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The Dream Quest One Second Writing Prize

Winner - Winter 2013-2014


Alex Csedrik

of Lyndhurst, New Jersey

for the following short story:







Honey have you looked at the credit card bills from February?” Sergeant Stern, or Theodore as he is known in his home at Fort Jackson, says. “Well, I thought you might take particular interest in this credit card bill seeing how you spent almost a thousand dollars on purses.”


“What do you expect? Coach purses aren’t cheap. A woman has to accessorize.”


Nothing about Mary’s spending is a surprise; he knows too well her artistry in running up credit card bills. He is tired of repeating himself, tired of the fights. He can barely muster the energy to participate in this one.


“Every dollar that you spend on yourself, you essentially take out of Sammy’s pocket.”

“Stop being so dramatic—Sammy is fine.”


She points to Sammy sitting in front of a television. Sammy overhears, and turns to look at him. This is what’s at stake, he thinks while Sammy stares at the two of them, and he bets that Sammy’s as sick of these scenes as he is.


Sammy’s short, gawky, and rotund body now fully turns to face him and Mary, and he waves to Sammy to indicate that the conversation is none of his concern. He wishes Mary had passed a bit more of her towering physical stature and personality to her son. While Mary epitomizes a trophy wife, Sammy resembles more of a participation trophy given to the person in last place.


“What about his future? College?”


~‘He can take care of himself—you did. Hell, you don’t miss an opportunity to remind me how you put yourself through school. ‘I joined the Army at 18 just so I could afford to get a college education!


Mary makes a valid point, but he can’t shake the feeling that the reasoning behind it does not come with good intentions. More money for her to spend, he thinks. He wants to be unnerved at the notion, but he’s accepted long ago that he chose his poison when he valued looks



over everything else. Jesus bore His cross, and I can too, he thinks. Besides, I can do a lot worse than coming home to her. But is that still enough?


“I didn’t have the luxury of anyone’s help—Sammy does. Why not give him that?”


Mary walks away without answering, and her graceful stride does not charm him as it once did. She goes to the refrigerator to fix herself a cocktail. Her drinking has increased. What time is it even?


“What are you doing?”


“Making a screwdriver. What’s it to you?”


He can’t answer. It’s nothing to him what she does anymore. He remembers when he desperately wanted to marry her. He proposed to her when they went to Paris on vacation: she always wanted to go, and he couldn’t say no to her, not to that body built for a Victoria’s Secret catalog. He asked her to marry him when the two were on the top deck of the Eiffel Tower. She wanted to keep things the way they were; the two loved each other and were in a committed relationship; it works for celebrities - look at Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins—it’ll be so bohemian of us, she told him.




“That’s right. You wouldn’t care. Nothing bothers you.”


“What’s that supposed to mean?”


It can’t be the booze talking—she just had her first sip. Has she been drinking all day’? Maybe she’s not drunk; maybe she’s just irrational. He wouldn’t dare attribute this trait to the fact that she is a woman: she is too far on her own level of crazy.


“What do you think it means?”


“I don’t know. If I knew, why would I ask you?”


“To annoy me!”


Sammy turns around at Mary’s raised voice.


“Okay, okay. Let’s talk about this upstairs, okay?”


“I’m not fucking going upstairs with you!”


His head falls to the side. He sees how this is playing out, so he figures he will play the part of the downtrodden husband. Tilt your head to the side when your wife takes an innocent comment, and turns it around to make it a hurtful statement against you. If you can, look extremely fed up with this kind of foolish behavior.


“I just don’t think we should fight like this in front of Sammy. He might get the wrong idea.”



Mary’s eyes are screaming a thousand insults at him. He can’t understand why, but he doesn’t give a shit, either. One way or another, it was going to be his fault. This bootleg version of marriage taught him that. She’ll curse at you, resort to insinuations about your sexual prowess or lack thereof. Easy shots. Don‘t fall prey to this. Sure, you can come back with attacks on her that are just as petty, but she’ll never forgive you for any of them. And she certainly will NEVER forget them.


.           “Don’t you tell me how to raise my son, goddammit.”


“He’s not just your son—I’ve been like a father to him since he was born. Hell. I’m the only father he knows!”


He hears how passionate his voice became. And he’d assumed he didn’t care about the fights anymore.


“Maybe you should get a medal for that! Look at you! The Blue Balls for Raising a Bastard. How nice?”


“Very classy.”


He takes a seat at the dining room table; his body turned 45 degrees away from Mary as she stands by the computer. Always keep your cool. If you feel yourself getting emotional, remove yourself from the situation.


Mary fiddles around on the computer, constantly clicking the mouse, and he sees it in his peripheral vision. She certainly knows how to be a callous bitch, he thinks. Look at her, probably playing solitaire in the middle of an argument. Well, fine, but she’s not going to get me worked up. Let her buy a new purse online while she’s at it. Hell, she can get it stitched— selfish bitch—on the sides.


The sounds of large gulps reach his ears like the familiar tune of a bad Top 100 song. For a while, he tried to get the song out of his head whenever she sang it. Now, he just turns off the sound when he hears it.


“I’m going to make myself another drink.”


Her voice carries through the air, but he only hopes that it stops with him and doesn’t travel to Sammy. He’s considered leaving so many times before during so many of these fights, but Sammy is the reason he stays. Just a simple glance at Sammy, whether he’s watching TV, picking his nose, or reading, and he knows he can endure another day.


His head instinctively turns to watch her walk—despite his apathy towards her; it’s a habit he cannot break. The white glare from the computer screen forces him to turn his attention to it. He can’t make out what’s on the screen, but it seems to be an e-mail. They may try other tactics to get you to a state of emotional frenzy. These tactics can be far more cruel and juvenile than derogatory statements about your unit. These are harder to dismiss, but do your best to stay even-keeled. Keep a level head. Remember, an oppressor needs someone to oppress.

“What’s that?”


“A screwdriver. Do you not fucking listen anymore?”


“Not the drink. What’s on the computer screen?”


~‘Go look for yourself if you’re so nosy.”


It’s a trap, he thinks. It’s so obvious that it’s her bait, used to lure him. Well. I won’t let her get the best of me. I’ll take the bait, and not get caught with the hook.

.           He walks over to the computer screen. The white glare and the words on the screen should be burning his retinas, but produce little effect. The only external effect her action produces is a few blinks because of the light.


I knew she was cheating on me, he thinks. Am I supposed to act the part of the betrayed lover now, too? Cause a scene. Demand his address. Say you’ll murder him. Call her a whore. This is all very typical of what she expects from life, he thinks, a typical action to play out in a typical scene.


She walks over, hovering behind him. He hears the ice cubes shift in her glass. No shift in temperature here, he thinks. Still lukewarm.


He walks back to his seat at the dining room table. He feels her eyes on him trying to find any hint of what strategy he’s using for his counter-attack. How long has she been holding onto this? he thinks. Has she been plotting the way she would let me know something that I already suspected? It’s not like I had to be a genius detective to figure out the late nights, hushed voice during phone calls, and odd errands. Taking the barbeque to get repaired? He remembers and finds it humorous.


He’s become another statistic, another relationship ruined by the duty of serving one’s country. Did I ever think there was any alternative for us, he wonders. Did I ever truly believe we would ride off into the sunset, arm-in-arm, standing up on a Humvee? No. But then again, he hadn’t considered it inevitability that the relationship was destined for this path.


“How long?”


“Six months.”


“Well, he writes beautifully.”


“You’re such an asshole! How can you sit there and act all calm?”


“What do you want me to do? You and I both know that we have our share of problems, and probably even our neighbors’ share to boot.”


“Aren’t you mad?”




He sits there. Am I? he questions. He realizes if he has to ask...


“You know, this is why I don’t feel guilty about it—because you don’t give a shit about anything. You care about saving your country, but that’s a load of shit. At the end of the day, you’re just one of millions, and nothing you do is going to change anything!”


He nods. He attempts to remain stoic. He wants to avoid the she-said-this-so-I-countered-with-that-am-I-wrong scenario. Truthfully, he doesn’t have the passion for it when it comes to her.


“Are you going to say a fucking word?”


‘~What am I supposed to say?”


~          “I don’t know—right now, anything. Tell me I’m a horrible person, how much you hate me! Call me names.”


He wrinkles his forehead at the suggestion. Why does she want to hear those things? Who is being punished here: her or me?


Sammy walks into the kitchen, cutting right through the space between Mary and him. Sammy toddles to the refrigerator to get a Capri-Sun pack. There is a temporary cease-fire between the two until Sammy exits the kitchen.


“Fuck this. I’m going to stay at Lisa’s. I can’t deal with your silences anymore.”


He figured this was coming. As much as he wants to stay with her for Sammy’s sake, he and Mary cannot stand each other anymore. Sure, the two could stomach the sight of each other, even enough to have sex every so often, but hate-sex couldn’t keep fueling them.


“Sammy, go upstairs and pack your bags.”




He rises from his chair and takes several steps towards her.




“Why don’t you just leave Sammy here? It’s getting late, and he might not be comfortable at Lisa’s.”


“Do you think I would leave my own son? You’re fucking losing it. Run upstairs, Sammy. Make sure you get everything you want.”


He hears Sammy’s slow footsteps make their way upstairs. He wants to believe that each footstep is weighted with confusion, but he can’t detect that from the reverberation they make. Can Sammy understand what’s happening?


“Come on, this is ridiculous. Sammy’s not going to enjoy sleeping on Lisa’s sofa—let him stay here.”


“He’s not your son!”


“What does that mean? Didn’t I raise him since his was eight months old? Haven’t I saved every single dollar to provide for him and his future?”


“Well, lucky for you, that isn’t your concern anymore.”




The blood in his veins starts to pump faster. His heart hasn’t beaten this fast since he served in Desert Storm. He wants to tell himself to stay cool, but there’s too much at stake. There’s something at stake in this fight, he thinks. Fuck it. Do whatever it takes. Don’t let her take him away.


“What don’t you understand? He is my son. You are nothing to him but some guy.”


“Bullshit! You and I both know that’s not true! That kid is my son, and I am his father. And I will do anything I have to do to make sure that Sammy always knows it.”


He sees the journey in front of them: courts, adoption process, bitter arguments, every other weekend custody (if he’s lucky), constantly being ridiculed by Mary when he’s not there. Fuck, why did I ever listen to her bullshit Bohemian idea, he thinks as he swears at himself for his naiveté.


She starts to walk towards the stairs to go to the bedroom and pack, but he grabs her arm.




“Get your fucking hands off of me!”


“No! You’re being unreasonable.”


An accidental misfire. Not my fault officer. I was just cleaning the gun. Begin the process of legal adoption. Take several months for it to be official, hut he ‘d be my son. My son, Sammy.


But he can’t. Eventually, Sammy will ask questions, will want to know what happened to Mom. How could I lie to my son? My eyes would be filled with the lie. I killed your Mom, that’s what happened to her, Sammy.


“You know how much Sammy means to me,” he spits out as the words, the thoughts choke him.


He lowers his head, and his hand instinctively shields his eyes from her. He doesn’t care if she sees that she’s finally gotten to him. He can’t make eye contact with a person who will so willingly and spitefully murder someone. I hope she’s happy taking my life, he thinks. He killed; she’s a murderer.


“Well, I’m glad you give a shit about something. I just wish I was a part of it.”


His hands grab her right arm again. He feels her skin, so smooth, so reminiscent of happiness. The flesh that he used to do anything to touch has turned into something he’ll do anything to avoid.




He reconsiders and raises his eyes. He wants her to watch the life being drained from him. If you’re going to murder someone, you have to deal with that, he thinks. She’ll have the visions, the haunting. The constant reminders of the life taken, even in unexpected places like in the eyes of a stranger in the produce section of the supermarket. The reminders will be hers now.

“I don’t owe you a damn thing.”




She takes her first steps up the stairs, and he follows. She quickens her step, and he does, too, to keep up with her. His strides become longer as he follows her towards their bedroom.


“Will you at least let me say goodbye to Sammy?”


Mary collects her things, the causes of the countless fights before, in a haphazard manner.


“What don’t you understand? You’re never going to see Sammy again.”


The desire comes back to him, this time stronger.


He pushes her, and she trips over several of her prized possessions, the Coach purses that are piled next to the bed. He takes a few quick steps out of their room, and he rushes into Sammy’s room. He locks the door behind him.




He stops.


Everything he thinks about doing falls apart. Take him, pack a bag, and drive: Canada, Mexico, whichever. Forget about deployment, forget about Mary. Just him and his son, Sammy. Sammy and his Dad. But, it can’t happen because he’s Daddy. That’s not the kind of example a father sets, he thinks. Not Daddy.


He hugs Sammy. The pounding of Mary’s fists on the door set the tempo in frenetic eighth notes, as the obscenities she screams at him become the hook. It all starts to fade into the background for him. He can only hear one thing over and over again.

#   #   #



About the author:

My name is Alex Csedrik and I was awarded my MFA in fiction at Fairleigh Dickinson University. I received my Bachelor's Degree from DeSales University, where I was awarded the Creative Writing Fiction Award for the 2008 graduating class, and my Master's Degree in English from Montclair State University. I was published as an Honorable Mention in the Creative Writing Fiction contest for the Fall 2009 Issue of Coq and Bull Magazine (For Your Country). I published my pod novella called Crime of the Century through PublishAmerica. I have also attended the Curious New Voices (Denver, Colorado) 2005 Young Playwrights workshop and the Paris American Academy (fiction and non-fiction writing) 2006 where I honed my craft.


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