by Craig Wolf
Carolyn closed her eyes. Here we go.
“Why,” said her mother-in-law, “won’t you write something nice?”
Carolyn sighed. Roger, reading his paper on the couch, was no help. The coward.
“Maggie, I write what I write. Sometimes I get paid for it. I enjoy it.”
“All that darkness, that mayhem. There’s so much of that in the world already, why add more? You should use your gift to add beauty to the world.”
“I think my work has plenty of value, look--”
Maggie folded her puffy hands on the table. “Pish posh. I can’t even read your stories, with the language and the hanky-panky and all that.”
“You want G-rated.”
“What’s so bad about that?”
“Roger . . . “
He rattled the pages of the paper. “You know I fully support Carolyn, Mother. You know I understand Mother’s feelings in the matter, Carolyn.”
Carolyn sighed. Her husband was a great cook and absolutely fantastic in the sack, but also a jellyfish. She tapped the edge of her iBook. Maggie smiled pleasantly, knowing that this argument had gone on indefinitely, could go on infinitely, and she would sit there smiling like a saint, weathering all arguments, making Caroline crazy.
Do I let her have it?
That fat smile.
“Fine. You want nice? I’ll give you nice.”
She snatched the iBook and marched off to the bedroom.
An hour and a half later, Maggie said, “Is she all right, Roger?”
Roger, deep in the Dow, mumbled some sort of confirmation that his wife was, in fact, hunky-dory and dove deeper into his paper. He was oblivious. Well, that was her son, and his willingness to put up with any sort of tawdriness was no doubt what drew him to that awful woman. Here it was Christmas Eve, practically, and she’d had that tacky machine out in the dining area she ridiculously called her ‘working space’. Writing those violent and tasteless stories. Pulp fiction. Gah. Maggie believed the world was a place you either added beauty to or stripped it from, and Carolyn Hodges was no doubt a taker.
The bedroom door opened, and here came Carolyn with the ridiculous machine tucked under her arm. She smiled, and Maggie saw that it was a sweet smile, the sweetest she’d ever seen the woman wear. It made her look almost beautiful. It was frightening.
Carolyn put the computer on the table, searched among loose papers for the printer cable, and plugged it into the laptop. She opened it, tapped the keyboard, and in a moment, the printer was jerking and humming. It was all so arcane to Maggie. She couldn’t even use a typewriter; she’d met Roger’s father before ever having to do anything so low as hold a job.
“Margaret,” which meant things were serious and a bit out of control because no one called her Margaret unless some line had been crossed, “dear Margaret, you wanted me to write something nice. So I have. Now, you know I normally let Roger be my first reader. But this story is special. I put everything I have into it. For you. Would you do me the honor?”
Maggie hesitated. Was this a trick? The woman wasn’t beneath it, the hussy, the witch. Was this some attempt to get her to read some more of that vileness about murder and people knowing each other Biblically outside of marriage? Maggie looked at the beatific smile, and shrank. How could she think ill of that smile?
“I’d be honored,” she said.
She took the manuscript.
“Oh, my,” Maggie said, “This . . . this is quite, well, it’s very lovely.” She teared up. “Astonishing, actually.”
“Finish it,” Carolyn said.
“Oh, at once!”
Carolyn made a cup of instant coffee. She glanced at her mother-in-law, saw the delight and happiness practically bursting out of her. Carolyn rubbed her temples. This one had taken a lot out of her. Out of the world. She wondered if somewhere a kid was falling out of a tree to break an arm, or a lover discovering a misplaced faith. Was a mother-to-be miscarrying? Carolyn felt a little sick at herself. All in a fit of temper. Way to go. Wasn’t she pledged to harm none? Wasn’t her goal in life to show others how much grief there was to be had?
Too late now. It was done.
Maggie wailed. Pleasure or terror? Impossible to say. At a certain rarified altitude, they could be one and the same. She clutched the manuscript and sobbed. Her expression was unreadable, screwed up into some ecstatic, trembling distortion.
Roger neatly folded his paper. He stood and stretched. “It’s a bit late,” he said, glancing at the fire.
Maggie screamed, and this time, there was no mistaking it for anything other than pure terror. She wasn’t reading now. Her body arched backward over the chair, so that her eyes stared blankly at the ceiling. Drool mixed with tears, a slick sheen on her face. The old woman’s fists clenched, crumpling the manuscript.
Carolyn went to the iBook, dragged the file marked Glimpse into the trash. She then emptied that. No sense keeping the wicked thing about. It had been a mean idea to begin with.
Roger looked at his mother, looked at Carolyn. He shook his head. “Was that necessary?”
“She’ll be fine in the morning and you know it,” Carolyn said defensively, “She did ask for it.”
“Yes, but it’ll be dreadfully hard to sleep with all that racket. What’s she seeing, anyway?”
Carolyn smiled and moved to her husband. “True beauty. I’m afraid the dear can’t handle it.”
“Hmm. Well, we’ll take it up in the morning.”
“Uh huh. I’ve got an early Christmas present for you.”
“You don’t say.”
“Mmm. Something nice.”
“Shall I have to . . . unwrap her?”
“Not in front of your mother.”
“Quite. Well. Night, mother.”
They went to bed. Maggie sobbed on.
Craig Wolf is the author of Trespass and Pressure Points, both titles available through Shocklines and Amazon.com. One story from Pressure Points, Sketches in the Sun, first appeared in Raven Electrick. His short fiction pops up in the darnedest places, including Shadowed Realms, Flashshot, AlienSkin, T-Zero, and the late, lamented Project M-zine. He's always working on a new novel or ten, and will gab about this and all other manner of things at www.wolfwords.com.
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"Something Nice" © 2005 Craig Wolf. Used by permission
of the author.
Raven Electrick © 2000-2005 Karen A. Romanko.