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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Huh? (01/21/10)

TITLE: Is Anybody Listening?


“How much can a hamster eat before its belly explodes, Dad? Dad, how much can a hamster eat before his belly explodes?”

Sometimes you have to say the same thing a LOT before Dad really hears it, so when I have something important to say, I just say it like three times in a row before I even give him a chance to answer, and sometimes that works. If it doesn’t, then I have to get louder and hang on his arm like a monkey.

“Dad! I’m really serious—how much can a hamster eat before his belly explodes!”

“Huh? I don’t know.”

There's lots of things Dad doesn’t know.

Dad doesn’t know why God didn’t name the animals Himself. He doesn’t know what I should do for money after the tooth fairy stops coming, which could be soon, so I’ll have enough for the Dark Knight Batmobile Tumbler, complete with interior and engine detail.

He also doesn’t know that I actually like basketball more than football, but I keep that a secret because he buys me lots of football stuff, and then sometimes I trade it at school to Jimmy Drake for stuff he steals from his older brother’s room. Some of the stuff’s dumb, like posters of girls in bathing suits, but some of it’s cool, like guitar picks that he gets at concerts.

Last week Mom found one of those posters crammed behind my desk. She looked at me real crazy and hurled a glass against the wall and said she didn’t know what she’d done to deserve this. Then the baby started crying.

I looked for the glass on the carpet, but most of the pieces were invisible like the Invisible Man who has to wrap himself up in bandages like a mummy just so people won’t sit on him when he’s in a chair. He’s pretty cool, but I think Hulk Hogan could take him cause Hulk Hogan wears sunglasses all the time and they probably have some kinda special night vision in them that can see invisible people too.

Dad says he feels sorry for Hulk Hogan cause his wife took him to the cleaners. I don’t know why she needs to do that cause Hulk Hogan doesn’t really wear anything but his underpants, and even if she did, wouldn’t Hulk Hogan think that was nice of her?

Dad lives in the city—ever since he made friends with a lady at work who smelled good and listened to his old football stories. Mom didn’t like it. Dad said Mom never listened to anything he liked and hadn’t worn perfume in decades, so he was surprised she could identify it.

This weekend was my turn to bring Simpkin, the class hamster, home. Thirteen Oreos. It took thirteen Oreos to make his belly explode. I mean, I guess it exploded. He just stopped walking around and sniffing and laid down for good. No guts. No blood. I think he exploded on the inside and we just couldn’t see it.

When Mom saw Simpkin, she cried. She said this house strangled any life that dared enter it.

She cried so hard it made me cry. She picked up the phone and called Dad. She said she didn’t know who else to call. She handed the phone to me.

“Why did you kill that hamster, Son?”

Mom curled on my bed and pounded her fist into my pillow.

Son, why’d you kill that hamster?”

Black watery lines ran down her cheeks.

“Boy, are you listening! Why’d you kill that hamster!”

Mom lifted her head. “Answer him, Russell,” she cried. But I forgot what I was supposed to talk about.

“Huh? What Dad?”

I thought he was going to yell louder, but his voice got quiet. I don’t remember it ever being that quiet. He told me stuff about how important life is and how I should be ashamed of myself for letting idle curiosity hurt one of God’s creatures. That made him hiccup. He said it was time to get our head into the game.

“Okay, Dad.”

Mom stopped crying, and when I hung up the phone, she held me close, like she used to when I was little. I fell asleep in her arms, and when I woke up, we buried Simpkin and sat on the back porch and finished the rest of the Oreos with some milk.

I was scared to eat more than five or six.

I know thirteen Oreos will kill a hamster.

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This article has been read 1417 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Beth LaBuff 01/28/10
This sounds exactly like something a kid would question and try. :) (my Dad tried it with kernels of corn and a pigeon) The contrast between those NOT listening is dramatic. My heart went out to the boy AND the hamster. Your ending/touch of humor made me smile!
Bryan Ridenour01/28/10
I love your writing from the perspective of the little boy. I felt like I was in his head, feeling his thoughts, and his interpretations of life. Superbly written. Well done!
Loren T. Lowery01/29/10
The boy's thoughts are like a soliloquy, at once both genuine and amusing. Your title helps to add depth to the underlying message of this finely written piece.
Verna Cole Mitchell 01/29/10
You've captured exactly the right tone and dialogue for a little boy and painted for the reader a picture of the sadness in his family.--This is an extraodinarily well written story.
Marita Vandertogt01/30/10
I love your writing style. This is extremely well done.
Patricia Herchenroether01/30/10
Thought-provoking and very real. Excellent pov.
Chely Roach01/30/10
This is now one of my favorite FW stories ever. The undeniable humor in the MC's voice creates perfect bookends to what is at its core, a sad, authentic story. The contrast is literary genius. Phenomenal writing.
Joy Faire Stewart02/01/10
Amazing writing! I was especially touched by the paragraph, "I looked for the glass on the carpet,..."
Sarah Elisabeth 02/01/10
Superb. And sad. Wow.
Jackie Wilson02/01/10
What an entertaining little fellow! And I found the honesty about his mother's reactions like a window into her life!
Celeste Ammirata02/01/10
Excellent writing. You told the story of the little boy, and his family life with eloquence. One of my favorites this week. Oh, I love the title and how it fits into the story.
Noel Mitaxa 02/01/10
You have beautifully opened us up to explore a child's responses to how our world gets itself in its mess. Very insightful story.
Virgil Youngblood 02/01/10
Inspired writing, for sure, with authentic feel. Your gift for writing is evident.
Sharlyn Guthrie02/01/10
This is gut-wrenching. You nailed the child's voice and the mother's emotions. The title is perfect. What an amazing piece!
Connie Dixon02/01/10
Great voice. Loved your mc. Your title is precious and the dialogue amazing. (I love oreos, too) I think this is another winner.
Carol Slider 02/01/10
Wow... I'm in absolute awe of this. The depth is remarkable. How terrible and tragic for a child to be caught between adults this way--not really comprehending, unable to express himself properly, or even be heard. Very, very well done!
Lisa Johnson02/02/10
I will be looking for this in Editor's Choice this week.
Sheri Gordon02/02/10
This is incredible writing. To blend humor and sadness so flawlessly is a true gift. The dialogue was very believable. And the last line is priceless.
Edmond Ng 02/02/10
Fabulous writing! I like the voice and the plot. It shows how a boy did what he did because he did not get an answer from his Dad to the question, "how much can a hamster eat before his belly explodes?” It's like cause and effect, a story anchored on an adult's failure to listen and the consequence that takes place as a result. Sadly, right to the end of the story the adult still did not realize the one who needs to listen is him, not the child. Turning a deaf ear is the consequence when such things prolong to become a norm.
Carol Penhorwood 02/03/10
This is one of the most beautiful, insightful pieces I have seen on FW. You KNOW boys, you can read them like a book, and FEEL their emotions. If this doesn't win, I will truly be surprised! Absolutely marvelous writing. This is going on my favorites for sure and from this point on I am tracking your writings, my friend! WOW!
Verna Cole Mitchell 02/04/10
Woo Hoo! Happy Dancin' with you! Told you so!
Margaret Kearley 02/04/10
Congratulations Lisa. This is just wonderful. Amore than well deserved win.
Beth LaBuff 02/04/10
Congrats, Lisa, 1st place Editor's Choice! You are amazing! Will you be using more animals in your writing now? :)
Jim McWhinnie 02/04/10
Way to go, Lisa!
Sarah Elisabeth 02/04/10
Awww, I thought I might be the first to congratulate you! Ah well, amazing job and a huge congratulations!!!!
Loren T. Lowery02/04/10
This is so nice to see. Congratulations on placing with this wonderful piece : )
Edmond Ng 02/04/10
Congratulations on your placing first in Editors' Choice and Masters! (",)
william price02/04/10
Congrats! Very proud of you.
Lisa Johnson02/04/10
Absolutely awesome accomplishment!!! I knew when I read this it was a winner! Congratulations, Lisa!
stanley Bednarz02/04/10
Lisa Lisa Lisa!

You inspire us all with your writing
Believable character. Great story!

I thank the lord for you.
Carol Slider 02/04/10
Thunderous applause, Lisa!! This was my favorite of the week, and I love to have my good judgment validated!:) Awesome, moving writing--congratulations.
Marita Thelander 02/04/10
I love how the MC seems to be aware of the things going on in his life, yet caught up in simple boy wonderment still. Not so sure I want any oreos anytime soon, though.

Congrats, Lisa...get to work. ;) (I can be so relentless sometimes)
Sheri Gordon02/04/10
Big congrats to my Hui. LOVE this piece. So glad, but definitely not surprised, to see this at this top of the list. :)
Joy Bach 02/04/10
Congratulations Lisa. Great job.
Connie Dixon02/04/10
I knew it, I knew it! Congratulations. This is definitely a favorite of mine.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 02/04/10
What a delightful story. Congratulations on a well-deserved win.
Michael Joshua02/04/10
That has to be one of the funniest stories I have ever read. I could barely read it to my wife because I was laughing so hard! Excellent, definitely a deserved number ONE EC!!!!
Patricia Turner02/04/10
Lisa, I'm thrilled to see this one win! I agree that you know boys. I love the stream of conciousness narration and childlike curiosity. The last lines cinched this story. Wonderful! Congratulations!
Karlene Jacobsen02/04/10
So I decided I have to read at least this one. Hilarious! I can see my 9 year old as this boy. I'll hide the oreos and NO hamsters. NOT any time soon anyway.
Karlene Jacobsen02/04/10
Oh, and Congratulations on a well-deserved win!
Joy Faire Stewart02/05/10
Congratulations on your EC first place win! It's truly a masterpiece.
Daun Jacobsen02/05/10
Great job! An awesome read.
Philippa Geaney 02/05/10
Wow!! I could go on for ages but Wow is the dominant expression -still is as I sit here thinking of the composition of your story.Congratulations
Coleene VanTilburg 02/05/10
You have captured this little boy with such heart. His curiosity and innocence come forth powerfully. Congratulations and thank you for this piece.
Tessy Fuller02/08/10
I don't know how you did it but you made eating Oreos a sad thing - I did not think that could ever be the case :-) I'm not sure what I can say that others haven't already said. This was awesome! Beginning to end. My heart still hurts for the little boy.
Diana Dart 02/10/10
Oh Lisa... I was just struck by this one. Maybe you weren't trying to, but it tore my heart nearly right out. I giggled in many parts, could really hear this boy and could almost see him. But the back story, the interactions, the EMOTION was just... raw. Thank you. Thank you for letting me see into the heart and mind of a boy who could be just like my own sons. ('cept for the whole hamster thing, ours is a guinea pig ;o)
Eliza Evans 03/21/10
So many layers of Wonderful.
Just an awesome piece of writing.

(way late to the party) Congratulations, Lisa. :)
Eliza Evans 03/21/10
I'm so proud of you! :)