Contest #69 shortlist ⭐️

97 comments

Romance Creative Nonfiction American

1. Backpfeifengesicht | noun | (German) ‘A face that begs to be slapped.’ 

My uncle married a woman when I was three. Her name was Katharine and she had golden threads for hair and a voice like the tinkling notes of a piano. Coming from a long line of Germans, she could be sweet and sugary or tight-lipped and harsh. She chose me and my older cousin to be the flower girl and ring bearer, giving us a basket full of creamy white rose petals and two silver rings with the instruction not to lose them. 

Now I was only three and there are things I forgot, but what I do remember is my dress. I still have it. It hung in my closet and was silky. The collar was lined with cheap pearls. Fake ones, I mean. I’d tug at them whenever she came near. She’d touch my hair and tuck it behind my ears in a motherly way, laughing when the wisps flew into her face. She had dimples and that’s what I remember. 

Somebody in my family, my father perhaps, had a bet with my grandmother. He said I’d have a new cousin from them in a year. My grandmother shook her head. The conversation was at Thanksgiving dinner and Katharine could be listening. She knew the ways of the world and where the sun would set and the direction of his little apartment in the big city. She knew it wasn’t to last. 

And she was right. 


2. Fernweh | noun | (German) ‘The feeling of homesickness for a place you’ve never been to.’ 

When I was four they moved into a house. A small one where they could bathe in the sunlight and laugh and drink healthy smoothies. One in a nice neighborhood with neighbors that would bring over pie and talk about the paintings on their shaken walls. 

I never visited this place but they told me about it and kissed my cheeks. They said I could visit someday when the dahlia flowers bloomed. I let out a breath and thought about my grandmother and her predictions. The dahlia flowers couldn’t bloom soon enough. 

Dahlia flowers and their delicate little petals were what I thought about when my mother broke the news to me. “Your aunt and uncle—they’re splitting up.” I was five then. My mother ran her hands along her dress and shouted to the trees about her worries. She was worried for her brother and his first heartache. 

What really happened was told to me when I was nine. Four years later. I whispered to my siblings and held their baby-soft hands. Katharine wanted a break and my uncle wouldn’t take one. He wanted to settle down, have children. She wanted other men. I didn’t understand at the time but I do now. 

I think about what their house would be like all the time. They had to sell it during the divorce and I kept imagining it with a garden and a chicken coop by the front door. My uncle would sway on the rocking chair out on the porch, teasing me about how much I cried when I was a baby. Katharine would smile, wiping her hands on her apron, and we’d know she wasn’t happy. Happiness for her was scarce but we didn’t care. 


3. Erbsenzähler | noun | (German) ‘Someone who is obsessed with details and a bit of a control freak.’ 

That same year that I found out, when I was nine, my uncle found another woman. Her name was Apryl and she was skinny like the twigs on the spring forest floor. She worked for the government and was also German, but only distantly. She wasn’t pretty and would smile all the time like it was her default setting. Her hair was tied in a bun when I met her. A brown, messy bun. Hairs flew into her face like flies but she didn’t push them away. Apryl liked pain and I didn’t know why. 

My uncle proposed to her. He had moved to Phoenix, Arizona to get away from the yellow buses and black-framed portraits. He met her on a dating website, that kind where there are no profile pictures and everyone is a mystery. When he visited for Thanksgiving he showed me his computer and I saw the tab where his life crashed down in waves. 

I could imagine him on one knee. Would Apryl’s smile be wider? My grandmother didn’t trust her and when Apryl hugged me I could see the reason. Her hugs were breath-stealing and she grabbed fistfuls of the back of my shirt.

 “I’ll be your auntie someday,” she muttered in my ear. I hoped it wouldn’t be true. 

They bought an apartment together. I wanted to think it was a sign but I wasn’t big on semiotics. My uncle never told me about this one but when I called he stared into his phone and choked out some words he didn’t mean. Perhaps that’s when I knew then it was a sign. 


4. Schadenfreude | noun | (German) ‘The feeling of enjoyment that comes from seeing or hearing about the troubles of other people.’

She started acting weird in March. Or at least that’s what my mother told me. They were renovating their apartment to make it a little more modern. Apryl and my uncle had different styles and disagreed a lot. At this point in the story my siblings looked at each other and frowned in the guilty way only they could. 

Anyways, my uncle wanted to break off the deal. It wasn’t about the apartment, I don’t think. But what would I know, I was only ten and biting my nails until they bled. Apryl tried reasoning with him—they were trying to live around the builders and in the middle of a six-month project. But my uncle wouldn’t see her. 

She called him, one day. He was at work and she was at home. Her voice was collected, he told me. But she said she’d kill herself if he called off the engagement. She said she had a knife in between her long fingers and that she was ready. 

My uncle was in a position that my mother cried about. He didn’t break off the engagement and came home immediately. He found help. He called my grandmother and the police. They took her to a facility. We never heard from her again. 

My grandmother had pursed lips when we told her about it. She stretched her hands to the ceiling and then slammed them down onto the counter. She sang of heartbreak. My uncle, on the other hand, sat on the couch. He twisted the lamp until it glowed with light. It was the middle of the night but he visited that dating website again. I tried calling him in the morning but he didn’t pick up. 


5. Kummerspeck | noun | (German) ‘Excess weight gained from emotional overeating.’ 

My uncle picked up and moved to Seattle, Washington. By the water. I thought it would be a good opportunity for him to leave Apryl behind and see the city lights and listen to some rock songs. But he called my mother and told her that someone had just corrected him about the fact that Seattle wasn’t beside the sea. His voice was barely a whisper and so I worried. 

He called my grandmother a week later. My uncle found a new woman on the dating website. I smiled at my siblings and weaved my hands into their hair. Deep down I knew something would go wrong but for the moment he had a distraction. 

I was the one who was wrong. I was barely twelve when I heard about their wedding. She wasn’t a distraction and her name was Meredith. She was German and I was sensing a pattern. But more German than the others; her parents lived in Germany. 

I met her, once, before their wedding. She was broad-shouldered and her glare could kill a rabbit. Her hair was dyed blond and you could see her very straight cheekbones from behind it. I asked if I could call her ‘Auntie Mere’ but she bit the inside of her cheek and complained to my uncle about children. 

Their wedding was a winter one. Meredith wore a white fur coat and a silver crown atop her head. She showed me her diamond ring, once. It had three levels and was an inch high. Her family was rich and mine wasn’t. My uncle had asked my grandmother for some money, but she declined. She said she’d spent all her savings on Katharine. My uncle didn’t say another word. 


6. Pantoffelheld | noun | (German) ‘A man who may act tough in front of his friends but can’t stand up for himself against his wife.’ 

Meredith was to stay. She wasn’t the first woman at our Thanksgiving table of my uncle’s but she was the last. My grandmother grumbled when she asked to sit at the head of the table. It was my grandmother’s usual spot but she gave it up. 

I asked my new aunt about her work. She rubbed her hands under the table and talked about fortune tellers at the boardwalk. She also said she was going back to school to get a Master’s in economics. 

There were turkey decorations by the cracked windows of my grandmother’s house. Silverware was clinking and Meredith’s eyes were searching all of us. She commented on the decorations and the soda with her head on my uncle’s shoulder. 

My mother brought up the fact that Meredith and my uncle hadn’t seen our new house yet. It was a shame that they were leaving the next day and that there was no time. My uncle picked at something in his teeth and said a few words about how thankful he was for Seattle and Meredith. In that order. 

Then he proposed staying an extra day to see his sister’s new house. I kept my head down, which was a smart decision, because Meredith grit her teeth together. 

“No. We leave tonight. It’s final.” She had dropped her fork and was curling a finger into her hair. 

My uncle tried to reason with her. After they left, my grandmother called him and said they should have a divorce. My uncle was furious and claimed that he loved her. 

Well Meredith, she’s still here. My uncle’s words, still a lie. My uncle, still by the sea. 

November 27, 2020 00:45

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97 comments

Hello there, I loved every word in this story, and that little German touch was the perfect thing to make this story so much better. I really enjoyed it, and you did an amazing job writing this!

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Scout Tahoe
01:24 Nov 29, 2020

Thank you.

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My pleasure! I really do love all your stories!

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Rayhan Hidayat
17:34 Dec 04, 2020

Ooh second shortlist, looks like I need to step up my game ;) This was great, and I especially love the little dictionary entries and overall structure. Congrats!

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Scout Tahoe
19:20 Dec 04, 2020

Thank you, Rayhan! Haha

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A.Dot Ram
08:34 Dec 06, 2020

Love this! It's very creative. I know enough German to kind of see the literal translations of the words once you defined them, so that was a fun layer. It all makes me wonder what the narrator is going through as she recalls these details.

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Scout Tahoe
15:11 Dec 06, 2020

Hi Anne! Thank you for stopping by. :) This story is actually true so I am the narrator. It felt good to write about something that already had an ending.

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A.Dot Ram
19:19 Dec 06, 2020

Ah, i didn't catch the creative nonfiction tag! I think I like it even more now, to- see that you've processed your own experience this way. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

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Scout Tahoe
19:26 Dec 06, 2020

You said it. :)

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Louise Legrand
07:29 Dec 05, 2020

Congratulations on the shortlist. Like a lot of people here I liked the way you structured the story with a German word, that aptly described a life condition. I’m sure we’ve all met versions of some of those ‘lady friends.’ I wish I could be the grandmother... singing of heartbreak, is my experience. Yep.

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Scout Tahoe
15:00 Dec 05, 2020

Thank you, Louise.

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Waverley Stark
22:28 Dec 04, 2020

I loved the German that you started off with in the story. Loved loved looooved it. I lived in Germany for three years with my family and speak fluent German, so it was a lovely treat for me!! I miss Germany, especially all the Xmas markets.

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Scout Tahoe
23:46 Dec 04, 2020

Thank you so much, Waverley. I'm glad you liked it. ;) I want to visit Germany someday. And I'm impressed you know German. I heard it's a very hard language to learn.

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R. K.
15:15 Dec 04, 2020

Felicitations! I'm so proud!

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Scout Tahoe
15:20 Dec 04, 2020

Thanks, Ru. ;)

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Scout Tahoe
00:47 Nov 27, 2020

I like this. Probably because it’s a little fabricated, but true. Ha, I know, a third. I had some free time. The German words are also real. Thanks for reading.

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03:38 Jan 16, 2021

There are many lovely aspects to this piece. I love the premising of each significant section with a German noun. It serves to highlight Uncle's taste in women as well as giving an indication of what the following paragraph will be about. It's a story of hope. All the family want to see Uncle happy, but he lacks the awareness and insight to be truly happy. One issue grated on me. Why would you use 'Anyways'? Perhaps 'anyways' is acceptable in dialogue (certainly in dialect) but why would you diminish the excellence of a quality piece by...

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Scout Tahoe
14:20 Jan 16, 2021

Thank you! “Anyways” was put there because this is a true story about me and my uncle, and so I was writing what I know. Which is, I was writing how I usually speak. :)

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05:11 Jan 21, 2021

But the reader doesn't know the narrator is the author. Is that the point? The reader is supposed to guess it? Does the reader need to know the narrator is the author? Just asking. It's still a lovely piece. Regards, Rhonda Valentine Dixon.

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14:37 Jan 01, 2021

Hey, any sad stories of yours? Would love to read a few :)

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Scout Tahoe
16:28 Jan 01, 2021

Um, sure. I don’t really know what kind you’re looking for, but any of my stories under the “sad” category would do.

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18:12 Jan 01, 2021

Okay, thanks.

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Avani G
16:37 Dec 05, 2020

*gasps* Great job, Scout! Congratulations on your second Shortlist!

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Scout Tahoe
16:42 Dec 05, 2020

Thank you, Avani! :) And I just noticed--your profile picture is from Germany.

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Avani G
16:44 Dec 05, 2020

I love Germany. I used to take a few courses on Duolingo.

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Scout Tahoe
16:45 Dec 05, 2020

That's funny, I used Duolingo for some time. ;)

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Avani G
16:47 Dec 05, 2020

Duolingo is nice. My sister is fluent, so I learn from her sometimes.

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Scout Tahoe
17:03 Dec 05, 2020

That's cool! I'm trying to learn French.

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Fjc Montenegro
22:49 Dec 04, 2020

Hell yeah! Shortlist! I didn't expect less.

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Scout Tahoe
23:47 Dec 04, 2020

Aha, thank you good friend.

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16:48 Dec 04, 2020

Congratulations on another short list!!!!!

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Scout Tahoe
17:18 Dec 04, 2020

Thanks! Love the new profile picture by the way. :)

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18:36 Dec 04, 2020

Thanks, Scout :)

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Sjan Evardsson
15:31 Dec 04, 2020

Well crafted and perfectly paced. A well-earned shortlist! I still speak a little German after having lived there for five years, so it was nice to see the fun, we-need-a-word-for-that-in-English words. Stay safe and keep writing!

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Scout Tahoe
15:46 Dec 04, 2020

Thank you. Stay safe too.

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☆ Ariadne ☆
21:09 Dec 02, 2020

I want to punch the uncle in the face, but I'll hold myself back, only because you said it's based off your own uncle. So. I love how you crafted each of the women. similar, and yet, so different. Each with a different tool in their hands which they used to mark the poor uncle. I bet he's sick of dealing with crazy woman and just wants a break so he insists on remaining with Meredith. (not jumping to conclusions about your uncle or anything) Also, those German words. Oh my gosh, I love that language (can't pronounce anything right, tho...

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Scout Tahoe
22:17 Dec 02, 2020

Thank you, Ria. I’m glad you liked it a lot. :) Don’t worry, I won’t be offended at all. My uncle is still with Meredith because...I don’t know. I’ll have to ask him. Ha, I do not speak German. I heard it’s very hard to learn and pronounce. Maybe one day, though.

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☆ Ariadne ☆
23:11 Dec 02, 2020

Of course! Oh, thank goodness. *breathes a sigh of relief* That's sure to be one awkward conversation haha :) Mm-hmm. My thoughts exactly. Hopefully someday. lmao I have so many things to do "someday in the future," but I'm pretty sure I'll die before I even start one of them.

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Scout Tahoe
23:15 Dec 02, 2020

Exactly! My list is ongoing.

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☆ Ariadne ☆
23:22 Dec 02, 2020

Isn't everyone's? My grandma, whenever I tell her what I just told you, always rolls her eyes and quips something along the lines of: "Depuis combien de temps as tu vecu, que tu penses comme ca?" Or something, I'm sure my spelling is super off. It's supposed to mean "How long have you even lived, that you think like that?" She's cool and super frustrating like that. :)

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Scout Tahoe
00:21 Dec 03, 2020

Haha, your grandmother is French? Can you speak French? Sorry I’m very interested to know because my aunt and cousins speak French and live in Switzerland. (Ahem, recent story, ahem.) I love that line so much, wow. I’m trying to learn the language. Not very good at it. ;)

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Korra Shere
20:17 Dec 02, 2020

As someone else commented - I really like the way you structured this story. Good job!

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Scout Tahoe
20:18 Dec 02, 2020

Thank you so much. :)

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Echo Sundar
18:18 Dec 02, 2020

Wow! This story is AMAZING!! I loved all of the uncle's lovers all of them had unique personalities. I like how you used the german words and then had a little story to go with it. Every art of this story is perfection, I think this could win!

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Scout Tahoe
19:18 Dec 02, 2020

Aw, thank you very much. This was a relatively easy story to write because it's true. My uncle had three lovers and I met them all. They were all German and I was starting to get suspicious, haha.

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Echo Sundar
19:22 Dec 02, 2020

🤣🤣

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Scout Tahoe
19:23 Dec 02, 2020

I know, right? What kind of guy dates three German women--in a row!?

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Kevin Broccoli
18:31 Nov 30, 2020

I love the way you structured this. It's fantastic.

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Scout Tahoe
18:42 Nov 30, 2020

Thank you.

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Fjc Montenegro
20:46 Nov 29, 2020

I loved this story. Your writing is amazing! When I was reading it, I felt like it was framed, hung on an old brick wall, surrounded by flowering vines. I can't pinpoint what brings me that image (and maybe that's not even what you were going for), but it's there. It's in the word choice, the sentences, the rhythm. It's an atmosphere! Also, the German, and using the first person but only as narrator, and the structure with the six small parts. Awesome job! I didn't quite catch the holidays vibe from this story, though. I mean, it's there,...

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Scout Tahoe
21:18 Nov 29, 2020

Thank you so much, Splinter! I’m very pleased that you enjoyed reading. I actually did feel the old brick wall and flowering vines image. It just kind of appeared while writing. Yes, that was my problem, the holiday thing. I usually only post 2 stories a week, but last I posted 3. I wanted to post it because it was true and was relevant for me at the time. I think you’re right but the prompts were only about family. That’s cool that you’re Brazilian. I’m American so I do know about Thanksgiving, haha. Too bad it was pretty much canceled ...

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Sumedha Sengupta
14:39 Nov 29, 2020

I just loved the ethnic touch and I could not help myself from reading this over and over again. Amazing job!

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Scout Tahoe
15:14 Nov 29, 2020

Thanks!

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Sophia Thorne
13:37 Nov 28, 2020

This story got me captivated from the start. I enjoyed every second of it, and the german words were so cool wheen added to the story. Keep up! :)

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Scout Tahoe
14:23 Nov 28, 2020

Thank you. :)

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