November 2011

Writing Exercise: The End of the Affair

Imagine that your protagonist is a woman who has been in an abusive relationship for years, and is apparently inured to it – and to the beatings and/or the contempt her partner regularly dishes up to her. In this scene, which marks the end of that relationship, we see him preparing to slap her, or hit her, or do any of the horrible things he does to her as a matter of course. But this time, something snaps in her. Or perhaps it had snapped before the start of the scene. She strikes back in some way. What she does to him is up to you.

Write this in 250 words or less. The special challenge is to be very precise, very particular, very accurate in your description of the physical dimension of this scene. Remember, as always, don’t explain anything.

Here’s the winning entry by Julie Masiga.

“I can’t hear the sound. I feel the pain like an amputee feels a lost limb. Pain that lives at a dead nerve ending. But the sound… the sound used to be so loud. Snap. Crack. The whirring and whizzing as my head whipped sideways. Wild and jagged in a violent curve.

And then a thud. Bang, against the wall.

Not an angry sound, but a final and resounding gong. Like soil plopping on a casket, six feet below the ground.

Like the tolling of a death bell.

But I can’t hear it. The window opens wide, yawns like a grave. Opportunity. Choose ye this day, life or death.

Life, I choose life.

I have the back of his hands in my sights. Slow, like the movies. Swwosh. My fingers rise like the blade of a sword. Standing at attention like five generals and five armies. My eyeballs dart to the side of my head. I can see his hand as it meets my armies.

The impact causes our limbs to shiver and shake with the tremor of a thousand earthquakes. Our eyes meet. Fear. His lips begin to snarl but my eye travel steadily to his cowardly countenance. 

I hold his gaze. Cold as a snake. His hand drops. Slow, like the movies. I can’t hear the sound.” 

And four runners up – in no particular order:

Stephen Doherty

The blade tip is millimetres thick, sharpened by him to carve with no effort.

From the sharpening process slivers of metal finer than blood cells cling to the edges of the blade.

Mixed with the metal shards, his blood arcs behind the knife as she pulls it from his chest.

Pain.

Jeff Meyer

Sheila heard the crack before she felt it – the sound of a smaller branch being broken from a larger one in preparation for one of their many Morsøs. The pain shot through her left wrist, seeming to envelop her entire left side in a kind of exquisite agony she didn’t think possible. The heavy marble pestle fell from Luigi’s hand, crashing to the concrete
floor in a shower of shards.

“Puttana! You think I not notice! I tell you before, for a pesto issa Pecorino, not fucking Grana Padano!” His rage was unstoppable, redolent of the time 12 years ago when she nursed a black eye. Bottled garlic is simply not acceptable.

He reached for the mottled-green mortar, in what would surely have been very serious when, in a flash, she grabbed the gas lighter and put paid to any hopes Luigi had of gracing the cover of Men’s Health.

Raleen Bagg

The plastic sheet covered most of the lounge floor. It had taken her the whole afternoon to pull him onto it.

In the room, shards of a coffee mug on the floor and the smell of almonds.

In the distance, an ice-cream van chiming a repetitive tune.

Closer, the neighbours’ dogs barking, the swoosh-swoosh of sprinkler spray and the screech of a hadida.

She leant against the wall and slowly slid down, the sweat on her back sticking to the yellowed wallpaper.  She dropped her forehead on her bent knees and waited for the thumping in her chest to stop.

She lay on floor and pressed an ice pack on her swollen eyes. The cold stung the gash on her cheek.

Should she wear an apron? Maybe a dressing gown would be better.

She limped to the bathroom, turned her head away from the mirror, struggled into the gown.

The intercom buzzed.

‘Hello?’

‘Mrs. Sandford?’

‘Yes?’

‘Your delivery from Jake’s.’

She closed the lounge door, opened the front door and signed for the electric power saw.

Austin Westwell

Micky Dewer, full of bravado, had overbid at the Royal Bromford Auction and found himself the reluctant owner of a £30 000 antique letter opener.

He could afford it though.

A decade of brutally building his meat empire had brought him a considerable fortune.

The autumn light streaming in the window glinted off the gold blade, sending a kaleidoscope of wispy shapes to dance on the damask-papered wall.

It was the most beautiful example of a late seventeenth century letter opener in existence. A pearl inlay handle swept in a graceful arc ending in a solid gold medallion, itself crusted with topaz and rubies.

‘Fitting,’ thought Rosanna, as she touched a cheek that was quickly turning the colour of a ripe plum, ‘that its final opening act would be his jugular’.

Some particularly nice bits of detail:

Marcelle Armstrong – The blind at the window was broken, hanging half-mast. A sorry stem of parsley grew in a cracked terracotta pot on the windowsill.

Ralph Rudd – The dull edge of the butter-knife has started to glow red. The blue flame of the gas-plate casts the only light in the dark kitchen. Although the hand that holds the knife is veined and liver-spotted, she still feels beautiful.

Austin Westwell  – He woke to feel two sensations. The first was the cool of the imported polished marble pressed against his cheek, the second was a searing pain on his forehead.

Amy Heydenrych- He edges closer to her, breath jagged and rank in her face. He grabs a tuft of hair, perfectly positioning her face for the repeated smashing of a signet-ringed fist. Her fingers clench over the glass dish she is holding – pilchards soaking in a tomato masala sauce.

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