Fiction: Plateau

Posted by on Jan 7, 2013 in Fiction | 27 comments

The footsteps paused briefly at her doorway, then continued on down the hallway.  She heard Sean slam into the crash bar on the door, heard the door squeal open, then shut with a clatter.

Julia stared at the dregs of her tea.  She swirled the water, hoping to see her future, but all she saw was the stained bottom of her mug.

“Three weeks,” she muttered as she looked out the window onto the campus duck pond.  It was just starting to freeze over, the water grey and calm, belying the violence of the changing seasons.  Everywhere life was freezing into suspended animation, falling dormant, lying low.  Whatever change was planned for the spring was plateaued for now, caught in the gray.

“Three weeks,” she shook her head in disbelief.  He had never ignored her for so long, but she had cut him to the quick with their last argument, accusing him of putting everything in his life ahead of their relationship.  She refused to let it go, pushing, pulling, wheedling, and demanding until he simply shut down.

In the beginning, they had buoyed each other.  They had carried each other on the wind, their spirits held aloft on thermals, their abandon a pure joy, an escape from the craggy coastline of life.

During times of stress, they clung together, their connection almost psychic.  Her husband didn’t care; his wife did.

Her marriage evaporated first; she simply granted her husband his every request, then walked away.  Happy with little, she led a Spartan life, consumed with work and fire for Sean.  Most days she seemed to exist on air and tea as she lectured and wrote and graded and read.

His obligations were messier.  His wife wasn’t interested in letting him go and their children were difficult.  When his sons had graduated from high school and gone on to college — elsewhere, of course — he asked his wife for a divorce.  For three years he waited for her response before filing the papers, accepting the mantle of adulterer to get free of her.  His wife protested loudly and told her tale of woe to everyone who would listen.  He bore this in silence, knowing that his infidelity led to the dissolution of a twenty-seven year marriage.  Her wrath was simply penance.

When his wife finally signed the papers, taking from him nearly every piece of their former life, Sean moved into a tiny bungalow with a slip on the lake.

It was at this point that Julia demanded more from him than he was willing to give.  For thirteen years she had paid her time, waiting and watching and waiting some more.  It just didn’t seem right to her that he should finally escape his wife and then choose to turn from her, too.

But he had.  And she knew that she was going to suffer his chill for longer than the winter.

This week, I managed to write using four prompts. Two (first line and photo) from The Speakeasy at Yeah Write and two (word prompt and song prompt) from Write at the Merge on Write On Edge. Visit the sites to see what the prompts were and to read some excellent writing by some other fabulous writers. If you think I’m joking about the awesomeness, you don’t know me very well…



  1. Wonderful. You’re really subtle with language, giving the content a lot more weight without being maudlin. I’ll never understand why women like Julia box themselves in this way. I guess they don’t understand it, either.
    the speakeasy (@YWspeakeasy) recently posted, go check it out!the speakeasy at yeah write #91 is openMy Profile

    • Thank you. I didn’t want the reader to feel too sympathetic towards any of them, really. Awful business when you make choices like that.

  2. This is a wonderful example of living with the choices we make, especially when they affect others so significantly. Perhaps he was never meant to be Julia’s; she was waiting all that time, simply to be presented with a new choice. One without him.
    Georgina Merry recently posted, go check it out!Poor Ducky (Speakeasy #91)My Profile

    • Could be. I hadn’t gotten around to thinking up more of the story — romance isn’t usually my cuppa. But I loved the idea that all of the characters (except Julia’s ex-husband) are stuck somehow.

  3. It was startlingly refreshing to read the perspective of the other woman and man in this case and then layered in was the lack of success for the relationship which made for a really interesting read.

    • Thank you. I wanted to write something where the narrator wasn’t exactly a sympathetic character. I’m glad it worked!

  4. While I wouldn’t exactly say that I IDENTIFIED with these characters, I did “like” them. Or at least their development. More, please. :)
    OldDogNewTits recently posted, go check it out!Well, it’s better than Howard the Duck!My Profile

    • Yes, all of them are making choices I wouldn’t, but that’s why they were intriguing to me. I hadn’t thought beyond what I wrote about them, though — I’ll have ot consider that, eh?

  5. You weave the story with the elegance of your words. This story is heartbreaking, but you can really relate to the emotion Julia is going through. Well written!
    Mel recently posted, go check it out!TIME TO FLYMy Profile

    • Thank you. It was interesting to write, for sure.

  6. I think you did a really wonderful job here of showing us their choices and the consequences of those choices without judging any of the characters tangled in such a complicated situation. Your small details show the strain their relationship had caused over the years — like the children going to college NOT at the campus where the piece is set.
    Write on Edge recently posted, go check it out!Talk to Me, Goose: the Power of a Wingman in FictionMy Profile

    • Thank you so much! I wanted to explore characters making choices I would never make, but I wanted to see if I could do it without judgement — so glad that came though.

  7. Relationships can be so complicated and you so successfully and eloquently portrayed some of the reasons and conveyed the sorrow and resignation that accompanies it.
    Mod Mom Beyond IndieDom recently posted, go check it out!Filmy at 1600: Al Roker Sharts His Pants at the White HouseMy Profile

    • Thank you. I was trying to show how complicated the whole situation was with some subtlety. I’m glad you picked up on that resignation.

  8. You are so good at this Courtenay! The writing is so good, the subject so painful (and typically the way these things go, I think).
    Stacie @ Snaps and Bits recently posted, go check it out!Heading SouthMy Profile

    • Oh, thank you, love! I’m going to gush, but I just love sharing these little pieces with you all. For something I’d never done before this summer, I just love writing fiction and just keep trying to get it better each time. I’m really happy with the bleak feeling this one has.

  9. I really enjoyed this. The emotion was raw as the winter. I loved the image of change being in a plateau stage. It’s gonna change eventually and when it does it’s gonna drop.
    Kris recently posted, go check it out!When Death Brought New Meaning to LifeMy Profile

    • Yes, there’s no way off the plateau but to go down.

  10. I’ll echo everyone here, the pain and consequence is exquisite. What I enjoyed most though, were the details of the changing season. I felt cold before I felt their relationship. Very well delivered. And that last line is the sort of line that I wish I’d written.

    My only editorial concrit is a minor thing: the footsteps in the first sentence aren’t necessarily tied to Sean in the second. It reads a little like they could be two different people. If you had started with “The distinct sound of Sean’s footsteps paused outside her door before fading down the hallway. Distance transformed his exit from the building -the collision of the crashbar, the screaming hinges, the door slamming shut- into a brief, aching throb.” or something similar, it would have had a little more impact, and would tie it in better with the calm water hiding the violence of the changing season, and the passion at the beginning of their relationship to the distance at the end. Otherwise, as it stands currently, “Julia stared at her tea” delivers a stronger introduction to the story, rendering the first paragraph unnecessary and using up valuable word real-estate. Make sense?

    As I said, it’s a very minor thing but something to keep in mind if/when you revisit. Otherwise, a job very, very well done!
    shelton keys dunning recently posted, go check it out!Week Two: Write at the Merge Balloons and Nirvana ChallengeMy Profile

    • I’m chuckling, only because the opening line was a prompt from Yeah Write. I agree that it’s a little off from the rest of the piece. Thank you for the suggestion.

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  12. You have a beautiful way with words. I want to curl into this in novel form, with a cup of tea and rain spattering the windows.
    brianna recently posted, go check it out!life: have a good weekend!My Profile

  13. I love thi emotion in this piece.. Wonderful story.
    deana recently posted, go check it out!Give me lifeMy Profile

  14. Oh, what a hellacious mess. You do a good job of not painting anyone the villain, which is impressive.

    I loved this: “In the beginning, they had buoyed each other. They had carried each other on the wind, their spirits held aloft on thermals, their abandon a pure joy, an escape from the craggy coastline of life.”

    It made is dissolving that much more sad to read.
    Cameron recently posted, go check it out!The Story Circle, January 2013: The Forest King, Part TwoMy Profile

    • Thank you — I wanted the situation to be terrible, not the characters.


  1. The Write at the Merge Wrap Up: Week 2 | Write On Edge - [...] “Three weeks,” she muttered as she looked out the window onto the campus duck pond.  It was just starting …
  2. Fiction: After Ten Years | - [...] the speakeasy this week — it’s about two characters I’ve written about before, Sean and Julia. I wrote the …

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