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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Bitter and Sweet (05/28/09)

TITLE: Half-Life
By Carol Slider


So you’re here, are you? Well, come in and shut the door before you let out all the cool air.

Another feature for the Daily Times, eh? Rise and fall of Carhart Industries? Hope it’s better than that last article. Half lies, half exaggeration... that reporter must have talked to my brother...

Oh, you’ve been to see him already, have you? Well, why didn’t you come to me first? You think that mealy-mouthed half-wit is going to tell the truth?

Guess you’ve seen the old Carhart house, just up the hill. The bushes are all grown up around it now, and it’s a wreck: windows broken out, woodwork falling off, roof caving in. But you should have seen it when we were kids. Biggest house in the county, built by my Great Grandpa, Jeremiah Carhart. Seven bedrooms, marble bathtubs, library, dining room with big French windows, English gardens, swimming pool. We had servants then, lots of ‘em.

James was two years older. He always had his nose in a book, never cared a lick about the business. But Mom and Dad always liked him best—made a big deal about his top grades. Me, I didn’t care much about school. I just wanted to keep the factory going.

I’ll never forget the day James headed off to college.

“Charlie,” he said, “Dad wants me to take over one day, but I want to teach. You care about the business. You should be his partner.”

“Oh,” I said, “So you want me to do all the work, and you get all the benefits.”

And Mr. Self-Righteous said,

“I don’t want anything, Charlie, except for you to be happy.”

Well, I’m sure he knew the factory was already halfway to bankruptcy. The competition smelled blood in the water and came after us... Dad had his heart attack... and I got left holding the bag. James made a nice slick speech about “helping any way he could.” I told him off good and proper the day after the funeral. He acted sad about it, but I knew he was glad to leave.

So I liquidated, for pennies on the dollar. The competition bought the factory and shut it down. The bank got the house. Maybe they still own it. Anyway, there it sits, falling apart, year after year. And here I sit in this trailer house next door, living like white trash.

Nothing’s gone right for me. Stocks all failed. Tried working, but the boss had it in for me from Day One. Wife left me... the old hag said I’d gotten “angry and bitter.” Well, what did she expect, hearts and flowers and “all’s right with the world”?

I suppose she thought I should be like James. He’s still teaching fourth graders at that lousy elementary school, I guess. Oh, he told you he “loves it,” did he? Well, I know the truth. He can’t afford to retire, not with that sickly wife and that brood of kids, all of ‘em expecting to go to college.

He came to see me, about five years ago. I almost didn’t let him in, but it was winter and I didn’t want him freezing to death on my front steps.

“You see the house?” I said. “You see what’s become of it?”

And he just looked at me with those big sad eyes and said,

“Oh, yes... I saw it.”

“Well, how do you think I feel, having to look at it day after day?” I said.

“You know, Charlie,” he sighed, eyes all droopy, “maybe you should move away so you don’t have to look at it. I feel bad about what happened, too... but we can’t change the past. Life can be beautiful, life can be sweet...” Blah, blah, blah.

Well, you can imagine what I said to that namby-pamby nonsense. Told him he could make extra money writing greeting-card verse. Told him he better not come around here anymore with his flowers and butterflies lectures. Oh, he said all the right things: “I wish we could be friends, but please call if you ever need me.” And I said, “Well, that’ll be a cold day in a hot place!”

Yeah, he writes to me. Always some nonsense about looking on the bright side. If I hear another word about “half-empty” glasses, I think I’m going to keel over like Dad!

Easy enough for James to talk... he always got everything, and I got nothing.

It’s not like it’s my fault.

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This article has been read 677 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Joanne Sher 06/05/09
Ohh - incredible characterization. The voice tell it ALL. If only he would listen. Great last line, too.
Charla Diehl 06/05/09
The contrast in characters came across vividly. Poor Charlie was so blinded by self-pity he couldn't see his brother's loving heart. You did a great job with this topic.
Jan Ackerson 06/08/09
Superb title, and an exemplar for a class in characterization. First-rate!
Colin Swann06/08/09
Seemed like a comprehensive story - yet just 750 word limit - every word counted!

This was very rich and interesting. Thanks!
Genia Gilbert06/08/09
Oh yes, don't we all see people we know in this one? Makes me want to be really careful not to BE one. Great read.
Connie Dixon06/09/09
When we become bitter and angry, we're oftentimes the last ones to notice, if we notice at all. I feel for your MC, who just doesn't get it. Too bad he's not the only one. Great writing.
Mona Purvis06/09/09
Dynamic. The voice of the MC throughout spoke volumes. Realistic, no fluff. I think I know these people...
Sonya Leigh06/09/09
Wonderful thick stuff of life here. I felt your mc's frustration which seemed to be there all along in his life. A good reminder of how we are today determines who we become tomorrow. Truly superb writing.
Bryan Ridenour06/09/09
Wonderful voice and story telling from the MC. Great take on topic. Well done!
Dee Yoder 06/10/09
Poor old guy...he sure knows how to ruin his own life. Very authentic and descriptive tale of caution!
Jim McWhinnie 06/10/09
You are a master of character and dialog.

Loved it.
Lisa Johnson06/13/09
Oh my, I know people like Charlie...it is so sad to be trapped in bitterness, a self-imposed prison, and be too blind to see that life can be sweet if you allow it to be. You crafted a piece that certainly showed the stark contrast between bitter and sweet. I enjoyed reading your story.
Thank you , by the way, for your kind words about my story.