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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: See (07/22/10)

TITLE: Missing Pieces


I'm sitting with Susan on a terminal summer evening, in rocking chairs I built, even as we were building our family. Neither of us is rocking. She traces the flight of straggler fireflies to the point that her head dips off to the side, glides down, and button-hooks back to starting position.

Susan has mentally checked out of our marriage. The signs are obvious. I might have missed them, but for having experienced them once before—with my own mother. Dad failed to notice the quarter turn of her face at the approach of his kiss. Or the flat opaqueness that like a film had settled over her eyes—the sparkle gone. And then one day, shortly after I turned six, she was gone, and Dad hadn't seen it coming.

I'm afraid to check for a glow in Susan's eyes. Even if it were there, it might only be the reflection of the fireflies—not something emanating from within. The turn of her cheek, though, has been unmistakably present. The lack of conversation, of intimacy is also a reality. Two solitary occupants of a house hemorrhaging the glue that once held it together.

"Do you think it's time to move into something smaller?" I ask and immediately want to kick myself.

Susan sets her rocking chair in motion, the see-sawing action long and deliberate. I follow suit a full beat behind.

"It's something to consider," she finally says.

There's a rhythm to the creaks created by our zig-zag rocking. She zigs, I zag—the creak occurs at the zag.

"This house is a part of us," I say. "Every floorboard."

"Every window," she answers.

I don't know what that means, but then an image comes to mind. She's standing at the living room window, her left hand on the sash, her forehead resting on glass. I spied her in that position this morning. And yesterday morning. And the morning before.

"If you want to leave me, Susan—say it. I won't stop you. I won't—but I can't handle this anymore. Limbo's evolving into something else."

She doesn't respond—leaves me languishing.

Maybe, I'll leave her. She shouldn't get to control everything. There's nothing to stop me…except: I, Henry, take thee, Susan, to be my lawfully wedded wife… Those vows clearly don't mean as much to her. A breeze streams across the yard, causes the flat ovate-shaped leaves in the old birch tree to flutter in the moonlight. The Albertson's terrier barks from next door. Fierce warrior. He's watching us from his usual spot at the property line. An invisible fence keeps him contained. Just like me.

"My uncle was a magician," says Susan.

"Oh—which one?"


"I didn't know that."

"He was a lot younger then. His dream was to perform in Vegas."

"Did he make it?"

"Naw. I thought he was good, but I guess he wasn't good enough."

"That's too bad."

"He used to tell me how the eyes were easy to fool. That the brain filled in missing pieces with what it thought should be there. That illusion was actually more common than accurate perception."

"What did he wind up doing?"

"He went into advertising. Was really good at it."

"I imagine he was."

"See, that's exactly your problem, Henry—you do too much imagining. I'm not on the verge of leaving you. Stop looking for what isn't there. It's killing our relationship before its time."

I'm tempted to protest, but am afraid the words might warble in the shifting air—make me appear weak. Fierce warrior.

"I love you," says Susan. She places her hand firmly over mine, bringing the creaks of our rocking into sync. "I won't ever leave you."

That was the scene, the conversation of a late summer evening. Is it any surprise I felt betrayed when six months later I was burying my wife under a lingering winter snow?

Something unseen had infiltrated first one organ, then another, till she begged for mercy, and God heard her cry.

Yet, just as suddenly as she'd left me, she was at my side again, matching me emotion for emotion. I tried to explain this to our daughter. She didn't believe me, attributed it to my imagination—repeating what her mother used to say.

I, though, am in Uncle Martin's camp—my brain, or maybe it's my heart, is just filling in with what it thinks should be there. Illusion sometimes being preferable in the face of the invisible.

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This article has been read 694 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Beth LaBuff 07/29/10
I love the motion (or lack of motion) of the rocking chair through out. It's understandable for your MC to think his wife might leave, since his mother had. I'm glad his perception wasn't reality (I liked the way you used the story about Uncle Martin), and that in the end his heart could still imagine. Love this!
stanley Bednarz07/29/10
I think you nailed the insecurity in the male voice and it kept the story going through his perception of events.

The use of the rocking chair wasn't a distraction but I felt it enhanced the imagery, and setting.

I loved the way the topic is used here with the magician inserted and how it applies to the MC.

Five Star cool rating for me. Simply stellar!
Mona Purvis07/30/10
Something very, very special about tis story. Deep, thought-provoking and realistic. So very well-written. On topic. Yes, I agree...it's top-notch. A winner.

Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 07/30/10
This is a sad, but lovely love story. We so often have self-fulfilling prophesies. I enjoyed the attention to all of the details from the fireflies to the creaking of the chairs.
Verna Cole Mitchell 07/31/10
This is a take-your-breath story. It's that good. The imagery is superb in detail, as is the characterization. After I read it a second time, I was so glad that before she died, the husband had the sure knowledge that she loved him--no illusion.
Laury Hubrich 08/02/10
So sad but written well. Love the details, too.
Terry R A Eissfeldt 08/02/10
How many of us need an interpreter even though we apparently speak the same language!
Well written - moving.
Sarah Elisabeth 08/02/10
Wow, can I breathe now?! What is it about your writing that makes me hold all the air in until the last word?

Lisa is back!
Virgil Youngblood 08/02/10
A wonderfully written story. At the beginning I thought the wife's problem was Alzheimer related. Her head action watching the fireflies reminded me of my M-I-L actions in a similar situation. The conversation, when it started, quickly resolved my misconception. Excellent writing.
Kate Oliver Webb 08/02/10
Very well-written story! True-to-life imagery and dialog. The emotion is subtle, but the revealing of the answers is perfect in its timing and rock-solid presentation. Great job!
Joan Campbell08/02/10
You wrote this with such delicacy and detail. I hear the silence, then the creaking, the dog in the distance. Masterful! I didn't like the end - her dying - but I guess that means you made me feel deeply for this couple and is more proof of the incredible quality of your writing.
Rachel Phelps08/02/10
So glad to have you back and writing! This story is your typical perfection - lovely imagery, spot-on voice, and a haunting message. Loved it!
AnneRene' Capp08/03/10
Two words: Charmingly Captivating!
Colin Swann08/03/10
I agree with all the worthy praise here. But its so important for married couples to talk and listen and share their hopes and fears with each other. Another tip for marrieds in here, keep on having regular dates - shouldn't stop when married. (sorry for going on). Colin
Edmond Ng 08/03/10
Sometimes we read too much into things, and sometimes we fail to read enough into things. Perception is such a challenging thing, yet without perception, there is no vision and without vision, we perish. Sensitivity with understanding is so important, so that we may not jump into conclusion. May all of us gain discernment on what's a guess and what's the truth.

Captivating and stirring much thought with profound lessons captured in a story. Excellent writing!

Mariane Holbrook 08/04/10
Wow! You're good! There's no way I could have torn myself away from this entry, not even if I tried. Kudos!!!
Lollie Hofer08/04/10
There's a valid reason some of you are in Masters...this was masterfully written. I saw and heard the rocking chairs, saw the yard, the dog. I felt the husband's angony and the wife's frustrations with his imagination. Deep, thoughtful, dark but all in an intriguing, good way.
Pat Guy 08/04/10
Wow. A read that lingers in the mind and emotion of the reader -- true marks of a true writer. Poignant, timeless ... and subtle. Made me think. Loved it.
Marita Thelander 08/04/10
Imagery is your expertise. I love the setting and the quiet firm way she set his heart at peace, but so very sad that she did leave him in the end, in a different way. Melancholy. Quiet. Thoughtful. Well written.
Patricia Turner08/04/10
Lisa, your pacing for this outstanding story is top notch. It's such a sad story and, though I wish it could have ended more happily, it wouldn't be the strong story that it is! Kudos for what's sure to be at the top of the line tomorrow!
Chely Roach08/05/10
I sit here amazed, shaking my head, thinking, Exquisite...
Eliza Evans 08/05/10
hemorrhaging the glue that once held it together.

Gulp and WOW.

Delicious writing, Lisa.

You have been MISSED!!

Brenda Shipman 08/21/10
Absolutely wonderful writing, Lisa. Reminds me of Anne Tyler in style, character development and imagery. I do hope you have a novel in the works....?
Connie Dixon03/03/11
You inspire me. I am never ever disappointed when I read your stuff. I especially love how you get into the brain of your characters, even when your brain has never been there before (or maybe it has) Never-the-less, your characters are captivating.