There’s no light. I can’t see them, but I can hear them. I need to leave.

It was going to be another late night at the office, but the members of the Board, for once, simply agreed with each other. So I went home early thinking I would surprise Alice. Not with flowers, or chocolates. I would say, “Let’s go to dinner.” And she: “Oh god, we haven’t gone out in ages.” She would smile. I would smile.

But the house lights were all off — she wasn’t home. Alice couldn’t have been expecting me, so it was fair enough. My plans changed: I would cook dinner for her. Only the fridge had nothing but milk and mouldy cheese, the cupboards nothing but a box of oats. But then I was the only one of us who enjoyed cooking, and you can’t cook when you’re always working late.

I left for the shops.

The house lights were still off when I returned. I had enough groceries with me for a week of cooking now that my late nights were over. And Alice would be home soon, I was sure. I chopped and oiled the vegetables, turned the oven to 180°. My office clothes were uncomfortable for cooking in, but with the oven heating I had time to change.

My hand stopped on the our bedroom’s light switch. I could hear them. They were soft, so whisper soft, but I could hear. The lights were off. I left without turning them on.

16 thoughts on “Light”

  1. I like the way you have played with the typical story about being caught cheating, by making it the one who stays at home who is doing the cheating. The simplicity of the story and the way it is described (e.g. not many adjectives) is attractive. I also like the segues from the picture in the character’s head to the state of the house to his plans and cooking, and finally the reality in the bedroom.

    The foreshadowing at the beginning didn’t work for me. I would have preferred the story without it. Given the style of the piece and its simplicity, it was immediately obvious what it was about, and I would prefer to have been led to it through the descriptions of normality. I also found the kitchen’s lack of food combined with his acceptance of this fact a little extreme – it didn’t have to be that empty to justify him shopping for food.

  2. I enjoyed the simplicity of the character’s thoughts. I had a different experience from cbraz – I had no idea this was about cheating and in the end I still wasn’t sure. For some reason I imagined Alice had been eaten by Gremlins. You could still hear them chewing on her in the dark. It’s obvious now, but I think the first sentence got some sort of mean little monster into my head and it stayed that way. Goes to show you can never know what your audience will make of it…

    Small things that stood out about the language: The repetition of the word “cooking” was jarring in such a small space.

    The comment about cooking in office clothes for some reason also stood out – it pulled me out from the story and got me thinking on why he hadn’t changed and that was silly… it’s clear why, in retrospect, but it distracted me.

    Tiny nitpicks, thanks for the story!

    Question: Why do your comments on other stories start with a one paragraph summary of the story? Is that a convention you picked up somewhere? Just curious.

    1. Having read Parfles’ comment, I went back to the story, and now see that the affair is an assumption and not mentioned explicitly. I really like that uncertainty.

    2. I’m glad about the Gremlins and the chewing :) I was hoping that there would be people who didn’t think cheating (although I was thinking cheating while I wrote it, but realised it could easily be read differently).

      I do the one paragraph summary to let the writer know how I understood (or misunderstood) the story. Like Gremlins vs Cheating. I picked it up from a previous critique group I belonged to.

      And thanks for the comments :)

  3. Very nice!
    I liked the (sort-of) conversational tone and the sparseness, and the convincing real life feeling .

    The first paragraph feels unnecessary in such a short form. We get to the main event quickly enough, without being warned of it.
    For me, it didn’t quite feel right for him to be a foodie guy, but have empty cupboards. Even though he’s been working late lots, I would’ve expected lots in the cupboards / fridge, but more mouldy stuff. And a fridge full of condiments. I may be confusing that kitchen with mine, though…

    Unfortunate (?) turn of phrase in the last sentence (talking about the people of the lights?), but maybe I’m the only perv who picked up on it? :)

    Whingey whiney (ConCrit!) comments, but I enjoyed it muchly. Great story, man, looking forward to your next one!

  4. I completely disagree :> – I like the opening sentence, and I think the repetition works. It has the effect of a slightly stunned, shocked, disbelieving fixation on the basic elements of the situation.

    I overall like this a lot, it rings very true emotionally, and it’s nicely restrained and understated in the depiction of the central infidelity. (Which I completely got first go, but now you point it out, there is ambiguity there and it works. Microfic as Rorschach test. Jo clearly has gremlins :>.)

    Where this didn’t quite work for me was in the basic plot details, oddly enough. It was a bit distracting from the very real construction of emotions: I found myself wondering why the people upstairs didn’t hear the speaker come in downstairs – not once, but twice. If they’re being that quiet, it’s not as if they’re drowning him out? I also think stv’s comments on the lack of food in the kitchen are valid – it’s a good image in terms of foreshadowing the emptiness of their lives/relationship, but the need to go out and get food feels a bit contrived.

    And it’s a damned good thing some of us are into realism rather than fantastic writing. Cross-pollination is good, and fantasy buffs possibly need grounding.

    1. Thanks for the great comments :) I need to go back to the opening and decide what I think about it. Also, in retrospect, I’m not sure that he ever needed to go out. I can’t remember what my reasoning for it was in the first place.

  5. Lovely writing. I like the changes in tense and general structure of the piece. I like the foreshadowing of the first sentence but agree with those who have suggested it lacked in rhythm.

    I like the internal states and emotional states expressed; they feel honest and raw – brilliant. ‘She would smile I would smile ‘ – my fav bit, the elegance of plans in one’s head.

    The physical world is more of a problem for me, sometimes breaking the flow. The enter/look in fridge/leave come back etc. seems unlikely without: making a noise,changing clothes, turning on lights in the house, disturbing the sleepers or otherwise breaking the plot. That said you only have 250 words and I’m not sure it can be fixed.

    To nit pick: The sentence: ‘Only the fridge had nothing but milk and mouldy cheese, the cupboards nothing but a box of oats’. Really doesn’t work for me – the fridge is the only appliance without food? Only == But? No verb in the second phrase?

    1. Thanks for the comments! Ugh about the “only”. That was not how I had intended the sentence to read, and it completely escaped me that it could read like that. Thanks for pointing it out.

  6. I like that you’re never sure if the cheating was all in his head or not, I mean, I could see a roomful of friends ready to yell “surprise” or something, in one of those hilarious sitcom moments. At least, I want to, but I don’t think that’s the case. Which saddens me. Good job!

  7. This is excellent. I like the subtlety of the conclusion. As Neil mentioned, it could be in his head. Or the head of the reader for that matter.

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