Blindsided by D. L. Keur

I write very few short stories, but, when I do, they ‘happen’. Closure is just such a story, uninspired as it is. Regardless, it came galloping forth in a surge of spontaneity…and I lost a long-time writing friend over it. To this day, I don’t know why.

I wrote the story, then shared it with my inner circle of critique and review partners—a private group that had been going for over seven years. In that group, one woman in particular was what I thought to be what’s now called a BFF. This story shattered that friendship in a matter of seconds.

Her overt complaint was the tense in which the story is written. (I’d expected criticism over its lackluster). But objections over tense wouldn’t cause the extreme and, yes, violent, rage she exhibited—rabid, froth-mouthed—obsessively so, to the point of stalking me to deliver the most vehemently vicious attacks I think I’ve ever suffered from anyone’s keyboard (and I’ve been the recipient of some really snarling responses from some really big-name editors).

Deep down, when all was said and done, when I finally banned her IP block from accessing me in any way, I sat down and wept. Looking at her reaction, though, it just made no sense to me, and the only observation I received from a professional with whom I shared the tirade was this: “The story must have hit some nerve from her own personal life.”

I shrugged at that analysis. I was bereft. But I was, and am, a realist. Things are as they are, and doors, once closed by another, stay shut.

The incident shattered the group forever; it ended what I thought was a forever friendship; it terminated my trust in the peer process of critique and review. It also made me realize the truth of my personal slogan: I disturb others.

If you’re curious, here’s the sad little story, bland as it is, that caused the chism, a story never published. And, should you care to, I wonder why you think Closure caused that violent and enraged reaction from my friend-no-more.

Closure
by E. J. Ruek

Black coffee made from beans passed through the elemental tract of some exotic mammal—little swirling bubbles disturb its surface. After an appropriate time and one fake sip, Marcus puts the gold-lined cup down in its matching saucer on the marble end table.

“So this woman comes forward and has the temerity to ask Joan for the podium… .”

His ear focuses on the faint drone of a wall-sized TV screen mounted on the far side of the room—some game show. His eyes move to sweep the broad, multi-paned front window, its austere white drapes open to a cloudy afternoon.

His eyes stop. In the corner of the very lowest left-hand pane, a child of maybe six-years-old stares back at him, dark eyes huge in a pale white face surrounded by black, glossy curls.

Frowning, he sits forward. He knows those eyes. Yet, he knows no children, save his sister’s son.

He turns and almost says something to his wife. He quits that idea when he sees Lynda’s mouth working through a gasp of outrage at something their hostess just said. He hears his new law partner laugh with a hearty ha-ha-ha—just three ‘ha’s delivered in the exact same manner that he himself responds to some important client’s bad joke. His eyes again seek the window, and, still, the child looks in. She’s watching him.

He clears his throat, butts in. “Excuse me. Where’s the bathroom?”

It’s not George Sutherland, his boss and partner, who answers him, but Tanya, Sutherland’s gorgeous, perfectly coiffed, redheaded wife. “You can use the one in there.”

She points toward the kitchen. “By the back door.” She’s indicating the exact opposite direction of the bathroom Lynda was escorted to when they arrived.

He nods, says, “Thank you,” and, rising, all three faces tracking him, finds his way where well-tended, long-nailed finger still directs.

Beyond the swinging door, a Hispanic woman stands at an eight-burner island of stainless steel stove. She has a rag in one hand, and her backside jiggles as her other works with yellow sponge, scrubbing at some spot. Marcus sees the back door…slips out.

A small, paved path leads the way between the house and the garage to a cobbled driveway where his car is parked beside a broad expanse of pristine lawn. A stone angel with a bucolic expression stands in the corner flower bed, alabaster white icon to benevolence. Beside this angel stands the little girl who watched him through the window. “Hi,” Marcus says.

Lively eyes look up at him, their familiarity uncanny. She smiles.

“You live around here?”

She shakes her head ‘no’, the dark curls bobbing.

He squats down, sitting on his heels. “Just visiting, then?”

Again, she smiles, but shakes her head. “Mommy’s packing.”

She looks back toward the window. “You didn’t look happy.”

Marcus nods. Six-year-olds are very direct. His sister’s boy is, anyway. “No, I don’t suppose I did,” he answers. “So what’s a little girl doing looking through other people’s windows?”

She tips her head, precocious eyes looking toward the clouds. “I was curious.”

“About?”

“What you were doing.”

He chuckles, the sound a bit grim in his ears. “Not much.”

“That’s what it looked like. Mommy says that people who don’t do much always shrivel.”

At a loss for response, Marcus runs suddenly tense fingers through his well-trimmed hair, black hair cut to tame its curls.

“Alyssa!”

Startled, Marcus glances toward the voice and sees a short, slightly plump, jean-clad woman step out from the far curb into the street. The little girl bites her lip…twists back and forth, the pleats of her plaid school skirt swinging. “I have to go. That’s Mommy.” She holds out her hand as if he is some country gentleman she expects to help her from the flower bed.

Marcus rises, backs off—two, three steps. The child watches him, her hand still extended.

Footsteps coming up the driveway… . “Alyssa!”

He turns.

The approaching figure stops. “Marcus?”

Still fighting shock, he acknowledges her: “Hello, June. I–I didn’t know you— …I didn’t know you had a daughter.” His mind is reeling with the implications—June with a five or six-year-old. That child steps from the flower bed as June, joining them, reaches with beckoning hand.

“We’re going, now,” the little girl says. “You should come to. We’re happy. All the time.”

“Shush, ‘Lyssa.” June’s face flushes. The wind stirs her so pale hair. “You look well, Marcus,” she says, her voice strained. Then, her soft brown eyes change to something he can only name a wistful. “Somehow I knew you’d never call again.”

She bends down to brush imaginary dust off the child’s shiny, black shoes. When she stands up, she seems recomposed, maybe even friendly. “We’re here to pack up Mom. I’ve got a good offer in New York City with the prosecutor’s office.”

He blinks, mind still gasping. “You’re moving, then?”

“We’re moving, yes, and Mom is coming with us.”

He wants to ask her for an address. Doesn’t.

“Good to see you,” she says, her voice (and eyes) distant, once again. “Come on, Alyssa.”

The child grins at him. “Bye.”

He nods…can’t seem to return the smile. His mind’s still churning.

The little girl waves, and, freed to, as his brain wakes up, he waves back, watching mother and child walk down the driveway. At the curb, they wait for a car to pass. He’s thinking.

“Marcus! What are you doing out here?”

Looking up, he sees his beautiful, tall, thin wife standing on the porch, her expensive clothes impeccable as usual. She’s perfect for him—for his career and its advancement.

“Who was that?!”

He glances back. June and her daughter are, just now, crossing the street. He smiles, a tiny surge of warmth licking at his solar plexus. “A little girl and her mother.”

“Were they lost or something?”

They turn the corner, heading south down Prospect Avenue. They’re heading toward June’s childhood home. He knows the place. “No. Just stopped to say ‘hi’.”

He tears his eyes away from them, returning from something past to present circumstance. He meets his wife’s eyes. He smiles up at her. She’s gorgeous.

“Do you know them?” She looks aghast at the idea.

“Yes.”

Sharp, contact-green eyes flash. “From where?”

His eyes stray toward the street again, but June and her little girl are gone. “I knew June in college.”

“Oh.” Finely plucked eyebrows frown, a strong crease forming between. (Marcus knows the meaning of that crease.) “…Well, get in here. We need a fourth.”

He flinches at the tone of voice. It warns him: This isn’t the end of it. The muscles in his face freeze when he attempts a mollifying grin. He gives it up. “Okay. I’ll be right there. I need something from the car.”

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28 thoughts on “Blindsided by D. L. Keur

  1. Kenneth Weene

    You had one heck of a nerve using your friend’s life as the basis for your story. (I know you didn’t, but my guess is that was her belief. I would also guess Marcus is the spittle of her own ex-husband. That said, the story is well told and poignant.

    Reply
  2. Diane Piron-Gelman

    This was a really well done piece. The road not taken… that’s what it made me think of, and the regrets we sometimes have when we do what we think we’re “supposed” to instead of what’s in our hearts.

    As to your friend’s response, I agree with Ken. I’m guessing she saw some element of this as deeply personal and took offense at your (she assumed) using it for fiction.

    It’s a great story, though.

    Reply
  3. Martha Love

    First of all, I really enjoyed your story!

    It does seem to me that your story touched off a “complex” issue, as Carl Jung would call it, with your friend. There is no way you would have known beforehand because it is obviously some issue she has buried in her unconscious. If you are in person in a conversation and hit one of these complexes with someone, it is often like a train just came in the room and very difficult and next to impossible to slow it down until the person comes to a full stop themselves. Thank you for sharing all of this with us and particularly for the wonderful story.

    Reply
  4. Bryan Murphy

    In the end, it is a message of hope, isn’t it? The “path not taken” is still there, and it is not too late to take it. Of course, you might then recall why you did not take it the first time. Actually, I feel sorry for Lynda, who it seems is about to be dumped for a chimera. What I really admire here is your ability to write convincingly from the point of view of the opposite sex.

    Reply
  5. Marion Lovato

    Your friend had some secrets that your story touched on evidently. Wow!! But I know what you mean when you say you thought this woman was a BFF. Had the same shock when a friend of mine for 15 years chewed me up one side and down the other because she was jealous of the boyfriend I had at the time. That hurt so much and took me a long time to deal with it. By the way, the story was great! :>)

    Reply
    1. DLKeur

      Question: Did it terminate the friendship? Or was it just a bump in the road? I thought the whole mess would blow over, but it didn’t. It just kept escalating. It didn’t slow down when I responded, and it got worse–worse!–when I refused to participate.

      Reply
  6. Delinda

    Bravo, being able to say so much in a short story is a real gift. Perhaps in this case the story was a bit of a vision or premonition of betrayal of trust or abandonment.

    Reply
    1. DLKeur

      Thanks, Delinda. And, as to the premonitory aspects, perhaps that’s so. But the lady had two children, and I thought both were from her ongoing marriage. But, hey… .

      Reply
  7. Harmlessjoyce (Joyce Elferdink)

    At first I thought it was a ghost story, but then I realized it was “time travel,” a glimpse of the consequences of decisions made (which I wrote about, too). Your story is a very subtle way of asking readers to identify the source of our own decisions: recognition and approval of others or what our hearts and consciences tell is to do. [Maybe your ex-friend was compelled to ask that question and didn't like the answer...]

    Very interesting! I love fiction that makes me think.

    Reply
    1. DLKeur

      Thanks, Joyce. I love fiction that makes me think, too. I think that’s why I’m not much for belabored stories often found in the literary magazines now.

      Reply
  8. Clayton Bye Post author

    I know you to be a great talent when it comes to long form fiction, but to see it spill over into a short story is magnificent. Way to go Dawn!

    Reply
  9. Micki Peluso

    Dawn, you have great expertise in presenting so much in so few words. When I write short fiction, I draw upon true incidents in my life. Did you perhaps put too much of a past relationship in this story without realizing that while readers wouldn’t recognize it, someone else might? It’s a great example of a well done piece by an author who writes like a natural with it.

    Reply
    1. DLKeur

      Actually, this was complete fiction, start to finish, its catalyst nothing but a window and a stone angel. :) However, I did, earlier in the day, have a client drop in whose sister’s daughter looks a lot like the child in the story, and she’s just adorable, so smart, and very, very precocious. :) :)

      Thanks so much for the vote of confidence in my short story writing. Like I say in the intro, I don’t do a lot of them. They have to “happen”…a lot like my artwork.

      Reply
  10. James L. Secor

    Dawn. The sun rose on someone’s life and she’s hysterical to shoot the sun down. The darkness of denial was so much more non-threatening. The saddest of all is that this woman blew out the entire group. Or so it appears from your introduction.

    Reply

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