Contest #65 shortlist ⭐️

Marshmallow Wrapped In Barbed Wire

Submitted for Contest #65 in response to: Write about someone’s first Halloween as a ghost.... view prompt

58 comments

Oct 25, 2020

American Drama

Twenty five years in, she found herself a ghost. She stood unseen in the living room, stupidly holding a large bowl of homemade caramel corn. The noise from the widescreen television washed over her, the whistles and calls, the screaming of the fans, the roar of the crowd. The men in the room, overgrown and overfed, booed and hooted, depending on their agreement with the referees. Empty bottles of beer and depleted bags of chips lay pillaged. 

She sat the bowl down. Quick meaty hands dug to the bottom, shoved gooey warm caramel corn into half full mouths. Murmurs of approval quickly followed. 

Her husband patted her on the arm as she walked out. 

He patted the dogs in the same way.

Although she should have returned to the kitchen to clean up, smooth as a shade, she glided out the side door into the yard. The dark corn syrup would hopelessly encrust itself to the sheet pans in her absence, but they could silently soak all night. The sugars would loosen, dissolve, disappear. 

Outside, she looked up at the trees, splendid in their fall regalia. The reds and yellows and oranges cheered her spirits in the crisp air. 

She felt as if she could walk for hours. 

And so she did.

A neighbor would wave and she would nod in return, a quiet visitant to these familiar streets. In decades past, she would have stopped and talked, laughing about the inanities of life. Watch out for the speed trap by the school. ShopMart has a sale on nectarines. The Brookers are getting a divorce. But nodding was about all she could manage in her new spectral state. 

She didn’t talk very much anymore. 

She briefly wondered when that had happened.

The ballfields were around the corner. How many hours did she spend there when her children were young, packing up sliced oranges, carrying lawn chairs, ordering trophies, and organizing pizza parties after the game. Her husband had always coached, holding up a clipboard, fending off other fathers who felt they could coach better, but they just didn’t have the time. Her husband would brusquely ask her to get the cones out of the car. To run down to the community center to pick up the uniforms. To make sure all the parents signed the consent forms.

She’d comply. 

She always did. 

When she had first met her husband, the excitement had been raw, primal. She had never felt more alive, seeing him light up when she entered the room. He truly saw her, his eyes wide open, following her every move. He would come early for their dates—making an effort—walking to her door, escorting her to his car, opening the car door for her, holding her hand, leading her to a table in a restaurant with his hand on the small of her back.

Now, they seldom went out.

When they did, he would drink too much and complain. He didn’t complain to her—her being insubstantial—but he generally complained to the general body populace. 

Last Halloween she had tried somewhat successfully to make homemade marshmallows. The first step was to make the sugar syrup. How easy that was! Almost like falling in love, adding the sugars, adding heat, and simply covering the pot. If this had been all it took and if this had been the only stage, the marshmallows would have been a complete success. But the tricky part was making sure the sugar syrup reached the right temperature: the firm-ball stage, where gently swirling the pan from time to time dissipated the heat evenly. This was particularly hard to do as things can be too cold or too hot. Spouses grow distant, emotionally retreating to somewhere less painful, less aggravating. Spouses say fiery things they do not mean that burn, sometimes throughout decades. Spouses apologize, but scars remain. And that scar tissue can fester over time, as finally smiling smiles do not fully reach the eyes and embraces fail to warm. A marriage so easily becomes a lifeless apparition from the vibrant corporal entity it had once been.

The next step of making marshmallows was adding the gelatin and egg whites. She enjoyed this part immensely, seeing the candy transform and progress, much like children who come to a marriage to give common purpose and meaning. This step in candy making was incredibly satisfying, as all efforts appear to be worthwhile. Besides, a cook was too busy at this point, watching the whole of it come together to notice if anything was really amiss. 

But the hardest step was setting the marshmallows, which just takes an inordinate amount of time. All one can hope for was oozing the creation into a prepared pan, quietly praying the process was worth it. Knowing that if the batch failed or went soggy or imploded from structural deficiencies, it was too late to start over. Like all candy making, the process required focus and forethought for things to go smoothly. External factors seemed to play far too great a role to guarantee success. 

In the end, marshmallows appeared to be far too fragile for this world, she thought, as she rounded yet another corner of the neighborhood. After all, marshmallows were simply sugary spun air, with nothing really to support them. They were as almost an illusory phantasm as romantic love, unsupportable after the years. As tenable as wrapping barbed wire around a marshmallow.

She stopped, sat on a park bench, looked out to the rolling hills and would have preferred to be there, far away, simply a shadow walking among the trees. Instead, she sat, watching a late fall sun drop down on the horizon.  

With the sun setting, a stronger chill set in. 

She stood and steeled herself for the walk home in the silent dusk, watching young families take their children out for trick or treating. She felt ethereal watching them, as if on the other side of a looking glass. 

The end of October was mystic that way, she thought, as it sealed off all the possibilities that autumn seems to bring. Tomorrow would start November, a dead time. A time when nothing grew or changed; it just was. And much like death—or what feels like death—she walked back home, icy and cold, as invisible and hopeless as any ghost. 


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58 comments

Zilla Babbitt
12:53 Oct 25, 2020

A ghost doesn't have to be dead. You capture her hopelessness perfectly, while also telling me how to make marshmallows. If I could offer a critique, I'd say that adding some dialogue in some paragraphs-- the ones that come to mind are "somewhat successfully" which then talks about marriage, and the ballfields "around the corner." This would bring the reader fully into the story and perfect what's already fantastic. Great title. Keep writing!

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Deidra Lovegren
13:14 Oct 25, 2020

Thanks ZB — As usual, you are right ❤️ I’ll see what I can warm up about the MC, but I kinda like her emotionally barren.

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Thom Brodkin
16:51 Oct 25, 2020

Some stories are just stories others have a soul. This is the latter. It is so vivid and so poignant the reader has no choice but to feel along with the character. This is a story that begs to be read and felt. I did both.

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Deidra Lovegren
01:17 Oct 29, 2020

High praise from the warmest of souls. ❤️ TLB

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Tom .
13:01 Oct 26, 2020

I want to melt sugar now and attempt making Marshmallows...

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Deidra Lovegren
16:25 Oct 26, 2020

Which was exactly my entire point in writing the story. :)

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Tom .
16:41 Oct 26, 2020

Job done.

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Laura Clark
11:11 Oct 26, 2020

Beautiful. Haunting and beautiful. I love the marshmallow metaphor and how you've delved into each stage to carefully compare. I also now really want to make marshmallows. I think I have all the ingredients and the baby is at nursery today... I hadn't even considered this as an option (a live 'ghost') but this is written perfectly and fits the prompt so well. I do love how your brain works. I have one suggestion about your first sentence. It's quite long and meandering and I think it could be tightened up somewhat. Twenty fiv...

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Deidra Lovegren
16:28 Oct 26, 2020

Perfect correction! I just fixed it. Much more fluid. So you are not only a great writer but also a generous editor. :) Thanks for caring enough to help me improve.

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Laura Clark
16:52 Oct 26, 2020

Always

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Julie Frederick
16:19 Oct 25, 2020

I love your one liners, such as 'He patted the dogs in the same way.' So much revealed in such a seemingly insignificant gesture. Brilliant!

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Deidra Lovegren
17:39 Oct 25, 2020

Thanks, Julie. First rule of writing: show, don't tell. She should really pack up her stuff and open a candy shop somewhere. :)

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Safa Jalil
08:41 Nov 10, 2020

Nice Work. Very well written.

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Deidra Lovegren
13:04 Nov 10, 2020

❤️

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Aisa M
15:44 Oct 25, 2020

Wow. I love how you connected this to marshmallow making. Well done!

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Deidra Lovegren
17:37 Oct 25, 2020

It was a stretch. I wasn't sure I could pull it off...

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D. Kase
02:22 Dec 13, 2020

Very vivid and beautiful in it's own tragic essence. <3 Lovely work... again.

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Deidra Lovegren
08:40 Dec 13, 2020

Thanks DKase — I love this woman. Completely a Greek tragedy 🎭

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18:48 Dec 04, 2020

In all my years of writing, reading, and crafting new words, in both languages I know, there is only one word for this: Wow.

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Deidra Lovegren
19:07 Dec 04, 2020

I'll take it. Thanks :)

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Azalea Silver
23:25 Nov 16, 2020

This story is, simply put, amazing. You captured the essence of the emotional turmoil she's facing and now I wanna make marshmallows too, now that you gave us the step by step instructions on how to do it.

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Deidra Lovegren
23:54 Nov 16, 2020

Enjoy the sugary treat with the side order of perimenopausal midlife crisis!

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Carol Namorato
16:22 Nov 08, 2020

Am I really crying over marshmallows? Damn. I honestly adore what you did there. Didn´t know that I had to read this until I did. Felt along with the character from start to finish. It´s weird how some people leave this world and remain wanted and loved while some people feel as invisible as ghost when they are still around. I really felt it in your story. Great work!

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Deidra Lovegren
17:12 Nov 08, 2020

"There's no crying in Marshmallows!" - Tom Hanks, from A League of Their Own. Maybe not an exact quote :)

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L.a. Nolan
05:41 Nov 07, 2020

I told you marshmellow and marriage was a winner lol! Well deserved short list Deidra! Fantastic stuff, much congratulations!

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Deidra Lovegren
11:09 Nov 07, 2020

Thanks for all the support. What food combos are next? Ice cream 🍦 and infatuation? Cake 🍰 and counseling?

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L.a. Nolan
12:15 Nov 07, 2020

Naw, go for broke, Tacos and illicit affair...

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Deidra Lovegren
12:29 Nov 07, 2020

Oh, I like that. Yes, Lee, of course! Street tacos with blackened mahi-mahi. Or shredded beef? Both would compliment a sordid food-truck-style affair. 🌮

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Ray Dyer
01:42 Nov 07, 2020

Had to return to repeat that this is a wonderful story! So glad to see it was shortlisted!

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Deidra Lovegren
03:41 Nov 07, 2020

Thanks, Ray! Welcome home.

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Katina Foster
16:15 Nov 06, 2020

Wow, Deidra! This is more haunting than any traditional ghost story. So well done, too. Your words paint a incredibly vivid mental picture. And the marshmallow imagery & process... so perfect.

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Deidra Lovegren
17:19 Nov 06, 2020

Thanks, beautiful joke teller of Missouri. I appreciate your kind words and talent. You are so fun to write with :) So, pirates this week or space adventure? We await your decision. :)

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Amanda Tams
10:13 Nov 05, 2020

Wasn't sure what to expect but loved it, it kept me reading all the way, following your journey. Love it

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Deidra Lovegren
10:19 Nov 05, 2020

Just an evening stroll around the neighborhood and a recipe for marshmallows and the realization that marital bliss can be utterly stark and hopeless. 🎉 (ha?)

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Ben Franklin
01:50 Nov 03, 2020

Nice metaphor, and amazing story!

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Deidra Lovegren
02:05 Nov 03, 2020

Thanks 🙏🏻 Ben

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A.dot Ram
01:05 Nov 02, 2020

Well this hit me in the feels. Very authentic.

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A.dot Ram
19:53 Nov 08, 2020

Congratulations on the shortlist. This really was a special story.

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Deidra Lovegren
02:20 Nov 02, 2020

“Feels” much better than apathy ❤️

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Len Mooring
21:29 Nov 01, 2020

The wages of sin may ultimately be death, but in the interim it leads to utterly screwed up communication and an uncaring. I suspect many marriages may take this path of quiet desperation. Well done, as usual, Deidra.

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Deidra Lovegren
22:12 Nov 01, 2020

Nothing some menopausal herbal supplements from Costco can't fix. (Ha?)

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Julie Ward
15:53 Oct 31, 2020

This is just a lovely, bittersweet fall story, Deidra. I was half expecting some dramatic murder on the dark path but somehow I just knew better. I love the way your story unfolds slowly - like stirring a simmering pot, folding ingredients in one at a time. What a way to describe that listless time when kids are gone, marriage is stale and life seems like a giant question mark! You did it flawlessly. I really hope your character makes her way into a new, colorful chapter in her life. Now I'm going to go inside to bake. My hips th...

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Deidra Lovegren
16:13 Oct 31, 2020

Congratulations on the baking. I am sponsored by Weight Watchers, so Oprah and I both thank you for your patronage. As for the murder on the path, I think one did occur. It's when the main character realizes to fully go home she'll have to murder what is left of her own personal desires. Selfish desires? Selfless desires? Who can say. It all comes down to the ties that bind. "Binding" being both protective or claustrophobic, depending on the mood. Odd, like the word "cleave" -- meaning both to severe or to cling to. So perhaps she'll ...

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Bianka Nova
23:54 Oct 29, 2020

I usually try to avoid commenting in one-liners, but I'm too tired to think. I just wanted to let you know that the story is obviously good and deserves more than a lonely like. Brownie points for the marshmallows (I hadn't even realized they were in the title, now I get it) 😉

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Deidra Lovegren
07:50 Oct 30, 2020

I understand sheer exhaustion and appreciate your delightful comment. Thanks for the moral support ❤️ We lonely writers thrive on it!

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Deidra Lovegren
07:53 Oct 30, 2020

Next story will have brownies for marshmallow points...

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