Day 1 – Christina Rosso

by | Oct 17, 2020 | Dean Cleaning One | 11 comments

Prompt 1

The silky laces weave through the metal eyelet of the corset, their puppeteer pulling them taut. The marionette’s breath hovers in her chest, her heart thudding. She doesn’t meet the puppeteer’s eyes, doesn’t even flirt a glance. Instead, she focuses on her transformation in the mirror, the reflective surface framed by gilded carvings of filigree and mythological she-beasts with reptilian tails and snakey tendrils. Her hips appear wide and fleshy, her chest seems to tremble with each movement, toppling over the bones of the shapewear. 

The puppeteer pulls tighter, the lace slipping through metal with a squeal. The marionette sways on her feet, the ground suddenly a seesaw. She wants to fan herself but thinks better of it. That isn’t how a lady acts, she reminds herself. 

 

She stares ahead, studying the contortion of her body, her waist whittled until she feels both hollow and bulging. Her cheeks flush like a painted doll’s. Her forehead is pebbled with perspiration. Her eyes flicker. She fights the urge to close them and fall into a dream. 

 

The pull on the laces slacken. She stretches her eyes wide. 

 

Ah, there, the puppeteer says. His fingers trace her new form. 

 

She cannot feel his touch, only watch it reflected in the mirror. Her limbs are tingling from the lack of blood flow. 

 

Now you are perfect, he says. She watches his grin stretch across the glass.

 

Her forehead and neck are slick. Her feet no longer seem to be on the ground. The marionette scrutinizes the woman before her, hunting for imperfections. Yet she finds none. Finally, she is perfect. The marionette imagines the puppeteer’s hand rising, raising her body into the air, her beautifully shaped limbs stretching into a split tail.  

 

Prompt 2

 

The quilt my mother spent many painstaking hours teaching me how to sew. Its patches taken from bedsheets, dresses I’d outgrown, and snips of fabric she kept from jobs. On a faded floral piece, red threads in the shape of a heart, her signature to me. My mother’s box spilling threads, buttons, and needles. A proper lady, a proper wife, always has a sewing kit handy. The weathered parchment with squiggly g’s and l’s and q’s rolled into a scroll. I don’t need to read the words anymore; they are etched into my mind. Leather gloves, smooth and rigid, hardly worn. A gift fitting from a groom to his bride. The canary-yellow diamond, fat and square, ready to topple on its gold setting. Threadbare dresses and petticoats, stained from years of labor and poverty. An out of fashion lace wedding dress faded to beige, carefully folded and placed in a box. A mahogany trunk so new it squeaks when opened, the smell of stain and wood lifting into the air. A vessel to be filled with memories and belongings of a past life. A vessel brimming with the future, with possibility. 

 

Prompt 3

 

A forever friend she called it. Someone to play make-believe with to hold close to her chest at night. Someone who would never leave her, like her parents, and then her foster family, had. 

 

Jessi found her forever friend at the strangest of places. The storefront was tucked away from busy streets like Bourbon and Royal, devoid of tourists, panhandlers, and discarded mardi gras beads. Jazz echoed down the block, fading the further the girl went. The quiet and stillness were unfamiliar. She swallowed and read the flyer taped to a window with a portrait of a bearded woman beneath the glass. She wore a tall collar with a brooch in the middle. A thick black beard tickled the pin. The piece of paper said, “Love the bizarre? Come to J. Allister’s Oddities & Antiques to behold a collection of the weird, the scary, the wacky. $5.00 entry.” 

 

Below the words: a black and white photograph of a doll. It was a poor-quality photo—grainy and not completely in focus—but the doll’s face was perfectly clear to Jessi. Like she had seen it before. The doll in the photo had a pale face with high, curved eyebrows. Her eyes were large and wide—the pupils nearly exploding—with thick eyelashes only on the bottom. Her mouth was tiny, thinner than the width of her nose at its widest part. Her lips made a heart without the pointed bottom. Her chin and cheeks were rounded and soft looking with two circles on each side of her face. She had lopsided dark bangs. The doll wore the expression of someone who was paralyzed by fear. 

 

A few people stopped to look at the flyer while Jessi was there. She scowled as they said, “That doll looks possessed,” or “Why would I want to see a creepy doll when I could see a bearded woman? Where’s that exhibit?” 

 

Jessi curled her arms, bringing her fingers to her armpits. She bared her teeth and began to make monkey sounds until the people hurried away. She shook her head. She thought the doll looked beautiful and lonely like she needed a friend. And Jessi planned to be just that.

11 Comments

  1. Roberta Beary

    Prompt 1 drew me in right away. I could picture the puppeteer and marionette observing each other, and the marionette observing herself in the mirror. Fav part: “She cannot feel his touch, only watch it reflected in the mirror. Her limbs are tingling from the lack of blood flow.” The split tail ending image wowed me.

    Prompt 2 resonated with me with its hints of the mother-daughter relationship: “On a faded floral piece, red threads in the shape of a heart, her signature to me.”
    I like the way the image of the sewing box deepens the story. And appreciate the juxtaposition of these two images as a way of furthering the story:
    “An out of fashion lace wedding dress faded to beige, carefully folded and placed in a box. A mahogany trunk so new it squeaks when opened, the smell of stain and wood lifting into the air.”

    Prompt 3 immediately drew me into a kind of ‘twilight zone’ setting. I could picture the doll, and the questioning bystanders who feel compelled to offer an opinion on the flyer.
    Fav line: She had lopsided dark bangs.
    The ending’s monkey arms were a nice surprise and one I would keep in if you intend to take this piece further. I can see this story developing into a great piece of flash.

    • Paul Beckman

      Christina-3 prompts each telling a story and the 3rd prompt coming full circle. Growing up fairy tales were not as scary until we were old enough to understand them That’s my take on your fine style and story.

  2. Tommy Dean

    Prompt 1: “The silky laces weave through the metal eyelet of the corset, their puppeteer pulling them taut.” Oh, I love this opening, the tension you create by the deeper inspection of the object, the use of eyelet, corset, and taut are just perfect! I love the close-up camera on the object and action too! I love that the marrionette is alive, is our main character! “The marionette’s breath hovers in her chest, her heart thudding.” How heart thudding would normally be conventional, but here it’s fresh and awakening because of the choice in character, the object itself being brought to life!
    “her waist whittled until she feels both hollow and bulging.” Just love how you’ve created this character, how you’ve fleshed her out (sorry about the pun!), how it creates this eerie allegory. A Pinocchio tale, but the maker isn’t the nice man we know from the Disney movie. There’s something deep and lasting and the themes here! This feels like a character that could carry the weight of a series of flashes!

    Prompt 2: Again, really enjoying the way you use a close-up camera on the object as if it’ deserves importance because of our scrutiny! “ts patches taken from bedsheets, dresses I’d outgrown, and snips of fabric she kept from jobs.” Love how the metaphor is in it’s beginning stages here since this blanket is an accumulation of scraps, how these fabrics used to have specific occasions are molded into one!

    Love how this shifts to give us the differences between daughter and mother, how the daughter is still caught in these traditions, how she’ll have a trunk like her mother, but she hopes with more possibility! Every small object increases this separation for hope, the irony the readers feel about this as the objects accumulate a weight that keeps the daughter in the tradition! Well done!

    Prompt 3: Lov the concept of this forever friend! So resonate, especially a kid from a broken home! This second paragraph has a perfect balance of sensory details. the sound fading, the lack of people, the stillness, and the allure of the bizarre! Great filtering through this point of view!
    Yes, love that it’s perfectly clear to her! Your mythmaking abilities are fantastic! I love how you never fall into summary, but filter directly through the point of view! You make allegory, myth, fairy tale so active! So intriguing!
    I think there’s more story here, so I hope you give it a larger canvas when you get a chance! I really want to see more of this story!

    • Christina Rosso-Schneider

      Thank you, Tommy!

      The third prompt is based on a longer story I have in a collection actually. I’m enjoying playing with it as flash to see what it shakes up or unearths about the story, Jessi, and her quest for a forever friend.

  3. Constance Malloy

    First, let me just say kudos for taking on all three prompts.
    Prompt 1-I’m a former dancer, so my thoughts traveled to Coppelia. “Now you are perfect, he says. She watches his grin stretch across the glass.” This line was so powerful and disturbing. The puppeteer and the marionette are such great images. One getting to fashion and manipulate the other in the first’s image. I liked all of this piece, and felt suffocated by the manipulation of the man over the woman.

    Prompt 2 -“A vessel to be filled with memories and belongings of a past life. A vessel brimming with the future, with possibility.” Ending this piece here is pitch perfect. The daughter is recalling, reimaging, holding onto and letting go of all the things that come before this line. Beautiful!

    Prompt 3- I’m with Tommy in that I feel like there is more story here. I feel like the ball just got rolling, and I want to know if Jessi succeeds. And, within the story, you make it completely believable that Jessi is going to befriend, and wants to befriend, this creepy doll. I’m so curious as to how she will do that.

  4. Meg Tuite

    Hi Christina,
    The first one is a solid platform for the macho eye that can only transform and reveal the woman as his possession and she is inert.
    All of these are inventive and evocative of a relationship between what one sees as what matters. not the depth of the objectified. You can really take this to many creepy, wonderful places. It is a phenomenon. LOVE!

  5. Gay Degani

    The puppeteer. What a lovely piece. The first line is full of danger, me with anticipation.

    Love: Her limbs are tingling from the lack of blood flow.

    This is exactly what Tommy wrote about the tension in opposites. Really well done.

  6. Gay Degani

    Prompt 2. I like this one a lot too. There is a pleasant familiarity I feel with this quilt, this box. I am touched by the tenderness, the sweetness, and the honest history it suggests.

  7. Gay Degani

    Prompt 3. It feels like this is set in New Orleans which would be the perfect setting. Dolls come alive in the home of Marie Laveau. This piece is haunting and sad and I love how she turns on the scoffers to protect her new friend. Also like the duality here of the girl and the girl in the picture. It does so much work for the story.

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