Writing challenge: wedding, three views

WritersLife.org challenge:

Jan. 26, 2019

Describe a wedding from three different viewpoints

The Bride, the Best Man, and the Bored Nephew

By Richard Zowie

The Bride

I can’t believe I’m doing this! I’m 23 years old and, maybe I’m too young, but I’m in love with Evan. He loves me, at least, I’m pretty sure he does. Sometimes I have doubts, but that’s just pre-wedding jitters, right?

Daddy’s crying. I’ve never seen him cry before, not even when he got word that Uncle Larry had been killed in the first Gulf War, just two days before Saddam “So Damn Insane” Hussein surrendered. I guess letting go of a daughter is hard to do.

As I look into Evan’s eyes, he’s smiling, but…he’s like a sphinx. No idea what he’s thinking. Maybe he’s just nervous. After all, he does not like being the center of attention.

The Best Man

I seriously cannot wait for this stupid ceremony to be over. Thank God I majored in theater arts for a year at college; otherwise, there’s no way I could pretend I’m happy for both of them.

So, Evan’s marrying Laura. Well, isn’t he one lucky son of a bitch? He does not deserve her, and she thinks she’ll be happy forever? Yeah, right. I wonder if she’ll ever find out that in the six-month engagement, Evan cheated on her three times. Well, five times if you count that he and his ex-girlfriend Crissy had fun three times. Evan tends to brag about his conquests when he’s drunk, and when he’s sober, he never brags about anything.

I would’ve loved to date Laura. Ever since high school, I’ve thought she’s the most beautiful, sweetest girl ever, but I don’t think I could pay her to realize I exist.

One of the bridesmaids keeps smiling at me…or is she smiling at one of the other groomsmen?

The Bride’s 10-year-old nephew

This suit itches! Mom knows how much I hate wearing ties! I’m bored! I can’t wait until the reception, so I don’t have to sit still anymore! Why did Mom make me go? She won’t even let my iPad! I’ll never get married!

Post comments here or email them to: richardzowie@gmail.com

 

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Talking to Texas teachers

The Texas Legislature is meeting again, and this time, I hope they’ll finally focus on what really needs to be done. No bathroom bills. Focus on what needs immediate attention: school finance reform.

If you watch the news or read the papers, you’ll hear of property-rich school districts lamenting how they’ll play tens of millions into Chapter 41 “Robin Hood,” only to be able to barely balance their budgets through cutbacks or, to avoid running a deficit, have to borrow from their general funds.

Bills have been presented that would limit Robin Hood, or reform the state funding formula. Some teachers would like to see an end of STAAR testing, arguing that it forces teachers to teach to a test instead of achieving real learning. This is an opinion I’ve heard from teacher friends who range from as conservative as President Ronald Reagan to as liberal as Senator Ted Kennedy.

I asked a few of my teacher friends what they would say if given a few minutes to address the Texas Legislature. (For their privacy and safety, I have given them fictitious first names and have withheld their last names).

Monica, a teacher in San Antonio: “I would ask for the STAAR test to be halted in order to take back real teaching. The STAAR test ties student results to funding. This forces schools to abandon good teaching in order to prepare students for testing, which is not a measure of whether a student has learned.

“I would demand curriculum reform to allow all teachers to go back to teaching all content and not just tested content

“If I had extra time, I’d ask for better retirement programs and medical since most teachers have a bleak future even though we are state employees.”

Monica added something I found particularly poignant: “Teaching students to love reading is the most important thing. Our country lacks critical thinkers because nobody knows how to read.”

John, a teacher in Houston: “Get rid of relying on testing to decide if schools are succeeding or if teachers are doing their jobs. Quit trying to focus on charter schools as the solution when the most recent studies suggest they aren’t and that they just bleed money from the schools. Actually find the mandates if they won’t get rid of them. School funding needs to be the priority this session since they haven’t even gotten back to the funding levels pre-recession but as long as Dan F’ing Patrick is in charge of the senate it won’t happen.”

Lee, a teacher in South Texas: “NCLB [No Child Left Behind] has its roots in Texas and mostly I’m proud of what Texas is today, but NOT that. Sandy Kress, George W. and Ted Kennedy… Two Texans and a New Yorker. I’ve got nothing against bipartisan legislation, but expecting 100% of kids to be passing by 2014 or 2114 is ridiculous on its face… In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.  If we were willing to toe to toe with Obama’s sequel to this educational train wreck, then why are we working so hard to prove his argument about state education standards being inadequate is right? How so? You ask. By decreasing the performance of our public schools, by the siphoning of students into charter schools. We only further invite a national standard for not only testing, but also teaching. Texas is pushing so hard to convert our public education into a charter/private school format, that they are cherry picking our best kids out of public ed and into charter ed. It’s fine to have private schools but it’s not okay to use public money as a means to segregate public schools by… not race… not class, but effort. Segregation by effort already happens within the campuses by having different levels of classes like AP or Dual Enrollment. But this internal segregation serves the students, the school, and the community. Our schools are judged and penalized for their students’ performances, and when a school that serves low income students shows that it and it’s community are capable of producing adults with skills that allow them to be financially independent and productive citizens, then politicians and other communities give them respect. Conversely, they judged as low performing and a waste of tax dollars when their students do not perform well. This will inevitably lead to shutting down schools and leaving those most needy of structure, supervision, patience, and positive motivation out in the streets like before public ed was mandated by FAPE [Free Appropriate Public Education]. We see the highlights of gangs like the Texas Syndicate or MS13 and we see how much they already conscript and corrupt our youth. It is healthy public education and law enforcement systems that slows their ability to grow while nurturing our communities to grow.  If we truly do not want federal involvement in our educational system and we truly do not want more gang violence then we need to support true public education and maintain quality teachers.

“It might be a bit preachy or dramatic, but my basic point is that I think charter schools are the bane of public education. If we want public education to improve we definitely don’t want to do the opposite of NCLB.”

Post comments here or email them to: richardzowie@gmail.com

Short story exercise: ‘Just an Assignment’

A few years ago for a Writer’s Digest contest, I wrote a short story titled Cobb Salad: Cheddar or Bleu Cheese? I didn’t win the contest, but a few people really liked it. One friend from college, Ruth, wanted to know what happened next in the story. Last night I wrote the sequel.

Should I ever turn this into a book, I may have to study Armenia’s equivalent of the CIA.

Before we delve into the story: if any readers happen to be Armenian, I’d like to say: thank you for giving us Garry Kasparov (his mother’s maiden name was Kasparyan).

Just an Assignment

Sequel to

Cobb Salad: Cheddar or Bleu Cheese?

By Richard Zowie

For the next month, I worked at the newspaper. It amazed me that I could concentrate on school board stories and how they dealt with having to cut the budget, feature stories of a few local men who had been discovered to have briefly had Hollywood careers, and even the arrest of a corrupt sheriff, considering my mind was in the void of deep outer space, where it’s still bitterly cold despite the distant shining sun. Most of my meals, when I finished, remained on my plate. Stress and heartache tend to be excellent appetite suppressants. My dress shirts, normally snug with the buttons tugging, were now loose. I had to tighten my belt to keep my pants from falling off my waist.

Why did she leave?

It’s a question you ask yourself over and over again, craving an answer, but knowing you’ll never have it with the current knowledge you possess. Still, I wondered. Did I bug her too much? She never seemed annoyed by how many times I hugged or kissed her or when I listened intently when she talked. Did she decide I wasn’t a good match? Some finally come to grips that their marriage is not an Eharmony match.

Was I not good enough in bed? She never complained and always seemed satisfied. A few times I thought our neighbors in our apartment complex would call the landlord and complain.

I cried a lot. There wasn’t anything warm or cathartic about it: my tears flowed inconsolable, as my gut told me I’d never see her again.

On a Friday night, I was watching the latest episode of The Blacklist. Not really understanding it, just watching it as my mind tried in vain again to sift through the facts in hopes they’d somehow organize into an answer.

A knock came at the door. Four hard raps.

The keyhole showed a man and a woman, both in dark suits.

I opened the door. Both indeed wore suits. I’m six feet tall, but the man towered over me at around 6’4”. The woman, wearing heels, was at my height. They indeed wore black suits, the kind that would be perfect for a funeral. He wore a black tie with white shirt while her black suit was minus the tie but with the white collar tucked over the black suit collar. They both looked fitted rather than off the rack.

They took out their badges. “I’m Special Agent Brackman, and this is Special Agent Sanders,” the man said, referring to his partner. “We’re with the CIA. Are you Stephen Jackson Wolverton?”

“Yes, sir. What can I do for you?”

‘           “Could you come down to our field office for a debriefing?”

“Is this in regards to my wife?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Where is she?”

“We’ll explain during the debriefing.”

“Ok. I need to get dressed. I’m off tomorrow, but how long will this take?”

“We’ll take you in our vehicle to the San Antonio field office, which is about an hour away. If you like, we’ll put you up in a motel after you’re done and then bring you back here in the morning.”

 

The drive seemed to take only 15 minutes, because it was dark outside and I slept most of the way. That time of night, Interstate 10 is far more deserted than it is in the day. The two officers seemed to chat.

They took me to a room, where there was a five-foot rectangular table separating them from me. The chairs were surprisingly comfortable. They offered me a bottled water.

“Am I under arrest?” I asked.

Sanders chuckled. Why is it people always laugh when I’m not trying to be funny, I wondered. “No, Mr. Wolverton. Far from it.”

They both sat. Both drank from paper cups with lids on top, probably coffee.

Bracken produced a five-page stapled document. I noticed three words: DECREE OF DIVORCE. Unlike most states, Texas doesn’t sugarcoat legal documents by saying, “dissolution of marriage.” It’s to the point.

“My wife wants a divorce?” I asked, thumbing through the five pages but, not being an attorney, it looked mostly like legal-language formalities. On the back page, she’d already signed it with what had to be her real name: Zabel Davidian. I remembered that even her signature was highly legible. “She never gave me any indication anything was wrong. I—”

I drank my water and started to cry. I’d fallen in love with her, hard. She was an exotic beauty. How often does a guy get lucky enough for a mid-eastern beauty with black curly hair and blue eyes to fall in love with him? Particularly a guy who’s not a charmer?

“Mr. Wolverton,” Bracken said, “It wasn’t anything you did. You weren’t her husband, so much as you were her assignment. She wants nothing from you, just a legal end of the marriage.”

“Her assignment?” I asked, incredulous. “Why? What have I done? Where is Jessica now?”

“Armenia. She works for the Armenian government. And her real last name wasn’t Antonian. It was Davidian.”

“Sounds Jewish,” I said, noticing that Sanders took notes onto a yellow legal pad with what looked like a cheap black Bic pen. With the CIA, you expect a pen that costs more than a nice wedding ring.

“It is, and while she is an Armenian Jew, we have no evidence yet she’s ever worked for Mossad. Are you familiar with them?”

I nodded. “Israeli intelligence, similar to the CIA. Why did she marry me?”

“We’ll get to that in a few moments,” Bracken said. “Mr. Wolverton, what kind of surname is that?”

“My great-grandfather was from Turkey and came here around 1920. His surname was Bolat, but he changed it to Wolverton.”

Bracken produced a dark brown folder with a gray, metallic slender strip of metal on one side. As he opened it, I saw the metal formed two strips that held various papers in place. I imagined this was my dossier. And since it was only about a tenth of an inch thick, I’d lived a dull life. I’ve never been arrested, never served on a jury despite two times in a pool. My father was on the local school board for 10 years, partly because he felt the local ISD was a joke and that he could help by getting on the board.

“Based on our records, your grandfather was Turkish but came to America in 1920,” Bracken said. “It appears he left Turkey because he’d been involved in the Armenian Massacre of 1914-1923, had a change of heart and left the country and came to America.”

I’d heard about the massacre but knew little about it from history. Jessica never mentioned it at all.

“Your wife’s assignment was to marry you and research your family to see what they could find out about your grandfather’s involvement.”

“Oh.” She was an amazing actor. When she told me she loved me, she sounded sincere. She seemed to have an excellent memory for things I didn’t like. She never cooked split pea soup, knowing I hate peas, and she would also omit peas from dishes that required them. “What did she find out?”

“Based on research and conversations with your grandmother, she determined your great-grandfather had been a jailer, had been forced to kill an Armenian woman, decided he no longer could tolerate it, and left the country.”

“And once she had her answer, she was gone?”

Sanders stopped writing. “Yes, Mr. Wolverton. She made contact with Armenia, and they bought her a one-way plane ticket back to Yerevan. She left your house, rented a car, drove to the San Antonio International Airport, flew to Atlanta, New York, London, Tel Aviv, and then Yerevan. She then reported what she found.”

 

The debriefing ended half an hour later, as I signed a few forms, including the divorce decree (which they then notarized and said would be final in a week, once a judge was briefed about it and saw it had been signed). I said nothing as I imagined that smile, the black, curly hair, and the blue eyes.

“Will I ever see her again?” I asked.

“I’m afraid not, Mr. Wolverton,” Bracken said. “You were just an assignment. Are you ready for us to take you to a hotel, Mr. Wolverton?”

Just an assignment. That’s all I am.

“After I go to the bathroom to throw up,” I said.

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How the heck did he do that?!

I was in total awe by what I’d experienced, but what could I say? It’s a story I can tell only if I leave out names and exact locations. Technically, what he did was illegal, and I don’t think the statute of limitations have expired yet. Nobody was injured, so I doubt the police would care.

I was living in the northern Mid-West and after working at a gas station, needed a ride home that night. The night was black dark gray where the clouds were. It had snowed most of the day, and the roads were nasty. My wife at the time made what I felt was a perfectly reasonable request, one that did not lead to our eventual divorce: try to get a ride home and spare her from having to be on the roads.

As I clocked out, I remembered that one co-worker, Kurt, lived in the same nearby town I did. “Kurt,” I said. “Could I get a ride home with you?” He nodded and a weight fell from my stomach. I was relieved as I hated driving in this weather and didn’t like the idea of my wife having to come get me, either. Unlike me, Kurt was from that area.

There were two ways to get home. One was a straight shot that intersected a thoroughfare that would intersect the road that took us home. It was usually well-plowed. The second road, a less traveled thoroughfare, curled and writhed like a giant python fighting an alligator over who would be dinner.

Kurt took that road.

As we drove, I tried to relax and looked out the window, seeing all the snow in the embankments and collected on the road, making for a white journey. As I’d driven to work on the same road a few days earlier, I remembered seeing a few cars and even a 4X4 truck slid into the ditch.

I looked over at Kurt and noticed that when he wasn’t glancing at the road and steering, he was looking down at his cell phone. Throughout the seven-mile drive, which took about 20 minutes, he constantly received, read, and sent text messages.

If we slide off the road and skid into a ditch, take comfort in knowing this isn’t your car, I thought, expecting that we’d skid.

And yet, despite all the curves we rode on, despite the snow accumulation, we never skidded, not even once. No slides on black ice. No loss of control because the tires failed to grip the snow. No screams of a four-letter word because we lost control and are headed into oncoming traffic. The drive was completely uneventful, as if Kurt had been closely paying attention while driving in the summer when tires grip the road like a major league baseball player’s batting gloves grip a bat.

After I got out of the car, I thanked him, and then wondered, How on EARTH did he do that?

Richard Zowie lives in Fredericksburg, Texas, where he works as a broadcaster, blogger and fiction writer. Post comments here or e-mail him at fromatozowie@gmail.com.

Finished L’Amour’s ‘Last of the Breed’

My father, who died last year at 81, was a big Louis L’Amour fan, so decided to finally read one of his books. The next one I’ll read is more era appropriate: The Quick and the Dead.

Recently, I “read” Louis L’Amour’s book Last of the Breed. It’s about a Native American who becomes a pilot in the Air Force. In one flight, he’s forced to land in Siberia during the time of the Soviet Union. A reference is made to Mikhail Gorbachev, meaning the story takes place sometime in the mid-1980s.

I say “read” because I listened to it on CD while driving to work. David Strathairn provided the narration, and he does an impressive Russian accent.

Major Joe Makatozi (or Joe Mack, for short), is a Lakota whose gray eyes are the mark of a trace of Scottish ancestry. He’s taken to a prison camp run by a man named Col. Zamatev. The colonel’s plan: to interrogate Joe Mack so he’ll reveal American aviation secrets, and then execute him. Zamatev, who wants a cushy job back in Moscow, is hoping Joe Mack’s capture and interrogation are his tickets.

Zamatev escapes and, using his skills as a Native American, decides to ultimately head east toward the Bering Strait, entering America the same way his ancestors did millennia before. He lives off the land and is pursued by Alekhin, a Yakut native (for lack of a better term, a Native Russian) who’s an expert tracker and knows every square inch of the land. Alekhin realizes, unlike Zamatev, that in order to capture a Lakota, one must think like a Lakota.

I’ll not reveal the ending, except to say I liked it a lot, even though I normally am not a huge fan of open-endings where the reader is left to decide what ultimately happened.

L’Amour, I observed, writes in a balanced style where he gives you enough description to set the scene, but doesn’t let it overpower.

I have many books to read, and in the fiction realm are two sets of Westerns: those by L’Amour and those by Larry McMurtry.

Richard Zowie is a writer. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.