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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Turning on the Internal Editor

I didn’t plan on entering but I was stuck for a writing topic. As I perused a few blogs, I realized it was that last day for Carol’s and Simon’s writing contest, which involved a choice of prompts. Why not take their ideas to see what I could generate? Thus, two weeks ago, I wrote a short story including the number two, the word poison(ing) and a beach scene, not intending to forward it anywhere. Late in the afternoon though, I thought: “Heck, why not?” and pressed send. After that impulsive gesture, I took another look and recognized that that I had failed in my proofreading due diligence. Chalk it up to a lesson learned.

In spite of my self-criticism, every time a story comes out of me, it’s a victory, and I want to extend a huge thank you to Carol and Simon not only for offering me the tools to generate the piece, but also for taking the time to critique the thirteen stories they received. Click here, and here if you want to read two of the fantastic winning entries. Below you'll find my edited and improved (I think) submission.

In case you are interested, when I told my husband and daughter about the topic of this piece, they expressed horror; claiming that these prompts stimulated some kind of latent sick-o tendency in me. To tell the truth, I feel a little odd about it too.

The Sting of it

After two hours on the beach, her skin itched, and she was pretty sure she’d contracted yet another case of sun poisoning. Looking down, she noticed a line of welts traveling up her arms. The tops of her thighs were covered with a pink patch of bloated hives. “No fair, no fair,” she thought. “It’s mid-July. It’s only my first day at the beach all summer. Doctor’s orders, I lathered up with the sunscreen I snagged off the counter in the kitchen, not once, but twice—this new stuff smells terrible. For crying out loud, I even wimped out and parked myself under this umbrella.” Not one to take medical warnings lightly, aside from staying out of the sun entirely, she followed the rules.

So far this summer, her favorite time of year had included overtime hours at the office, a business trip to Seattle where, of course, there was no such thing as sun, and two weeks of unrelenting rain once she returned home. For the last fourteen days she had slogged through the damp and mold of her beloved season, longing for a hot, dry Saturday afternoon by the ocean. The striped-cloth beach chair that her husband called the “PTC,” (Professional Tanning Chair) waited in the trunk of the Toyota for a day when the schedule remained clear—and the sky did too.

During the rain, she had planned the trip in her mind. She’d pack a small lunch, slice some fruit and throw in a hard-boiled egg and a bottle of water. This healthy snack would justify the two dollar bills she’d jam into her pocket, in anticipation of the ice cream truck’s arrival. Grinning, she imagined herself as a giant among a snaking line of clamoring toddlers; Goliath surrounded by a swirl of jiggling Davids, waiting their turn at the open window. The little ones would struggle to select from “Bottle Rockets” that would smear their faces blue, triangular cupped “Snow Cones” and classic orange “Twin Pops” that would dribble down their chins.

Shifting her bare feet side-to-side on the hot tar behind this pack of indecisive children would only enhance her afternoon indulgence. She could almost taste the extravagance of her unhesitating selection; vanilla soft-serve between two gooey chocolate chip cookies. The treat would begin to melt by the time she traipsed over the scalding sand back to her spot. There, she’d lean back in her canvas chair, gaze out to the ripples reflecting on the ocean, and lick the edges of her confection as it dripped in the heat.

Yup, she’d had it all planned, but now that she’d finally made it to the beach; her skin was mounting a full-on revolt.

Adjusting the tilt of the umbrella so that it sat directly over her head, she turned back to the novel that had engrossed her until the itch became too distracting. “I’m just going to ignore it,” she muttered. “I’ve waited too long for this moment, and darn it, the ice cream truck hasn’t arrived yet.” The teal sea swished and whispered as the tide measured its way in. Hard-packed sand in front of her of lay frozen in washboard ridges shaped by the previous high tide. Dollops of drying seaweed fanned out like undisciplined hair through which blue mussel shells sprawled with open wings.

Trying to ignore the torment that tracked like ants up her arms, she closed her eyes, listening to the beach--the lull of the ocean as it inhaled and released, the bleat of the lifeguard’s whistle as he waved his arms at the children clambering on boulders lining private property. Behind her, the indistinct muttering of a radio offered company to the teenage couple reclining sided by side on a bamboo beach mat.

The warm breeze played soft fingers through her scalp, and darn it, she so wanted to enjoy it. But the tingle invading her thighs like a swarm of biting mosquitoes began to crawl down her shins. Grabbing her towel, she pressed it to her flesh. Rubbing it across her burning legs she fanned what had been a flaming itch into searing pain.

Slamming her book shut, she tossed it into her bag and stood, folding her towel. “Perhaps if I ran into the ocean,” she thought, but the idea of salt adding its fire to the hooking burs now jabbing into her skin was too much. “Fine--I’ll go home. Man, this is unbelievable. I’ve never had sun poisoning as bad as this.”

Folding her PTC and tucking the umbrella under her arm, she picked up her canvas tote and turned toward the car, gasping when the chair scraped across her ravaged legs as she squeezed through the opening in the boulders bisecting the parking lot and the beach. Heaving the gear into her trunk, she opened the car door and sat, barely noticing the scalding seat--her vision of a day at the beach steamrollered by a compelling need to stand under the healing flow of a cool shower.

Driving with one hand, she scratched with the other, her arms, her thighs, the back of her neck, even her cheek. She could feel welts rising on her throat and chin. Accelerating through a yellow light at the state highway, she raced the three miles home. “Speed limit, be damned,” she panted, as she jerked to a stop in the driveway and leaped out of the car. Vaulting up the steps, she flung the screen door behind her as she stepped into the kitchen to the bemused face of her husband.

“Hon?” He asked. “Did you see a bottle sitting on the counter? The container for the drain cleaner sprung a leak. I put the goop in another one so I could treat the clog in the outside shower, but now it’s missing.”


Helen Ginger said...

Aaakkk! If she has any strength left, kill that man.

Straight From Hel

glnroz said...

I 'bout fainted...that was horrible,, not the story the plot.. lolol

Simon C. Larter said...

It's still a laugh-out-loud conclusion to the story, Liza. And my original comments about your descriptions of the natural world still stand--you're very good at it.

And no worries about the latent inner sicko. Seriously, have you seen the stuff my brain comes up with? I'm at the point where I just embrace the weirdness. It's kinda fun, don'tcha know? :)

cthompson said...

Oh My GOD!

Sharon said...

Give that latent inner sicko an ice cream sandwich for me! Great story.

My favorite descriptive sentence: "Dollops of drying seaweed fanned out like undisciplined hair through which blue mussel shells sprawled with open wings." I was back at the Jersey shore the instant I read it, (and I haven't been there since 1979).

Tabitha Bird said...

I love that you embrace these challenges. You have such courage. I slink away from these contests. I don't know why.

I love your entry :)

Jon Paul said...

Liza--this was a real treat. I tell ya, when she was heading for the car and scraped her legs I was literally felt it. Your description is so vivid, it makes for a very engaging read.

Nicely done.

jbchicoine said...

Sorry it took me so long to get around to reading this! I'm chuckling as I write...

...and of course, your prose is beautiful--gosh, I love how you describe things...