I love NYCMidnight writing contests, but they’re not always quick with the promised critiques. Just got one in the mail concerning my entry in the Short Story contest heat in September. I had 1000 words to write a romantic comedy that took place at least partly in an ambulance and that involved an onion ring. Here was my entry, with the critique following.
by C. A. Bridges
The sound of the ambulance’s siren was louder than Kevin’s screams, but not by much, and the guilt was killing her. It didn’t help that Kevin was flailing about like a man being disemboweled by a shrimp fork.
The paramedic deftly avoided the waving arms and quickly applied something that smelled like aloe while Kevin clawed at him. “So,” he asked Jessie brightly, “how did your boyfriend burn a circle around his… in his genital region, anyway?”
Jessie risked a glance over the man’s shoulder. Kevin’s pants were pulled to his knees, revealing a ring of angry red skin in a nearly perfect circle around the base of his penis. She winced. It looked like someone had seared an uncooked chicken with a particularly unimaginative branding iron.
“Kitchen accident!” Kevin said, through gritted teeth. “KItchen accident. She’s just a clumsy little bi–”
“We were playing ring toss with onion rings and one got stuck,” Jessie said.
“Dammit, shut up!”
“I’m sorry, honey, I have to tell him. Doctors need to know stuff, to diagnose everything.”
“They really do,” said the driver happily, a woman who seemed entirely too amused by the situation. “Onion rings?”
“I deep-fry them myself, one of those home cooker things. They’re really good. I guess I should have patted it dry a bit more first.”
“God!” Kevin wailed. “You’ve ruined me, you stupid slut!”
“Please calm down, sir,” the paramedic said. He grinned at Jessie. He had a nice smile. “But seriously. Ring toss?”
Jessie blushed. “Well–”
“Nice shot,” the driver called back. “Did you win?”
“Look,” Kevin said. “Consenting adults, right? Are you going to help me or not? I’m dying!”
“Actually, it’s not even a first-degree burn,” the paramedic told him. “Because of the, ah, delicate location we’re going to get you checked out, and the doctor will probably give you something to prevent infection, but you’ll be fine.”
“Oh, thank God,” Jessie said, slumping back. “We have to stop doing this.”
The paramedic looked up. “Wait, what? You’ve done this before?”
“Shut up, Jessie,” Kevin warned, as menacingly as a man with his pants around his calves could.
“Not the onion rings. This sex stuff. It never works out for us.”
“You say one word,” Kevin yelled. “And I swear… Ow! Goddammit!”
The paramedic straightened from where he’d accidentally leaned his elbow on the mass of gauze on Kevin’s crotch. “Sorry, sir. Must have slipped. Now,” he said, turning around.“Has this happened before?”
“My name’s Rick. What happened?”
She took a deep breath. “Well, there was the role-playing. Like, this one time I was a nurse and he was an NFL star with a pulled groin?”
There was a snort from the front of the ambulance.
“Nothing wrong with that,” Rick told her. “Perfectly healthy sex play.”
“See? See?” Kevin called.
“Only I got distracted and diagnosed his testicular cancer.”
Rick did an admirable job of only smiling. “That’s cool, though. You probably saved his life.”
“But ruined our anniversary,” she said. “We tried leather but he chafes and I couldn’t get the whip to whip. We bought some porn DVDs but I couldn’t stop laughing, you know–”
“Been there,” the driver said.
“He’s violently allergic to massage oils. God, that was a nightmare cruise. Oh, and the cops had to come out last February when I lost the handcuff keys. And the fire department. And two different plumbers.”
“Oh my God,” the driver said delightedly, looking back over her shoulder. “That was you?”
Rick ran a hand over his face. “And you need all this, why?”
Kevin started to sit up but grunted and fell back. “None of your goddamn business! I will have both of you fired and sued for this, and you can just shut your filthy mouth, you tramp! Where’s the damn hospitAAAHH!”
“Sorry, sir,” Rick said, picking up his clipboard from where he’d accidentally dropped it on Kevin’s lap from three feet up. “So, why all the props and games and fried food?”
“Because I love him,” Jessie said, “and he likes trying new things. It’s the only way he, um.”
“The only way what?”
“Well, I’m not that attractive, you know, and I want to be exciting for him.”
The driver stopped chuckling. Rick looked at Jessie for a long time as the city lights flashed by, and she blushed again at his intensity. Then he looked back at Kevin, who glared at him but stayed quiet as Rick hefted the clipboard experimentally. “And he told you that, did he?”
“He was trying to help me,” she said. “You might not realize it, but I used to have really low self-esteem.”
“Did you,” Rick said flatly.
“Kevin’s the only man who’d have me,” she said, although she was still tingling from Rick’s stare. “I owe him everything.”
“We’re here!” the driver called back.
The ambulance doors burst open and attendants neatly extracted Kevin’s gurney. “That bitch castrated me!” he told them all as they rushed him inside. Jessie climbed out and waited awkwardly while Rick made a few more notes.
“Thank you so much,” she said, as he jumped down beside her.
“Glad I could help. Listen, can I tell you something completely inappropriate?”
“You’re an amazingly attractive woman who’s stuck with an abusive, domineering boyfriend,” he said, taking her hands. “You can do so much better, and you should start with me.”
“Sorry, gotta go.” He held up the clipboard, which now had several heavy folders clipped to it, and grinned. “He needs his chart.”
Rick dashed into the emergency room as the driver dropped down beside her. “You didn’t answer my question,” the driver said, smiling and nodding at the note in Jessie’s hand.“Did you win?”
There was a sudden, outraged scream from inside, which cheered Jessie up much more than it really should have.
She looked at the note. There was a phone number.
“You know,” she said. “I think I did.”
And the critique:
WHAT THE JUDGE(S) LIKED ABOUT YOUR SCRIPT – ……I had a ball reading this one. The characterization is well done, the story has character/conflict/crisis/change–it’s a complete piece–and plus, it’s very funny. In addition, the descriptions are rendered sparingly but they are effective at conjuring the visuals in the reader’s mind: particularly good: “It looked like someone had seared an uncooked chicken with a particularly unimaginative branding iron.” Well done….At first, the reader thinks that this story will simply be a romantic comedy. However, when it is revealed that this woman’s lover is not as nice or loving as one might think, the reader can’t help but root for the paramedic. The dialogue in this piece is fast and fun, and the reader is pleasantly surprised by a story that ends not where it began.
WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – ……Honestly, I have nothing to say in terms of improvement suggestions–the only thing I’d suggest is a bit more of Kevin’s protest in the ambulance; in addition, I think the driver should say something much more powerful to her. I mean, as a character, she figured she could never do better, and after years of just accepting him, she suddenly turns on a dime? I wanted to see the driver say something much more persuasive and convincing. I think if that’s made stronger, everything will work better and the ending will be much more satisfying….Does the paramedic need to give her his number? This makes the story seem too perfect. if so, then it might be wise to shift this piece so that it is told from this man’s perspective. It would show his thought process and personality. One-word titles are hard to pull off because they are not usually as specific as others. Think about how to focus, instead, on a key image or metaphor from the piece.