WHAT YOU ASK FOR • by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

“A beautiful child you have there,” said Horvath.

“Think so? Really? Take her. Be my guest.”

It was mostly a tough crowd and everyone knew Jeanie and her broken-glass sort of banter. But the room went quiet.

“I mean it,” she said; “you think she’s so gorgeous.”

With so many missing pieces, Jeanie and Liane together didn’t make a whole person. The boys were with their father and he’d hardly needed a lawyer to get them. No one came wanting Liane.

Liane looked younger than her age and Horvath’s notice oughtn’t have bothered us. Who doesn’t admire pretty children?

“Ah,” he said. “Yes.” He left a tip on the table and took his check to Arlette at the register.

“And for the little girl’s breakfast, too,” he said.

Arlette hesitated and then took Horvath’s money, and he went out, mild as he’d come in.

He was there the next Sunday and nothing so strange about it, even for a man like that; The Holdout had no glamour but served spectacular food.

We all assumed Horvath in his foreignness had something to do with the college, two exits over, though he’d bought an old farm spread on our side of the river. Local men were doing his renovations and they said he knew quality and had more books than anyone ought to need.

The car more than anything said money. A big old car, solid and kept purring; the kind that costs a lot to feed. A car like that’s an expensive hobby. We try to do errands in one run because of the price of gas; that car got under our skin.

Jeanie tried to catch his eye, that day, but his gaze swept the room without preferment. We felt sorry for her, when he left, paying just for his own meal; she looked like the dumb kid in school who’s had a mean trick played on her. But why would he have owed her anything?

And the week after, Jeanie ignored Horvath, three booths down.

He had to walk past her, to pay. He stopped, smiling at Liane.

“Would you like to ride in my car?” he asked, with the warm rich voice of a kind uncle from another side of the family.

“Yes,” said Liane.

She slid out from her seat and took Horvath’s hand, and he seemed to see all of us without looking at anyone, except Liane, and the two of them walked to Arlette’s register where he paid his own bill.

Jeanie went a gray bloodless color and stumbled up front, like a sleepwalker pulled rudely into a harsh morning. She was fumbling for her money when Horvath said, “That one too, surely,” as though Arlette’d overlooked it, and Arlette, flushing, stood there facing the three of them, holding the bills counted out as Horvath’s change.

Jeanie grabbed at Liane like the kid was a bag of chips.

It was easy to forget how Liane was, she looked perfect and you could imagine that face in paintings, light gilding it in ways that words can’t properly describe — when she started screaming we flinched though we’d all heard her go off before.

Horvath stood there, Liane’s hand in his, and Jeanie was gathering force to wale it to Liane and put herself back in shit again, and all of us, feeling sick, sat there with our splendid breakfasts congealing on our plates.

“Such an unpleasant noise,” said Horvath, “isn’t it?” And Liane shut herself up and smiled.

They walked out together, to Horvath’s car, and Jeanie followed, looking like she couldn’t breathe.

Arlette told me it wasn’t more than half an hour til Horvath dropped them back in the parking lot, and Jeanie and Liane got into Jeanie’s dad’s old pickup and left.

As it went on, we all felt trapped in someone else’s bad dream. The usual Sunday mornings, colored over with a gray crayon.

Something was eating Jeanie from the center outward, leaving the smooth roundness under her skin intact but crumpling up her heart. The fire, useless as it’d been, had all gone out of her. That girl’d always had a good appetite and she still ordered those massive Sunday specials that kept the parking lot full of truckers’ rigs, but she was shrinking into herself anyway.

Liane never’d had much expression to her though there’d always been something inside, lurking at the corners of her eyes, and now she returned your own gaze, steady and level. It surprised you to see how much was in there and how you’d missed it, all along.

These days she smiled when you greeted her, though she never said anything back.

“Wasn’t it senior year,” said Arlette, when I asked her, “when Liane was born? Mid-winter baby.”

Horvath had thrown us off with his way of speaking. Like the old uncle in books, calling everyone children.

The rides got longer though they always ended up back in The Holdout‘s drive. Horvath tucked Liane into the back seat while Jeanie slid silently beside her, and sometimes now, while they walked to his car, Liane would rub her head against Horvath’s shoulder like a cat marking her own.

It was just after that December’s first light snow. Horvath was in his usual booth, waiting, and Jeanie came in with Liane.

Jeanie was finished, we all saw that.

She sat down but Liane went over and stood smiling in front of Horvath, and he got up with his strange courtesy and saw her into the seat beside him.

They took their ease about it. Waffles piled with syrup and fruit, and a pot of tea. Once Liane put up a graceful hand to Horvath’s face, laughing, as though she’d been his chatelaine from before any of us were born; when they’d done, he left the money on the table and they walked out together, his arm around her waist as though it had been created only to rest there.


Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable–the best of all possible worlds. (Less miraculous fruit of her labors has appeared on 365tomorrows, Flash Fiction Online and Perihelion SF Magazine, as well as on EDF; her posts on the craft of writing — including reviews of stories selected “From the EDF Archives”–keep materializing on Flash Fiction Chronicles.)


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 average 5 stars • 5 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • This is a beautiful story of love (not to be confused with a love story) I found it difficult to follow and it took three readings to fully understand. To use a line from the story it felt “colored over with a gray crayon.” in that I couldn’t get a clear picture of the characters and their relationships very easily.

    Once I understood the story it was a pleasure to read. I made a conscious effort to understand the story because I was familiar with the writer’s other works and felt that if I was diligent it would be worth the effort.

    On the downside, should a reader have to scrutinize a story with such diligence to reap its meaning?

    I am trying to do the math on the star rating at the time of my comments – 2 votes, 1.5 stars. It’s a shame (that is a very pleasant word for the word I would like to use) that those leaving such low ratings can’t put a few words to justify their stars.

    I took off one star because of the difficulty in following the writing style. **** But I also question, if it had been much easier to read, would the magic I found within still exist?

    • S Conroy

      I found this comment interesting. And I’m wondering if you found something I missed.

      • I don’t understand your comment.

        • S Conroy

          Well, I don’t really understand the story, really appreciated the writing but I’m not sure what it’s about. I thought first it was a story of abuse with the whole community looking on but not intervening. But couldn’t make up my mind because the child’s age is so undefined (looks younger than she is and then the line about Horvath with his funny turn of phrase calling everyone children). You see it as a story about love which is a very different kind of story so I ended up going back to look for clues in that direction. Someone commented later that they think Horvath is the devil and Liane’s real father. That would fit in with the ‘love’ theme in a diabolic fashion… Still confused.

          • Oh, okay. See my recent post, perhaps that will help. 🙂

    • Guest

      I’m glad you said that about the ratings. This story clearly deserves more. Don’t understand it.

      • Carl Steiger

        Apparently there’s some vandalism going on here in the ratings…

  • This is a beautiful story of love (not to be confused with a love story) I found it difficult to follow and it took three readings to fully understand. To use a line from the story it felt “colored over with a gray crayon.” in that I couldn’t get a clear picture of the characters and their relationships very easily.

    Once I understood the story it was a pleasure to read. I made a conscious effort to understand the story because I was familiar with the writer’s other works and felt that if I was diligent it would be worth the effort.

    On the downside, should a reader have to scrutinize a story with such diligence to reap its meaning?

    I am trying to do the math on the star rating at the time of my comments – 2 votes, 1.5 stars. It’s a shame (that is a very pleasant word for the word I would like to use) that those leaving such low ratings can’t put a few words to justify their stars.

    I took off one star because of the difficulty in following the writing style. **** But I also question, if it had been much easier to read, would the magic I found within still exist?

    • S Conroy

      I found this comment interesting. And I’m wondering if you found something I missed.

      • I don’t understand your comment.

        • S Conroy

          Well, I don’t really understand the story, really appreciated the writing but I’m not sure what it’s about. I thought first it was a story of abuse with the whole community looking on but not intervening. But couldn’t make up my mind because the child’s age is so undefined (looks younger than she is and then the line about Horvath with his funny turn of phrase calling everyone children). You see it as a story about love which is a very different kind of story so I ended up going back to look for clues in that direction. Someone commented later that they think Horvath is the devil and Liane’s real father. That would fit in with the ‘love’ theme in a diabolic fashion… Still confused.

          • Oh, okay. See my recent post, perhaps that will help. 🙂

    • Guest

      I’m glad you said that about the ratings. This story clearly deserves more. Don’t understand it.

      • Carl Steiger

        Apparently there’s some vandalism going on here in the ratings…

  • Dorothyanne Brown

    Interesting and beautifully written. I reread it several times, too, to understand what was happening. I’m not so sure it’s a story of love so much as possession and I found it unsettling, but intriguing nonetheless. Perhaps some of he lower rankings are due to that feeling of creeping evil I got, not knowing how old Liane was….
    Well done. It’s one of those stories that will stay with me.

    • S Conroy

      This is pretty much my reading experience too. Very unsettling with the child’s age. This comment threw me:

      Horvath had thrown us off with his way of speaking. Like the old uncle in books, calling everyone children.

  • Dorothyanne Brown

    Interesting and beautifully written. I reread it several times, too, to understand what was happening. I’m not so sure it’s a story of love so much as possession and I found it unsettling, but intriguing nonetheless. Perhaps some of he lower rankings are due to that feeling of creeping evil I got, not knowing how old Liane was….
    Well done. It’s one of those stories that will stay with me.

    • S Conroy

      This is pretty much my reading experience too. Very unsettling with the child’s age. This comment threw me:

      Horvath had thrown us off with his way of speaking. Like the old uncle in books, calling everyone children.

  • What’s the point of having “flash fiction” billed by EDF as a story each day that can be read during a coffee break if one has to read a story several times to understand it? In that amount of time, one can read a full length story. That said, I admit I’ve only read it once and don’t want to “work” to know what’s going on. The guess I came up with after one reading is the children are being sold for sex? Nah, I didn’t think so. Obviously, the writing is good, but what’s the point if it’s so difficult to understand? Maybe it’s me getting old and lazy…?

  • What’s the point of having “flash fiction” billed by EDF as a story each day that can be read during a coffee break if one has to read a story several times to understand it? In that amount of time, one can read a full length story. That said, I admit I’ve only read it once and don’t want to “work” to know what’s going on. The guess I came up with after one reading is the children are being sold for sex? Nah, I didn’t think so. Obviously, the writing is good, but what’s the point if it’s so difficult to understand? Maybe it’s me getting old and lazy…?

  • DrSuzanne Conboy-Hill

    I don’t know what’s really going on here either but I don’t need to – I just need to sit with the narrators; unsettled and responsible and powerless but with a creeping sense we should be doing something. While a lot of flash does wrap things up or deliver a twist, many would say that the core business of flash is to create a space into which the reader has to bring something of their own and then leave that space with more than they brought, even if they’re not sure what that is. For me, this isn’t so much about what happened as how it happened and the dreadful feeling that it’s all very wrong. As such, it’s an ending crafted to be only partially resolved, not one deliberately designed to baffle, or as with some, not designed at all.

    • That’s interesting. Then, this story really is more like a poem, isn’t it?

      • DrSuzanne Conboy-Hill

        There’s an argument that flash is quite close to poetry because both focus on the essence of a story rather than the detail of it. You have to read for the layers, not just the surface words so it is harder sometimes than other kinds of material. That’s not to say you can’t also have a rolicking good yarn that asks nothing more of you than to hold onto your seat as you go.

  • I don’t know what’s really going on here either but I don’t need to – I just need to sit with the narrators; unsettled and responsible and powerless but with a creeping sense we should be doing something. While a lot of flash does wrap things up or deliver a twist, many would say that the core business of flash is to create a space into which the reader has to bring something of their own and then leave that space with more than they brought, even if they’re not sure what that is. For me, this isn’t so much about what happened as how it happened and the dreadful feeling that it’s all very wrong. As such, it’s an ending crafted to be only partially resolved, not one deliberately designed to baffle, or as with some, not designed at all.

    • That’s interesting. Then, this story really is more like a poem, isn’t it?

      • There’s an argument that flash is quite close to poetry because both focus on the essence of a story rather than the detail of it. You have to read for the layers, not just the surface words so it is harder sometimes than other kinds of material. That’s not to say you can’t also have a rolicking good yarn that asks nothing more of you than to hold onto your seat as you go.

  • Michael Ampersant

    I don’t get it.

  • Michael Ampersant

    I don’t get it.

  • Michael Ampersant

    …sorry…forgot to say…liked the expression: “broken sort of glass banter.”

  • Michael Ampersant

    …sorry…forgot to say…liked the expression: “broken sort of glass banter.”

  • S Conroy

    Although I’m unsure if I’ve ‘got’ it, I love how the words are put together in this. On the first read I found it disturbing, was hoping on the second that perhaps the child is actually older and that it is more about the positive power of love. At one point the idea flicked through my head that Liane and Jeanie are different personalities of the same woman, but this is probably off the mark.

  • Guest

    Although I’m unsure if I’ve ‘got’ it, I love how the words are put together in this. On the first read I found it disturbing, was hoping on the second that perhaps the child is actually a yound adult and that it is more about the positive power of love. At one point the idea flicked through my head that Liane and Jeanie are different personalities of the same woman, but this is probably off the mark.

  • Okay,this story is filed under “Horror” so: Horvath is from the “old country” and he feels sort of like a demon or perhaps even old’ nick’ himself. Thing is, I believe he’s Liane’s real father. Liane was born in Jeanie’s senior year, and throughout the story becomes more out-going and alive in his presence while her mother becomes more subdued and wastes away (think Rosemary’s baby). I think Jeanie gradually realizes who Horvath is and in that knowledge gives up control of her daughter because she can’t fight it. I think this because at the very beginning it says, “No one came wanting Liane”. Well, maybe someone did. Maybe daddy did. Of course, I could be wrong…but maybe not. Fun story to think about, I like that.

  • Okay,this story is filed under “Horror” so: Horvath is from the “old country” and he feels sort of like a demon or perhaps even old’ nick’ himself. Thing is, I believe he’s Liane’s real father. Liane was born in Jeanie’s senior year, and throughout the story becomes more out-going and alive in his presence while her mother becomes more subdued and wastes away (think Rosemary’s baby). I think Jeanie gradually realizes who Horvath is and in that knowledge gives up control of her daughter because she can’t fight it. I think this because at the very beginning it says, “No one came wanting Liane”. Well, maybe someone did. Maybe daddy did. Of course, I could be wrong…but maybe not. Fun story to think about, I like that.

  • joanna b.

    5 stars, this one.

    if the first two votes gave it 1.5 stars, as Jeff states in the first comment on this comment thread, then those votes seem to me to be maleovolent ratings having nothing to do with the story itself.

    this is an exceptional story. the writer creates a whole community, one that stood passively by, while a child was being seduced by an adult.

    the descriptions and word choices are memorable, for example, “you could imagine that face in paintings, the light gilding it” and “like the kid was a bag of chips” and many more. i looked up the word “wale” and it was spot on as the writer used it.

    i saw some problems with the voice. it is a “we” voice, always hard to do and done well here, but the interjection of “I” asking Arlette a question and “me” in “Arlette told me” was a POV shift that was somewhat jarring. also, when “I” asked Arlette when Liane was born, it felt like that question came from a whole other story line that was left undeveloped.

    nonetheless, what an accomplishment this story is. it may not cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s but it does present child sexual abuse with incredible accuracy. the true horror here is that no one did anything to stop it.

    way to go, Sarah Crysl Akhtar.

  • joanna b.

    5 stars, this one.

    if the first two votes gave it 1.5 stars, as Jeff states in the first comment on this comment thread, then those votes seem to me to be maleovolent ratings having nothing to do with the story itself.

    this is an exceptional story. the writer creates a whole community, one that stood passively by, while a child was being seduced by an adult.

    the descriptions and word choices are memorable, for example, “you could imagine that face in paintings, the light gilding it” and “like the kid was a bag of chips” and many more. i looked up the word “wale” and it was spot on as the writer used it.

    i saw some problems with the voice. it is a “we” voice, always hard to do and done well here, but the interjection of “I” asking Arlette a question and “me” in “Arlette told me” was a POV shift that was somewhat jarring. also, when “I” asked Arlette when Liane was born, it felt like that question came from a whole other story line that was left undeveloped.

    nonetheless, what an accomplishment this story is. it may not cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s but it does present child sexual abuse with incredible accuracy. the true horror here is that no one did anything to stop it.

    way to go, Sarah Crysl Akhtar.

  • I liked the suspense though I was so uncomfortable about Liane being a Lolita-like child and Horvath some sort of Humbert Humbert I scanned through it fast. Nice turns of phrases, for sure, and good steady pacing.

  • I liked the suspense though I was so uncomfortable about Liane being a Lolita-like child and Horvath some sort of Humbert Humbert I scanned through it fast. Nice turns of phrases, for sure, and good steady pacing.

  • I have a simple take on the story.

    Jeanie is a divorced mother. Her ex has the two sons. She is “stuck” with the daughter Liane who has emotional problems unwanted by the absent father.

    Jeanie has emotional problems of her own.

    They meet Horvath, a kindly grandfatherly-type gentleman of ways and means. Horvath strikes a bond with Liane at the restaurant checkout when Liane has a fit and Horvath calms her with her voice.

    Horvath fills a male void in her life caused by the divorce and perhaps abandonment by her father.

    Horvath takes Jeanie at her “word” about taking Liane and he works to develop her trust. As such a bond forms between the two through their stressless car rides., evidenced on the part of Liane by

    “These days she smiled when you greeted her, though she never said anything back.”

    and

    “Liane would rub her head against Horvath’s shoulder like a cat marking her own.”

    and

    “but Liane went over and stood smiling in front of Horvath, and he got up with his strange courtesy and saw her into the seat beside him.”

    and

    “Once Liane put up a graceful hand to Horvath’s face, laughing,”

    On the part of Horvath: “Once Liane put up a graceful hand to Horvath’s face, laughing,”

    Note that when Horvath took Liane for a car ride her mom went with them: “Horvath tucked Liane into the back seat while Jeanie slid silently beside her,”

    As I said in my first comment of the day, It’s a story about love.

    IMO, of course.”

  • I have a simple take on the story.

    Jeanie is a divorced mother. Her ex has the two sons. She is “stuck” with the daughter Liane who has emotional problems unwanted by the absent father.

    Jeanie has emotional problems of her own.

    They meet Horvath, a kindly grandfatherly-type gentleman of ways and means. Horvath strikes a bond with Liane at the restaurant checkout when Liane has a fit and Horvath calms her with her voice.

    Horvath fills a male void in her life caused by the divorce and perhaps abandonment by her father.

    Horvath takes Jeanie at her “word” about taking Liane

    ” Take her. Be my guest.”

    and he works to develop her trust. As such a bond forms between the two through their stressless car rides., evidenced on the part of Liane by

    “These days she smiled when you greeted her, though she never said anything back.”

    and

    “Liane would rub her head against Horvath’s shoulder like a cat marking her own.”

    and

    “but Liane went over and stood smiling in front of Horvath, and he got up with his strange courtesy and saw her into the seat beside him.”

    and

    “Once Liane put up a graceful hand to Horvath’s face, laughing,”

    Note that when Horvath took Liane for a car ride her mom went with them: “Horvath tucked Liane into the back seat while Jeanie slid silently beside her,”

    As I said in my first comment of the day, It’s a story about love.

    IMO, of course.”

  • Chris Antenen

    “Great story,” she said, arms akimbo, foot tapping.

    I don’t mind reading a story twice, in fact, I enjoy it, but I don’t like to read a sentence twice. A fat four, having taken one off for dropping “We try to do errands . . . ,” in the middle of a perfectly good paragraph. The semicolon tells me you had trouble, too.

    Loved the sinister atmosphere and that you were able to maintain it.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      It’s interesting that sentence bothered you. I felt it important to re-emphasize what a gulf there is between Horvath and everyone else. The MC has a more educated voice than some of the other patrons might (truck stop+family brunches+college kids clientele, but almost everyone is struggling. It sounded right in my head–it was kind of an underlining of the point, I felt.

      Glad you enjoyed this otherwise.

      • Chris Antenen

        I have a rule. If I stumble or have to reread, I think the author wants to know that. I would.

        Also, from your comments, I’m moving away from sinister and toward mundane. But I liked it when I thought something really bad was happening and no one was willing to do anything about it.
        Funny how you can miss something when yoou already have your mind made up. I thought Liane was a child and totally missed the event where she was walking and rubbed against his shoulder.
        I had surmized a deal with the devil, Liane being the prize. In fact, Sarah, I like it that way. That’s the thing I really like about flash. And you do the suspense thing very well.

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

          I wanted to turn the idea of “victim” inside out. Jeanie is the only one harmed here, and through her own actions. We can’t always see the consequences, but we’re responsible for the choice…

  • Chris Antenen

    “Great story,” she said, arms akimbo, foot tapping.

    I don’t mind reading a story twice, in fact, I enjoy it, but I don’t like to read a sentence twice. A fat four, having taken one off for dropping “We try to do errands . . . ,” in the middle of a perfectly good paragraph. The semicolon tells me you had trouble, too.

    Loved the sinister atmosphere and that you were able to maintain it.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      It’s interesting that sentence bothered you. I felt it important to re-emphasize what a gulf there is between Horvath and everyone else. The MC has a more educated voice than some of the other patrons might (truck stop+family brunches+college kids clientele, but almost everyone is struggling. It sounded right in my head–it was kind of an underlining of the point, I felt.

      Glad you enjoyed this otherwise.

      • Chris Antenen

        I have a rule. If I stumble or have to reread, I think the author wants to know that. I would.
        Rearranging the sentence would take away something approaching a non sequitur.

        Also, from your comments, I’m moving away from sinister and toward mundane. But I liked it when I thought something really bad was happening and no one was willing to do anything about it.

        Funny how you can miss something when yoou already have your mind made up. I thought Liane was a child and totally missed the event where she was walking and rubbed against his shoulder — more than once I missed it!.

        I had surmized a deal with the devil, Liane being the prize. In fact, Sarah, I like it that way. That’s the thing I really like about flash. And you do the suspense thing very well.

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

          I wanted to turn the idea of “victim” inside out. Jeanie is the only one harmed here, and through her own actions. We can’t always see the consequences, but we’re responsible for the choice…

  • terrytvgal

    My excuse is that I’ve been fighting the stomach Flu since Thursday and my brain is just not functioning well….I didn’t make much sense of this on first reading either. I will reserve my vote for now and try to reread later.

  • terrytvgal

    My excuse is that I’ve been fighting the stomach Flu since Thursday and my brain is just not functioning well….I didn’t make much sense of this on first reading either. I will reserve my vote for now and try to reread later.

  • Carl Steiger

    Creepy, creepy, creepy. I was offline for the weekend, and read this just now instead of the usual Monday morning funnies. I do think I’ll have to read it again, as I’m not sure I have caught everything, but I do not mind a bit.

  • Carl Steiger

    Creepy, creepy, creepy. And magical. I was offline for the weekend, and read this just now instead of the usual Monday morning funnies. I do think I’ll have to read it again, as I’m not sure I have caught everything, but I do not mind a bit.

  • Genghis Bob

    I’m having a tough time latching on to this one. We don’t get into the three main character’s heads at all, and the narrator is, well, the narrator. We watch Jeannie deflate, but we don’t feel it. It’s hard caring about these people, including the narrator.

    A few writing points that got in my way:

    “She was fumbling for her money when Horvath said, “That one too, surely,” as though Arlette’d overlooked it, and Arlette, flushing, stood there facing the three of them, holding the bills counted out as Horvath’s change.” – this sentence seems just one phrase too long.

    “Liane never’d had much expression to her though there’d always been something inside, lurking at the corners of her eyes, and now she returned your own gaze, steady and level.” – there’s a lot going on with this sentence; maybe too much for one sentence.

    “Arlette told me it wasn’t more than half an hour til Horvath dropped them back in the parking lot, and Jeanie and Liane got into Jeanie’s dad’s old pickup and left.” I get that it’s not Jeanie’s truck, and that this tells us something about Jeanie; still, “Jeanie’s Dad’s old pickup” was a stumbler for me as a reader.

    It’s not all complaints, though. I thought this sentence really worked: “when they’d done, he left the money on the table and they walked out together, his arm around her waist as though it had been created only to rest there.”

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      I thought a lot about the points you raise as I wrote this. As you note it says a lot about Jeanie that it’s her dad’s truck and I knew it didn’t flow as well as the ear would hope.

      Every place I thought of making two or more sentences out of all those clauses, the periods changed the voice, made the story more literary and less the immediate recounting of an observer. The rhythm went wrong.

  • Genghis Bob

    I’m having a tough time latching on to this one. We don’t get into the three main character’s heads at all, and the narrator is, well, the narrator. We watch Jeannie deflate, but we don’t feel it. It’s hard caring about these people, including the narrator.

    A few writing points that got in my way:

    “She was fumbling for her money when Horvath said, “That one too, surely,” as though Arlette’d overlooked it, and Arlette, flushing, stood there facing the three of them, holding the bills counted out as Horvath’s change.” – this sentence seems just one phrase too long.

    “Liane never’d had much expression to her though there’d always been something inside, lurking at the corners of her eyes, and now she returned your own gaze, steady and level.” – there’s a lot going on with this sentence; maybe too much for one sentence.

    “Arlette told me it wasn’t more than half an hour til Horvath dropped them back in the parking lot, and Jeanie and Liane got into Jeanie’s dad’s old pickup and left.” I get that it’s not Jeanie’s truck, and that this tells us something about Jeanie; still, “Jeanie’s Dad’s old pickup” was a stumbler for me as a reader.

    It’s not all complaints, though. I thought this sentence really worked: “when they’d done, he left the money on the table and they walked out together, his arm around her waist as though it had been created only to rest there.”

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      I thought a lot about the points you raise as I wrote the story. As you note it says a lot about Jeanie that it’s her dad’s truck and I knew it didn’t flow as well as the ear would hope.

      Every place I thought of making two or more sentences out of all those clauses, the periods changed the voice, made the story more literary and less the immediate recounting of an observer. The rhythm went wrong.

  • MPmcgurty

    I like this story, especially the creepy factor. Not sure why the devil needs a farm, but I do agree that Horvath is a supernatural creature. I think it’s about Horvath taking Jeanie up on her offer, and sucking the (supposed) life out of her while he infuses it into Liane. I have a LOT of questions about those slackers eating Sunday breakfast while this is going on, though. I don’t have any way of knowing why “we” don’t say anything except to ask a question about the mid-winter baby. Who else is in the cafe? Every Sunday? I’m missing that.

    As always, Sarah turns a couple of phrases here that are simply divine (“broken-glass sort of banter” and “gathering force to wale it to Liane”), but a couple seemed odd, and maybe because I didn’t know the narrator was. Who would say “…as though she’d been his chatelaine from before any of us were born?” Professor at the college? Again, I want to know more about the customers.

    Anyone else have a problem with Liane’s age? If so, maybe that needs to be addressed. First thought she was 5 or 6. Then she’s tall enough to rub her head against his shoulder and his arm fits around her waist.

    Nice job, Sarah. I do have a question about the diction for the narrator’s voice. Is the use of contractions to omit the “had” in some places from a dialect I don’t immediately recognize?

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      Not farm–but farmstead. Think of this as one of those places, rural but with a sophisticated college town in the middle of it, and all the income and education disparities, the conflicts and resentments. These people are eating in a place truckers and college kids go to; families for Sunday brunch and guys coming off a long night shift.

      Horvath isn’t that tall; even an adolescent girl might have the top of her head just overtop his shoulder.

      The diction–think of the sound of ” never’d had much expression to her though there’d always…” The first contraction sounds more like “never’ud” and the second without the slight extra vowel sound. The narrator is educated enough to speak well, but not pedantically. Think of a story being recounted to you, not a literary story with the distance that creates. No strong regional dialect–casual but not careless speech.

  • MPmcgurty

    I like this story, especially the creepy factor. Not sure why the devil needs a farm, but I do agree that Horvath is a supernatural creature. I think it’s about Horvath taking Jeanie up on her offer, and sucking the (supposed) life out of her while he infuses it into Liane. I have a LOT of questions about those slackers eating Sunday breakfast while this is going on, though. I don’t have any way of knowing why “we” don’t say anything except to ask a question about the mid-winter baby. Who else is in the cafe? Every Sunday? I’m missing that.

    As always, Sarah turns a couple of phrases here that are simply divine (“broken-glass sort of banter” and “gathering force to wale it to Liane”), but a couple seemed odd, and maybe because I didn’t know the narrator was. Who would say “…as though she’d been his chatelaine from before any of us were born?” Professor at the college? Again, I want to know more about the customers.

    Anyone else have a problem with Liane’s age? If so, maybe that needs to be addressed. First thought she was 5 or 6. Then she’s tall enough to rub her head against his shoulder and his arm fits around her waist.

    Nice job, Sarah. I do have a question about the diction for the narrator’s voice. Is the use of contractions to omit the “had” in some places from a dialect I don’t immediately recognize?

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      Not farm–but farmstead. Think of this as one of those places, rural but with a sophisticated college town in the middle of it, and all the income and education disparities, the conflicts and resentments. These people are eating in a place truckers and college kids go to; families for Sunday brunch and guys coming off a long night shift.

      Horvath isn’t that tall; even an adolescent girl might have the top of her head just overtop his shoulder.

      The diction–think of the sound of ” never’d had much expression to her though there’d always…” The first contraction sounds more like “never’ud” and the second without the slight extra vowel sound. The narrator is educated enough to speak well, but not pedantically. Think of a story being recounted to you, not a literary story with the distance that creates. No strong regional dialect–casual but not careless speech.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    I’m glad so many of you found this a powerful story.

    While I had my own specific intent for the plot, I didn’t feel that readers should be limited to how I saw it–that any interpretation that works is valid. But the key to the whole thing is in the final paragraph.

    Horvath is indeed a visitor from one of our favorite regions of the old country. And he gets the invitation he requires.

    This is a love story and more specifically a re-uniting. It was also intended to reach its culmination at the winter solstice, but that was a minor theme.

    But I particularly saw it as Liane’s triumph, in the most disturbing way possible for the reader to deal with. This is a story about free will, retribution against neglect and abuse, and choosing one’s own destiny without regard for society’s conventions.

    Because of the extremely difficult overriding theme in this story, a lot of care had to be taken about Liane’s age. The concepts of “age of consent” and “age of majority” i.e. legal age are different. The only crimes perpetrated in this story have been Jeanie’s failures, neglect and abuses as a parent.

    Until Liane attains the age that can be permitted in this story, she is always accompanied by Jeanie. But as of that date she is free to join Horvath of her own free will and this is entirely and absolutely her choice and as I said, her triumph.

    The bystanders are as horrified as the readers because yes–something dreadful and appalling is going on here, on the surface and underneath, but no crime is happening, Jeanie is always there too and therefore by implication and actuality consenting for this interaction with her daughter. Horvath does not put a finger wrong–until that last day he holds Liane’s hand, puts her in the back seat with her mother.

    The really dreadful and appalling thing, though, has been Liane’s treatment by those who should have cared for her. How damaged is she really? Is it more a case of not having the right environment, not being loved and wanted, or is she seriously developmentally disabled?

    So everyone watches this truly creepy, mysterious man giving Liane everything she truly needs, seeing her thrive where nobody thought much of her in any way, and seeing her in the end free to choose what was best for her–regardless of what any of us think.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    I’m glad so many of you found this a powerful story.

    While I had my own specific intent for the plot, I didn’t feel that readers should be limited to how I saw it–that any interpretation that works is valid. But the key to the whole thing is in the final paragraph.

    Horvath is indeed a visitor from one of our favorite regions of the old country. And he gets the invitation he requires.

    This is a love story and more specifically a re-uniting. It was also intended to reach its culmination at the winter solstice, but that was a minor theme.

    But I particularly saw it as Liane’s triumph, in the most disturbing way possible for the reader to deal with. This is a story about free will, retribution against neglect and abuse, and choosing one’s own destiny without regard for society’s conventions.

    Because of the extremely difficult overriding theme in this story, a lot of care had to be taken about Liane’s age. The concepts of “age of consent” and “age of majority” i.e. legal age are different. The only crimes perpetrated in this story have been Jeanie’s failures, neglect and abuses as a parent.

    Until Liane attains the age that can be permitted in this story, she is always accompanied by Jeanie. But as of that date she is free to join Horvath of her own free will and this is entirely and absolutely her choice and as I said, her triumph.

    The bystanders are as horrified as the readers because yes–something dreadful and appalling is going on here, on the surface and underneath, but no crime is happening, Jeanie is always there too and therefore by implication and actuality consenting for this interaction with her daughter. Horvath does not put a finger wrong–until that last day he holds Liane’s hand, puts her in the back seat with her mother.

    The really dreadful and appalling thing, though, has been Liane’s treatment by those who should have cared for her. How damaged is she really? Is it more a case of not having the right environment, not being loved and wanted, or is she seriously developmentally disabled?

    So everyone watches this truly creepy, mysterious man giving Liane everything she truly needs, seeing her thrive where nobody thought much of her in any way, and seeing her in the end free to choose what was best for her–regardless of what any of us think.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    I found this story disjointed and didn’t really know what was going on.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    I found this story disjointed and didn’t really know what was going on.