I hope you’ve all had a great weekend, romantic or otherwise. We had thirty four fantastic entries this week, and judge Nancy Chenier has something to say about each of them. Thanks Nancy, you win the ABCD award – Above and Beyond the Call of Duty. Here’s what she had to say about your stories:
Tricky prompt this week. Ending on a singular “tooth” seemed the greater challenge than starting on “sweet”. Fabulous openings from nearly everyone. With so many entries, I read through twice, reading from front to back then back to front to guard against reader fatigue. It wasn’t necessary. There was such a variety here, I was still engaged by the last entry, and my shortlist didn’t change much between readings. Though I may have bit off more than I can chew (heh), I wanted to say something about everyone’s, so here we go.
Sugar Rush by Susan O’Reilly
Very enjoyable contrast between the dream and the reality (and the seed of the dream that becomes the nightmare). The flippant tone betrays a real disappointment—as she lets slip: “but still hurts today”—one that has been bulwarked with food.
From the Top by Jack
Uncovering the banalities and the real work behind the splendor of a future performance. I like how this piece shows what’s going on behind the scenes with such economy. Favorite bits: “cannon of a cigar from his thick watery lips”, “itch creep across her chest”.
Chris and Mike vs. The Spinning Bird Kick by Brian S Creek
Hey, don’t I know these fellas? Nice use of the bookends enclosing the picture prompt. Here’s a fine crafting of a world, two distinct characters and their relationship (recognizable even if I’d never seen Chris and Mike before).
Armed and Dangerous by Susan O’Reilly
Thanks, I’ll be hearing that song in my brain for the next month (a great song, but a real earwig when it gets in). A fun image with the head-banging to Eurhythmics and a clever use of the bookends. The title as a description for her body in dance-mode made me laugh (especially when contrasting it with the grace of the photo).
Saw by stu06bloc9
I like the playful use of language, especially at the beginning. An intriguing dynamic over the dinner table, here. The chaotic flashes of the individual characters are disarmingly vivid. And that was one of the more unique uses of the final bookend.
From the Bluebird of Happiness by Joe Owens
Ew! Poor Julianna, it never rains, it… poops. I appreciate the warring of body and will within her, her mother’s unwanted attentions, and then, this. And now, that picture of a lovely dancer arching up toward the sky will never be the same.
The Secret by Jaci Coningham
I like how you engage all the senses as she lets go of herself. The secret is kept from us until that last line—and she doesn’t need to meet our expectations to lose herself in the dance. Her pride and happiness is “forgetting the rest of the world” by being very much in the immediate world.
The Dance by Grace Black
Some wonderful language bringing this one to life; “cloying for the stage” “Lithe lines and fluid movement ache inside my weathered bones” “beckons bone to tooth”—which stand in stark contrast to the clichés the MC mulls over, revealing how easy it is to slip into clichés when trying to make sense of pain.
Discounting Danger by stu06bloc9
Packed a lot of intrigue in a short span. Nice use of the wine gums: from gems to poison teeth. I like the idea of the dynamic being an adult take on the beware-of-the-stranger-with-candy trope. It makes for so much mystery.
Scotch on the Rocks by mrmacrum
What a (ahem) sweet opening. The love the MC has for his wife is palpable and sincere in its simplicity. His appreciation that she would try to match him every time (and that she would) speaks volumes about this couple’s relationship.
Tiny Dancer by Lauren Greene
The title immediately recalled the Elton John song—and set my expectations up for a collision with what was really going on here—much the way I expect the mother’s expectations may meet with a similar collision. Trying to live one’s failed dreams through one’s children is a recipe for disaster and you set the stage well. We can only hope Dad can act as an air bag when the time comes. My favorite bits: the seven shades of blue tutus and the Yoda dance teacher.
Lucy by Susan O’Reilly
A fun playful rhyme that on the surface seems innocuous enough. But details like “she beguiles” and “my devotion” and being “wrapped around the finger” of a friend’s toddler treads into menacing territory, such that the gift of a tooth at the end leaves my skin crawling. (I just realized, I might have to caveat that: if the sinisterness wasn’t the intent, we can chalk it up to me being too steeped in psychological thrillers.)
Served Cold by Susan O’Reilly
Revenge and Valentine’s Day, almost as nice as dark chocolate and red wine together. Interesting (and shrewd) choice using rhyme while structuring it like prose. The result gives this piece the rhythm of saccharine Hallmark poesy with a cynical bite.
Fair Trade by TanGental
Fun and inventive use of the bookends, especially the punny mangling of eye-for-an-eye at the end. Loved, loved, loved the climax line (Time hung limply… blood) and felt every word of it. Ouch.
Casting Pearls by stephellis2013
What a disturbing image for that proverb! (I’m squirming even now—what is it about teeth falling out that pokes at my nightmares?). And even so, the last line made me giggle—how can you make me giggle when teeth are falling out???
Steven by Holly Geely
Great job making this guy out to be a real jerk. Clever framing of the notes and the illustration of how Steven resorts to physical solutions to his ire. (And now Sweet Caroline is duking it out with Sweet Dreams in my head.)
Undetected by Rainman
Now that is a POV I would never expect. Another one to leave me squirming (from both the painful verbs you subjected me to in the dentist chair and that lurking SG) and reminding me that under the right circumstances, even Sweet Goodness can become my worst nightmare. Clever lateral reference to the photo, too. Excuse me whilst I go get some dental floss and rinse….
Dance of Life by stellakatet
A dancer’s life-long struggle with food pared down to one dish: sweet and sour chicken. Sometimes we forget the sacrifice that is made to stay the expected “lithe and childlike”. It’s a tragedy that one’s passion would have to be so tied up in the idea of (not) eating—and you set it up so frankly here. I like the framing of this with chicken.
Burning Ambition by janebasilblog
Another mother trying to realize her failed ambitions through her child. The way you set it up here through the eyes of the sister is an interesting choice as she can bring us to feel sympathy for both Eva and Cleo. Sounds like Cleo might have a fighting chance as she’s clearly making her will known (if not followed).
The Garden of Regret by Jacki Donnellan
Nice use of the prompts. I like the turn around, how the character is so sure he is without regret, until… I like the idea of guilt sneaking up and distorting one’s version of reality. Despite being a dream, the last line tugs: “limbs searching behind him for stories unread”.
Rare Beauty by A.J. Walker
The sensual imagery grabs me: bouncing swans, chattering gold crests. I like how you set the MC up for a gentle epiphany, just from catching the sight of a woman dancing. It’s those tiny moments of beauty that ignite our lives.
Love by Emily Livingstone
A turnaround from the expectation, where the mother is the one who so tyrannically wants her daughter to dance. Here you have the father supporting the daughter’s passion against Mom’s sensible med-school aspirations. The added layer to the mother—she’s trying to spare the daughter her pain—is all the more poignant for it running against expectation. The dialogue carries it well. Nicely played.
Morning Memories by Hati
Interesting that you bring us into this sad little story with the scent of strawberries (evoking the playfulness of the Beatles song). You draw us in on sweetness, then we get the punch in the heart. It’s a delicate moment you’ve captured: one for the MC, where the sorrow is no longer the overriding emotion and the memories of a lost one begin to take on a sweetness. The reader feels the loss heavily even as the MC might be experiencing its first lightening.
Rogue by Ed Broom
Trolling for sharks, and what to do when fish guts don’t work. A very inventive take on the bookends. Lines like “Mackerel chum strafes the lake” “oily lightning bolt” along with the Jaws references really… lured me in.
Crooked Dancer howdylauren
Ah, sweet revenge. Not only that he didn’t reciprocate the crush but that he did pretty much the opposite. Wonderful image of emotions being like a bowl of splattered pudding. Slick the way you transformed dancing by the river into dancing on his grave.
Glory Days by mediocremeg14
Nice intertwining of a golden “then” with a weathered “now”. I like how the snide remark from the matron doesn’t have the power to interrupt her mood (while lending truth to the remark). You manage to keep us there with her—not pining, but experiencing the richness of the memory.
Abducted by Carlos
Beautiful opening, probably the most intriguing noun phrase (“ultraviolet light”) I’ve ever seen follow “sweet” tragic hint at backstory that subverted the horror of abduction (as there are greater horrors on earth; really liked the image in the first bookend.
Dance On by Brett Milam
You play the bookends off each other very inventively—sweet becoming decay, much the same way it does for the reader after we realize why she’s dancing and whose the audience. You make me miss what she’s left behind in that second paragraph with its sharp sense of place. The shock of the snowflake on skin is similar to the shock of this woman’s name being replaced by a number after we’ve become acquainted with her through her memories of Russia.
Break a Leg by Geoff Holme
Lured me right in with Shakespeare as Danny takes on Oberon (and perhaps typecast with that temper). Then the dance-prompt masterfully woven in. And then to end up with King Lear. Bravo on the use of the prompts! You’ve won over this English major’s heart right here.
More Than Meets the Eye by Vagrant Rhodia
HM for turning a toilet into poetry:
First I get a bouquet of Shakespeare allusions and now we’re waxing poetic over the porcelain throne! Ode to a Commode. And you play it so delightfully straight! The imagery allures despite the subject—though some of that imagery may haunt me during a midnight trip!
Smorgasbord of Valentines by Michael Simko
How very apropos. And I loved the fantasy world you were able to create in such a small space. You set the MC up well. Him comparing ladies to cars undercuts his sympathy for saving the old man. So, then, the appearance of danger from one of those beauties felt all the more satisfying even as it was mysterious. Fine use of bookends, particularly the final, and the mystery it creates, leaving me wondering why the old man would repay his life being saved in this way and leaving me wanting to know what happens next.
May I Have This Dance? by Marie McKay
Seamless bookends and a satisfying story. Dan Wells did a great 7-point story structure workshop, and though I wouldn’t recommend following it for a micro-flash, one take-away is the character story arc that I find tends to make a story sail: the MC starts at a point opposite s/he finishes. In 100 words that’s nearly impossible, but you manage it. The first paragraph is all about her struggle to gain confidence. By the end, she is the one who can make or break the Goodman’s confidence. Her voice is clear—so much self-doubt. The revisiting of the currant creates the perfect close.
Crossed Wire by TanGental
Ooo, fine use of the bookends. Strong voice in this one, the disgust and self-centeredness can easily be written off as a teen trying to deal with strong feelings (going with hate rather than crushing sadness) or they can be the flat reactions of a sociopath (as his oh-well about the mess on his girlfriend seems to indicate—and the killing). The first three sentences work so well to set this up. He instantly gets my sympathy (because, no, there are very few things “grosser” than that). Veiling Dad’s flirting with his discussion of flowers is brilliant.
The Dying Swan: Dancer to the Last by DB Foy
Oh, I love how you used Pavlova’s story. I loved the concept and the execution. The known facts are woven into a wrenching little tale, giving new gut-wrenching meaning to the title (the role she made famous). The tweak with Victor is perfect. I caught that “self-ascribed” husband of his biography and you explore it masterfully. The way he forces the idea of dying for her art is so manipulative (and you can just see him scripting it for the biography he wants to write on her after she dies). Just some splendid lines in here: “eyes monitored him” “words crushed hers” “free her hand from the cage his fingers formed”—agonizing! An excellent piece of alternative (perhaps) history.
The Dying Swan: Dancer to the Last
“…sweet, sticky tonic and there’s no certainty it’ll cure pneumonia–”
“Victor?” Anna lost in covers.
Her self-ascribed husband moved bedside, “Dearest?”
“Are they taking me to hospital?”
Victor’s eyes monitored him. The physician answered cautiously, “We can operate but…you wouldn’t dance again.”
“I could live–?”
“Love,” Victor’s words crushed hers. “You’re not thinking clearly. If you couldn’t dance, wouldn’t you rather slip away?”
She tried freeing her hand from the cage his fingers formed.
“You don’t want to be remembered that way. Not when the world could know you as ‘The Dying Swan–dancer to the last.’”
Fear turned her skin hard and white as a tooth.