Once, while seated on the toilet at Dad’s, I ripped the towel rod from the bathroom wall. I wasn’t angry, only constipated. Thing was, my bowels, confused and bottlenecked ever since Mom and Dad had called it quits, came unstuck at the very same moment the mounting brackets tore holes in the drywall. I wiped myself, flushed. When I showed him the damage, the ripped wallpaper, the exposed insulation, the grounded rod, the white plaster powdering the pink porcelain tile, Dad asked, “Was it the Stouffer’s?” I wasn’t sure who to blame. “Don’t worry, I’ll fix it later,” he said and fell back asleep in his Lazy Boy. But he never fixed anything. When he put the house up for sale years later, the rod and holes and debris remained just as they had been, the repairs neglected, the bathroom showing like modern art. By then I had gotten my life together, kept a job long enough to qualify for a loan. I bought the place, something to flip, make a buck or two. Don’t mind the walls pocked with fist-shaped holes, the smashed-up kitchen tile, the shards of window glass. Demo before reno. I’ll fix it later.

13 Comments

  1. Samantha Mitchell

    Hi Jacob,
    I really love this piece. It’s tight, and really earns its ending – something that I think is especially hard to pull off in flash pieces. You convey so much emotional turmoil with just a phrase or image, and you move us through a lot of time very seamlessly in the jump from broken towel rod to reno on the house – all the while keeping us tied to both time periods with the one constant: something left broken and unsaid, never fixed.

    I think you could send this out as is, or use it to expand into a larger story. Either way, I was happy to get the chance to read it.

  2. Janelle Greco

    Hi Jacob,

    I was hooked from the beginning. I agree with Samantha—this is a really tight piece and I like the idea of things being left unbroken or unsaid. I wonder how this might be true of the narrator’s relationship with the father as well. Is the house just a microcosm of the narrator’s larger relationships? I’m curious about the narrator’s family. Really well done.

  3. Bud Smith

    Hello Jacob,
    Fine work here. The story flowed in a pleasant boomerang, a snake eating its own tail so to speak. Love that kind of immaculate construction, the self-fulfilling destiny of it. I had similar thought to Janelle, just that it is a story that has a lot to do with the father and son and how they feel about each other. I could have used a sentence or two to understand the dynamics of the relationship or maybe even something diverted, like– where is the mother? Did she ditch the father and the son because she had her shit together (pun intended).

    I had a couple nips to the sentences. Here, like this:

    Once, while seated on Dad’s toilet, I ripped the towel rod from the wall. I wasn’t angry, only constipated. My bowels, confused and bottlenecked ever since Mom and Dad had called it quits, came unstuck at the very same moment the mounting brackets tore holes in the drywall. I wiped myself, flushed. When I showed him the damage, the ripped wallpaper, the exposed insulation, the grounded rod, the white plaster powdering the pink porcelain tile, Dad asked, “Was it the Stouffer’s? Don’t worry, I’ll fix it later,” he said and fell back asleep in his Lazy Boy. I wasn’t sure who to blame. But he never fixed anything. When he put the house up for sale years later, the damage and debris remained. Repairs neglected. Bathroom showing like modern art. By then I had gotten my life together, kept a job long enough to qualify for a loan. I bought the place to flip, make a buck or two. Don’t mind the walls pocked with fist-shaped holes, the smashed-up kitchen tile, the shards of window glass. Demo before reno. I’ll fix it later.

    • Bud Smith

      Yeah like, I wonder where the mother is in all of this. And how does the father feel about the son buying up the house. Perhaps the father is so lazy he’s in a symbolic and actual coma? How does the mother feel about the son buying this house? Has the son become his father or superseded his father? Does the mother love the son more or less than she did when she left him as a boy?

  4. Taylor Grieshober

    Hi Jacob!
    This is taught and sharp. I love the cyclical quality of it, how the narrator ends up doing the same thing his father had. It’s at once heartbreaking and comforting to know that there are things beyond our control, that we can’t really help. I’m most impressed by how much plot you were able to cram into this little number. There’s the split, the anger issues / potential violence? and the comedy in the bloodline (seen in the opening two lines and the part about the Stouffer’s). The dialogue is also so purposeful and does so much characterizing work. Loved reading this. It’s tight as it is–I don’t really have many critiques. If you wanted to expand, instead of expanding this story you could always write another of similar length that is linked somehow, or even two, and make triptych. Just a thought. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Amy Barnes

    Finding it so interesting that many of our initial stories are so family-driven. So much visceral emotion and descriptions here: mounting brackets tore holes in the drywall, the white plaster powdering the pink porcelain tile, wasn’t angry, only constipated, showing like modern art, fist-shaped holes, smashed-up kitchen tile, shards of window glass. Great job at setting a stage and sense of place — you immerse the reader immediately into this scene and the interactions. With humor. “Was it the Stouffers?” is such a light moment of humor in the midst of tension. In a small space, we get solid characters and also interactions between them and a future movement. It seems like there is much more between this father/son. Would love to see/hear even more dialogue like the Stouffers line to further flesh them out.

  6. Lisa Moore

    Oh, I enjoyed this a lot. I liked the rhythm of the tightly packed sentences. They build towards a real payoff. I kind of like not having extra info about the mother. Myopia on the father and the bathroom work for me.

  7. K Chiucarello

    The very very quiet metaphor of damage done is done so well here. What started as quite literally bathroom humor turned serious so quickly at the lines “I wasn’t sure who to blame. “Don’t worry, I’ll fix it later,” he said and fell back asleep in his Lazy Boy. But he never fixed anything.” This narrative struck pretty close to home as I find myself with my divorced father often. I’m curious what it would look like to give more details on the relationship between the father and child. What would it look like if you could forego the ending and instead (or maybe just add in?) lay out the immediate scene of aftermath beyond the pair standing in the bathroom looking the damage together. Where do they go after that? Downstairs in silence? Does the child leave and the father remains alone in his literal broken home? You conveyed so much in such a little word count. Can’t wait to see how this takes shape next.

  8. Neil Clark

    This line earned an immediate chuckle -“I wasn’t angry, only constipated.”

    The repetition of “I’ll fix it later.” brought it full circle beautifully – just really good, clean story telling.

    You could maybe consider removing the sentence – “But he never fixed anything.” – as it is implied in the passages that follow. Other than that, I would change a thing, personally. I love the tightness and brevity of it.

  9. Traci Mullins

    Jacob, the second sentence made me laugh out loud; it was so unexpected and gave instant insight into the character. You also did a great job in a few sentences of giving a clear impression of the dad’s passivity and ineptitude. I can see him going back to sleep in his recliner, utterly disengaged from what needed to be fixed. (Perhaps he was too exhausted from his lousy marriage?) I like how you came back to the “I’ll fix it later sentence” and wonder if the point might be “Like father, like son.” The only sentence that didn’t work for me was the one about the son getting his life together. There’s no indication before that that he wasn’t together, and maybe if he turned out more like his dad, which seems to be conveyed, you wouldn’t need that sentence. You did a lot in a short of amount of space, and I really enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek one.

  10. Cheryl Pappas

    Jacob, this is so simple and tight. The metaphor of never repairing anything is perfectly clear.

    I love stories that trace what we inherit from our family. Often it’s done to show how we learn our bad habits. There are three ways this story could end: the narrator adopting the same habit of waiting as his dad; the narrator going the other way and cleaning it up completely as a way to deny it; and third, and I think the most unexpected, the narrator could not just keep everything unrepaired, he could find joy in it. That line about modern art is key! He could consciously worship that way of living.

    It’s just an idea but it might expand the scope of the story and it push the story further into the strange (our consciousness about what is repairable).

  11. Kevin Sterne

    this is a tight little story, self contained. This is an elementary reading but yeah the house as a metaphor for the family is well done. There’s a wonderful emotional simmer here.

    What about bringing it to a boil? I’m wondering about ratcheting this up more, expanding it, making it weirder and taking it to a wild place before you circle back to buying the house. I want to learn more about the family and the narrator. You pull this thing off in 100 or so words, but what can you do in 300?

  12. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Hi Jacob, Well done. I like Bud’s suggestions for quick nip. There is only one sentence that jumps out at me and cuts the flow–“I wasn’t sure who to blame.” For what– the rod coming out of the wall — seems like you did that, or for the constipation? Without elaborating on that, I would cut that one. Filling out more detail might endanger the clear narrative arc of this well-crafted piece. You could give it try though if that is essential to your conception of the narrative.

    Cool. Thanks.

Submit a Comment

Pin It on Pinterest