A Bit Longer, Trifecta Challenge

Semper Fidelis

“It would be apreshated if gests would take there shoes off.”

It’s written in childish block letters and taped just above the doorbell. There’s a drawing too. I would have expected a pair of sneakers or maybe some feet, but instead it’s a picture of a Rambo style character, with an AK-47.

That’s a new one, I think. Sherice didn’t used to be so house-proud. I guess the kids are on board too. I always knew my brother was a neatnik, but when he retired from the Marines and got married, Sherice softened him up around the edges, made him realize that four kids (in three years) and an incontinent pug (that she found at the bus station and kept for the kids) were not compatible with high levels of barracks-style cleanliness. We have to band together on this one, she would say.

It’s drizzling, cold. The wind chimes she gave him on his forty-fifth birthday hang limply from a porch rafter. I ring the doorbell again. My brother’s broken-up face appears in the bubbled glass of the door lite.


Yeah. Let me in.

He’s quiet.

Let me in, would ya? It’s shitty out here.

He opens the door in full dress uniform, medals, epaulettes, white cap and belt, the whole deal. Except no shoes. His socks have HANES in blue across the toes.

He points an M9 Beretta at my chest.

Christ, Jerry.

He doesn’t move. I step backwards, knocking into the wind chimes.

C’mon Jerry. Quit it. Put it away.

There’s a small black lump lying in a pooled shadow on the hallway floor behind him. I think I see a pink collar. From further inside the house, a crash and a child’s high-pitched wail.

Where’s Sherice?

Jerry’s eyes flick away, back to me. He laughs, like when I would tell him my stupid kid brother jokes.

That’s a good one, he says.



22 thoughts on “Semper Fidelis

  1. WOW. Just fucking WOW. I have recently had a brush with the mentally ill (someone close to me had a psychotic break and did some crazy shit) — this was so stark and direct and unexpected — you didn’t give the reader time to acclimate to the idea that there was some very bad shit happening here — just… wow… So when’s that T-shirt coming in the mail?
    (Sorry I wasn’t more articulate, but this story literally took my words away)

  2. Pingback: DO NOT PASS GO, DO NOT COLLECT $200 | Being the Memoirs of Helena Hann-Basquiat, Dilettante.

  3. Can I just say “What Helena said” except I read this with my hand slowly reaching up to cover my face and my eyes bugging out?

    But really, I had NO idea where that was headed in the best way possible. If I was wearing socks they would have been blown right off.

  4. Xandra, first I have to say how glad I am to read some more of your writing. Have missed your participation and my weekly XandraNihilo ‘fix’.

    This is, as I’m sure you know, an incredibly powerful piece. Horrifying in its understatement. Amazing how much impact you are able to make with so few words.

  5. Scriptor Obscura says:

    You gotta win. You HAVE to win. This is the best one this week, period. You gotta win. If this isn’t in the top three…

  6. Cobbie's World says:

    It is always really, really scary to come face to face with someone who is having a break from reality. The unpredictable nature of those in mid-breakdown is captured incredibly, chillingly well in your story. What a nightmare! What great writing! Thanks for linking up this week.

  7. Oh, man, this starts nibbling at your ankles and by the time you’re done you’re lucky if you have any leg left. So freaking good. I love the scraps of detail scattered throughout, the incontinent pug, the wind chimes, the Hanes sports socks–a litany of normal juxtaposed with the oh, so very far from normal. And the brother’s face through the bubbled glass? So much unsaid there–perfect restraint. I’m in awe.

  8. Whoa! This knocked me back a bit. Wonderful writing! And so, so scary. The departure from reality always is. Great story in so few words.

  9. Well. Oh my. I was scared, I was shaken, I was changed reading this.

    I think that the other comments let you know that this was exceptional and I agree. From the opening note on the door to the ending that left me breathless.

    My grandmother was mentally ill and while she was never violent , I always feared that she would be. My dad was a Green Beret in Vietnam and he had PTSD and a history of family violence (and was a hitter) so I cringed at some parts of this…happy that my family made it out unscathed .

    this was POWERFUL…very very powerful. thank you for linking up this week.

  10. Wowzer.
    It just crept up, like BAM.
    I felt like something was coming, but nothing like that. BAM. Wow.
    I really like the dialogue. It’s very well done. It comes to the ending quickly and dramatically.
    You did a great job slipping in small details that make sense later on like the wind chimes. The sock detail seemed a bit off to me. I think the story would hold up just fine without it.
    Well done!
    -Alicia Audrey

    • Yeah. The sock detail was something I wasn’t sure about. I guess I wanted to bring up a weird detail that someone might have remembered in a situation like that, and that it was a counterpoint to the whole correctness of the dress uniform. But you’re right, I maybe could’ve dropped that.

  11. KymmInBarcelona says:

    The progression of the story is excellent, we get to know the characters as the story unfolds. Language is pitch perfect.
    The title does not do the story justice. Flash fiction has to make every word count. What did you want to convey with the title you chose?
    Perfect first two paragraphs. Just jarring enough to grab attention and hold it.
    Sherice’s “thought” could be clearer. At first I thought banding together was the narrator’s idea. Unless you want us to think that.
    As long as you use house-proud, you should use barracks-style (I ❤ hyphens) Also broken-up face.
    ¿door lite?
    LOVE “It’s shitty out here.”
    I would prefer the 14th paragraph to have just the first sentence. You need more input on that, as this is a very personal preference. Also personal, I don’t need “sports” with the socks – Hanes does it for me.
    His eyes flick away from me, back to me. Perfection.
    Terrific story, btw. Yow!

    • Great points. The title – you’re absolutely right. Could have been better. I will give it more thought. I’m going to fix the hyphenation and take out “sports”! I agree with you. I actually started out with “white sports socks”! Less is more! Door lite – what the hell are windows in doors called anyway?! I got stuck on that one. Will also review the 14th para. Thanks so much for the input – that’s exactly what I wanted!

  12. The first sentence grabs my attention, creates some interested- it makes me want to know what the heck that was about. As it unfolded and we saw what the brother saw, I got a sinking feeling. The last paragraphs were intense. I like how it’s a bit open ended. On one hand, I think Morris is a goner, that Jerry has gone off the deep end and no one is getting out alive. But then a part of me holds out hope that he can talk his brother down.

    Anyway, great thought-provoking story.

  13. powerful stuff, Xandra. I disagree about deleting the sock comment. I think it adds to the sense of the character’s break from reality. I’d keep it in.

    See, this is the part about asking for creative criticism . . . someone says change this and you sway. Another says nope and you sway back. It becomes a flower in the wind . . .

    so, I will say as a very wise friend of mine said to me once . . . Barbie, write for YOU. YOU have to be happy with it. She’s gone now, but I remember her wisdom and her love for me. I hope you find THAT mentor.

    all that to say . . . good stuff here!!!

    • Well actually, I wasn’t swayed to take out the socks (!) but I did think that many of Kymm’s points were valid. And constructive criticism helps me see what I write more objectively. Interesting point about “writing for you”. Personally I am not happy if I feel that I am not constantly trying to improve….So I will always enjoy and actively solicit thoughtful comments!

      • I think criticism is great. It doesn’t mean you HAVE to change anything. At the end of the day, you need to be happy with the work you produce. You want it to be the best it can be, and you can’t really know what that is until it is challenged… Whether or not you agree. It’s important to get feedback from all sides, and then decide for yourself what is right for the piece.
        Good on you, asking for criticism, accepting it, and doing with it what you will. 🙂

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