No intro today, folks. Infidelity. It’s so wrong, it’s right. Wait, should I be saying that? Anyway let’s get after it.

Will Young

Since I’m eight, I think Mary is eighteen. No matter how hard I try, I can’t recollect a time ’fore she was around. Since no one but me never has no curiosity ’bout her, I hain’t bothered to figure out when she showed up. All I know is that I can’t remember a time when her momma and poppa were on the farm. I s’pose they could’ve died before I’s born. I wish somebody else also cared ’bout things like that. “Never you mind,” is what Mama told me the few times I asked ’bout any of ’em.

I asked Mary ’bout her family last week, but she told me wait ’til I’s older. I was just curious cuz I know I want Mama ’round me all day whenever I’s sick. I always feel better with Mama fixing my sheets and telling me stories. Since Mary’s been getting sick almost every morning, I thought she might want her momma ’round, too. My parents seem to know something ’bout her family and getting her fixed cuz they sent her Down River. Prolly so Mary can be with her momma ’til she ain’t sick no more.

I never been Down River, but Mr. Nicholson from Cedar Hill went last year. He was gone ’bout three months and brought back dresses for Mama and me. Said he bought ’em on Royal Street cuz they’s the style of royalty. Mary told me my red silk dress with black velvet trim by my shoulders was the prettiest thing she ever saw. When Mr. Nicholson gave it to me, I wanted to wear it every day but Mama made me wait cuz Mary had to sew some adjustments for me to grow into.

When I asked Daddy why he sent Mary Down River instead of going himself like Mr. Nicholson, he told me it was “your Mama’s idea.” Mama’s always been generous like that. Mary’s always told me I should be thanking God Almighty that Mama was my mama.

Since Mary knows me so well, I bet she comes back from Down River with an even better dress for me.

If I had seen her ’fore she left, I prolly would’ve asked for a purple dress. I sure hope she ain’t still been too sick to shop with her momma.

K: Hmm. I have questions. I suppose that’s the idea, since I’m seeing this play out from the eyes a child who isn’t mature enough to make sense of the situation. Two things we see people struggle with around here are in this story: dialects and a young narrator. Both of these things are handled fairly well and consistently, and I like that the story would have allowed me to connect the dots (had I not known the prompt) rather than hitting me over the head; the pieces were in place (I think) to get the job done. What’s missing for me is catharsis. The ending is realistic but it left me with a feeling of unfinished business, and I think there was a lot of drama left untapped.

DK: The details of what’s going on here aren’t too hard to figure out – a one-word prompt like this one kind of renders that inescapable – but I like the way this piece stays subtle throughout anyway. In short writing like this I appreciate a little more when the reader is able to see the picture more completely than the narrator (that’s a thing that gets more annoying the longer a piece is). For an eight year old, this might be a bit hefty of a thought-piece, but I did also like how consistent and committed the author was to the manner of “speaking”.

MG: It feels like both of these stories have a lot of work yet to do before they’d come off as complete, wholly-encompassed stories that accomplish what they set out to do. There’s enough unsure footing in each that it was a tricky path to get to the end, and I never really fell below the surface of being engrossed by either one. Story one, at least, is sure of its narrator, even if the drawl gets spread on a little thick at times. There’s no denying that the point of view feels genuine, like an eight year old might indeed see things this way. But that level of uninformed observation also results in one of the bigger drawbacks to this story: outside of the fact that the challenge was to write about infidelity, there’s nothing in the story that would suggest an infidelity is happening. Small references to discomfort about discussing Mary’s parents aren’t given enough meaning to really hit home, for our narrator or us as a reader. Basically, ignore the fact that you know going in the story’s meant to be about infidelity, and you’d only arrive at that conclusion by chance. Because of this, a story that began assured and comfortable in its own voice loses focus and drive toward the end, and I’m not sure any great revelation about character or event gets revealed.

Rex Ogle

“Do you think she knows?” Alyssa asked Rainer, reaching across the table with her hand.

“Of course not. She’s fucking clueless,” Rainer smiled meanly. “You’d think someone would have taught her a thing or two about the way life works.” Rainer and Alyssa both giggled.

“I like the restaurant choice,” Alyssa said, nodding to the candlelight and the band of violinists playing softly in the corner.

“It’s supposed to be one of the best in the city,” he said. “And everyone says the steak is unbeatable. It’s flown here from an organic farm in India.”

“It’s 2098, who eats organic anymore?” Alyssa asked. “When did you become so retro?”

“We can go somewhere else if you—” he started.

Alyssa squeezed his hand. “I was kidding. I love it. And I love you.” She leaned across the table and kissed him softly. Neither of them closed their eyes.

“You haven’t said that in a long time,” Rainer said. “It’s really nice to hear.”

“It’s nice to say it,” Alyssa admitted, her fingers playing with the gold bracelet Rainer had bought for her. “Who would have thought that the Other Woman would have made this work for us.”

“Just don’t tell my wife that,” Rainer said.

Alyssa giggled. “Do you ever bring her to five star restaurants like this?”

Rainer laughed. “Uh, that’s a big NO. She’d just sit there, poking her food around the plate with her fork, not eating anything. And the conversation would be about as exciting as stale bread.”

“Are we talking organic bread, or synthetic?” Alyssa asked, pointing a breadstick at him.

“She’s more like really stupid bread,” he said. Leaning in, Rainer took a bite off the end of the breadstick like a hungry animal. This made Alyssa smile. She felt seventeen again.

“You should be nicer when you talk about her,” Alyssa said. “I feel bad, being mean about someone who helped our marriage.”

“She’s a robot, Alyssa,” Rainer said. “And we are the ones who are married. She’s just something we purchased to let me exercise my need for… indescretions. She serves her purpose.”

“But you don’t think she has… you know, actual feelings, do you?”

“No,” Rainer smiled. “That’s the best part of the Other Woman guarantee.”

Outside and across the street, Other Woman model #Blonde-Thin-07394-12C stood in the rain and watched Rainer and his wife have dinner. And she wasn’t happy.

K: Heh heh. This one spends a long time acting like this is a simplistic, pandering story about a one-dimensional lout. The twist changes everything (and I love how the “Other Woman” is rolled out, as the first mention seems so cliche until we learn it’s a brand name). I didn’t necessarily need to see Other Woman for this to be complete for me – if anything, it brought up more questions that were interesting enough that I wanted them answered – but watching a couple conquer demons by hook or by crook was a fun thing to do.

DK: The central idea here – robots wives of the future combined with a guy who gets off specifically on cheating – is pretty good. I wish this piece built that idea into more of a propulsive story rather than constructing dialogue around it in order to reveal it in parts until the end. In other words, I think that idea could’ve worked more as a jumping off point for conflict rather than the point the piece works itself toward. I like the way a lot of the dialogue itself is written, though; it gives a sharp back-and-forth and some pretty solid character-building incorporates along with it.

MG: Story two takes a lot longer to find its balance. Some of the earliest dialogue is just a bit below flat-out exposition, and isn’t entirely necessary. (The exact year, for instance…we didn’t need to be told that.) What does work, and eventually drives a lot of the momentum of the story, is how easily Rainer shows contempt for the tool he and his wife engaged to aid their marriage. It’s a sneaky but effective way to build tension up to the final reveal, which did make my lips curl up into an aha-smile, even though it also felt like it was served up on a silver platter. A hair’s breadth on the side of too-blatant, but still revealed nicely and with a cute dollop of technobabble. However, I’m not sure the snap at the end is enough to overcome the unsteady beats that preceded it.

——————————————————————————–

K: Neither story is without its opportunities, and both could have been punched up for whatever they were going for, but I did enjoy the high-aiming ideas. I thought I was choosing the first story until the second one revealed its fun secrets, and with that, I lean slightly toward #2 while admitting it could have gone either way.

DK: I think both of these have their structural issues, but I’d give #1 the edge for maintaining its consistency of subtlety and style throughout.

So, strong ideas and strong elements, but not strong wholes in my view. Since one of these guys has got to win, though, I’m going to go with the story that felt more certain in its direction and built its own steam up well enough to land its final punch. My vote goes to STORY TWO.

Fifteenth Elimination from Spookymilk Survivor XV: Will Young

Yes, I thought Gilman had voted for story one for some reason.

I’ll make a proper challenge post late tonight. For now, I’m at work and shouldn’t be doing this. Cheers, Survivors.

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