Thursday, September 2, 2010

You're Beautiful

"You're beautiful," her mother said the first time she held Elise in her arms. Elise didn't remember that instance, but one of her first memories was of her father holding her in his arms and telling her the same thing. She didn't realize that the fall she remembered happening just after he said it was a memory of his heart attack until many years later.

Her father had been a successful man and while he was alive Elise's mother was well-cared for. The estate wasn't insignificant, but a damaged worldview and a broken heart tore through its assets far too quickly. More a defense mechanism than a desire to marry someone new, her mother eagerly attached herself to any man willing to have a second date. Nothing ever came of the many men that entered and exited her mother's bedroom, and unable to maintain their lifestyle, Elise's mother was forced to move them away. Seeing her mother cry one night, Elise asked what was wrong. "Nobody wants me. I'm too ugly."

"No, you're not. Dad wants you."

It was by sheer fortune that their new neighborhood introduced Elise to the two best friends she would ever havw. Kyle, 11, and his brother Keith, 10. On appearance, they looked quite similar to each other - not quite twins, but one easily mistaken for the other in bad lighting. They were, however, as different as the cliché allowed. Kyle was an athlete - he excelled at baseball and soccer - who preferred studying history and grammar. Keith was an artist - a pianist, guitarist, illustrator, and writer - who preferred science and math. Dichotomies between each other and within themselves. Before she even learned their names they had both told her, in unison, "You're pretty." She doesn't remember which of them was her first kiss - innocent enough - because they happened so closely together.

By the time Elise was old enough to drive, she truly was what even grown men would call beautiful. It was a blessing in that it made her inadvertently popular. What was a curse was that she preferred to keep a small company of friends - mainly Kyle and Keith - and it caused many a rumor during her high school years. And, like all rumors, trouble followed. She was raped just after her 17th birthday by the junior varsity center-forward. "Relax, beautiful," he had said while tearing her skirt from her nubile legs.

Keith had found out what happened and he, along with Elise's mother, was present when the doctors ensured there would be no pregnancy. Keith's face was bloodied and bruised, a valiant unsuccessful attempt at exacting some sort of vengeance for Elise. His injuries would be revealed to be rather severe - a broken jaw the least of his worries - and he would spend much time undergoing reconstructive surgeries. During this period, Kyle wound up in juvenile hall after a valiant successful attempt at exacting some sort of vengeance for both Elise and his brother. Other than that, the center-forward was never punished. Elise's mother again moved them away, supposedly to protect her daughter. But taking Elise away from the brothers was the worst thing that could ever have happened.

Still, Elise and the brothers stayed in touch, usually on a daily basis. After high school, Keith surprised Elise on her doorstep, dressed in an Army uniform. On his way to becoming a warrior poet, he professed his love for her. Even to her surprise, she kissed him. "You know, you're beautiful," Keith told her. It would be the last time she'd ever see him. While away at college, Kyle called to inform her that Keith had been killed in action. She couldn't stop crying that night, but that didn't prevent her college boyfriend from subduing her - calling her his beautiful baby all the while - and forcing himself inside of her. The moment destroyed Elise.

She tried many times to visit Kyle, but he was usually away in Europe playing professional football - he had taught her, at least, not to call it soccer - and skyrocketing to fame and fortune. Truth was, he couldn't bear to see her, for he was in love with her, too. And the sense of betrayal was amplified in the shadow of a dead brother. He didn't even attend her mother's funeral.

Throughout it all, Elise lived a good life. She never succumbed to alcohol or drugs, despite the plethora of opportunities, and rarely gave herself away to men. Her beauty, though, combined with her sad and private demeanor, continued to foster her place as an object of rumors. "See that hot chick? She gives good head," was as commonly spoken of her as was, "Poor girl. Such a difficult life for one so young."

Unexpectedly, Elise killed herself on her 27th birthday. At her funeral were no family and few real friends. It was mostly a church full of false mourners - misinformed from years of lies Elise had no energy to dispute - secretly satisfied that Elise got what she deserved. The well-dressed and obviously wealthy stranger who approached the open casket would only prompt more posthumous tales of Elise's infidelities. The stranger limped - whispers abounded as to its cause, none knowing it was from an injury that ended a playing career.

Kyle, the only remnant from her childhood, places a hand on her cheek and leans in to kiss her, a tear from his eye falling gently on to hers. "Don't listen to them, Elise. You will always be beautiful."

*Learn more about Kyle... in Driven


  1. The first paragraph is really strong and says much in a few short lines. And I like the basic storyline, gripped my interest through to the end. Somewhere in the middle, though, the writing loses strength, seems a bit removed. It reads, to my my subjective eye and ear, like a summary of a very good story, instead of the actual story unfolding. Too much tell and not enough show. "Throughout it all, Elise lived a good life", "Unexpectedly, Elise killed herself on her 27th birthday", a "well-dressed and obviously wealthy stranger". I know the piece covers a lot of ground in a short space, but I think this could be fleshed out into a very solid short story. Of course that would take a longer work — perhaps on the Infanticide Exchange, in the spirit of which I offer this respectul and, I hope, constructive critique.

    Also, I think the "none knowing it was from an injury that ended a playing career" at the end of the next to last paragraph is completely unnecessary, and even naming Kyle in the last one may sap the ending of some of its punch. Might be more effective to let the reader jump to that conclusion on their own.

    Perhaps something like: "The elegant young man who limped up to the open casket in a swirl of whispers, would only prompt more posthumous tales of Elise's infidelities, especially when he placed his hand on her cheek and leaned in to kiss her, a tear from his eye falling gently on to hers. "Don't listen to them, Elise. You will always be beautiful."

  2. Kyle is not the only one with a tear in his eye...
    I critique the critique, but I'm not that way.

  3. Sad and poignant piece, Jeff. It fits the prompt perfectly.

  4. that's a very sad and sweet story. I can see it as part of an ensemble work--perhaps that's your intention.

  5. Very sad and a slightly different narrative form for you. I think this topic is going to be a bit of a downer, mine are on the sad side too.

  6. Wow...I need a tissue after this one. I also agree that the middle of the piece falls a bit...Did you mean this to be part of an ensemble?

    Also, what was the prompt? I heard about the latest enterprise on Baino's blog. Care to fill me in via e-mail?


  7. A downer, but hey, who said life was fair, right? Great writing, even with a couple of grammatical boo-boos I am sure you will love correcting. Heh.

  8. Jeff:

    This read had me on an emotional roller coaster ride. Sad, bittersweet, I am glad it is fiction.

    Teased out more -- like Lorenzo suggests I can see this written in your own unique style the characters you developed into a novel similar to the popular Harold Robbins best-sellers whose novels were about sex, money and power but were scorned by critics and loved by readers.

    Love your style, now hand over the tissues,,,please.


  9. The last 2 paragraphs are the most intriguing. Who was that guy?? I want to know more. Badly.

    I had a high school friend named Alyse (similar name to Elise). The connection brought the piece closer to home for me, although it was written a bit removed, but, I assume, that was your intent.

    PS: Way to write and put your stuff out there. So many bloggers *talk* about writing but never post any of their stuff (which I find dull in the extreme. I want to sift through people's words and see if they are interesting/resonate, etc).

    Kudos to you.

  10. Loved the style you seemed to master in here of making events magically melt into each other (like in the first paragraph) The end though, I found a bit too awkward. You started it with "unexpectedly" and that was how it felt. I know that throughout the story you provided us with enough reason for her to do so, still, I would've liked it more if the end was her suicide scene, letting us see into her head and the flow of dark thoughts that led to it. I am saying this because it just felt sort of like the end was lacking an event, or a motivator. She has put up with unbearable situations throughout her life, and at her birthday she finally realizes she's had enough. There must've been something that triggered the suicide, was it an event or a thought. I just felt that it would be better than the funeral scene. Anyway, that's just my opinion. One thing I have to say, while reading, i was really enchanted by your style so overall, you wrote a great story

  11. Hmmm, this sounds oh so familiar.

  12. wow, intriguing blog... and this post strikes a chord. i am seeking true beauty--actually wrote about this tonight--far beyond the fleshly eye... a former anorexic, this is increasingly important to my salvation i believe. thanks so much for stopping by my place.

  13. I too see this as more of an outline. LOVE the whole concept, and a lot of the detail. But you left me thirsting for more...which I don't really see as a bad thing. The way I see it, we're all just out here looking to hone our craft, and sharpened by the pens we encounter. If I've spoken out of turn, please let me know.

  14. Hi, I'm new here, stopped by from 10thDoM. I really liked this piece, it was powerful, poignant and sad. Well done.

  15. I agree with Lorenzo about the end. I liked the first paragraph the best also. But I still roll my eyes when I read pieces like this from you. Kudos, anyhow, for laying the skeleton to a good narrative.

  16. i like the touch at the end...those last couple paragraphs bring it to tight close...i do think there is more to tell here.

  17. jAn interesting array of comments you have teased out, Jeff. Refreshing to read when I am so used to the 'group hug' effect. I think I agree with some of what Lorenzo is hinting at. You have told us the story of your story. You have told us what happened to your characters. But you have TOLD us this. It is so much more powerful for us to discover it ourselves, for you to show us and for us to understand. Instead of explaining, getting all the facts our, just peel them back a petal at a time. Can you cope with me, a newbie, saying this? Hope so ...

  18. I like that you told the story of a young girl instead of a sultry self-confident woman. But I had a little trouble feeling the cause-and-effect and the flow of emotions that led from beautiful and loved to suicide.

  19. I know I'm beautiful Jeff, thanks for reminding me. :)

  20. I read this a second time today and wonder what the hell I was thinking the first time I read it. Just sayin'. I must have been tired. You managed to capture much more here than I originally commented on.