Susan stomped her way down to the village market. The sun was already high, she'd swelter walking back up the hill in the lunchtime heat. John's fault. She'd found him still in the Shark's Head, slumped over the counter. No use in shouting at him, he wasn't in any state to pay attention, bleary-eyed and hungover, surprised to find himself still there. Damn him.
She bought peanuts for setting on the bar and some olives for the tables. The fruit was all bruised and battered, the vegetables dry and sad-looking. All the decent stuff had been bought hours earlier, while she was cleaning out the kitchen and sweeping the floors. John's fault again, he should have done all that last night. She bought skinny-looking green beans because she knew he didn't like them and then she bought some green apples because she knew he did.
As Susan gathered her breath for the trek back up the hill, she noticed a woman sitting in the dust, leaning her back against the side of a stall selling bikinis and wrap-around skirts. Their eyes met.
"How big do those come?" Susan indicated a violently pink bikini.
"You don't need as big as all that," said the old woman. "You need a small one."
"No, give me a big one. That one will do."
She paid the woman and started her trek. Too wasted to clean the bar, eh? Well, explaining to all his buddies why he was lying on the floor in a pink bikini should teach him.
Opening: Sylvia.....Continuation: Khazar-khum
Susan recognized the woman, but from where? She squinted, put her hand up to shade her eyes from the midday sun. Perhaps from that book signing at the local bookstore. A small gig, with only twenty or so people who actually got books from her. But that was just the beginning, she was sure of it.
The other turned her head languidly away. She stuck a cigarette onto her lower lip and lit up. The motion was what gave her away.
Susan sucked in a sharp breath and hurried on her way, trying to act as if she'd never seen the woman.
But, in a swirl of loose clothes, the woman was beside her, familiar, tight grip on her shoulder. "So. Here you are. I would have thought you'd lay a little lower than this."
Susan shook her head, the rush of memories, the forgotten years between sixteen and twenty. The crumpled pages. The ink stains and pencil smudges. The chants and pleads. The promise. That was John's fault too. His idea as they drank over dreams they couldn't pursue on summer nights in high school. But he'd been wrong. Now he drank alone. And her dreams were coming true. "You-- you didn't come here looking-- for me?"
"I was frustrated-- I was--that was years ago. I didn't mean anything."
Carrie's eyes were hard. "We made a promise. Yours was that if you ever became a writer, I'd kill you."
Susan stomped over to the woman to check her wares. She sifted her way through the wonderful bikinis. They were chic and shiny. Each one more lovely than the next. She’d bought a sensible bathing suit just a month ago, but these skimpy bikinis were irrisistable. She chose a striped one because she knew he didn’t like them, and a yellow one because she knew he did.
“I’ll take these two bikinis.”
“We’ve got some lovely wrap-around skirts.”
“Just the bikinis!”
She perspired profusely walking back to Shark’s Head. John’s fault. She’d found him high the other day, eating her deoderant under the counter. He was surprised to find himself still hungry. Walking straight to the bathroom she showered, shampooed, and shaved her legs. Her plan to entice John and then deny sex couldn’t fail.
“Oh, Johnnn… Yooo hooo. What do you think of my new, yellow bikini?”
“Woman, you’re over 300 pounds, covered in stretchmarks, with boobs down to your knees from seven pregnancies. You think you can pull off wearing that skimpy thing?????”
John’s fault yet again.
"Alms for a poor widow?" the woman said.
Susan found a coin that John had missed because he hadn't swept the floor and threw it to her. The woman kissed it.
"Do you make enough to live?" Susan asked, as she got out one of the apples and offered it to the woman.
"Little enough," the woman said. "But everything I get is mine. I don't have to share with nobody. Nor do I get beaten if I don't bring in enough." Her fingers closed around the apple Susan still held, and she smiled.
Susan leant closer. "Tell me more."
Susan felt a strange warmth creeping through her body. The woman stood up and walked slowly over to where Susan stood, and looked deep into her eyes.
"You look repressed to me, sister."
"Repressed. You know. Victim of the male conspiracy to sit around and swill beer all day long while we do all the work. I've got a plan."
"A plan? For female repression?"
"Exactly. What's the one thing men have that women don't?"
"Well, there's that--"
"Besides that," snapped the woman.
"I give up. What?"
"Facial hair. I've developed a potion to give women facial hair, thus erasing the visible symbol of their dominance. It's four dollars a bottle. Wanna try some?"
What did she have to lose? "Sure."
She took the bottle of foul smelling liquid and handed the woman her four dollars.
Poof! Suddenly, Susan was in possession of a gloriously long and fluffy beard. She leaned toward the strange woman and leered.
"Hey, baby, you look pretty hot.
You ever try on those bikinis over there? What you doing later?"
"Damn!" the woman muttered, backing away. "Happens every time."
She looked at Susan.
"Sorry, stud, I've got a headache.
Disappointed but not detered, Susan left in search of other game.
“John’s fault,” the woman said.
“Heard you muttering it the whole way down the hill, and now you’re muttering it on the way up.” The woman pointed a gnarled, bony finger at Susan, splitting her face into a grin that lacked a few teeth. “Instead of buying beans, maybe you should get yourself a bikini. Put on one a those, quit complaining so much, maybe your John wouldn’t be curled around a whiskey bottle in the bar.”
Susan shifted the weight of the grocery bag, the cheap paper threatening to tear, feeling the sun beat down on her. Somehow, this too was John’s fault.
“Honey, face it,” the woman said. “You’re a bitch.”
If we need the second paragraph at all, I'd condense it to just what's vital. It seems to slow the story's progression. Plus, if all the fruit is bruised and battered, why buy apples? Won't there be decent apples tomorrow? Same with the beans. He doesn't like them, but presumably she does. But if they're dry and sad-looking, no one's going to like them.
I liked it, but I am confused about the Shark's Head and other things. I'm assuming it's a bar near a beach. But "counter" threw me off. I'm not used to having a bar in a drinking establishment called a counter. I'm also assuming the bar she bought peanuts for is her bar (probably co-owned with John), but it is not the Shark's Head. I'm also assuming the setting is near a beach since a stall is selling bikinis, etc. and the place where John is hungover has a name with a nautical theme. If my assumptions are correct, the setting can be clarified easily. One step would be to open with "Susan stomped her way down to the village market near the beach". She could compare the Shark's Head to her place, if indeed they are different. At any rate, you've created tension from the start, and I'd like to know where the story goes.
John's on a binge and Susan is angry with him. OK. I like that. It's a fun start. Think of "Iguana" and/or Burton/Taylor, or Wine & Roses.
John's drunk and blotto for the rest of the day and Susan is going to make him pay for it. (You say that in such an oblique way.)
"Surprised to find himself there" is like a kick in the nuts. (yes, it's that bad for me.) How did she know this?
Susan's actions in the second paragraph are puzzling to me. It's like, who cares if the fruit is bad. Susan buys it anyway. Kind of ho-hum revenge because she is going to make love to him tonight (that's what the fleshy apples are for - forgiveness)... Oh blech! Another dumb broad nursing a drunk on a binge. DROP HIM LIKE A USED KLEENEX! (my advice). But no, no. This patsy lady is going to buy a bikini and tease him tonight when he comes to her bed. HA! What a loser she is... He's a turd, kick him to the curb. (close enough to rhyming vulgarities for today).
What really drives me into screaming hissie fits is that you say nothing about leaving him at the bar he passed out in. Then she meets a woman at a stall selling bikinis.
Now don't take this too seriously. I like the style. I like the setup. It's got built in tension and nice action. But not all of the words are marching in the same direction (to use a musical metaphor). Some are playing Sousa, Some are playing Dizzy Gillespie, some are headed east and some are headed west.
Not all of the words are working to benefit the opening.
I'm OK with the first and third paragraphs. Both set something up in a way that's accessible.
You lose me on paragraph 2, however. I can't work out whether Susan and John run a bar together and if so, whether it's the Shark's Head. I'm with other commenters on the problem of how shiny beans appear from a selection of 'all bruised and battered' fruit, and although the intention behind the purchase of the beans is good 'n' spiteful, I can't see why she then buys the apples for the reason given.
But - I get the underlying tension and would read on for the scene where they have it out and John has a bash at explaining himself.
A few niggles, mainly about commas...
Semicolon after 'sun was already high'?
'She's found him still in the Shark's Head...' makes it sound as if he's frozen or in some other way inert. I know what you mean - still there - but it held me up. 'Still drinking', 'still slumped' or something like this would clarify it for me.
Dash after 'no use in shouting at him'?
Semicolon after battered?
No comma after 'bought hours earlier'?
Dash or colon before 'he should have done all that'?
Actually, that's a lot of niggles, isn't it? If no-one else picks up on these then disregard these comments. Maybe it's just me.
I like the fact that she buys one thing he doesn't like, and the one she does. That says to me that she still loves him, even if she wishes she didn't. I'd keep that even if you decide to delete the rest of that para.
I'm with mckoala--we need to know she loves him enough she wants to kill him.
I like all the continuations but I have to admit Khazar-khums is my favourite!
To clarify - yes it's a village on the beach (didn't realise that wasn't obvious) and yes, Susan and John runs the Shark's Head together. Pretty easy to fix that.
Para 2: The day is full of annoyance, including that the remaining fruit/veg is not very nice (because it's late and you have to get to the market early) but she has to buy something or else they won't have anything to eat.
I'll reduce it down.
Surprised that "counter" caused confusion - the bar that you lean on in a bar? Is there another word that's eluding me?
(more in a mo - too much for one post!)
She does drop him, if that helps :)
Was the shift that fast? She's pissed off but she did wake him before leaving and then she cleaned up the bar ... there's only so much glaring she can do - and the bar still needs to open tonight. She's upset but not giving up. This is (as yet) not normal behaviour.
whirlochre: I'm trying to cure myself of dashes but I agree with most of your niggles. :)
General: I'll drop the apples and improve the state of the beans, I think.
Thanks you guys for your comments - you see so much in such a little bit. I'd put this to the side but now I'm interested in making it work again.
I tended bar thru college in upscale establishments on Mackinac Island in Michigan, USA, and the only term I've heard for bar in a cocktail lounge/saloon is bar. Counter makes me think of a diner, drug store soda fountain (dating myself here), a department store, local market, etc.
It's called a "bar". It's the reason the establishment is called a "bar". If it was a counter, people would say "I picked up this really hot dame at the counter last night," and that just wouldn't sound right.
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