Alfred Warren Smith: A KISS WITHIN THE CUP

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.  Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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A KISS WITHIN THE CUP

By Alfred Warren Smith

Drink to me only with thine eyes,

and I will pledge with mine.

Leave but a kiss within the cup

and I’ll not ask for wine.

The song was one of the smaller, basic, note-learning lessons as she began her piano lessons long ago, before the real beginning of her career taking root when the concert halls grew larger, and the itineraries more exotic.

But it was the words, not the music, that stuck with her.

Between concerts she’d find herself humming the melody, and at home, in her loneliness, she sang the words.

*************

Resigning herself to maiden solitude, she was surprised when love kicked in the door and a man who surrounded her with a whirlwind of love and solace entered into her life. She gladly, gratefully, let him sweep her off her feet until she found herself at the altar in a flowing white gown.

She couldn’t see the well-wishers, the priest, or even the veil for all the tears she couldn’t stop crying.

Her groom only smiled, lifted the veil, wiped them away, and sealed his vows to her lips with his own.

*************

As the day-to-day of marriage glazed over the passion of the wedding, she was sipping her tea one day when he said to her, “You always leave lipstick on the rim of your cups.”

“Do I?”

“Yes. You don’t need the lipstick, you know.”

“I suppose. I guess I’m just used to wearing it for the shows.”

“You’ve always done it, though. Champagne glasses, water bottles, everything bears the imprint of your lips.”

“Does it bother you that much?”

“It doesn’t bother me at all.”

“Then why bring it up?”

“I just find it odd, but endearing.”

She twirled the cup slowly with her fingers. “I suppose it goes back to my childhood. There was a song I used to play when I was just learning…”

She told him the lyrics.

“A kiss within the cup?” he said, teasing.

She smiled and blushed.

He took the cup from her hand and took her in his arms.

“Make me your cup tonight,” he said.

*************

As the concert halls got smaller, so did the money, and so did his ability to supplement them.

“No one needs me,” he said.

“I do.”

He shook his head, and she kissed him and held him as the weight of the world began its inexorable press.

************

In the polar opposite of his courting, his fading away was slow and torturous. As she cared for him she fought through her own pains as the phone stopped ringing, and time exacted its large toll in small change.

************

There were cracks in the walls that let the drafts in now.

The view of the wooded fields was dimmed by the clouds in the sky and the cataracts in her eyes.

She heard, more than saw, the rain as it hit and streaked the filmy windows. Aware of the warm water on her own cheeks, rolling over the flaked red lipstick she’d applied to dry lips, she took a sip of her tepid tea and pressed them to the rim to leave the common mark he found so oddly endearing.

Turning her back on the dismal day to spend it with bright memories at the piano, now in dire need of tuning that would never be, she left the cup on the windowsill for him to see, pulled her robe tighter, and shuffled on slippered feet back to her loneliness. The atonal pitches of her quavering voice filled the silence.

“….Leave but a kiss within the cup,

and I’ll not ask for wine.

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Please visit Alfred on his website: https://mywritemind.press/

Paula Shablo: Getting to "The End" (Writing Conundrums)

Writers Unite!’s Featured Blog Series!

Writers Unite! is fortunate to have among its members, many bloggers, and essayists who write content about the writing process or their author’s journey or both. We will be posting their articles for your information and enjoyment. Please read and comment, visit the author’s website, blog, or Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram and share!

Getting to “The End” (Writing Conundrums)

By Paula Shablo

I don’t know that my recent lack of motivation to finish my book could accurately be termed “writer’s block,” since I have, in the meantime, written several other things.

I have the ending plotted out in my head, and I’ve made copious notes in my notebook working out the “how to get there from here” logistics.

I am at that point in writing where I always seem to land as a project nears the end—I don’t want to be done with the story, so I stall.

Logically, I know I won’t be finished. Far from it. I will be reading and re-reading, looking for spelling errors, plot holes, continuity.

In my process, a lot of the above editing will get addressed before I actually write the finale. It all has to knit together, and sometimes beginning to end doesn’t mesh on the first try.

I dislike re-writing endings. Since I don’t always know the ending when I begin—I am a “seat of the pants” writer, for the most part, especially with stories that exceed 50,000 words—I often have to address the beginning and middle of my story before I can complete it.

So, I am reading. Brushing things up. Changing whole scenes. Adding and subtracting. Re-doing research, just to make sure I have any historical references correct.

This is important—I once published a work with a very tiny scene referencing a baseball game between the Yankees and the Braves, who don’t even play in the same league! Embarrassing! Of course, I corrected it, but oh! My credibility!

Sure, I could claim alternate universe, but…lie, lie, lie. I goofed! I learned a valuable lesson. Check, re-check and check again.

This doesn’t ensure I will never goof again—undoubtedly, I will. I am not perfect, or even close.

Having confessed my Achilles heel—reluctance to reach “The End”—I’m curious: Do any of you writers here have the same writing issue? I’d love to read your comments!

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For more of Paula’s stories and articles please visit her blog:

Penz -o- Paula

Kenneth Lawson: The Healing Power of Coffee and Time

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.  Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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The Healing Power of Coffee and Time

By Kenneth Lawson

He sat on the edge of the bed and pondered many things as he always did in the morning. Most were the same thoughts that always rattled in his head while other random thoughts came and went. The smell of coffee wafting from the kitchen brought him out of his reprieve. He had learned to set the pot on automatic for just this reason. He debated for a second whether to ignore the call of warm black coffee. 

Coffee won. 

It always did.

He got up and followed the aroma of coffee to the kitchen. Pouring himself a cup, he continued to ponder his life.

Damn, he still missed her. It had been many years since the car accident that killed his wife. He’d barely survived but soldiered on, doing what was necessary at the time. Funeral, car, insurance, hospital bills for him, and many of the other mundane tasks that life required of him. But his heart wasn’t in it and he only went through the motions. Doing what was expected of him when necessary and following all the rules.

At some point, he stopped caring. He wasn’t sure when it happened, but he was through pondering, and he decided to leave, just pick up and leave. He cashed out the bank, paid off the bills and closed accounts, and left. Driving as far as he could on a tank of gas, he stopped. He found a dump of a motel, but he didn’t care. It was a roof over his head for the night.

The next day he drove more.

The pattern continued day after day. He drove and ate in whatever cheap diners and restaurants he could find. Most nights he found a motel. Some nights he slept in the car, and on some nights he drove all night. He had no idea where he was going or what he was doing. He barely talked to anyone, preferring to stay away from people.

Every so often, a replay of the accident would float through his mind, nearly causing him to have another accident. Part of him didn’t care. A large part of him didn’t care. But at the same time, he didn’t want to inflict his pain on someone else.

There was a very brief thought of suicide. He quickly dismissed the thought as stupid and irrational. He knew she would want him to live and, hopefully, have a happy life. But it wasn’t happening. So, he drove. He knew he’d eventually run out of road or money, probably money first.

She was sitting at dinner on the twelfth day, drinking coffee and eating toast. He slid onto the stool next to her at the counter and ordered a coffee. The waitress brought him a fresh cup and poured coffee in it and held the pot up to her.

She nodded yes, and the waitress topped off her cup.

 He pointed to the containers of sugar and cream, which were closer to him. “You need sugar or cream?”

 “Eh, ah — no, I take it black. Thanks, all the same.” 

He played with his cup while it cooled off, uneasy because he wanted to talk to her. After a minute, he got the courage. “New around here?”

She glanced at him. He knew he looked like shit since he’d been living in his car for a week, saving money for food and gas.

He was surprised when she smiled. “Yep, just passing through, on my way to Beaver Dam.”

“Never heard of it.”

“Didn’t expect that you would. It’s a tiny spot on the map in the middle of nowhere.” She took a sip of her coffee. He tried his. It was barely cool enough to drink.

“So how long ago did you lose her?” 

He stopped with his cup in mid-air and looked over at her. “Excuse me?”

“I lost my Danny a little over a year ago. I’m still getting used to it.”

“It’s that obvious?”

“It is if you know what to look for, and I do. Your wife, how did she die?”

He drank some coffee as a stall. “Three years ago, in a car accident.” He didn’t elaborate. It was the first time he said anything about that night in over two years.

“Danny died of cancer.”

“Shit man, that’s a hell of a way to go.”

“It is. It was painful and slow, and there was almost nothing left of him in the end.”

“I’m sorry.” He paused. “Lois was quick. They said she died instantly when the car hit us.” This was the first time he’d said her name in so long that it felt foreign to him.

“You were there?”

“Eh, yes — I was driving. A car t-boned us on her side, and she died instantly. I barely managed to survive…” he let it tail off.

“Man, I’m sorry.”

 “At least it was quick and painless for her.”

 “Yeah, there’s that,” she conceded. “By the way, I’m Amy.” She held out her hand.

 “James.” He took it. It felt weird holding another woman’s hand. Weird, but nice.

They sat and talked for a while, finally moving to a booth in the back. More coffee ordered, then food. This time — real food. Not the crap he’d been eating at drive-throughs and the like. At some point, he glanced at his watch. It was noon. He’d been there for three hours.

One thing led to another. He decided to go with her to Beaver Dam, at least for a while.

One day became another day.

They spent many hours talking about their respective losses. He was finally able to describe the horrible feeling of loss and terror at realizing his Lois was no longer with him. The sense of uselessness and how his will to even try slowly gave way to thoughts of suicide. This was the first time he’d uttered those thoughts and tried to put his feelings into words.

Amy understood and said she’d gone through much of the same thing herself. She had never spoken a word about what was happening inside her. She had come to Beaver Dam because she needed to get away from everything and everyone she knew. To start over. Like him.

In the next few weeks, they found a small two-bedroom apartment to live as roommates, and new jobs. Beaver Dam was ripe with new places to explore and he felt himself coming back to life again. Slowly, a little at a time, but he was healing. The times he was away from Amy, he found himself thinking about her. Lois still popped into his head daily but now it didn’t hurt as much. 

Gradually, he realized that he was developing feelings for her. Feelings he hadn’t had since he’d first met Lois all those years ago. For the first time in three years, he wanted to get up in the morning. To see Amy. That realization that he was falling in love startled him. He never expected to feel anything about anyone ever again. Yet, there it was. 

Lois would also still be there in his mind and heart, but Amy was giving him a new reason to live again. Three months after they moved to Beaver Dam, while sitting at the local diner over their usual cups of coffee, he said it.

“I never thought I would say this again to anyone, but, Amy, I love you.” He couldn’t believe he’d said those words to another person. 

Amy put her fork down and looked at him. “James, I love you too. I didn’t think it was possible after Danny, but yeah, I’m in love with you too.”

They sat and talked for a while longer as was their habit when in a diner, but this time, not dwelling on the past but looking toward the future. They had helped each other through the pain of losing someone they both cared deeply about and came out on the other side in love.

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Please visit Kenneth on his website at http://kennethlawson.weebly.com/

Authors' Words: Anais Nin

Anais Nin

Anais Nin was a 20th century diarist.  She began what became her life-long work of art in 1914 at the age of eleven and kept writing until her death 63 years later in 1977. 

Nin’s diary focused on her interior life and became the chronicle of her search for fulfillment in what was often for women a painfully restrictive culture. 

 Anais Nin was born in France in 1903.  Her Cuban-born parents lived as genteel artists, mainly in Paris and Spain.  In a blow that affected her all of her life, Nin’s composer father, Joaquin Nin, abandoned his wife and children, forcing them to set sail for a new life America.  While on board the ship young Nin wrote a letter to lure her father back to the family.  This letter was never sent, but it was the beginning of her famous diary.

While living a dual life in New York and Los Angeles during the 1960s, Nin made the risky decision to allow her diary to be published, though she chose to remove the most private details of her romantic relationships.  The first installment, published in 1966, was titled The Diary of Anais Nin and it was an immediate success.  Though it was a profoundly personal work, it hit a universal vein of experience — especially with women.  Nin found herself, then in her sixties and seventies, playing the part of an international feminist icon. 

While Nin traveled the world speaking about her writing and meeting fans, subsequent volumes of her edited diary were published.  They covered the period up through the end of her life and totaled seven volumes.  Finally, in 1977, Nin died of cancer in Los Angeles with Rupert Pole by her side.

Before she died it was Nin’s decision to have her early diaries published, as well as erotica she’d written in the 1940s.  As a result, Delta of Venus, Little Birds, and Nin’s childhood diary titled Linotte were released, as well as three volumes of The Early Diary of Anais Nin.  Also, in a decision that generated much controversy, Nin asked Rupert Pole to publish the “secret” parts of her previously-released diaries.  The first “unexpurgated” diary is titled Henry & June; it includes the material removed from Nin’s first published diary and was made into a feature film.  Other unexpurgated diaries include Incest, Fire, Nearer the Moon, Mirages, and Trapeze.

During her 63 years of highly personal and yet ultimately public writing, Anais Nin forged a style of expression that befits the 21st century.  She seemed to foresee our modern era of Internet communication, even wishing for what she called a “café in space” where she could keep in touch with others.  Nin believed that consciousness is a stream of images and words that flow from us as long as we live, and something to be shared. 

Resources:

https://theanaisninfoundation.org/bio

Caroline Giammanco: Before and After

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.  Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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Before and After

By Caroline Giammanco

On a dreary October morning, Billie Henson sat in his favorite chair, drinking coffee and contemplating the years since his childhood. His life was bound to this place and he loved looking out the window into his familiar backyard as he daydreamed. Except for a short stint in the military, he’d lived here since he was born. He knew every nook and cranny in the old two-story farmhouse, and he was comfortable. 

 Looking out the window, he could picture his brother Larry and their friends sledding with him down the hill. He felt the crisp air on his cheeks and the numbness of his hands as his boyhood self steered his sled, slowly gliding to a stop next to the barn. Oh, how those were carefree days. Time went slower, or so it seemed, back then. Hours spent playing with his brother and friends lasted for what felt like days.

Sledding was a favorite winter pastime when he was a child. He was given his own sled when he was six, and he remembered how proud he’d been that he was finally “big.” Big was a relative term he would learn over the years. As a boy, he constantly played catch-up to his brother. Larry, being three years older, always got to do things ahead of him, and that was a source of jealousy for much of Billie’s youth. 

Billie winced at the thought. Larry was also drafted three years before Billie was at a time when the war was going strong. He never made it back from those fields made crimson by the blood of young farm boys like Larry. After that, Billie never looked at the passage of time the same. There was Before Larry’s Death and After. No other event so strictly defined his life than the loss of the only person who would ever know him that well.

The chiming clock in the background reminded him that time was still passing. He stirred his cup, and the scent of freshly brewed coffee filled the air around him. 

 Yes, those years with Larry were fun ones. They’d had their share of squabbles, but for the most part they were inseparable. Memories of ball games, double-dating the Crawford sisters, and milking cows in the early morning hours held special places in Billie’s heart. 

 The two brothers differed, however. Larry yearned to see the world and had even looked forward to being sent overseas by the Army. He was going to meet interesting people…and be killed by them. Billie never wanted to live anywhere other than the farmstead, and he hadn’t. The minute his plane touched ground on American soil, he made a beeline for home. Nothing separated him from the place he loved. 

In the years after his brother’s death, Billie cared for the farm and for his parents as they aged. There was always something to do whether it was feeding the livestock, mending the fence, or patching the roof of the house. Time with his parents, whom he adored, was treasured by Billie. Never once did he resent caring for them, and neither spent a day in a nursing home. When asked if he was ever lonely, the answer was no. He was a shy man and never bothered to marry. He wasn’t sure what to say to women and couldn’t fathom spending a lifetime trying to figure it out. That whole thing with the Crawford girl had only been to keep Larry happy. 

Over the years, the neighborhood changed. As a boy, it was a three-mile walk to the nearest neighbor’s place. Going the other direction, the Stiltmans had a large dairy operation about four miles away. Those were simpler times. On summer evenings, folks in the area would sometimes stop to visit for a while on front porches, and of course, everyone saw each other on Sundays—except for mean old Lester Parsons. That pinched-up heart of his wouldn’t even let the Gospel in. In the old days, people were self-sufficient and didn’t need the constant companionship of others. Each family worked hard and handled its own affairs. In Billie’s opinion, more people should try that. 

In time, the county paved the road going past the farm, and developers bought up farmland to create subdivisions. Multi-storied apartments now covered the Stiltman place. Why people wanted to live smack-dab on top of each other was a mystery to Billie. The influx meant new neighbors who had little respect for personal space. Gone were the days when a simple tip of your hat as you drove past was enough socialization for all involved. Now people even made friends on this thing called “social media.”

Carefully, Billie pored over all the changes he had seen in his time. New inventions and medical breakthroughs were almost daily occurrences now. Billie learned it was true that time sped by faster the older we became. Why, it had been eighty years since his parents passed away. True love kept them together even in death. His father died just three days after his sweet mother. Had it really been eighty years? Yes. Almost eighty-one come March. They both died the week before what would have been Larry’s seventieth birthday. 

New neighbors became the bane of Billie’s existence, and the latest ones were the worst yet. This new batch was constantly coming in and opening his cupboards and turning up the volume on that new-fangled flat-screen TV they put in his living room. These people had some real nerve. As best as he could, he just left them to their own devices. He stayed out of their way and tried to make his presence as unnoticeable as possible. 

Just then, a thunder of footsteps pounded down the stairwell. Two teenage boys jostled each other to reach the refrigerator first. Talking loudly and carrying on, they didn’t even notice Billie. He slowly set his coffee mug on the windowsill and faded quietly away. After all, he had an eternity to spend in his home, and these newcomers were just passing through. 

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Please visit Caroline on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009880805237

Enzo Stephens: My Side

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.  Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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Admin Note: This story carries a disclaimer for domestic violence, a serious issue that many women and also men face. Enzo Stephens has given us a powerful and graphically intense look at the mindset of someone who commits such an act.

My Side

By Enzo Stephens

Benny slapped the microwave door shut with a bang after extracting a plastic rectangle of tasteless fettuccine produced by some gigantic food conglomerate using a cheesy, Italian-sounding name. Too bad they didn’t save the cheese for the fettuccine.

Benny was pissed. It was a bitch of a day. Benny spent the entire day knocking out light assemblies on the line, despite equipment failures that threatened to ruin each and every assembly before Benny pushed it on down to the next station.

He made quota, barely, and with an hour of unpaid overtime. But all that goodness was not the coup-de-grace, no, not in the least.

The grand finale, the piece-de-resistance to the cluster of the day, was that just as Benny snagged his timecard to get himself out of that place, he was told in no uncertain terms that every assembly he knocked out was built with the wrong housings!

Quota screwed, and as such, Benny’s pay for the day took a major hit.

A blown tire and a corroded muffler-hanger was the icing on the cake, so by the time Benny rolled in the door, it was well after eight, he was tired and hungry as a bear.

So where the hell was Jill? 

Benny seethed.

He didn’t bother plating the mess of waxy pasta and watery sauce; he just took a spoon to the slop and shoveled it home, halting long enough to snap a can of Iron City open.

Jill.

Married two years, the woman worked crap job after crap job, usually waitressing in coffee shops and diners; the jobs typically lasting several weeks, followed by several more weeks of bitching about it, followed with more bitching about not having enough money.

Benny begged her to take up night school. Jill refused. She wouldn’t be able to attend her bowling league, or get her nails done, or do her weekly Girls-Night-Out, or any of the other myriad bullshit excuses the woman came up with. And when she ran out of excuses, she blamed Benny for settling on menial labor. Benny growled to himself.

But tonight’s frozen bullshit excuse for dinner was… The. Last. Straw. Benny pounded the Iron, surprised that it was suddenly empty, then ripped the fridge open for another. A quick count showed at least a dozen more, so at least there was that in which to be thankful.

Not for the first time, Benny wondered if this marriage had been a mistake, and then he chastised himself for thinking such seditious thoughts. 

Appetite suddenly vanished, Benny chucked the plastic container of slop into the trash (which he knew he’d have to take out!), snagged another Iron and wandered into the TV room to pass the time until sleep took him…

And to stop thinking.

But he couldn’t stop thinking; his thoughts were a runaway train, and the faster the train went, the angrier and angrier Benny grew.

And still no Jill.

They lived in a double-wide. No kids and no pets. At least they owned it, leasing the land the can rested on. But with utilities and keeping two vehicles on the road and the two of them in groceries, money was tight.

Benny couldn’t remember the last time he took a vacation. In fact…

Benny couldn’t remember the last time he was happy.

Well, that kind of thinking wasn’t helping the ole disposition!

Fuck it. He sprang from his worn recliner to grab another Iron, plopping right back into it and sloshing just a bit of the precious liquid on his shirt. Fuck that too.

The sun was down and it was dark in the Benny house. The Benny-hana, as he and Jill used to call it with a joint chuckle.

Those were the days. Back when he and Jill could score a bag of weed and have some happy times together. That’s the last time that frozen fettuccine shit actually tasted good. But then, Captain Crunch is delicious when the munchies are on.

He smiled grimly in the dark; Benny remembered the last time he was happy! The smile vanished and he violently hurled his half-consumed beer across the room where it slammed wetly into the dark paneled wall.

And instantly regretted wasting the beer. “I ain’t cleaning that shit up, neither. Bitch sits around the house all day doing who-the-hell knows what; let her clean it up!” And with that proclamation, Benny retrieved himself another Iron.

None of that Iron City Light crap neither. Wussy-beer. Beer for little pansy-asses that go to fru-fru bars and like to impress all the pretty office girls with their shadow-beards and tight pants and weeny beer. 

That’s probably where Jill was now. Some little fruity bar. Maybe she’s hanging her mini-skirted ass over a pool table, acting like she knows how to play pool to score free drinks; giving the little fairy boys a show for a drink.

Benny snapped open another can and settled into his chair and seethed, his thoughts spiraling.

Sudden light splashed across the wall of the TV room in the Benny-hana. She was home.

Benny chugged the rest of his beer, ripped off a massive, window-shaking belch, then didn’t move a muscle; his mood and his thoughts blacker than the black in that room, which seemed to coalesce and pulse with sullen, suppressed rage.

The front door swung open with a bang and Jill breezed into the tiny foyer; plastic bags crinkling, keys jingling, bangles on her wrists rattling. She whistled the door shut with a clunk and thumbed the overhead light on. “Why’s it so dark in here? You home?”

Silence.

“Oh well. I thought I saw your car, but I guess you’re in bed.” She blew into the kitchen with her haul, still chattering. Light in the kitchen shuddered into place as she dropped the bags on the small, round table.

“Did you eat something?” She began pulling things from the bags.

Jill glanced around for a moment, questioning the quiet of the house. “Hm. That’s odd. Dude must really be out of it.”

Benny leaned against the doorjamb at the entrance to the kitchen, saying nothing, arms folded over his barrel chest while she continued unloading her retail bounty, still blissfully unaware of him.

He cleared his throat and she jumped, turning. And, “Oh. Well, hey there you.”

The hamster-wheel of rage was spinning wildly in his head churning out most unpleasant thoughts. “You should see the stuff I got at Marshall’s!”

Benny grunted, unmoving.

She wobbled for a second — a dead giveaway that she’d had a few drinks somewhere. “Oopsy! Little bit of a wobble there. I always have trouble with these heels.”

Benny decided that he wanted a beer. He popped the fridge and snared… the last one. He thumped the door shut and turned to Jill. “Did you get more beer?”

“Nope! I told you, you drink too much of that crap. It’s giving you a blubbery belly!” Pure venom surged in his belly and he battled to quell it, turning away from her without comment. Then,

“Oh hey! Look!” Benny turned to look at her through slitted eyes. She dangled her hand before his face, fingers pointing down. The nails were spotlessly manicured with a gleaming turquoise finish, and Benny rocketed a vicious backhand into her cheek.

The rage was on him now; he whipped the half-consumed can of Iron at her as she flew backward and slammed into the cabinet, then tumbled to the floor, and Benny was across the room in a heartbeat, tossing the kitchen table aside where it crunched into the wall, and he was on her before the wreckage of the table settled to the floor.

Blind fury consumed him as he swung his heavy fists, each thudding into her unmoving flesh and time slowed to a crawl as the damage to her face increased exponentially until it more resembled a pulpy, red, wet oval with a splay of darkened, blond hair.

Benny stood up slowly, suddenly exhausted and in absolute physical pain, as if he’d just spent the last several minutes beating himself to death.

He went to the sink and filled a mug with water, then placed it in the microwave, setting it for two minutes. Benny hummed while waiting for the operation to complete, and when the little over-the-top oven sounded its merry note, Benny opened the door and removed the steaming mug of water. The door remained open.

Benny stirred aromatic crystals into the bubbling water and it frothed immediately, the strong aroma of coffee mingling with the coppery tang of blood.

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Please visit Enzo on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Enzo.stephens.5011

Fred Elder: The Window

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.  Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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The Window

By Fred Elder 

There was complete silence from outside. Not a single creature made its presence known, though the trees were bursting with life. I’d been expecting this quiet, of course, because no one had been up to the old place in more than two years. The forest denizens, spoiled by a pleasing absence of humanity for all that time, showed their displeasure by muzzling what I knew would normally be a cacophony.

It hadn’t changed. Oh, it was dustier, to be sure. Perhaps a bit shabbier looking, but essentially it was the place I remembered. Two years without maintenance had done nothing to ruin the structure, though the windows were grimy and let in only a feeble light. From outside, I had noticed the roof was in good shape; inside, there was no sign of water damage or little critters.

Why was I surprised? My father built the place forty years ago, using only the best materials. He tapped the surrounding forest for the wood and neighbors for their skills. Oh, he might have considered building the cabin alone, but this was going to be the place he retired to, eventually, so he wanted the best craftsmanship to go into its construction.

As I wandered through the rooms, inspecting the condition of furniture under drop cloths, memories of long-past visits came to mind. My father envisioned this place as a retreat, a place to get away from the struggle and stress of everyday life, so he built it with family in mind. There were bedrooms for each of his three children and a much larger one for him and mom. A huge kitchen, large enough to hold all of us and company too, sitting around a long harvest table.

A large window dominated the main sitting area in front, overlooking a deep, pine-filled valley and, in the distance, fierce limestone cliffs. It was a million-dollar view that never failed to lift your heart. Here, in the wilderness of Maine, far from the madding crowds of our everyday home, we spent uncounted hours exploring, playing, relaxing, and simply staring at the majesty of nature.

Even with such an astonishing view out the front window, we would most often find my father at the small, kitchen window, watching for wildlife. He would stand there for hours, tin coffee cup in hand, just staring, waiting, hoping to see the smallest sign of life. His reward for unceasing vigilance included chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, deer and, on several occasions, a bombastic old badger. He told us once that a black bear visited, but he might have been pulling our legs.

More than once, we suggested he find a comfortable seat in the front of the cabin and marvel at the valley view. With a pair of binoculars, we told him, he was sure to see many more forest denizens. He would only shake his head, lift the mug toward the small window, and tell us that everything he needed to see was right outside there. We weren’t sure exactly what he meant by that and we never did try to parse it out. We were content to leave him standing there, cup in hand.

In the face of inevitability, life changed over the past fifteen years. Mom passed away, leaving a void that my father could never fill. My brother wandered off to some career in Australia, my sister to California. While I started a career much closer to home, my father ventured alone on most of his visits to the cabin.

Oh, certainly, I made time to join him once or twice a year, but as he grew older and began to spend more time in the wilds, I saw less and less of him. He begged me more times than I can count to visit but juggling a career and a burgeoning relationship took up all my time.

In time, I married. When Dad showed up for the ceremony, we all realized how sick he was. He never let on that he was in pain, but his eyes were windows into his misery. Now it was my turn to beg, asking him to stay with my wife and I, where we could take care of him. He refused, of course, saying only that he would miss his window. When we asked him what was more important, that damn window or his health, he only smiled and shrugged, unable to explain.

He passed away two years ago, leaving the cabin in his children’s names. As the only sibling still living close, it fell upon me to keep up the place. Feelings of remorse kept me away, however. The cabin was important to him, especially his vantage point at the kitchen window, and yet I allowed it to become unimportant to me. Yes, life often gets in the way of your best intentions, but that didn’t make me feel any better.

Finally, I’d worked up the nerve to come back. My wife understood something on a level I didn’t fathom, because she stayed home, citing her advanced pregnancy. She was lying, of course, because she knew this was a journey I needed to make alone.

So, there I was, staring out that stupid, grimy, kitchen window. There was nothing to see. Nothing at all. Just an old, tin coffee cup sitting on the counter. I leaned forward and wiped some of the grime away. It came away grudgingly, but I still couldn’t see because the outside surface was even more filthy. Two years of Maine weather, eight seasons, had left the entire cabin coated with dust and pollen and dead leaves and more than a little bird shit.

What’s the point, anyway? I already knew there wasn’t anything special to see out that small window. The million-dollar view is at the front of the cabin. But I didn’t come up to do any spring cleaning. Not this time, anyways. I’ll soon have a child, which means I’m going to be busy back home. The purpose of this trip was simply to determine if the cabin was structurally sound, to see if there would be a place to bring my young family at some point. And there would be.

Just a couple hours after I arrived, I was locking up the front door and climbing into the car. I was leaving the place much like I found it. There was no need for repairs, and cleaning could wait for another time. Besides, the forest hush was beginning to bother me, knowing that I was damming up a torrent of life and sound with my presence.

My wife was surprised to see me so soon and wondered just what I had accomplished in so little time. There wasn’t much to do, I answered, except clean one window and an old coffee cup. She shook her head, not understanding. You cleaned one window, she asked? Yeah, I answered, I know how strange that sounds, but it’s something I just can’t explain.

But that was always the problem with that damn window.

The End

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Please visit Fred on his website: https://deathlyadventures.com/

D. A. Ratliff: Special Blend

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.  Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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Author’s Note: Silly little story written ages ago for a writing prompt and reworked a bit for WTS! Forgive me for the likely bad Czech translation… it was compliments of a translation program! –D. A.

Special Blend

By D. A. Ratliff

Colonel Jon Rivard, head of the military contingent on the ESS Argas Science Vessel, was in his office attempting to complete a tardy mission report, when Dr. Marek Stepanek came sprinting in, slamming the door shut. The doctor’s normally tousled hair was wilder than usual, his breathing coming in short labored breaths. He was clutching a coffee cup in his hand so tightly his knuckles were white.

“Doc, what’s wrong? You look like you’re running from some gal’s angry husband. What gives?”

“Je to blázen. Honil mě po celém Argas.”

“Whoa, whoa, Doc, English — my Czech is improving, but not when you are talking at warp speed.”

Stepanek took a deep breath, “He is crazy man. He is chasing everyone with a coffee cup in their hand around the ship.”

Rivard chuckled. “You’re talking about Wesley I take it.”

Stepanek frowned. “Who else is crazy man around here. Ever since his stash of that special blend of coffee he ordered disappeared, he has been nuts. He is not getting any work done. He’s just running around, sticking his nose in everyone’s coffee to see if it is his special blend.” Rivard stifled a laugh as Stepanek made air quotes. “If I hear those words one more time, I swear I will zabij toho blázen.”

“Somehow, Marek, I don’t think I want to know what that means. I’ll talk to him.”

“Colonel, talking will not help. He needs to stop. He made Miko cry, snatched the cup from her hand, spilling half of it. He took a drink, then shoved it back at her and stalked off. We have coffee since the Armstrong found us and is making regular supply runs. It’s not like he isn’t getting enough caffeine. He is coffee diva.” 

Rivard stifled a chuckle. “Unfortunately, Marek, we need him. I promise I’ll take care of this. We can’t have the crew hiding from him.”

Marek thanked him and left, looking warily in both directions before stepping out into the corridor. Rivard was still chuckling when his X-O, Major Daniel Davin, rapped on the doorframe. He jerked his head for Davin to enter.

“Don’t tell me, Wesley?”

“How’d you know, Colonel?”

“That coffee stain on your jacket’s a pretty big clue.”

“Yes, sir. Wesley grabbed my cup in the mess hall. I had just poured it, so the mug was full. Worse, he went after Sergeant Johnston’s thermos in the transport bay this morning. Johnston never leaves on a mission without his thermos of coffee. Sir, Dr. Wesley is out of control.”

“Major, I agree. Anyone who attempts to interfere with a six-foot-five, two-hundred-and seventy-five-pound Marine and his coffee, is out of control. Go get changed. Director Marin likes us neat and tidy. Don’t want her wrath down on us as well.”

Rivard watched as Davin departed and then glanced down at his feet. The entire time Stepanek and Davin were in his office, he had been sitting sideways of his desk, reclined back in his chair, laptop perched on his knees, and his boots resting — on a cardboard box. It wasn’t just any cardboard box. It was a box of specially blended coffee, the missing box of specially blended coffee.

Dr. Roger Wesley had been preening about the special coffee that he had ordered, but wouldn’t share with his staff or anyone else, even him. He had decided that the fussy scientist needed to suffer just a bit. He snuck in Wesley’s quarters and took the box. However, enough was enough. He didn’t like the fact that Miko had gotten upset, or that Wesley could have died, albeit, a justifiable death at the hands of Sergeant Johnston.

They had gone through a challenging time. For seven months, the enormous research vessel drifted in space, flung out of orbit when the planet, Portha 3, exploded. Out of touch with Earth, they drifted without the artificial intelligence computer core operating. Wesley, Stepanek, and the science-engineering team kept life support operational by jury-rigging the systems and managed to get the navigation back online. Long-range communication was another matter. Provisions ran quite low, and until Stepanek’s engineering team repaired the planetary propulsion, they couldn’t begin to look for food. The problem was coffee didn’t seem to exist in the Magellan galaxy, and that did not sit well with astrophysicist Dr. Roger Wesley. When the ESS Armstrong located them, he had raced to the galley for coffee.

Sighing, Rivard decided that he would figure out a way to distract Wesley long enough to sneak back into his quarters and place the box back in the closet, just a bit deeper than it had been when he removed it. Then he would confront Wesley, demand to search his room, because no one would have taken his precious coffee, and discover the box, deep in the closet.

This was going to be fun. He not only had the pleasure of watching Wesley’s angst over the loss of his special coffee, but he could rag him about accusing everyone of stealing his coffee when he simply didn’t look hard enough for the box. 

Rivard reached for his coffee cup, which was sitting on the porthole ledge. He had to admit that Wesley had great taste in coffee. He was enjoying the special blend. This was definitely going to be fun.

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Please visit D. A on her blog: https://thecoastalquill.wordpress.com/

Deborah Ratliff: The Better Beta

Recently, in the Writers Unite! Facebook group, a member asked a question about the process of finding a responsible beta to review their work. Another member commented that she was reluctant to be a beta reader for fear of being too harsh. This article addresses both of those issues and we hope brings some clarity to the beta reader process. It’s a valuable resource for a writer but needs to be effective.

The Better Beta

By Deborah Ratliff

“Who wants to beta my novel?”

How many times have you seen this question posted in an online writing group? Often, and with good reason, as beta readers provide a valuable service. They are the buffer between your best friend who loves your story and the editor who could tear it apart.

Along with finding a qualified beta, the question of determining the expectations of the relationship between author and beta is important. Confusion over the responsibilities often keeps both the writer from seeking a beta and a potential beta from offering their services.

A beta reader most often will be someone who either reads or writes in your genre or is willing to learn the nuances of the genre to provide proper feedback. They are usually unpaid participants who enjoy helping writers and usually not trained in editing or story development. They provide feedback on plot, characters, narrative, dialogue, and continuity. The beta is judging the readability and plausibility of the story for the general reader.

Choosing a beta or group of betas to read your manuscript can be daunting. As stated above, finding betas in your target audience is ideal, but someone with experience in offering feedback can be equally as effective. Most online writing groups on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and writing groups on the Internet, are ready sources for finding suitable betas. Websites such as Writing.com or Goodreads.com have beta-reader sites, and there are several Facebook groups including Writers Unite! and Beta Readers and Critiques that offer beta readers. If you are familiar with and trust these sites, you should start your search there. 

When you request a beta, the question posed at the beginning of the article should be more definitive. Ask, instead, would anyone be willing to beta my 84,000-word fantasy manuscript. By clarifying the genre and length upfront, you will receive responses more attuned to your needs.

Also, ask potential betas about their experience. Have they reviewed manuscripts before in this genre, and what do they like about it? What time frame do they usually take to provide feedback? Once you feel comfortable with one or more betas, provide them with an edited manuscript. The manuscript does not need to be perfect, but respect the beta by giving them a readable one.

One of the ways to achieve your goals of what you as a writer need to know about your manuscript is to send a list of questions to the beta pointing out the areas of interest you have.

Your questions can include the following:

  •  Did the opening of the book hold your attention? If not, why?
  • Was the main character relatable? Did you feel a connection to the character and his plight from the beginning?
  •  Were the characters believable? If not, what suggestions do you have to make them believable? Were there too many characters to keep track of while reading?
  • Were the setting of the story and the descriptions interesting and clear?
  • Was the narrative concise and understandable? Was there a good balance between narrative and dialog?
  • Did the dialog seem natural and appropriate for the genre and period?
  • Were there any confusing passages? If so, why were they confusing? Did the story lag at any point? Explain. Were there any consistencies in the storyline or timeframe?
  • Were the tension and conflict in the story, as well as the ending, satisfying?
  • Was the story a fit for the genre?
  •  Were there any obvious grammatical errors? Spelling, punctuation, or grammar. (Remember most betas do not check for these errors but will note what they find if you request it. Do not expect the beta to offer suggestions or corrections. That is the job of your editor.)

The beta reader also has responsibilities. A lot of the author’s time and soul has gone into the creation of the manuscript sent.

Beta readers should do the following:

  • There are several areas of review that a beta should follow when reviewing a manuscript. If the author supplies questions, address those, as well as any discrepancies found. (See link at the end of the article for a comprehensive list of beta reader duties.)
  • Be honest. Beta reviews are not the time to spew platitudes. If something is wrong, bring it to the author’s attention.
  • Be specific. Vague feedback is ineffective. Give a thorough explanation of what you felt was wrong.
  • Meet the deadline agreed to between the author and beta. If you cannot meet the author’s needs, do not accept the assignment.
  • Be respectful. Pointing out errors to an author can be difficult, but if you explain your reasons in a courteous and straightforward manner, the author will accept the feedback positively. Also, always mention the good things that you have found in the story, mentioning positives, followed by the negatives. We all make mistakes, but a little nice goes a long way.

When selecting betas for your manuscript, selecting a few readers is wise. You may write both short stories and novels and wish to have betas who may prefer one or the other. Also, if you are a prolific writer, you may want to rotate your betas.

One thing as a writer that you do need to remember is not to confuse yourself with too many opinions. It could take time to find the right beta who communicates well and understands your work. Sorting out the opinions of several people can complicate your corrections, especially if the betas differ in the things they like and don’t like about your work.

When people are offering their services for free, as most beta readers do, the outcomes are not always what you hope. The good thing is that the vast majority of beta readers are doing it for the pleasure of reading new stories and helping authors and are responsible.

Resources:

This beta reader checklist is from Goodreads Community Forum and is quite comprehensive. https://www.geads.com/topioodrc/show/18274464-beta-reader-checklist

Writers Unite! on Facebook: A list of WU! members willing to beta and the genres they prefer can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/145324212487752/permalink/1039706383049526/

Rochelle Wisoff-Fields: 1942

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms. Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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1942

By Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

When Sylvia uttered, “Hail Mary full of Grace…,” she saw Sister Honorina. With her white veil, blue eyes and round face, she resembled the paintings of the Blessed Virgin with Baby Jesus hanging on the wall of the dormitory Sylvia shared with seven other girls. 

After praying the Rosary with Sylvia in her gentle Viennese-accented voice, Sister Honorina added the shema. “I promised to your father never to let you forget the words of your ancestors. We say them together now.” 

Sylvia recited the prayer in unison with Sister Honorina both in Hebrew and English exactly the way Papa did. “‘Shema yis’ra’el, Adonai Eloheynu, Adonai echad. Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.’” 

“Sehr gut. Your Papa, he would be so proud.” 

“When are he and Momma coming back for me?” 

Tears welled up in the nun’s eyes. She dabbed them with her sleeve. “We must leave it in God’s hands.” Tucking Sylvia’s teddy bear in beside her, Sister Honorina kissed the child’s forehead. “Sleep now, kleine schvester.”

Sylvia curled up on her side, hugging her bear. Frost formed intricate patterns on the window. The way the streetlight outside the convent illuminated them fascinated the eight-year-old. She remembered Papa’s stories about frost-faeries with icicle paint brushes. Closing her eyes, she heard Momma and Papa.

Momma sounded angry. “You’re filling her head with stuff and nonsense. How’s this equipping her to face a world filled with discord and oppression, Aaron? How?”

“Esther, she’s only six.”

“You don’t hear the news? Six-year-olds are being slaughtered in their beds. Babies murdered in their mothers’ arms. No synagogue is safe. No Jewish market. Just like my grandparents in Poland. How long before they throw rocks through our windows?” 

“We’re an enlightened society, Esther. Consider our technological advances. Never again. The pogroms aren’t going to happen here.”

“My Aaron, the scientist. My Prince Charming who still believes in fairytales. I love you, but you’re wrong. Dead wrong.”

Sylvia shivered and pulled the covers over her head. It happened a year ago. A year after her parents’ argument. Momma’s frightening predictions came true. Sylvia saw their beloved cantor beaten to death—right in the shul, the words of the Kaddish Shalem on his lips. She could still smell sulfur odor that hung in the air—hear the screams and moans of the dying. 

By some miracle, Sylvia and her parents escaped that Shabbos day, the day the Shoah began in earnest. Many of their neighbors had already gone into hiding. Momma and Papa decided it would be safer for Sylvia to place her with Christians. With her blonde hair and blue eyes, she might escape being pegged as a Jew. 

Papa carried her in his strong arms. He smelled of aftershave and chocolate. His heart thumped against her chest. “You will do what the sisters tell you, Silver Girl, do you understand? Even when you think it’s strange.” 

“We will take good care of her, Mr. and Mrs. Green.” Sister Honorina reached for Sylvia. “We’ll allow no harm to come to her.” 

“How can you say that?” Momma stroked Sylvia’s hair. “How can anyone in this godforsaken country make such a promise?” 

Tears streamed down Papa’s stubbled cheek. “Never forget who you are, my daughter.” He placed her in Sister Honorina’s arms. “We’ll be back soon, sweetheart.”

Momma covered her mouth with her gloved hand. “Oh, Aaron.” 

Sylvia reached for Papa. “Pinkie swear?” 

His lips trembled. He engulfed her pinkie finger in his. “As the frost-faeries are my witness.” 

March wind swooshed outside the convent. In the beds across the aisle, Elizabeth Nusbaum and Naomi Resnick who were both twelve spoke in stage whispers. 

“Naomi, do you think they took our parents to the death camps?”

“Probably.” 

“Girls, shh.” Sister Honorina shone her flashlight on them. “This is not the time to speak of such things.” 

“Seriously? When do we talk about it? After another six million have perished?” Elizabeth bolted upright. “It’s 1942 all over again. I saw it on CNN. There are camps in Colorado and Arizona and more being constructed in New Mexico.”

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Please visit Rochelle on her website: https://rochellewisoff.com/

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