5.07.2008

Wine Pairs Well With Chocolate; Or, Another Short Story For You To Read

(My first short story, from July 2006, is posted here.)

Several weeks ago, Mom, Dad, Mark and I were walking out of a Chili's where we'd just eaten dinner, when we noticed a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory across the street that had just opened. Eleanor was coming down to visit in a few days, and Mom suggested I take her there before going home to drink some wine Mom had purchased for the occasion--"that could be a prelude to wine," she said. My reply was, " 'A Prelude To Wine'... that would be a great title for a movie, or a short story!" I've always been skeptical of prophecy, but apparently that was a prophetic line (albeit a self-fulfilling one). Mark was inspired to change his high school senior project film to fit that premise, although he retitled it In Vino Veritas (it's brilliant, by the way); and I was inspired to write a short story. As with the last one, read it (twice) and comment. And as with the last one, be warned that it's pretty intense. Here it be:

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A Prelude To Wine

Thursday evening, 5:55 pm
The flame leaped in a sudden flash of light as the candle was lit. Lydia blew out the match, looked at the settings on the table. Two plates, forks, knives, napkins, glasses.... She reached down to straighten one of the forks, and saw the quick glint of light on her golden wedding ring. She smiled. All was nearly ready. She went to the kitchen and retrieved a bottle of red wine, uncorked it, came back to the dining room and poured the dark crimson liquid into each glass. The doorbell rang, and she replaced the wine bottle in the kitchen and went to open the door. There was a loud crack and another bright flash; Lydia crumpled silently to the floor. The killer dropped the gun, and slowly moved toward the table.

Thursday afternoon, 2:37 pm
A bump on the track and the subway’s loud horn shook Howard from his trance. The icy feeling that had gripped him all day had pushed him under again. He felt a fresh wave of shock as he thought back to his discovery of the morning.

He had accessed his wife’s email account on their home computer before leaving for work; he couldn’t remember why. Checking an automated bank statement, or something. He’d noticed an email with a suspicious subject line from an address he didn’t recognize, and opened it to find that his wife had been cheating on him. For quite a while, as it seemed. And not only was she having sex with this man – the email disclosed that she was confiding in him, confessing some fears she’d been having lately about the security of her job and the health of her mother. Things she hadn’t even mentioned to Howard. He felt a pain in his stomach thinking about it; but it gave way to cold as he thought again of how she had told this man, and not Howard. And as he had left the house for work, stunned into silence, his wife had had the audacity to kiss him goodbye! Lydia’s kiss goodbye was more sincere!

He couldn’t focus at work, he was too distracted. After his lunch break, he logged into her email account again from his work computer and discovered another message, this time from his wife to the man – she called him “darling,” a term she never used with Howard! – making plans for an afternoon rendezvous at their house. Rage boiled inside of him, but he tried to suppress it and return to his work. After innumerable nervous trips to the water cooler, he made excuses to his boss that he felt ill and caught the early subway back, determined to accost his wife and her lover in their tryst.

He looked out the window into the dark tunnel ahead, seeing the faint pinprick of another train’s headlight coming toward him on the opposite side of the track. The subway ride was a long one and it gave him much time to think. A pang of the love he knew for his wife overwhelmed him, but it was soon hardened. She was having an affair! A faint whisper of his conscience reminded him of his ongoing liaison with Lydia. But that was different, that was just a little sex on the side; his wife hadn’t been physically affectionate with him for a long time. And besides, the last time he’d been with Lydia they had quarreled, so that might be over anyway. But his wife! Confiding in that man! And for so long! He shivered, and as he felt the cold he slipped again into an unfeeling stupor.

Thursday afternoon, 4:43 pm
At the end of the block, Howard parked his car and killed the engine. His drive back from the subway station had been a silent one, and now his movements were cool and calculated. He wanted no advance notice of his arrival. He walked the block, went noiselessly up to his own front door, and slowly opened it and entered. A noise startled him, but he realized it was the TV in the living room. As he moved past it, he briefly and unthinkingly noted the televangelist speaking from a plexiglass pulpit. He was reading from a thick Bible: “...our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deli....” Howard paused, and heard muffled sounds coming from the bedroom upstairs. He silently opened a closet door. Feeling around on the top shelf, he lifted some sheets and retrieved a handgun.

As he slowly climbed the stairs, avoiding the one that always creaked, he checked and verified that the gun was fully loaded. A left turn at the top of the staircase revealed that the bedroom door was closed, but he could now clearly make out his wife’s voice. He opened the door, saw the couple in bed and calmly fired two bullets into each of them. Crossing to the far side of the room, he crouched down beside his wife. She looked scared and confused, but saw him staring unmoved and unfeeling back at her. He noted that she was slipping away quickly. As her eyes glazed over and began to close, she whispered one word. “Lydia....”

He started. She knew about Lydia! How? How could she know? He’d never been stupid enough to email Lydia the way his wife had done.

Howard slowly stood up and moved back to the other side of the room to look at his wife’s lover. Another shock – it was Lydia’s husband! He knew him from Lydia’s pictures and a chance meeting the couples had had once at a social event. Now he would have to kill Lydia too. He felt no regrets for killing the man, but since Howard and Lydia’s quarrel last time she would probably want to make up with her husband. Forgive as forgiven, or something like that. Glancing out the window, he put up his hand to block the setting sun from his eyes. He turned away from the bedroom, walked downstairs and returned to his car.

Thursday evening, 5:56 pm
Lydia reached down to straighten one of the forks, and saw the quick glint of light on her golden wedding ring. She smiled. All was nearly ready for the dinner she had prepared for her husband. She went to the kitchen and retrieved a bottle of red wine, uncorked it, came back to the dining room and poured the dark crimson liquid into each glass. She then removed a small vial from her pocket and emptied the contents into the wine glass nearest the door. That stinking bastard of a husband of hers was finally going to get what was coming to him. She knew he was cheating on her, but that didn’t matter much. What mattered was Howard. One sip of that red wine, and her husband would be dead, and then she and Howard could be together. She knew he didn’t care much for his wife; if he did, why would he be sleeping with Lydia in the first place? She smiled again and replaced the vial in her pocket. It would be over very soon.

The doorbell rang, and she replaced the wine bottle in the kitchen and went to open the door. “Howard?” she said in surprise. Howard fired a single shot; Lydia crumpled silently to the floor. He dropped the gun, and slowly moved toward the table. He did not even feel the cold now. Noting without thinking the candles and the perfect place settings, he sat down in the chair nearest the door. He lifted the wine glass to his lips, and drank.

The End

7 comments:

Mike Morabito said...

This story is definitely rated R. haha

I really liked it, but it was pretty sad as well.

Its cool that you got your writing on.

-Mike

Eleanor said...

Wow...that's not quite what I envisioned when you told me you were writing "A Prelude to Wine." Not quite a chocolate factory. Seems like it would make a good and very disturbing movie (with a plot twist!). Interesting use of time--funny how it reminds me of Memento.

Darth_Harbison said...

Yeah, not quite what I envisioned with "A Prelude to Wine," either . . . And ironically, Memento was the first thing I thought of, too, with the time . . . which is weird, since I haven't even seen Memento.

Anyway . . . Geez, man, you write disturbing stories. It's very good, though . . . And I know you won't be satisfied with that comment, but . . . tough.

Rauta Tanwënya said...

HA! Memento was the second thing I thought of, the first was the first scene of Minority Report.

Rauta Tanwënya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicole said...

It's a god story AJ. It uses time in an interesting way to keep the reader waiting and I like your way of starting with Lydia setting up for what appears to be a lover's meal then ending it with the same but more detail. You also did an interesting job with your ending. Everyone's death kind of like punishment for their sins. I know you started out anting the title to be a prelude to wine but I'm not entirely sure it's the best name for your story. And again I really enjoye your story, but you might want to take some time for editing. Only like grammar and possibly making sure your exact word choices are what you would like. Again I thought your story was good but you should spend time editing it's important! Anyway great job!
<3 Nicole

Anonymous said...

When you first see Howard at work and on the train, he is ruminating on his wife's infidelity. We have a lot of character interiority here, where many of the sentences are almost the character's direct thoughts. (Along the lines of "How could she do this to him!". . .it's nearly the same as "How could she do this to me!") Because of this close POV, it is awkward when the man refers to himself as "Howard." ("She had told this man, and now Howard.") It is very nearly a shift in voices, and doesn't quite flow.
Given how close we get to Howard's thoughts in terms of voice, we really aren't allowed into his actual thoughts or feelings much at all. We are told that he is upset about his wife cheating on him. Well yes, this is natural. What makes him different than all the other people who have been cheated on? We need specific details about this specific instance of infidelity, and why he would go to such lengths. We never really see any of the characters real, motivating thoughts except for a bit of Lydia's at the end, where we're told that she's poisoning the wine because A. her husband is a jerk, and B. she wants to be with Howard. There are a lot of relationships here that are never explored. Apparently Howard doesn't feel much towards Lydia, but she feels for him.
In regards to not being allowed into Howard's head that much, this prevented me from being able to know his motivations or understand his actions. I can sort of get why he killed his wife and Lydia's hubby--Generic Jealous Rage is all well and good and doesn't need much explanation, but I couldn't understand why he would go off and kill Lydia unless he was really mentally unstable. . .in which case other elements of the story don't make as much sense. I think this piece could really benefit from some more characterization (of everybody, but especially Howard.) Being able to see a scene with Howard and his wife before he finds out about the infidelity would add tremendously to the reader's understanding of the characters and their relationship.
I enjoyed the looping organization of this piece, and thought it was well done. It works to both instantly create tension and intrigue, and also diffuse it at the same time (by telling you the ending.) In a longer piece, I think this might have sabotaged the bulk of the text, but in a piece this short, the diffusion of tension doesn't have time to become a burden. . . .I'm not sure if that made sense. Anyway, what I mean is that this organization is working well in this piece, I think.
The writing itself was overall pretty good. I think the times where the writing really shone was in the detailed, specific scenes. The sensory detail we get in the first paragraph is excellent. They're mostly just visuals, but they are great visuals that really set the scene and environment. In the middle, though, when we hit Howard, we get bulks of narration instead of scene. I think this is where the story's main problem is. The summary keeps us from getting to know Howard himself, who is really the main character. So we have a lovely painting of Lydia fleshed out for us in the first paragraph, then a rough sketch of ThisIsTheMainCharacterAndHisLifeAndTheDilemaAllAtOnce, and we can't really enter into Howard's feelings or thoughts. We cannot experience the story.
After that we slip into scene again, and it gets better, though I still would definitely have liked to have more of Howard's thoughts as he is performing these actions. Even if his thoughts are about the bluebird outside the window as he shoots his wife.
Anyway, I hope these comments have been helpful in some way. I really do love when you allow the reader to submerge themselves in scene and just soak up all the beautiful, intricate details. It is a very nice effect.
(And I'm sorry, when I see "comment on story" I read "critique story.")