Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hone Your Skills Blogfest

Charity Bradford is hosting a blogfest! Check it out:

The challenge is to post a piece of flash fiction (a story told in less than 1000 words) and then critique the other participants. So, feel free to be brutual, but make it constructive. And, maybe just ... enjoy!

Margo Kelly

Michael’s mother carried her handbag in the crook of her arm and tugged Michael along, gripping his ear with her hand. Michael looked up at her as she strode out of the principal’s office. She smiled and greeted each person they passed in the hall. He stumbled when his oversized sneaker snagged the tattered hem of his pants leg, but his mother kept him upright with her firm grip on his ear. She continued her smooth stride out the elementary school’s main door, wearing her platform shoes and short tight skirt. Her bleached blond hair glistened in the humid Georgia sunshine, but not a drop of perspiration escaped her tight face.

She marched him to the car, parked cockeyed, and released Michael’s ear. He stood motionless as she opened the back door to the sedan and glanced around the parking lot. Michael bent to get into the car, and she slapped him hard alongside his head.

"STUPID! How dare you shame me,” she said.

Michael grabbed his face where the lingering sting caused the blood to throb inside his head. Without a word, he finished getting into the car. She slammed his door. Michael watched as she situated herself in the front seat. She adjusted the rearview mirror with her slender fingers. His mother made momentary eye contact with him, but he looked away.

She drove the car out of the parking lot and asked, “What were you thinking?”

Michael hesitated. He knew if he gave the wrong answer, he’d pay for it later. He said nothing, but replayed the incident in his mind.

Sally, not the prettiest girl in his fifth grade class, wore her brown hair long and straight. Her clothes were cheap and out of style, much like Michael’s. That’s why he thought he stood a chance with her. He needed a friend. Sally never volunteered answers in class. She seemed shy, perfect. However, when he approached her at lunch time and asked if he could sit and eat with her, she laughed out loud. Too loudly. She drew the attention of the other kids. They all turned and watched.

She spoke to Michael in full southern drawl. “Well, bless your lil’ heart. Meager misfit Michael wants to eat with lil’ ol’ me?” Sally stood, leaned close, and hollered, “Not today. Not in this life time. Not ever!” She turned so fast, her long hair flipped Michael in the face. The other kids burst out laughing.

Chanting rose from the laughter. “Meager Misfit Michael. Meager Misfit Michael.”

Small statured and bone skinny, Michael lunged toward Sally and tackled her. With one hand, he gripped her hair. The other, he cocked backward and made a fist. Before he connected the blow, the principal pulled him off Sally. The principal hauled Michael to his office and immediately called his mother. For an hour, the principal lectured Michael about the virtue of women and how he should respect all women including the girls his own age. They faced each other across the large oak desk and waited for Michael’s mother to arrive.

“A man should never hit a woman,” the principal said and looked at Michael over the rims of his spectacles.

“Yes sir,” Michael said, but he could think of plenty of reasons to hit a woman.

His mother’s voice yanked him from his frustrated memories.

"Answer me,” she said. “Why’d you tackle that poor girl? Whatever possessed you?” His mother focused on him in the rear view mirror. This time, he held her gaze.

“They made fun of me,” Michael said.

“Why on earth would they make fun of you?”

Michael knew he should stay quiet. This couldn’t end well for him.

“Answer me,” she said again.

“They make fun of my clothes, my hair, everything about me, every day.”

“There’s nothing wrong with your clothes or your hair. Did you tell them that? Or did you just pounce on that poor thing? I swear, Michael, you over react to every little thing. You need to stand up for yourself and grow a backbone.”

Michael spoke without thinking. “How can I when I have to wear clothes from the thrift store? I look stupid. My sisters cut my hair. You spend all our money on yourself and them. You don’t spend any on me.” The air inside the car became frigid as Michael realized what he’d done. He stopped breathing for a moment, hoping that if he didn’t disturb even the air around him, maybe the moment would pass without punishment. His mother didn’t move a muscle. And then, suddenly, she swerved the car over to the side of the road, got out of the car, and opened Michael’s door.

“Get out!” she said. Michael did as he was told. She put one manicured finger in his face and said, “Don’t like your clothes? You don’t have to wear them.” And with strength he usually only felt behind her hits, she gripped the collar of his shirt, and ripped it right off him. “Take your pants off,” she yelled.

“No. Please. I’m sorry,” Michael said. He wished his father hadn’t left them. He knew his father wouldn’t let her treat him this way. And yet, he couldn’t blame his father for wanting to get away from this awful woman. Michael wished his father would’ve taken him away also. His mother continued yelling at him, telling him to take off his pants and his shoes. Tears streamed down Michael’s face as he refused. She slapped him.

“You can walk home,” she said and got back into the car. She hit the accelerator so hard gravel bit into Michael’s bare chest. He stood there and watched her drive away.

Margo Kelly
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  1. Hi Margo! Thanks for participating in the blogfest. There is so much simmering emotion in this piece--so much being said without being spoken.

    Things I really liked:
    1. I love the contrast of the title and the principal's words "never hit a woman" with the fact that the mother is physically abusive. It's a sad truth, but often women are the aggressors. Michael is trapped between how he should act and the fact that means he has to take the abuse.

    2. You did a great job making me hurt for Michael. I don't know how old he is exactly, but I could feel his frustration and helplessness.

    Things you can tighten:
    1. I wanted to know how old he was. When I read about him wanting to take a chance on the girl, I thought he was asking her out at first. Later I realized it was just someone to sit with, but her response sounded mature too.

    2. I wanted some kind of justice or more definite resolution to the story. This is just a personal preference. The story just kind of ended and I still had questions, and still wanted him to find peace and love somewhere.

  2. WOW!!! Talk about emotional impact! I loved the details like "her hair flipped him in the face" (nice play on being flipped off) and the hard gravel bit into his chest.

    Nothing jarred me in my first reading, that's a really good sign. Second reading: I think you could trim out a couple sentences to make it read tighter and smoother. Here's some suggestions that you might be able drop:

    "Michael looked up at her as she strode out of the principal’s office." (how would he look up at her if she's got his ear? That would involve twisting - painful!)

    He stood motionless as she opened the back door to the sedan and glanced around the parking lot.

    Michael watched as she situated herself in the front seat.

    "Small statured and bone skinny, Michael lunged toward Sally and tackled her" - I'd drop the small statured and bone skinny part - this is in his POV; would he be thinking about himself as he lunges?

    Powerful excerpt.

  3. Hi Margo. This is just a note for now to tell you that I'll be reading your story in the car on my way out of town. I'll post my comments later tonight. Thanks for participating! :)

  4. You definitely got my heart breaking for the poor boy. Very tight and deep POV well done. I also was brought out by the description of Michael. Maybe you can work out how he looks by how he is affected by others. Like, she towered over him, etc..

  5. I love the irony of this piece! It sounds like the women in his life were very deserving of being hit.

    My suggestions would be in the placement of your description. In stead of mixing the description of the mom with the description of Michael in the first paragraph, I would focus on Michael there. Then, give us a good look at his mother right after the slap, when we know she has Michael's -- and therefore our -- complete attention.

    That final confrontation is absolutely chilling. Very well done.

  6. WOW! I just want to punch that woman's lights out and I want to principal to help Michael.
    I would suggest that when we are in Michael's head, Sally (not the prettiest girl in school), we hear it from more of a fifth grade tone. I don't think he would think like that. He might be thinking Sally had long straight brown hair and she wasn't very pretty... just change it up a bit. The whole thing... when he approached her, she laughed loud, too loudly...
    Other than that it was incredible. I was left so sad for him. I hate sad endings. I write humor :)

  7. Hi Margo,
    Well done! This piece is gripping and full of emotional suspense. You pull the reader straight in with action, and don't let them go. I really like what you've done here.

    I will agree with Charity, that I would like a little more resolution here. I felt a little hung out there, wanting more, in the same way the Michael clearly is.

    This other point is relatively minor, but did his mother pull him out of the car? I pictured him still sitting inside the car, and then he's in the dirt and she's driving away. I'm not sure how he ended up out there.

    All in all, great job. Thanks so much for sharing :)

  8. To me, this piece highlights a hypocrisy in life - don't hit women, they don't deserve it, no matter what they do. But men hitting men, or even women hitting men (the slap, for example), is far more socially acceptable. In today's age of 'equality', why is this the case?

    Great piece. Very thought provoking.

  9. Congratulations Margo! You won the voting part of the Hone Your Skills blogfest! Email me at so I can get your electronic gift card sent to you.