Red Dot

“What did your father say?” my mother whispers.

I watch her gaze flit from my eyes to the painting of a peacock on the wall and back to a spot just left of my nose. Her drink is crooked in the hand that isn’t clutching me. I look past her cashmere shoulder to my sister’s television in the corner. Brian Williams is confidently addressing the almost empty room completely unaware that he is muted. The acrylic nails pressing into my wrist are elegantly curled warnings.

In my head: I steer her toward the mirror hanging not two feet away. I use the laser pointer in my pocket to circle the flames of gin in her eyes, the too-young barrette in her hair, and, somehow, the jealousy in her voice. She shakes her head in disbelief. In my head.

“It can wait, Mom.” I whisper back, and then I point toward the dining room. “They’re waiting for us.”

As if on cue my young nephew asks if he can play Red Dot with the cat again before Thanksgiving dinner is served. My sister tells him that he can’t because I have the laser. Where did he go? my nephew whines. To wash up, my sister says even though she knows I am just on the other side of the wall.

“Alex…my Lexy-man, just tell me.” My mother juts her bottom lip out. I know she wants me to take pity on her, but I can’t help thinking of the orangutan I watched on TV late last night who spent the entire episode hunting for grubs in an old banyan tree. 

I shave both words to a point before I speak. “You’re drunk.” 

“I’m not. This is my first. Promise.”

In my head: disbelief. “Ok, then. What the hell.”

My mom brings her hands together to cheer her small victory, forgetting her drink. An olive lanced by a toothpick plops onto my sister’s pristine white carpet. Brian Williams ignores it and continues mouthing words.

“Dad told me that you would try to manipulate me.” I watch her jaw fall slack. “He told me not to be afraid to cut all ties with you until after the hearing.”

She puts her martini glass down on a book shelf and I return to the dining room alone.

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12 thoughts on “Red Dot

  1. I have to mime everyone here. The devil is in the details and man do you have the power to bring him out! The description of the mother added another layer and I found myself hanging out for more. I’m curious about the end. I can assume a custody case or something like that but I don’t know what it is she wanted. I’m assuming you left this ambiguous on purpose, but I still want to know. Haha

      1. Aww, yes, that would have helped a bit. I did wonder by the end if he was an adult, but through the rest of the story, I pictured him much younger.

  2. The way you convey emotion is always spot-on. I read it twice and picked up on how you reused “In my head” – that plus the muted Brian Williams, and the oblivious kids, really helps convey how pent-up Alex is feeling.

    1. “In my head” was an exercise in breaking out of my day job. Sometimes writing history textbooks makes my fiction rigid. I’m so glad you saw what I was trying to do there. *makes note to dare myself more*

  3. First, I LOVE your details. That first paragraph pulled me right in. But I have questions. First, is a stylistic one: why did you choose not to put the sister’s and nephews words into quotations? (I’m hoping I can get a lesson her!) Second is a plot one: why does he have to be afraid of his mother manipulating him only after the hearing? Or am I reading it wrong?

    Whatever the case, I really enjoyed this one. I think you set the scene well and I could learn a lot from you.

    1. I tried pulling the nephew and sister dialogue out into quotes and I felt like it took power away from the immediate conversation. Folding it into the paragraph felt right.

      The divorce will be final after the hearing, so the mother will lose a lot of power. The father did not want to say “Ditch your mom forever” to his son.

      1. Thanks! Sometimes I want to make creative choices with my writing, but I worry it won’t work. Yours worked for me, so that’s why I questioned 🙂 the other part I must’ve read wrong.

  4. I know I always say it’s your details that I love…but it’s true! The mother’s nails, the drink, the nephew, and especially poor Brian Williams not knowing he’s been muted (a masterful reinforcement of your theme). My favorite part is how the speaker imagines using the laser pointer to “wake up” the mother (before we see its ostensible purpose).

      1. I would add that I love the details, too, but they shine because you leave important ones unwritten. I liked being dropped into a scene and using the details to figure out/understand the family dynamic/drama/dysfunction on my own instead of you beating me over the head with explanations.

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