Jesse Cramer, what it is, and what it wasn’t

Here is a paradox: how to write about “the void.” You cannot describe what is not there; you can only describe the perimeter that locks you in, or keeps you out. Here that barbed wire is tacked to posts made of whiskey, ice cream, pizza, and Julia Roberts, as new-to-our-site Jesse Cramer explains. What Jesse immediate grasps, is that Beneath the Surface is all about the void.

What it wasn’t

by Jesse Cramer

It wasn’t a fight. It wasn’t even an argument; it was a laundry list: she wasn’t happy, he wasn’t fulfilled, the kids deserved better. It was all the things behind all the fights, but this time in a somber tit-for-tat exchange. And then … it was decided.

He sauntered out the front door, screen slamming behind him as he stepped off the porch he built with his brother two summers before. Time to find an apartment. Time to hire a lawyer. Time to order pizza and tell the guys to bring whiskey. He shut the car door, buckled his belt, and turned the key. As he shifted into drive, he glanced at the window and saw the silhouette of her head through the blue curtains of the living room window.

She slumped on the leather ottoman with her elbows on her knees, hands wrapped around a mug of lukewarm tea. The tears she expected had not come. She heard the gravel crunch as the car pulled out, heard the breaks squeak at the stop sign on the corner Adams and Spotswood, and then she heard the slow clicking of the kitchen clock.

She stood and placed the tea next to her purse on the bookshelf by the door. She thought of the cell phone somewhere within that purse. She could call her sister, ask her to bring the kids home early, but they were probably settled down to a movie by now.

She ran a finger down the spines of DVDs on the second shelf down. Maybe Julia Roberts could clear her mind. Maybe there was ice cream in the freezer.

_______________________________________________________

(here two of those fence posts graphically displayed)

 

14 comments

  1. Michael Stang says:

    I instantly recognized your assimilation of the contest: her retreat to movies and ice cream was everything to say, Subtle, Crafted.
    Overall the story suffered from machine gun grammar, but, perhaps you are comfortable in that.
    I think we can submit as many stories as we want (Thorn?) Look forward to more from your talented pen.

    • Thornton Sully

      YaaaY! CONTROVERSY. Personally, I thought the story was excellent. ” Time to hire a lawyer. Time to order pizza and tell the guys to bring whiskey.” The ritual of despair. The end game of failed diplomacy. And the feminine equivalent: “Maybe Julia Roberts could clear her mind. Maybe there was ice cream in the freezer.” I think this piece captures emotional illiteracy., and this is a cameo of two people who have run out of a way to say things to each other. The somber, polite exchange as they destroy themselves–that’s on the surface–slamming the screen door, screeching tires–the rage beneath the surface. Julia Roberts and ice cream–applied anesthetic, to avoid FEELING what is beneath the surface.

  2. Tiffany V says:

    There is a way to say quite a few things without saying anything. I found the piece sad, but not heavy. Perhaps it is my kinship with that kind pain from phantom limbs.

    Action – they were done. Reaction – they stopped trying.
    Action – they separated. Reaction – they loosed the moors that held them together, reaching for friends, family, alcohol, ice cream, something to fill in the time before they moved on from that last moment.

    I got it. Beneath their words were a lot of things not said. “It was all the things behind all the fights…” and that linchpin is what gave the story qualification for the contest. That it was written without too much gravitas makes it a mark of talent. Let’s see some more.

  3. Mac Eagan says:

    As depicting a relationship at its end, this is a good story. The characters hurt too much to be introspective and the shorter sentences convey “instinctive” action, not thinking but just doing.
    What I don’t see is full development of the theme. The laundry list that had existed below the surface is in the past and is now only a historical reference rather than a pivot point. The “under the surface” elements have already played out; we are witnessing the aftermath.
    As a contest entry I am not enthused about this piece but if it were standing alone I would like it very much and would like to see more of it.

    • Mac Eagan says:

      (I really hate the 750 character limit. I’m sure it is necessary but grrrrrr….)
      ADDITIONAL:
      As a technical point I would not have used “sauntered” (leisurely, relaxed walking) with the screen “slamming” (involving force and loudness). The conflict in demeanor expressed by this combination is a little disconnecting but, again, it is only a technical point.

  4. Jesse Cramer says:

    I’m not entirely sure that this is an appropriate forum for authors to defend their writing, as it could quickly turn into a contest about who can best argue their points. With that in mind, I will limit my commentary so the piece can speak for itself.

    But, Mac… Yes. I had qualms about that sentence myself. The justification is that the saunter is supposed to be an unconscious expression of masculine bravado. But you are right; it is still weak. And the slamming screen was a cliche I simply couldn’t figure out how to purge.

    Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. I am a writer with a fairly thick skin, so, please, if you find faults with this or any future piece of mine, then let me know. I truly value the feedback.

  5. Monica Brinkman

    Jesse,
    I, for one, enjoyed your tale very much. The tears that did not come certainly are beneath the surface yet to pour forth. You hold the reader in the moments of separation with much to follow, but for now, the empty void must be filled – with ice cream, a movie – anything but with what lies beneath the surface.

  6. You have caught the point of this contest with excellent percision. Under the surface is what? The act of finally leaving a relationship. Leaving it what, how? All that pain of love lost translated into what knickknacks to fill the hours, the pizza, the booze with which to celebrate or to mourn, the cell phone, the DVD’s.

  7. Stef
    Stef says:

    I cheers to your new freedom with a slice of pizza <3 Here's to knowing which voids lead to nothingness and which ones lead to everlasting depth <3

  8. Parisianne Modert says:

    I picture a pizza waitress, pizza raised riding a mechanical bull driven by a lawyer holding the stick in one hand a picture of beer in the other. The style threw me back and forth and spun me around and that is what it is all about.

  9. Michael Stang says:

    No please, Jesse. All entries are subjected, but I have never found a more fair field. Mac’s eagle toothed eye befalls all of us sooner or later (if he wasn’t so right…). “What it Wasn’t”, for all I said before, is a dark slice of relationship, or the failure there of. I continue: subtle, crafted. Issues of grammar are personal notes to you. Contest them, ignore them–same-same.
    The best to you and your writing. Let’s hear more.
    Mike Stang

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *