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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentines Day!

Though we don't celebrate it in our house - and yes, it's at my insistence. I can't stand using one day of the year to make up for someone being a prick for 364 days. Of course, if s/he is a prick, why does it take me 364 days to figure it out? I'm thorough.

Anyway, I know so many people love the only part of this day that I love - that it is in fact about love. That glorious word that gets me into more trouble than a hormone ranging teenager...on crack.

But here's to it... as wonderfully amazing and devastatingly heartbreaking it can be...

Here's to it...

May you be as lucky as I have been.



copyright - All rights to the work posted on this site are retained by Cass Van Gelder. If you'd like to use some of my work, please ask. To do so, the permissions must be spelled out in writing...from me...I meant it. I have mean cats; don't make me use them.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

I've been ill...

Sorry for any delay in writing. I've been at the hospital this weekend, recovering from horrid migraine that could even be affected by all the drugs I normally take. They admitted me Friday and I've been home for just a little bit with new steroids and pain pills (yuck!) to make me better. So far, so good. We don't know the cause at this potent. I did get a new treatment on Monday and had a bad allergic reaction in spite of taking all the pre-meds. I go back Friday for more and if there's a reaction then, I go back the follows week for tests, I'm told. Cross your fingers, chant, say prayers, or whatever lovely good things you can throw our way. We're not discriminatory. 😘. 💉. 💊. 📝. 📖. 🙏 P.s. I hate that Whitney Houston died and not for the reasons you think. It's because now everyone will think it's sacrilegious for me to say what I've always said - that I didn't care for her singing because she sang on the quarter tone and it drove me up the wall. I didn't wish her dead. I just didn't like to hear her sing. Grrrr... I no likey being PC. 😁. 👎. 🎤. I think these drugs are hitting me.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Critique of "The Mask"

Here's the critique I posted about "The Mask". Some of the story was a little disturbing, but not for the reasons you'd think...at least, not in my opinion.

I think when you write about abuse, there is a carefulness that's necessary. You have to understand things that you don't want to explore, motivations, desires - the whole lot.

One of the worst books written about abuse was "A Boy Called It". The reason? Because even while writing it, he never understood why anything happened - it just did. So, he pulled you through all these awful events, slamming you from one room to the next without any idea of what might happen next and certainly without an explanation.

Compare that to "The Lovely Bones". There were extremely harsh scenes in that book, but she wrote it in such a way that you felt she had your hand and was saying, "I know this will be hard to look at, but it's necessary and I'm going to be here the whole way." She had examined so many different angles of the true events that happened to her that she didn't need us to read them and then tell her what it all meant. She wrote with purpose and direction.

Read "The Mask" again and see if you agree with what I wrote about it. I'd love to hear your comments - even the hard ones.





copyright - All rights to the work posted on this site are retained by Cass Van Gelder. If you'd like to use some of my work, please ask. To do so, the permissions must be spelled out in writing...from me...I meant it. I have mean cats; don't make me use them.
Critique of The Mask by Desirea Auten
by Cass Van Gelder
Having grown up in a maniacally abusive household, I’m familiar with the language – verbal or unspoken – that is conveyed by someone who is experiencing this. I’ve done my fair share of “fantasy writing” when it comes to this topic and it can be mightily cathartic. However, the fact is that’s what this story is – fantasy.
The majority of people in real abusive situations spend so much time ashamed and blaming themselves for all that happens (partially because the abuser usually helps that misconception along by saying things like, “If only you were better/prettier/faster/thinner/different, I wouldn’t have to hit you” or “Why do you make me hit you all the time?”), that they are never in a position mentally to do what you described in this story. What you’ve written reminds me of the early Julia Roberts’ film, “Sleeping with The Enemy”. After years of being abused, cajoled, tortured, and pampered (the wide swings of the emotional pendulum that are the trademark of a dyed-in-the-wool manipulative abuser), she leaves her abuser only to be tracked down by him a few months later. When it seems she’ll die at his hands even though the gun is in hers, she picks up the phone and calmly tells the 911 operator that she’s just shot an intruder. And then she does. You see what I mean. You may never have seen this film, but it’s not the first time I’ve heard of these sorts of ends – the abused kills the abuser and then triumphs.
I think you have a first draft of what could be an interesting story, but I think you need to find a fresher angle. Here’s what I think you have working in your favor:
1.   Her confusion over the abuser’s responses – that’s real – particularly after he abuses her, she cleans up the mess, he comes back, and gives her an empty apology that she believes because she needs to believe it. She lies there thinking, gee, I must have dreamt all this earlier junk. That’s classic. However, the scenes you’re using are pretty much scenes that have been used before.
Turn to any Lifetime Movie of the Week and you’ll see something similar.
I know there’s a temptation to respond to this part of the critique by saying, “…but that’s how it happened”. I know I did when I first wrote a story about being beat up. I said, “… but that’s the way it happened. That’s what he said to her.”
“So what?” That’s what my reader said. She said, “So what? I took a dump today, too. That was real. I can tell you exactly moment for moment how it happened and I could say, ‘…but that’s the way it happened.’ Want to read about it? I didn’t think so.”
You have a story that’s rife with emotion - for the person who experienced it and for the people who never have. The ones who experienced it or are currently experiencing it, they are listening to you
to know if you’re the real deal or if you’re an impostor. Because if you you’re the real deal and you write about getting out, they’ll see it as a map and they’ll follow it. Don’t kid yourself; they will.
They look for key words, for key phrases.
2.   Key Phrases - The first one I read in your writing was “white noise”, when you described what the main character heard when he yelled at her because she was in such shock. (And let me tell you,
if this didn’t happen to you, lady, you are a better writer than you think you are. If this did happen
to you, know that right there was one of the first times I saw you dive deep for something to
connect you with your reader.) This is important stuff, that connection. Other times that I
recognized this as having wonderful, connecting veins of truth:
a.   When she cleaned up after he exploded
b.   When she continuously accepts the apologies, though there was an obvious escalating
pattern of explode-abuse-disappear-apologize-stroke-rinse-repeat going on
c.   When she started having second thoughts about her prank, even before he discovered it. That stuff usually starts seeping in once you subconsciously pick up a pattern
d.   Her apologizing after he exploded, as though she was already learning to take responsibility
for his issues
e.   Her approaching the cleanup of his explosion with executive thinking – I have to clean this first because if I wait this will be harder because it will dry and this will be blah blah blah…
I didn’t understand the “A few moments later she got her wish.” sentence because she hadn’t wished for him to come down in a tirade. I’m guessing you meant this to refer to “…and listened
for the sound of his laughter that she was sure was about to come.” If that’s the case, though,
she didn’t’ get the laughter, either. In any case, it was confusing.
Some open-ended questions I had -
a.   “…the most idyll of her life” I think you meant “ideal” here, but I could be wrong. In any case, give us something more specific here. What is idyllic in her world? Feeding the homeless in Africa while on safari? Floating down the Nile in a small yacht he rented just for the two of them? Staying home and watching TMC 48 hours straight while eating home-delivered Ben and Jerry’s recipe he had specially designed for them? Give me something so I know more about them both. Put a face on them, other than the one painted in concealer.
b.   “…she was so in love, she was blinded to what was happening right before her eyes.” Give me an example. Show me this rather than telling me about this. Show me how wrapped up in love she was with him that she couldn’t see what was happening while the audience is screaming, “Walk away! Walk away!”
c.   Skeleton of a story - This reads more like a skeleton of a story, without the flavor that the meat brings to the meal. Give me the flavor. Tell me about the flecks in his blue eyes, not just how his eyes twinkled; or if you do tell me they twinkled, tell me how they twinkled, under what circumstances they twinkled. Tell me how when he pulled out their one new Baccarat crystal glass they were given as a wedding gift, his eyes twinkled from the reflection of the future he saw when there would be an entire collection of similar glasses.
They say that when your view of your life changes or your relationship, how you described how you met or your wedding will also change. For instance, your main character, rather than describe just how lovely everything was when they met, she should have the benefit of a swollen 20/20 hindsight, hypersensitive to who her abuser was now that she can see him for what he is, but also maybe she mistakes simple things as indicators of his “abusiveness”. Maybe she edits her memory of their wedding story by including a bit about him pinning her corsage on, pricking his finger, and getting overly angry until he realizes she’s paying attention to his reaction.
There’s a good framework here, a good start. I think the ending is not realistic, however. That said, it doesn’t mean you can’t rewrite it and make it work.
I would suggest this for the ending. Maybe change the setting to these events she’s reflecting on that happened in the beginning of their marriage. She endures them, but only finds the courage to kill him once he’s completely incapacitated by old age, or a stroke, etc. As I wrote this, I was reminded of a recent episode of “Boardwalk Empire” that dealt with this. Gillian, who had been plied with alcohol and subsequently raped at age 13 by the Commodore, waits 20 years to get an unexpected revenge when he is incapacitated by a stroke. Once they are completely alone, she slaps him – hard – on the face. She pauses, staring at him. And then she does it again, harder still. And again, and again, finally getting some retribution for all he had done to her so long ago. So many times, this is the truth of the situation – the abused wants so badly to leave, to defend herself, or (the unthinkable) get retaliation. It’s so rarely afforded them. That might be interesting to read.
I would love to read your next draft or a new story with a plausible, maybe even comical way, for your female to give the abuser his comeuppance.
I’m looking forward to reading your next go-around.






Critique of Tin Foil

Through the class, I'm supposed to be writing my opinion and critique of other people's work. Yeah, like that's not going to get me into trouble.

Well, you read the two stories from last week. Here's the critique I posted. Let me know if you agree, and particularly if you don't.

Critique of Tin Foil by Erin Evans
By Cass Van Gelder
I find that people listen more liberally to what I write in a critique if I first convey the things I enjoyed about their stories or what worked in them. I’m the same way. I want the candy first, then I’ll eat my dinner, Mom.
That said, here are some of the things (notice I said “some”, meaning there are more than what I listed here) that I like or that I think worked:
  1. Alex and Tyler have a good contrast in their characters. It's obvious that Tyler is an easy going and likely a popular boy (what age he is, I'd have to guess. I think about 17 or 18.) Alex is an uptight young man who likes things just so and abhors small interruptions to his surroundings, even sound.
  1. There are good instances of light flashbacks (referring back to conversations about the dad’s old guns, etc.) and then transitioning back to the current time.
  1. The choice of topic is engaging and topical. This can be the best one of the ones I list here. I’ve seen a ton of writers struggle when given an assignment, especially an impromptu one, to create something relevant that isn’t already dated.
  1. There seems to be a great potential for backstory for both of these characters.
Here are some of the things I thought might help to sharpen the story:
  1. One of the things I noticed about the style of writing, or at least this version of this particular short story, is that you could probably get rid of some of the “extra” words. Generally, these are words that don’t add real value. A great editor of mine one time pointed out that I was using “almost” in front of my descriptors and it took away the real value of what I was trying to say, almost like I was cushioning the blow of what I was writing. (see, I used it there… :) )
So, I would write, “It was almost like he wanted to go with her,” when really I should have written, “It was like he wanted to go with her”, or “There was almost a glow of yellow around the edge of the mountains” when really ”There was a glow of yellow around the edge of the mountains” would have been clearer and more direct (that one could have been more concise by writing “There was a yellow glow around the mountain’s edge.)
I’ve found that words like some, almost, slightly, etc. tend to be gray words that take the edge and punch away from what you want to say. If you’re using that a lot, you might want to explore why you’re shying away from just writing what it is you want to say.
I say this, but it could be argued that you were trying to subconsciously convey the same hesitation that Alex is feeling by making the writing seem hesitant.
  1. I had difficulty with this sentence, “Tyler’s manipulation of what they had, so far, only been able to loosely define as “minerals” got much weaker when an object wasn’t natural.” It felt clunky and, even though I reread it several times, I never quite got what Alex was saying about this.
  1. While the story was written by a third party omniscient writer, I would suggest changing it to Alex’s POV instead. You could focus on the underlying feelings more, no matter how off-the-beaten track they might be. It already feels two steps away from it being all about Alex’s view anyway. Take those two steps in and you might be able to get more into the head of the character and the reader might find it more engaging.
  1. Find another word for “practicing”. It became my tin foil. …along with the multiple ellipses. I’m a huge fan of ellipsis; however, I didn’t see the need here in most of the story. If, however, you switch to it being from Alex’s POV, you could justify it as his thought process, the pauses that come between the little islands in his brain.
  1. The whole thing read more like an anecdote or first chapter rather than a short story. There are clues to this. For instance:
    1. Mentioning Alexander Clark’s full name, yet never mentioning Tyler’s full name
    2. Details that would normally be provided aren’t there. I hear six people mentioned and named quickly (by the way, you have named two girls Rebecca and Rina. Unless later in the book/story you continue to refer to Rebecca as Becs/Bex, it could be very confusing for the reader. We usually read by grabbing the first few letters and the last 1-2 letters of a word. Both start with “R” and end with “a”.
                                     i. Why six people that are never used other than as obstacles to all of them practicing?
                                    ii. Why give one a nickname that is only used once and then she’s never referred to again?
    1. Obviously, something is up with a rock in Tyler and Alex’s past, but it’s never explained. Please explain it or delete it. It doesn’t add much to the story without the explanation. (I went back and reread the paragraph where this is. I think you attempted to say why it was great for him to not use a rock, but it was convoluted – to me. Remember, pretty much everything I write here you should tack on the words “to me” on the end. They are this reader’s humble opinion.)
  1. There seems to be a lot of repetition that could be deleted or different words/phrases could be used to convey similar feelings or events from a different angle. One of the tricks I use when I have a word I’ve written a lot but can’t think of another one to use right in that moment (and yes, in the past, I’ve used that as a way to completely quit writing for the day – just focus on finding the most perfect replacement word. It’s a great way to stumble right up against writer’s block), I put XXX in place of the word. It helps in two ways – 1) I can easily run a search for XXX and find it without getting a bunch of words I didn’t want (because, seriously, are there any words in the entire world that contain XXX? – no fair using that quest as a way of getting away from writing for the day either!) and 2) when I come back to the XXXs, they often appear to me like the blanks in the Mad Libs I used to do as a kid, making it more fun to find the most perfect word in the world and stay focused on my current writing project.
  1. Give the tin foil more reason to be there, even if it is a first chapter. Maybe you end it by Alex remarking that he’s surprised Tyler could bring himself to play with the ball of foil since it was the same ball of tin foil that killed his mother last week (dum, dum, dum..!) Keep this as a short story and you really need to find a way for either of the boys – or maybe both of them – to change in some way. Another suggestion might be if you changed the set up of the story to be the first time the boys meet. Alex is annoyed by the tin foil, Tyler is oblivious. Alex usually is unable to express himself and desperately wants Tyler to quit it, but can’t bring himself. Through some small exchanges, Alex feels himself able to open up and finally asks Tyler to stop, resulting in Tyler stopping and then surprising Alex by giving him the tin foil. Eh, …it’s an idea.
I can kind of see where you’re going with this, if in fact you’re developing it into a book. You have the requisite 6 compatriots, as established by Friends; you have the extraordinary traits (superpowers) portrayed as something fairly normal; and you have unrequited love, which is always fun to play with the back-and-forth of the relationship (again, see Friends, Cheers, and other famous one-word-titled hit shows.)
My advice is to go in and cut about half the dialogue out. A lot of it is unnecessary and doesn’t take you anywhere, certainly not forward. Also, add more details, especially ones that convey how the person is feeling or what they are thinking (Alex’s details of the treehouse will likely change as his mood does. He’s feeling happy, he describes the leaves as bright and green; he’s unhappy, he describes the, as wilted and the trunk is now too long for him to even consider climbing.)
Also, ask yourself, “Why today?” Why are you writing about this particular day, this particular event? What makes it special enough to record and convey?
You have a good start. I’m very interested to see what you do with this.


copyright - All rights to the work posted on this site are retained by Cass Van Gelder. If you'd like to use some of my work, please ask. To do so, the permissions must be spelled out in writing...from me...I meant it. I have mean cats; don't make me use them.



Thursday, February 2, 2012

How to Write a Good Press Release

I get asked alot about how to write - whether it's technical writing or fiction writing. Carrie Jones with Serious Eats posted a new blog talking about how to write a good press release. It has some excellent information, especially for something that's not my field. If in that position, I think I could research it enough to pull it off. In the meantime, here are "5 Tips for Writing A Good Press Release" as given by Carrie Jones (you'll find the full blog entry here - http://www.openforum.com/articles/5-tips-for-writing-a-good-press-release)



          Two press-release e-mails that landed in my inbox last season illustrate both the good and the bad of strategies to catch the attention of a journalist. One is effective in several ways and one is a good example of what will send your bit of news straight to the round file.
          Hi Carey: As part of Heritage Foods’ No Goat Left Behind program (link) to create demand for male goat meat, [Restaurant X] will purchase a whole male goat once a week in October. [Chef G] will prepare weekend specials each week with the goat, creating 10 different goat dishes over the course of the month. Are you interested in doing a slideshow of [Restaurant X]'s goat dishes, or even just including one or two of them in a roundup of restaurants serving goat dishes? [Restaurant X] is not the only restaurant participating in this initiative.
          Hi Carey: [Chef O] is inviting diners to discover his unique culinary creations through five exquisitely prepared and artfully presented courses on his new Fall Menu ($P) at [Restaurant Y]. Transforming the entire dining experience into a deliciously personal affair between the diner and the chef, the restaurant is now offering housemade bread and a sumptuous amuse-bouche, along with intricate yet minimalist dishes that highlight locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. [7 sentences on menu dishes] So if you’re looking for a truly exquisite fine-dining experience prepared by one of the most innovative chefs in the city, [Restaurant Y]'s autumn offerings will leave you more than satisfied.
          On a quick read, these two aren't that different. Both of these tell me about a new menu offering at an acclaimed New York restaurant. But one resulted in an elaborate article featuring Restaurant X's dishes. The other was filed into my "bad press releases to write about" e-mail folder (yes, I do have one).

          What separates a good press release from a bad one? Let's take a look.

1. Know the publication
          Serious Eats readers are interested in animals they don't see every day (goat). They like bigger-picture tie-ins. (Male goats are rarely used? Most readers don't know that.) They love seeing what different chefs around the city are doing with a certain ingredient. So "a round-up of restaurant goat dishes" is a dead-on pitch, and exactly the article we did. (This happened to come from a PR firm, but it would have been just as good coming the restaurant itself.)
          On the other hand, Restaurant Y wants us to know about their fall menu, which is useful, I suppose. But we'd never do an article simply saying "Restaurant Y updated its menu," because restaurants do that all the time. "Housemade bread and a sumptuous amuse-bouche" is not newsmaking. Is there anything we can write about? Suggest a way in, because we don't see one.

2. Inform, don't promote
          The first press release didn't promise that "Chef G will prepare mindblowingly delicious specials that change the way you think of the humble goat forever." It didn't promise that "Restaurant X is doing the best goat dishes in the city, bar none." It simply mentioned the special goat project.
          From there, we took the idea and ran with it. But because we researched, tried and photographed each restaurant dish, it was a good idea that turned into an article. It was not us trusting the PR firm that their restaurant was worth writing about.
          Let's look at Restaurant Y. Nothing but opinion. We hear about a "truly exquisite fine-dining experience," "one of the most innovative chefs in the city," "exquisitely prepared and artfully presented courses." (Yes, that's two exquisites in about as many sentences.)
          But who are we hearing this from? The source itself. It's silly for a journalist to trust a restaurant or PR firm's opinion of its own (or its client's) product.
          That's why information trumps opinion every time. Don't try to sell yourself.
          Think of it like a dating profile. Are you going to kick off with "I'm brilliant, witty, dashingly handsome, an incomparable lover, and women can't get enough of me?" Or are you going to write something about yourself that gently showcases your personality? Show, don't tell.

3. Understand your business in context
          The biggest strength of the first press release is that, by acknowledging that we also write about other restaurants, the writer created an opportunity for the agency's client. Ultimately, our article concerned the different goat dishes around the city, with two of theirs making it in. It's not an article about their restaurant only.
          By presenting an idea that acknowledged the broader reality of restaurants around the city, and tapping into what readers actually want to know about, the writer of the e-mail opened a door for that restaurant.
          Is there a risk that we'll just steal the idea and ignore the restaurant? Perhaps, but it's better to take that risk than present an unusable idea.
          On the other hand, the second release just pounds on about Restaurant Y, Restaurant Y, Restaurant Y, without any context.
          The second release could have pitched an article about the best new fall dishes from high-end New York restaurants, including Restaurant Y. Or, an article about unusual presentations of foie gras, like the foie "sandwich" at Restaurant Y. Maybe suggest a look at six new pastry chefs, including the new chef at Restaurant Y.
          There's no guarantee that we would have written about any of these. But at least it gets the wheels turning, so we're thinking, "Hmm, Restaurant Y might be interesting in this larger article." Not "Too many words about Restaurant Y." Delete.

4. Don't be weird
          "Transforming the entire dining experience into a deliciously personal affair between the diner and the chef" is what really earned this press release a one-way ticket to my bad-press-release archives.

5. Make it a conversation, not a one-way wall
          Let's be clear about this: Starting off a pitch with a fake personalized "Hi editor! How was your weekend?? Ugh, the Mondays!" is 10 times worse than a pitch that doesn't seem directed at the reader personally.
          But the first press release strikes a casual balance: "I have an idea about this restaurant I know well" and "I think it'd be a good idea, but I'd like to hear what you think." It targets our magazine: "This is just for your publication. E-mail me back if you want to chat." Whereas the second is just a firehose of information and a song-and-dance show about the virtues of Restaurant Y.
          Whether you're the PR firm or the owner or manager of the restaurant, remember that you're positioning yourself as a resource for media. Not a commercial for the place.


copyright - All rights to the work posted on this site are retained by Cass Van Gelder. If you'd like to use some of my work, please ask. To do so, the permissions must be spelled out in writing...from me...I meant it. I have mean cats; don't make me use them.





5 Tips for Writing a Good Press Release

By Carrie Jones

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

"The Mask" by Desirea Auten

This is another classmate's work, a first draft of a short story. Remember, we were given the task of writing this in less than 5 pages (we could go over by a 1/2 of a page, but that was it. Sometimes, simply changing the font would do that.)

Take a look and see what you think. The author has stated that she's open to comments - negative or positive - about the work, so let her know what works for you. She's listening.





The Mask
by Desirea Auten

Today was the day. The day she would take her life back, she thought as she looked in the mirror at her empty bruised eyes and her battered, unsmiling mouth. She put on makeup to cover the damage just as she’d learned to do in the beginning. The mask that kept the world from seeing what her life was really like.
Mask… a word that came up often in her thoughts. He was the ultimate mask wearer and he wore it well. When they met, she had been so mesmerized by his smiling eyes and full lips. The teasing grin that seemed permanently on his face had entranced her and made her believe he was going to bring her so much joy in her life. She laughed more than she had ever laughed before, laughed til her face hurt and her belly cramped. Their courtship was quick and fiery, full of sunshine, jokes, nights spent lying together sharing all their childhood memories, their hopes, their dreams. She had never opened up to someone as she had him. He knew all of her and she truly believed she knew all of him when she quickly decided to jump in and go for it and love with all her might.
They moved in together after only a few weeks. As she applied her makeup she remembered back to those first few months, the most idyll of her life. If she’s honest with herself she might have seen the signs right away, but she was so in love, she was blinded to what was happening right before her eyes. She gave up her house and moved in with him when he said he missed her too much when they were apart and his house was bigger. They could have a family there, he had said. She agreed, her one bedroom apartment was no place to try to have children and raise a family and she could look around and see children with his smiling eyes and her dark hair running around with plenty of room to play.
She worked long hours running her own shipping company and it made her heart melt when he told her he missed her being there when he woke and seeing her first thing when he came home at night. So, she gave up her career to stay home and be there for him. She figured if they were going to start a family she might as well get used to it now and prepare herself and their home for the children that would surely come now that she had time to work on making them. She spent her initial days trying to put her stamp on their home, hanging pictures, adding feminine touches to his bachelor home and trying to make it as comfortable a place as possible. That was her first mistake.
When he walked in the door the day she had spent all day arranging things, hanging pictures, lighting candles etc, she was full of joy and excitement to see the look on his face. He had told her she could do whatever she wanted to the house and she took him literally. When he walked in the door he gave her the typical hug and kiss then told her how much he had missed her that day. As he let her go and set down his briefcase on the counter he finally looked around. She waited impatiently for his reaction. Then she saw something in his eyes she had never seen before, it looked like disappointment, and anger. She waited, confused, for him to say something.
“You don’t like it?” she asked.
“What the hell did you do today?” he spat out.
“I, uh, I thought you’d like it. I was trying to make it special for both of us, our place.”
“Looks to me like you were trying to make it your place. What are you trying to do, take over my house?” He roared at her.
“No, no!” She quickly stammered, feeling lost and confused. “I really was just trying to make it nice and thought it would make you happy. I’ll change it first thing tomorrow, I’m so sorry baby!”
He seemed to visibly relax and she felt relief flood through her. “Look I’m so sorry honey. I had a god awful day and I was just a little surprised when I came home and saw all this. I am just taking my day out on you and I’m sorry. Maybe you should take some classes or something to fill up your time while I’m at work and give you something to do.” He said with a smile. “Just try to make sure they are during the day and stay away from those college boys,” he teased.
She laughed. “College boys have nothing on you, honey. That’s the last thing you need to worry about”
As they made their way to bed that evening, she saw him frown as he glanced around at the things she had done and gave herself a mental memo to change them back the next day. She couldn’t understand his reaction but maybe he was just afraid of change, so she had all the time in the world to take things slowly and make little changes instead of redoing the house all in one day. When they got to bed he was sweet and gentle as he always was and they lay in each other’s arms teasing and laughing til they started falling asleep. At that moment all was right in her world.
Applying concealer over the blackness under her eyes, she tried not to berate herself for being a fool and seeing what she should have seen then. With a sigh, she kept applying her mask and let herself get lost in her thoughts again to another time when she should have seen the light.
He was an extremely tidy man, her, not so much. When she moved in she noticed his clothes were all organized in his closet by type of shirt, color etc and joked with him about being a little anal about organization. She was the kind of woman who came home and tossed her clothes on the floor before climbing into their giant bathtub for a soak after a long day. She had always thought too much organizing got in the way of living.
When she started being home every day, she had a little routine each day of things she would do. Tidy the house, vacuum, and do the laundry. She put her clothes on her side of the closet willy nilly. There was no order to anything on her side of the closet. It was comical to her to look at his very organized side and her chaotic messy side of the walk in closet. She thought it would be funny if he came home and found his side looking like her and hers looking like his, so she set to work to make it happen, chuckling to herself at the joke while she worked.
She organized all her clothes, separating all the pants and shirts and dresses and skirts. She lined them up by color and pointed all the collars in the same way just as his were. It was only made fun by the mischievousness she was feeling and the idea of the laugh they would have when he got home. Next came the fun part. She started putting his shirts down with his pants and switching things backwards and forwards until his side of the closet looked like hers had. She smiled and chuckled softly to herself and sat back to wait impatiently for him to come home. She busied herself making his favorite dinner and tried to force herself to stop staring at the clock every few minutes.
When she heard him pull into the garage she could barely contain her excitement. She had never been good at keeping secrets for surprises and she was determined to see this one through. He walked in without his customary smile when he saw her.
“What’s wrong baby?” She asked.
“I just had a shitty day at work and all I want to do right now is change into a t-shirt and some sweats and curl up on the couch and hold you. The lasagna smells delicious by the way.” He said with a wan smile before heading in the direction of their room.
It was at this point that she started having second thoughts about the prank she had pulled, but dismissed them almost as quickly as they came up. She figured the joke would make him laugh and maybe cheer him up a bit if nothing else. She tiptoed back towards the doorway to their room and listened for the sound of his laughter that she was sure was about to come. She hurried back to the kitchen to sit at the bar with their dinner and wait for him.
A few moments later she got her wish. He came out of the hallway and into the open area towards her and his face was redder than anything she had ever seen. For a moment she envisioned that cartoon moment when someone gets so mad they turn red and have steam come out of their ears. “Well, shit, this was not the reaction I had hoped for!” She thought to herself.
She got more and more nervous the closer he got to her. When he reached her at the bar, he finally exploded. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” He screamed at her. The rest of what he said was unintelligible to her. It was like white noise. All she could see was his finger poking at her face and here the yelling as white noise. Inside her head all she could think was how could it be happening like this? She had never seen him so angry before and wasn’t even sure what to do, all she knew was that she wanted to fix it and fix it quickly.
“Baby, I’m so sorry, I just thought you’d find it funny. I was obviously wrong and I will fix it after we have some dinner. Please don’t be mad baby, I know you’ve had a bad day and I really am sorry for playing a prank that upset you so much. Here, have some lasagna.” She attempted to placate him. That’s when he launched the plate of lasagna across the kitchen and into a cabinet.
“I’m going out to eat. I really hope my clothes are back the way they were when I get home.”
He slammed the door on the way out and she could hear him slamming the doors to his truck as he got in and drove away. She was left standing there staring at marinara sauce dripping down her cabinets and bit of lasagna and plate all over the place and thinking what the hell just happened here? She wasn’t sure which to fix first, the lasagna or the closet. Figuring the marinara would be harder to get off later, she hurriedly set to work cleaning that up first. It was like being in a nightmare, one she hoped she wake up from soon and laugh about while curled up in bed with her sweet, loving man. She wasn’t even sure who that man was who left their home a few minutes ago. She was pretty damn sure she never wanted to see him again though. That would be the last time she attempted to pull any childish pranks on him. She still wasn’t even sure where it had all gone so wrong.
She set out to quickly put his closet back the way it was. It seemed like it was taking longer than it did to undo it in the first place. She was going as fast as she could to get things put back in their place just the way he liked it. She was putting the last pair of pants in its place when she heard the garage door open. Not being sure what to expect, she was half tempted to hide, which struck her as a strange notion to have. When he walked in the room, she braced herself for what might come.
“Hi.” She spoke up tentatively.
“Oh my love! I’ve had a terrible day and taken it out on you, again. It’s true, I prefer my clothes organized. They are easier to find that way when I need something. But, I obviously overreacted to your little prank. I’m really sorry for how I behaved,, I must have scared you.” He said with remorse.
“I promise I won’t do something like that again baby. I never realized how much it would upset you and I’m so sorry. I fixed it all back to the way it was.”
“That’s my girl, that’s exactly what I wanted to hear from you. You are so smart and perfect. I just drove around and didn’t end up eating, so I’m starved and looking forward to that lasagna you made. Will you get me a plate?”
“Sure, of course I will. I love you babe.”
“I love you more.” He said with so much love in his eyes, for a moment she thought she really had dreamt it all.
When they went to bed that evening, he made the sweetest, most passionate love to her ever. As she lay there in his arms, her thoughts again wandered to what happened and was still trying to come to terms with the man she saw then compared to the one whose arms she was laying in right now basking in the afterglow of their love.
She looked down at the array of cosmetics before her on the counter, yellow for the redness in her face, green for the dark under her eyes, and the layers of foundation and powders designed to cover the flaws and felt exhausted, yet oddly energized at the thought of what lay before her. She was going to put an end to all this madness. Never again would she feel the pain he’d inflicted on her. It was time for a little justice to be dealt out, and it would be dealt by her hand.
The first time he actually hit her, she could remember how shocked she felt before the pain exploded in her face and her vision clouded. He had turned around and done it so quickly she didn’t even have time to process what was happening and thought it surely must have been an accident. She could see the shock register on his face too, and was even more convinced it was an accident and he was surely about to apologize and beg forgiveness. She was wrong.
“You shouldn’t have made me do that! Why can’t you just listen? I work every day while you stay at home and flirt with college boys and I can’t even come home and find things the way I like them. Why weren’t the dishes done and put away? How hard is it to wash those 3 bowls in the sink and put them away, how hard?” He screamed at her.
“I, uh, I…” She stammered.
“Don’t bother trying to make excuses. I read the things on your phone, I saw you were planning to meet up with that guy from your study group. Did you spend all day talking to him again? Did you really think I wouldn’t find out or that I’d let you cheat on me like my ex-wife did?” He roared.
“You don’t understand!” she pleaded, “It’s not like that. We all have to meet up to finish this project. I had to ask where he lived because we are meeting up there. The entire study group, not just me.”
Her eye was already starting to swell and she couldn’t see very well out of it. She was worried there might be damage to it and didn’t know what to do. For the first time in her life, she was at a loss. Why hadn’t she called the cops? Was this really her voice pleading with the man who just hit her?
“You better put something on that eye.” He said with a calmness she couldn’t believe he was even feeling after what he had just done to her. “I guess we had a misunderstanding, next time I hope you’ll tell me everything before I have to find it out myself and it gets this far.”
As in the times past he was loving and gentle with her more than ever that night, but this time she lay there and tried not to cry, wondering just what was happening to her and when her life and gotten this out of control.
Makeup done, she looked in the mirror at the final product. She looked overdone, but still quite pretty and was satisfied by what she saw. She wanted him to see what he was leaving behind and that she was strong and beautiful and had the will to live.
His favorite dinner was on the table that night when he got home. He rushed over to give her a kiss and sit at the table across from her.
As he ate they made small talk about his day and asked about hers and what she had done. She related some small anecdotes and watched for the signs that the poison she had put in his lasagna were taking effect. She smiled when she saw him look up at her with horror in his eyes. This was the moment she had been waiting for.
“What have you done? How…” he moaned as his head collapsed in the plate of lasagna.
“Never again will you touch me or hurt me, never.” She said with satisfaction knowing he couldn’t hear her since he was dead, but it felt good to say it anyway. She sat there for a few more moments before getting up and grabbing the phone.
“Hello, I’ve just killed my husband.” She said calmly to the 911 operator. “I’ll be waiting for you to show up.”
Then she sat back and enjoyed the last few moments of her freedom before the cops got there and thought about how worth it it all was. She would gladly do the punishment for what she had done knowing that she would never again have to feel his hands on her or the fear anymore. She smiled to herself, yes, it was all worth it.




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