Promptly Kick-Off Finale: The Damaging Dispute

Hey writers,

Welcome to the last day of the Great Promptly Kick-Off Breaking-Block Challenge. My brain tends to not fully warm up until 10:15 a.m. or so, so rather than sleep-type, I’ll back out gracefully by saying thanks for all of your awesome responses so far. We’ll pick our favorite story from the first three prompts on Monday (you have until Sunday night to get a response in for the challenge) and shell out some WD swag.

Happy Friday!


PROMPT: The Damaging Dispute
In 500 words or less, funny, sad or stirring:

Write an argument—the worst dispute
your character has ever been in, at least in his or her opinion—without using a single exclamation point or all-caps word. It’s an exercise in discipline: Keep the fire
contained, brimming at the surface but never boiling over. Oh, and make
sure you mention a pair of pliers and a spectator.

ADDENDUM! Remember how I said that my brain doesn’t come fully online until 10:15? It’s about 10:35, and I just realized I forgot to mention something super-cool: Next Thursday, WD friends Jane Friedman and Alice Pope will be giving a webinar on how to write a book query letter that gets a response.

I can vouch for Jane and Alice’s knowledge and awesomeness, so here’s the info in case you’re interested in cracking book queries, or getting some feedback on one you’ve stalled out on:

“Extreme Makeover: The Query Letter.”
Date:    Thursday, July 23, 2009
Length: 60 minutes
Price:     $99.00
Presenters: Jane Friedman & Alice Pope
All attendees will be invited to submit a one-page book query letter for potential critique in this hands-on session.

You’ll witness the unbelievable transformation of ordinary, everyday query letters into strong and persuasive letters that catch the attention of agents and editors.

A seasoned and experienced editor will revise letters for stronger leads, concise and efficient expression, and compelling sales hooks – so that you better understand what a professional immediately sees and responds to in your work.

Aside from the revision action, you’ll also get a checklist of the five essential elements of every query.

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28 thoughts on “Promptly Kick-Off Finale: The Damaging Dispute

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  3. Danielle Nash

    I took a slow, deep breath arming myself. I pulled his door almost shut, not wanting the noisy latch to disturb him.

    “Myra,” I began well-contained but authoritative, “You know he can’t live with me. We both work and our apartment is too tight as it is.”

    Her puckered lips and raised eyebrows gave away her attitude before she opened her mouth. Mrs. High-and-Mighty produced a grunt so acidic, it was shocking even from her.

    I felt the heat rising from my core and clenched my fists in an effort to keep myself from bursting into flames. That selfish spoiled brat. I was dumbfounded that she could be so unfeeling even now. What a-
    but I stopped myself from saying the word.

    She moved slowly, hypnotically unwinding from her careful pose on Dad’s sofa. I unconsciously backed away from the venom in her eyes. When she spoke, her calculated words were whispered over clenched teeth.

    “Don’t you stand there and try to guilt me into this. You’ve played that card one too many times. You may still be able to manipulate everyone else in your life, but don’t forget that I’m the one person who probably knows all of your tricks.”

    “How dare you. You evil little witch,” I hissed back at her. “You know I’ve done everything I could for them. All you’ve ever done is take, take, take. Buy me this. I need that. And they gave it all. Sacrificed it all for you.” She deserved that and more, but I hated myself for saying it. Tears pricked my eyes, but I refused to let them fall.

    “You think you know it all. Telling everyone else what to do, how to live. If you’d shut up for one minute and listen to the people around you, your home life wouldn’t be such a wreck. Yeah, I know. Don’t stand there looking so shocked. Your kids talk. We’ve all known about your problems for years.”

    The room was spinning around me. My pulse was pounding in my head. I held onto the door facing where I still stood.

    “He has nothing left. Did you know that?” I revealed what I’d promised Mom I would keep to myself. Betraying her trust cut me to the bone. “You’ve sucked them dry. Do you even care? Are you really going to sit in that big, new house and put him in a nursing home?”

    “Are you?” Her eyes were cold steel.

    I stared, sickened by the stranger in front of me. “No, he will stay with me,” I said without emotion. “We’re finished. You should leave.” I wondered if she heard the finality of my words.

    She left looking triumphant. I slid to the floor accidentally pushing the bedroom door open wider. Bitter tears burned a trail down my cheeks when I saw that we’d had a spectator.

    “I’m sorry baby. I can still do a lot of things, but I don’t think I can fix this.” The man whom I’d always believed could fix anything, sat broken and alone on their bed uselessly tossing his pliers from hand to hand.

  4. Conni

    Gary had moved out right before Halloween. At the time, I couldn’t believe it. It had all gradually come out: the cheating, the lies. Here I was at home raising our two babies and he was having a ball; our lives we had melded together were in shambles.

    Christmas came and Gary had taken off with a buddy. Due to pending litigation, I guess he decided a male companion would look better than a female. What ever. I couldn’t get over the fact he left his kids on Christmas. What kind of guy does that? I guess I should be glad that he wasn’t around to stir up arguments. Even the dogs were breathing a sigh of relief that that chapter seemed to be over. The shock was beginning to wear off as I realized, I needed to take charge of my life and the kids all alone. A single mom, who would have thought?

    The kids were 3 and 1, both boys. If the stories about boys were to be believed, I was going to be in for a handful of tales of my own. This first Christmas on my own with the boys was a big challenge. Grandma and Grandpa were not going to be able to come out for the holiday this year and my friends had left to visit their relatives.

    I decided to make it the best Christmas I could for my kids. I had decided to get the boys a little Tykes car; you know the one that most resembles Fred Flintstone’s car? From the foot-propelled acceleration to the arching bright yellow top, it was a classic. When I had purchased the toy while the boys were visiting their dad, I believed the note on the box that read ‘easy to assemble’. I didn’t think much of it, and stored the box in my closet until Christmas Eve.

    Christmas came quickly and the night before, after tucking the kids into bed, reading Clement Moore’s classic poem and clearing the living room out, I began to pull out the presents hidden in various spots in the house. The tot car was the last. I ripped open the carton and turned the box on its end spilling the various parts that would eventually fit into the finished product on the floor.

    The parts went together and fit like a glove. Nearing the end, I fetched a pair of pliers from my junk drawer to hold the last support for the top in place while a bolt was to be inserted to finish my masterpiece. Visions of children frolicking around the finished car the next morning quickly vanished as to my horror I discovered the pieces, the last ones, were offset from one another.

    I tried to adjust the parts several times, to no avail. I reread the instructions, retraced my previous steps, nothing helped. I was getting hot, nervous, and tense. What if I can’t get this together by tomorrow morning? All of a sudden the past two months came crashing in on me. Anger boiled as I began to swear under my breath and blame for my current predicament landed squarely on the missing dad.

    How could he? Did he think this was funny? Leaving me all alone with my kids, his kids, our kids. What was I doing preparing for Christmas by myself? This is surely a dream that will end soon. He’ll pull into the driveway, beg forgiveness and promise to never leave us again. It’s Christmas. That’s the way Christmas’s are supposed to be aren’t they?

    Once again I pulled with the pliers and struggled with the supposedly matching bolt, but nothing gave. It was just too much for this girl to manage. Muscular strength wasn’t my forte. I’m sure my face was red as I strained to force the pieces together. As I pulled once again, I screamed at my plight, the pliers slipped and slammed into the front door.

    Coincidently, the doorbell rang. Tears were streaming down my face. The doorbell rang again followed by the sound of rapping on the wooden door. I managed to wipe my tears on my sleeve and stumbled to the door. Standing outside was Betty, my next-door neighbor.

    “Honey what is wrong? I came over to see if you wanted to share some wine with me. Bill and the kids have already turned in. Why were you screaming?”

    I sniffled and opened the storm door to let her in. I couldn’t talk; I just stood in the foyer trembling. Betty grabbed me and I fell into her arms. The flood began again. She said nothing, silently listening to my sobs. Finally, when it seemed there were no more tears to be shed, I stepped back, wiped my face and looked at Betty.

    ”I…I just…” I couldn’t breathe; talking was definitely out of the question.

    Betty looked over at my ‘project’. “Oh, I remember when Bill struggled with the same toy,” Betty tried to sound upbeat. “He liked to never got it done; had to admit he needed my help. Come on, I’ll help you. Grab the pliers. Then you and I will have some wine.”

    The kids loved the car. They rode it till they were too big to ride in it. They remembered it as a gift from Santa. I remember it as a gift from God, signaling a new beginning, for me and for them.

  5. Daniel Paicopulos

    As I lay on the floor, a pair of pliers in my hands, working to install a new air conditioning return, Barbara walked by, turned and asked, “What do you think you’re doing? That’s the contractor’s job.”

    “Look”, I pleaded, “don’t yell at me, I’m just trying to get the job done before you get back from your appraisal.”

    She glared. “I don’t care. Get off the floor and give that tool to one of these guys. Half of them are just standing around, anyhow.”

    She was right. In fact, they were all standing around, wondering what was next from this five-foot-two redhead. The chief contractor was also an interested spectator, but he knew enough to make himself scarce, as he headed out the door on some make-believe task or other.. No use, though. She tracked him down quickly, hiding behind the false wall that hid our air conditioning unit, fiddling with nothing at all.

    “When is this job going to be finished? Wait. Forget that. Just get it done. Now.”

    “What else do you want me to do?” he asked. “I have every sub here today except the tile guy, and he’s done.”

    “I don’t care. Hire some more. Just get it done,” she screamed, shrinking his six-frame, 300-pound frame down to regular human size.

    I walked outside to stop the carnage, but she wasn’t having any of it. “Get in the car,” she demanded, and I did.

    Now, I have always believed that the secret to a successful marriage is that both people can’t be temporarily insane at the same time, and we had been able to achieve that result for 35 years, but today was looking like the end of our winning streak. Unfortunately I was right, and, as we got into her car, we both started screaming as loud as we ever have. I’d like to report what was said, but no such luck. I was yelling too much to hear her, and I was too nuts to know what I was saying, so we just ranted until we ran out of steam, and breath.

    Then we stared at each other for a solid minute, though it seemed like ten.

    Then we drove to a hotel that took cats and rented a room for a month.

  6. Wanda Gray

    Yesterday I had the worst brawl of my life. I know better’n ta argue politics but I jumped in anyways. Buck started it. He said he supports the government and the crazy spendin’ they been doin’.

    I put my two cents worth in and opined they shouldn’t spend what they ain’t got.

    Bubba deecided he’d just watch and maybe referee if needed. He didn’t care whichever way.

    “We have to beef up the economy and bailouts will save biz’nesses and jobs so’s the government’s doin’ the best thing fer our country by bailin’ out these biz’nesses that’re hurtin.”
    “All that does is put our children’s children ta the 10th generation in debts that kin never be paid off. Let those big shots do without their big bonuses and fancy resort meetin’s that our taxes ‘er payin’ fer.”

    “The government’s puttin’ restrictions on how bailout money is used. It’s worth raisin’ our taxes ta save our economy.”

    “You think it’s worth raisin’ our taxes ta pay fer ridiculous bonuses and luxury parties? Is it also worth it ta pay retired congress people the same salary the rest a their lives as they made while servin’? Salaries that American tax dollars are payin’. Not countin’ the free healthcare they receive from day one in office ta the last day of their lives.”

    “Yeah, I think we should allow our congress people ta retire with good pensions and healthcare. They served their country, after all. Now, Jessie put down that chair. Bubba, take that chair away from him.’

    “I’ll put this chair down okay – down on top of your head. Leave me alone, Bubba.”

    “Jesse, listen to reason. Y’know I’m right.”

    “You’re right, all right. Right outta your mind.”

    “Outta my mind? Threatenin’ to hit me over the head with a chair ain’t exactly sane.”

    “I’m ain’t gonna hit you with anythin’. I’m gonna take these here pliers and pull every tooth outta yore mouth one by one until you admit I’m right.”

    “It’ll be a cold day in Hades afor I do that. Try ta use your pliers against this pipe wrench, you … you right-wing conservative.”

    We started toward each other and assumed a fightin’ crouch. Buck swung his pipe wrench and knocked my pliers outta my hand. I grabbed the wrench and was tryin’ to twist it from his fist when Bubba stepped atween us. Since he stands 6 feet 6 and weighs more’n both a us put together, we decided ta call it off for now. But I’ll be waitin’ fer Buck with more’n pliers the nex’ time.

  7. Kim Smith

    “How can we share the same DNA? You just need to chill. Be more like me,” Evan’s voice was muffled. I studied him under the kitchen sink in mom’s bright green kitchen. All I could see was the bottom half of his torso and his short, thick legs.

    “I’ll tell you how. It’s because momma raised you,” I started. “Dad left before you were old enough to remember anything. He taught me the value of a dollar and what it meant to be proud of this country and the freedom it stands for. Momma raised you to be a needy, spoiled spectator in life rather than a go-getter, that’s how.”

    “I have a job. I know the value of a dollar. And all that talk about this country. Well, I love it as much as the next guy. You’re the angry Desert Storm vet that just can’t get it together.”

    I stepped back until I could see his face in the darkness under the sink. He could barely fit in the cabinet door. His hands were up and he grunted as he wrestled with something I couldn’t see. He grunted harder, pulling until his feet lifted from the linoleum floor.

    “Finally,” he said. A rusted O-ring flew out from under the sink bouncing off the wall and landing in the corner.

    “You’re a tax cheat, Evan. You make your clients pay in cash so you don’t have to pay taxes. Momma bails you out of everything because she feels guilty about the divorce. Including jail for a DUI. You’re 36 and you still live with her. When are you going to grow up? And I’m not angry.”

    “Oh, yes you are. Mad at the whole world. Mad at me. At mom. At Vera for leavin’ you for another man because you’re so damn mad. Need to work on that, Ethan. Ain’t no woman gonna love an angry man. Could you hand me that pair of pliers?”

    I reached for the pliers in the red toolbox that was disorganized, filled with junk including wire, a calculator, and unopened packages of cheese-filled crackers. I shoved the pliers under the sink, wishing to hit him. He grabbed them, stopping my hand.

    “Thanks, bro,” he said.

    “No woman is ever going to love a bum, either.”

    “I got more than two lovin’ me now,” he said, chuckling.

    I backed up and moved away from the sink. I could feel the hate rising. He didn’t know what I could do to him. He shouldn’t have mentioned Vera. He knew nothing about her or women. He only knew about stupid girls.

    I knew I had to leave before I hurt him. I walked out of the house into the afternoon heat. The sun was directly overhead, bleaching the sidewalk. Inside my car, on the dashboard, stuck between the plastic and rubber, next to the speedometer was a curled and faded picture of Vera, smiling the day before I left for duty.

    Kim Smith

  8. Penny Henderson

    "Really, Mom, you can’t do this." I was trying desperately to stay calm and use logical argument as I’d been taught. "Clearly you haven’t considered the germ and bacteria aspect of this. Dad used those pliers to fix the bathroom plumbing."

    "Not a problem. I dunked them in alcohol." She stepped toward me. I backed into a chair, grabbed it and swiveled it in front of me. I felt like a lion tamer. Her blond mane fell raging down her back.

    "Mom–just do me a favor. Look in the hall mirror. You have a crazy gleam in your eye. You should eat breakfast and comb your hair. Then we’ll discuss this calmly."

    I don’t think she heard me. She was tall woman and strong–spent a lot of time at the gym. I was small for 12. My adolescent growth spurt hadn’t even sputtered yet. But I was quick.

    I ducked under the dining room table and came up on the other side. It was a mistake. I was trapped between the table and the wall. On my left the sideboard blocked my escape, and to the right was Mom. I guess that’s where I got all that quickness. I tried to duck back under the table but she snatched my arm.

    "I not only can do this, I will do this," she muttered. She now straddled me on the floor half under the table. Her knees pinned my arms, and she sat on my belly. Her left hand reached out and held my nose til I gasped for air. That was all the opening she needed.

    The spectators in the gallery–my seven year old sister,and five year old brother–cheered when Mom held the pliers up triumphantly, displaying my poor displaced molar.

  9. Jason Dougherty

    The chair sank two inches as he sat, and then floated back to its original hover position. Aarek clenched his teeth, ready for the next round.

    “The Central Council of Worlds will now convene for the ninth assembly.” The voice squawked through an armrest speaker after being translated for Aarek’s benefit.

    “The ambassador of the Koloxian Empire will now respond to the accusation made by the Earth ambassador in the previous assembly.”

    Across the assembly hall, Aarek watched as Treliak, the Koloxian ambassador, reclined, forcing the hover chair to compensate for his shift in weight. Treliak placed his hands together, interlocked his six rigid fingers shaped like pliers, and scratched against his bare chest with all six fingernails–a Koloxian gesture similar to feigned yawning.

    “The council will kindly remind the Koloxian ambassador what accusation was made,” Treliak said in his native tongue, referring to himself in the third person. “It is not in his nature to attend to the petty concerns of an inferior life form.”

    Treliak spread his three legs apart, a boastful provocation of superiority. His Koloxian voice rang through the assembly hall like the clinging of keys on a chain before being translated for Aarek’s understanding. A team of brilliant Earth minds worked feverishly behind him with supercomputers running at their maximum strength in attempt to provide an accurate and prompt translation.

    “The council will now replay the previous accusation,” the High Counselor said.

    The center of the assembly hall brightened into a three-dimensional holographic display of Aarek sitting in the hover chair. He watched himself repeat what he had said earlier that morning:

    “The people of Earth will not bow to anyone that threatens them with destruction. We are prepared to fight if the Koloxian Empire provokes it. The people of Earth maintain that the Koloxian Empire has no pure-hearted motive in the relocation of Earth, but only the selfish desire to enslave all intelligent life in the galaxy. And for that reason, the Koloxian claims on Earth’s solar system must be dismissed on basis of CCW code three-eight-four, stating that any race with the ability to conceive of interstellar flight may not seek gain from a peer civilization by force.”

    After the Koloxian engineers translated his words, Treliak laughed–which was nothing more than a single high-pitched tone similar to that of a smoke detector. Treliak vocalized his clinking metal sounds once again: “The Koloxian Empire does not recognize the human as capable to stand trial. Treliak will only speak to a more intelligent life form.”

    The spectators laughed again.

    The High Counselor motioned toward Treliak with a small wand, which served as a gavel of sorts under CCW law. “The Koloxian ambassador has refused comment, citing stipulation four-nine-nine, that no intelligent life shall be required to defend himself from an inanimate object.”

    Aarek stood. “And Earth will not speak with a repulsive excuse for an Empire,” He looked across the room into Treliak’s three eyes. “You will not prove that we are inferior, and you will regret bringing this to trial. We will win this fight.”

    The High Counselor silenced him with the wand.

  10. S.E.Ingraham

    The boss is in his usual spot at the Lucky Noodle as I make my way through the crowded restaurant. He smiles at me, waves me over.

    “You made it,” He pretends to be surprised.

    As if anyone doesn’t show when he calls.

    I sit next to him, nod to the waitress, and pour myself some tea.

    A man sits too near us at the next table and I try moving my chair away from his. The boss leans toward me.

    “Don’t worry – he’s with me,” he confides, his tone low, but I get it. Sit still, don’t fidget.

    “So – tell me – why’d you walk out without seeing the good doctor?”

    Uh, oh – when the boss speaks softly, he’s angry. I’d hoped we wouldn’t be getting into it about the quack. Of course, why else the command appearance?

    “No offense, Mr.G,” I start off respectfully. “I know you’re only looking out after me. It’s just – I’m okay, y’know? I don’t need the doctor after all…”

    The boss twirls his chopsticks between his fingers, using them like a pair of pliers to grab at the salt shaker, a napkin, my pinkie finger –

    “Oww –” I try to pull my finger away but he grips it as if the chopsticks really are pliers. Impressive really, but painful.

    I feel my blood-pressure rising but try to control myself. If there’s a time I really don’t want to lose my temper it’s when I’m with the boss of bosses.

    “Don’t need the doctor?” He squeezes harder; my finger is turning purple. “You look so tired dear. You still getting those calls?”

    God – I forgot. He knows everything about everyone. No use trying to hide it. Man but I’d like to kick him in the nuts right about now. No, don’t go there, I tell myself. Don’t even think about it. It would make him stop squeezing the hell out of my finger though, I bet.

    I glance at his henchman. Big mistake. The guy’s shoulders are shaking; he can barely contain himself, he’s laughing so hard. Silently, but still. Great, just great. As if I need anything to make me feel worse.
    “Here’s what you’re gonna do,” Finally, Mr.G releases my finger.

    I start to breathe almost normally again, try not to picture stomping on his feet.

    I’m so mad it’s hard to hear him. I just keep running my hand over the small calibre gun in my purse.

    Maybe it’s sleep deprivation. Maybe it’s just that I’m tired of my life. I cock the gun.

  11. Mark James

    Beth – that was great!

    My favorite line – “Don’t interrupt me when I’m talking to your sperm donor, Emily.” Hysterical.

    Did a great job capturing the sniping undertone.

    Loved the letter opener too.


  12. Mark James

    “Give me one good reason I can’t kill him,” Valak said. He held a pair of pliers that looked tiny in his big hand.

    In the light of the single torch hanging on the stone wall, the pliers glittered, a subtle reminder to the hostage that death came in many forms.

    “I didn’t say you couldn’t,” Diogo said. “Not today. Not yet.”

    The assassin looked at his friend. He always let Diogo talk him out of kills ‘til the time was right. But not this one. “No,” Valak said. “He’s mine.”

    Soren, the Brother Keeper of Emyhr, was tied to a small wooden chair. “Come and get me, assassin. Do what your kind does best. In the end, it will all be the same. The Gods wait on no man.”

    “You shut up,” Diogo said, turning on Soren. “Or so help me, I’ll turn him loose on you.”

    “They said no knives. Good with me,” Valak said, sidling past Diogo, heading for Soren. “First I’m gonna pull out your teeth, then I’ll work my way down.”

    “Come for me,” Soren said. “Kill me. Then you’ll never find him. Do you really think me so stupid as to walk into a snake’s Pit without provisions to leave alive?”

    “Razor, will you listen to me?” Diogo pressed his palms to his friend’s chest. “He doesn’t walk out of here alive, you’ll never find Nisha.”

    Valak gave Soren a murderous look. “Pulling out a couple teeth ain’t gonna kill him.”

    “Come then,” Soren said, and grinned wide, showing nearly all his teeth.

    “Let’s go,” Diogo said. “We ain’t even supposed to be in the same room with him.”

    “I can make him talk,” Valak said. “I don’t have to kill him.”


    “Come for me, assassin,” Soren said. “Gouge out my eyes, rip out my tongue, tear out my heart.”

    “Listen to him,” Diogo said. “Don’t it sound strike you funny, him being in a big hurry to die?”

    “Your knife was always the sharpest part of your wit,” Soren said. “Surely you won’t let it fail you now?”

    “That’s it,” Valak said. “You’re dead.”

    Diogo had only seconds to decide, a heartbeat to stop his friend. He drew his garrote from his pocket, let it hang from his hand, moved into Valak’s path. “I said no.”

    Valak retreated to a dark corner, hanging back, like a tiger on a frayed leash. “You on his side now?”

    “Yes, he’s my man,” Soren said in a bright voice. “Diogo the mercenary now works for the Temple, doing good deeds in the name of the Gods.”

    “If you don’t shut up,” Diogo said, “I’ll leave. Valak, he’s a real patient man. Doesn’t care how long it takes you to die.”

    “Go on, Diogo,” Valak’s soft voice said from the shadows. “Leave me with him. Me and Soren got some talking to do. See you in a few days.”

    Soren opened his mouth to say something, then seemed to think better of it.

    Mark James

  13. Beth Cato

    When I saw Dad coming down the hallway, I knew my parent-teacher conference was going to be a total disaster.

    Mom and I had been waiting outside for some fifteen minutes. From inside I could hear the soft chatter in Spanish, the repetitions of the translator, and the high Minnie Mouse tones of my teacher, Ms. Allison. Fortunately for us, it wasn’t too hot or too cold for November – Arizona was kinda nice like that. But when Dad arrived, and I started to sweat like it was mid-summer.

    Mom abruptly rose from the little kid chair she’d been sitting in and brushed off her skirt. “A woman should never appear submissive,” she whispered to me. “Always stand as an equal.” With that, she pasted on a smile. “Hi, Garret. I didn’t think you were coming.”

    “I had to come and support my little girl.” Dad grinned and reached to ruffle my hair, but I dodged. His expression didn’t change.

    “You don’t know what support is,” Mom said.

    “You don’t either, Nancy. You don’t even need a bra.”

    Their voices were low. To the spectators awaiting other conferences, they might have even appeared to enjoy their conversation. I take that back – they did enjoy it. At that point, on the cusp of divorce, they relished in their first amendment rights to be absolute jerks to each other.

    “Says the guy who needs a pair of pliers to find his -.” Mom stopped, as if suddenly remembering I was there.

    “I assure you, Caroline doesn’t need pliers or any other sort of marital aid. Everything works perfectly fine for her. No complaints whatsoever.”

    “Well, isn’t Caroline lucky. Tell me, did she get promoted yet? She’s doing such a good job working under her boss…”

    Dad’s face reddened. “We met at work, nothing more. We are perfect professionals at the office.”

    Mom had met Dad at work, too. Fifteen years ago. I remember the stories from when I was little and they actually liked each other, giggly anecdotes about how they’d sneak in kisses in the copier room. Now I wouldn’t even trust them together with a letter opener.

    Chairs squawked on linoleum. “Mom,” I said in an especially loud voice. “I think it’s almost our turn.”

    “Don’t interrupt me when I’m talking to your sperm donor, Emily.”

    “Don’t talk to Emily like that. And don’t talk about me in that way, either. I’ve been an important part of her life and I still will be even after -.”

    The door swung wide, and my classmate Jorge and his mom left with the translator. Ms. Allison smiled down at me. “Hi, Emily! Sorry to keep you all waiting.”

    “It was no trouble at all,” said Mom, flashing another fake smile. Dad laid a heavy hand on my shoulder. We entered the room together as though we were a family.

  14. Patricia A. Hawkenson

    Hedge Fund

    "What do you think you’re doing?" he said
    with every word falling on a different suitcase
    that I had stacked by the front door.

    "I am getting out of here."
    My words felt cold and final
    and if I had been smart,
    I would have written them down
    in a farewell note
    propped up on the entry table,
    for him to find hours after
    it would have been too late
    for him to stop me.

    But I needed him to see my face
    with my eyes finally filled
    with confident knowledge
    rather than overflowing with the tears
    that I had shed for days.

    "After all these years together
    I thought I owed you
    a final going away gift," I said
    looking him straight in his eyes.

    His hand accepted the pliers
    with a blue bow on one handle
    and he turned them over and over
    not understanding.

    I laughed, "I didn’t think you would get it.
    You never get it.
    Pliers are for gripping.
    Fixing things.
    Holding on with a tightened jaw.
    I’ve been there. Done that.
    It’s your turn.
    Now you can’t say
    I haven’t ever given you anything nice."
    I picked up my bags
    and headed out the door
    not looking back.

    He came after me with his hand up
    opening and closing the pliers in the air.
    "That’s where you’re wrong again.
    You should have been using these
    to keep your fat mouth shut.
    But I guess they don’t make pliers
    big enough for that.
    To hell with you. Go if you’re going.
    Thanks for nothing," he added
    as he tossed the pliers over the hedge.

    Skillfully, Mrs. Whitcom
    who was diligently weeding
    her prized petunias,
    ducked at just the right time
    as the pliers flew past her head
    to land with a splash
    in her bird feeder.

    She picked them up,
    tossing them into the metal pail
    that held the other gifts
    loaned with interest
    from her generous neighbors.

  15. Loveskidlit

    Well, maybe that’s because I’m your mother.

    That’s unreasonable.

    You were supposed to return those when you were done using them.

    No, it’s just another example.

    No, they aren’t particularly valuable.

    That’s true.

    Now that’s an exaggeration, and I think you know it.

    That’s a hurtful thing to say.

    I don’t see how you can blame me for that, too.

    Look, the pliers are just an example, I already said.

    I’m glad her parents think so. Honey, I’m glad your parents think so.

    Well, that… I guess that’s right.

    Yes, if you’re careful.

    I do still have some authority, you know.

    Yes, I know exactly when. I was there for the first one, remember?

    No, you’re right. I’m sorry about that.

    Please let me know when to expect you.

    Honey, could your parents…

    Well, I didn’t know that. It’s a term of endearment.

    When will you be home?

  16. Tanja Cilia

    She looks just like my daughter. Or… as I think my daughter would look if we were still in contact. Those aquamarine eyes – how I remember them… round as saucers, not really comprehending, the day I killed her father…

    I was struck by her friendliness when she came in to visit us with her Legion of Mary group. I felt inexplicably drawn to her inexplicably – and she gave me a timid half-smile because… no doubt she had been told I was dangerous. It’s not every woman who manages to kill her six-foot four husband with a pair of pliers.

    Michelle. When she said her name, it sounded almost like one syllable. I’ve never told her that she looks like my Georgia, because that would have given her the heebie-jeebies.

    I got to know that she was a librarian; and that gave me scope and excuse to talk to her. Although I should not be saying so myself, I was the most erudite prisoner in my wing.

    She seemed surprised that someone with a blonde hair in a Croydon Lift and butterfly tattoos instead of earrings could be so knowledgeable about the world of literature… especially science fiction. It took her months to realise that my appearance was just a veneer – a way to preserve myself and warn people that I was no soft touch.

    When she discovered I had a Masters’ Degree in science fiction, and that my thesis had actually been published as a book – Psionics: Telekinesis, Telepathy, and Psychokinesis – which was actually in her library, I could sense a major shift in her attitude.

    That pleased me.

    She pulled strings to get me – and all my fellow inmates – books that had hitherto not been available to us. Whereas we usually got the tattered paperbacks, sometimes with pages missing or blasphemies scrawled across the pages, we now got hardbacks and fairly recent releases.

    Of course, every book was opened and checked, just in case Michelle or an accomplice would have gouged out the pages and inserted a gun – or at least a file – between the covers.

    Michelle shuddered when she saw the warders grab the books by the top and bottom of the spine and shake them, so that any papers there would have been hidden between the leaves would fall out. When she complained that her superiors would take her to task if any of the books were returned damaged (and it would mean the end of this benefit for us), she was told that if she didn’t like it, she could stop coming. So she bit her lip and bore it for our – my? – sake.

    I got out of prison yesterday. Tomorrow, I will be starting my new life. I’ve already bought hazel hair dye and new clothes to go with it, as well as faux prescription specs and Derma-cover cream for my ears.

    But today, I had an important errand to run. I left my Michelle a corsage, a note, and a cheque.

  17. Christina Fawn

    Finally, after another long I was only minutes away from relaxing by the pool; one of the only activities of which I could engage in and truly feel like my old civilian self again. All I had to do was strip my six-month pregnant body of my cammies, puke green sox, and constricting combat boots. Expecting mothers’ feet don’t belong in combat boots.

    The only thing standing between my work day and my never-long-enough after hour bliss was the thing I shared my apartment with.

    As I marched my way up the stairs I could smell the undesirability of all he was freely leaking out through the windows with occasional effort, like he was sitting by the window blowing through a construction cone aimed in my direction. Why did I ever think it was a good idea for us to be roommates?

    I opened the door and authoritatively stepped inside. He had just showered. The place reeked of wet dog, that’s how I knew. He was sitting in the living room on his folding chair in front of his TV set playing video games. The scent of burnt pizza rolls didn’t compliment his stench, either.

    His blank stare projected "retard waiver".

    After carefully walking across the living room floor, sure not to step on one of his scattered video games and greasy paper plates, I passed by the kitchen. I should have gone to a friend’s house after work instead. Too bad everyone I knew was still deployed. It was really too bad.

    I was sure that the Marines in Fallujah kept their areas clean. I knew they weren’t washing their undisciplined roommate’s dishes and boomeranging dirty underwear across rooms.

    "Do you plan on doing something with this mess?" I questioned knowing the answer.

    Damn it, say something.

    “I may be a bitch and I may be pregnant, but I’m not bitchin’ ’cause I’m pregnant. You’re nasty."

    I continued to my bedroom, opened the door, and slammed it shut behind me.

    For being six months along, I sure did look good in a bikini. I admired my figure in the bathroom mirror before realizing I had to make the trek through pig haven again to get to the front door and down to the pool. I gazed around my room, not looking at anything particular, preparing to hold my breath and bite my tongue before exiting my immaculate bedroom.

    I noticed few things were misplaced: my uniform, bills, and a pair of pliers. The pliers didn’t belong there. What a weapon of opportunity, though. The things I could do to the beast in the living room with a pair of pliers. It was just the two of us, with no spectators. Could I get away with murder? Nah.

    Ah, for the love of pregnancy. I had only eight weeks to go. And I was no murderer. Hormonal? Yes. A murderer? Please. Besides, cleaning up after the swine all the time surely helped me to look good in that bikini.

  18. Teri B Clark

    Write an argument—the worst dispute your character has ever been in, at least in his or her opinion—without using a single exclamation point or all-caps word. It’s an exercise in discipline: Keep the fire contained, brimming at the surface but never boiling over. Oh, and make sure you mention a pair of pliers and a spectator.

    My room again. Man, this just sucks. How many times have I been sent here so far this summer and how many times will I be sent again? No one knows, except my mom. Yeah, my mom.

    I know I’ve told you about her before, but I just have to tell you again. She’s got to be the most controlling person on the planet. No really, she is. “Callie, you shouldn’t chew gum. It isn’t lady-like.” “Callie, you can’t wear make-up. Only loose girls wear make-up.” “Callie, cell phones are for emergencies, not for chatting.” Callie, Callie, Callie. That’s all I ever hear.

    And when she’s not telling me how to act or feel or think, she’s grounding me to my room for breaking some kind of rule. You’d think I was a criminal instead of just an average 13-year-old.

    So, what got me here this time? You are just not going to believe it. I swear, you aren’t.

    I was out in the yard fixing my bike. How innocent is that? My little brother, Kyle, was hanging around me – bothering me like usual. He is about as annoying as my mom is controlling if that tells you anything.

    Anyway, I was fixing my bike and I asked him to hand me a wrench. He reaches into the toolbox and hands me a pair of pliers. Gawd. How stupid can a kid be? I threw the pliers over my shoulder as I reached for the wrench out of the toolbox.


    I whipped my head around and….crap. Yep, you guessed it. I threw just a little too hard and that stupid pair of pliers went right threw the basement window. It took no time at all for my mom to be out on the front porch and even less time for her to determine, that once again, I was in big trouble.

    I tried to explain. It was an accident. But my stupid brother had to open his big trap. He started to whine about how I threw the pliers at him. In my loudest voice, and in no uncertain terms, I told my mom that I had not thrown anything at him. Then I made a fatal mistake. I told her that I wish I had. When am I going to learn to keep my mouth shut?

    Mom began her tirade. I tiraded right back. My brother was snickering and I turned on him and said, “This isn’t a spectator sport idiot.”

    And that was pretty much the end. I’m here in my room fuming. Kyle is out in the hall giggling. And my mom is sure that she has the worst daughter in all of Idaho.

    Teri B. Clark
    Copyright 2009

  19. Walt Wojtanik

    The shadows changed as the sun sought a loftier passion. I stood at the doorway of the rustic brownstone where Calzone plopped his backstabbing ass. My luck seems to take a right turn as the building “super” exited the façade carrying a tall step-ladder and a toolbox. I held the door as he passed, brushing against my hip as he tried to discern if that was blood or mud he spotted. Our contact dislodged a pair of locking pliers from his rear pocket. They found a new home in mine.

    Three flights up and to the end of the hall, I stood before Calzone’s door. It was still early and I gambled he’d still be asleep. Smug at his power-play. The blade of my knife nestled gently along the jamb as I jimmied the door.

    “Jimmie” I whispered with a sad, firm push on the knob.

    I padded to the bedroom door. I heard a familiar, vacuous giggle. Christine, my companions from last night, had kept the slimeball occupied as I had instructed. The door opened smoothly as I viewed more of the room. Calzone was unaware of my presence at his bedside.

    “Am I interrupting?” I said mockingly.

    Calzone’s face was ashen as he rolled to face me.

    “You should be…”

    “…dead?” I finished for him. “No, Jimmie bought it. And your “doctor” friend is permanently out of practice. Something to say fatman?” I cajoled.

    “Johnny, it… it was… a… misunderstanding. Look, we’re even. A guy for a guy. It’s just that…you planned to off my father, and…”

    “What are you talking about? Anastasi Sr. is a great leader. He treats me like a son.” I explained.

    “That’s the thing, he treats you like a son, and I’m just his chauffeur. When I heard you tell Mazola that you were gonna arrange for my father to see the angels soon, I figured I’d whack you both and make point with the old man.”

    “You asshole,” I scolded, “Los Angeles Angels. I got tickets for the Yankees game on Thursday.”

    Calzone reached to his night stand for his piece, but Christine whacked him with her pillow, sending the gat bounding toward me. I bent to retrieve it.

    “I lost one of my best men… best friends, because you only listen with one ear?” I said, angrily approaching the bed. He clutched his pillow as he backed up against the head board. I reached into my pocket and extracted the pliers, clamping the vice-grips on his nose with a loud snap and his screams. The snout of his pistol, now in my hands, nuzzled solidly against his temple. The palpable terror that flashed in Calzone’s eyes brightly illuminated the room, as the echo of a single gunshot ricocheted off the four walls.

    Christine’s head popped up over the edge of the bed, fingers solidly embedded in her ears.

    “Oh, Johnny, I’m sleepy.” She said vacantly.

    I wrapped an arm over her shoulder as we headed for the door. “Dames” I chuckled.

  20. Paula Hart

    What, you locked your keys in the car again. This is the third time this month, Bo, what were you doing? How can anyone be so dumb?

    I know….I know…there’s no need to yell at me…but the weatherman is predicting hail and I wanted to get it under some shelter.

    But this is the patio?

    Well you have all those motorcycle parts scattered all over the garage…there is no room for the car.

    How did you plan on getting the Lincoln onto this little square of concrete?

    I was about to move the furniture off…

    Oh my gosh…you left the motor running with the keys in the car…how did you manage to do that?

    I forgot the doors locked automatically when the motor is running.

    Like I said…how could anyone be so dumb?

    If I remember correctly I am not the only one who pulls some dumb stunts.

    Now what do you mean by that?

    How about last summer when you climbed up on the roof and kicked the ladder over?

    But that was not my fault.

    Well you would still be there if it wasn’t for me coming home. Don’t raise your voice to me; you have the neighbor’s rubber necking now wondering what’s going on.

    Well let ‘em look…maybe they will learn something.

    Well quit griping and do something about my car…it’s burning up all my gas.

    Like that’s my fault? Find me a pair of pliers and a hammer.

    What are you going to do?

    You’ll see.

    © Bodrury

  21. J. Alvey

    She said that I was useless just before she threw the pliers at me, missing me by, and I really mean this quite literally, an inch. I was amazed by her accuracy, to be honest with you, as she was sprawled on the floor albeit not in a provocative position, grease smudges on her forehead, on her hands and arms, sweat dripping from her brow, such that I suspected she might not be able to see at all or, if so, would be too fatigued to make a throw of such merit.

    It missed, as I said, I remind you, barely, and instead hit a painting prominently displayed behind me, or so it was before the pliers struck it rather than me, perhaps the optimal transition of events under the circumstances, shattering the glass that protected the painting while also firmly emplanting one of the handles of the pliers into the crotch of an oil-based spectator who had previously been an innocent boardwalk fellow, standing alone and looking eternally toward us as he also looked out beyond what we could see to something of great interest to him upon the ocean that we also could not see.

    He did not scream, or even crumple in excruciating pain; rather, what was left of him, now undistracted, I suppose, by the glare of the glass and the overhead lights, continued to look out earnestly toward what was an abstraction to us, my wife and I, me, standing in front of the painting, her somewhat in awe at the potential depth and consequences of her anger, sprawled there among directions, screws, and plastic parts for just another toy for the one and only grandson.

    I am certain we were both tempted to scream, to yell. I turned toward the painting, into which the pliers were embedded firmly into the crotch of my oil-spectator friend, and said, "I bet that hurt."


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