(adjective): characterised by friendliness and absence of discord

Submitted into Contest #142 in response to: Write a story that includes one character reading aloud to another.... view prompt

23 comments

Drama Sad Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

“It’s amicable,” she says. Her voice sounds tinny and far away. “It’s just…time to move on.”

We stare at the phone, Mum, Dad and I, as if we’re expecting it to do something surprising. It’s lying on the table, on loudspeaker, at Gemma’s request. She offers us a couple of vague details that tell us precisely nothing, before promising to call again tomorrow. Dad and I are on our feet high-fiving before Mum has even pressed the end call button. 

“It’s going to be rough,” says Mum. 

“Yeah, but…”

We grin. 

Dad digs out a bottle of champagne - I’ve no idea why he had it - and we toast my sister’s impending freedom. 

The bubbles loosen our tongues. 

“I hate his hairdo,” Dad offers.

“I hate his massive ego,” I snigger. “And his stupid face.”

Mum says quietly, “I hate the way he always puts Gemma down.”

Put Gemma down, I correct. Past tense.

We shake our heads in unison. How does someone like him end up with someone as great as her? Well, I think, he’s not ‘ending up’ with her. He’s ending up without her. 


##


“It’s amicable,” she tells Kelly and John, their couple friends. She’s brought me along for moral support. 

“If they’re your friends, you don’t need to be nervous,” I’d told her. 

“Yes, but they were his friends first.”

She continues. “I would never ask you to choose.”

Is that a sneer I detect on John’s lips? No, he’s smiling. I must have imagined it. Kelly cocks her head in something resembling pity. 

“He told you about Vicky, then?”

Gemma stiffens at my side. She doesn’t speak. 

I clear my throat. “Vicky?”

“Oh,” Kelly waves a hand, “forget I said anything.”

My fingers tremble. I clench a fist. “Gemma, do you know about this?”

“I knew there was someone else.” Her voice is practically a whisper. “I didn’t know it was Vicky.”

“I thought you said it was a mutual split.”

John is standing. “Come on, Kell. We should go.”

“But I haven’t finished my Pina Colada!”

But she stands and follows her husband. “Sorry, Gem.”

We watch their backs disappearing into the crowd. The bar is pulsing with bright, shiny people: women in sleek, thigh high dresses, men in well-cut shirts and polished shoes. It’s the sort of place that makes me feel itchy. 

“He cheated?” 

Her eyes brim. She nods, fat salty tears dripping onto her cheeks. 

Bastard. 

Her phone chirps the arrival of a message, too cheerful for the circumstances. She wipes her eyes and picks up her phone. 

“It’s him, isn’t it?”

She reads, nods. 

I take the phone from her hand. 

We can work this out, right?” I read. “Can I reply?” She frowns and looks away. I take this as a yes. Well, she hasn’t snatched the phone back. “Why don’t you fuck off? Can I send that?”

“No!”

“Okay.” I delete the missive. “How about ‘why don’t you try working things out with Vicky?’” 

She bites her lip. “Yes. Yes, all right. You can send that.”

I do, then I block his number. 


##


“It’s amicable,” she tells the locksmith. “I just want a clean break.”

He smiles kindly. He knows. He’s done this before. 

I roll out the futon mattress and throw my sleeping bag on top. 

“I’m not scared,” she says. 

I pat her arm. 

We hunker down for the night. We squabble gently about what to watch on Netflix, settling for something mindlessly Vin Diesel. We eat pizza and wipe our greasy fingers on tea towels. We call Mum and Dad and giggle at Dad’s audible fart and Mum’s resultant tuts. And when I yawn my way towards the futon, she shows me the letter. 

“‘Gem, I refuse to throw away eight years of a good thing. You need me: you know you need me. Maybe we needed this to shake things up. You’ve been so distant lately, I just needed some affection. I won’t let this go, Gem.”” I read it again. “Jesus, Gem. Creepy shit.”

She shivers. 

“It’s okay. I’m here.”


##


“It was amicable,” she tells the police officer. 

She grips my hand under the table. I stare at her elegant digits, one finger haloed absently by the pale ghost loop. Her hand quivers. I give it a gentle squeeze.

“And these letters?” 

I pull the envelope out of my bag, fat with one-sided correspondence. 

He sifts through the sheets of paper: scraps torn from the back of a notebook, neatly printed computer paper, onion-skin thin lined paper with heavily pressed scrawl. His brow is furrowed, lips set in a straight line. Occasionally, his mouth forms the shapes of words. I can make some out: break, cut, end and even once amicable. 

He sighs. “And you’re getting about two a week of these, you say?”

Gemma is staring at the corner of the table. She nods, head heavy on her grass-stalk thin neck. 

The police officer leans across the table, hands spread wide. "Look, writing letters isn't an offence. And they're not overtly threatening." Gemma wilts. "Just let us know if anything else happens, okay?"


##


“It was amicable,” she wails. 

She shreds a tissue into a thousand scraps of confetti. I can’t look at her. I look instead at Mum, hunched over on a green plastic chair. She’s still wearing her coat and it has bunched up around her ears, the fake fur trim reminding me of a lion’s mane. Except she looks like a sad lion, one that was abandoned by the rest of her pride. Dad paces. He’s shaking his head. Muttering. 

I push my fingers through my hair.

“We’d like to keep you in one more day. Just for observation.” The young nurse doesn’t make eye contact with any of us.

“Well,” says Dad. His voice is brittle. He stops his pacing and stares out into the clear black night, stars pricking the velvety canvas beyond the window. He is reflected back into the room, a weird, miragey tableau with Gemma upright in the bed taking centre stage. In the reflection, I can’t see the pallet of blues, purples and greys that bloom across her face, or the scorched skin handcuffing her wrists. But my mind can’t unsee them. 


##


“It’s amicable,” I say. “Friendliness, see. An absence of discord.” I laugh. His face tells me he disagrees. 

I’m rather enjoying amicably holding this baseball bat over his stupid head and can't wait to bring it down in an amicable way.


April 18, 2022 19:58

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23 comments

Kelsey H
20:39 Apr 26, 2022

This is great, very well written how it starts out with an almost light-hearted feel as they insult the ex, then you ramp up the stakes and tension as the story goes on, and great way to end it too!

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Jay Mc Kenzie
02:41 Apr 27, 2022

Thanks Kelsey! It was inspired by a friend's recent break up, who initially said it was amicable, and it definitely isn't. But none of us took a baseball bat to his head, I promise!

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Deidra Lovegren
15:07 Apr 25, 2022

CONGRATS ON THE GLOBE SOUP WIN

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Jay Mc Kenzie
07:49 Apr 26, 2022

Waaaah! So exciting! You too!! I'm in such fantastic company.

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L. Maddison
05:16 Apr 24, 2022

The crescendo in this story just builds and builds. Brilliant structure, powerful depiction of initimate partner abuse.

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Jay Mc Kenzie
06:36 Apr 24, 2022

Thanks so much for reading my story and the feedback. :)

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19:32 Apr 23, 2022

What a way to craft a story by mostly using dialogue and barely any description or setting or backstory. Clever, economical yet effective. I had to read it twice to make sure I understood the unfolding of the story with each dialogue and "It as amicable" motif. Subtle and powerful, especially the conclusion. Fabulous job again, Jay!

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Jay Mc Kenzie
20:20 Apr 23, 2022

Thanks!!

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Deidra Lovegren
17:12 Apr 23, 2022

Ooo this is good. I read it twice. Very good... Well done Jay. Cinematic. Rich. So simple but complex.

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Jay Mc Kenzie
20:21 Apr 23, 2022

Thanks Deidra :)

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Michał Przywara
20:53 Apr 22, 2022

Wow, that was a hell of a ride! I did not see where it was going, but it just kept getting worse (the scenario, not the writing!) and worse. The story itself was an addicting read. It started off so happy, if a little schadenfreude, celebrating a couple breaking up. But each subsequent scene, man, it just kept digging a deeper, darker hole. The repetition of amicable was great to stress that, becoming less a fact and more a desperate prayer as events unfolded. I was worried how it would end. I mean, worried for Gemma. It was looking blea...

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Jay Mc Kenzie
10:23 Apr 23, 2022

Thanks so much Michal. It's certainly not my usual style, but I really enjoyed structuring it that way.

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Moe Andrews
22:25 Apr 21, 2022

Chills. About the third amicable I felt a pit in my stomach. I think the narrative frame was a great choice and so deftly paced. Well done!

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Jay Mc Kenzie
22:30 Apr 21, 2022

Thanks so much, Moe! I really appreciate your feedback.

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Riel Rosehill
15:41 Apr 21, 2022

Can I just say, what a satisfying ending! LOVED it. Oh, and the title is brilliant - really creative! I was so looking forwards to librarian week stories coming in, and gotta say I wasn't expecting anything like this - but it was such a cool surprise. I loved how each paragraph started with "It's amicable" and how effectively you told us the whole story withought any redundant details or even stating outright what was happening, and yet it was so clear - so very well crafted! PS I was so mad at the police officer..!

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Jay Mc Kenzie
20:20 Apr 21, 2022

Ah, thanks Riel! I was inspired by someone who cited her recent break up as amicable, despite him having done really awful things and couldn't get the word out of my head. The police officer was originally written as more sympathetic, but an excellent suggestion here made me change it. Glad he made you mad at him!

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Riel Rosehill
20:37 Apr 21, 2022

I agree it was the right choice of writing him like that - I think it's more impactful! Reedsy writers' suggestions are priceless ✨

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Jay Mc Kenzie
22:31 Apr 21, 2022

Soooo good! I love it here.

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Shea West
00:42 Apr 20, 2022

Jay! First, I'm a sucker for a fabulous title. The wordier the better in my opinion! It's like a mini story before the actual story and that takes guts, and I love a good mignardise before I sit down for my actual meal... I'm a little backwards like that. This was so good, and eerie. Because let's face it, domestic violence against women is high and many don't see themselves making it out alive. I liked how you broke this down in stages, a progression of sorts to the grand finale. If I were to offer any suggestion it would be at the cop...

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Jay Mc Kenzie
06:31 Apr 20, 2022

Thanks so much for that. Yes, I agree, and they do ultimately fail her, so I am going to edit that section. And well done on getting some child free time! Mine's glued to me 24/7 at the mo, so I can sympathise!

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Mary Sheehan
19:17 Apr 19, 2022

Oh my God. When I say I was hooked, I was HOOKED. This story is so good. I didn't see the ending coming; I thought it was going to go the other way, so I was bracing myself. Wow. If your first two novels are anything as well-written as this, please get them published. I'm not sure how much the judges will lean into the "librarian" theme, but I think this is a winner!

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Jay Mc Kenzie
20:22 Apr 19, 2022

This comment just completely made my day. Thank you so much.

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Mary Sheehan
10:44 Apr 28, 2022

Congratulations on getting recommended!

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