Size matters…according to Michael Stang, and Shawn Pen enters our contest

(here is a picture of Michael Stang on Casual Friday)


Oh my beloved Literati!

My temptation is to post this story without even reading it.  It IS after all, sent to us by none other than Michael Stang and I have just had the second of my two-beers-for-four-bucks at Bucher’s Coffee House and Pub across from the towers that are A Word with You Press in downtown Moscow. I could simply say this is a brilliant piece, post it, turn out the lights and go home, knowing that Michael never fails to deliver.  I could just drop a few superlatives and leave it at that…But every now and then I am overcome by editorial integrity (I swear, it happens only infrequently) so I suppose I better read it before I hit the “publish” button.  Hang on a few moments, won’t you?…

…ok…ten minutes is…I trust you to pick your own superlatives…


by Michael Stang


“Did you hear from Tommy yet?” Pen’s weary voice echoed in the hall as she filed into the third floor walk up past her husband’s office.

The clicking of keys stopped suddenly. “No. The phones went dead just after you left.” Interrupted, frustrated, Shawn said nothing else and went back typing.

Her briefcase fell heavy on the oak floors. Pen remembered looking at the flat the first time with Shawn, holding his hand. The classifieds boasted new hardwood throughout. Spring had the sidewalks lined out on Symphony Road covered with Dogwood blossoms.

The new hardwood metered out to be a patch in the kitchen where a previous tenant had a fire behind the stove. The young couple shrugged their shoulders, imitating the landlady. Love nests required little selling. Shamble, worn, and bare thin? “Cute,” Pen said. “Perfect for us,” Shawn whispered. “We’ll take it,” they told her.

Halfway down the hall, Pen leaned against a wall with one hand and jerked her boots off with the other; the snow melted off the heels. Missing the coat hook with her black classic wool overcoat as she entered the kitchen, she didn’t look back.

The apartment froze during Boston’s winters. Vintage boilers bent over backwards in the basement but could not keep up. Mr. Green, the super, kept a tight lip with a look that looked right through you whenever you complained. Late at night, however, bundled in two pairs of long johns, listening to the Bruins stay on top of the world, he empathized. Behind the closed door of 1-A, Mr. Green bitched like the rest of them.

Pen knew the radiator over by the phone would keep her butt warm if she leaned against it, but to get lead paint chips stuck to her flannel slacks was not an option.

The phones were still a no. The laptop stopped again.

Shawn appeared, leaning against the refrigerator. His arms were folded at his chest over a Boston University sweatshirt with the arms cutoff. Three days beard, shoveled hair, a pair of expensive reading glasses with the left lens cracked—smoker’s fingers, and a repulsive lack of sleep displayed.

“How’s it going, Shawn?” Pen asked for something to say when all she wanted to do was scream that his goddamned book was worthless and they were broke. She did not care about the writing. She cared about the sixteen-hour days she worked, she cared about freezing in the alley beside the dumpsters. She cared about Tommy.

“All right,” Shawn muddled. Figuring wrong that his wife’s assumed interest was an icebreaker giving him the go-ahead run to open the refrigerator and grab a beer.

“It must be forty degrees in here. How can you drink that stuff?” Pen looked at Shawn, and studied him. “You’re a bad circus act…you know that?”

“Been a long day. The map I created for the plot failed again. I’m lost in chapter ten.”

Pen started opening cabinet doors and pulling down can-goods to heat and serve. She was in no mood to cook.

Shawn raised the hoodie over his head, and started for the door. She heard him light up a cigarette and kick her boots out of the way.

Alone in the kitchen with all the stove’s burners on, one heating chili and black beans, the accelerated flames felt luxurious until her eyelashes singed. Memories of older winters flashed to earlier times.

Except for life’s steal, Pen never strayed too far from her soul mate. The turning of the wheel: lovemaking, excitement, happiness couldn’t hold more. That was back before Shawn got it into his head he was a writer.

Pen had spent most of the day preparing the St. Patrick’s Day menu. Fifty of their friends and family called confirming they would be there. Not a drop of Ireland flowed through her veins, but with Shawn’s encouragement and a little imagination, the traditional dishes were just as wonderful as her modern day twists. Someone surprised them with a keg of Guinness flown in from Shannon to Logan, and dragged it up the three floors. Everyone was Irish that night. Pen’s mom, a dyed in the dirt Sicilian, straight off the boat at fourteen years old, was dancing with Shawn’s father; doing the Jig for God’s sakes.

After the party, the two lovers were deciding on whether to face the mess in the morning when Shawn took his queen by the waist and pulled her close. “Never mind the dishes, Pen; I’ve got something to tell you.”

Pen slid her arms around her man and clasped her fingers at the back of his head. “Tell me, my king. Tell me anything, but tell me you love me.”

“I’ve decided something I want you to know. I’m going to write…what I’ve always wanted. You’ll work with me won’t you?” Shawn did not wait for an answer. “Stick with me and when I’m published, it will be your turn. Hell. By then you can do whatever you want!”

Pen felt like a cheerleader. With all the Jameson in her she went along, but that night she thought about whatever she wanted.


What he really meant, Pen whispered to the chili, what he was getting to, she told the brown bread, pulled from the oven too soon…was no children. He couldn’t write to save his teeth, she told herself, what else could it be.

Pen let the dinner grow cold. She peeked behind the stove at the postage stamp of new flooring aged with grease and dust. There was a side window in the kitchen no one could explain; she could see a part of the dome of the Christian Science Monitor Building gilded in copper, trimmed in white’s innocent snow.

The phone rang. It was Tommy. “Doing anything? Let’s catch a Bruins game at the Garden tonight.”

“Absolutely, I’ll call 1-A. I swear it’s not too late.


nor is it too late to enter our contest and win $500.  which translates to 250 beers at Bucher’s in Moscow.

here ye go:

32 thoughts on “Size matters…according to Michael Stang, and Shawn Pen enters our contest

  1. Parisianne Modert says:

    I really like the descriptives of the setting, the flashback along with Shawn and Pen, but didn’t understand who Tommy was at all or his importance to Shawn and Pen. The last reference to 1-A confused me as well even after three readings. Can you fill me in on these to tell me what I missed?

  2. Mike Casper says:

    Drat. I tend to err on the romantic side of things…true blue love, perseverance, forgiveness and all that old fashioned stuff. I’m disappointed in Pen and Tommy’s dalliance but I guess that’s life. Sigh.
    I didn’t know we could enter more than one story. Hmmm. Mayhaps I’ll take your lead and move from there. Game on.

  3. Ken Weene says:

    I’m with Parisianne. The writing is great, but the story line leaves me groping in the fridge looking for a Guinness.

    • Mac Eagan says:

      Really? The beauty of Mike’s writing is he may be a little fuzzy on the details sometimes, but the big picture is always clear. (Although Apt 1-A does leave me a little confused, too)
      Tommy is not relevant to the story except as the man Pen turns to when she doesn’t get the attention she wants and used to get from Shawn. Before he started giving all his attention to his aspirations as a writer. Before they stopped being soul-mates. Emotionally, if not physically already, Pen is moving on.
      Apt 1-A is where Mr. Green, the building super, lives. He is a Bruins fan. The part that confuses me here is why Pen would want to invite him along instead of getting some “alone time” with Tommy.
      I do think the placement of the whiskey commercial disrupts the flow of the story – that, of course, has nothing to do with Mike – I originally thought that was where the story ended. I hadn’t noticed the prompt so went looking for it and found the conclusion of the tale.
      Professor Stang, as always I love the way you paint your scenes. The apartment is not an apartment, it is a reflection of Pen’s mood.
      Great work, my friend.

  4. Parisianne Modert says:

    I would like to add that I see the cold as the disappointment, frustration and lessening of the relationship between Shawn and Pen. Perhaps the ice hockey represents the increasing anger and rebellion in Pen. Her life has lost its control like the melting snow with the warmth being controlled by another man. I wondered if Mr. Green and Tommy are the same person or two different men. If they are one and the same the story would make more sense to me.

    • Mac Eagan says:

      At some point the Professor himself will chime in and set us straight but, in the meantime, I don’t see the two men as one. Tommy is the man who has not called in the first paragraph, who we learn Pen secretly cares about near the middle of the story, and who enters the story himself right at the end. Mr. Green is only told to us as the building super who tows the company line by not talking bad about the building’s owners and their lack of investment into the building’s heating system, but inside he is as frustrated as the tenants he has to listen to. I don’t really see a writer’s purpose in treating them differently if they are actually the same. Besides, if Tommy really was Mr. Green, why would Pen offer to call his apartment?
      Although Pen has feelings for Tommy, at no point in the story are we told they are actually lovers. There is the early reference to Pen “freezing in the alley beside the dumpsters” and so perhaps that is a secret meeting place, but it could also be any number of other things.
      It may be that Pen only wants someone to talk to and someone to help her forget the life she has found herself living. At the game, Tommy will be the one she talks to, and Mr. Green will be the man who helps her focus on the game so as not to think about what is waiting back home.
      Just my take.
      Hey. Professor, you catching any of this?

      • Michael Stang says:

        All of it, my most amazing writer friend. You are on the right track. Not to belabor a story that may not deserve time in the search and rescue timelight, unlike other fantastics in this contest who need none…you are so close.

  5. Diane Cresswell says:

    I do so love dropping into your mind Mike…it has such a plethora of levels that can leave us scratching our heads or smiling in delight at the weaving of the descriptive words. I started just for fun reading every other word…now that is a mind boggling process. I find the word play of Shawn and Pen creative for if one is not paying attention or even if you are – wrapping the mind around the ping pong ball effect creates such a surrender level that you have no choice but to let the story tell itself instead of trying to figure it out. Yup I do love your mind my dear.

    • Michael Stang says:

      I tried that. The every other word thing. An ambulance is blaring around the corner. I thought writing had to make sense only in horseshoes and legal contracts. Floating with words is the best I seem to get. The morphine drip gives me hope but it is the infusion of you that keeps me out of Baltimore.

  6. Glclark says:

    So much here. You can bulldoze so much into one story that I have to read them a couple or three times before I can soak it all in. This story, though, you caused the heating system to become a character, gave it the power to care about the other characters – “Vintage boilers bent over backwards in the basement but could not keep up,” and only you can do that in such a subtle way that it makes its mark in the reader’s mind but it doesn’t stand out bright and shining. Subtle, quiet, but still there. I got your number, Dude.

    • Michael Stang says:

      Whew, thought I was here alone. Clark, you old sidewinder, they let you out for awhile did they? Figure you come snoopin back for some quality time? I feel a Glclark coming on strong.

  7. Brian says:

    I CAN follow this without hesitation……….my ADHD kicked in, it flowed beautifully.
    I HAD to focus, it MADE me focus, it HELD me, but I had to double check on who was in apt
    1-A, but at my age,,,,,no worries,
    thx Michael.

    • Michael Stang says:

      And who would wonder, not me, at your age. To put the poor beast to rest the fix is in. Tommy is the child Shawn never could commmit to. 1- A was the father.

      • Mac Eagan says:

        Wow. Didn’t see that coming. Although now that you have shared, I can see where the hints were dropped throughout the story. I hope you don’t mind but I am going to put on my editor’s hat and put some work into this workshop we prefer to call a website (that remark is for James Dagg).

        I think the first thing that is missing to make the connection easier to spot is a defined timeline. We see Shawn and Pen as a married couple but we are not told for how long. We also do not know how long they have lived in this apartment. Since Tommy called Pen to invite her to the game, he is obviously living on his own, which would make him 18 or older. It stands to reason if 1-A is the father, the pregnancy occurred after Shawn and Pen moved in, which means they have been in the apartment nearly twenty years.

        The story’s immediate narration is in the present, but then flashes back to the day they move in as a “young couple.” As a reader, my point of reference for youth is my own age, which puts Shawn and Pen in their 30’s (since I’m past that now). Since no mention of children is made (except once), I saw them as early 30’s. I think if the words “nearly twenty years ago” appeared somewhere as a reference, it would help place their age as late 30’s, early 40’s, or perhaps even older.

        Maybe a couple more clues could also have been added with the description of Mr. Green. First, a first name for Pen to use for him, showing her relationship to him is closer than that of the other tenants. Also, some type of reference tying the Bruins to Pen. The invitation by Tommy to the game read to me as a It’s-Friday-I’m-bored-let’s-support-the-home-team event. Finding a way to make the game more significant might work to draw Pen, Tommy, and Mr. Green together as a group of characters and not separate solo acts.

        The paragraph about Pen’s faithfulness diverts away from the possibility of a dalliance. I’ll be honest, I am not familiar with the expression “life’s steal” so perhaps I missed something there. Also, at the end of the St. Patrick’s Day party you refer to the couple as “the two lovers.” I think this also gives the impression of being focused on each other. I would also suggest only italicizing the word “she” in the paragraph that ends “whatever she wanted.” I focused as much on the word “whatever” as I did the rest of the phrase and took it that she wanted Tommy, as I assumed he was an age-similar, non-related peer.

        I see more clearly why Pen is angry at Shawn for his lack of interest in children. Prior to the revelation in your comment, I took it that they were simply a childless couple. You probably could have let the cat out of the bag a little here, without compromising the strength of the reveal you wanted for the end. Perhaps Pen could have clarified Shawn’s no-children stance by adding something subtle but still emphasizing there was a special issue with children that were not of his seed. This would be tricky, I know.

        The only other issue remaining would be adding these elements but staying within the word count. I love how visual you are as a writer, but some of the details are not critical to the development of the story. The view out the kitchen window adds a depth of realism to the story, but I don’t see that the story is dependent on that paragraph. You are just under 1,000 as it is – taking out that one paragraph and maybe a sentence or two here or there would probably give you a little more room to add back in a few things.

        I hope you take my comments in the spirit intended. I think you have a fantastic story here – the idea is solid, the style is classic Stang and your twist is very powerful. My thoughts here are just suggestions on how to unleash all that power on the reader.

        • Michael Stang says:

          I’ve been Macked before but never like this. What is fascinating about this is how other writers see each other’s writing and how different my writing is from what the reader reads. Just one of the many mysteries to do with the great passion. Anyways Mack, I will not turn stone for stone with you, but want you to know that your creative eye is much appreciated, and many of your encouragements were taken seriuosly. Your a good man to care.

          • Mac Eagan says:

            Thank you, Mike. If you are interested in turning stones, let me know. The post above is a “little” Mac; I had written much more (a “big” Mac) with some suggestions for your consideration, but then decided to see if you wanted any such suggestions first. I had an email address for you from a group mail Thorn sent out once, but evidently that one (sbcglobal) is no longer an active account.

            I think you have a fantastic story – the idea is solid, the style is classic Stang and your twist is very powerful. My ideas are just suggestions on how to unleash all that power on the reader. It is by no means intended as any kind of criticism. Just let me know if you are open to it.

            Keep up all the good work. I definitely look forward to more.

          • Michael Stang says:

            Mack thanks for responding. I recieved the big-mac a few days ago in my email, but as you said, the short stuff was posted here on the site. I am always opened to your analysis and have warmed over the years to listen when you have something to say. I am open to your help, and only wish we could gather in a Four Corners coffee shop to sit think and talk.

          • Mac Eagan says:

            So you did get the email – technology can be so confusing. Coffee sounds good. I just need to come up with a reason to travel to your side of the world.

  8. Kristy Webster says:

    Terrifically composed story. Such an imaginative and brilliant way to let things unravel. Plus, the characters are beautifully developed through the revelation of their incompatible needs and desires. Very, very well done.

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