DUMB DEBBIE • by Scott T. Harker

It’s Friday morning. December and cold. The kind of cold that chews at your bones and scrapes the skin from your face with the precision of a rusty chainsaw. I’m getting coffee from the station near Barry’s office. Barry is our CFO and not what I’d call a model conversationalist. He’s socially backward and leans on a nervous laugh way too often. But I like Barry. Barry signs my paychecks. Barry is Debbie’s boss.

Debbie works in accounting. She says things like “Is it hot enough for ya?” and “You know what they say about assuming.” The woman speaks almost entirely in cliche. It’s hard to imagine anyone being so hollow, but I remain convinced that Debbie was born to be an echo chamber for the obvious and the mundane.

So yeah, getting my coffee and I catch Debbie out of the corner of my eye. Her squat frame filling a small office chair, she stares at her monitor like a third-grader in a graduate level physics course.

How Debbie acquired a position in Accounting — and how she continues to hold it — is an office mystery.

She catches me looking in her vicinity (which is all it takes with Debbie), and blurts, “Hey Spencer, all ready for Christmas?

Ah Christ. “Yeah. Tree up and shopping done.”

“What did you buy your girlfriend?”

A bottle of Jack and a case of condoms. That was my first thought anyway. I desperately wanted to walk away with my coffee and leave her jaw agape.

“Nothing yet. I’ll get a few things online this week.”

“Oh, I don’t trust those online stores. Anyone can steal your credit card number. I saw on Oprah a while ago about…” Her voice faded into the background as she continued to ramble. I stood looking into my coffee and hoping she would perhaps vanish into her tired office chair, never to be seen again.

“Eh, I buy everything online. Saves time and money.” I started to walk away, figuring she would give it up. No such luck.

“I’ve got a friend who bought something on eBay and she got totally ripped off. I’d never put my credit card on a website. It’s not worth it, you know?”

Not possessing the words for an adequate reply, I shrugged with a pseudo-contemplative “Hmm” and took my almost-warm coffee back to my desk.

Hours later, and during my third attempt that day at a hot cup of coffee,  I was ambushed by that voice. A meek, vapid voice that could only speak in worn-out euphemisms and the occasional decades-old catch phrase. Had she started with “Where’s the beef?” I would not have been the least bit surprised.

“Whatcha doin’?”

“Working,” I said, not looking up.

“How’s that coffee?”

Fucking seriously? “It’s decent.” Then I added, “A little cold.”

“Yeah.” She stared right through me with those absent blue eyes, desperately thinking of something to say. I almost felt bad for her. Almost.

“Got any plans for the weekend?”

I pondered for a moment whether or not she really cared what I was doing this weekend. She posed the question as if it was the only thing she could think to say. Her old Friday stand-by.

“Not much. You?” I still hadn’t looked up.

“Well, I got a funeral to go to on Saturday, so there’s that.”

I raised my eyes. For the first time that day I noticed her sweater. It was big and red with green trim on the sleeves and neckline, and a giant white snowflake was knitted into the front.

“Wow. A relative?” I was surprised enough to stutter a little.

“Yeah, my brother. He overdosed last week. I just got the call from my dad a couple days ago. He lives out in California. Have you ever been to California? It’s really warm there.”

I didn’t know how to answer. The sudden gravity of the situation caught me off balance.

“Geeze Deb. I’m really sorry. You doin’ okay?” I really didn’t want the answer, but now I was the one searching for something to say.

“Yeah. I guess so. Everything happens for a reason right? It’s all God’s plan.”

“I’m just… I’m really sorry.”

She looked at me with those stupid eyes and I knew she was somewhere else in her head. She was always somewhere else. It’s as if her brain couldn’t handle reality and just shut itself down and put on a movie.

I watched her waddle away, carrying a giant McDonald’s sweet tea in one hand and random thoughts in the other. Her polyester slacks rode up the crack between the two squishy orbs that made up her backside. She didn’t seem to notice.

I turned back to my work then, my place completely lost. Not that it mattered much. The weekend would be starting in twenty minutes, and people were already milling about the lobby in anticipation of mass exodus.

The work could wait anyway. It wasn’t that important. I sat there staring through my rain-streaked window, listening to the cars lip smacking the wet asphalt as they whizzed by the office. The sound was comforting.

An ambulance siren screamed in the distance, maybe a couple of miles away. It faded before it got closer, and I couldn’t help but wonder if Debbie’s life was like that too.


Scott T. Harker: Technical writer by profession. 47-year old single father. Lover of darts, single-malt scotch and anything worth reading.


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 average 4 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • This is such a good piece of work. It made me think and empathise. Great stuff.

  • This is such a good piece of work. It made me think and empathise. Great stuff.

  • S Conroy

    Impressive. It would be a 5 plus if you’d finished with the word “closer”, but as it is still a 5.

  • S Conroy

    Impressive. It would be a 5 plus if you’d finished with the word “closer”, but as it is still a 5.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Excellent voice. Very Sam Spade in places. Debbie came across as a bit too unreal and the MC as too unsympathetic a character for me – I wanted to slap him round the face by the end of the story. But back to the voice – it really carried the piece.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Excellent voice. Very Sam Spade in places. Debbie came across as a bit too unreal and the MC as too unsympathetic a character for me – I wanted to slap him round the face by the end of the story. But back to the voice – it really carried the piece.

  • macdabhaid

    More of a derogative commentary than a story – an episode at best. Where is the beginning and conclusion? The middle is there: an extended sneer.

    • I really have no idea what you're talking about. Can you elaborate a bit?
      • macdabhaid
        Seriously? Let’s take it from the title, then: “DUMB DEBBIE” Now that would be fine if there was a tongue in cheek self-depreciation to follow, but no. Although I do like the bouts of Spillane/Hammet description, there are far too many belittling excerpts. “He’s socially backward” – rather than awkward. “It’s hard to imagine anyone being so hollow” ?? The majority of the piece is spent insulting the character of Debbie. The phrase “I almost felt bad for her. Almost.” sums up the tone. Then the mc is suddenly caring enough to worry about what to say, just because her brother dies? “I’m just… I’m really sorry.” And then he’s back to looking forward to his weekend and the casual character assassination. “She looked at me with those stupid eyes […] I watched her waddle away […] Her polyester slacks rode up the crack between the two squishy orbs that made up her backside. She didn’t seem to notice.” These are unnecessary swipes at a body and personality type. Spillane would have called her fat and been done with it, only focusing on specific aspects of disgust if the character actually attacked Hammer in some way. Hammet would have called her body-type "overgenerous" or something equally euphemistic and then concentrated on how he had to deal. The narrator seems too passionate about stacking insulting rhetoric on the bereaved to be apathetic, and that hatefulness skews the quality of the story towards what may be perceived as a vehicle for repressed emotions/issues. Too bad, considering the writing skill evident.
        • Chinwillow
          Seriously macdabhaid?...Do you ever enjoy anything you read?
          • macdabhaid
            And that would be an ad hominem remark. I have two words for you, but I refuse to sink to that level.
          • Chinwillow
            with that come back...you already have. Lighten up.
        • I understand what you're saying. I did spend too much time bashing that character in my attempt to develop her and the MC (through how he feels about her). But I agree that I over-did it. And the MCs transition to sympathy is a bit abrupt and under-developed, that's for sure. I want to thank you for explaining what you meant. Critical comments like yours (if they're warranted, which yours are) help me become a better writer. So thank you for helping me learn. It is appreciated. Perhaps my next story will be more to your liking.
          • macdabhaid
            There's nothing wrong with the premise. It's just a matter of degree. I look forward to your next story. As I said, your writing is impressive.
          • Thank you very much. I appreciate your honesty.
          • MPmcgurty
            Scott, I really like that you took macdabhaid's second and thorough comment in that spirit. I felt much the same as he, and I can see from your comment here that you recognize it yourself.
          • I do. He (she?) makes some valid points. And I'm here to learn as well as be entertained, so I greatly appreciate comments like those if they have merit and aren't just bashing for bashing sake. But I don't see much of that around here, which is nice. After I published my first poker book and started seeing some of the horrendous comments on Amazon (just hateful things), I learned quickly that I needed to have a tough skin to be a successful writer. And so I relish critiques of my work. They are chances to learn and grow.
      • S Conroy
        I found this thread interesting. Sometimes it's irritating not knowing whether the narrator wants the reader's sympathy for a character or not. I wondered if the writer wanted us to sympathise with the first person narrator here. To me the narrator came accross as pretty smug and disparaging. I decided early on that this was intentional, so that when Debbie tells him of her brother, it puts a little dent in the superior persona he's built up, and that was somehow the point of the story. The voice as the voice of a man who is arrogant, clever, but in some ways quite ignorant was done excellently. On the other hand if we were meant to sympathise with the narrator, then something went badly astray. (I assumed the former.)
        • Chinwillow
          I agree with S Conroy. I think the meanness was intentional and that makes the story a real "fence-sitter"
        • I based the MC on a person I know well, and who often overlooks a person because of what they look like or how he perceives their worth. I like the guy but he's a bit on an asshole. So I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen with him and the Debbie character. And I like the result. But in whiting the thoughts of the MC, I think I over-did the derogatory comments.
  • macdabhaid

    More of a derogative commentary than a story – an episode at best. Where is the beginning and conclusion? The middle is there: an extended sneer.

    • I really have no idea what you're talking about. Can you elaborate a bit?
      • macdabhaid
        Seriously? Let’s take it from the title, then: “DUMB DEBBIE” Now that would be fine if there was a tongue in cheek self-depreciation to follow, but no. Although I do like the bouts of Spillane/Hammet description, there are far too many belittling excerpts. “He’s socially backward” – rather than awkward. “It’s hard to imagine anyone being so hollow” ?? The majority of the piece is spent insulting the character of Debbie. The phrase “I almost felt bad for her. Almost.” sums up the tone. Then the mc is suddenly caring enough to worry about what to say, just because her brother dies? “I’m just… I’m really sorry.” And then he’s back to looking forward to his weekend and the casual character assassination. “She looked at me with those stupid eyes […] I watched her waddle away […] Her polyester slacks rode up the crack between the two squishy orbs that made up her backside. She didn’t seem to notice.” These are unnecessary swipes at a body and personality type. Spillane would have called her fat and been done with it, only focusing on specific aspects of disgust if the character actually attacked Hammer in some way. Hammet would have called her body-type "overgenerous" or something equally euphemistic and then concentrated on how he had to deal. The narrator seems too passionate about stacking insulting rhetoric on the bereaved to be apathetic, and that hatefulness skews the quality of the story towards what may be perceived as a vehicle for repressed emotions/issues. Too bad, considering the writing skill evident.
        • Chinwillow
          Seriously macdabhaid?...Do you ever enjoy anything you read?
          • macdabhaid
            And that would be an ad hominem remark. I have two words for you, but I refuse to sink to that level.
          • Chinwillow
            with that come back...you already have. Lighten up.
        • I understand what you're saying. I did spend too much time bashing that character in my attempt to develop her and the MC (through how he feels about her). But I agree that I over-did it. And the MCs transition to sympathy is a bit abrupt and under-developed, that's for sure. I want to thank you for explaining what you meant. Critical comments like yours (if they're warranted, which yours are) help me become a better writer. So thank you for helping me learn. It is appreciated. Perhaps my next story will be more to your liking.
          • macdabhaid
            There's nothing wrong with the premise. It's just a matter of degree. I look forward to your next story. As I said, your writing is impressive.
          • Thank you very much. I appreciate your honesty.
          • MPmcgurty
            Scott, I really like that you took macdabhaid's second and thorough comment in that spirit. I felt much the same as he, and I can see from your comment here that you recognize it yourself.
          • I do. He (she?) makes some valid points. And I'm here to learn as well as be entertained, so I greatly appreciate comments like those if they have merit and aren't just bashing for bashing sake. But I don't see much of that around here, which is nice. After I published my first poker book and started seeing some of the horrendous comments on Amazon (just hateful things), I learned quickly that I needed to have a tough skin to be a successful writer. And so I relish critiques of my work. They are chances to learn and grow.
      • S Conroy
        I found this thread interesting. Sometimes it's irritating not knowing whether the narrator wants the reader's sympathy for a character or not. I wondered if the writer wanted us to sympathise with the first person narrator here. To me the narrator came accross as pretty smug and disparaging. I decided early on that this was intentional, so that when Debbie tells him of her brother, it puts a little dent in the superior persona he's built up, and that was somehow the point of the story. The voice as the voice of a man who is arrogant, clever, but in some ways quite ignorant was done excellently. On the other hand if we were meant to sympathise with the narrator, then something went badly astray. (I assumed the former.)
        • Chinwillow
          I agree with S Conroy. I think the meanness was intentional and that makes the story a real "fence-sitter"
        • I based the MC on a person I know well, and who often overlooks a person because of what they look like or how he perceives their worth. I like the guy but he's a bit on an asshole. So I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen with him and the Debbie character. And I like the result. But in whiting the thoughts of the MC, I think I over-did the derogatory comments.
  • Chinwillow

    Another wow from me! Well done. I loved your descriptions and word play..totally resounded with the characters. Thanks Scott!

  • Chinwillow

    Another wow from me! Well done. I loved your descriptions and word play..totally resounded with the characters. Thanks Scott!

  • I found this story to be really well written. It reads easily, flows well. Has some good imagery. Normally I would balk at describing someone stereotypically, but as I read I knew that I’ve encountered many Debbie’s in my life. My only issue with the story is how quickly/easily it went from Spencer’s viewing of Debbie one way to the other. All it took was the mention of her brother dying of an OD, and suddenly the MC was sympathetic and saw her as a person. This could have been developed more. Maybe some of the description in the first paragraph could have been pared down to provide more room for MC’s process of transformation.

  • I found this story to be really well written. It reads easily, flows well. Has some good imagery. Normally I would balk at describing someone stereotypically, but as I read I knew that I’ve encountered many Debbie’s in my life. My only issue with the story is how quickly/easily it went from Spencer’s viewing of Debbie one way to the other. All it took was the mention of her brother dying of an OD, and suddenly the MC was sympathetic and saw her as a person. This could have been developed more. Maybe some of the description in the first paragraph could have been pared down to provide more room for MC’s process of transformation.

  • Very well done. I’ve met a few Debbys as well, and I can sympathize with the narrator. There’s not a lot of room in flash to show complete character development, but I thought this flash followed an understandable arc. Five stars.

  • Very well done. I’ve met a few Debbys as well, and I can sympathize with the narrator. There’s not a lot of room in flash to show complete character development, but I thought this flash followed an understandable arc. Five stars.

  • Chris Antenen

    ‘It’s as if her brain couldn’t handle reality and just shut itself down and put on a movie.’ and
    ‘listening to the cars lip-smacking the wet asphalt’

    These sentence parts and a few other inventive word twists saved the story from being just a bunch of cliches used to define a character. I’m having trouble knowing why I’m disappointed in the story, besides the fact that it doesn’t have a plot or an ending. I did like the way Spencer gave Debbie a little more consideration as a person when he was let into her life.
    I’d like to read something else from this author, because I don’t want this one to be his best .
    Maybe it’s hard to exit the technical writing.
    Agree with Denbe’s last sentence.

    • Thank you. It was actually my first attempt at flash, and from the comments, I certainly have some improving to do. I have a few more to polish up that I'll be submitting soon. Hope you like them better.
      • Carl Steiger
        Oh well, bear in mind that the commenters are usually the ones who perceived flaws. An overall 4-star rating is a pretty good sign that most readers liked it.
        • I'm very pleased with 4.0 stars after 25+ votes. Puts a smile on my face.
  • Chris Antenen

    ‘It’s as if her brain couldn’t handle reality and just shut itself down and put on a movie.’ and
    ‘listening to the cars lip-smacking the wet asphalt’

    These sentence parts and a few other inventive word twists saved the story from being just a bunch of cliches used to define a character. I’m having trouble knowing why I’m disappointed in the story, besides the fact that it doesn’t have a plot or an ending. I did like the way Spencer gave Debbie a little more consideration as a person when he was let into her life.
    I’d like to read something else from this author, because I don’t want this one to be his best .
    Maybe it’s hard to exit the technical writing.
    Agree with Denbe’s last sentence.

    • Thank you. It was actually my first attempt at flash, and from the comments, I certainly have some improving to do. I have a few more to polish up that I'll be submitting soon. Hope you like them better.
      • Carl Steiger
        Oh well, bear in mind that the commenters are usually the ones who perceived flaws. An overall 4-star rating is a pretty good sign that most readers liked it.
        • I'm very pleased with 4.0 stars after 25+ votes. Puts a smile on my face.
  • MPmcgurty

    Really good voice here, Scott. I would love to read more from you, because I really enjoyed the fine writing and I think you display a talent for noir, which I love.

    I see I’m in the minority, but I have to agree with macdabhaid. This piece felt saturated with meanness. I was hoping for a moment of redemption, where the MC realizes that Debbie is a person who might be the way she is for a reason. If it came at the end, it was too little, too late. Even with that moment, I felt the insult and contempt was too heavy. I mean, two-thirds of the story was one mean thought after another. I chuckled at some (“where’s the beef”) but found myself wincing at many more. I think “stupid eyes” was the final straw for me.

    Looking forward to reading another piece from you.

    • It's funny, but if I had to pull one thing out of the story it would be the "stupid eyes" comment. Every time I read it it seems more harsh and unnecessary.
  • MPmcgurty

    Really good voice here, Scott. I would love to read more from you, because I really enjoyed the fine writing and I think you display a talent for noir, which I love.

    I see I’m in the minority, but I have to agree with macdabhaid. This piece felt saturated with meanness. I was hoping for a moment of redemption, where the MC realizes that Debbie is a person who might be the way she is for a reason. If it came at the end, it was too little, too late. Even with that moment, I felt the insult and contempt was too heavy. I mean, two-thirds of the story was one mean thought after another. I chuckled at some (“where’s the beef”) but found myself wincing at many more. I think “stupid eyes” was the final straw for me.

    Looking forward to reading another piece from you.

    • It's funny, but if I had to pull one thing out of the story it would be the "stupid eyes" comment. Every time I read it it seems more harsh and unnecessary.