Contest #33 shortlist ⭐️

An Ocean in the Desert

Submitted into Contest #33 in response to: Write a story about a character making a big change.... view prompt

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General

$1635 was a hefty price for a couch that didn’t match the rest of the living room. Knowing it was 30% off retail didn’t provide much comfort either.

“Fuck,” Ken Whitmore muttered.

George, his neighbor that helped place it, glanced at him. “What?”

“I should have bought it in teal. Bunt sienna is too over-powering.”

“I think it looks fine,” George said.

“I think it looks funny,” Ken replied.

George squinted, trying see what his friend saw. “I don’t know. I guess it’s a little brighter than everything else in the room but who cares? It’s a great looking couch. Kinda’ vintage.”

Vintage. Ken wanted to spit. The only word worse than that was retro. These were the all-encompassing terms of the ignorant, people that understood nothing about mid-century art. George wasn’t going to be any help on this matter.

“Well, thanks for the help,” Ken said before showing him the door.

“See you around, Ken. Enjoy that sofa! I still say it looks great.”

Ken hurried his friend out of the house. He blinked a few times in the sunlight to refresh his eyes. When he returned the living room, he still couldn’t see anything other than what now looked like a bright, rusted orange boat floating in an ocean of blues, browns, and creams. He tried to soften his eyes, or de-focus like he was staring at a 3-D print. It wasn’t working.

“Sofia is going to murder me,” Ken said aloud. He felt beads of sweat sprouting on his brow. He looked at the curtains and then the lampshades. He sat down and re-opened his laptop that was resting on the coffee table.

He slammed it shut again.

No, this is what got me here to begin with, he thought.

Ken reached for his keys and sprinted to his car.

When Ken returned home his wife’s Mercedes was parked in the driveway. He felt the hair rise on the back of his neck. He looked at the off-red and burnt orange three-tiered lampshades he found at the antique shop across town. The matching drapes were a bit harder to find, and there was certainly no 30% off the price tag once he did, but he was desperate and maxed out his credit card anyway. He licked his lips, gathered the items, and got out of the car.

When he entered the house, Sofia was standing above the new couch.

“Hi, Ken,” she said, her voice listless as she continued to stare, squinting at the foreign object.

“Hi Baby!” he mustered. “I know it’s a little bold, but I really think I found a way to balance out the reds in this room. Look here.”

Ken stepped out of his shoes and brought over the stack of items. He lifted the drapes out first and walked towards the window, holding one of them up for comparison against the aqua one in place.

“See, if we just add a little more rust to the room, I think the burnt sienna will coexist with the blues quite nicely.”

Sofia looked up towards the window. “But I liked the blues,” she said, as if in a trance.

Ken began to sweat. “The blues aren’t going anywhere, baby. I’m thinking we could just expand and diversify—an ocean in the desert sort of vibe, y’know?”

Sofia took one long, drawn out breath.

Ken put down the curtain.

Sofia blinked a few times and slowly walked towards the adjacent hallway, presumably towards their bedroom.

Ken walked towards the couch and fell into it. He knew he should have never married this woman with such particular taste and rules. And what had become of himself since meeting her? He didn’t even care about furniture until Sofia took him into her home. He was just another con artist living in the same poverty bubble as all the other hustlers flooding the pool halls of Hollywood and pawnshops of Downtown. He was one more implant in a city of millions.

But I had a big dick and enough confidence to use it, he thought. And that’s exactly what he thought when he met the owner of a Beverly Hills art gallery two years ago. He couldn’t believe the meal ticket he landed with her.

Sofia Vitale was a gorgeous and extravagantly wealthy woman that was as charmed by his act as she was by his physique. And she was gullible enough to believe he was a ride share driver for a living. After a few dates she insisted that he move in with her and that he would never have to worry about finding a job again. She would take care of everything from this point forward so long as he vowed to love her and respect her house rules. That sounded like a fantasy come true enough to Ken. Once a few months passed of lounging about the two-story, Pacific Palisades home, sex anytime he wanted it, caviar with breakfast, and a seemingly endless supply of frequent flyer miles from all their exotic vacations together, Ken pretty much forgot what a life of crime was even like.

Over time his interests increasingly became more like her interests. He started growing soft. Gone were the pool halls and connections to buyers of his stolen jewelry. No more stake outs on homes where he knew the owners were absent. No more fraudulent bank accounts. And he certainly didn’t have any more reasons to head east of the Los Angeles River for a ratchet without a serial number. He couldn’t remember the last time he used that word. Ratchet. Or piece for that matter.

Design and architecture were his subjects of discussion now. Mid-century, brutalism, and bauhaus made up his vocabulary as his eye for aesthetics naturally evolved. His hair started looking brushed, his clothes pressed, and his smell restrained. And Sofia’s friends became his friends as his old acquaintances lost touch with him one by one. They were just jealous, he’d reason in his lonelier, frequently drunken moments.  

Ken stood up from the couch and approached the bar.

“Two parts bourbon, one part simple syrup, one part lemon….” he muttered to himself as he fetched ingredients.

*

Sofia sat on the edge of the bed and began to cry. She would never see her mother’s couch again.

“What was was he thinking!” she said aloud, punching the bed.

The teal Ole Wascher sofa had been in her family since 1952 when it was personally built for her mother. It was the piece that ignited Sofia’s passion for not just design, but the visual arts in general. She built a life on the feelings of inspiration and love that were associated with the couch and it’s teak frame. It was the one family heirloom she actually gave a damn about, and it was a one-of-a-kind item that could never be replicated.

Ken’s dominance over her house and had become increasingly prevalent, as well as irritating over the last year. A number of her favorite paintings went missing or replaced with whatever odd movie posters he preferred. A pool table found itself in what was once their dining room. He even insisted on buying a hideous blue and red pinball machine with the word “FIREBALL’ painted across its cabinet. Additions to the home were all expected with a degree of reason since they married, but this latest act with the couch was a violation. And on top of it all he was drinking more, his mood swings increased, and he seemed ever more resentful for reasons he refused to talk about. The mere suggestion of therapy would cause him to laugh at her.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the vibration of her cell phone. Her sister, Deborah, was calling.

Sophia sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose as she answered. “What’s up, Deb.”

“Sophia, is Ken in the house?”

“Yeah, why?”

“You need to hang up the phone and get out of there immediately.”

Sophia dropped her arm.

Ken was slurping from his double whiskey sour when the six ‘o clock news featured his mug shot on television. He spit the ice back into his glass as he fumbled for the volume on the remote.

“Police are currently searching for the whereabouts of Frank Kenneth Carlyle after the suspected murderer was linked to a credit card used at a West Elm furniture store in Pasadena earlier today” the female news anchor reported. “Carlyle, who is a four-time felony burglar and self-described, ‘con-artist,’, has been a suspect in the murder of—”

Something squeaked across the linoleum in the foyer behind him.

Sophia still wasn’t used to the recent addition of an entry way bench in her foyer. She gasped after bumping it and causing the noise. Ken now rose from the new couch and turned to face her. She held her breath as she trembled.

Ken watched her, studying her like a dog as he silently cocked his head to one side. He took a step closer.

Sophia suddenly felt paralyzed. If she ran for the front door to her right and fumbled with the locks, he’d be on her in a matter of seconds and it’d probably be over. If she ran to the left towards the kitchen, she might have a fighting chance. She found herself sprinting to the left.

Ken’s footsteps echoed behind her until they sounded on top of her.

Sophia leaped instinctively just as Ken lunged forward to tackle her. He crashed to the floor instead.

Sophia balanced herself as her feet slid against the kitchen tiles. She looked down as Ken lay on his belly in a daze. He slowly struggled to get onto his knees. And then she looked to her right at Ken’s Fireball pinball machine. She grabbed the far side of it and pulled with all her might.

Ken screamed before 300 pounds of glass and steel crushed his head. His blood sprayed over the entire kitchen.

Later that evening Sophia answered the detective’s questions the best she could while sitting in the living room, but she was distracted. Some of Ken’s blood had made its way to the marble coffee table in front of them.

“Hey chief,” said one of the officers walking from the kitchen to the front door. She was carrying a plastic bag. “We’re going to need another hour or two, just a heads up.”

The detective rolled his eyes and sighed disapprovingly. The officer shrugged and continued out the door. She left a bloody footprint on the linoleum.

Sophia looked back and forth between the spots, couch, and rest of the room.

Maybe rust is the way to go after all, she thought.

 

            

March 18, 2020 20:18

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6 comments

This was a fast-moving story which I didn't mind, but I wish there was a teeny tiny more detail at the end. Other than that, fantastic job!

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Frank Turner
15:40 Mar 26, 2020

You're a strong writer but this is too much like pulp fiction for me. Too much happens, too hard to believe or and yet there's not enough for me to empathize with the characters. I would consider doing less plot-wise (this is like a whole movie packed in here) and just exploring the characters more. I liked this line: "Vintage. Ken wanted to spit."

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Thomai Hatsios
15:36 Mar 25, 2020

This is a great read! Thank you for sharing your talents. I especially appreciate the perspective change and the twist. Bravo.

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Antigone Paint
17:08 Mar 24, 2020

I enjoyed the quick twist as Sofia realized who Ken was and what he had done. Nice work!

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Paul Losada
18:08 Mar 24, 2020

Thank you, Amiah! I'm thrilled you enjoyed it!

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Chad Byrnes
23:50 Mar 23, 2020

Great prose! Moves like lightning. Equally witty and dangerous. I dig this one ☝️

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