Story for the Slicks


CAROL SAUNDERS brushed her thick mop of chestnut hair off her forehead with long, nervous white fingers. How am I going to tell Jim? she thought. How can I tell him? She thought of Jim’s long, lean jaw, his dark tousled hair, and his crooked grin.Oh, Jim, Jim — (Opening paragraph plunges you right into the story with all its intense passion and suspense.)

But I mustn’t think about that now. I’m so tired, she thought wearily, and the thin fingers twined nervously in the thick hair. She stood up suddenly and went into the bathroom, and she noticed dully that the faucet was still dripping. I’ll have to get Jim to fix it, she thought automatically. (The homey touch.)

Determinedly, she turned on the cold water full force and let its clean sparkling freshness flow over her thin white wrists, and then she leaned over and dipped up the water with her slim hands and felt the sharp cold on her hot face. She dipped pads of absorbent cotton in the water and bathed her burning eyes, and she brushed out her hair with long, soothing rhythmic strokes, away from her forehead. (Beauty hints.)

She surveyed herself in the mirror. She saw the white, pointed face and the hair that seemed almost too heavy for the slim neck. It hung round her shoulders in a thick mass. “It’s as soft to touch as a spaniel’s ears,” Jim always said. The lashes around the wide gray eyes were stuck together in dark points with little beads of the cold water still clinging to them. And the lower lip of the full crimson mouth was quivering. (Important that heroine be described, but not too specifically. Sprinkle liberally with “slim” wherever possible. Helpful if heroine can be made to whip in and out of tight sweaters.)

Tomorrow, she thought wearily, twisting and untwisting the long, nervous fingers. Let tomorrow be time enough to tell him. I’m so tired today. (There has to be at least one sentence starting with “let.”)

She moved swiftly, with the easy flowing walk that Jim loved, and stood awkwardly for a moment in the living room. The late afternoon sun made a brilliant, warm golden splash on the center of the soft green carpet. It’s so quiet, she thought, and it seems almost strange to be here, in this house, now. (This doesn’t mean a thing, but it almost sounds as though it does, doesn’t it?)

She thought suddenly that it was getting late, and Jim would be home soon. She went into the kitchen and leaned on the cool enamel table. The kitchen was bright and sunny with yellow walls and crisp curtains with appliquéd tulips. (Interior decorating hints are absolutely necessary.)

She caught herself humming a tune—“Star Dust,” she realized suddenly. Their song. Oh, Jim, Jim, she thought, remember how it was that night on the top of the bus, and it was so cold and clear, and I could feel the roughness of your coat against my cheek! (Stir in a little nostalgia.)

And you were laughing because the clean cold wind kept whipping my hair across your face. Ah, we had fun. (Always change paragraphs at every possible opportunity, regardless of the meaning. Be sure heroine talks and thinks like a heroine, as opposed to a human being.)

And suddenly the small white face was down on the cold enamel table and bitter Sobs shook the slim shoulders. (Got another “slim” in. Good!)

Then she straightened up with determination. That’s enough of that, Carol Saunders, she thought, and she threw back the slim shoulders and lifted the little pointed chin. (A little pointed chin is always good too — tears at the heartstrings.)

I think I’ll make some blueberry forte, she decided, and she glanced at the clock to see if there would be enough time before dinner. There would be, and she started working swiftly: she thought happily, Jim always loves blueberry torte. (Always be specific about food. A good recipe never hurts either.)

She deftly creamed a quarter of a cup of rich yellow butter and a tablespoon of sugar in the blue bowl, and added one egg yolk and a little salt and flour. (This is the most complicated recipe I could find in the Settlement Cook Book — it ought to be a killer.) She patted and pressed the dough in the shining greased pan (or spring form) with her slim quick fingers till it was a quarter of an inch thick, and placed it in the gleaming refrigerator overnight. Then she filled it with any desired Fruit Mixture, and baked.

Then, still humming to herself, having lined the bottom and sides of a spring form with Muerbe Teig No. 1, page 377, she sprinkled it with bread crumbs, added one quart of blueberries (How ripe the berries are! she thought, and she ate one, slowly savoring its sweetness), sprinkled it with one quarter of a cup of sugar (How white the sugar is! she thought unexpectedly), and cinnamon and two tablespoons of lemon juice. Over all she dripped the yolk of an egg beaten with three tablespoons of rich yellow cream. She baked it in the hot oven for fifteen minutes, then reduced the heat to three hundred and twentyfive degrees Fahrenheit .

This time she baked it till the crust was golden brown. Jim loves it with the crust nice and brown, she thought.

She sniffed the heavenly smell of the Muerbe Teig No. 1, page 377, and her face was flushed from the heat of the stove and her eyes were shining. She beat four egg whites until they were stiff and stood up in little white crusty peaks, and added powdered sugar. When the torte was ready, crust nicely browned, she spread the beaten eggs and sugar over it, returned it quickly to the oven, and baked it fifteen minutes more at three hundred degrees Fahrenheit. (I wonder if anybody ever tried this.)

While she was waiting for it to be ready, she realized suddenly that she was famished, and she thought, I’ll make pickled herring with lots of sour cream, just the way Jim loves it, and chicken soup with matzos balls, and creplach. And pot roast with potato latkes. (Always give menus. Memo: Remember to get other cook book. Feel certain this is not the right cook book for magazine fiction writer.)

Carol didn’t hear Jim’s key turning in the lock, and he strode in and stood for a moment in the kitchen doorway, looking at her. Her face was flushed, and one tendril of hair had separated from the chestnut mass and curled over one cheek. (A loose tendril is always good.)

Suddenly she felt his presence, and she turned quickly. He was standing there, grinning that crooked grin that, always made her heart turn over. (Crooked grin absolutely essential.) He was at her side with one step, and then he was crushing her to him, and her little white face was pressed tight against the warm roughness of his tweed shoulder. He buried his hands in the thick mass of her hair, and then he tilted her face up to kiss her. She’s so little, he thought. He was always surprised at how little she was. (This establishes that he is of the necessary height and breadth for a proper hero.)

“Jim, darling,” Carol said, “let me get my breath.” (He mustn’t suspect, she thought. I’ll tell him tomorrow.) “And darling,” she said, “you’d better hurry and wash — dinner’s ready.”

When they sat down to dinner, she was quite composed again. The tall glasses sparkled against the deep-blue linen table mats that she had made from that old blue linen dress, and trimmed with the oyster-white cotton fringe that made a happy design against the polished mahogany. (More housekeeping hints.) The lovely old silver that she had got from Grandmother Stanford on her wedding day gleamed softly. She kept the silver polished with reverent care, and its soft sheen never failed to remind her of Grandmother Stanford’s shining white hair that she had carried bravely, like a banner. (Bravely, like a banner — isn’t that good?) If only she could be as brave, if only she could have the strength that Grandmother Stanford had had.

Not that Carol Saunders hadn’t been brave. She’d been brave the day that Jim had come home from the Army induction center, rejected. She had been strong then. She remembered how he had come home that day, his shoulders bent, his gray eyes smouldering with helpless rage. “It’s no good,” he had said, “they won’t have me — that ankle —” Carol had known about his ankle — that time it had been broken, but he’d fought on to make his touchdown before he collapsed and was carried from the field. That ankle would never be right — she had known that. And she had been strong. (Naturally, there has to be a football injury.)

But this — this was different.

They finished dinner, and Jim helped her to clear away the dishes.

“Darling,” she said, blinking back the tears, “I don’t feel like washing the dishes tonight — let’s just stack them in the sink, and I’ll do them in the morning.” She pushed her hair back from her forehead with the funny little gesture that Jim loved.

“Sure, honey,” he said, “if you say so. It’s certainly no hardship for me. ”

Carol laughed uncertainly. And then suddenly she knew that she had to tell him. Now.

“Come in the living room,” she said. Her heart pounded painfully, and she could feel the pulse beating in the soft part of her neck. “I want to talk to you.”

Jim looked puzzled, but he followed Carol into the living room. He sank down on the big soft couch covered with deep red frieze and trimmed with a looped woolen fringe of the palest gray. Carol came and sat close to him. She linked her thin fingers, and sat there a moment, looking down at her hands. I have to tell him now, she thought. But still she sat there, silently, twining and untwining the long, thin fingers.

Jim sat as still as death, waiting. Suddenly he leaned forward and caught both her hands in his big ones. “What is it, Carol?” he said, his deep voice vibrant with sympathy. “What is it?” he said again. “Darling,” he added softly, “remember that I love you.”

Carol looked up gratefully, and her wide gray eyes filled with tears.

She felt fear, like a cold hand laid across her heart.

And then suddenly she thought of Grandmother Stanford. And she knew then, deep within her, that she could be strong too. She held her little head high, and the gray eyes were shining.

“Jim,” she said, “I’m going to tell you straight. “I — I — ” Her voice broke, but she swallowed and went on bravely in a clear voice. (Now, I believe, if I have learned the method properly, we are at the crux of the story. It just so happens I don’t have a good crux on hand at the moment, but I can think one up later. It hardly matters, for the denouement is the same in any case.)

Jim stared at her a moment, unbelief in his honest eyes, his long jaw rigid. She saw a tiny muscle quivering in his temple. The room was very still, and somewhere off in the distance they heard the plaintive cry of a train rushing through the night.

Finally Jim spoke. “Carol,” he said, and his voice shook a little, “Carol — we’ll be all right. We’ll start over, you and I, together.”

“Jim!” Carol cried. “Oh, Jim!” She started to cry, and he wrapped her in his strong arms till she was quiet again. “Oh, darling,”she said then. “Darling.”

Suddenly she sat up straight. “Jim,” she said. “Let’s wash the dishes now.”