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Thread: "Robbed"

  1. #1
    in angulo cum libro Petrarch's Love's Avatar
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    "Robbed"

    I'm deeply honored to have been chosen as the winner of the recent short story competition. I also would love to have some feedback on the story, especially since I've sat on it for over a year not able to tell anyone it's mine and also because I've started writing some more prose fiction recently and any writer welcomes suggestions for improvement. So if anyone had any criticism they'd like to share--both positive and negative--I'd love to hear it. I've re-pasted the story below:

    Robbed

    She kept it in her coat pocket for years because it comforted her. It was always there, so she knew the feel of it like an extension of her own hand, but she’d half forgotten what it looked like, since she almost never took it out to see. It was always there until one very short scene in her life that took place on a bitter cold day. She could still call it to mind in its smallest detail even twenty years afterward. It seemed strange to her that she should have such a clear memory of one brief moment in her life when at the time she had not been very upset or frightened by it at all. In fact, she had been aware of being much calmer than she had always imagined she would be in such a situation, even though the man who had stepped out in front of her was very large, and even though she saw that the gloved hand was shaking as it held the trigger. She even registered the strange beauty of the way the slant light of the declining winter day gleamed off the barrel in the same way that it glistened off the ice on the leafless trees. It occurred to her to wonder if a gun would even shoot when it was below zero out like today. Maybe it wouldn’t work right in this weather and he knew that. Maybe it wasn’t even loaded but he figured just the sight of it would be enough. It was. She didn’t look up at him, not that she could have seen more than his eyes anyway in his winter layers. His voice, muffled though it was, came across as both cold and scared at the same time. She handed over her bag. She emptied her coat pockets when asked. Despite the way time seemed to have lapsed into a surreal slow motion, and despite her own calm, she knew she wanted to move away quickly and decisively. She turned her back to him and made her way as quickly as possible along the ice-covered sidewalks without looking back.

    It was what she did afterward that seemed like the strangest part to her. When some guy had snatched her purse off her shoulder the year before she had reported it to the police, and when she had gotten those strange phone calls from the heavy breather in the middle of the night she had also reported that and changed her number. She never walked alone at night. She usually played it safe. But now, after she’d just been robbed at gunpoint, she didn’t say a word to anyone. She went back to the grocery store she had just come from and wandered around the aisles, enjoying having all the people there and looking at all the food she had no money to buy even though she was feeling more and more hungry. She hadn’t had lunch and dinner time was soon. After about an hour of wordlessly walking the aisles she left the store and, in accordance with the logic that lightning never strikes twice and muggers never stay in the same place for long, she set out once again on the usual route home. About halfway home, however, she began to regret not having said anything to the people at the store. It was completely dark out now, and fear was beginning to kick in. She started to think she must have been in some sort of shock before. She found her bag tossed casually into some bushes about part way up the block to her apartment building. She grabbed it and rushed home so fast that she slipped twice on the ice before reaching her door. She had bruises for weeks.

    After she got in her apartment she went straight to the phone and picked up the receiver with one hand while she opened her bag with the other to see what all had been taken. She had to look twice when she saw her credit card still there in her wallet. The hand holding the receiver hovered in mid air as she took stock of the contents of her bag. The credit card and bank card were still there. The only things he’d taken were the twenty-seven dollars in cash and the few groceries she’d had in the bag. She thought about the groceries: milk, juice, bread, and a little cheese. She hung up the phone, which by now had started to tell her to please hang up and dial again. She didn’t mention the incident to anyone.

    **********
    It wasn’t until she slipped her hand in her coat pocket the next day that she realized what she had lost. When he told her to turn her pockets out it must have fallen, perhaps into one of the high drifts of snow. She went back during the daylight to the place where it happened and she dug through the snow until, even through her winter gloves, her hands were too cold to move. She found her grocery list, some spare change, a packet of Kleenex, but not the thing she was looking for. She asked neighbors and passers-by if they’d found it, but nobody seemed to know what she was talking about. Finally she had to give up because there was nothing else to do.
    It was striking the way the feeling of emptiness in her pocket brought back the taste of peppermint even more sharply than the feel of the object had. She and Mommy had gone for ice cream and they both had peppermint, “because peppermint tastes happy” Mommy had said. The sun was out that day, and you could tell because Mommy had opened the drapes in the morning and let the light in, and Mommy had gotten out of bed and wasn’t crying or hugging her too tight like something was going to tear them apart if she let go of her little girl. Instead Mommy had held her by the hand and taken her out for ice cream, and they had even stopped by the toy store. They went right to the very best aisle, the one with the golden pony. He was yellow, the color of sunshine, with a real mane and tail that you could brush, and he had jointed legs so he could really walk. He was small, but not too small, just the right size for a child’s hand. There was also a stable, and accessories, and a whole bunch of pony friends you could buy, but she knew Mommy would never have enough money to get her any of that. Just that one golden pony would be enough, and on that day, after they had already eaten their wonderful peppermint ice cream, Mommy picked up the package with the golden pony in it off the shelf, carried it over to the cash register, and bought it. When Mommy handed it to her she was smiling a big smile and when they got home Mommy played the piano, which was something she hadn’t done in a long, long time. She made the little pony dance to the piano music and Mommy laughed at that. It was the last time Mommy laughed or smiled. In the coming days it went back to the way things had been before, only worse. Mommy wasn’t like Mommy at all any more. Now she didn’t even cry. She just stared vacantly and said things that made no sense. It was so frightening in those few days, that it was less scary to find Mommy one day lying perfectly still on the bed next to an empty medicine bottle than it had been to see her walking like a ghost who didn’t even know her own child.

    ***********
    It was about six years after the cold day when the mugger had taken her groceries that she visited a local church to see about volunteering in their soup kitchen. She went into the church office to talk to the pastor, and while introducing herself she happened to notice something that made her stop in mid sentence. There was a very small, somewhat dingy, toy horse made of yellow plastic sitting on one of the reverend’s bookshelves. It still had a few remnants of a “real” mane and tail, and it had jointed legs that could dance. When she asked about it, the pastor looked surprised but, being the sort of man who took things in stride, he went ahead and answered.

    “That was something that belonged to a little girl I used to know,” he said. “Her name was Nicky, and she and her dad, they used to come to the shelter the church runs when the dad couldn’t get it together for rent. The man had a lot of bad habits, and he wasn’t always nice, you know, but I think in his heart he wasn’t really a violent man and he did love that little girl. I believed him when he said he didn’t mean to shoot that man he robbed. I knew he stole, but he used a gun with no bullets, just to scare people. Somehow he ended up going out one day with a loaded gun and he had the shakes so bad, the gun went off on accident… Anyway, with the dad in prison, Nicky ended up out on the street full time. She had a tough life, and then she got shot in a drive by when she was sixteen. I visited her in the hospital where they took her and she gave me that little toy. She said her dad had brought it home on her birthday one year when she was a little girl, and she kept it with her all the time because it made her remember that her daddy wasn’t all bad. It helped her remember he loved her. She said her daddy smiled when he gave it to her, and knowing that man and his troubles, he can’t have smiled too much. She died the next day, and I kept the toy around because I like to think about it giving that girl a happy memory she could hold onto.” The reverend sat thinking for a moment. Then he leaned forward a little, looking puzzled. “But what made you come in asking about that thing? Did you know Nicky somehow?”

    “No, I didn’t,” she answered. “But I know about happy memories.”

    "In rime sparse il suono/ di quei sospiri ond' io nudriva 'l core/ in sul mio primo giovenile errore"~ Francesco Petrarca
    "Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can."~ Jane Austen

  2. #2
    Bull****
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    Congratulations, I read this a few months ago and it was definitely my favorite out of the short stories that I read from the competition. I didn't have time to read two of the stories, but oh well.

    Very good job, and please follow suit for us.

  3. #3
    Registered User Jane Jane's Avatar
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    I liked that very much and it is so real and like the strange and profound things that happen to vast numbers of simple ordinary people in life.
    It is as if the same Hand touched them all, connecting their lives in a bizarre dance.
    And there was resolution. She found out what happened and even why which is rare and of course your heart wrenches and you feel the tears coming.
    Very , very well done.
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    Registered User Granny5's Avatar
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    I loved your story, Petrach's Love. I loved it so much that I voted for it over my own! It was almost like reading an O. Henry short. Thanks for posting it.
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  5. #5
    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    This was extremely well done Petrarch. What disuaded me from voting was the ending. The first two thirds of the story was gritty real and you really made us emotionally feel the situation and get into the character's psychology, and to do it in so short a span showed incredible skill. But for the ending to hinge on a little toy and for it to be miraculously discovered after six years was disappointing to me. Very few adults put that kind of emotional attachment to a little toy, and if they do, then a story is obligated to expand on its significance to fully weigh its depth. You got us into the character and you got us into the situation, but you didn't get us into critical object that swings the story. In so short a story I don't think that would have been possible, or at least it woulds have been very difficult. And then the happenstance of finding it was just too convenient. But let me say the first two thirds of this was excellent!!

    These are just my opinions by the way. I don't want people to think I'm God speaking.
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  6. #6
    dum spiro, spero Nossa's Avatar
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    I didn't have the time to read it before actually..but I printed it out and will hopefully read it tonight and post any of the comments I might have
    I'm the patron saint of the denial,
    With an angel face and a taste for suicidal.

  7. #7
    in angulo cum libro Petrarch's Love's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by APEist View Post
    Congratulations, I read this a few months ago and it was definitely my favorite out of the short stories that I read from the competition. I didn't have time to read two of the stories, but oh well.

    Very good job, and please follow suit for us.
    Thank you APEist. I'm glad you enjoyed reading the story.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jane Jane View Post
    I liked that very much and it is so real and like the strange and profound things that happen to vast numbers of simple ordinary people in life.
    It is as if the same Hand touched them all, connecting their lives in a bizarre dance.
    And there was resolution. She found out what happened and even why which is rare and of course your heart wrenches and you feel the tears coming.
    Very , very well done.
    To hear that my writing brought you close to tears is a high compliment indeed. I am glad that it touched you in some small way.

    Quote Originally Posted by Granny5 View Post
    I loved your story, Petrach's Love. I loved it so much that I voted for it over my own! It was almost like reading an O. Henry short. Thanks for posting it.
    I am so honored that you voted for mine over your own excellent story, and of course to be compared to O. Henry is a great compliment. That was definitely the sort of effect I was aiming for, though strangely enough O. Henry wasn't consciously on my mind while writing it. Thank you.


    Quote Originally Posted by Virgil View Post
    This was extremely well done Petrarch. What disuaded me from voting was the ending. The first two thirds of the story was gritty real and you really made us emotionally feel the situation and get into the character's psychology, and to do it in so short a span showed incredible skill. But for the ending to hinge on a little toy and for it to be miraculously discovered after six years was disappointing to me. Very few adults put that kind of emotional attachment to a little toy, and if they do, then a story is obligated to expand on its significance to fully weigh its depth. You got us into the character and you got us into the situation, but you didn't get us into critical object that swings the story. In so short a story I don't think that would have been possible, or at least it woulds have been very difficult. And then the happenstance of finding it was just too convenient. But let me say the first two thirds of this was excellent!!

    These are just my opinions by the way. I don't want people to think I'm God speaking.
    Virg.--Thanks for the feedback. I am glad to hear that you thought the first part was well done, and also glad to know what didn't work for you in the ending. I see what you mean about the coincidence, and had indeed thought it over some because I thought it might break with the realism, but then I found it hard to conclude a story in this short a space in a more nuanced fashion. I was more surprised to find that you didn't think the reason she was so attached to the little toy was given enough weight, since I was more afraid that I was kind of beating the reader over the head with the emotional significance of it being central to the last happy memory she had with her mother. I'll have to look it over again in light of what you say. Thanks again for the crit. Always appreciate knowing how people are reading things (and don't worry, I'll do my best not to confuse you with the Almighty ).

    Quote Originally Posted by Nossa View Post
    I didn't have the time to read it before actually..but I printed it out and will hopefully read it tonight and post any of the comments I might have
    Hope you enjoy it Nossa, and will appreciate any comments you care to make.

    "In rime sparse il suono/ di quei sospiri ond' io nudriva 'l core/ in sul mio primo giovenile errore"~ Francesco Petrarca
    "Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can."~ Jane Austen

  8. #8
    Moderator Logos's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Granny5 View Post
    ....I voted for it over my own!
    (Off-topic, but just to clarify, authors are allowed to vote for their own stories ... ... )
    Forum » Rules » FAQ » Tags » Blogs » Groups » Quizzes » e-Texts »
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  9. #9
    dum spiro, spero Nossa's Avatar
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    I loved the story Petrarch, it was so touching, how you described the character and how she felt after the robbery and how she went back and dug in the snow to see if the thing she held in her pocket was still there.
    I actually loved the ending as well, and especially the last thing she said.
    I have only one comment, and don't even think of it as a criticism, I'm not a critic at all..lol
    I thought the part about the mother ended way too fast. Maybe it's just me, but I couldn't get emotionaly attached to the mother, not even after I finished the story. I didn't even know why she killed herself, you didn't clear that up, or maybe I didn't understand it.
    But on the whole it IS a great story, I loved it. So keep on writing
    I'm the patron saint of the denial,
    With an angel face and a taste for suicidal.

  10. #10

    Congrats!

    Congratulations! Petrarch’s Love for winning the competition.
    I voted for ‘Robbed’ because it looked to me slightly more powerful story compared to other stories. One understated line that I liked in the story was: ‘It was about six years after the cold day when the mugger had taken her groceries that she visited a local church to see about volunteering in their soup kitchen’.
    This line indicated goodness about the main character ( and hence hopefulness) although she herself seemed bogged down in life and living only with ‘happy memories’ of the past.

    Maxim

  11. #11
    in angulo cum libro Petrarch's Love's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nossa View Post
    I loved the story Petrarch, it was so touching, how you described the character and how she felt after the robbery and how she went back and dug in the snow to see if the thing she held in her pocket was still there.
    I actually loved the ending as well, and especially the last thing she said.
    I have only one comment, and don't even think of it as a criticism, I'm not a critic at all..lol
    I thought the part about the mother ended way too fast. Maybe it's just me, but I couldn't get emotionaly attached to the mother, not even after I finished the story. I didn't even know why she killed herself, you didn't clear that up, or maybe I didn't understand it.
    But on the whole it IS a great story, I loved it. So keep on writing
    I'm glad you enjoyed it, Nossa. The space limitations of the competition did mean having to try to write with spare efficiency, and it's good to know where people thought it didn't quite fly in a short space. The mother had severe clinical depression, which is what led to the suicide. I didn't state that plainly in part because I was trying to tell it from the point of view of the child, who wouldn't really have understood why either, and in part because it was something that was plain to me about the character, but that I apparently didn't really make plain enough to at least some of my readers (the people I write about are so real to me that I always know a huge amount about even minor characters in my writng that never makes it to the page). That's a good thing to know. Thanks again for both the praise and the crit.

    Quote Originally Posted by MAXIM View Post
    Congratulations! Petrarch’s Love for winning the competition.
    I voted for ‘Robbed’ because it looked to me slightly more powerful story compared to other stories. One understated line that I liked in the story was: ‘It was about six years after the cold day when the mugger had taken her groceries that she visited a local church to see about volunteering in their soup kitchen’.
    This line indicated goodness about the main character ( and hence hopefulness) although she herself seemed bogged down in life and living only with ‘happy memories’ of the past.

    Maxim
    It's very interesting that you should zero in on that line, because it's one that I hadn't even thought about. It just seemed like the natural thing that this woman would be doing, rather than a conscious statement about her character. Now that you point it out, though, she does seem like a nice gal. I must say though, that I really didn't envision her as someone whose whole life is consumed by the past. I thought of it more as a sketch highlighting that small portion of her that does live in those past memories, but which most of the time is hidden away, partly forgotten. It's entirely possible, though that it is that little tug of past sadness that makes her the sort of person who volunteers and tries to reach out to others. Thanks for the insight.

    "In rime sparse il suono/ di quei sospiri ond' io nudriva 'l core/ in sul mio primo giovenile errore"~ Francesco Petrarca
    "Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can."~ Jane Austen

  12. #12
    Overlord of Cupcak3s 1n50mn14's Avatar
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    Wow... just wow.
    I'm going to share something of why this story touched me as a person so deeply- I had a stuffed pony when I was little. That I literally carried around >everywhere<. Except for the one time I lost it, but I got it back... shh. Now whenever I'm out of town, it stays with my partner. He sleeps with it. =]

    This was lovely, and personally, I enjoyed the ending, and the feeling that everything eventually comes full circle.
    Naked except for a cigarette, you let your mind drift and forget your disbelief. Feel the chill down your back and the flutter of wings through dandelion fields, and forget the pull of gravity in a night without stars.

    I lack eloquence and commitment to my arguments. They are half baked, and I will begin passionately, and then abandon them.

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