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September 26, 2022

Thirty Months On

By Dan Mulhollen

Literary Prompt #502

Write a piece of up to one thousand words in which your protagonist feels great ambivalence. This can be caused by an awkward position he or she is left in, or due to news from a friend or acquaintance. Try to base it on something you've actually experienced.

Thirty months, almost to the day, that she walked out, Rachel -- yes, I can finally call her by her name instead of copping out by saying "the ex," "Her Highness," or "That cold-hearted succubus who broke my heart," yes, Rachel actually sent me an email, with an attachment, no less.

"The 'lit' club," the email began, "hasn't been the same without you." For almost as long as we'd been together, Rachel and I belonged to this little literary club made up of people from around the neighborhood. "And as we've both moved on with our lives," she continued, "I wonder if you might consider returning. I've spoken to the others, Andrea and Ernesto, Jess, Jennifer, and Ryan, and they're all eager to see you back."

I remember those Friday nights, always lively, a group of friends opening their souls to one another. It was a very co-operative thing with our egos (and all writers have those) kept in check by the respect we all had for one another.

I don't know how it began, had to be close to fifteen years ago, but several neighbors and their friends, all of us living within a mile of each, and all interested in writing fiction. Andrea was planning an internet group and I helped her work out the format of assignments (or "literary prompts,") short pieces of fiction based on those "prompts," emailing our assignments, and finally getting together at one of our homes and critiquing the assignments. Usually the "host" got to choose next week's assignment -- and provided refreshments.

Sure, leaving the club permanently had been an over-reaction. And during this time I felt something central to me was missing from my life. But at the time, I had to distance myself from Rachel. Unlike her, I could not disguise my emotions in layers of gothic velvet and gauze. There was pain in every word I wrote. So I gave it up for a while. Occasionally there would be a false start, but through most of those thirty months, I wrote very little of substance.

But indeed, as Rachel so casually noted, we had moved on -- emotionally if not geographically, with Rachel still living within a fifteen-minute walk from me. I was now involved with Lis, a cute coed, less than half my age with a slightly unnatural shade of shoulder-length red hair. We met when she was working part-time at the office supply store a short walk from my home. There was more to it than her being simply a cute coed less than half my age. Lis was the first woman who made me remember what wanting a woman felt like -- and that has to count for something.

Rachel also went for someone younger, but at the other end of the anonymity scale. At 35, Doctor Elvis Lowenstein was already famous for saving the life, and (due to the lack of perceivable brain damage,) the career, of a popular local TV news anchorman shot in the head by an obsessed fan. The woman shooter had claimed the well-married, although currently divorced television journalist proposed to her in Vegas, telling her they should move to the south of France and adopt as many Irish orphans as their chateaux could hold. Most of the gossip was sympathetic, but several people pretty much said, "The perv got what he deserved," and a few others suggested his journalistic abilities were such that brain damage would not be an impairment. As I saw it, the hospital was less than a minute's drive from the site of the shooting, and it was a very low-caliber handgun, and had he not fainted, the anchorman probably could have pulled out the slug with his fingernails.

Yes, both Rachel and I had moved on, and the "lit" group was a part of my past. But they all wanted me back. To sweeten the offer, Rachel sent as an attachment, her take on Literary Prompt 502. It detailed an erotic adventure she had experienced shortly before meeting the esteemed Dr. Lowenstein. One she and I had often joked about her actually trying. "Wouldn't you be jealous?" she'd teased. "Not as long as you described it fully to me afterwards," I'd replied, actually looking forward to her retelling.

Sexual experimentation had always been a big part of our relationship, not the only thing mind you, but over the years she and I collaborated on some first-class smut, "extensively play-testing" the situations before writing about them. But as I entered my fifth decade, things had slowed down a bit. Everything still worked, it just took longer than it did during my post-adolescent prime (besides thirty seconds is not a record to be proud of).

Sometimes during one of these "slow spells," Rachel would describe this hypothetical situation in very intimate detail, delving into what she could imagine herself doing, and the complex emotions she could see herself facing -- with Rachel, emotions were always a complex matter with denial being her favorite coping mechanism.

Now it had actually happened, a second deflowering of sorts.

But this was not the past, where after an argument, an evening of passion could bring me back to "her side." Rachel had hurt me -- badly. The feelings of betrayal had diminished, I could be civil, even friendly to her -- reasoning that total honesty had never been one of her strengths. And while her words could still affect me erotically (I would never deny her abilities as a writer), the magic was gone.

I was deeply in love with Lis; in our short time together, I had seen her grow from an awkward, sickly woman-child into a healthy, confident adult, someone capable of far more than simply being a store clerk. She also could write, perhaps not at the level of anyone currently in the 'lit' group, but just me pointing out a few simple things to her made a real difference.

I also knew Lis could easily replace me with a tall, muscular stud more her age. But she remained faithful. And where Rachel had always been the "take control" one -- often annoyingly so -- with Lis it was a much more shared experience, with power something that ebbed and flowed between us, no one staking claim.

I was also starting to write again. The words that had stayed frozen in my mind for so long ... Yes, it was spring, and I was in love, and no matter how many books say writing is about self-discipline, the reappearance of the Muse is a powerful thing.

"At that moment," I said, reading the print-out of Rachel's account to Lis, "I realized it had not been a dream, that it actually happened. I poured myself another gin and tonic."

"I think," Lis said, giggling, "in that situation I would have stayed with the masseuse instead of Doctor Elvis, sounds like more fun." She snuggled closer. "Sometime," she said, half-whispering, "you'll have to let me tell you about the time I was doing that. Or better yet, if you do rejoin the group, take me along with you and I'll write it out."

"As an assignment?"

"Let me choose the topic," she said, as I leaned over to kiss her, a dozen new story ideas blossoming in my mind.

Article © Dan Mulhollen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2012-06-18
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