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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Year(s) (01/20/11)

TITLE: What She Knows Now


The arteries surrounding Annette Belkin's heart had been imperceptibly narrowing, until sitting at her computer, she felt a tightening on the left side of her chest. She pressed the heel of her hand on the troubled spot.

Outside, her husband, Arlen crossed the backyard. He led with his upper body as if he were fighting a headwind—his standard gait. The pants he wore sagged in the seat and were held up with a belt he'd pulled two notches too far. It produced an unflattering pucker at his middle. She'd bought him loose cabana shirts for their 25th anniversary trip to Aruba—but he had cinched those in, also.

She watched him through their office window until he pulled the latch to the shed door. He had an afternoon of pruning rose bushes and spreading mulch, but it would be a scant forty-five minutes before he needed a bathroom break.

Annette's blood vessels continued straining past fatty deposits and plaque. She ignored the discomfort, took her hand from her chest, brought it to the mouse. An unread message waited in an account she'd recently opened. It was from Steve, an old boyfriend from high school—his name bold, black. Finding him had been unnervingly easy—a cursory search in a moment of boredom, and Voilà.

Heart palpitations kicked in. She hadn't felt those since the early days with Arlen, when their conversations had ranged from the insignificant to the profound—not a captious word among them.

Arlen was now clipping straggler stems from hybrid teas, a tidy stack at his side. He was cutting back too much, but she didn't have the energy to go out and tell him.

Her attention returned to Steve's message. It was filled with words she'd anticipated, yet feared. A time and place were named, along with his opinion of her beauty—UNFADED, emphasized in capital letters.

She sat up straight, ran a hand along her torso. One bulge high on her ribs, a general thickening of her waist. That hadn't been the case when she'd walked regularly, watched what she ate. It was easy to let go, give in. Where was the harm in a piece of cake, a bowl of chips?

She thought back to her youth, to the various things she wished she hadn't done—things that hadn't seemed wrong at the time. But a public interrogation from her then eleven-year-old, had put deeds into perspective. Elizabeth, with her latent math skills, and lack of propriety had asked over the department store music why there was only a six-month difference between her birth date and her parents' anniversary.

A click sounded from Annette's jaw at the memory of standing at the lingerie counter, the first purchases for a budding daughter wrapped in tissue. The daughter crying: but you said you're supposed to wait till you're married.

A mother's defense, repeated countless times over countless years—as many times as was necessary for all to believe: If I'd known then, what I know now, it never would have happened.

But was that true?

Arlen was rolling a wheelbarrow filled with mulch, a shovel sticking out from the center. They were her roses, but it was Arlen who cared for them, made sure they were shaped, and fed, and protected. He hadn't known anything about gardening when they'd gotten married. He'd learned flower by flower, season upon season.

Annette sighed, but then equivocated in her response to Steve. It shot her systolic pressure up to 163. The force pushed through obstructed passageways, ripped scar tissue, tore holes in linings. She moved to delete the reply, but her hand, her arm had become numb. It didn't feel attached to the rest of her. Nothing felt attached along the right side of her body.

"Arlen," she called, willing him to stop in the scattering of woodchips. Her body slumped softly onto the keyboard. How had it come to this?

But she knew.

Lord, won't you help me?

Her face reddened at this last-minute grafting of what should have been a steady companion.

And still she remained positive that her husband would come in any minute; his prostate would ensure it. She took a deep breath, mouth closed, nostrils expanded, the spicy scent of a double-delight detected. It was her most aromatic rose.

Arlen didn't come in for an hour and a half. As usual, she'd grossly underestimated him. Strictly speaking, though, it didn't matter.

He was the type of husband who would tend whatever needed tending.

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This article has been read 787 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Lynda Schultz 01/27/11
That last line is perfect. Well done.
Loren T. Lowery01/27/11
Unless I'm reading this wrong, I find very little redeeming features in Annette, other than possibly she stayed with Arlen despite the unflattering sag of his britches and the puckering at the cinched waist. I'm rooting for Arlen; glad he's outlived his undeserving wife, who tried - at the last moment - to graft herself back to her creator. I have to give her credit, too, in that she did give him a family and an unexpected love for roses and the care they require and the sweet (if only imagined) memories they might awaken. All else aside, you made these characters come alive - provoking earnest feelings about them from, at least, this reader.
Beth LaBuff 01/28/11
Can I shake Annette, or is it too late? I like your use of this phrase, "last-minute grafting" especially after your mention of "roses" and "hybrid teas." You are a master at character development and symbolism, "He was the type of husband who would tend whatever needed tending."
Verna Cole Mitchell 01/29/11
You surely have a gift for making your characters come alive, though it's kind of hard to regret that your MC's heart gave out. The contrast between her and her husband is striking. Maybe he'll find someone to appreciate him and how he takes care. --an excellent story.
Ann Grover01/31/11
Brilliant. Perfect wording, subtle and yet slam-punch. I don't find Annette "dislikable," but honestly human, coming to (eternal) terms with regrets and mortality. A warning. Genius, as always.
Eliza Evans 01/31/11
Wow. I can't believe you packed all those layers and lives into 750 words.
Fantastic work!!
Virgil Youngblood 01/31/11
As always, well written and an interesting slice-of-life story with believable characters. Well done.
Rachel Phelps01/31/11
Your last lines gave me chills. As usuual, your characterizations are flawless and pointed and make me want to squirm a little. Excellent!
Dee Yoder 01/31/11
A gripping story that made MY heart pump! I just knew she wasn't going to make it, but happy-ending person that I am, I so hoped she would come to her senses sooner. (Everytime I read "Arlen", I was startled--LOL! And MY Arlen likes to garden, too.) Setting, characters, plot: perfect.
Edmond Ng 02/01/11
Reliving the past in age old frailty is quite a take on the story. This is not only an exceptional writing but also an exceptional take on the topic!
Laury Hubrich 02/01/11
Wow! So much here. Poor underestimated, dependable Arlen.

It is easier to not worry and keep on with the bad habits. Ouch and ugh...
Shelley Ledfors 02/01/11
Wow. It amazes me how much story you have packed into the word limit, plus makin' us think, to boot. I could really picture your description of Arlen's gait and clothing because I had an uncle who could have been described in just those terms. Very well done!
Cheryl Harrison02/01/11
As usual, you have done a great job. Your descriptions are spot-on. I was riveted to the scene. Too bad I couldn't do CPR. Thanks for writing.
Kimberly Russell02/01/11
Wow--you certainly get a whole lot of story in only 750 words. You truly have a wonderful gift. Only problem I had was I couldn't get Dee's husband out of my head. LOL
Kate Oliver Webb 02/02/11
Yes, you do have a remarkable talent for setting scenes and evoking mixed emotions so subtly as to simply creep up on the reader. Extremely good writing here!
Troy Manning02/03/11
Loved how you portrayed temptation as physically as well as mentally gripping. Though we know God promises a way out, it often feels impossible to take it. While I'm not sure there was enough to commend Annette as a particularly sympathetic character, thinking we're above her frailties is certainly a dangerous mindset.
Henry Clemmons02/03/11
Congratulations on your HC. My favorite story of the week. Your skills are off the chart and your writing moves people, involves their senses, stirs opinions, makes us think all in a very comfy-safe enviroment. Your MC is a reminder, a jolt, we all need. This story touched a lot of lives and will continue to do so.
Know that anyone who took "heart" to your message, will live longer and more productive lives for the Lord. Bravo!
Jan Ackerson 09/26/11
Lisa, I'm going to feature this on the Front Page Showcase for the week of October 10. Look for it on the FaithWriters home page--and congratulations!