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Sugar (Part One)

by jenn22580 

Posted: 07 September 2005
Word Count: 2807
Summary: This is the first part of a short story I wrote a few years ago. It is about two diabetics whose lives entwine after they meet at group therapy. The language is completely different from the way I write now, but I am eager to revisit the story and make some changes to it!


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Marge reached over and grasped Jimmy’s hand. She ran her fingers along his smooth, cool palm, before giving it a squeeze so firm she felt her knuckles move together under the pressure. He accepted her grip for a moment, but when he glanced towards her and saw tears streaming down her face, he let go. Marge waited for Jimmy to wrap an arm around her, wipe her tears from her face, something, but instead he stared solemnly several feet ahead to where pallbearers were easing a mahogany casket from their shoulders to the freshly overturned soil. The casket contained the body of Mary Sue, Marge and Jimmy’s only child. Mary Sue’s husband stood to Marge’s left, so when Jimmy pushed her away, Marge turned to her son-in-law for comfort instead. They embraced and wept openly, Marge slumped over and sobbing audibly, her shrieks like that of a grackle. Jimmy silently parted from the small crowd, and while the pastor recited a prayer and guests placed flowers on top of the casket, he walked to his car.

Marge awoke from the dream with a jolt, panting and with her heart racing. She sat up in the pale blue dimness of early morning and placed a hand to her chest in an attempt to calm her rapid breathing. She glanced at the clock and saw that it was quarter past five. Dawn was breaking, so she decided to get up for the day. She remained propped up in bed for a moment longer, trying to shake off the remnants of sleep, but finally slipped into her worn slippers and housecoat and shuffled into the adjacent bathroom.
She studied herself in the mirror for longer than usual, searching for any sign of her youth, but she found none. She stepped out of her housecoat and nightgown, letting them fall around her ankles, and noticed the way her own body, too, had taken on a vastly different form from one she could remember and old photos could verify she once had. She had always been slender and small-hipped, but now her stomach had rounded and her breasts fell flat, having lost the spherical buoyancy of her younger days. When she finally got into the shower, she let the water and steam envelop her for nearly an hour. She was careful not to get her hair wet (she didn’t have an appointment at the beauty parlour for another three days), but let the water stream down her arms and body, as if the moisture could seep into her skin, once again making it tanned, resilient, and replete.
Marge trudged to the kitchen a while later, and ate her usual breakfast of dry toast laced with Nutra-Sweet in silence. After swallowing the last few bites of her bread, she tested her insulin level the way she had three times daily for the past forty-three years. The test had changed slightly over the years, but the idea remained the same- Marge pricked her finger, allowed a drop of blood to spill out onto a strip of litmus paper, waited for the blood to dry, and matched the colour to a chart that indicated whether her blood sugar was high or low. After invading the same finger so many times year after year, it was slightly misshapen compared to her other fingers, and barely showed remnants of a fingerprint. Marge ate half of an apple and injected her upper arm with insulin to raise her blood sugar level, just as the sun was beginning to rise. She settled herself in from of the television for a day of news shows and soap operas. A day like any other but for the discomfort perpetuated by her dream.


Colin rolled over. Apparently he’d forgotten to close his blinds, because now yellow sunlight poured in, nearly blinding him. He shielded his eyes from the glare while he kicked his duvet to the floor and stripped off his T-shirt in an attempt to cool off. He cocked his head away from the window to glimpse the clock. ‘Shit,’ he muttered, realising that it was mid-afternoon and he was more than six hours late for work without having called in sick. He attempted to close the blinds with one arm, but since he couldn’t reach them from where we was positioned and didn’t have the energy to scoot across the queen bed, he settled for fumbling with the aspirin bottle that lay on his bedside table. He swallowed two without water, hoping they would help the throbbing in his head and the crushed sensation in his chest- in his heart, more specifically- subside. Colin wrapped a pillow around his head to block out the brilliant day and fell back asleep.

‘Colin! What are you still doing in bed? It’s five o’clock!’ his mother, Patty, hollered. Colin sat halfway up in bed and shrugged away from his mother’s hand, which lay on his bare shoulder. Colin groaned. He had planned to be up and showered by the time Patty returned home from work so she wouldn’t suspect that he had been sleeping all day.
‘I was just taking a little siesta, Mom,’ Colin mewled, hoping she would think he’d been productive earlier on.
‘Did you go into work today? Or call in sick at least?’ Patty was quick to follow up. ‘I am getting far too old to be working to support you and you to than me by lying around all day, drunk and who knows what else.’
‘No, I just haven’t been feeling well.’
‘Well, in that case you’d better go ahead and hop out of bed. We’ve got group tonight and it’s in less than an hour.’
‘Mom, I’d really rather stay in bed than go to group tonight. I haven’t been getting anything out of it.’
Patty nodded. ‘Obviously you haven’t, because you still aren’t taking care of yourself, which is exactly the reason we are going to keep attending meetings.’ Patty paused and bent over to smooth out a rumpled pillow. ‘Did Carrie stay here last night?’
` Carrie. Colin felt his heart leap up his trachea and race back down. He managed to fight back tears that wanted to pour out, because Carrie was the last thing he wanted to discuss with Patty at that moment. His head pounded and he knew Patty would berate him if he detailed last night’s events to her.
‘Nope. Not last night.’
Patty threw a hand wildly in the air. ‘Well, that’s a first. Don’t tell me she actually found her own place. I know how impossible it is for you twenty-four-year-olds to support yourselves these days.’
‘Actually, Carrie and I broke up last night, if you must know. I think she’s staying with her cousin.’ Colin decided he would rather hear the nagging now and get it over with. Patty would have found out soon enough anyway. To Colin’s surprise, instead of chastising him Patty pivoted and sat down next to him on the edge of the bed. She grabbed the comforter from its nest on the floor, tucked it around Colin’s shoulders, and nuzzled it underneath his chin.
‘Oh, sugar, I’m sorry. I know she’s the only think that’s made you happy in a long time. Do you want to talk about it?’
Colin was still slightly suspicious of the change in his mother’s demeanour, but knew that she didn’t want to see him hurting. He shrugged from under the covers. ‘There’s not much to discuss. I think the words “clingy” and “scrub” were used and I think they were directed towards me.’
‘Baby, I am sorry. But it doesn’t give you an excuse to not take care of yourself and not to be responsible. You know you’re probably going to get fired. This is the what…third time in the past four months you haven’t shown up?’ Patty asked.
Colin rolled over to turn his back towards her. He knew that he, the youngest of her four sons, was a huge disappointment. She had never said so, never even vocally hinted as much, but he understood nonetheless. All the other boys had left the house at eighteen for college. Anthony practised psychology. Eric held a managerial position with the Dodgers. Ryan was finishing up his second year at Cornell’s vet school. He, Colin, the underachiever, had toyed with eleven years in the six years since high school. But they were all menial like his current one- filling orders and sweeping the floor at a piping warehouse- and consequently he never tried very hard to stay employed. And while it was a constant embarrassment, especially at family functions, that his mother still supported and sheltered him, nothing gave him quite enough motivation or pleasure to stick it out for more than six months. Last night, though, he finally realised what a long road he had ahead of him. His girlfriend- ex-girlfriend, he mentally corrected himself- who he thought loved him unconditionally, had cited, among the other reasons for breaking things off, the fact that he didn’t really have a steady job. Carrie wasn’t terribly career-minded herself, the last time he had checked- she took a class here and there at community college and gave manicures part-time- but somehow, suddenly, she had outgrown him.
‘Colin? Answer me.’
‘Huh?’ Colin shook himself from his daydream. ‘Yes, I think this was the third time, actually. You’re absolutely right. Can we please not talk about this now, though?’
Patty fluffed a pillow under his head and ran the back of her hand along his unshaven cheek. ‘I’m not trying to belittle you, and the last thing I want to do is give you an ultimatum. But I’m warning you, and I do mean this- you need to shape up. You need to start listening to what the doctors tell you about your health, you need to hold down a job and go every single time you’re scheduled, and you need to stop lying around in bed all day. And if you can’t do those few things, you’re going to have to move out and find a way to make it on your own. It’s that simple. Now I’m going to cook us a quick mean while you get changed and ready to go to group.’
Colin took two more aspirin and remained in bed for a few minutes longer. From under the comforter near his knees he unearthed Carrie’s stuffed panda. He rubbed the bear’s fuzziness against his cheek and inhaled Carrie’s scent, which was somehow embedded in the thing’s fur. Memories and a near sense of her physical sensation washed over him as he breathed in her soap, shampoo, and apple lotion aroma. He squinted across the bedroom- the same one that he and Ryan had shared as kids- to his bookcase, which held his baseball card collection, old trophies from high school basketball, and several framed photos of both him and Carrie and of his family. He looked quickly away from Carrie’s picture. It was too much right now while he could smell her to see a physical representation of her as well.
Two of the three pictures of his family were taken during his childhood. In those, he sat in his father’s lap, surrounded on all sides by older brothers. His brothers all had the look of his mother- lanky, brassy blondes with wide smiles and brown eyes- while Colin was a replica of his dark, square-jawed, grey-eyed father. He could remember having the pictures taken. Patty had always been yelling to try to get four boys into coats and ties and to the photographer’s appointment on time. She had always herded them to the bathroom and upon arrival, wetting a comb and slicking their hair, giving them all matching side partings. Colin could remember the feeling of being in his father’s arms, the injustice of being the only kid to have to sit in someone’s lap, and the smell of whisky as his father’s breath warmed the back of his neck. At the time Colin couldn’t identify the scent. It wasn’t until his first party, after starting his first varsity basketball game freshman year of high school, that many of the events regarding his father’s behaviour suddenly made sense. The team captain had handed him a large red Dixie cup, wet with condensation. ‘Jack and Coke,’ his friend had informed him off-handedly. Colin had taken the first sip, nit knowing what to expect. He had inhaled slightly as he took a large swallow, and nearly staggered backwards with wonder as a rush of memories his him. It smelled like his childhood. Colin drank until he passed out that night, waking several times to vomit. But before he had gotten sick, he could felt he alcohol being moved through his bloodstream and loosening him, heightening his senses while at the same time dulling a discomfort he had always seemed to carry with him. He identified immediately with his father’s fondness. It was two weeks after his fourteenth birthday.
In the other photo, taken right before Colin’s high school graduation, the boys all stood in a line with Patty behind them. Colin towered over the rest of the family, broad through the shoulders and hovering at six-foot-five. Colin’s dad wasn’t in that picture, and had been gone to Annapolis for several years by that point. He had announced one night at dinner that the Navy had offered him a job transfer out of San Diego, and that he was excited to take the opportunity. ‘But you guys are staying here,’ he said plainly, ‘and I’m moving with Isabelle, a woman I’ve met.’ Colin had watched as his mother dropped the casserole dish from which she was serving green beans. It shattered on the tabletop, leaving a large gouge of splintered wood and a sticky mess that left a permanent stain. Patty had remained completely composed, managing a wan smile and wishing him the best of luck. It was because of her behaviour that evening, the fact that she held a brave face in front of her children in what must have been the most painful moment of her life, that Colin never allowed himself to cry. Not when he got kicked off the basketball team senior year of high school, despite the fact that he was the best player, for missing too many practises. Not when he was diagnosed two years ago. And certainly not now. Not because of Carrie.
Colin’s father’s news had come during November that year, and he had moved out completely by the time Christmas rolled around. Patty didn’t cook her traditional family dinner that year, but instead took the boys to lunch at a five-star seafood restaurant in La Jolla. They sat on the terrace with the sun warming their backs, feasting on lobster and tenderly boiled shrimp, laughing and squinting from the glare of the sun’s reflection off the water. Suddenly, after Anthony’s announcement that he had gotten into the graduate school of his choice, Patty slammed down her water glass. ‘You know boys,’ she began, but looked off at the ocean rather than at them, ‘I’m glad your father is gone. The drinking was out of hand. I knew he’d been cheating on me anyway. That’s been going on for years.’ She laughed, a low, bitter laugh that Colin had never heard before. ‘And besides,’ she said, waving a hand to indicate the ocean, the sun, and the warm air, ‘How could anyone leave San Diego for Maryland? Look at this weather. It’s eighty degrees in December. Merry Christmas, boys.’
Colin had been wholly taken aback by his mother’s outburst, but noticed that he was subconsciously nodding along with his brothers. They were better off.

Now, Colin hoisted himself out of bed, pleased that the aspirin had finally kicked offered him some relief. He turned the shower as hot as it would go and leaned against the blue tile on the back wall, letting steam rise around him and the water burn the smell of alcohol, cigarettes, and Carrie from his skin. He stepped out of the shower, tucked a towel around his waist, and examined himself closely as he shaved. He put the razor down as he rounded his cleft chin and took a hard look at his bloodshot eyes. Dark patches circled his eyes, and his eyelids were a bruised shade of lavender. He ran a hand through his spiky hair, surprised to see how much grey hair had suddenly sprung up. He got his first few greys at seventeen, a week after he got kicked off the basketball team, but had always found the premature hairs rather distinguished. Now, though, the grey hairs were plentiful. Colin placed his hands on the side of the sink, letting his chin drop to his chest. ‘Man, I look like holy hell,’ he muttered.







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Comments by other Members



Cornelia at 10:05 on 08 September 2005
I have the feeling this is a novel rather than a short story. It carries the reader along with its self-conviction and strong sense of place and character.

This would as it stands be too long for most UK outlets. I had to print it off to read it properly.

I had a good laugh over some unintentionally funny parts.

Points in the detail:

In the funeral paragraph, the 'shriek like a grackle' gave me the first giggle. I don't know what a grackle is, but just the sound of the word completely lowers the tone, I felt.


In the next par., I wondered first that someone would spend an hour in the steam of a shower and second that they could possibly keep their hair dry for that length of time. Also, why didn't Marge wash her own hair between beauty parlout appointments?

Was it the same inertia of mind or imagination that made her prick the same finger all the time?


'He felt his heart leap up his trachea' - another unintentionally funny line, I think. It can't be a literal happening, and needs 'as if' after 'felt'.

'toyed with eleven years' - maybe changing 'with ' to 'for' would help, but it needs to be rephrased.

'cook a quick mean'. I think you mean meal.

'broad through the shoulders'should be 'in'

'hovering at six-foot-five' - again, a very comic image, if taken literally.

'subconsciously nodding' Can someone do this?

These body-obsessed, bone-idle characters have lots of comic potential, Colin in particular, along with his mom.


All this is very critical, but I should say I was delighted by the La Jolla Lobster dinner. It makes me want to drop everything and take a flight t San Diego. Oh, maybe it's in one of those underwater parts now. I hope not. I look forward to reading more,especially the therapy meeting, but, as I say, I think it merits novel proportions.

Sheila


jenn22580 at 14:27 on 08 September 2005
Sheila,

Thanks for the feedback- I haven't had my work critiqued in years! Like I say, I wrote this back in 2000, I think, and wasn't sure if I wanted to revisit it or not.

To be honest, I think I'd rather shorten it than develop it into a novel. I can think of other stories for Colin, and would be able to develop him further, but Marge leaves me a bit cold. I do have the tendency to write long stories, which is a problem when it comes to publication. I have identified a few literary mags that accept stories up to around 8,000 words, but it does narrow my opitions, obviously.

That said, there is only one more part to this story. I'll post that soon and then try to overhaul the piece as a whole.

Thanks for taking the time!
Jenn

Cornelia at 18:01 on 08 September 2005
Marge doesn't have enough people in her life, unlike Colin, with his mom and siblings and ex girlfriend. Maybe if Marge had a friend, or even a cat, she would liven up a bit.She needs some dialogue. Surely she meets people at the Beauty Parlour? I'd love a scene set there. Please don't leave her on that sofa watching the daytime soaps. What about the postman? I'm getting too fanciful now. I expect she's destined to meet Colin, but they are both so inert it would be a fatal combination.

Sheila

Becca at 04:41 on 11 September 2005
Hi Jen,
My first thoughts were this must be part of a novel, if only for the fact that eleven different characters are mentioned and two different points of view, - not that the second thing has to be a problem. But there's a great deal of detail in the back story about the MC when he was younger and a good question to ask is how does this serve the story and move it on. If you were building up character in a novel Colin's thoughts about his father, being at school, first drink etc might be relevent, but in a short story format, there just isn't room. You're right that there are a couple of mags left in the states that'll take 8,000 or so, but not many and none I know of here.
With so much detail it's hard for the reader to sense the direction of the story and the shape of it, it's a worry thinking do we have to remember all the characters mentioned for later.
One way of dealing with editing if you're going to make this feel like a short story is to examine every sentence in the light of what the story is actually about, (is there a story line or plot?), and then remove everything extraneous to that.
I found a few typos:
'in from of'--> front
'to support you and you to than me'??
'the only think--> thing
'nit knowing'--> not
'his him'--> hit him
'he alcohol'--> the
'finally kicked offered --> offering?
The character of the mother is interesting, I wonder if there's another story there?
Becca.

bjlangley at 12:26 on 12 September 2005
Hi Jen,

Marge's dream confused me a little. Is/ was she ever married with a married child? Or is there no truth in it, and has she always been as alone as she seems in the first part of this? If there was a husband, what happened to him?

There was plenty of Colin to get a grip of, but perhaps a little too much back-story, depending upon what's coming next.

I have to say "spherical buoyancy" is a great phrase.

"had toyed with eleven years in the six years since high school" - is that supposed to be eleven jobs?

It'll be interesting to see how these two characters can affect each other's lives.

All the best,

Ben

PeterOC at 13:56 on 14 September 2005
Hi Jen,

This is a nice piece and a good start. I like your writing style. It's very relaxed and flows well.

After reading this part, I got the impression that I was reading something of novel length and I did feel that this tale hadn't actually got off the ground yet. There is a stab of high drama at the start with the introduction of Marge and Jimmy at the funeral. After that there isn't a whole lot of drama and I think for a short story there should have been a bit more by this point.

Still, I'm intrigued as to what happens next. The big hook for me is to see how these two very disparate threads can be woven together.

All the best,

Pete

SamMorris at 20:38 on 15 September 2005
Hello Jenn,

It took me a little time to get into this, but when I did, it swept me along nicely. There was a nice sense of space and resonance in this and the characters felt like complete people. But I have to agree that at the end it felt like the end of a chapter not like the end of a story.

Look forward to more (of this or other stories) and thanks for the read.

Sam



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