Contest #121 shortlist ⭐️

44 comments

Romance American Contemporary

“Thanks a lot for coming in tonight—you are a wonderful crowd. Now get out of here!” Hugh’s trademark comedic snark teeters between sincerity and sarcasm. The audience does not know how to take his tone, so they laugh even harder, cheering and whistling at the close of his set. 

But Hugh is already off stage, walking through the venue's hectic kitchen and out into the dark alley before the waitresses drop checks on the comedy club’s sticky tables. 

The alley is empty and cold. 

Hugh puts his head against the rough brick of the building, breathes in slowly through his nose and out through his mouth—just the way his therapist has prescribed. His exhalations make small, misty clouds. He repeats the breathing pattern, over and over, until his claustrophobic tunnel vision widens. 

Rivulets of sweat stream from his armpits and down his back, steaming in the frigid, dry air. I am Cloud Man, he thinks, wondering how to write that into his act. Cloud Man: the worst superhero ever—one who just reflects heat and makes shade? There is a joke there. He’d work on it.

He tries to meditate. Can’t. He attempts to slow his breathing. Can’t. His heart continues jackhammering against his chest. He’s not entirely sure why—he’s been sober for weeks. 


He remembers his high school English teacher from decades prior. Hugh, please hand me the note. She had been strict, but fair. Dutifully, Hugh handed it over to her. She read it to herself while the class sat in silence. Please see me after class, she had said in her self-assured way, looking at him over her glasses. He’d conjured up a dozen different excuses, embarrassed at what he’d written. After the bell, she simply said that his being clever and witty were signs of above average intelligence, but there was a time and a place for his humor. 

No one had ever called Hugh smart before—he’d been called a smartass, yes. But smart? No. This new information had given him pause, as he was so used to being a disappointment to everyone. 


Hugh paces in the alley. He has forty-five minutes before the second show—the late crowd invariably louder and drunker, replete with would-be hecklers he would need to skewer. 

He mentally finetunes his setlist. Although he takes little pleasure in this, it is a necessary evil. The unexamined setlist is not worth dying.

He recalls the first narrative’s arc working well in the opening. The middle sags a bit when he talks about his childhood pets. He’ll tighten it up—make it more concise, artfully leading the audience to think he’s going in one direction before he switches it up. Irony—the reversal of expectations—causes the audience to laugh, so he will swap the story of his first job at a Mexican restaurant with his first divorce. That will flow better, Hugh thinks. But he doesn’t really know what works until he’s on stage and can gage the audience. He can tell the same joke fifteen different times and get fifteen different reactions. Towards the end of his set, though, his jab lines build enough comic tension that the final punchline kills. He leaves the audience wanting more, which is why he gets booked 45 weekends out of the year.

His heartbeat now within the normal range, Hugh decides he wants a hot dog, so he jams his hands in his pockets, rounds the corner to the main street, hopes to see Sabrett's blue and yellow umbrella over a steaming pushcart and a vendor warming his hands over the hot water pans in the November chill.

Hugh arrives at the cart simultaneously alongside another customer. Having been in the city too long, he shoulders the other person out of the way and places his order. 

“Two dogs, ketchup only.”

“I appreciate your ordering for me, but I prefer sauerkraut and relish on mine,” a woman’s voice says icily. 

“Oh, I didn’t see you there,” Hugh replies flippantly, ignoring her. 

“I get it. You were too busy ordering your hot dogs like a 3rd grader. Seriously, ketchup? On a Sabretts? It figures. Usually people with no class have no taste as well.”

Hugh turns around, his hot dogs in hand, ready to give the woman a piece of his mind—but she is lovely. And angry. 

Her eyebrows arched, she crosses her arms and stares balefully at him.

“Two dogs, no ketchup, sauerkraut and relish,” Hugh tells the vendor, handing him a ten dollar bill. 

“I normally eat just one,” she says.

“Oh, these are for me. Usually people with class have great taste. I need to see what I’m missing.” He pretends to take a bite of her hot dogs, and she shoves him.

“Give me my hot dogs. And I’m going to eat them both, just to spite you.”

“Hugh.”

“Just to spite Hugh, Hugh-ever Hugh are.”

“You keep eating two hot dogs, you’ll be Hugh.”

“Does body shaming usually work when you are picking up women?”

“You keep eating two hot dogs, and you’ll be hard to pick up.” 

She shoves him again. 

“Goodbye, and no thank Hugh,” she nods at him, a smile playing at the edges of her full mouth. She strides away.

“Wait,” Hugh calls after her.

She turns, annoyed. “What?”

“You have something on the side of your face,” he says, taking one of the napkins from the pushcart. He trots after her, coming close, dabbing the corners of her mouth. 

“You relished doing that, didn’t you?” she replies.

“Well, you were in a pickle.” 

She doesn’t want to, but she laughs. 

“Where are you going tonight?” Hugh asks her. 

“I’m going home.”

Hugh points at the comedy club’s entrance. “I’m performing here until 11:00. You wanna come in? See the show? Warm up a little? Eat a few more hot dogs?”

“You’re a comedian,” she says resignedly. “It figures.”

“You don’t like comedians?”

“Hugh, I prefer people who work out their childhood traumas the old-fashioned way—living with simmering resentment and paralyzing discontent and emotional attachment disorders.”

“Well, you have hit the trifecta with me. I’ll throw in two ex-wives, a daughter I hardly know, and estranged parents to boot.” 

“You certainly know how to sweet talk a girl.”

“What do you say? You’ll have a front row seat . . . or maybe a stool at the bar if we’re sold out.”

“It gets better and better. How about if I just go home, wait for you not to call, and feel relieved that I dodged a bullet? You’re a little complicated for me. I don’t like complicated.”

“Complicated?” Hugh feigns indignation. “Honey, I’m a complete disaster. If you knew what was good for you, you’d drop those hot dogs and run to the closest subway stop.”

“Challenge accepted. What time does the show start?” she asks, as they walk toward the comedy club’s front door. 

“9:30,” Hugh replies. “And afterwards, we’ll go somewhere nice. Like a falafel truck or a pretzel stand.” 

“Do you eat ketchup on your pretzels, too?”

“MUSTARD. What kind of barbarian do you think I am?”

“Hopefully the funny kind,” she grins. Hugh returns her smile, opening the door, the warm air of the club enveloping them.

“After you, my hot doginatrix” he says breezily, but catches her eye, loses his bravado.

She’s lovely.

He's bold enough to take her hand.

“Thanks a lot for coming in tonight,” he says quietly, sincerely. He squeezes her hand. She squeezes it right back.

“Thank me? No, thank Hugh.”


November 26, 2021 16:53

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44 comments

Daniel Hayes
17:30 Dec 02, 2021

Great story Deidra, I loved it!! The chemistry between the two really shines through, and the hot dog jokes were fantastic! The back and forth dialogue flowed perfectly and the pacing was excellent. We need to work on getting "Cloud Man" his own comic series, movies, shows, and least we forget, the all-mighty action figure for the kids... lol :) I loved this story, you have a very unique voice and as always you did a great job on this one!! :) :)

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Deidra Lovegren
19:32 Dec 02, 2021

Oh Daniel, you are a prince! I was pleased this was a recommended story this week. In my household with three sons who are all world-class fart monsters, Cloud Man is a whole different breed. Thanks for the kind words. We just finalized the contract on the Charlottesville house. I'm so glad to be moving back to the mid-Atlantic. Virginia & West Virginia are God's own acres. I'll need to get my fire-making skills back in order.

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Daniel Hayes
19:40 Dec 02, 2021

That's great news!! Congrats on the sale, the scenery is definitely a highlight and in my experience the people here seem to be more laid back and nice. Oh, and don't worry, those fire skills will come back quickly, especially since winter is digging its icy claws in... lol :)

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Deidra Lovegren
19:43 Dec 02, 2021

ATNAS <-- the best name ever. Need another Grace story. ASAP.

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Daniel Hayes
19:45 Dec 02, 2021

I hope to do another Grace story, (Which is my daughter's middle name) later this month ;) Hopefully the prompts work out.

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Deidra Lovegren
20:04 Dec 02, 2021

I arm wrestle the prompts. I took a dark turn with spree this week…

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K. Antonio
18:28 Nov 30, 2021

This was FREAKING ADORABLE. My greatest endeavor in my love life is now to be picked up by a hot dog stand in the same way. The dialogue was great, I thought everything was clever and witty and just cute AF. This story slapped! 🤣🤣😍

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Deidra Lovegren
23:37 Nov 30, 2021

Yes, nothing like the old love story of (dysfunctional) boy meets (enabling) girl over E coli-and-salmonella pork-based street food. Truly, a tale as old as time....🎵

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K. Antonio
16:09 Dec 03, 2021

YES! SHORTLISTED, HUZZAH! Congratz, Deidra!!!

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Deidra Lovegren
16:13 Dec 03, 2021

It's been a minute. I'll take it :)

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Michael Regan
17:16 Nov 27, 2021

😂 Puns and Socrates - Where do you get these great ideas?

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Deidra Lovegren
17:23 Nov 27, 2021

Which reminds me of a joke . . . Do you want to hear a joke about Socrates? Why?

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Michael Regan
18:50 Nov 27, 2021

LOL

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Bruce Friedman
13:58 Nov 27, 2021

I enjoyed your serious discussion of the arc of a standup comedy routine. Never thought about it in these terms.

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Deidra Lovegren
18:20 Nov 27, 2021

I think comedians are the master storytellers. Talk about "omit needless words" -- every word out of their mouth has to add to the punchline. Tight. Crisp. Concise. They need foreshadowing. They need rising action. They need a killer punchline and a dénouement. The ones who do it well are brilliant and write very, very well: Bo Burnham, Judah Friedlander, Patton Oswalt, Jim Gaffigan, Demitri Martin, Steve Martin.

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Bruce Friedman
15:19 Nov 28, 2021

I am finding foreshadowing the most interesting part of short story writing. A gesture, a glance, a few words provides clues about the outcome.

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Deidra Lovegren
23:14 Nov 28, 2021

You are right (write?) about foreshadowing. Best advice I ever received: endings should be surprising but EXPECTED.

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Kaylee Tinsley
13:10 Jan 05, 2022

This was great!! You are certainly the Queen of Dialogue!! :)

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Deidra Lovegren
14:40 Jan 05, 2022

I listen to high school students talk all day -- during class, during lessons, during tests, haha I'm sure all those voices are stuck in my head :)

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Kaylee Tinsley
12:53 Jan 12, 2022

Well, you definitely have my high-schooler stamp of approval, as far as dialogue goes! ; )

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19:08 Dec 04, 2021

The manner you sketched out Mr Hugh in different scenes-- on-off-stage performer, a lover, a street food lover was wonderful. But, the most interesting was when an artist had a pre-stage, adrenaline rush before his performance, with his setlist.

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Deidra Lovegren
19:40 Dec 04, 2021

Comedians are some of the best storytellers. Every word has to be perfect or a joke will fail. It's quite a talent -- and would definitely give me a panic attack :)

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08:57 Dec 05, 2021

I agree and have a great respect for an artist's dedication :)

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Jamie Gregory
18:27 Dec 04, 2021

I really enjoyed reading this witty story! The behind-the-scenes look at Hugh’s character in the beginning was really intriguing. You pulled the curtain back for the reader to reveal what Hugh was like when he wasn’t on stage being the stereotypical comedian. I also loved the chemistry between the two characters and the humorous jokes. Congrats on being shortlisted!

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Deidra Lovegren
19:39 Dec 04, 2021

Much appreciated, Jamie. I ran around with comedians back in the 1990's and they are some seriously damaged souls (funny though). The ketchup-on-a-hot-dog is pure blasphemy, though.

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Shea West
11:04 Dec 04, 2021

Well I'll say it's a good thing Hugh isn't a comedian outside a Chicago comedy club with that hotdog order. He'd get booed off the sidewalk with that order🤣🤣 A great story that reminds us sometimes we find love or like in the most unhughusal of places. You've been pumping out the stories lately, good to see a recognition put your way Deidra🤩

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Deidra Lovegren
19:37 Dec 04, 2021

Hugh's the kind of guy who would balk at deep dish pizza. ("It's lasagna!") Totally shocked at this shortlist. It was a goofball short that I wrote for fun. Oh, those fickle judges... :)

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Rachel Smith
23:41 Dec 03, 2021

Woo hoo congrats!

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Deidra Lovegren
00:22 Dec 04, 2021

Let’s goooooo

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Daniel Hayes
17:01 Dec 03, 2021

Hi Deidra, just wanted to drop a line to say congrats on being shortlisted!!! Way to go :) :)

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Deidra Lovegren
17:13 Dec 03, 2021

Thank you, Mr. Hayes. Appreciate the MidAtlantic hospitality :)

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Kevin B
18:33 Dec 01, 2021

This had that excellent crackle that humorous stories always find so hard to deliver on. You nailed it. Congratulations.

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Deidra Lovegren
19:10 Dec 01, 2021

Very high praise from the King of Wit on Reedsy himself. As always, thank hugh for the read and the morale booster.

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Francis Daisy
02:35 Nov 30, 2021

Love the humor!

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Deidra Lovegren
17:32 Nov 30, 2021

Thanks, Francis! I'm glad it came across :)

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Dorsa S.
18:52 Nov 29, 2021

the puns, the quips between the two of them - perfect dialogue and a lovely illustration on comedy. amazing! :)

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Deidra Lovegren
17:32 Nov 30, 2021

High praise, indeed! Thanks for the read and the lovely comment. Let's hope these two can find a little happiness in a cold and gray November.

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Suma Jayachandar
17:19 Nov 26, 2021

This story definitely put a hugh grin on my face!

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Deidra Lovegren
17:27 Nov 26, 2021

Figured it was time for a midwinter love story. :)

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Russell Norman
11:27 Nov 27, 2021

Or midsummer for some.. alas the world is not flat :P Another great story. Although I reckon she gives in too easy, she will be sorry. By his own admission, he's a disaster.

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Deidra Lovegren
12:58 Nov 27, 2021

In Florida, we still believe in geocentrism 🌎 haha Hugh will definitely leave a hugh whole in her heart. But her decision to buy “dirty water dogs” for dinner discloses her high risk/low reward decision matrix. Sigh. It will be fun while it lasts.

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Deidra Lovegren
18:56 Nov 26, 2021

And I see what you did there. (You are hilarious...)

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Suma Jayachandar
03:52 Nov 27, 2021

Haha..

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Faith Ogedegbe
05:24 Dec 08, 2021

Nice one as usual,Deidra.

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