Contest #23 shortlist ⭐️

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Last night’s fight had been a big one. Mallory felt the weight of it sitting in her skull like a hangover, waterlogged from crying and disoriented from the twists and turns of an argument that made little sense. It had been one of those fights when she eventually lost track of her initial point (and she suspected Jacob had, too) but rather than let it go, she seized upon new ideas and offenses along the way. Mallory was a flexible arguer. She was proud of that trait. Get her riled up about something and soon enough she’d have ten other things to confront you with, too. 

Jacob was neither a flexible arguer nor a good one, which only fueled Mallory’s irritation in the heat of the moment. Lately, so many little things about him piqued her annoyance - the way he said any remotely Spanish world with a ridiculously unnatural accent, how he couldn’t drive anywhere without first putting exactly 3 Tic-Tacs into his mouth, the fact that he thought the toilet paper was hanging the right way when it was clearly hanging the wrong way. And then when an argument finally bubbled up, he was slower to fire off his points, and he wasn’t as articulate as Mallory, and in the end, Mallory’s anger brought forward the tiny, sneaky, hidden thought that was usually buried deep at the back of her mind: Jacob was dumb. 

The morning light was dull and somewhat blue, and Mallory opened the curtains to see that for once, the weather channel had accurately predicted something - there was at least 3 feet of snow outside, and peering down at what was once a street she could make out a lump where she had parked her car last night. Hefty flakes continued to fall. She let the curtain fall and reached for her cellphone to fire off a quick text. Working from home today, see you on Monday. 

Behind her, Jacob stirred. Mallory glanced over her shoulder at him as he propped himself up on an elbow, squinting at her and the dull light from the window. 

“What’s happening? What time is it?” 

Mallory felt a wave of annoyance but managed to quell it. 

“It’s seven. Lots of snow. Street isn’t plowed.” She headed towards the kitchen. “I’m making coffee.” 

Jacob fell back into bed, face scrunched into a frown, one hand rubbing his tired eyes. 

Lying in bed, Jacob considered the argument from the night before. How had it begun? He recalled that dinner had been uneventful, just an evening out at the sushi place two streets over, and then back to the apartment by 8:30pm. If he was remembering it correctly, it started out with Mallory telling him how stressed she was at work, and his suggestion that she take a new job that didn’t make her so unhappy. From there, it progressed into a discussion of his job, his comparatively low stress, their earned incomes, and then debating whose work was harder, whose work was more valuable, and why neither of them could understand the other’s situation.

Jacob groaned. Now, in bed, without Mallory looking at him expectantly, he had a thousand good points and a million rebuttals loaded and ready to use. But he could never summon them in the moment. Mallory’s undying energy and commitment to winning was unconquerable. It was something he loved about her, until it was turned on him. Mallory’s intensity, her complete unwillingness to let something go, her competitive drive - all of those things made him absolutely exhausted. For the three years they’d lived together, she’d battled him on everything, including a silent yet persistent war about which way the toilet paper should be hung. Every now and again, these tiny little struggles boiled over into something larger, something real, and an actual argument began, one that he knew Mallory’s stubbornness would come out full force in his direction. And then he wanted to turn on his heel and leave, punish her forever with loneliness. 

But he didn’t. 

Jacob pulled on a sweatshirt and wandered into the living room. Mallory was sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee, scrolling rapidly through her phone. He watched her for a minute, then turned to gaze into the kitchen. After a moment of thought, he spoke. 

“I’m making pancakes and margaritas.”

He felt, not saw, Mallory’s eyes slide carefully from her phone screen to the kitchen as he started pulling pans from the cabinets. Ignoring her attention (as he knew he should), he started mixing ingredients together in a bowl. He flipped on the radio, the old one from Mallory’s dad that wasn’t digital and sometimes dissolved into static. A Beatles song was on, one he didn’t know the name of - Mallory would know it, though. She remembered everything. He opened the fridge to get the eggs. 

“The bananas should probably be eaten.” Mallory had slunk into the kitchen and was standing at the doorway, still pretending to be occupied by her phone.

“Banana pancakes are good.” Jacob didn’t look at her. 

“Maybe some peanut butter on top.” She went to the pantry. 

“And some chocolate chips. At least in a few.”

“Yeah. And we could put fruity pebbles in some of the batter?” There it was, the official first olive branch. A suggestion, posed as a question, not because she needed him to confirm that it was a good idea (Mallory never needed confirmation for her ideas) but because she wanted to let him share the idea with her. The greatest gift she knew how to give. 

“Brilliant.” A second peace offering, this time from Jacob. Mallory appeared at his elbow with the list of special ingredients, proof that his gesture of good will was accepted. 

“Here,” Jacob said, handing her the bowl and spoon. “If you want to take over this, I can start making martinis.”

Mallory took the spoon and started mixing. Jacob pulled the tequila out of the tiny cabinet between the sink and the stove. In front of them, the skillet grew warmer. 

Jacob glanced out the window behind them.

“Still coming down pretty hard.” 

Mallory didn’t look up. She put a pat of butter into the pan. 

“It’ll melt.”

January 08, 2020 19:31

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1 comment

Pamela Saunders
08:41 Jan 16, 2020

First of all, the title is different and interesting. I really like the little details in this that give the story realism, and the back and forth of how those little details give continuity eg the toilet paper. The way you have shown the difference in how the characters process their thoughts is great, and how it helps to develop the story. The vocabulary is really well chosen. The ending is clever, with the double entendre of melting butter/snow. There are a few little errors eg world instead of word but overall it's really good.


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