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LJ Idol Entry: Week 15: Chekov's Gun

"If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off," wrote Anton Chekov. "If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there."

Before Ashley had the kid, she’d been adventuresome, carefree. Reckless by most accounts though not by her own measuring: If nothing matters, what do you risk when you snort that line; smile at that handsome stranger in the cowboy bar; go weak-kneed in the back of his truck, clutching and clawing like a gun had just been pointed at you, like someone was pulling the trigger and the bullet was exploding through the deepest core of your being?

But after she found out she was pregnant, Ashley changed entirely. She was a mother now, and goddamn it, she was going to be a good one. When she rolled her baby’s carriage down the road to the bus stop that took her to Social Services, she half-wished a speeding truck would round the corner, brakes squealing, out of control, just so she could throw her body in front of the carriage, save her baby boy from annihilation. Eighteen years she'd been searching for a martyrdom that was worthy of her. And now she'd finally found one that was bigger than she was. It felt good to acknowledge it.

She named him John. A good strong name. None of that trendy Jayden, Liam, or Brendan bullshit for her. She was going to give her son a name that would stand up against time, distinguish him from the sheep.

She was going to feed him good, too. No MacDonald’s. No more visits to the Colonel. She took a clean and healthy eating class through the same Social Services department that issued her EBT card. Food stamps could be used to buy seeds, too, and every month, she spent 20 bucks on lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, crookneck squash, any plant she could grow in a Styrofoam plot and stick alongside of the trailer she shared with her sister Jessica, Jayden, Brendan and Madison, her sister’s three kids, and, in between meth runs, with Demetrius, her sister’s boyfriend.

“I ain’t eating that shit,” said Demetrius.

“No one’s asking you to,” Ashley said. “Could you smoke that shit outside?”

“No,” said Demetrius. “I couldn’t.”

“It’s bad for the kids.”

“I didn’t ask them to be born.”

Jayden, Brendan and Madison were perpetually snotty-nosed. Jayden was turning six in the fall, and Jessica was afraid of what that would do to her benefits. She’d have to spend 30 hours a week down at the Sullivan County One Stop instead of 20, learning about resumes, sitting through mock interviews.

Ashley was getting her GED. “Jessica should get hers, too,” Ashley told Demetrius. “She’s not stupid. She’s smart. She could do it.”

“She’s smarter than you,” Demetrius said. “You get that GED and so fucking what? You lucky, maybe you land a gig at Walmart for eight bucks an hour. You make a shitload more on the TANF.”

“Maybe I’ll go to community college.”

“Waste of time,” Demetrius said but not unkindly. “Didn’t do much for me.”

“Why not?”

Demetrius studied her for a long moment. “Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if you and I had met without this –“ He swept his hand at the unwashed dishes in the sink, at the three children practically catatonic in front of the television screen, and John was asleep in the little nest Ashley had made for him out of drawer and some blankets. Jessica was at the One Stop.

“Nothing would have happened –“

Demetrius shook his head. “You think I’m coming on to you. But that ain’t it. That ain’t it at all.” He held his hand out straight. It trembled.

“You’re jumpy.”

“Better than being dead,” he said.

A truck with a broken transmission pulled up beside the trailer. “Yo, my man Demetrius –“

Demetrius smiled broadly. “Good times, good times. You got any money on you?”

“No,” Ashley lied.

“Bitch,” said Demetrius. He caressed the word in his mouth as though it were the tenderest endearment that ever man said to woman, and went outside.

For a while, Ashley sat and thought about John while the voices outside rose and fell. She would get her GED, go to community college. Maybe for nursing. Move the fuck away from here. Maybe to Florida where it was always warm. John would do well in school. He’d do sports, too – Ashley wanted him to be well-rounded. He’d never ask her why there wasn’t a Daddy, or brothers and sisters, because he’d know instinctually the two of them were just enough.

She heard Demetrius’s voice say, “You fucking tweaker, put that thing away!”

“Make me, asshole,” said the other guy.

Ashley heard the two men scuffling and she knew the bus was coming, but before she could throw herself on top of her baby, carry him away to another room, she heard the gun go off.

Just like that.

And the baby was dead.



( 31 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 29th, 2014 12:31 am (UTC)
Some fine writing there
Really something. Even the second paragraph---especially the second paragraph. First paragraph is damn good, too. ;)
Jul. 29th, 2014 12:41 am (UTC)
Re: Some fine writing there
Thank you!
Jul. 29th, 2014 02:12 am (UTC)
Very sad. I thought the last line was abrupt. Something like having the baby crying and when she hears the shot the baby is silent.

Good build up.
Jul. 29th, 2014 12:33 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I was trying for something that I don't have the skill to pull off. I wanted to write a really engrossing universe that just -- BOOM -- stops.

Maybe if I rewrote the piece.

But I don't actually like the piece enough to want to rewrite it. The characters bore me.

I can see, though, that my process for LJIdol has got to change. I need to write stuff earlier in the week so I have a couple of hours for a second draft, because as a writer, I depend upon second drafts to make sense out of a lot of false starts and hooks.
Jul. 29th, 2014 04:50 pm (UTC)
I, too, have begun to realize that. I struggle with letting things grow tastier, letting the stew simmer.

Here's where I might be crazy or dreaming about you, bb. But I read this yesterday and it stopped abruptly and successfully with a strange sort of character-breakthrough about going to community college. I came back today to re-read and comment and now it's an entirely new story and I LIKE it....but it's so different! Because, obviously?, the rest of the story was behind a cut and I didn't realize that? I dunno.

This is dramatic and works.
Jul. 29th, 2014 05:11 pm (UTC)
You're not nuts. :-)

When I cut and pasted it initially from my Word document, for some reason only the first page (approximately 500 words) control-C'd. :-)

I proofed it about an hour later and realized -- whoops! The whole second page was missing.

Hope adding it wasn't some kind of violation of the contest rules.

Yeah, the stew metaphor is very apt for my writing process, too. My second draft process is really different from my first draft process.
Jul. 29th, 2014 08:59 pm (UTC)
That makes me feel moderately better about my rattling marbles. I really....thought I must have dreamt it.

We can encourage one another to the second draft.

This is strong. And not subtle in its sharpness...and yet so fucking subtle that it works supremely well. Nice nice nice.
Jul. 29th, 2014 12:49 pm (UTC)
Oh Well! it did come out of blue and startled me..poor baby. And that means it's really well written! Good Job!
Jul. 29th, 2014 01:03 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! :-)
Jul. 29th, 2014 02:23 pm (UTC)
It hooked me - I want to hear more about Ashley now.
Jul. 29th, 2014 02:32 pm (UTC)
I think we all know Ashley. :-)

And happy birthday to my favorite Dakotan! May this year bring you all joy.
Jul. 29th, 2014 02:35 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
To be honest, many of us have BEEN Ashley once or twice -- probably why I related to her so strongly.
Jul. 29th, 2014 09:54 pm (UTC)
It was a simple story, but very well written with a nice (but sad) ending. I was surprised to read that the characters bored you; you still did a very good job.
Jul. 31st, 2014 07:48 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much! :-)
Jul. 30th, 2014 01:16 pm (UTC)
Heart-breaking, all of it.
Jul. 31st, 2014 07:48 pm (UTC)
Thank you for reading.
Jul. 30th, 2014 11:46 pm (UTC)
I did not expect that ending :( Very well written!
Jul. 31st, 2014 07:49 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! :-)
Jul. 31st, 2014 03:43 am (UTC)
Oh no, poor Ashley!
Jul. 31st, 2014 07:49 pm (UTC)
Yes. I hope she still goes to community college.
Jul. 31st, 2014 08:22 am (UTC)
This is so insanely abrupt, but somehow it still worked for me. Nice job with the prompt!
Jul. 31st, 2014 07:51 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I wanted an abrupt ending but one that was a bit more like waking from a really immersive dream. Didn't have quite the writerly skills to pull that off. Maybe next time. :-)
Jul. 31st, 2014 09:35 am (UTC)
That ending wow. Heartbreaking.

Jul. 31st, 2014 07:51 pm (UTC)
Thank you for reading. :-)
Jul. 31st, 2014 06:41 pm (UTC)
I know you didn't like these characters :) But there's something so moving in Ashley's dreams, and how they are for her, big dreams, but for most of us, pretty reasonable expectations. And I loved that you were able to end on a downer and have it still be a satisfying ending!
Jul. 31st, 2014 07:55 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much. Coming from a writer of your talents, that's a real compliment. :-)

I felt the ending was too abrupt. I had a pretty distinct idea of what I wanted to pull off, but I didn't quite have the skill to do it. I'm glad it worked for you. :-)
Jul. 31st, 2014 07:42 pm (UTC)
Do you mean that you don't like the characters 'as people,' or as realized characters? Because your work on the latter part was fantastic-- the characters are really vivid, perhaps self-doomed, but so many are.

That second paragraph... really tight development, and yet wonderfully stylistic at the same time. I loved it.
Jul. 31st, 2014 08:00 pm (UTC)
I didn't like them as people. :-) I don't know whether other writers get this, but I often find myself... channeling characters that I don't "create" as such. I mean, of course I create them, but the metaphor is more like being a medium or something and hearing their voices. Does that make any kind of sense at all? Often, their lives and opinions are very different from my own.

I think it's a good ability in that it allows me to write fiction that's immersive without being strictly autobiographical. But I do end up writing about characters that I don't inherently sympathize with.
Jul. 31st, 2014 08:28 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean by this entirely. One of my entries for Idol S8 had be stuck in "frog" for over a week, and I've had other stories over the years where I don't like where the characters go, but I feel I have to follow the truth all the same.

But I do end up writing about characters that I don't inherently sympathize with.
I think this is actually a very important thing, for an author. Without villains-- or self-created troubles-- there is no tension or drama.
Jul. 31st, 2014 09:46 pm (UTC)
It does end abruptly, but so did the baby's life. Poor little thing!
Aug. 5th, 2014 02:10 pm (UTC)
Thank you for taking the time to read it. :-)
( 31 comments — Leave a comment )