid had heard him speak. His voice was gentler than she had expected.
Astrid began to say something. She was furious, in a way that was probably irrational for the situation, that the father was making a joke. But then Daniella simply cocked her head and raised her hand, wiggling her chubby little fingers toward her older brother.
To Astrid’s surprise, he passed Daniella the straw.
A length of spittle stretched from his mouth and then broke, wrapping across Daniella’s palm. She brushed it aside and trotted across the room, past her baby brother, who was still chugging on his unhealthy baba. She knelt toward a mound of toys and clothing in the corner and began to work something out from beneath it. Astrid watched as the child pulled a large, square box of dinged and rusted metal out from the pile. It did not look like the sort of thing that a toddler should have been playing with. Astrid knew she should take it from Daniella-certainly nobody else would-but she was entranced by the familiar surety with which Daniella unlatched the hooks on the side of it and swung it open.
When the box opened, a bright, almost blinding, light flashed through the room.
“Don’t you keep that open longer’n you hafto baby girl,” warned Miranda, unmoving, from the rocking chair.
Daniella threw the straw into the box and pressed the lid down with both palms.
There was a feeling of cold in the room. A sort of emptiness.
And then Astrid’s bones began to itch.
She had never felt her bones itch. She wasn’t even certain bones could itch, but sure or not she was feeling it.
“Ugh,” Miranda said, rubbing both arms rapidy and sending her flabs into a fit of ecstatic tremors. “I hate this part.”
After a few moments the itching subsided, and the warmth returned to the room. Daniella opened the box. There was no bright flash this time. She pulled out not one, but two purple twisty straws.
Astrid started. She began to laugh.
“Oh it’s a trick.”
“Ain’t no trick,” the boy said, walking to his sister and snatching one of the straws from her hand. “It’s the copier. See.” He shoved the chewed end into Astrid’s face so she could see the marks on it. Daniella waved hers in the air and ran to Astrid so she could compare.
“Yeah, but-“ Astrid paused. The markings were identical. She shook her head, laughed again, sniggering. “Those are just the pattern of your teeth. That would be easy to replicate.”
Miranda held up her hands. “You wanna new body part?”
“What?” Astrid said, her voice sharp. She was losing her patience with these people.
Miranda rotated her hands in the air. Astrid noticed their unusual delicacy, the prettiness of them, how small they looked on her.
“Don’t my girl got such pretty hands?” Miranda said, admiring her own in the dim red and green flash of their blinking string lights.
“We found out by acc-e-dent, but you can totally git like a person’s other body parts, just by them putting em in the box n you put yours on topa the box at the same time. It was an accident.” Miranda scrunched her nose so that her eyes disappeared momentarily in the fold of her forehead. “I really didn’ want no baby hands, but they sure is pretty isn’t they?”
Astrid did not know what to say. She swallowed.
“May I see it? May I..copy something?”
Miranda shrugged, settled in to her seat.
“Daniella?” Astrid looked at the child.
Daniella smiled. Astrid’s heart fluttered.
“Why don’t you..hmm…” Daniella strummed her fingers on her chin, a child’s parody of importance. “copy this!” she said, running to snatch a figurine from the bottom of the recliner.
“Oh that again,” Miranda muttered.
“I like him, I like him,” Daniella said, sing-song.
She placed the figure in Astrid’s palm. It was a plastic, bronze colored figure of a WWII era American soldier posed with a machine gun pointed outward.
“He’s been copied a lot,” Daniella said. He gestured toward the collection on the recliner. “That’s all him. He’s a time traveler.” She beamed.
Why time? Astrid thought. Daniella took her hand.
“Come on, I’ll show you.” She led Astrid to the box, which looked like a hazardous piece of junk on the floor of a possibly poisonous apartment.
It couldn’t be real. It was an elaborate trick that Astrid was inexplicably falling for. These imbeciles were going to treasure this moment for all their lives. And yet, she could feel the drum of her heart grow wild, the heat of excitement flush her cheeks, as she approached the moment of trial. She missed research, that was all, she missed experiments.
Astrid knelt to the box. It exuded a smell, not unpleasant, but strange, like cleaning chemicals.
“You can open it,” Daniella said. Her voice sounded so small, so childlike, that for a moment Astrid wanted to drop this whole ridiculous farce and instead gather the child into her arms and carry her from this place forever.
“But don’t keep it open too long,” Daniella continued. “It could hurt you.” She held up her hands.
A faint scab was beginning to form over the deep red of the burns across Daniella’s hands.
Astrid looked at the little girl. There was a pleading in her eyes, wavering behind her smile. A need. How could Astrid deny her?
Astrid would think of the little girl and the copier for years. In her old age, when she would have lost even those most beloved memories she had once thought indelible, she would think of the day she visited the Danson family. She would remember the mother whose body had tremored like an orgasm in all the most visible places, and she would remember the baby brother with the bottle of soda pop. The older brother and father she would conflate into one strange, staring chimera, but this would not seem at all out of place. Most of all, she would remember Daniella’s crooked smile, and how desperately the child needed Astrid to see that the copier worked. She would remember the feel of Daniella’s small, injured hand wrapped around hers as she led her to the box. She would remember the little squeeze Daniella gave her as Astrid leaned to open it.
She would remember all of this, but she would not remember whether or not it had worked.
Thanks for reading! Let me know your thoughts in the comments. I’d especially love some feedback on that ending 😉
Here’s this week’s prompt:
DIY, upcycling, and giving new life to junk is a huge trend right now. Let’s do it with writing! Peruse Pinterest (or another source of great DIY/upcycling ideas). Here’s my DIY board to help you get started. Select one item or project that interests you. Now, write a story, poem, screenplay, essay or other piece of writing in roughly 300-1,000 words (shorter is okay for poetry; slightly longer okay for scripts) which centers around a mysterious and/or unusual use or property of your upcycled item.
Once you’re done writing, like+follow the Betty’s Battleground Facebook community, find the Fiction Fridays #6 drop post (I’ll pin it to the top of the page for you) and leave your entry! I look forward to seeing what you come up with! Contest closes on Thursday April 20th at 10am. Don’t forget to look out for my message after that so that I can publish your work if you’re the winner! Good luck!
If you love writing and reading fiction, subscribe to Betty’s Battleground today so that you never miss another Fiction Fridays post! I promise I won’t sell or spam your e-mail!
It would be super awesome if you could take a quick moment to share this post on your favorite social media platform(s). I’m working really hard to get this contest going, and a share from you would be a huge help. It’s sixty seconds (or less) of your time, and ‘twould mean the world to me! I have share buttons under the post, and sticking to the side of the page over there (look to your left). Thank you <3
Til next time lovelies!