Submitted into Contest #136 in response to: Write a story where hard work doesn’t pay off.... view prompt



This story contains sensitive content

This story has material that deals with domestic abuse and declining mental health.

He pricked his finger as he pushed the needle through two pieces of denim. This is how he could tell he was going too fast. Such a delicate procedure required acute attention and speeding through it proved that he was distracted by other thoughts. It had to be perfect.

He sewed on the second button eye and sat the doll sat on his mattress. It wore denim pants, a red t-shirt, and yarn made into curly brown hair. The hands and feet came out to round nubs made of white sheets. He painted on a smile.

It looked good but something wasn’t right. Regardless, it was time to go on to the next one. He picked up some stuffing, white sheet, and began. This one would be beautiful. The mother of the first. A beacon of the future that reminded him of his past.

Before this activity consumed Matthew, he worked as a police officer in the Springfield Police Department. He wasn’t the best or worst at his job, but he was held in high regard for being honest and doing his best for citizens. He felt the only way he could do his best was practice. He spent thirty minutes to an hour every day learning or reviewing rules and regulations. He also kept in good shape considering the number of hours he worked. He never felt a perfect cop ever existed because people are flawed and will always make mistakes. But he could at least try. Perhaps striving for that perfection would prove to be as much of a weakness as it was his strength.

One evening, dispatch sent Matthew to a scene for suspected domestic abuse. He had a dozen of these calls during that week alone. Almost every incident played out the same. If it wasn’t fake, whoever called retracted what they said, and he would have no choice but to leave.

Matthew wanted to grab them by the shoulders and urge them to tell the truth, whatever it may be. He wanted to say if they’re genuinely being hurt, he’d do his best to protect them. No illusion of love or dedication is worth somebody putting their hands on another. There is a point where we shouldn’t try and move on.

He wanted to tell them it’s ok to be afraid. They just had to build up the courage and let him help. Everybody has something to fear. There was no judging this but, he couldn’t understand letting a monster live in your bed instead of under it.

 He and his partner were let inside the residence by a short-haired brunette. Matthew examined for any visible abrasions but didn’t notice anything significant except that her eyes were slightly swollen, and her cheeks were red from crying. His gut told him that this call was not a cry for attention or to get her significant other into trouble. There was genuine fear in her eyes.

He noticed the stench of marijuana permeating the air, but he ignored this for the time being. Her safety was the priority. “May I take a look around ma’am?”

“I don’t care. I have a medical card for the weed in the bedroom.”

Matthew squared his shoulders and rested his thumbs in his belt while he searched the house. He listened as his partner Paul questioned her.

The house was a mess in more ways than one. There were literal piles of trash and clutter along the walls leaving narrow pathways to each room. Black mold seeped through the wallpaper that wasn’t covered by pictures of her and a man who could only be assumed to be her husband and a little boy who was probably their son. Passing the kitchen, the counters were filthy, and the sink smelled of rot. This was no sign of a hoarder. This was the sign of someone who probably couldn’t afford to dispose of their waste and who gave up trying to make a house a home.

“Where is your husband right now?” Paul asked.

“I don’t know,” She choked through a sob.

Matthew walked inside the bedroom and noticed a pipe and a baggie of weed on their bedroom end table, surrounded by cheap pints of whisky. Again, no judgment. Even if she was smoking it illegally, there’s a point where he’d let it go if someone was having a rough enough night.

“Why did you call us here? I’m not doubting you at all, but I don’t see any visible marks.”

The woman lifted her shirt exposing her ribcage. There was a bruise forming from her hip to below her breast.

“Matthew! Come here! How did that happen?”

“When I was on the phone with you guys, he hit me with a chair. I was knocked out until right before you guys got here.” She pointed at a broken chair in the corner of the room. It was easy to miss since it blended in with the rest of the mess.

Matthew was about to search the bedroom closet when he turned to his partner’s call. As he did, a man lunged out of the closet and tackled him to the ground. The two men struggled briefly until Matthew overcame him. He cuffed him and pressed his face to the carpet. Matthew thought about the possible rug burns so he let up. He didn’t regret his initial aggressiveness.

“Please, don’t take me in! I won’t get my boy back if you do!”

“I’m sorry,” Matthew replied. “You should have thought of that before you hit her and came after me.” Matthew bit his cheeks as Paul read him his rights. That’s what he should have done instead of replying with a snide remark.

A couple of hours later Matthew’s shift ended. He drove home in silence. He thought about the report he had to fill out and the bruises on the woman’s side. For a moment, merely for understanding, he tried to justify causing that sort of pain to someone you supposedly love. He couldn’t.


A few years passed and Matthew had all but forgotten about the incident. Like most of the horrific incidents he experienced though, he tried to blend them so he could lock them away in the recesses of his mind. 

One day, he tagged along with his family grocery shopping. After loading the groceries his wife tried nudging the cart in the corral with her hip and slipped, hitting her side. Matthew winced as the memory of the girl’s bruises surfaced from a few years prior.

His wife noticed and touched his arm, “Are you ok honey?”

“I’m ok. Are you?” Matthew opened the driver’s door to let her in.

“I’m fine.” She smiled and stood on her tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek.

A gunshot fired and Matthew turned to see where it came from.

The man that Matthew arrested years before pointed his gun. “You took my family.”

Matthew’s first instinct was to spread his arms to protect his family but after seven rounds fired, he laid on the ground motionless. An ambulance was called. When they came and picked him and his family up, he was the only one they could save.

The first couple of weeks in the hospital were strenuous physically and emotionally. He remained on a respirator and he dreamed of his family every night. His wife would speak to him and encourage him to live. There were times when the dreams felt so real. He could feel her soft skin as he held her in his right arm and his son in his left, running his fingers through his curly brown hair. When he woke up, he did his best to fall back asleep so he could be with them again.

When the doctors released him a month later, they told him he’d never be able to walk again. There was no reason for him to care if his legs ever worked again. He would never be able to play basketball with his son or walk up behind his wife and goose her in the side to surprise her and kiss her on the back of the neck. When the doctors gave him the news he simply replied, “Why do I need to walk when there’s no one to walk to?”

Paul, doing his best to be a faithful partner and a faithful friend, dropped Matthew off at his house. “Is there anything you need?”

“No. You’ve done enough. Thank you.”

After Paul left, Matthew rolled to his bedroom, tore the sheets off his bed, tore the stuffing out of his pillows, took his jeans out of his closet, and dug out his wife’s sewing kit. He got a picture off the fridge of him, his wife, and his son in a family photo. His son wore blue jeans and a red T-Shirt. His wife wore a yellow dress. He now spent weeks, making doll after doll trying to capture their likeness.

He pricks his finger as he pushes the needle through two pieces of denim. This is how he can tell he’s going too fast. Such a delicate procedure requires acute attention and speeding through it proves that he’s distracted by other thoughts. It must be perfect.

He sews on the second button eye and sets the doll on his mattress. It wears denim pants, a red t-shirt, and yarn made into curly brown hair. The hands and feet come out to round nubs made of white sheets and the smile is painted on.

It looks good but something isn’t right. Regardless, it is time to go on to the next one. He picks up some cotton, white sheet, and begins. This one will be beautiful. The mother of the first. A beacon of the future that reminds him of his past…

March 11, 2022 14:19

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Jinx York
23:38 Mar 14, 2022

I enjoyed your story. I felt the beginning was a little forced, but I could tell when you found your stride and it picked up. The visual description was good. I could certainly picture it happening. It is unfortunate that these sorts of things happen in real life. As a heads up, at the beginning of the story when he sets the doll on the mattress, you seemed to accidently use the word "sat" twice. Otherwise, good job on your story. :)


Dean Atlas
00:08 Mar 15, 2022

Thank you very much for your reply. I appreciate the critique and how you perceived the beginning. I was trying to go for a more concentrated, analytical narration but I guess it didn't work. I'll get it next time. lol


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