SHARI • by Edward Ashton

Shari rolls off of me, wipes a drop of sweat from my forehead and says, “Sometimes I feel like I could melt right through you.”

I nod, breathe deep and close my eyes.

“Really,” she says. “Don’t you feel that right now? I feel like we’re almost the same person.”

She leans across and kisses me. Her hair on my shoulder is sticky and damp. Outside the window the snow’s really coming down now, piling up on the flower box and pattering against the glass. Shari lays her head on my chest. I can feel myself drifting. I dream a sound like an animal scratching at the windowpane. Shari’s weight presses down on my heart.

***

Shari’s gone when I wake up in the morning. Out in the kitchen there are dishes in the sink, and a note taped to the refrigerator that says she’ll be working late. Shari’s a lawyer with the Public Defender’s Office. She works late a lot. I take out a bowl and milk and Fruit Loops, and settle down in my arm chair for the morning cartoons. Boomerang is showing a Roadrunner marathon. I watch as the coyote tries to crush the roadrunner with a giant boulder, then gets hit by a train coming out of a painted black hole.

***

I know how he feels. I have a dream where I’m down on my knees in a long, black tunnel, hands behind my head, hearing the whistle and watching that huge white light come on.

***

Shari thinks dreams like that mean I’m creative. She thinks I’m writing a novel.

***

Early evening: I walk into the bedroom to find Shari sitting on the edge of the bed, eyes on the floor, a yellowed scrap of paper in her hand. She palms it when she sees me, gets to her feet and tries to walk out.

“What is that?” I say. “What are you reading?”

“Nothing,” she says.

“Come on, Shari. I saw you.”

She hesitates, then scowls and hands me a torn-out square of newsprint.

“GUARANTEED PRAYER,” it says. “Repeat this prayer nine times each day for nine days. On the ninth day, you will see results.”

“What were you praying for?”

“What do I always pray for?”

She snatches back the paper and pushes me aside.

***

Shari prays nightly for her mother to outlive her.

***

There’s a park across the street from our apartment — a nice park, with swings and a river and rental canoes, not the kind that turns into a crack bazaar at sunset. I spend hours there, wandering through knee-deep snow, sitting on half-buried benches, watching people with children and people with dogs. In the course of a week I build a half-dozen snowmen, but none of them comes out quite right.

***

Shari comes home early to find me just sitting down at my desk. My cheeks are still flushed with cold, and my fingers on the keyboard are too stiff to type.

***

Our fourth anniversary: I take eighty-five dollars from our checking account. I buy her a sweater, and take her to a Vietnamese restaurant called Dr. No’s.

“This is beautiful,” she says when I give her the sweater, but I can see she’s disappointed.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“Nothing. I just… I had this idea that maybe you might give me the manuscript tonight.”

“It’s not ready,” I say. “I never show anyone my first drafts.”

She looks away.

“I’m not just anyone.”

I scoot my chair around the table until we’re side-by-side. Her eyes are distant, focused somewhere behind me. I wrap my arms around her, pull her head down to my shoulder and say, “I want it to be perfect.” She stiffens. I pull her closer, clinging like a drowning man, until she lets go of the sweater and hugs me back.

“It’s all right,” she says finally. “Whenever you’re ready.”

***

A letter comes from Shari’s mother. It’s three and a half pages long, but the gist of it is, “Come home to me. I’m dying.”

***

Shari goes. Her phone calls trail off after a month or so. After two unanswered emails, I copy my manuscript onto a thumb drive. I walk to the Kinko’s by the park, print it and bind it, and send it to Shari.  It comes back a week later with a two word note: Too late.

***

A season passes, six months, a year, until finally she mails me the divorce papers. I sign them.

***

That summer, she sends me one last message before dropping off the edge of my life.

“Thomas,” it says. “Believe it or not, I find myself missing you. Mother is gone. At the end she’d forgotten the years since the wedding, and she asked constantly why I was here and not home with you. It took me a while to come up with an answer, but in the end I told her that our marriage just never felt real to me. You pretended to be an artist and I pretended to believe you, and we both pretended we were in love with each other, because that’s what we thought we were supposed to do.

“Last night I woke up shivering, my window wide open to a cold, clear sky. I’d been dreaming about the first time we shared a bed, how the moonlight gleamed in the frost on the window and your arm fell across my shoulder, and we both lay there with our eyes closed and tried to fall asleep. I really thought I loved you then. If you want to remember something, remember that.”

***

The trees in the park are nearly bare again now, and the pathways are covered in red and brown leaves. I see a woman there sometimes who looks a bit like Shari, lying on her back on a rock by the river, staring up into the clouds.

Maybe today I’ll talk to her. I’ll ask her what she’s looking for. I’ll offer her my hand.


Edward Ashton is the author of more than a dozen short stories, as well as numerous technical articles and medical texts. His fiction has appeared most recently in Daily Science Fiction, Perihelion, and Escape Pod. You can find his work online at smart-as-a-bee.tumblr.com.


This story is sponsored by
Odyssey Writing Workshops — Dedicated to helping writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror improve their work, we offer one of the top workshops in the world each summer; live, interactive online classes each winter; and many free resources.

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Every Day Fiction

  • manuelroyal

    Good piece, Edward; well done. Usually I hate present tense, but it works this time. Good imagery without being overwrought. “…dropping off the edge of my life” is especially good.

  • manuelroyal

    Good piece, Edward; well done. Usually I hate present tense, but it works this time. Good imagery without being overwrought. “…dropping off the edge of my life” is especially good.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    The MC didn’t sound like the kind of guy who would just sign the divorce papers – I’m sure he’d be after the most profitable settlement. It’s a very skilled writer, though, who can make an MC so obnoxious you want to throttle him (the MC, that is).

    • The trouble with going for a profitable settlement in the divorce was that he was up against a lawyer. Perhaps just signing the papers was the cheapest option..
  • Paul A. Freeman

    The MC didn’t sound like the kind of guy who would just sign the divorce papers – I’m sure he’d be after the most profitable settlement. It’s a very skilled writer, though, who can make an MC so obnoxious you want to throttle him (the MC, that is).

    • The trouble with going for a profitable settlement in the divorce was that he was up against a lawyer. Perhaps just signing the papers was the cheapest option..
  • Cassandra Jane Parkin

    I love how understated this is – it’s subtle and beautiful. The only thing I wasn’t clear on was why Shari prays for her mother to outlive her – this seems such an unusual wish for a child?

    But I still gave it five stars, because I’ve read it five times now and I still want to read it again. Thank you for sharing.

    • She is praying for her mother not to die. The MC perhaps cynically realises that the mother would have to outlive her to make that prayer come true.
      • Hey - somebody gets me! Thank you. I was starting to think I'd made that way too obscure.
  • Cassandra Jane Parkin

    I love how understated this is – it’s subtle and beautiful. The only thing I wasn’t clear on was why Shari prays for her mother to outlive her – this seems such an unusual wish for a child?

    But I still gave it five stars, because I’ve read it five times now and I still want to read it again. Thank you for sharing.

    • She is praying for her mother not to die. The MC perhaps cynically realises that the mother would have to outlive her to make that prayer come true.
      • Hey - somebody gets me! Thank you. I was starting to think I'd made that way too obscure.
  • This story seems to fall flat for me.

    I thought the first scene really started strong. The writing was great. As the story progressed, I felt that the author was holding back, maybe because of word count. The scene changes (***) seemed too frequent. I never got “caught up” in the story.

  • This story seems to fall flat for me.

    I thought the first scene really started strong. The writing was great. As the story progressed, I felt that the author was holding back, maybe because of word count. The scene changes (***) seemed too frequent. I never got “caught up” in the story.

  • This story had some touching moments, drew me in from the start. But at

    – “Shari’s a lawyer with the Public Defender’s Office. She works late a lot. I take out a bowl and milk and Fruit Loops, and settle down in my arm chair for the morning cartoons. Boomerang is showing a Roadrunner marathon. I watch as the coyote tries to crush the roadrunner with a giant boulder, then gets hit by a train coming out of a painted black hole.”

    I got a jolt, like the roadrunner getting hit by a train coming out of a painted black hole. There was such a change in tone, as if editor had said to author – we need some description here – and it was filled in in haste – too much unneeded info and the beginning of a lot of product placement. Like later when the MC goes to Kinkos and the accompanying details of printing the manuscript. I would have prefered some reflective thoughts as he printed the pages himself.

    I enjoyed the tales of deceit on the part of both characters. I wish the author had been true to the tone of his story in the parts I mentioned.

    I liked the present tense and the *** breaks didn’t bother me.

  • This story had some touching moments, drew me in from the start. But at

    – “Shari’s a lawyer with the Public Defender’s Office. She works late a lot. I take out a bowl and milk and Fruit Loops, and settle down in my arm chair for the morning cartoons. Boomerang is showing a Roadrunner marathon. I watch as the coyote tries to crush the roadrunner with a giant boulder, then gets hit by a train coming out of a painted black hole.”

    I got a jolt, like the roadrunner getting hit by a train coming out of a painted black hole. There was such a change in tone, as if editor had said to author – we need some description here – and it was filled in in haste – too much unneeded info and the beginning of a lot of product placement. Like later when the MC goes to Kinkos and the accompanying details of printing the manuscript. I would have prefered some reflective thoughts as he printed the pages himself.

    I enjoyed the tales of deceit on the part of both characters. I wish the author had been true to the tone of his story in the parts I mentioned.

    I liked the present tense and the *** breaks didn’t bother me.

  • Yeah, Fruit Loops, Kinkos, and Coyote blindsided me and I was surprised to understand he had actually written a manuscript, I thought he was out making snowmen. The writing saved this from the grave: fine and sensitive.

    • The Roadrunner cartoons must have inspired him to write. Beep-Beep.
  • Yeah, Fruit Loops, Kinkos, and Coyote blindsided me and I was surprised to understand he had actually written a manuscript, I thought he was out making snowmen. The writing saved this from the grave: fine and sensitive.

    • The Roadrunner cartoons must have inspired him to write. Beep-Beep.
  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Sorry, but this time your exceptional writing

    • Re your "just lazy and self-indulgent" comment, I am drawn back to the opening sentence where he had her do all the work :O
      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar
        Well, aside from that--the letdown for me was expecting a wonderful story--with that opening and the title--this is a prime example of bait and switch. From Edward's debut here, I know he can dress marvels in mundane overcoats. So I'm doubly disappointed.
      • JD Evans
        Cowgirls like to ride, too!
  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Sorry, but this time your exceptional writing couldn’t save this for me. The child-man-struggling/failed writer disappointing the sharp bright moving-on woman is a theme I wish someone would put a stake through.

    The breakfast scene was really jarring for me, making me wonder if the guy was afflicted with some mental or emotional disability. No–just lazy and self-indulgent.

    The images you painted with words were lovely. The characters were tiresome clichés–even the offstage but still too demanding for our artist hero mother-in-law.

    Oh–and public defenders don’t make a lot of money. An apt. near a park like that? They’d have to live on those Froot Loops for all three meals. With a job like hers to support a leech like him, I’d expect a wee bit more anger at the end from her.

    Three stars.

    PS: With the basic ingredients you laid out on the table, this could have been whipped into a nice little horror story. That’s what I thought I caught a hint of, with the title and opening. Feel cheated.

    • Re your "just lazy and self-indulgent" comment, I am drawn back to the opening sentence where he had her do all the work :O
      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar
        Well, aside from that--the letdown for me was expecting a wonderful story--with that opening and the title--this is a prime example of bait and switch. From Edward's debut here, I know he can dress marvels in mundane overcoats. So I'm doubly disappointed.
      • JD Evans
        Cowgirls like to ride, too!
  • I’m not sure what the point of the story is. That relationships are fleeting? That they’re not what they seem? I got hung up on two things: 1) the ***’s – such frequent use of them rendered them meaningless, and annoying; and 2) the issue of Shari wishing/praying for her mother to outlive her. This was a smoking gun but there was no body. I thought the story would revolve around that. On a positive note, I enjoyed reading the story; it flowed well (despite the ***’s) and has some nice writing.

  • I’m not sure what the point of the story is. That relationships are fleeting? That they’re not what they seem? I got hung up on two things: 1) the ***’s – such frequent use of them rendered them meaningless, and annoying; and 2) the issue of Shari wishing/praying for her mother to outlive her. This was a smoking gun but there was no body. I thought the story would revolve around that. On a positive note, I enjoyed reading the story; it flowed well (despite the ***’s) and has some nice writing.

  • Walter Giersbach

    Five stars–and, no, you other guys, I’m not deconstructing this as to what he had for breakfast or why he played in the snow. The emotional hook was there for me. But maybe I’m just a sucker for sentimental pathos.

  • Walter Giersbach

    Five stars–and, no, you other guys, I’m not deconstructing this as to what he had for breakfast or why he played in the snow. The emotional hook was there for me. But maybe I’m just a sucker for sentimental pathos.

  • S Conroy

    The prose in this is beautiful, but I found myself being really slimy and sitting on the fence stalking other peoples’ comments to decide if it was really good and I’d missed something crucial, or if there are some gaps that could be filled in.
    So anyway here’s my plagiarised pastiche opinion. I wondered about the manuscript, if it was just an excuse for her to officially stop loving him or whether if he had shown it to her on their anniversary it would have made any difference. I think it would be stronger if this were a bit clearer. On the other hand, in real life such things are often very fuzzy.
    In the final paragraph I thought, but wasn’t sure, that “I’ll ask her what she’s looking for” is a positive development showing that he’s realised the needs of the other person are also important. Could also just be a cheap pick up line. With any luck she has the same salary as his ex-wife. But that may be too cynical. Anyway 4 stars for the visual writing style and for being worth a few rereads to work it out.

    • joanna b.
      your opening paragraph is marvelous, S Conroy. i find myself doing that sometimes too, checking out the comments before i write one. i never called it "slimy" and "stalking" but i will now and will try to get control of that. also, your comment brings in points that others have not mentioned and that seem quite valid to me.
      • S Conroy
        Glad you liked my slimy comment. :-) I don't always feel so slimy when stalking; it's just when I don't have confidence in my own opinion. Sometimes you get to see interesting aspects you've missed, but the downside is you also find holes which you had happily rolled over first time round.
  • Carl Steiger

    I think I’ll be more interested in what you’ve got up at Daily SF, etc. The writing here is great, but the story itself — a relationship melodrama starring yet another mopey aspiring author — just isn’t what I want.

    • If you're interested, you can find pretty much everything I've ever written from the blog linked in my bio above.
      • Carl Steiger
        I'm in there right now.
      • Carl Steiger
        Just read "Dust." Now that's my kind of story! Second-person usually doesn't work for me, but in this case it made the dire situation seem even more so.
        • Funny thing. I've used second person exactly twice in my life, mostly because many people find it off-putting - but those stories were two of my biggest pay days as a writer.
          • I too liked "Dust." The second person is difficult to pull off without sounding terrible. "Dust" works well with second person and I see your reasoning behind the choice. A difficult one to make.
      • MPmcgurty
        I didn't find "Dust" on your blog, but I did find it at Daily Science Fiction. That was superb. I loved the conflict and suspense. Up to the very last, I had no idea which path he would choose. Looking forward to reading more of your work.
      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar
        "Dust" just earned 7 dragons from me.
  • S Conroy

    The prose in this is beautiful, but I found myself being really slimy and sitting on the fence stalking other people’s comments to decide if it was really good and I’d missed something crucial, or if there are some gaps that could be filled in.
    So anyway here’s my plagiarised pastiche opinion. I wondered about the manuscript, if it was just an excuse for her to officially stop loving him or whether if he had shown it to her on their anniversary it would have made any difference. I think it would be stronger if this were a bit clearer. On the other hand, in real life such things are often very fuzzy.
    In the final paragraph I thought, but wasn’t sure, that “I’ll ask her what she’s looking for” is a positive development showing that he’s realised the needs of the other person are also important. Could also just be a cheap pick up line. With any luck she has the same salary as his ex-wife. But that may be too cynical. Anyway 4 stars for the visual writing style and for definitely being worth a few rereads to work it out.

    • joanna b.
      your opening paragraph is marvelous, S Conroy. i find myself doing that sometimes too, checking out the comments before i write one. i never called it "slimy" and "stalking" but i will now and will try to get control of that. also, your comment brings in points that others have not mentioned and that seem quite valid to me.
      • S Conroy
        Glad you liked my slimy comment. :-)
  • Carl Steiger

    I think I’ll be more interested in what you’ve got up at Daily SF, etc. The writing here is great, but the story itself — a relationship melodrama starring yet another mopey aspiring author — just isn’t what I want.

    • If you're interested, you can find pretty much everything I've ever written from the blog linked in my bio above.
      • Carl Steiger
        I'm in there right now.
      • Carl Steiger
        Just read "Dust." Now that's my kind of story! Second-person usually doesn't work for me, but in this case it made the dire situation seem even more so.
        • Funny thing. I've used second person exactly twice in my life, mostly because many people find it off-putting - but those stories were two of my biggest pay days as a writer.
          • I too liked "Dust." The second person is difficult to pull off without sounding terrible. "Dust" works well with second person and I see your reasoning behind the choice. A difficult one to make.
      • MPmcgurty
        I didn't find "Dust" on your blog, but I did find it at Daily Science Fiction. That was superb. I loved the conflict and suspense. Up to the very last, I had no idea which path he would choose. Looking forward to reading more of your work.
      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar
        "Dust" just earned 7 dragons from me.
  • JD Evans

    Reading this drinking my Folgers, about to pull on my Wranglers and slip on my Tony Lamas. Story showed promise coming out of the chute, faltered and didn’t make the 8-second bell.

  • JD Evans

    Reading this drinking my Folgers, about to pull on my Wranglers and slip on my Tony Lamas. Story showed promise coming out of the chute, faltered and didn’t make the 8-second bell.

  • Russ Heitz

    Tender. Poignant. Painful. Sad. Beautiful story.

  • Russ Heitz

    Tender. Poignant. Painful. Sad. Beautiful story.

  • MPmcgurty

    Edward, you really have a way with words. Beautiful. I liked the cartoon scene and didn’t mind the Kinko’s reference. Just descriptions about a mundane life. The breaks (***) became annoying and distracting. I understand the purpose but felt like the author was exploring style at my expense. The writing won me over, though.

  • MPmcgurty

    Edward, you really have a way with words. Beautiful. I liked the cartoon scene and didn’t mind the Kinko’s reference. Just descriptions about a mundane life. The breaks (***) became annoying and distracting. I understand the purpose but felt like the author was exploring style at my expense. The writing won me over, though.

  • Louella Lester

    I was quickly caught up in the story at the beginning, it had a dreamy slow moving gentle quality. I liked the coyote metaphor, but did not think you needed to have the MC explain it to us, we got it. Somehow I just didn’t feel the tension between them was enough at this point for them to divorce. I felt like they would likely keep going for longer. I’m not sure about the ending with him seeing the woman in the park. But, I did enjoy the read.

    • I wonder if the woman in the park was his next meal-ticket.
  • Louella Lester

    I was quickly caught up in the story at the beginning, it had a dreamy slow moving gentle quality. I liked the coyote metaphor, but did not think you needed to have the MC explain it to us, we got it. Somehow I just didn’t feel the tension between them was enough at this point for them to divorce. I felt like they would likely keep going for longer. I’m not sure about the ending with him seeing the woman in the park. But, I did enjoy the read.

    • I wonder if the woman in the park was his next meal-ticket.
  • joanna b.

    the MC is sort of pathetic, isn’t he? the story though was gripping despite all the real problems that other comments have mentioned. all of them (the morning cartoons, the Fruit Loops, the wanting to outlive mother, the out-of-nowhere finished manuscript) pulled me out of the story but, i felt, in a good way. my understanding of the MC deepened as the story went along and, while i would run for the park exit if i were the woman he was thinking of approaching, i gave this 5 stars. it rang true.

    • She wants her mother to outlive her...
  • joanna b.

    the MC is sort of pathetic, isn’t he? the story though was gripping despite all the real problems that other comments have mentioned. all of them (the morning cartoons, the Fruit Loops, the wanting to outlive mother, the out-of-nowhere finished manuscript) pulled me out of the story but, i felt, in a good way. my understanding of the MC deepened as the story went along and, while i would run for the park exit if i were the woman he was thinking of approaching, i gave this 5 stars. it rang true.

    • She wants her mother to outlive her...
  • Diane Cresswell

    Liked this. An adventure of love from seed to death, ending in that place called hope. Good descriptions – man a bit wishy washy yet real – not admitting what he really wants and going for it. Good perspective.

  • Diane Cresswell

    Liked this. An adventure of love from seed to death, ending in that place called hope. Good descriptions – man a bit wishy washy yet real – not admitting what he really wants and going for it. Good perspective.

  • This was a sad story and it communicated its sadness very well.

  • This was a sad story and it communicated its sadness very well.