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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Truth or Dare (08/28/08)

TITLE: Letting Up


I imagine pressing my thumb into the shoulder flesh of the woman standing in front of me. She’s wearing a knit top with a boat-neck collar revealing a wide swath of skin. She reminds me of my mother. It’s not fat running along the slope of her neck and shoulder—it’s a puffiness that comes with age if you’re not the lean type. When I was very young, probably four, I used to press my mother’s flesh and marvel how it turned blankly pale until I let up, and the blush returned.

I haven’t talked with my mother in years. She’ll be fifty-five soon. The woman in front of me hikes her purse up and takes a step forward.

My mother was—and probably still is—a liar. She lied about the important things like paying our taxes and she lied about the trivial things like where she spent the afternoon. She called them all white lies.

My father explained to me many times that she had grown up in an Eastern Block country where deception was necessary for survival—and then it had become ingrained. He tried to convince me she wasn’t a bad person, that she was full of love—lying was her fall back.

A man joins the woman with the knit top, circling his arm around her back—protectively, it seems to me. I never protected or covered for my mother the way others did. It was probably bad luck for her that just as I reached the age of seeing my parents with detached eyes, I also found the great I Am—Truth itself. Without Truth there was nothing—there could be nothing. Truth was the foundation for everything good.

And I had a mother who shrank from it.

The line moves forward a few steps, as a brutal-sounding machine grinds coffee beans and releases a stream of hazelnut into the air. The man ahead of me pats the woman’s back and goes to find a table. The woman places her forearm on the body of her bag. She must be bearing down because the narrow strap digs into her shoulder. It’s painful to look at, and I itch to reach over and move it, but I’m not the daring kind.

Once when I was a teenager, my mother caught a group of us playing Truth or Dare—just as I was about to kiss Toby Mulligan. Forget the truth, she advised when we told her what we were doing, the dare is always more exciting.

Forevermore, I chose truth. The dare I filed in the devil’s camp, and there it stayed thirteen years until yesterday in Sunday school. That’s when five-year-old Luke asked me, “What does daring mean, Miss Pulaski?” I had said the word as I was reading a story about David to them. Competing thoughts waged in my mind canceling one another out. “Let’s look it up,” I said.

I choked a little on the words as I read the definition to my class. I was picturing a young woman fleeing Warsaw, ignorant of the changes Lech Walesa would soon be bringing to Poland through Solidarity. True—it was through conniving and half-truths that she and her seven-year-old brother were able to cross the Baltic into freedom, but I couldn’t deny that it had also taken an extraordinary amount of courage—of daring.

The line is at a standstill and my agitation intensifies. The woman ahead of me has not let up on that strap—it continues burrowing in, blanching the area around it. Why won’t she reposition it off of her bare skin? My own shoulder has begun aching. Doesn’t the woman realize she’s not allowing the tissue to breathe? Pressed long enough, it has no choice but to die.

I’ve applied pressure to my mother for a long time. First, when I was younger, through voluminous accusations and later through my distance, my silence, essentially issuing an ultimatum: change or else.

The line moves again, and the woman, whose shoulder has become an agony for me, orders. As she reaches for her wallet, she finally lets up—giving the strap slack. The blood rushes back into the area, and I exhale. An angry red line appears and I have to clasp my hands together so they don’t reach out and touch it, caress it, sooth it.

One last step forward, and suddenly it’s my turn.

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This article has been read 970 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Beth LaBuff 09/04/08
Very interesting and creative. Your MC's relationship and longing for her mother was compelling. You had me wanting to know more. You are a very skillful writer.
Jan Ackerson 09/05/08
This is masterful writing...it all takes place in seconds, yet you tell a complete story rich in characterization. And I love the last line, with its depth of meaning.
Anita van der Elst09/06/08
Your writing is packed with emotion and introspection. I could feel myself reaching out with you to try to lift up that purse strap.
Betty Castleberry09/08/08
Very well done. I like the way you took something seemingly insignificant, the purse strap, and made it important. Two thumbs up.
Lynda Schultz 09/08/08
What a fascinating picture. The pressing of the flesh, the should strap—very good. I was caught by the idea of too much pressure, too long, and the flesh has to die—tremendous biblical truth in that. Well done.
Sharlyn Guthrie09/08/08
This is so well done. I can relate to the introspection of your MC. Being able to write about it in such a compelling way takes talent.
Leah Nichols 09/09/08
Excellent writing! I wasn't sure where the story was going but you have an amazing way of bringing it all together. :)
Pamela Kliewer09/09/08
Wow. I love how you tied this all together. The flesh of the woman in front of her, the purse strap, all leading to introspection and bringing the beginning of much needed healing in her relationship with her mom. Masterfully done.
Joy Faire Stewart09/09/08
Amazing story and skillfully written. You draw your reader into the scene with vivid descriptions. Excellent!
Glynis Becker09/10/08
Wow! I was completely drawn in in just the first few words. You've written volumes in a small space...wonderful!
Sheri Gordon09/10/08
This is absolutely extraordinary. Wonderful writing. Such an in-depth story being told in what I imagine is a Starbuck's line. Excellent, excellent job with the topic.
Catrina Bradley 09/10/08
Wow, this is GOOD writing. I'd really like to read more. What an imagination at work.
Marlene Austin09/11/08
The internal tension of your MC is palpable. Super writing. :)
Sheri Gordon09/11/08
Congratulations on your EC, and 1st place in Advanced. This was one of my favorites, and I'm excited to see how well it did. Great writing.
Sharon Radford09/12/08
Despite the fact that I was in a meeting and should have been listening, when I read the first line of your article I was hooked and had to ignore my surroundings for the 5 minutes it took to read it. Deep, wrenching, and personal writings. Congrats!
Beth LaBuff 09/12/08
Super writing, Lisa! Congrats on your EC!
Debra Martinez09/13/08
You had me at the first "show," and I loved the back-and-forth of the show and tell. Great job. What happened next?
Jason Swiney09/14/08
Masterful. Throughout your story you make the simple things seem so important and the profound seem so ordinary & believable - just masterful. I was very impressed with how you spaced out the past & present, you gave great insights & memories while not letting the reader forget what was currently taking place. A no doubt EC, congratulations.