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Contemporary Fiction Sad

I put my hotdog into the bucket, because I want to see my daughter again. Her name’s Rachel and she’s fallen down the well. Also again.

She’s always doing this to me.

The first time was when I taught her to play chess, many sweet lifetimes ago. She was a ruby-cheeked cherub perpetually surprised at the beauty of life, and even though her mom feared she’d find the game boring, Rachel’s eyes widened with marvel at the armies arrayed on the board. But she thought it wasn’t a toy – something to be looked at and never touched. When I told her it was a game, and that she would get to play, she gasped and clapped her hands, and hugged me. You might not suppose a five-year old can bear hug the air out of a grown man, but you better believe my little Rachel can do anything she sets her mind to.

So, I taught her the game. And perhaps unfortunately, I also taught her about loss. The tide of her young life had so far just been receding, ever revealing more of the treasures buried under the sea. But tides eventually come in. Hers was building to a giant wave of disappointment.

“Checkmate,” I said, my white knight cornering her king. And the wave swept her off her feet.

She spared us her terrible twos and saved them all up for psychotic fives. She grabbed my knight with a shriek, tossed the chessboard onto the ground, smashed a plate, and bolted out of the house – screaming all the while. And not watching where she ran, she fell down the municipal well.

Oh, she was terrified, the poor dear! And so was I. The whole town gathered and the news crews set up shop, all as my poor little muffin’s sobs echoed up the well walls. We lowered the bucket and told her to get on – that we’d pull her up – but she was just too scared. Then it struck me.

My little Rachel had always liked hotdogs. Specifically, we’re talking Ol’ Smokin’ Jim’s foot-long beef brats, on a fresh-baked Chesterholme Bakery’s hoagie roll, dressed in a sea of Pipp’s sauerkraut with accents of Pipp’s pickled jalapeños, drenched in Walford’s Classic honey dijon, and all smothered in Jensen Farms’ original red cheddar. Shredded, naturally.

She’d always liked hotdogs, ever since her fourth birthday was a hotdog birthday, and I figured if anything would get her out of the well it would be her favourite food. I placed a loaded dog in the bucket, sent it down, and up she came. Everyone cheered and we made the front page.

And thankfully we knew what to do the next time she fell down the well, which was six weeks later because she snuck out of her room after bedtime and caught sight of a horror movie. And then again when she didn’t want to go to kindergarten, and then again when she didn’t want to leave kindergarten.

She kept falling down the well and I got to thinking, it wasn’t an accident. It’s just how she coped when things didn’t go her way. I gotta tell you, some of those years were tough on us, me and the wife fighting, but I guess that’s true of any parents. And really, while the well was annoying it could have been much worse. She never broke another plate and we had a sure-fire way to get her to calm down and come back up.

The thing is, it’s fine to jump in a well if little Jenny Arlington didn’t invite you to her slumber party, or if you couldn’t go on the planetarium field trip because you definitely didn’t tell us about it and so of course we didn’t sign the permission slip, or if you can’t go to the concert of that annoying band you love because of chicken pox – that’s all fine. We all get stressed out, even kids.

What’s less fine is to continue jumping into the well as an adult.

“Why don’t you come on up, honey?”

A funnel of profanities erupts from the well, and I’m glad the news people grew bored of our family issues long ago.

“For Pete’s sake!” I shout. “You have a degree in microbiology!” This really isn’t the way for a well-adjusted person to behave. I hate to admit it – in fact, this gives me cold sweats at night – but sometimes I wish Rachel was better. Not that she got better, like she were recovering from some illness (though it sure does feel like it sometimes) but that she was better. A better her.

She responds with bitter silence.

Fine. Whatever. The hotdog will get her out. It always has, it always will. I know because Dad knows best, and I’m Dad. I adjust the hotdog on its ceremonial paper plate and centre it in the bucket. It’s photogenic, in case she wants to snap a picture of it before she comes up.

I don’t even know why she’s down there this time. What does she have to be upset about? She even beat me at chess just last week, for the first time in her life. She played a great game too, I’m proud to admit, even if Tanya probably coached her.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Maybe I do know why she’s upset. I guess I just don’t get it.

What’s so sad about losing a roommate? Life goes on. It’s not at all the same as losing a cat.

We lost Mister Humphries last November, after he dedicated sixteen years to our family. That cat was the son I never had and I’m not ashamed to say I bawled my eyes out. We all did. The service was so beautiful. Now, listen, we’re not crazy cat people. When I say service I mean we had a day for just us, the family, where we sat around reminiscing about Mister Humphries and eating peanut butter ice cream. Well, the family and Tanya, because for some reason Rachel thought it appropriate to bring said roommate. I suppose Tanya did catsit him a couple times, so she wasn’t exactly a stranger.

Poor Rachel, with her puffy red eyes. She grew up with that cat and seeing her like that broke my heart again. It was a bitter, sweet day, and not a day I’m likely to ever forget. But do you know what didn’t happen? Rachel didn’t fall down the well because our beloved cat died.

So why now? Just because Tanya’s gone? I don’t get it.

Well, sure, I suppose they were friends. I suppose they’ve known each other since junior high. I suppose they’ve never spent more than a few days apart.

I suppose I’ve just never really liked Tanya. She seemed like a bad influence. Like when we showed her chess and I asked her if she understood the rules.

“Because it’s a complex game,” I said. “There’s no shame in asking for clarifications.”

“Oh, I think I get it,” she said, and she had this nasty chuckle like she’d seen so much of the world. “The white ones go first. They always go first.”

Rachel stopped playing with me after that, for years. I thought she dropped it altogether, but it turned out the two of them played it. Where did that leave me? I don’t mean to rag on my wife but she was more of a Go woman. I didn’t have anyone and I put my board away.

“I’m sending down your favourite,” I call down the well. “It’s a hotdog.”

An agonized sob echoes back up.

I sigh. The bucket rests on the edge of the well. Hesitation.

I should be happy, shouldn’t I? Tanya’s gone her own way, and things can return to the way they used to be. Back to normal. Losing a cat was terrible. Losing my daughter? Immeasurably worse. So I should be happy, right? But the shuddering little cries – my baby’s serrated distress – shred my heart.

Would she cry like this if I died? Would she even fall down the well?

And if she did, who would get her out?

Why does Tanya have such an effect on her? I know they spent a lot of time together. I know they shared some dreams, like that one summer where they wanted to be actors, just pretending their lives away. It was ridiculous, but I mostly kept that opinion to myself, because that’s what you do when your kids disappoint you. You keep it in and pray they find their way back.

They looked up a bunch of those artsy west coast schools and spent their evenings at all the amateur theatre nights. And they performed too. They took that trip up to Canada with all their friends and asked us to come too. We didn’t go, of course, because it all seemed so silly and I wouldn’t have known anyone anyway. And besides, they filmed the whole thing. Put on a show, an act, a real farce. Pretended a wedding into existence, and Rachel was the bride and Tanya was the groom, or the other way, or I don’t know. The whole thing was very silly. Not my cup of humour.

I never watched the tape.

And Rachel stopped visiting us for Christmas.

And so when I heard Tanya had gone, well, I dared hope things were back to how they used to be. I bought a twenty-four pack of Ol’ Smokin’ Jim’s foot-long beef brats. But my little Rachel had already fallen down the well again.

All because she lost a roommate.

I don’t like Tanya. I don’t get her. I never have and now, I don’t think I ever will. Maybe, if I’m honest, I didn’t try. Maybe I tuned out Rachel when she was singing her praises. Maybe an ugly part of me was gleeful when we heard the news about the accident, about how they got to the hospital too late.

Maybe that’s a regret that’s settled at the bottom of my heart, like a bucket overflowing with hotdogs.

Another one of Rachel’s hitched sobs echoes up the well and I shiver. My baby is crying and I can’t breathe.

I don’t get Tanya, but I get what she meant to Rachel. What she means. What she always will mean. I get it now, now that it’s too late. Or maybe I always did and I pretended it away. Prayed it away. Wished it away. Caveat emptor.

I set my bucket down beside the well. This hotdog’s going uneaten.

“Come on up, muffin,” I say, my voice trembling. “Let’s talk. We’ll go home, I’ll make you a nice tea, and you’ll tell me all about her. All about your room–… Your wi–” My voice catches. “All about your Tanya.”

When my daughter starts climbing I reach down a hand to help her out.

July 04, 2023 21:35

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43 comments

Chris Campbell
03:33 Jul 07, 2023

Michal, A tale of lack of the correct form of communication. Clearly, the fault lies heavily on the father's shoulders. Using food as the enticement to end a tantrum at an early age, replaced any chance of meaningful dialogue, understanding, and acknowledgement of the realities of life. Some could say that the ending is too little, too late; however, dialogue was offered, so that's always a good start to understanding and solving issues. Nicely told.

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Michał Przywara
20:39 Jul 07, 2023

Thanks Chris! You know, that didn't even occur to me as I wrote, but it's an insightful idea - using food as a substitute for real communication. But of course, lots of parents do this, with bribes of sweets or screen time, to avoid some issue. It's understandable - everyone needs a break every now and then - but it comes with a price, doesn't it? I appreciate the feedback!

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3i Writer
02:49 Jul 07, 2023

That's a wonderful take on the prompt and nailed it too. Using the hot dog as a form of ceremony to fish his daughter out goes to show how stubborn the father is and his unwillingness to understand his daughter and her problems.

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Michał Przywara
20:39 Jul 07, 2023

Thanks! Heh, yeah, I suppose it is a kind of fishing :) I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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Kevin Logue
13:45 Jul 06, 2023

What a great taken on the prompt. So much story unsaid but resonated throughout. The father's need to help but unsure how to deal with his non-straight daughter, how the cries regardless of age awaken that primal parent. Such powerful storytelling, great writing, masterful descriptions. Just call off the competition Reedsy and give this man a trophy already.

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Michał Przywara
20:40 Jul 06, 2023

Thanks, Kevin :) "need to help but unsure how to" Yeah, I think that sums it up. I'm glad all that came through in the unsaid parts. Always a bit of a balance between too much exposition and being too vague. I appreciate the feedback, very encouraging :)

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Delbert Griffith
13:34 Jul 06, 2023

Wow, what an amazing tale, Michal! After I read the story, I realized how clever the title was. Not just the "well-ness" part, but the "check" part, relating to chess. The first sentence made absolutely no sense to me when I first read it; therefore, it drew me in completely. LOL That was one amazing hook! I read this not so much as a coming-of-age tale but more as a dawning-of-awareness tale - of the father. The man was in such deep denial: "Pretended a wedding into existence, and Rachel was the bride and Tanya was the groom, or the oth...

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Michał Przywara
20:39 Jul 06, 2023

Thanks, Del! I always look forward to your take. "dawning-of-awareness" yes, that sounds right on! I suspect most people are guilty of ignoring an uncomfortable fact they know, deep down inside, is true - and coming to terms with it is a process. It's one thing to leave a comfortable job you actually hate, or to concede that maybe the best time to quit smoking was a decade ago, but when these beliefs affect others there can be much more pain. All the moreso when it's an irrational belief, like you point out. And I'm glad the dad wasn't...

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Sophia Gavasheli
04:32 Jul 05, 2023

Wow! This story has so many layers, and it was even better on the re-read. Just that first line, and I was already hooked. Hotdog in a bucket? So creative! And I love the specificity you used to describe Rachel's favorite hotdog, with all the brands. That added a lot of authenticity. The dad's voice came through very well. You read on, and you slowly uncover the lies he was telling himself, and I love how the reader discovers the truth along with the narrator himself. The part with the wedding is when the enormity of it all really hits hom...

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Michał Przywara
22:57 Jul 05, 2023

Thanks, Sophia! You really dug into it and found all the things I was hoping would be seen :) Including the title - yes! I do like puns and plays on words. The "check" might also parallel the chess. Very happy to hear the dad's journey of realization came across well. I think you're right about the tape line. Thanks so much for the feedback!

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Michelle Oliver
04:00 Jul 05, 2023

Well this one hits home. As a straight parent of children who aren’t, I resonated strongly with the ‘I don’t understand’ in this. (Fortunately I’m not so blind and rigid.) You have distilled the very essence of parental pain when children don’t follow our preconceived ideas and plans for them. For your MC the love is there, but the understanding and acceptance is not. It’s horrible that it takes a tragedy to bring them closer to an understanding. I think the message here is, that you don’t have to understand (and you probably won’t), but lo...

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Michał Przywara
20:51 Jul 05, 2023

Thanks, Michelle! Yeah, I think you got exactly what I was going for. "the love is there, but the understanding and acceptance is not". And you're right about the tragedy too. That's probably not always needed - I've heard of people changing gradually over time - but there's also a reason we have so many stories about hitting rock bottom. Very happy to hear his development came across well :) Sometimes we're our own obstacles and it takes us a moment to realize, or accept, that. I appreciate the feedback!

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Zack Powell
02:56 Jul 05, 2023

When I finished reading this, I scrolled back up to see which prompt you responded to (hooray for short-term memory). And you know what? I'm glad I checked because I said to myself "Oh, okay, the hotdog was the ceremony to (physically) free the daughter from the well." But THEN I said "Or was the ceremony the daughter going into the well in order to (metaphorically) free herself from the pain of losing Tanya?" And I think it's neat that you could feasibly read it both ways and still be right. Side note: The POV was the right call here. This...

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Michał Przywara
20:41 Jul 05, 2023

Thanks Zack, that's made my day :) This prompt was an odd one for sure. Rituals, especially those to free someone or something, immediately brought to mind eldritch rites, the arcane, cults. But my last three stories were royal funerals, hell trains, and sackfish, so I figured it was time for something different. The opening line occurred first, and it initially seemed quite silly (though I'm glad it works as a hook - definitely made for that). But it quickly lost the silly as it grew. I've always been fascinated by the problems we inf...

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Lily Finch
23:26 Jul 04, 2023

Michał, this story is beautiful, but sad in layers. 1. Yes Tanya is physically gone. 2. Rachel couldn't tell her parents about her lifestyle. 3. Her parents missed her wedding. 4. Her dad never took the time to get to know Tanya. 5. The dad was purposely not liking Tanya because he didn't want to accept that his daughter was lesbian. 6. The pain a parent feels when a child is hurting and the helplessness. Thanks for the good read. LF6

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Michał Przywara
20:45 Jul 05, 2023

Thanks, Lily! Yes, lots of sad here, and if we step back and look at it from a distance, we can probably say so much of it was unnecessary. It seems so often we choose to suffer - because of pride, or stubbornness, or a need to be right, or whatever. I like your point 6 especially - the child is hurting, but how much of that is *because* of the parent? But maybe sometimes we realize there's another way. I appreciate the feedback!

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Amanda Lieser
15:00 Aug 05, 2023

Hi Michal, What an interesting premise for the story. I know as the older sister there were a few times when I didn’t necessarily appreciate my little sister’s friends, and I thought that it was interesting that you captured this sentiment in your story. You did an amazing job of characterizing the father and I appreciated that you also managed to pack a lot of character development into Rachel as well. I love how this story was more focused on the journey that your protagonist had to take as a parent, and that it centered around the theme o...

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Michał Przywara
20:47 Aug 07, 2023

Thanks, Amanda! I think "and their journey beyond your own" might be key. Sometimes it's hard to come to terms with someone else walking a different path, isn't it? I'm glad you enjoyed the story. Thanks for leaving your thoughts!

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09:58 Jul 15, 2023

I have to admit, the start of this made me laugh because of its absurdity, I'm not sure if that was intended? But the message by the end was really quite sobering and an interesting observation of family. I might have left Rachel down the well for a night or two to teach her a lesson after one of the less meaningful incidents. Maybe that's just me.

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Michał Przywara
23:35 Jul 15, 2023

Yeah, the absurdity was indeed intentional :) I like absurdism myself, and I think it can be mixed well with other things - but I also think it's demonstrative of the father's dismissive attitudes, treating things important to his daughter with flipancy and denial. Thanks for reading :)

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Russell Mickler
17:50 Jul 13, 2023

Hi Michal! Okay, I'll preference this critique by saying I've had a long work week :) Maybe I'm not firing on all cylinders or something ... The movement from the event at the well, hot dogs, to a five-year-old playing chess, was conceptually weird to me, but I trust you, so I hung in there and continued to 4th para. :) By like the 9th para, Michal, I'm really lost. I guess I don't understand the concept of someone "falling down a well"? What do you mean? I think this is an archaic reference or a comical reference, like, "Timmy, fell dow...

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Michał Przywara
20:36 Jul 13, 2023

Thanks for giving it a shot, Russell! Sounds like a disconnect, and that's fine, not every story clicks :) I appreciate the feedback all the same. "Maybe I'm taking it too literally" - I think your intuition may be right. This piece was meant to be more surreal/absurd. While within the world of the story, Rachel might literally keep falling down wells (yeah, those holes we get water from, and yeah, like Lassie :) more metaphorically it's about a father coming to terms with his estranged daughter being a lesbian, and that he's been kind o...

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Russell Mickler
21:50 Jul 13, 2023

Now you see, if we were in a physical writing group, I would've critiqued it over a beer with you :) ... >> more metaphorically it's about a father coming to terms with his estranged >> daughter being a lesbian OKAY! And that's where I would have re-adjusted my lens ... it's my fault, really, because I'm terrible at finding dual meanings in reading. I'm a very literal human. If you say there's a well, I believe you - there's a well, and I get confused by roommates and hotdogs. It's how I interpret the world, much to my misfortune because ...

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Michał Przywara
04:02 Jul 14, 2023

🍻 :)

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Nina H
14:59 Jul 13, 2023

I like that you had me questioning the reliability of this narrator. “Wait a minute…” moments are scattered throughout here and that’s brilliant. His hot dog is the “carrot” that gets her back, something that began when she was a child which makes sense to me because that’s something a kid would definitely respond to. My favorite line here is that she’s “well-adjusted”. Great story, Michal! I enjoyed this!

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Michał Przywara
20:42 Jul 13, 2023

Thanks, Nina! I'm glad you enjoyed it :) Yes, the reliability is a good point. The narrator here is definitely opinionated. I find that can lead to interesting characters, particularly if they hold unusual or extreme opinions - even if we don't agree with them. I appreciate the feedback!

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Helen A Smith
17:03 Jul 12, 2023

Hi Michal The girl seems seriously disturbed to keep throwing herself down the well, especially when she is no longer a child. The father’s response is to say the least is unhealthy. The only way he can show love is by lavishing hot dogs in his daughter after she jumps in the well. Obviously, he’s in an incredible state of denial here over his daughter’s relationship with her friend. I think this can be taken literally (which I think was your intention) or figuratively. A well represents (to my way of thinking) repressed emotions. This is ...

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Michał Przywara
20:35 Jul 12, 2023

Thanks, Helen! Yes, "unhealthy" and "denial" are right on. I like the point about repressed emotions, too. Wells are buried deep in the earth, so the parallel is clear - and burying things we don't want to deal with is a (mediocre) coping mechanism. I'm glad the ending came across as a little hopeful. Even if something is too-little-too-late, it still *is* something, and sometimes that's all we get. I appreciate the feedback!

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Denise Mauer
03:03 Jul 10, 2023

Great story! You clinched me with "Also again." The pacing is perfect. Your metaphors are clever and pointed. Loved it.

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Michał Przywara
20:43 Jul 10, 2023

Thanks Denise! Very glad to hear you enjoyed it, and that the metaphors worked out :) I appreciate the feedback!

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Galen Gower
00:37 Jul 10, 2023

I enjoyed reading your story.

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Michał Przywara
20:44 Jul 10, 2023

Thanks, Galen! Glad to hear that :) I appreciate the feedback.

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Ty Warmbrodt
03:18 Jul 09, 2023

Michael - Great story! I truly inspire to write like this one day. The symbolism of falling into the well as falling into a state of depression is genius. I've seen many times when a parent has used food to cheer a child up, and when they are young it works, but as they age, not so much. It was a delightful look at the parent/child dynamic where the need for communication and emotional support are concerned. Very creative. Very entertaining.

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Michał Przywara
20:46 Jul 10, 2023

Thanks, Ty! Yes, you're right - what works for young kids doesn't always carry over into later years, especially when kids become adults in their own right. But I suspect that's a change that many parents struggle with. I appreciate the feedback!

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Angela Ginsburg
06:50 Jul 08, 2023

This is cute and funny, except not. Great title. Mine is weirdly similar. There’s no well in mine, obviously, but the ceremony being one to allow a lesbian acceptance was not a take I was expecting to be common.

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Michał Przywara
01:31 Jul 10, 2023

Thanks, Angela! "Cute and funny, except not" indeed! We tend to sugarcoat it when we harm others, but that doesn't actually lessen the harm, does it? And that is a strange coincidence, but with hundreds of entries, maybe not too strange :) Thanks for reading!

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Mike Panasitti
23:25 Jul 07, 2023

We must suspend belief in this one: belief that plummeting into a well would not seriously injure, or even kill, a five year old girl. Suspend belief that the girl's taste for foot-long hot dogs does not symbolize Electra's desire perversely implanted by the father (not so funny how "Electral" isn't an adjective but Oedipal is). But then, the reader comes to the realization that the world, for many of us, is a deep, ungodly well we've been thrown into, and that we continue to throw ourselves into, in order to be born again and again.

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Michał Przywara
19:14 Jul 08, 2023

Yes, this one is a bit more figurative, what with all the well-falling. But you might be onto something with the hotdogs - the father trying to coax his daughter "back to normal" with such an object probably wasn't a coincidence. Interesting point about the rebirths, too! What doesn't kill us makes us stronger, right? Survive your stress and come out - if not better - at least changed. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mike!

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Unknown User
18:21 Jul 07, 2023

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Michał Przywara
22:36 Jul 08, 2023

Thanks, Joe! That's a great interpretation - and I think you're right about the pricetag on love. As soon as you demonstrate you can match the price, it goes up because it must not have been high enough. Insideous. I suspect the father in this story did come around, or at least began too - but it's too late for some things. So it goes. I appreciate the feedback!

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Unknown User
22:56 Jul 08, 2023

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09:58 Jul 15, 2023

I have to admit, the start of this made me laugh because of its absurdity, I'm not sure if that was intended? But the message by the end was really quite sobering and an interesting observation of family. I might have left Rachel down the well for a night or two to teach her a lesson after one of the less meaningful incidents. Maybe that's just me.

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