Monday, October 15, 2012

Old-Fashioned Fiction Writing Contest: 3rd Place

TWO DISHES OF VERY NICE SALAD
by Amy Hale Auker

CHRIS THOUGHT maybe he was an ungrateful wretch. Here he was, married to this girl, this beautiful girl whose kisses were never messy, but never spontaneous either. This smart woman who never asked him to balance the checkbook or take out the trash or chop carrots for the stew. Never asked him to do anything. Just went about her days, contained and self-sufficient. Who never gave a blow job, switched positions, or cried. Who worked. Who approached food and sex and life as a job. Sometimes, being with Cynda was the loneliest place Chris had ever been.
   But tonight, buzzing on three beers, he was glad to be riding along through the dark with her, and he dug expectantly into the bag of goodies from the community Christmas party.
   “What all’d we get?”
   “Don’t eat the sugar cookies.”
   Cynda wouldn’t listen to Christmas music even when the country station was playing it 24 hours a day from Thanksgiving to New Years. Instead, as she drove home through the sleet-peppered night, she punched the button on the cd player and her beloved King George crooned out into the cab. Not Christmas George, but plain old, solid, 1980s Nashville George.
   Chris pulled a sticky Santa-shaped cookie from the bag. “These?”
   “Yeah. Don’t eat them.”
   “Why not?” Chris held it up to the dim lights of the dashboard.
   “Because. Brenna’s kids made them and they are probably infectious.”
   Chris dropped the cookie back in the bag and kept rummaging. “Infectious, huh?”
      “Yeah. That youngest one needs a shot of LA200, or Micotil, or something.”
   “Those are cute boys. Be fun to have a passel of ‘em running around.”
   Cynda rolled her eyes. “Yeah, Brenna looked like she was having a blast. Big belly and swollen ankles and a snotty kid on what lap she has left. Sure.”
   When they first got engaged Cynda and Chris had agreed that Chris was too old to think about having kids, but sometimes Chris wondered if it wasn’t Cynda who was dead set against the idea. After all, what did his age matter? He didn’t have to get pregnant. Besides, he didn’t know why the decision not to have children also meant they couldn’t have a puppy, but Cynda had gotten almost panicky when he suggested getting one in case his old heeler died in the next few years. He opened a jar of spiced nuts, poured out a handful. “Well, it was a fun party, anyway.”
   Cynda turned up the music, tapped her long fingers on the steering wheel.
   You look so good in love… you want him, that’s easy to see…
   Chris hated sad songs.
   Sometimes Chris wished Cynda would make a mess or stub her toe or get a hangnail. Wished she would drop a jar of pickles or back the truck into a corner post or leave her wet towel on the floor of the bathroom. He wished she’d fart in bed or pronounce a word wrong or cry, damnit, at least cry. Instead, two nights later, she sat calmly at the dinner table before a pot of potato soup, a neat plate of shredded cheese covered with a paper towel, and two dishes of very nice salad. Chris’s wife handed him the croutons, and he took it from her absently.
   “Poor Brenna. And Blake didn’t even make it to the hospital in time.”
   “Hmm…”
   “I mean, he missed the birth of his own daughter, first of all, and she’s premature, and then, she has Down’s Syndrome. I just don’t know how we should help them!”
   “I don’t think we can help them. No one can cure Down’s and we certainly can’t turn back the clock so he could make it there on time. He’s a bit irresponsible, anyway, don’t you think?”
   “I know that, Cynda. I know that. I just mean now. What we could do to help them now.”
   She shrugged and tasted her soup critically. “I don’t know. I’m no doctor. The Havershaw’s have kids the same age so the boys are better off staying with them. The church ladies are taking turns preparing meals and gathering donations. Besides. It really isn’t our problem, is it?”
   Chris got up from the table and walked out, walked out of the house that his wife made colder instead of warmer, walked away with his goddamned loneliness tucked in his back pocket, walked away from a beauty that he didn’t understand, away from a layer of indifference he couldn’t get past, away from sex that brought him to climax, always, but he never smelled himself under the covers, spilling from her, because she always washed immediately.
   Their lovemaking was always just over, never something more.
   But he walked back in, walked back in because that is the kind of person he was and because his anger made him hot, and he needed to be hot. He walked back in and later wondered if what happened that night was something he would always hate or something that had to happen. That night confused him for the rest of his life.
   Cynda was already in bed, reading, of course. He joined her quietly, snapping off the light without asking. The dark was a curious blend of his hot and her cold.
   No one had ever told him that sexual fantasy is a tricky trail to traverse in a marriage. He’d had his fantasies fulfilled before, as a younger man, by a variety of women who were happy to play in bed and with whom sex had been like a game. But marriage was different. The last few months had taught him that when the heart is involved, saying, “Hey, let’s try this!” becomes a minefield with the possibility of rejection. And when there is no connection, a messy bomb of implication. But tonight he was angry. Tonight he was lonely and disappointed and every “what the fuck” particle of him was gathered in his groin.
   When he reached for her, he didn't follow their polite practiced protocol, the connect-the-dots formula that sex had descended into--the gradual warming of her cold with his desire, the polite wait for her to use a bit of lube, the careful holding back that he had come to consider "making love."
   Instead he kissed her hard, stuck his tongue deep into her mouth with one hand behind her head to keep her from pulling back, straddled her and slid his cock up between her breasts on its way to her mouth, leaving no escape route while he jerked open the curtains above the bed so that the moon could see his fury that was somehow more akin to lust than anger.
   Then, ignoring her previously stated preferences, he turned her over on her stomach and lifted her hips--finally got to see her luscious upside-down heart-shape.
   A few quick thrusts into the curve of that heart, and his anger left him with a little death rush.
   And she left the next morning, of course.
   She wasn’t the kind to come right back.
   But that was ok with Chris. He needed a little time, too.

© Amy Hale Auker 2012

Amy Hale Auker writes and rides on a grazing allotment in Arizona. Her first book, Rightful Place, published spring 2011 by Texas Tech University Press, is the 2012 WILLA winner for creative non-fiction. She has written two novels that are currently seeking publication. Amy prefers the company of bats, lizards, zone-tailed hawks, and mama cows to most people, but has found a truly incredible group of writers on-line where she is finally at home. Her quirks include a fondness for fungi, an ardent love for poetic prose, and a new-found desire to hike to the dirt tank and catch blue gill (which she throws back). You can find out more at www.amyhaleauker.com.

13 comments:

  1. I laughed out loud when I read "when the heart is involved, saying, 'Hey, let’s try this!' becomes a minefield..." Somehow, I heard the voice of a frat boy who'd just discovered the Kama Sutra. This whole piece put me in a good mood for some reason. I am glad you wrote it.

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  2. You write well from a male perspective. Makes me wonder how much Cynda is lurking around me while I remain unaware. Best to you, and a great story.

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  3. Yes. Everything changed in one night. Permanently.
    Excellent story.

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  4. You are so full of surprises. Where I would expect your characters to sit back, observe, and comment, these dive right in with a vengeance and leave me breathless with their resolution.
    Congratulations on the win.

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  5. Relationships need to grow and this one seems on the way out- though perhaps... she may be back- the angry sex was disturbing and leaves one thinking how or if that relationship would continue- insightful writing Amy

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  6. @Paul: Me,I would have ended the story with the words "right back."

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  7. Thank you to everyone for your comments. This story is close to my heart and the characters have a past and a future. I think they are evolving and this story helped them on their journey. Let's have another contest!!!

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  8. This did make me smoke.

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  9. Dear one, this is outstanding. I, like Angela, was amazed at your command of the male psyche in this piece. I'm used to (and am always blown away by) your strong women. When I read this (when no name was attached), I thought a man had written these words. You rock.

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    1. Thank you, Mike. To my ears, it is high praise when someone tells us we have varied voices in our writing.

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  10. Thought-provoking this - who would go for such a perfectionist in the first place, unless in the hope of changing her? And did the final line really mean she'd be coming back for more, just as soon as she'd made her point? Again?

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  11. What is amazing to me is that you people are identifying with the man... who committed marital rape! He is... the bad guy... but it is interesting to see that we can write the bad guy in such a sympathetic way that the reader is rooting for him. Cynda didn't truly do anything wrong but be who she is, intrinsically. The power of a few words...

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  12. Jeanette appears to be having difficulty posting a comment here, and asked me to put this up for her:

    Amy, this was a story that had to be told because from what I've heard over the years this happens more often than most people realize. You rocked this!

    Jeanette Cheezum

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