Contest #158 shortlist ⭐️

Like a Baseball Bat to the Face

Submitted into Contest #158 in response to: Write about a character with questionable morals.... view prompt

101 comments

High School Contemporary American

This story contains themes or mentions of substance abuse.

“I need your car.”

“Carrie, it’s the middle of the night—”

“Simms,” she says in a low voice, unnaturally calm. “Walk back to your bedroom, tell your wife to shut up, grab your keys, and bring them to me.”

“C’mon, Carrie,” he whines. Simms is as petulant as a boy whose mother dotes on him—one of the reasons Carrie dumped him in high school.

Thirty years later, he is just as weak.

“Now, Simms. Hurry.”

Simms turns, complying with her request, not because he loves her—but because he loves his wife far less. 

“Goodness, Simmy! Who is at the door this late? They woke up the dogs…” Two furballs yip in terror, tucking themselves under her girth. 

“It’s Grady from school,” he casually lies, rummaging on his dresser for car keys, grabbing his wallet as an afterthought. 

“Well, I don’t see why whatever it is can’t wait until morning. I have to get up early, Simmy. You know how busy I am.”

“It can’t be helped. Something is wrong with the building’s electrical system. I’ll be back shortly.”

“I wouldn’t have married a high school principal if I knew how chaotic it’d be!” 

She rolls over in a huff, sending the dogs scurrying.

He resists replying. 

What good would it be to say things out loud that he’s not brave enough to admit to himself?

🜋 🜋 🜋

“I need your car, Simms. I don’t need you.” She slams the passenger door shut. He hasn’t sat next to her in a car since prom, but that was a lifetime and a hundred pounds ago.

“Well, Carrie. Tonight you get both. Where are we heading?”

“East Lane in Oaklawn.” She stares straight ahead, ignoring his shocked expression.

“C’mon, Carrie.”

“Drive me there or get out.”

“Are you going to explain any of this?”

Carrie looks out into the night, her face reflected in the window, middle aged, sharp-eyed, full mouth, still beautiful. She wears slim black slacks and a jade green sweater. It brings out the auburn in her hair, faintly graying at the temples. She looks like a shopper at a home goods store, picking out throw pillows.

“What’s wrong with your car?” he asks.

“Repossessed,” she states in her matter-of-fact way. She’d always been a truth teller, her realistic worldview tempering his idealistic one. “I figured if you couldn’t negotiate a cost-of-living adjustment for your faculty, then you could give me a ride.” 

There are shadows under her eyes. She looks exhausted, he thinks. Not like her. Carrie could always fall asleep when they were kids. The library. Mr. Phelps’ Earth Science class. The school bus. Under the bleachers.

“Why are we going to the worst neighborhood in town?” he tries again. “You know what happens over there.”

“I’ve taught at the high school longer than you’ve been in administration, Simms. Of course I know the neighborhoods.”

The silence is heavy between them—like the time she told him she was pregnant. He rubs his bald head, a migraine threatening. 

“C’mon, Carrie,” he says, just above a whisper. “What’s going on?”

She stoically crosses her arms, her gaze straight ahead. Her face is occasionally illuminated by the odd streetlight. 

He leans forward to turn on the radio. She snaps it off. 

Stubborn. God, this woman is stubborn. He shakes his head imperceptibly. She’d shut down like this in meetings whenever he discussed new curriculum or district mandates. She’d met him with a stony face when he told her he was getting married. She’d withdrawn completely when he admitted to cheating on her during his sophomore year of high school. 

🜋 🜋 🜋

They drive across town in the dark. 

The houses grow shabbier, yards cluttered. Vacant storefronts pop up as they continue on. 

Why’d he even come? Simms considers pulling a U-turn, dropping her off, and heading home himself, but neither option particularly appeals to him.

“Park next to Speedee Mart,” she says, clutching her purse with both hands.

“Do you want me to go inside?”

“Do you need to go inside?”

“I think I have to pee,” he admits. 

“Go inside if you want.”

“You aren’t going inside?” 

“No, I’m not.”

Two lanky youths in dark hoodies walk past Simm’s car, heading behind the convenience store. Carrie’s eyes follow them.

“Hey,” Simms says, putting a hand on her shoulder. “C’mon, Carrie. What’s going on?”

“I’m going to need you to not ask me any questions, Simms. Just let me do what I need to do.”

Before she can open the car door, Simms locks it. 

She looks at him, annoyed. He turns his whole body to face her, not knowing what to do with his hands except stare at them.

“Carrie, remember when you visited me at college—the last time we broke up?”

“Simms, we set the Guinness World Record for break ups. You want to narrow it down?”

“The time I got injured on the baseball field.”

“Yep. Broken bat. Senior year.”

“When I said I wanted to see other people, you said it felt like a baseball bat to the face.”

She nodded. 

“Well, that’s how I feel now.”

Silence. 

Carrie begins to tap her foot, anxious to make the transaction and leave. She unlocks the door by hand and starts to get out of the car.

“How many MMEs is Connor up to?” Simms asks.

“Since the back surgery? 240.”

“A week?”

“A day.” 

Simms exhales audibly. MMEs. Opioid dosages are prescribed in morphine milligram equivalents. Her husband is taking three times what is considered safe. As a science teacher, she knows all of this.

“He can’t get another script, Simms.”

“Carrie, you know he can’t sustain that level.”

“You know he doesn’t want to,” she counters. Her eyes water, but even in high school she could hold her emotions in check. He watches as she swallows hard. “I’ve never seen someone in so much pain.”

“You cannot buy him pills, Carrie—that’s assisted suicide.”

“Not buying them is assisted torture!” she replies, more harshly than she wants. “Just let me do what I need to do. No one asked you to come.”

“You’re putting me on the spot. I don’t want to see you break the law. I—I care for you. You know I do.”

“Simms,” Carrie murmurs, eyes closed. “Connor is the only man I’ve known who’s never lied to me—not even once. He’s been an amazing husband and a great father. He's been my best friend for decades—"

"Do you love him?" Simms interrupts, bracing himself for the impact of her response.

"I trust him. Entirely. And that is love without all the nonsense, isn't it?"

"I suppose so," Simms mutters, feeling both sick at heart and foolish.

"At this point, I would do anything to help him find relief. So, I’m going behind this store. You can choose to call the cops, wait for me, or not.”

Simms puts his head in his hands.

“If you want to fire me tomorrow, I can give you my ID and keys.”

“C’mon, Carrie. That’s not necessary.” He shifts in his seat, looking out the driver’s side window. The weight of the years settles on him, the missed opportunities with her, the endless chances. How’d he ever let her go?

“I’ll be back shortly,” she says. 

“Okay. I’ll wait right here,” he lies, watching her navigate the broken concrete parking lot.

In moments, he throws the car door open, quickly catching up with her, watching her do what she needs to do for a better man than he'd ever be.

August 07, 2022 18:49

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101 comments

Michał Przywara
20:57 Aug 07, 2022

There is a crazy amount of content here, considering how short this is. We start right in the action -- a woman demands a car from a (unhappily married) man in the middle of the night, and he agrees. Great hook. They go on a mystery errand. He's the authority figure, both at work and as the car owner and driver, and yet she has all the power. We get a great glimpse at an on-again-off-again could-have-been relationship. They have a long history together, and in many ways, they still are together, even if they aren't *together*. Good back a...

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22:18 Aug 07, 2022

(OooOoo -- thanks for the catch. Present tense always trips me up eventually. I wasn't sure it worked for this particular story, but WTF.) Hello friend (I'm stealing Alex Sultan's standard opening line, but true nonetheless) -- I think I'm getting a bit better at condensing and stripping out unnecessary phrases and clauses. I'd like to get to the point where every word matters. Roger Zelazny (a sci fi/fantasy writer) wrote that way. Very engaging... Again, thank you for explaining my story to me. At this point, I write for your commentary...

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Michał Przywara
01:50 Aug 08, 2022

Yeah, the under-the-bussing of education is wild. It's great for stories but so sad in real life. The cynical conspiracist in me can find some reasons -- under-educate people, get them struggling to make ends meet, and "the wrong people" are too tired to vote. Easy money :( Thankfully there's lots of good people on the inside, but it's insane that teachers pay for school supplies out-of-pocket. Oh well, this is getting ranty, and there's so much of the internet already dedicated to that. > I think I'm getting a bit better at condensing an...

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Michał Przywara
13:53 Aug 19, 2022

Congratulations on the shortlist!

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14:17 Aug 19, 2022

Thanks, Michal. This one was a longshot :)

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Zelda C. Thorne
06:15 Aug 24, 2022

I'm impressed with how much backstory is in this without being heavy-handed about it. Artfully done. Could be used in writing class as an example of how to do it! The story itself is heartbreaking.. Their current situation and the history... Feeling inspired to attempt sonething like this now Lol

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18:34 Aug 24, 2022

You write circles around me, Z.

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Zelda C. Thorne
18:49 Aug 24, 2022

You're very kind. Oh and I am about a third of the way through The Medicine Girl! 👏👍😀

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20:06 Aug 24, 2022

Is it shite? 😟

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Zelda C. Thorne
20:19 Aug 24, 2022

What??? No! Did you not see the 👏👏😀😀 She's a badass. Incredibly detailed dystopian future.

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21:48 Aug 24, 2022

I love Russell's illustrations. He is AMAZING.

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17:23 Aug 22, 2022

Two things never change. My password and my admiration of your writing.

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Philip Ebuluofor
19:26 Aug 20, 2022

Congrats once more on this piece and for being shortlisted.

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19:44 Aug 20, 2022

Thanks, Philip! 10th time is the charm (haha)

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Philip Ebuluofor
09:55 Aug 21, 2022

For sure, you will surpass it.

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Wilma Segeren
15:08 Aug 20, 2022

A great short story. I liked it better than the winner !

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11:17 Aug 21, 2022

Glad you liked it — and the winner captured the contest’s vibe of BCS spot on ❤️ It’s Saul Good, man 😎

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L. E. Scott
13:43 Aug 20, 2022

I love this. I don't really like Simms though. I mean he cheated on her when they were together and then lied to his wife about being with her.

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14:37 Aug 20, 2022

Simms is a foil*. Carrie is the superhero. :) No wonder he couldn't hang on to her... *English teacher term "literary foil" - a person or thing that contrasts with and so emphasizes and enhances the qualities of another.

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Morouje Sherif
20:49 Aug 19, 2022

Heartfelt and unfailingly flawed, a great piece! I remember reading your winning entry from the Rotary Club of Stratford Competition a while back. Was dying of laugher - your style is captivating and wonderful! Indeed, a prose idol!

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20:55 Aug 19, 2022

"The Play's the Thing" -- still a fan favorite. Who doesn't want to see two 50-year-olds fall in love while staging a 400 year old play? It's like its own genre :) Thanks for the support and wonderful comment. You've made my day :)

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Kevin Broccoli
16:05 Aug 19, 2022

I always love stories where I'm asked to bring something of myself to it rather than have all the pieces filled in right away. I was hooked immediately. I love that the dynamic between the two of them is in conflict based on who needs what from whom. I think it's a great way to show societal problems through the lens of an intensely personal story. You did it again, Maestro!

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16:29 Aug 19, 2022

This one slipped in. I really didn't see it coming, but it wrote itself (you know how that goes...) How are things up north? We moved back to Virginia (yay!) and I'll be happy to see Florida implode from afar. New school, new kids -- lots of fun :) Are you writing any screenplays? I'd love to be a beta reader (if you need one) :)

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Kevin Broccoli
16:43 Aug 19, 2022

We're entering Apple Cider Weather up here, which I loooooooove. Can't wait for my electric bill to go down when this heat breaks. No screenplays, but if you ever want to read a play or two, I'll recruit you in a heartbeat <3

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Manolo L
20:55 Aug 17, 2022

Hey!! Just wanted to say my girlfriend and I love your stories. I always read your stories to her every night before we go to sleep, even though she may not remember what I read I always do and your stories always have meaning and a special place in my heart. Much love!! Keep writing stories so I can always read to her. :)

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21:26 Aug 17, 2022

This is my fav comment of all time. What a romantic you are! She’s a very lucky 🍀 girl.

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Philip Ebuluofor
16:23 Aug 17, 2022

Fine work Deidra. I don't know who has worst questionable moral characters. Both seems to have moral problem. Fine work.

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18:25 Aug 17, 2022

We're all hopelessly flawed. That's what makes us interesting? Or humble, at least :)

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Philip Ebuluofor
12:22 Aug 18, 2022

Yeah, totally agreed.

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Phil Manders
16:02 Aug 17, 2022

Hi D This is spot on as always. You've got such a knack of leaving out unimportant information. Every word moves the story along. Great Job!

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18:23 Aug 17, 2022

Phil "Comma Man" Manders -- so glad to see you back on Reedsy! I'm still hacking away, but I'm submitting less as I've started at a new high school and have gotten keen on writing a novel series. Russell and I published "The Medicine Girl" at long last. (Link in bio) I'm off to the sequel -- love the character and her next journey. I hope all are well with you and yours. Thanks for the read (and the wonderful support....) D.

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Becca Fox
15:11 Aug 17, 2022

Amazing! I'm new to this platform but I thoroughly enjoyed your story from start to finish. What a twist! Thanks for the great content and for inspiring me :)

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15:24 Aug 17, 2022

Welcome Becca -- There are some very talented people here. There's a discord channel in my bio that some folks talk on regarding Reedsy and other contests. Jump in if you wish. Reedsy has its own discord channel as well. TONS of talented and generous people here. Have fun :)

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Brandi Yetzer
15:54 Aug 16, 2022

Wow, this was a really good read. I especially enjoy a great title that makes its way into the story but with a *deeper* meaning that really encompasses the broader picture. Hope that makes sense? Haha :)

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Havana Summer
15:57 Aug 15, 2022

I love the way this story turned out! So little yet so much happened. Something that may have happened in the span of an hour but made us experience a lifetime. Amazing work! The pacing kept me on my toes!

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16:29 Aug 15, 2022

It was a blast to write. Came out seamlessly (unlike most of my stories that are excruciating..) Thanks for the read and the wonderful comment :)

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Aeris Walker
09:19 Aug 15, 2022

“Two furballs yip in terror, tucking themselves under her girth.” This sentence says it all—Simms wife is that woman at the grocery store demanding to use expired coupons, and probably the same one who bought up all the toilet paper in 2020. You captured the “comfortable tension” in Simms’s and Carrie’s so well, and all with concise descriptions and brief dialogue. Great, straightforward writing :)

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14:15 Aug 15, 2022

Spot on, Aeris. We know Simms' wife very, very well... She spends a lot of time on TikTok at age 50 and calls everyone a narcissist (including the Starbucks employee who is taking too long with her double whipped cream milkshake, I mean "coffee.") Blames her personal choices on childhood trauma. Doesn't read. Only listens to media that offers her confirmation bias. Yep. Sorry Simms. In the words of Lizzo, you could have had a "BB". Bom bom bi bom bi dum dum, ay

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Aeris Walker
14:26 Aug 15, 2022

“Doesn’t read” Say no more 😆

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T.S.A. Maiven
01:37 Aug 14, 2022

You write dialogue very well and I got to know the characters on a deep level. Good job making them so real. I'm new here so reading stories inspire me. Feel free to read one of mine and comment if you like. You have so much experience I'd love to know what you think! Great story 🙂

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00:01 Aug 14, 2022

A lot of interesting moral ambiguities. Leaving his wife at home, and the bomb under the table of where they are going and who's going to get a 'bat to the face', kept the tension high until the end. Their relationship conflict also rings true for extrovert/introvert personalities. It's a bit sad Carrie can't say she loves her husband at the end but I guess for her actions are louder than words. Also, a tiny nugget story that highlights how massively destructive the American opioid epidemic is. The question of why she doesn't have a car or...

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00:24 Aug 14, 2022

Thanks for the comments, Scott! I frankly cannot stand Simms' wife. She can stay at home :) Life can certainly get complicated. Love (especially mature love) comes in a lot of colors besides pink and red :) I particularly like "true blue." As for the car and other financial problems in our plucky Carrie's life? The national average starting teacher salary is $38,617, while the average teacher salary in America is $58,950. And yes on the opioid crisis, brought to you (and me) by Purdue Pharma and a compromised FDA...may God have mercy on t...

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00:52 Aug 14, 2022

With inflation these days those salaries are ridiculous for teachers, yeah it makes sense Carrie has car issues. And yes, the sackler family saga is soooo frustrating, right up there with jeffrey einstein, of how could all the elites in power getting their little kickbacks and favors, just let this happen and look the other way. Perhaps the sackler family is more a topic for facebook and twitter than reedsy though. And a good point, the reality of relationships are something that should be written about more often.

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01:15 Aug 14, 2022

I think every social issue needs a good story. It makes the concern relatable and easier to discuss in a nonthreatening way. Lots of research coming out about how fiction increases empathy and understanding. Man, do we need that these days :) https://www.discovermagazine.com/mind/how-reading-fiction-increases-empathy-and-encourages-understanding Good thing there are SO MANY talented writers :) :) :)

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01:34 Aug 14, 2022

completely agree, stories of empathy could help narrow a lot of gaps. Like if i write put the sacklers in prison now, somebody is just going to take the other side. But if we explain the people suffering and their emotions like you did so well, it helps people to understand the real issue. thanks for the link;)

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L.M. Lydon
23:10 Aug 13, 2022

I enjoyed how the story shifts: in the beginning, it's Simms who seems like the sympathetic character, but by the end, it's definitely Carrie. The woman is the epitome of ruthless implacability in the service of a higher good. And some of your lines are needle sharp ("What good would it be to say things out loud that he’s not brave enough to admit to himself?").

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23:44 Aug 13, 2022

That's my girl, Carrie. She's going to get the job done, come hell or high water. Just like every teacher I know. That's who I'd hang with during the zombie apocalypse. Teachers are survivalists, underpinned by utilitarian principles (and hopefully, principals.) :) Thanks for the read!

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Daud Moor
14:47 Aug 13, 2022

Beautifully written. I aspire to paint a scene as clearly as you have. The car ride segment was so vivid!

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14:59 Aug 13, 2022

Thanks, Yassine :) I felt like I knew these two, on some level. I love it when we writers can conjure up a world that feels real. Lots of my stories don't feel as intimate, but Simms and Carrie were very close to my heart.

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Nandini Panchal
17:11 Aug 09, 2022

Wow! What an engaging story!!! I'd saved this to read later but the story drove me in right away! You really are a very talented writer.

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17:52 Aug 09, 2022

Thanks Nandini :)

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