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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
Master Plotto Week Six Winner: Emma Törzs
This week’s Plotto prompt was: “B, unless she reveals a personal delinquency, will cause an innocent man, A, to suffer for transgression.” We enjoyed reading about characters refusing to disclose personal delinquencies ranging from a nail biting procrastinator, a late-night snacker with a wandering eye, and housewife with a criminal past, and an undercover alien with plans of world domination.
Congratulations go out to Emma Törzs whose powerful story about a lost tooth and lost innocence reminds us of Michael Haneke’s film Caché.
“My kitty,” Daniel said, and put a dead frog in Raina’s lap.
When she’d stopped shrieking and their father had wrestled Daniel to the sink to wash his hands, Raina kneeled beneath the kitchen table to look for the frog’s body. Its back legs were flattened and the sun had baked it hard like a toy, so dry it might’ve never been alive at all. The cat had been wet inside, everything glistening where it spilled out onto the concrete, lipstick-pink brains and the yellow edges of bone.
“Danny,” their father was chanting, “Danny, Danny, we don’t touch dead things, okay?”
Daniel, at sixteen, was already several inches taller than their slight father, but he curled downward into the arc of their dad’s shoulder and mouthed apologetically at his t-shirt. “My kitty,” he said again.
Their father paled and threaded his fingers through Daniel’s hair. “Yeah, honey,” he said. “Your kitty is gone.”
Soon Daniel might be gone, too, to a boarding school that was “better equipped.” Raina put her cheek on the cool linoleum floor and tongued the gap of skin where her tooth had been just yesterday. The empty spot was warm and raw-sweet. She’d lost the tooth after her parents had found the cat, and after Daniel had spent the afternoon howling and hitting, so it was no surprise that the tooth fairy hadn’t come. She knew, from a slit-eyed pretense of sleep several months ago, that the tooth fairy was her mother, and her mother had said “Later, Rainstorm,” when Raina tried to show her the fresh tooth. Daniel had been weeping, his head on her lap.
“I don’t know why he’s so sad,” Raina had said, although she too was sad at the loss of the daisy-faced cat. “He did it himself.”
The sharpness of her mother’s attention was both gratifying and frightful. “What do you mean?”
He had been chasing the cat when it ran into the street, is what Raina meant. But instead she’d said, “He smashed it. With a board.”
Daniel hadn’t defended himself. He’d just pushed his face harder into their mother’s thigh, though her hand, which had been rubbing circles on his back, stilled. “No,” she’d said. “No, Rainy, I don’t—”
“I saw it,” Raina’d said. “He got mad and hit it. Like when he hit me.”
She had overheard dregs of conversation from the night he’d given her a black eye, and she’d heard them again last night, her parents’ voices thick through her bedroom wall: “He doesn’t know his own strength,” and “Not safe,” and, “Re-think.”
Now she watched her father cradle her brother’s big face in his palms. Daniel’s cheeks were damp, and the dried frog was belly-up, and although she was suddenly desperate to reach out, she felt she didn’t have the power to touch both of them—to hold, and keep, and say I’m sorry.
Emma Törzs lives in Missoula, Montana, and has fiction forthcoming in Redivider, the Cincinnati Review, and Ploughshares, and poems forthcoming in the Indiana Review. Her work can also be found around the web in journals such as PANK and Joyland.