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Short Story Tuesday: Ruth and Mindy

February 12, 2013

Today we start a new recurring event–Short Story Tuesday. If you’d like a built-in audience for your short story, please let me know. The rules are fairly simple. You must own the work you submit. It must be further along than a first draft. It shouldn’t be something you’re submitting to the FWA Collection. Other than that, if you submit, we’ll publish and people comment.

Today, I start things off with a short story I recently wrote. It’s not a first draft, but I will probably go over it later and make some changes. Your comments are welcome and if you feel like being snarky, I can take whatever truth you dish out. Right?

In all seriousness, if you leave useful criticism, I’ll check it out, make some changes and repost. And if you’re interested, maybe we can make the same thing happen for you.

Her shoulders sagged as she entered the bar. Even in the dim light, she found what she was looking for.

Ruth.

Propped on a bar stool, bending forward to get a light from one of the men in the bar, a decent-looking guy if you were into 55-year-olds. As she leaned toward him, she flashed enough cleavage to get a couple more drinks.

Mindy wasn’t be surprised. This was what Ruth did. On a good bad day, she was smiles and charm, flirting with men and drinking their money, sometimes going home with one of them. On a bad bad day, she pushed the men away, bought her own drinks and came home alone and morose. Both strains of self-loathing were toxic. Today could go either way.

There weren’t many good days lately.

Mindy cleared her throat and walked toward her drunken charge.

“Uh, oh,” Ruth said in a stage whisper, “the old lady is here.” Then she leaned toward the man who lit her cigarette and giggled. His eyes flashed with desire as Mindy approached.

The old lady, Mindy thought. In your dreams.

“Come on, Ruth, it’s time to go.”

“We’re having fun,” the guy said. His face was pleasant, the creases around his mouth creating the mirage of a smile where none really existed. He grabbed Ruth’s ass and squeezed.

Ruth giggled.

It might’ve been humorous if Mindy hadn’t seen it so often. And if she were drunk and playing along. She managed to not roll her eyes. But she did smile, tartly. “I have a better chance chance with her than you do.”

“Is that right?”

“She’s lesbian,” Mindy said. Letting the contempt for the guy bleed through each syllable.

The guy pulled Ruth close and gazed into her eyes with what must have been his seductive look. “Even if you are, I’m not bigoted.”

Ruth drunken leer looked like a smile. Mindy knew better.

“You keep feeding her drinks, she’ll puke on you.”

He smiled, for real, and narrowed his eyes to look into Ruth’s. “Shit, she’s not that far gone.”

A long breath in, then out, then Mindy shook her head. She had other things to do than fetch drunken lesbians from bars. “You know what? Suit yourself. I’m done with this.”

She turned to leave and got three steps from the door before she heard Ruth’s mousy voice. “I gotta go.”

Mindy didn’t turn back. Instead, she picked up her pace and made Ruth run–or as close as she could get to it in her heels–to the car.

“You weren’t gonna leave me.” Ruth held her liquor well, but the mushmouth gave her away.

By the time they got home, Ruth snored softly in the passenger seat. In theory, if Ruth was sleeping, she wouldn’t puke. If she puked, Mindy would have to take her home, undress her, wash her, dress her, and put her to bed. Then clean out the car, which would stink to high heaven on the way to work in the morning.

Love required patience, but she wasn’t sure it required this much patience.

As they sat at the light, Mindy looked at her. When Ruth slept, she seemed peaceful. The lines on her face vanished. And her demons seemed to retreat.

Mindy knew all about her. Ruth was a mistake, unwanted as a baby. By the time she was in third grade someone named Uncle Lew was abusing her. Going all the way, as Ruth had said.

The thought made Mindy shudder. It wasn’t the sexual abuse that angered her most. It was the matter-of-fact way that Ruth talked about it. The unimaginable reduced to the mundane, as if it were going to the store. I got a bike that Christmas, then later that afternoon, Uncle Lew raped me. Next.

Mindy looked away from Ruth as she waited for the light to turn.

Ruth found acceptance through sex. She was honest about it. Accepted it. It was her lot in life, she said. Uncle Lew had died years ago, never held accountable for what he’d done. So he lived on in Ruth’s demons and her drunken quest to evade them.

In spite of the drugs and alcohol and sex, Ruth managed a free ride at Florida State. That’s where she met Henry.

He was her salvation. She cleaned up for him, stopped drinking. Went to class. Almost believed in herself. Henry had been the man, until he cheated on her with her roommate two weeks before graduation.

Mindy reached across and pushed hair off Ruth’s forehead. When the demons weren’t raging, Ruth could make her feel like she mattered more than anyone else. She felt safe and secure in Ruth’s embrace. Sometimes that Ruth won, but as her fiftieth birthday crept on on her, that Ruth was more and more scarce.

Mindy woke her when they arrived home, always a chancy exercise. Tonight Ruth was a happy drunk, content to be manipulated. She let Mindy undress her, then get the night gown on her. It was amazing she could treat herself as she did and still manage to look this good. Mindy had to work out an hour a day.

Mindy pulled Ruth’s covers up, then stood in the doorway.

“Why do I do this?” Mindy said, with ample sadness, but no anger. Ruth had cost her a lot. Ruth had left once, moved to California to chase a woman. And Mindy’s life became almost normal.

That was when Pat had come. Pat, who had made Mindy feel complete, whose touch felt like home, who gave her everything she needed. Then Ruth came back and Pat couldn’t co-exist with that. Pat said Mindy needed to make a choice. She chose Ruth.

She ought to feel angry about that, but she didn’t. She couldn’t. This is what you do sometimes.

“Good night, Mom,” she said.

And she pulled the door shut.

Fire away. Remember, I asked for it.

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13 Comments
  1. February 12, 2013 8:47 am

    Chris,
    This is REALLY good. Yeah, there’s some minor editing needed, but the story and your writing is excellent. I’m blown away by the growth in your writing since the first time you showed me something, several years back. You are a poster child for what can be achieved when you really work at it. I mean, REALLY work at it, as I know you have these past years. So many are impatient to get their work out there instead of making it better first, but you’ve taken the time (and exerted the sweat!) to work at your craft, and it’s paid off. I’m so proud of you! 🙂
    Get this edited and start submitting it.
    Julie

  2. February 12, 2013 8:50 am

    Aside from a few typographical errors, the one thing I picked out that you might consider changing is the name Pat. While reading this story, I think I understand both women are lesbian, but it’s not clear if Mindy is or not. It is clear when a man comes into Ruth’s life (Henry), however, the name Pat seems to be deliberately chosen for its ambiguity. Which leads me to question the relationship between Ruth and Mindy and further confusion is mixed in with “Good night, Mom.”

    Is Mindy Ruth’s daughter? If not, and I completely read into the ending, then this feels a bit incestuous. I cannot buy that Mindy would undress her mother and make note that she “managed to look this good”. I think that’s the part that is offsetting.

    This has some interesting twists and great imagery. I think you’ve done a good job with pulling it together. I would just like to see more concreteness in the meaning at the end. When I’m done with this story, I want to go, “Ah ha, mother daughter!” But I also don’t want to question if I might be wrong. And, if I’m wrong, then I really read way too much into it, as often I have tendency to do! 🙂

  3. February 12, 2013 9:09 am

    I love stories with a twist, but sometimes I’m slow and I got confused. Is Pat a man or a woman? Who says “good night, mom”? ok, I see Diane thought the same things. I was totally drawn in and intrigued to have my questions answered.

  4. Suzanne permalink
    February 12, 2013 10:53 am

    How depressing. No redeeming value. Couldn’t figure out who the characters are or their relationship to each other. Needed editing and correcting before posting.

    • February 13, 2013 9:19 am

      Sorry,
      Life is, at least, fifty-fifty “depressing.” If writing is to reflect our inner views on life, a writer must have permission–freedom to plumb all its depths. In the end, there may be catharsis–or there may not be. Such is existence.

  5. February 12, 2013 11:10 am

    It’s a good story. There are numerous grammatical errors. The dialogue was not clear as to who was speaking some of the time: that’s a big issue for me. I can’t stand it when I have to figure out who’s speaking. It’s so simple to fix: Mindy said, or Ruth said.

  6. Chris Hamilton permalink
    February 12, 2013 1:23 pm

    I appreciate everyone taking the time to read it and comment. Feedback is a gift. In the context of these comments, I see some thing I hadn’t seen before. And there are a couple things that needlessly cloud the relationship without adding anything, so it’s all good!

    Thanks!

  7. February 12, 2013 1:36 pm

    Love the story and the double twist ending. For me, the reader, it needs more transition or time to better absorb the surprises.

  8. February 12, 2013 5:08 pm

    I liked the surprise ending. I didn’t have any trouble following the story line. Although Pat is an ambiguous name for sure.

    The only thing that bothered me was the second and third sentence. “…she found what she was looking for.”
    “Ruth.”

    Should it have been …she found who she was looking for, not what?

    I’m easily confused on any given day, please let me know. 🙂

    • Chris Hamilton permalink
      February 12, 2013 5:52 pm

      No, you weren’t confused. Good feedback. I was ambiguous on Pat purposely, and I think if I clean up some other things that will work better.

  9. February 12, 2013 9:21 pm

    I had lots of comments (You said to be brutal) which I entered in a copy of your piece, but when I pasted it here, it lost all the formatting. If you want my critique, I’d be glad to email it to you.

    • Chris Hamilton permalink
      February 13, 2013 4:45 am

      Brutal is fine. Thanks for taking the time, Lori. You can get me at this link.

  10. February 13, 2013 5:19 am

    Great writing, super plot twists – yeah, some typos – but I followed just fine and loved it. Thanks for a wonderful idea and getting it started with a bang.

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