The young reporter kept shifting her weight on the fold-out. She was probably nervous, Frank surmised, though the couch had thirty-eight years worth of lumps. She was definitely pretty. And sweet. He didn’t mind answering her questions.
“So, Mr. Callen. It was then you noticed the little girl by the river?”
He took another sip from his Coors Light. “Indeed. The bear was near twenty feet from her I reckon.”
“And you shot it?” She was eager. Most people by now let him tell the story.
“Right between the eyes,” he smiled.
“How was the girl…Luann, right?”
“Yup. Luann Reynolds.” He took another swig. “She was in shock. Her eyes had the look right after one comes across an apparition I suspect.” It wasn’t the most poetic line, but he had used it for thirty years now and it still worked.
“She couldn’t say anything. I just slung her right here over my left shoulder,” he pantomimed. “Walked right into town to see the doctor, then called on her daddy. That’s about all there is to tell. Last I heard she was some lawyer up in New York or something.”
“Yeah!” said the girl. “She’s real successful, too. I tried to call her for the story but her clerk said she was busy with a big case.”
Frank smiled, appropriately.
“Well, thank you Mr. Callen. Look for my story in the Gazette in a couple of weeks or so.”
“You can count on it,” he winked, then showed her to the door. He closed it behind her and slumped in his recliner.
“I never tire of hearing you tell that story.” His wife Gayle sat down beside him on the armrest and put her arm around him. Only this time was different. “Are you…crying?”
Frank put his beer down. “Gayle,” he started. “You know I love you, right?”
She clasped his hands and looked into his eyes. “Of course, dear. Now tell me what’s on your mind?”
“I…I can’t do this anymore. That whole story. Well it just ain’t like that. Ain’t like that at all.” He looked into her eyes for permission. She gave it. “I did go out hunting that morning like I’ve been saying. But I had caught three coons by nine o’clock. I went back into town to celebrate and had a few beers.”
He looked at Gayle. Sometimes he wished she was like the other wives who would interrupt him and never shut up. He knew he’d have to finish this story.
“I met a girl at the bar…oh hell it was Mary Beth Rockwell before she got married. We got to talkin’ ya know…and I don’t know what came over me but I took her down to those same woods. We headed down to the river for privacy, since nobody fished there or nothing. I swear we didn’t do anything that day, though I guess it doesn’t matter since I was going to. But before we could I saw the girl and the bear. Thing is though the bear was done already shot. Dead as a doornail. I guess some other hunter got it and the girl came across it. Alive maybe at first, I don’t know. But I ain’t done have nothing to do with saving her. Mary Beth just snuck back into town while I carried the girl back.”
Gayle was taciturn.
“I’m just an ol’ drunk,” he finished. “Not worthy of this town’s admiration, or Luann’s, or yours.”
He slumped back in his chair. He didn’t know how she’d react. He was too numb anyway.
“Frank,” she said. “Mary Beth told me years ago.”
“I forgave you long ago. And I know you’ve been faithful to me ever since. Either way I love you. I didn’t know about the bear being dead. Thank you for telling me. The way I see it, it doesn’t matter. You still brought the girl to her daddy. And she grew up viewing you as a role model. She’s a wonderful woman and her gratefulness is well placed. As is mine.”
Gayle kissed her husband, then sunk into his arms.
K: This dialogue is rather on the nose. There’s no tentativeness here, and no real feeling of dread for us because of the protagonist’s seeming lack of inner struggle before he just spits it out in the moment we meet the wife. As a result of this structure, I have a hard time believing a guy with this conscience kept it up all those years, and an even harder time buying that he gave it all up. These story beats could all work, but they’re very matter-of-fact.
MN – Man told a lie, but lives an honorable life. Indeed, it is that honor that makes the lie eat him up. It would have been nice if we’d maybe seen the “eating him up” part manifest itself, or a why to the reporter asking him questions now, etc. Those kind of elements might have given the character a little more roundedness. As it was, the characters were still very unique, without being caricatures, and your dialogue was excellent.
I bit off more than I could chew in 30 minutes and wasn’t able to go beyond the story beats. With a few days I think I could have made this more realistic.
Sadly, I lost my duel and am therefore out of the game. I finish in 10th place and am part of the jury.