Here is the second part of our two-part series about onions and knives and cutting boards.

A new challenge will appear shortly in a new post since that’s how I seem to be doing things this season.

Sama Smith

My life has been reduced to lists. Here’s one more, just for you:

1. Rubbing an onion over your body repels mosquitoes. Of course, it repels people too, but you’ve already done that so well.

2. An onion will remove that splinter you got last week from smashing the crib into kindling.

3. Put a bowl of cut up onions in the nursery; it will get rid of the paint smell. Better yet shut the door and lock it. Don’t go in there anymore. Just don’t.

4. You can cure an earache with onion. But probably not a heartache. I know you said your ear was bothering you.

5. The neighbors have called me several times about the screaming. Your throat must be sore. Make yourself a cup of onion tea. It’ll help, supposedly.

You won’t return my calls, texts or emails. You’ve locked me out. You just stare at the sky, swollen and gray. You don’t care if it’s going to be okay. I stand by the front door and the smell hits me in waves. So many onions. The smell is drifting through the air. Soon the neighbors will begin to complain about that too. They may get the authorities involved. And then I can’t help you. Maybe I never could.

K: It’s a tad too overt. With the undercurrent that runs through this story, it would have been a lot more effective if it had doled out sparing pieces of information until finally the painted nursery and the crib at the ending. As it is, we have a story that peaks about 15-20% of the way through and can’t match the power after that point.

DG: There’s unspoken parts here, which I appreciate but it does feel like there maybe one or two hints too many. The onions as the recurring theme evoke tears (and tragedy) but I have a little bit of trouble tracking why they are there in the first place. BRONZE

Dean Carlson

Looking back Dave should have seen that a nasty breakup was coming: the “quiet” conversations off to the side that even Michael participated in; the biting remarks about his weight and choice of clothing; even the first argument they ever had about candy candy of all things seemed to portend a crack-up that was now staring him straight in the face. But he had been in denial. Why shouldn’t he be? They had fun. The sex was fantastic and everyone thought they made for a great team. Why would anyone want to end something that was going so damn good? Dave thought that he could deal with the petty arguments, hell the sudden decision to be break up was fine with him, it’s not like he’d ever been dumped before for loathsome behavior. He took a perverse pride in that fact. But Sammy fuckin’ Hagar?

“Jesus was what Eddie thinking?” Dave said out loud to no in particular as he packed his bags full of old scarves and leather chaps (even though little Wolfgang heard him). “I hope I at least can still get limo service back to the Suite.”

K: As much as I know I’m supposed to hate this, the surprise was genuine. The story is too telly and not showy enough to that point, so it’s far from perfect, but I was amused in spite of myself. BRONZE

DG: This one reveals its secret and then hangs around a little bit more after that. I think the first part is a reasonable set-up, but the Van Halen punchline doesn’t do it justice.

Matt Novak

1 tablespoon olive oil, heat it to a sizzle.
Add 1 minced garlic clove. Make sure you brush your teeth.
1 medium onion, chopped with a level of aggression that makes you realize there’s something deeper, meatier, going on.
Brown 1 pound ground beef. See? I told you.
Drain the fat and add 1 can chopped, stewed family – I mean tomatoes – plus 1 jar tomato sauce and 1 can crazy uncles paste. Mix well, and let simmer for up to a year.

Buy a box of no-boil lasagna noodles worth roughly three months’ salary. No, with an ‘s’, not “celery.” Whisk together eggs, then mix in cottage cheese, flowers, 1/2 cup Parmesan, invitations, salt, pepper, and attendants to taste.

In a large church, spread the prepared family sauce, and then gently construct a layer of noodles. Spread the cheese mixture, top with more family. Repeat layering. Sprinkle with 1 cup shredded vows.

Consummate for 30 to 35 minutes. Let guests stand before serving, wondering where you are.

Congratulations! Now it’s time to put a bun in the oven!

K: Good Lord. What IS this place I’ve created for all of you? I wish there was a little more editorializing on the part of the narrator – that drove home the dark comedy where otherwise it seemed merely gratuitous. Otherwise, there’s a nice start here; I think it’s more fun to not know why this person feels the need to eat family. BRONZE

DG: I like the off-kilter way this one presents itself. It careens around out of control just like the chef in question. “Let guests stand before serving” is a pretty good line. I started off thinking “oh, the family is being eaten” but now I’m thinking that the chef (bride?) is just overwhelmed by family and slowly succumbing to their intrusion into every aspect of their life. SILVER

Sarah Wreisner

We were eating steak and scalloped potatoes when the pounding started. The iced windowpanes wobbled and we set down our plates, muting the television.

The dogs barked and the baby shrieked. I tiptoed through the kitchen, onion drifting up from the chopping block. I peeked through frost upon my mother’s grizzled hair.

She asked for my husband. Her face was flushed with alcohol and delusion. She wore a shearling coat trimmed cheaply in woolly bobbles. I stared at the garage as she swayed in the bright winter chill, accusing me of something original. Clouds of crystalized air slipped out of the kitchen.

“He’s with the baby. What is this?” She stepped forward and I pushed her back. Her eyes were bloodshot. A metal box fell from her purse and clanged on the step: she always carried a tin of toothpicks with her. I never understood it.

“Jesus, mom.”

She flapped her arms and staggered away, leaving the gate unlatched. She crushed the frozen tiger lilies with her moonboots, blurting out words I’d never heard her use. She drove back down the street toward whatever she’d just departed from, leaving the toothpicks on the sidewalk.

I opened a bottle of wine and thought about my dad, pulling the drapes closed and turning off my phone.

K: The prose is strong and so is the mood, but I’ll never be the one to go wild for an anecdote, amusing or odd though it may be. I don’t know how I’d pay it off, but it doesn’t seem like we learned enough to feel anything here.

DG: The mother character is a fully drawn monster in this short space. From the cavalier attitude of the narrator you can tell this isn’t the first time and that things are getting worse. The ability to get all that across here and pull me into the lives of each of these characters is well-appreciated. GOLD

Matthew Gilman.

Trying to cut an onion with a butcher’s knife. Jabbering about something I knew I didn’t care about. That plastic-fantastic music you insisted on blaring when I made you DO something, anything, for once in this fool arrangement.

It was all too much, too loud. You could see in my eyes I was NOT in the mood for your privileged bullshit, just because you decided somewhere along the line that you weren’t my possession. On a farm, a wife is an ASSET, a cog in the wheel, the grist of the mill. And when I say “grind,” a wife’s supposed to say “how fine?”

And you glared at me for DARING to speak back to you. As though there were something wrong with a man speaking harshly to his mutt. For all the flair with which you dress, a wife should know how to fix dinner for her husband. So, I’m taking that knife from you, Slavic curse, and showing you it’s for butchering, not dicing vegetables. And then I’m gonna give the same treatment to all them Eurotrash CDs you brought from your homeland. Leave everything out back. And I swear to god the next time I purchase a Europe bride, I’mma make sure I get a REAL woman.

K: This is too broad to connect with. The story is told within a couple of sentences and runs in place from there, repeatedly reinforcing the fact that our narrator is a misogynistic jackass but failing to give us anything else. Characters like this are never interesting unless we see why they think they’re the good guy. This asshole should still love his bride, as much as he loathes women. That’s drama, yo.

DG: This one just doesn’t go anywhere for me. The narrator is an ass at the beginning, middle and the end. I got a good sense of the character, but I don’t know that I really want to inhabit his world.

Annette Barron

We agree on all the big stuff: religion, money, discipline, even politics. We only bickered over little things.

Our first real fight was over the word “jeans.” I had washed and folded his laundry and asked him whether he wanted his ‘levi’s’ hung up or put away. Instead of thanking me, he decided to take me to task about using the brand name rather than the correct name. None of the offending articles of clothing were actually produced by Levi Strauss, so technically he was correct.

I felt that if someone has gone to the trouble to wash your dirty drawers, you should cut them some slack and just answer the question. Therefore, my response to this lecture was “whatever,” with an accompanying eye roll; apparently two more things he has strong opinions about.

“‘Whatever’ is passive for ‘fuck you.’ And eye rolls are like ‘fuck off.”

“You’re right. Fuck you and fuck off.”

Surprisingly, things went downhill from there. At one point, when he kept hammering on the point that he was ‘right,’ I said “You know, being right isn’t really an excuse.”

I said it many times in the ten years before I left him. Little things don’t stay little.

K: Whoa there, that was a rush. As much as it possibly doesn’t fit in the space, at least it attacked the prompt with a real payoff. Every time I start typing a criticism it amounts to “it probably doesn’t fit in this space,” so I’m going to let it go and just be okay with the fact that it did make me feel for the woman in the story, even if it was rushed. SILVER

DG: I like the exasperated dry humor of the second-to-last paragraph. The characters feel real and well-drawn. A nice little vignette of a story. SILVER

Melissa Diamond

She cried every time she cut the onions. Without fail, I’d walk into that kitchen to find her wiping at tears, and the air stung even my eyes.

“Jesus. Learn to cut an onion,” I said one day.

“Excuse me?”

“Look it up on YouTube. It’s easy.”

She threw the onion in my face.

A week later, I again walked into a devastating onion haze. “Even people who play chefs on TV know how to cut an onion.”

“You cut them, then, smartass.”

She stormed out, and I cut the onion. My eyes remained dry.

The last time, I found her crying over the sink. The onions rested on the cutting board, chopped to haggard bits. Their slaughtered innards peppered the air. “There are worse onion cutters than you,” I said. “Your mom, for instance.”

She grabbed the knife and turned on me. “There are bigger bitches than you,” she said. “Your mom, for instance.”

We stared at each other. The knife shook in her clenched fist. Two quick strides, and there’d be no more room between that knife and my heart, which beat just a bit harder in my chest. I took a step back towards the living room.

“Can’t wait for dinner,” I said. “Love you, honey.”

K: See, now here we go. The tears work, the relationship comes through and the awful payoff is perfectly believable. I’m not sure how sold I am on the final exchange, but I think it works given the depressingly comic tone of the story. SILVER

DG: I don’t get the feeling that the narrator has learned their lesson, and so I feel a little bit robbed of that potential catharsis.

Brian David

I followed her down the hall, still holding the knife she had stolen from the hotel dining room. We had known each other all our lives, yet this was the first time we had ever argued.

I turned the corner and saw the elevator sitting open. She peeked around the edge of sliding door, smiling sheepishly as I came closer. I stood for a moment, admiring her raven-black hair and absentmindedly running the edge of the knife across my fingers. She darted back into the elevator, quickly and methodically pressing every button on the panel.

The elevator doors did not move.

She sighed and shrugged, and I shrugged back, holding out my hand. She came to me then, bowing gracefully, dark hair covering her face like a veil.

“You’re not real,” she said, “You can’t hurt me.”

You were half right, sweet Elissa Lam.

Her hand now in mine, we walked silently to the top of the hotel stairwell. The door to the roof was unlocked – one last, fateful coincidence. Sitting down together in the shadow of the water tank, I remember how the stars seemed to fill her eyes, how the fabric of her red jacket felt as it fell down around her shoulders.

Where did the time go, my love?

K: Jesus. This is darkness done right, with characters and a relationship that fit the thriller nature of the piece. The decision to put the narration in the mouth of the killer was a strong one and made for interesting prose. I absolutely love “You were half right, sweet Elissa Lam.” It tells us more about the lead character than paragraphs could. GOLD

DG: I see some bits here, but they don’t add up to something for me. If the line about this being the first time they argued was taken out, is there anything else that hints at a disagreement here? The characters are there, but I think the plot lets this one down a bit.

Zack Sauvageau

The burgers were neatly arranged in the pan, ready for the grill. The four on the left hand side of the pan were studded with large chunks of onion. She preferred them to be finely chopped, but he’d told her he didn’t want any surprises in his burgers. This was one of the first rules she learned when they were married. She learned swiftly because of the consequences of not following the rules.

“Burgers are ready, honey!” she said in the sweetest voice she could muster. She headed to the front porch to have a cigarette. He despised smoking. She knew it was bad for her, but continued because it was time that she knew he would not interfere with. Besides, she couldn’t look him in the eye tonight.

She took a deep drag from her cigarette and closed her eyes. She needed to calm down before dinner. She ran through her checklist. Everything should be in order. She was so glad that her children shared her love of onions in burgers.

K: So she’s gonna off him, but how? I guess it doesn’t matter (I’m looking for cannibalism here, but it isn’t quite coming together; I’m also searching for an onion allergy but can’t find one). It isn’t a bad story, but isn’t a standout from a character standpoint either, and feels too familiar to really pop. At this point, with characters like this, we really do need another hook.

DG: The central point is nicely hinted at, but not stated aloud at any point. Still it’s very clear what’s going on here. Those hints are really all there is to the story here. Perhaps a little bit more time on the husband or wife would add weight to what is about to happen? BRONZE


No double golds.  In fact Kelly and I are so eager to prove we aren’t the same person that it seems we’ve taken things to the other extreme.  Annette’s double silver nets (nettes?) her the most medal points in this particular Interrobang conference matchup.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Kelly and I are going to accuse each other of randomly assigning medals and not actually reading Brian or Sarah’s stories.