Wednesday Write-In #30

overdose  ::  mither  ::  gloss over  ::  poach  ::  digest


‘Just hang on a bloody minute,’ said Katie. ‘You’re not telling me you feel sorry for her, are you?’

‘Oh, come on, Kates,’ I said. ‘She did take an overdose, after all.’

‘Overdose, my eye. I’d like to go in and give her a second helping,’ she muttered.

‘That’s an awful thing to say!’ Even for you, I didn’t add.

‘Grow up,’ she snapped, glaring at me. ‘She didn’t poach your boyfriend from out under your nose. All right?’ Her eyes filled. ‘Until you’re sitting where I am, you can just shut it.’ She squeezed her eyes closed and wiped her nose with the heel of her hand.

I bit my lip, deciding I’d gloss over the fact that Katie and Frank hadn’t really been going out. Not in the proper sense of the word. He’d told me they never made things exclusive, at least. Katie was just being dramatic, as usual. I began to stroke her arm in what I hoped was a comforting way.

‘Leave off,’ she told me after a few minutes. ‘You’re starting to mither me.’ I snapped my hand back like I’d been burned.

‘Sorry,’ I mumbled. I was useless in these sorts of situations. ‘Just trying to help.’ She sighed deeply and didn’t answer me for a few moments. Her fingers scrubbed at her forehead, her nails lightly scratching her skin. I watched the tiny pale tracings as they flared and faded, bright against the redness of her face. She always got a high colour when her temper spiked.

‘You know what we can do, though,’ she announced, suddenly. She flicked the last tears out of her eyes and fixed me with an intense stare. ‘We can go through his phone.’

 ‘We can what?’ A firework of nerves started to fizz inside me. Keep calm, Allie. Keep calm.

‘Go through his phone,’ she repeated, settling herself more comfortably in her seat. Her face started to return to its normal colour as she started to put her plan together. ‘For texts, and maybe even emails. See what he’s really been up to.’ She drummed her nails on the plastic tabletop as she thought. ‘He’s in work today, so his phone will be at home. I’m sure the lads will let me into the flat. I can say I want to cook him a fancy dinner, and you’re lending a hand.’ She sucked on her bottom lip, her eyes gleaming. I was doing my best to digest this, work through it to its logical conclusion. My throat started to burn.

‘But – look. Do you even have his code? For the phone, I mean?’ I tried to keep my voice calm. ‘This is crazy, Kate!’

‘Of course I have his code,’ she said, in a pitying tone. ‘It’s the first thing I made sure to find out! Don’t tell me you wouldn’t check your boyfriend’s phone?’ Her eyes took on a strange gleam. ‘Oh, but you’d have to get a boyfriend first, I suppose.’ She shot me a glacial grin, which I ignored.

‘What’s the point, though? What are you trying to prove?’ I said, hoping she wouldn’t hear the wobble in my words. I felt cold, suddenly, despite the warm sunshine pouring through the café window.

‘If he did it with one,’ she said, unfolding her legs and getting to her feet, ‘he’ll have done it with more.’ She started to pull her jacket on. ‘And I’m going to put every last one of them in the hospital.’ She laughed, mirthlessly, as she pulled her long hair free of her jacket, letting it stream down her back. It gleamed in the sunshine. ‘Maybe they’ll put ‘em all in the same ward. At least he won’t have to go far when he wants to visit his little harem.’

I didn’t move. My hands were wrapped, white-knuckled, around my cold cup of coffee. I was trying to imagine myself in traction, and not liking the thought.

‘Well?’ she said, looking down at me like a headmistress. Like a tombstone, from the point of view of the grave. ‘Are you coming, or aren’t you?’


18 thoughts on “Wednesday Write-In #30

  1. Elaine Peters

    That’s really good. You’ve written very natural sounding dialogue. Hell hath no fury… Katie sounds a monster and I’m assuming she caused her first rival to overdose. Clever how you used all the prompts too!

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thank you! I’m glad you liked the dialogue. Yes, Katie is a bit of a monster, isn’t she? But, scarily, I’ve known people just like her… 🙂

  2. Emmaleene Leahy

    Great depiction of character through dialogue. Katie sounds evil, I like the way the possibility that the overdose was directly caused by her is a possibility which still isn’t ruled out at the end. Her lack of sympathy and ruthlessness make her a strong suspect. I love the narrator’s reactions of outrage towards her. I also think you used the prompts seamlessly. This would make a very interesting opening to something longer, the reader is hooked wondering how evil she really is. I am also interested in how the narrator reacts when she has to do something/ finds something out etc. Well done.

  3. Sam E.A.B. Russell (@thequietscribe)

    Hi SJ,

    I think you’ve taken great care to reveal something without revealing it directly, which can be a challenge at the best of times. Keeping your narrator’s secret a secret right until the end really carries the piece and gives it a subtle, authentic air.

    Katie as a character is overwhelming, almost like a caricature gone wild. I’m in two minds about how she sits in the story; I have known people very much like her yet at the same time, I wonder what she would be like if she were toned down slightly.

    More importantly, how would your MC change? Because Katie is so mental, and understandably so, it feels like her poor, deceptive friend is somewhat drowned out. She becomes lost behind Katie’s behemoth personality that moves out of timidity and fear, and into borderline absence.

    This isn’t to say that it isn’t an effective way to convey her desperation to get out of the situation. I’m merely curious about how your MC would come across if she had more space to breathe.

    One thing that I am uncertain about is the realism of Katie’s actions. It’s not unrealistic to seek vengeance in her situation but she is very callous. It’s important for us as readers to feel a connection with the characters we encounter and whilst there is good cause for us to have compassion for Katie, her venom erases some of it.

    In contrast, I have a great empathy for your MC; she’s in an awful predicament: concern for the individual who has OD’d, fear for her own life because of what she’s been up to with Katie’s fella, disgust at her friend’s attitude toward her boyfriend and his ‘harem,’ and guilt for betraying her friend.

    These are all things we can connect with and even though she’s done something wrong by getting involved with this guy (and we know she’s wrong to have done it), we can’t entirely condemn her.

    If you can look at Katie again and draw out the reason why we should feel bad for her and not totally abhorred, her personality will be more genuine and not so acidic.

    A specific detail I’m unsure about is the code to the guy’s phone. Perhaps it’s the wording that makes this jar for me; would password be a better choice?

    The dialogue reads, and sounds, totally natural. There’s even intonation of anxiety in the MC’s voice as it becomes clearer that Katie is about to trash several people’s lives, the MC’s included.

    There are one or two instances where the speech catches, such as the last thing Katie says: ‘Are you coming, or aren’t you?’ – ‘Are you coming or not?’ is the more traditonal response, so is there a specific reason for writing it in the way you have?

    I’d be interested to see what happens if you changed the tense of the piece. As it is, it reads as if the events have happened and your MC is recollecting (from where, I wonder?); it works but as it’s flash, would it be better for the story if it was in the present tense, told from the perspective of the MC as it unfolds?

    It would help tighten up your sentences in places by removing adverbs – mirthlessly would become mirthless, for example.

    Your description of Katie’s reddening face and how she scratches at her forehead, a typical reaction to have, is made fresh and true by how simple you’ve kept the motion.

    It’d be worth going back to some of your images – her hand pulling away as if burnt – and playing with them. That one in particular is a commonplace image which unfortunately doesn’t carry its share of the work. You can keep the idea of being burnt but it’s worthwhile exploring the image, expanding it and making it your own.

    I think you need to make a decision about your final two images: headmistress or tombstone? The latter has more impact and carries the theme of the potential death lurking at the edges. However, I’d be inclined to ask what words you would use to change the weight of the image and how it would effect the ending.

    I think the subject has been handled nicely and the prompts eased into the text with no problems. It’s refreshing to read about the issue from the perspective of the wrong-doer. Integrate some lightness into Katie and I feel the story could open up a bit further for you and your readers.

    Nice work.

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Wow! Thanks so much for all this. Am so pleased to get feedback like this.

      Katie is a tad overblown, but I was hoping to suggest that she’s mainly composed of hot air and bluster by having Allie mention her tendency to be dramatic; her threat to put her rivals in hospital shouldn’t be taken too literally. She has some toxic qualities, but I have sympathy for her because of the way she seems to be hurting so deeply. You’re right, though – giving the reader a little more to like about her would help the story.

      I really like your suggestion about writing things in the present tense. I can’t explain, exactly, why the story came to me as it did, and in the tense it did. I’ll definitely bear that in mind next time I sit down to write a piece of flash fiction. Great idea.

      The ‘are you coming, or aren’t you?’ was a response to the word ‘mither’, really; I thought it sounded more authentic when placed beside that word. I just felt it fitted Katie’s speech pattern.

      With regard to the images about being burned and the headmistress/tombstone – you’re quite right. I will do better next time. 🙂

      Thank you. I hope you win the prize for best feedback!

  4. runwithbulls

    Like the two comments above, I thought the prompts were used seamlessly. Katie’s manipulative character is described really well through dialogue and subtle actions, as well at Allie’s horror-filled reaction, cleverly written. I wasn’t sure why these two girls would be friends however? Perhaps a long history making it hard for Allie to break away, or Katie’s character had slowly changed over the years but Allie remained loyal. I just think a small line implying why Allie would be having coffee with someone as nasty as Katie would help the reader a little? Loved the character though and left me wanting more!

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Great suggestion – I think the reason the girls are friends is probably a combination of the two reasons you’ve suggested. I should’ve included a reference to their history, or their shared experiences as friends, to give a bit of texture to the relationship. Thanks – I really appreciate your comment, and your feedback.

  5. Anthony Martin

    There are a lot of dynamics at work here, which I like: Katie losing her boyfriend to another girl; the other girl overdosing, or getting close; Katie being sort of evil; the narrator also being sort of evil (at least that is how I read it). Dialogue is a great way to flesh out these kinds of subtexts, which you’ve done well.

    Between this write-in and the other write-ins that I participate in, I read quite a bit of flash fiction every week. I’ll say this about leading with dialogue: a lot of authors do it. The fact that it’s common doesn’t make it wrong or ineffective — my avoidance of it is mostly rooted in personal preference, not in some flash fiction writer’s canon. Something to keep in mind.

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thank you for this. Leading with dialogue is something I do a lot, now that I think of it. I will definitely bear it in mind. Thanks a lot for taking the time to leave this helpful comment. I really appreciate it. 🙂

      1. SJ O'Hart Post author

        That’s interesting. Is that a personal choice for you as a writer, or do you think it’s something that’s generally expected in flash fiction/short fiction? I tend to lead with dialogue when I want to throw the reader straight into the action, and I normally like to begin at the very end of a conversation. I suppose, in a way, that’s ‘hiding something from a reader’, too, but I suspect that’s not what you mean. I’ll have to read more of your work and discover the secret to your method. 😉

  6. Patrick

    Really enjoyed this. I’m not sure I needed to know why they were friends/lived together. Would that really ad to the story which was about betrayal (of the everyday sort) and a comment on social norms – going through someone’s phone, the modern equivalent of reading someone else’s diary or reading their personal letters? Time for Allie to look for a safe house.

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      😀 You could be right about Allie! Although, I’m not sure how dangerous Katie really is. I suspect she’s ‘all talk and no trousers’, as the saying goes. Thanks so much for your comment.

  7. Elaine McKay

    Katie is a scary lady! You reveal this very well in your use of dialogue. I don’t think I need to know their history, but I do feel Allie puts up with a lot. However, maybe that’s her guilty conscience. I would go with the tombstone at the end as it is in keeping with the threats being made and I like how you phrase it. I think they have an interesting relationship. I think some relationships do work on this level with one person being very dominant. I think you should keep Katie as a potential stalker type. I like that dimension.

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Yes, you’re right – certainly, those types of relationships exist, almost ‘addict/enabler’ in terms of the power balance between the people involved. You’ve hit on something very interesting in what you say about Allie staying around because of her guilty conscience – I think that’s definitely part of it. Also, perhaps, she’s living out the maxim ‘keep your friends close but your enemies closer’! Thanks a lot for your comment, I really appreciate your thoughts.

  8. anna3101

    I won’t go into deep analysis – I’ve had my share at the university. An overdose of it, actually 😀 So now I just enjoy reading without looking into the subtleties as it often derives me of the pleasure. Anyway, all I wanted to say was – I like it. I like reading your stories. I’d like to read something bigger by you though, and not just an extract.

    P.S. I haven’t been here for only a couple of days and already you have 3 new posts for me to read? How do you manage that? Please tell me the secret. I’d love to be able to do the same!

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Well, hopefully one day I’ll have a whole book for you to read! That’s the plan, at least.

      And as for how I write so many posts – I’m addicted. 🙂


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