Big Me

“Honey, I’m taking a bath,” Craig said as I was leaving. “Can you get that stuff on the list?”
“Of course,” I said, grabbing the list from the table.

The list read:
Bathroom towels
Duct tape
Galoshes
Garden Trowel
Hornet killer
Bicycle tire pump

I thought I heard him shout “I love you” as I closed the door but couldn’t be sure over the running water.

I waited for the garage door to rise then drove out of our cookie-cutter cul-de-sac and down our cookie cutter street and out of our cookie cutter housing development. The winter had been long and gray, but the promise of Spring poked through the clouds just often enough to keep me hopeful. I passed a dozen nearly identical housing developments, then the part of the drive where there was nothing (yet), before reaching the commercial district.

After finishing my list at the Target, I remembered Craig’s list. What I couldn’t remember was the last time he’d run a bath. He was a wake up, get in, get out of the shower kind of man. At least when he still went into the office. His alarm always sounded first and countless mornings I laid there awake, willing him to summon me into the shower, which he never did, but then again, I never imparted my will either, so who was I to really blame?

The pandemic hit Craig hard. His job went remote, and he hated not being as socially active as he once was at endless company happy hours that offered reason not to be home with me. That would have afforded him the luxury to not be home with the child coming. The child that just kicked. The child that was Craig’s even though he wouldn’t believe it.

I was only with Kevin once.

I’d had too many drinks at Craig’s company Christmas party. I knew everyone there but knew no one. I found Kevin outside smoking. I drank a whiskey soda that was a lot whiskey and a little soda. We talked for too long and too secluded by the fire pit about tv shows we liked and music we hated. Eventually I pulled him into a coat closet.

I apologized and I meant it and Craig promised we could get past it, but I wasn’t convinced.

I went to the hardware section for the duct tape. I went to the garden section for the trowel and the hornet killer.

I got a text from Craig: I love you and despite our problems, I cherish the time we’ve spent together.

Over the store’s loudspeaker someone said, “Jeffrey, your mom is looking for you. She’s at the Starbucks. Come there now.”

The heads of every woman over twenty-five spun in horror.

I went to sporting goods for the bicycle tire pump. Bed and bath for the towels. The galoshes I couldn’t make sense of, but I went to the shoe section and picked out a pair in Craig’s size.

Before driving home, I queued up “Big Me” by the Foo Fighters. The song reminded me of my adolescence. Years before I’d ever gaze upon Craig. I wouldn’t have given Craig the time of day then. He didn’t have long hair. He didn’t have holes in jeans. He didn’t wear flannel.

I took a longer way home and played the song three times.

I placed the bags on the kitchen island. I walked upstairs and heard music.

As I got closer to the bathroom, I made out Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues.”

I turned the knob.

I noticed the water gushing over the side of the tub first, which wasn’t so much all red as it was tinged. Then I noticed the post-it on the mirror: put on the galoshes and use the bath towels.
***
In the weeks that followed, I thought about the rest of the list. I also thought about how surprised I’d been. Most men go fast with a gun shot. I never imagined Craig had it in him to slice himself and quietly bleed out in our bathtub. If anything could be found to admire, it was that.

It hit me one day while sitting on the couch that spring had finally arrived. I was just beginning to show. The warm sun shining through the back windows willed me outside.

I rolled the bike from its tucked away spot in the garage and then out toward the street, but it rolled funny. I looked down and the tire was flat. I couldn’t help but laugh. I used the pump to fill the tire and went for a ride.

The following week, I decided to tackle the backyard. Spring had fully bloomed.

I carried the garden trowel outside. I wanted to focus on the flowerbed. I opened our pitiful garden shed and was swarmed by hornets from a nest just over the door. I got out mostly unscathed and used the hornet killer to kill the hornets.

Inside the shed there was a plastic flowerpot full of seed packets. I’d considered buying flowers from the home and garden store and planting them, but I wanted to watch something new grow.

I decided to plant only daffodils.

After weeding the flowerbed, I used the garden trowel and planted the seeds. The only thing left was to water them so I went to the shed for the watering can. I carried it over to the hose. As it filled, I noticed the base of the spout was cracked and had come loose from the rest of the body. I shook my head in disbelief and went inside to get the duct tape to fix it.

20 Comments

  1. Len Kuntz

    Hi Wilson,

    This was a dandy of a piece. It’s really mysterious throughout and you maintain a great level of tension right up to the end. That list was so odd and compelling. The way you wove it all together shows a lot of mastery like a well-plotted novel. The twist, of course, was jarring, but in a good, smart way. I like how you didn’t dwell on it for melodrama, and also how you came back to it in a matter-of-fact way. I especially liked these two bits: “I knew everyone there but knew no one” and” but I wanted to watch something new grow.” They’re so telling with their negative space. Really great job.

    • Wilson Koewing

      Len,

      Thank you for the kind words. I enjoyed your work during the workshop immensely. You’ve got a real knack for short pieces that pack a wallop. Hope to read them in some fine literary journals soon.

      Wilson

  2. Jonathan Cardew

    WILSONNNNNNN!

    Thanks again for jumping into this workshop with your wizardry of words! Your training in screenwriting is in full, devastating view with this story, and, as with so much of your work, I feel the camera’s lens pulling me through the narrative.

    And what a narrative! I love a list, but this is a list with a twist. There’s something very touching about this piece and it reminds me of your Amusement Park story published at Sunlight (and penned at another Bending Genres shindig!), though obviously with more dire consequences. The fact that Craig has a list to a) clean up his mess and b) help out with some practical matters demonstrates the affection that exists between these two characters, despite the infidelity and other issues. The conceit is as solid as a garden trowel.

    In addition to the narrative, I’m a fan of the observational bent to this piece, the little things that add to the richness of the piece (the turning heads of the women over 25, the A LOT of whiskey). Big Me is a great title, too, and makes me think of self and selfhood (tying in with the relationship and the suicide). Was the song the inspiration, or did it come later?

    HOW ABOUTS:

    Gosh, this is fully formed, but if you continue with it, I’ve got some suggestions for you:

    1. Let’s talk about “Craig’s list”–I feel like you could lean into this joke even more, some further nod is needed (such as changing the title to “Craig’s List”)

    2. Leave the reader guessing a bit? I wonder if you couldn’t jump into the narrative a bit more suddenly. What about titling the piece “Duct tape, Galoshes, Garden Trowel, Hornet killer, Bicycle tire pump” and then starting the story at “I thought I heard him shout “I love you”…” (and then tying back to the list a little later).

    3. Flower power? There is something momentous about the planting of seeds after the death. This is a beautiful moment. Can you lean into this? Maybe the MC has an emotional reaction, or you use some fabulist elements for a tone shift at the end.

    4. Back to lists. This might change things up quite drastically, but I wonder if you could try breaking the piece up with the items on the list (as in each item is a little subheader)? Not sure how this would work exactly, but might add another dimension to the story.

    VENUES:

    I’ve always got my eye on the “landing” and this piece shouts Forge Lit Mag for some reason. I wanna see this baby in the world!

    How do you make that drink again? A lot of whiskey? Ok.

    Cheers!
    –Jonathan

    • Wilson Koewing

      General Cardwallis,

      Thank you for these wonderful notes, my friend. You’ve given me a great deal to think about. I will play around with some of the what abouts. Great work overall on your end. So much dense feedback and not a single response was lacking in the humor department. Do you have a writing staff that comes up with your quips? Whatever the case, you earned your keep over this workshop! Let me know when you do another and I will be there!

      Wilson

  3. Al Kratz

    Wilson! You surprise me all over the place with this one. That list is a master distraction. It sets an expectation of mystery, but no way was that expected but of course was perfectly placed.

    That dark turn in the bathtub. Damn.

    And then, the list puts us back together. Duct tapes the f’ out of us. Lol.

    I think the things to play with here are pace. Are there spots to speed up or slow down? Are there parts to expand. Can you give us a little more foreplay lol.

    Great stuff man.

  4. Kristin Bonilla

    I do love a good list.

    What I found most interesting is that–there is a lot of darkness here with suicide, lingering regrets–but I don’t feel the weight of that darkness by the time we get to the end and it’s because of the list. Craig was thinking of this narrator and loving from wherever he is now. Because this is love, right? Attending to the small details, thinking ahead, trying to smooth the path a little for the one you care about. There’s such sweetness there.

    One thing: the text message. I’ve just met Craig and I was immediately thinking “LEAVE. LEAVE NOW, Craig is NOT OK.” And the feeling seems to be reinforced by the immediate announcement over the loudspeaker (not intended for the narrator) but that essentially says “Your person is lost, go find them.” It left me wondering why the narrator wasn’t alarmed by the tone in the text? Did they think about that text later? Maybe something to play with.

    • Wilson Koewing

      Hey Kristin,

      Great idea and note about the text. I think it would be nice to have a reaction from her, which was in there originally, but got cut out by my crazed Edward Scissorhands.

      Wilson

  5. Jennifer Todhunter

    Hey Wilson, it’s always a pleasure to read your work and this is no exception. I think you could play with the form here, make it a true listicle of sorts, number that shit up and leave the blank space between narrating when and how these objects were used. I think maybe that would increase the pacing, for me, and do away with the unnecessary exposition of points. I did wonder if one of the objects could be used for something unexpected or detrimental to the narrator’s story.

    I loved “I took a longer way home and played the song three times.”. Dude, I have been there. This is a great character moment and a great pause in the piece.

    If I got this text message (“I got a text from Craig: I love you and despite our problems, I cherish the time we’ve spent together.”) I would drop what I was holding and run so maybe consider how you could work that in?

    I do love the pivot point of the post-it notes. It takes the piece from being one feeling to quite another and I appreciated that drop.

    The voice is, as always, terrific.

    Can’t wait to see where this one lands.

    • Wilson Koewing

      Jen,

      Thank you for your notes. Very helpful. The text is definitely tricky. I don’t want it to be too obvious at first, but also want it to be obvious upon reflection. A slippery slope. It was great to be in workshop with you. Both of your pieces were wonderful.

      Wilson

  6. Robert Vaughan

    Hi Wilson, love how we start with Craig’s voice, and then Craig’s List (?!?!?!) I like the idea of vignettes with each item on the list dropping more information down about the narrative. Love the matter-of-fact way the bathroom “incident” was revealed. Overall the pacing and the voice of this entire piece is wondrous.

    The “Big Me” drive, this is so me. Drive around the block, because it’s “that song.” Well, you just have to play it again. Loved this.

    I wanted to see a darker turn at the end. Maybe it’s just where I’m at (I’ll cop to that). But having just gone through what Jeffrey did? I think someone might be “out of their mind” slightly more, and you could use whimsy or “flight of mind” toward the end? Read Sylvia Path or Lorri Jackson. Any writer who was up against it, on most days.

    • Wilson Koewing

      Robert,

      Great note on the end. I will give this some thought and see if I can get a little up against it in there.

      Wilson

  7. Todd Clay Stuart

    Hey Wilson, first time reading your stuff. Cool that we both had Nirvana(ish) references in our stories. It’s a delicious read.

    I thought it was funny that this was “Craig’s List”, I assume that coincidence was intentional. The list itself didn’t stay in my mind for long, but my short-term memory is for shit and any list over 3, I might remember the first and the last item. However, I’ve seen enough crime shows though to know that someone is dying. lol If zip ties were on the list, I’d be even more afraid. haha

    I think you can tighten this up by cutting some of the more mundane narrative. Like you probably don’t need to mention waiting for the garage to rise before backing out. Maybe that whole paragraph. I don’t think the camera needs to be right there with the narrator the entire time /she? is on her shopping trip. BTW, I wasn’t entirely sure about the narrator’s gender until far into the story, if it matters. One other thing is that there were a lot of sentences that began with the pattern: I (insert verb). You could consider varying your sentence structure a bit more if you wanted.

    I like the curveball you throw at the end. I was thinking Craig was going to kill her and had sent her to purchase the items he needed. Maybe that says more about me then anything. lol Great job overall and I look forward to reading more of your work, WIlson!

    • Wilson Koewing

      Todd,

      Really enjoyed your stories this workshop. Great to spend some time with your work. Also, thank you for these fantastic notes. I love little more than leaning into some mundane narration, but I will look into it, as your point is well taken! hope to see you in another one of these sometime.

      Wilson

  8. David O'Connor

    Wilson, this is thrilling, love the mental games from the list to the cookie-cutter Americana to the Target and Craigslist. The songs, the details add a looming suspense that made me want longer nails to bite. I might think about putting, “I noticed the water gushing… paragraph” at the end or further down, just to hold the suspense longer, but I also like how the denouement extended into another less obvious theme. Something like; how the list makes the narrator unreliable, either way this is a winner. So much in so few (good) words. Wicked writing!

    • Wilson Koewing

      David,

      Great workshopping with you. Enjoyed your writing! Hope to see you in another one of these.

      Wilson

  9. Wendy Oleson

    This is such a great pairing of messages: ‘”I got a text from Craig: I love you and despite our problems, I cherish the time we’ve spent together.
    Over the store’s loudspeaker someone said, “Jeffrey, your mom is looking for you. She’s at the Starbucks. Come there now.”’ I love the energy and pathos of this piece! Thank you, Wilson!

    • Wilson Koewing

      Wendy,

      Great workshopping with you. I’m glad you enjoyed this one! Hopefully it will be out in the world soon.

      Wilson

  10. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Hello Wilson. First time reading your work. Definitely makes me want to read more of it. It’s hard to find anything to add to what has already been said including how well crafted this is. I too love the cookie-cutter neighborhoods, the Craig’s list to craig’s list, the post-it note, and the past-tense text that fails to alert our narrator. Just one tiny note– about the daffodil seeds being planted in the spring. Perhaps it’s my northern gardening, but daffodil seeds and/or bulbs are generally planted in the fall to then come up in the spring. Maybe a different flower? Just so someone picky doesn’t get thrown out of the narrative into a ridiculous quibble. I can see this as a great short flick.

    • Wilson Koewing

      Martha,

      It’s a great note about the daffodils. Can you tell I’m not exactly an avid gardener? haha. That is just the sort of minor detail that gets belabored over to the point where it could end up overshadowing a story. Grateful to know that. Thank you.

      Wilson

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