Like onions on a cutting board, these…are the Ampersand results.

PETE

When Roberta first made the comment, Glen could scarcely believe it. He set down the knife and gawked.

“What did you say?”

“Oh, I was just saying that I think I would prefer the stew without onions this time,” Roberta said offhandedly.

“Are you feeling alright?” Glen asked, squinting his eyes as if he were inspecting her.

“I’m… fine,” Roberta stammered, “why do you ask?”

Glen’s question had caught her off guard. He finished making the stew (with onions) and they ate it in silence. Roberta cast a concerned look his way, but he made a point of not returning her gaze.

The next day, Glen headed to the store. Finding no one at the receptionist’s counter, he impatiently rang the bell.

“Can I help you?” asked the woman.

“She doesn’t like my cooking,” Glen replied.

“I beg your pardon?”

“She’s been hiding it for a while, but she made it clear last night. I didn’t buy a robobride to have her henpecking me.”

“I’m sorry you’re not finding your wife to your liking. Shall I have our retrieval service collect her?”

“That’s not necessary. I put her back into her original boxes and brought them here. They’re in my truck if your people want to unload them. Can I have a look around at your blond models?”

 
DK: Heh.  I like the turn this takes; it’s well-constructed to keep the reader off-guard through each step of the story.  I wonder if the last little bit is even necessary for the impact of the reveal, but I’m not sure either way this time.  BRONZE

CP: The guy has a robobride and he STILL has to do the cooking?! No wonder he needs to turn her in. Sheesh. As far as the story itself goes, I feel like this didn’t fully exploit the potential for humor. Roberta didn’t come across as particularly robotic in her speech patterns, so the reveal felt like it came out of nowhere. The dialog in the final paragraph is great, though. BRONZE

JACK

A knife quivered in the cutting board, its point buried beyond what normal human force would produce. The kitchen was somehow more silent than the rest of the house. The back door swung slowly closed, hiding the yard from view. A low thrum began, shaking the foundations.

 
DK: Yeah, I don’t have much to say here.  Normally I’d try to at least see it as a good setup or something but I’m not sure this would work that well even as that.

CP: This is one seriously tantalizing paragraph, but I do wish you’d given me more, unknown Proser. But I really can’t complain about what little you did give us to go on–evocative, moody, well written. BRONZE

BRET

I couldn’t tell if the tear tracking down his stubbled cheek was from the onion or something else.

 

“You know I’m right,” I said, defensively, unsure why I wasn’t letting this go.  “Just use one onion.”

 

His shoulders, already hunched, knotted up as he finished chopping.  I wished he would turn towards me so I could read his face, but instead he reached for the other onion and the steady crunch started again.  I turned away, silenced by his disregard, staring out the window.  He finished chopping and dumped the onions into the pot on the woodstove.

 

His footsteps went out the door, slow and deliberate, to the front yard.  There was a heavy thud and the dog yelped once.  I watched the swirling grayness of the wind as the pot with two onions in it slowly came to a boil.  The footsteps came back, even slower.  I didn’t look as something plopped into the bubbling water.

 

“You get a share because you had the onions,” he said, his voice deeper and harsher than I had heard it since we’d met.  “She was my dog.  We’ll eat and move on, further inland.”

 

I saw his reflection in the window, his half-healed radiation burns blurred by the dirty glass, fresh tears glistening in both our eyes.

 
DK: Pretty solid job of working with the space given to create a dark situation with a relationship at the core that has some weight to it, without needing to over-exposit beyond hints at the broader world.  SILVER

CP: I like the scenario here, but I wish I felt more invested in the characters–they are a little indistinct. I would have liked a better sense of what had brought these two together and why the narrator was so adamant about the correct number of onions. And the dog thing could have been a little more subtle. Still, I want to reward this story for giving me a cohesive scene rather than a summary of events, which was an issue with a few of the others this week. SILVER

JOE

The piano player was playing some old familiar tune.  I think it was Beethoven, but these days the memory is lost in a deep fog.  I opened the gazette again to look at worthless articles written by hippie liberals trying to pad their resume for a shot at the New York Times.  I glanced at the headlines, past the classified, chuckled at the comics, sighed at another lost season for the Cubs, and then paused at a peculiar page.  There she was.  Diana.  Smiling in her finest white dress.  She looked just like I remember.  I recalled the scent of her perfume that smelled like fresh lavender.

 

The man in the picture with her had that look of a politician.  He was far too happy to be genuine.  They were together 50 years now.  Living in some mansion up north close to the lake.  Six children and 14 grandchildren.  That should be me in that picture.

 

Abruptly, I folded the paper and turned my attention to my sandwich.  I nearly took a bite, but an old familiar aroma wafted up to my nostrils.  I put the sandwich down and opened it up.  I pulled out the onions.  No more reminders of my worst regret.

 
DK: This doesn’t have as big a problem with “recapping” as opposed to “storytelling” as some have in the past, but it still is a little skewed towards only looking back for my taste.  Something about the tone of the narrator was a little off-putting as well.

CP: Awww, poor lonely old guy. I didn’t like him much in the early parts of the story, but by the end I did feel bad for him. Early on, there was a bit too much setup–the first half of the first paragraph doesn’t tell us much. The reaction to the picture felt a little generic, and it was only the final paragraph that got much more interesting and unexpected.

BIG PAPA POPE

It wasn’t about the onion. It wasn’t about the television either. Not the cat, although it was making me sneeze. Not the length of my shower, nor the clothes that you chose for me to wear. All of those things were mentioned in its course, but it wasn’t about those things.

 

I asked if it was the onion making you cry, and you replied that no onion had ever brought you to tears, and none ever would. And when I decided not  to leave it at that, when I probed the subject as gently as I could, the dam burst. All of those other things and more, until your tears were mine, flooding both of us, raging all through the little house.

 

When the deluge abated, we both said we were sorry, although we weren’t. We both made promises that we have broken since.

 

We never built another dam.

 
DK: I’m not going to say this doesn’t have the problem of being more of an emotional image than an arc, but I think it succeeds on those terms more effectively.  And I like the duality of the metaphor.  BRONZE

CP: The first paragraph is nice, but the ending left me a little confused. The final line should, I think, be a good thing because the dam seemed to be holding back all sorts of repressed feelings. But the tone of the piece seems to suggest “we never built another dam” was a bad thing. I would have preferred seeing the actual interaction play out here (though I know the low word count is tough) rather than getting a summary of it.

BEAU

“Olivia Jane!” She had just unwrapped a sucker. “You already brushed your teeth.”

 

“Finish the story, Daddy!” She defiantly began sucking.

 

“and then the witch snuck up behind Hansel and Gretel and shoved them into the oven. The End.”

 

“Daddy! That’s not how it ends!”

 

“Oh?”

They push the witch in!”

 

“Really? That’s now how I learned it.”

 

“Your way makes no sense, Daddy.”

 

“I wouldn’t expect you to understand.” He sighed. “Unless you think you’re mature enough…”

 

She nodded her head vigorously.

 

“Well, Hansel and Gretel eat a lot of candy, right? Candy has a lot of sugar. If you have too much sugar, it gives you diabetes.”

 

Olivia took the sucker out of her mouth. “What’s that?”

 

“It’s a permanent illness that makes you sick all…the…time. And you have to get shots every day.”

 

Olivia stared at him.

 

“So–and this is the most important part sweetie–when Hansel and Gretel burn up in the oven, it’s like they’re dying from diabetes.”

 

With a jolt, Olivia flung the sucker into the wastebasket.

 

He kissed her on the forehead. “Goodnight sweetie.”  Before she could respond, he left her room and closed the door. Mom was waiting.

 

“She told me today she has a boyfriend at school.”

 

“No worries,” Dad said. “Tomorrow night it’s Cinderella.”

 
DK: This is cute and I think it hits the marks it sets out to hit.  I like the interplay between father and daughter, and the effectiveness of using the story to his advantage.  SILVER

CP: Heh. Given that just before judging I spent far too long trying to get my 4-year-old into bed, I can definitely appreciate this one. I also like that we see this play out as a scene. As a parent, I’m a bit dubious it would be that easy to get Olivia to part with her sucker, but I’m willing to suspend my disbelief for the time being. The resolution of this one felt nicely satisfying. SILVER

IAN

The drive to the market. The well-worn route through the aisles. How do we know which breathless moments are harbingers, and which are merely anxious pauses in the routine? He handed her the money and she handed him the receipt. Their hands didn’t touch. But on the drive home he wasn’t sure. Had her fingertips grazed his during the exchange? Just for a second, had she touched him? Had she touched him? Did she touch him?

On the drive back to the market a new song came on. The DJ said that it had never been played on the radio before, but it was going to be a hit. Soon everyone would be humming it. Watch out for this one, the DJ said.

She was on break now. He found her leaning by the dumpsters. His hand clenched in his pocket what was left of the receipt. She noticed him and waved her cigarette.

“I was here before, and,” he began.

“Yeah,” she said, “hi, what’s up?”

“What’s up,” he repeated.

He could feel in the pieces of the receipt that she hadn’t touched him, after all. What was this moment, then? She craned her head forward to better see a handful of white shreds fluttering to the ground. What were any of the moments?

 
DK: This week I had a simple criteria for which one got my gold: the one that affected me the most.  This is definitely a well-worn scenario, but the details contained within and the uncertainty of the narrator made it feel more real and more true.  GOLD

CP: Ooooh. You had me with your third sentence and the rest of the story didn’t let me down. I love his doubt, his return to the store, his inability to express what’s happening to the cashier. What’s happening is crystal clear, but it’s in no way over-explained. GOLD

YICKIT

Sometimes it seems to be the knife; other times the board gets you. No matter what you do, it seems that you cannot win. Now I know to take a step back, and assess whatever is coming at me; but that is something I haven’t imparted on my children. Why do it?

 

If they can’t stand up who will? Our days are numbered, they ought to learn that quickly.

 

These people have children to be better images of themselves; to become persons who do not possess our personal faults. Unfortunately, that also tends to be their fate. Children reared to make up for their parents shortcomings. To take up the flag, to take up the fight, and even to make the fight. I sometimes wonder if this has to do with our grandparent’s coddling. A softer time, a softer people.

 

But their reasons are not for us to dissect anymore. They chose their path and we must choose ours.

 

We can’t second guess what our ancestors have done. It’s essentially all dust to us to us now. Buried; like those who came before us. Arguments are for a moment. Regrets are for eternity. We bring our children into this world with the intention of protecting them from our arguments; futile, but necessary.

 
DK: This is one where I can say I like this as setup for something else while not being satisfied with it on its own.  There’s some good concept-level stuff in here that could serve as a nice vehicle for something else, but on its own there’s little on a character or plot level to grasp onto.

CP: Huh. This one feels really abstract, and I had trouble connecting with it. There are a few grammatical and spelling errors that also distract. I like the ambition of this approach and the ideas here are kind of interesting, but it just doesn’t come together as a story for me.

———-

That’s some pretty impressive judge-synergy there.  Only one medal of disagreement between us.  Special congrats to Ian on pulling a double-gold from the two most recent Survivor champions.  I’m sure DG or that other guy will be along shortly with some Interrobang results and another challenge for you.  Till next time, stay Prosey, Prosers.

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