Dirty

by Jen on February 9, 2012

This is my first fiction attempt in over a million years.  I don’t usually invite constructive criticism, but in this case, I want to know what you think.  Give me your opinion (respectfully, of course).  I wore my thick skin today.  I can take it.  I think.  Eeeeeeeek!

Via

She whisked her finger through the stream, checking the temperature before plugging the sink.

It was hot.  Too hot, really.  But perfect.

She pushed the stopper into position, watching the water pool around the drain for a moment, and then squeezed in a generous amount of bright green Palmolive.  Instant fluffy suds grew, the smell of soap travelling through the steam and into her nose.

She gently placed last night’s dinner dishes, crusted with the memory of pork n’ beans and misery into the sink before carelessly stuffing her hands into the water.

It burned.  She quickly withdrew her hands, already beet red from only a second of exposure.

She stared into the white plaster wall in front of her.

Why would anyone build a kitchen without a window above the sink?

In her next life, the one where she was able to forget about them and move out on her own, she’d find an apartment with a window  over the sink.  Or maybe, if she was really lucky, she’d find an apartment with a dishwasher.  A dishwasher and a window.  Greedy?  Perhaps.  Either way, she’d make sure she had a kitchen with a view of the world- not peeling plaster and grease spatter.

She slipped her hands back into the water, grimacing as the heat bit at her once more.  She fished for the crocheted rag submerged underneath the pile of plates and began to scrub the curve of a spoon.

The apartment was still.  As peaceful as that apartment could ever be.  Certainly more peaceful than dinner the night before.  Dinner was filled with excruciating effort and scraping utensils and tasteless food.  And him.

She hated him.

He was immature and uneducated, crude, and laughed at his own jokes, sure that the louder he laughed, the funnier he’d become.

She didn’t laugh.  He wasn’t  funny.

Ever.

His stories were gross exaggerations filled with explicit sexual detail and artificial laughter.

He made her sick.

She rinsed the suds off the fork and tossed it in the drying rack, picking up a greasy plate with the other hand.  She slowly wiped her soapy rag over the thin ceramic, lingering over the raised designs making sure not to mistake them for dried food.

He liked to make her uncomfortable.

He was disgusting.

The more uncomfortable he made her, the more she withdrew.  The more she withdrew, the more uncomfortable he made her feel.  He knew he owned the power.  And it made her want to die.

The water felt smooth.  Silky even.  Tiny bits of food floated amidst the disintegrating bubbles as she wiped plate after plate clean.

This had sadly become her favorite time of the day, the time after school let out but before they came home.  Before they polluted the apartment with cigarettes and noise.  For now, she had both feet planted firmly on the sticky linoleum and both hands dredged in dish water.  For now, she could quiet her mind.  She could write the fairy tales of her future.  She could focus on things that matter, that should matter, to a fifteen year old girl.  She could clean something.  She could make it sparkle.  She could wash away the crust and filth.  She could make it brand new.

Her fingers explored the sink for more silverware.

She glanced toward the bulky microwave, cluttered with overdue bills and an overflowing ash tray.

5:17.

She closed her eyes and rolled them back into her head.

They would be home soon.  He would be home soon.

The tine of a fork poked her knuckle.  She swished it in the water, parting suds to evaluate the remainder of her welcomed chore.  She wiped it clean, quickly rinsed it and reached for the final plate.

These moments alone were fleeting.  But they were the only honest moments of her life.  At school, she laughed.  She had friends and inside jokes.  At home, she attempted to survive entire weeks without speaking.  She answered their questions.  She was polite, but she was stone.

She cranked the handle of the faucet, rinsing the final plate in the hottest water her hands could stand.  She forced them to burn.  She sucked in air through parted lips, enjoying the final seconds by herself.

She unplugged the drain, watching gravity suck the dirty water away.  The pipes gurgled and burped as she splashed cold water on the sink’s edges to remove the final evidence of last night’s meal.  She dried her hands and combed them through her hair.

She heard car doors slam.

They were home.

She braced herself.  She bit a cheek and began removing dishes from the rack one by one.   Staring into the bleak plaster, she dried dishes in silence.

They entered the house carrying a case of beer like a briefcase.

No words were exchanged.

Her mother trudged past her to her room where she would undoubtedly change into his wife beater and inappropriate jean shorts.

She was left alone with him.

Clenching her fists underneath the stained dish towel, she prepared.  Like every time before this, she thought of a thousand things she would scream, a thousand things she would do.  She dreamt of hurting him.

She thought of telling her mother.

She heard him approach from behind, his shoes like Velcro on the tacky floor.  She continued to dry.  She continued to stare straight ahead.

He was close to her now.  Inches away.  Separated by a thin wall, her mother, her blind and distant mother, was changing her clothes.

She grabbed a fork.

Maybe this would be the time she’d make him stop.  She wrapped her fingers around the handle and did her best to slow her breathing.

She hated them both.  She hated herself hating them.

She felt his breath by her ear.  She felt his chest on her back.  She closed her eyes and held her breath, tension pulsing through her veins.

He stood there.  Just breathing.

She stood there.  Paralyzed and praying her mother would hurry.

His hot, vodka drenched breath blew her hair causing it to stick to her sweating cheek.

She felt sick.

She always felt sick.

Her heart boomed.

Please mom.  Hurry, pleeeeaaaase.

He blew on her neck and began to laugh.

The devil’s laugh.

She felt  him back away.  Laughing.

She exhaled and watched her chest fall.  She glanced down to her hands, one hand clenching the dish towel, and the other showing stark white knuckles wrapped around the fork.

She turned around only to see him disappear into their bedroom.  He closed the door and she heard her mother giggle.

She’d been spared.  For today.

She released the fork, and wove the dish towel through the handle on the refrigerator door.  She wiped her trembling hands on her jeans.  Slowly, she escaped to the bathroom, leaned over the toilet, and threw up.

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kimberly February 9, 2012 at 2:16 am

Wow. You will be writing more of this, right? RIGHT?!?

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2 Jen Has A Pen February 9, 2012 at 5:46 pm

I'm not sure. I hope! I enjoyed writing in a totally different way. It was definitely more difficult than what I usually do, and obviously, I think it'll take some work.

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3 Sweaty February 9, 2012 at 6:13 am

My first reaction was to scream, "Get out of there! NOW!!!" But then, I also know that it's not as easy as that for those who are in such circumstances. My heart breaks for this girl…

Keep on writing! I certainly hope she'd find a way to escape.

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4 Jen Has A Pen February 9, 2012 at 5:47 pm

I'm super exited to write some more fiction. I had a lot more fun writing it than I expected- yet, it was out of my comfort zone enough to feel like I was writing in another language sometimes. I appreciate you reading!

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5 Lauren February 9, 2012 at 7:10 am

So amazing!!! I can’t wait to read more!!

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6 Jen Has A Pen February 9, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Thank you, Monk! I think I'm gonna keep trying to do stuff like this. Maybe. :-)

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7 mbw February 9, 2012 at 7:16 am

Nope. This is a miss. A big wide miss. It’s unoriginal from the first line to the last, doesn’t dare anything new, and doesn’t go anywhere. From the first graph, you can see where this is going, and there’s not much to make you want to read on. Nothing wrong with scrapping it and trying again. If you were sexually abused by your father, keep trying on this subject. If not, maybe try something else.

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8 Jen Has A Pen February 9, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Thank you for your concrit. I appreciate your perspective.

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9 Rach DonutsMama February 9, 2012 at 11:02 pm

Wow, I completely disagree. Jen is a fantastic writer and this piece had me hooked from the beginning. I was holding my breath the entire time I was reading.

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10 Casey Morrow February 9, 2012 at 9:27 am

I disagree completely mbw! I think the descriptive writing was not only beautiful, it made me feel like I was right there in the room b/c I could picture it so clearly. It had me on the edge of my seating wanting to hear more about this girl's life. As she mentioned it's a work of fiction so it's her take on how this character reacts to the situation that is her life.

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11 Jen Has A Pen February 9, 2012 at 5:52 pm

Thank you, Casey. I am wanting to do more with this- expand a little. Not sure if/when it'll play out, but I'm encouraged to keep working on it! Thank you for your thoughts. Seriously. :-)

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12 mamamash February 9, 2012 at 9:52 am

I think the words are strung together beautifully. You have a good grasp on how to build tension and your voice, your personal cadence and rhythm, is evidenced here.

I do think that the topic has been done many times, and for it to be something publishable would need a new angle – but I'm sure that, given time to finish the story and continue to build the characters and explore their motivations, you would be able to find that angle and make it your bitch.

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13 Jen Has A Pen February 9, 2012 at 5:55 pm

You know I try to do WOE prompts every once in a while and I've never tackled the fiction. I realized in writing this, why I never have. I have no ability to put in the detail I think the story needs in such a short space. "Let Me Start By Saying" is a master at this, I think. Me? Not so much.

I didn't think I'd enjoy doing this as much as I did. Usually it doesn't take me terribly long to write my normal pieces, but I thought about this sucker for a loooong time.

Thanks for reading. Your opinion means a lot to me.

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14 mamamash February 9, 2012 at 6:14 pm

I don't think it's lack of ability! "Let Me Start By Saying" is a master because they've done this over and over! You needs haz more practice is all.

Looking forward to more fiction in the future!

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15 Jen Has A Pen February 9, 2012 at 6:19 pm

That can't hurt, I don't guess. I wrote a fiction piece (a shawty, bc of a WOE word limit) for tomorrow. It feels awkward right now. I'm gonna give it several more attempts in hopes it gets easier and easier.

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16 alison February 9, 2012 at 10:13 am

So, so good. I don't even like fiction (true story, I haven't read a novel in years and years, I'm addicted to memoirs) and this sucked me in. Keep writing!

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17 Jen Has A Pen February 9, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Thanks Alison!!! I wasn't terribly bored for my first try. :-) It is strange, though, to write all made up stuff. It's like the options are limitless, so limitless it's hard to figure out a direction. Oh well. I shall learn as I go. Thank you for reading!

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18 Buff February 9, 2012 at 12:33 pm

[Yes, let's discourage instead of offer encouragement and support--some commenters need basic lessons on being respectful and polite.]
But more importantly, this post is just the beautiful beginning (hopefully) of what’s to come with your fiction writing, Jen. I LOVED the idea of being into every detail of the task with the dishes while being completely preoccupied with the impending arrival of something so potentially evil. .. Goes to show… life is never just about the task at hand. Your depth of insight and creativity are plainly evident and inspiring. I loved it and hope you continue with fiction!

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19 Jen Has A Pen February 9, 2012 at 6:02 pm

My husband thinks I'm weird, but I'm SOOOO GLAD you liked the details of the dishes. That was the part I was happiest about. I really wanted to set the scene more than anything. Finding a climax and a resolution in a short space proved difficult for me. I wanted there to be some parallels to the dishes and to her life. Not sure if it came across the right way, but I will keep working on this and see if I can't improve.

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20 christina February 9, 2012 at 2:58 pm

oh girl you got skills. mad, crazy, beautiful ones.
the beginning for me had too much "She"
once i got to "She hated him" the story really came to life and i was hooked. and by the end? oh hell, i felt like i was her. i, too, want more story!!

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21 Jen Has A Pen February 9, 2012 at 6:04 pm

You are totally right. When I just went to re-read this, I was seeing "she" like an effing flashing light through the beginning of this sucker. It's funny because no matter how many times you edit, (rather, no matter how many times I edit) I miss clear as day crap like that. I really appreciate you reading and giving feedback!!!

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22 Kat February 9, 2012 at 5:22 pm

Well done! I will be thinking about this poor girl all day…I want to know if/when she decides to leave and where she will go… Makes you appreciate that others are struggling in ways you cant even imagine…
Keep writing, Jen!

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23 Jen Has A Pen February 9, 2012 at 6:05 pm

No kidding, I'VE been thinking about her too! I'm hoping to continue this story a little. Not sure if it will happen, but I'm interested in giving it a try. Thank you for reading! Are you still blogging, by the way?

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24 Andrea February 9, 2012 at 9:17 pm

OK, a few things before I tell you how I feel sick and that means it was really well written. Honest.

First, the brand name was what threw me. Using that made me feel like it was a product placement, which I know it wasn't, but when I read things these days I'm always iffy on the use of names. The green dish soap or soap would hold up better over time.

Second, omg – I totally thought this was a WOMAN. His wife. Seriously. This line?
"to a fifteen year old girl"
breathed a whole new life into the piece. I was thinking all along how dish washing can be cathartic and how much I used to love it when I lived alone, and didn't have my husband and child making dishes, too. Even when there was a mention of "him" and – them, maybe? I was thinking roommates. Maybe because in some ways it brought me to my apartment in Queens. My only place I ever lived completely alone. A small window over to the side, so doing dishes was quite different. Anyway, I would never have initially guessed it was a girl. Well done.

As for the putrid feeling of him, and what he does to her, I felt so sick when I was done. I think this was well written and worded, and really strong. I SO totally wanted her to stab him with the fork. And when she put it down I honestly hoped she would take it to bed with her. Or a knife. Why not a knife, right?

You should throw your hat into the fiction ring more often, my friend. Definitely.

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25 Jen Has A Pen February 10, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Thank you for this. Your concrit totally helps. I actually agree with you about the Palmolive in retrospect. My grandma uses Palmolive exclusively and, even though I don't use it, I can't imagine dishes without smelling that. But agreed- kind of a distracting detail.

The dishes thing has been on my mind a lot lately since moving to the city. We no longer have a dishwasher, so every night, George and I do dishes together. It's become a chore I look forward to. I even told my mother in law the other day that I liked not having a dishwasher and wondered why when I had one, hand washing seemed like such a pain in the ass.

You always leave such thorough and sincere comments and I look forward to them so much! Thank you!

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26 Rach DonutsMama February 9, 2012 at 11:05 pm

I thought too that she was his wife and did a double take when you mentioned that she was 15. It was startling and heart breaking. You did well Jen.

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27 Jen Has A Pen February 10, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Thanks Rach! I can't tell you how different I felt posting this from normal posts. Silly, really. :-) I appreciate you being so supportive and I hope you guys get to feeling better SOON!!!

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28 Nick G February 9, 2012 at 11:17 pm

"He was immature and uneducated, crude, and laughed at his own jokes, sure that the louder he laughed, the funnier he’d become." Up to this point I thought I was the inspiration for this guy. :)

This is real good work. Keep posting. How about a serial piece?

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29 Jen Has A Pen February 10, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Hahahaha! Oh Bunk, you are a loud laughing dude fo sho! I was thinking of trying to do something like this one day a week, but unlike my other stuff, this took it out of me. :-) I felt all nervous and drained over posting this teensy lil thing. Giving myself a weekly assignment is skressful. :-) I'm gonna keep toying with it and see what I can do. Thank you for reading! By the way, did you see your cameo about bringing a sister salsa???

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30 Amy February 10, 2012 at 5:33 am

First I assumed it was a horror piece, because she was doing dishes by HAND….
But seriously, Andrea just said what I was about to say – I assumed it was a woman, and when I found out she was a girl it did breathe new life into it. Certainly the idea of miserable wife staring death holes at slob husband isn't a new thing, so when you find out it is a girl the story becomes more complex. Your concern for the girl keeps you reading.

I liked the soap descriptions too – though a couple of things were contrary – like too hot, perfect (though I know what you were going for) and then she thrusts in her hand only to have it scalded(not so perfect, huh?) and she pulls it out quickly (if too hot was perfect, she should have let it burn).

"The devil's laugh" seemed beneath you at that point. Too obvious. I'd kill that line.

Those are the constructive thoughts! Nice writing! I would definitely keep doing fiction!

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31 Jen Has A Pen February 10, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Hahaha! Horror piece. :-) So funny. Hand washing has become a new thing for George and I. Our new apartment in the city has a sink and…. no dishwasher. *pause while you gasp* :-)

Thank you for your concrit- things I hadn't considered, but totally get now that you've said them! I appreciate you!

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32 Katie February 10, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Jen, I'm blown away by this. I was captivated from the very first sentence. The dish washing, the monotony of the chore, coupled with her daydreaming about the window (a means of escape perhaps?) was a brilliant introduction. Like other readers, I was surprised to learn her age. I liked this as a device though. I felt like it came at just the right moment and helped me even better understand her as a character. She's more mature than most fifteen-year-olds, because she's been forced to grow up.

I liked the detail of the scalding water. When you mentioned that it was "too hot…but perfect," I was curious as to why the character would want to hurt herself. Because that's immediately what it seemed like to me. She used the pain as a way of releasing emotion, tension maybe. Great bit of foreshadowing there at her unhappiness.

You have a talent for writing. One that I admire and envy. You write great non-fiction, but girl, you need to pursue fiction, too, because you definitely have a knack for it.

Overall, the piece flowed nicely and kept me enthralled. And the fact that you're killer at choosing just the right words made everything that much nicer. I'm not great at giving concrit; honestly, it's hard for me to find anything wrong with a good writer's work, but I hope telling you what I did like helped a little. It always helps me.

Now, I'm just excited to read more!

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33 Jen Has A Pen February 12, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Your comments mean so much to me. I really, REALLY appreciate your encouragement and also enjoy knowing aout the parts you think I did right. I wan't sure how I would feel soliciting concrit but I've learned almost more from the good reactions than the negative ones- in terms of knowing what areas to continue tweaking and also which areas are my "sweet spot". I feel that you understand this character very well, and I like making that connection with you.

Thank you a million times for reading and for being so supportive!

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34 May February 12, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Very powerful in its believability.

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