View Full Version : An Unpleasant Party

December 16th, 2012, 10:37 AM
This is the first short story I have written since high school. Please give me any feedback that you feel may be relevant. I am open to both technical and development suggestions.

Beneath a thin layer of gray-flecked black, a pair of weary eyes are fixated on a luminous screen. As his wife works tediously on her masterpiece in the mirror, the man's callused thumb repeatedly depresses the grey rubber on his remote.The screen flickers rhythmically, and she calls, “Harry, you're ready to walk out the door. Right?”

Harry looks at his bare feet and the tie on his bed and sighs, “Almost.” He grabs his socks begrudgingly and stretches the argyle up above his ankles. A grunt breaks free as each foot is crammed into its leather prison. Around, around, over and through- he ties his tie the same way he has for years. As he looks in the mirror, Harry can see the misery in his own eyes. He looks into the bathroom at his wife of three decades, back into the mirror, and forces a smile.

She steps out, “Ok. I'm ready. Just zip me up.” Harry obeys and she turns around in his arms. “I know you aren't going to enjoy this party,” she concedes, “but it really means a lot that we go.”

Harry smirks, “You're lucky you're cute, Deb.”

Harry had owned his own flooring business, but he lost it during the recession. He scrambled to find a job and finally, landed one as the manager of a popular italian restaurant. The owner, Mr. Anthony owns five such restaurants, amongst dozens of other businesses in the city. He invited all of the managers and many of the assistant managers to a Christmas party in his home.

The brakes squeak, as they stop the rusty and dented work truck that Harry proudly drives. The couple walk arm-in-arm up to the intimidating front door. The callused thumb presses delicately on the spongy round doorbell, and an elaborate performance of chimes, “dong”s and “gong”s is unleashed. The pair exchange a familiar, cynical look, and the hulking wooden door begins to creep open. Anthony's beautiful wife of half his age, Stacy, greets them. She is unseasonably tan, perfectly manicured inevery aspect, and wearing no less than five diamond encrusted accessories. “Hey y'all. Come on in,” she exclaims as her tightly-fit designer dress shimmers. The house is expansive, and there are guests throughout the maze of rooms. Harry and Deb step into the foyer, under a chandelier that must cost more than both of their cars.

Harry purses his lips to contain the fire that burns behind his tongue. He looks at the wealth surrounding him, and remembers every pay cut and cheapskate move his boss has made in the last two years. Harry chuckles to himself and thinks, “I guess I'd be even more mad if he had nothing to show for all of his penny pinching.”

On cue, Mr. Anthony steps into the doorway, “Pretty impressive isn't it, Harry?”

Harry closes his eyes to hide their inevitable rolling, “Yes, sir, it is quite nice,” as he turns to greet his employer with a smile.

“One day, son, you could be in my shoes. You just have to work hard,” Mr. Anthony lectures. Anthony is nearly old enough to be Harry's father, but the comment bares a thick coating of condescension. Harry manipulates his lips in order to expose his teeth and feign a positive emotion, maybe appreciation. However, his eyes are immobilized by an intense rage, and his mind is incapacitated. He is not only captured by the unjustifiable contrast of his own hard work and this man's success, but he is perplexed by the bravado with which the slave driver promotes the travesty. Harry stands dressed in his facade of a smile and brown suit he paid no more than one hundred and fifty dollars for, as Mr. Anthony places his fine garments on display “It's that same one James Bond wore in this last movie.” Harry was buried so deeply in his frustration that he didn't know if the man was talking about his suit or his watch.
Harry politely breaks away from the conversation, “That's very nice nice, Sir. I'm sorry, but do you mind if I step away for a moment? The misses looks a bit thirsty.”

“Of course Harry. I have a full bar in the sitting room there. Just don't touch the top shelf bottles. Those are pretty expensive.”

“Of course, Sir.”

Harry stops in front of the bar and examines the impressive collection of spirits. Harry drinks scotch just like his father did. Along with the other bottom shelf goods, he finds a bottle of Dewars. “Nothing special, but you'll do.” Harry glances up at the forbidden fruit and chuckles to himself, once again, when he sees the crown jewel of Anthony's display. An unopened bottle of forty year old Glennfiddich single malt scotch. He takes a deep breath to harness his excitement and releases a sigh to cushion his disappointment. The bottle is worth over a month's salary.

Harry pours a small serving of the blue-collar scotch into a glass, and begins to make a vodka and tonic for his wife. Before he can finish his task, Jerry, one of the other managers, approaches. “Sup up Harry?” Harry recognizes not only the voice, but the forcefully immature dialect of the forty-two year old man.

Harry finishes the recipe andstraightens himself in order to face his peer as he addresses him,“I'm well. How are you, Jerry?”

“Yea I'm livin the dream, bro. Ijust picked up my new Audi. It's pretty baller,” Jerre offers as he stares intently into the foyer, where Deb and Stacy stand talking. Harry already knows what the buffoon in the annoyingly skinny tie is staring at.

However, he asks in a monotone voice, without looking away, “Something catch your fancy in there?”

After a moment, the question seeps into Jerre's conscious thoughts and he turns back with a smile, “No worries, Hare. I wasn't checkin out your old lady.”

Harry smirks at the suspected jealousy, “Excuse me, Jerry. I need to go deliver this order.” Stepping back into the foyer, Harry hands his wife her drink.

“Thank you, Sweetheart. It's just what I've always wanted,” she comments with an undertone that only Harry's ears are tuned to interpret. He looks at his wife, and her eyes concur with her voice by screaming, “Help!” Harry recognizes her need for salvation from the unbearable conversation and acts quickly.

“Stacy,” he interrupts, “aren't you going to show us the rest of the house?”

“Oh of course! Where are my manners,” she bubbles, “Follow me.” The trio meanders through the house, with Harry and Deb arm-in-arm again. Stacy points out each symbol of wealth and its value ,despondently, as if she has the tour memorized. As they cross the archway into the kitchen, a man Harry's age grabs him by the bicep.

“Harry,” the man barks from under his untamed mustache, “come talk to me for a moment.” Harry releases his partner and sends her an apologetic look.

“Hey, Ted. How are things,” Harry asks with little expectation for an answer.

“Yeah there great. I've got to talk to you about some things,” the old man speaks in a hushed tone.

“I'm sure you do, Ted,” Harry agrees, “Lay it on me.” As Harry drifts off into his own mind, Ted frantically describes some kind of scheme in which Harry and Ted could run Anthony out of business and make bags of money off of it. Years ago, the first time Ted had approached him like this, Harry entertained the idea long enough to reasonably object to it. Shorty afterward, Harry found out about Ted's past. Most of the other managers had been witness to him regularly drinking heavily and driving himself home. It finally caught up to him after he ended the life of a college student that was riding her bike home from a friend's house. Ted's father was a local judge and an overprotective parent. Now, Harry has no respect for Ted, but he smiles at the greedy bastard, regardless.

“I'll have to get back to you on that one. Excuse me,” Harry retreats from the tiresome man, back to his wife's open arm. However, Deb had found her way to better company, amongst some of the other wives. With Stacy's simple voice diluted by the rest of the conversation, Deb no longer needs a savior. Harry stands alone in the middle of the kitchen and searches for another sip of scotch until his head is tilted back and the glass is upside down. “Damn,” he mutters.

Harry walks back to the bar and is disappointed to find Gregory sitting in a barstool. Gregory is a dangerously overweight man that has almost no respect for his own image. As Harry walks past he notices two different stains on the large man's collar. Harry dislikes him, but not because of his weight. Harry dislikes him because he complains about everything to everyone. As Harry rounds the corner and steps behind the bar, he tells himself, “OK. Just get your scotch and go.”

“Hello, Harry,” The voice squeals through the silence with a whine.

“Hey how are ya, Greg,” Harry offers an obligatory response.

“Good. Good,” Greg replies, luring Harry into the false sense of security that Greg's answer might be brief, “But you wouldn't believe what has happened to me.” As he faces away grabbing the Dewars bottle, Harry cringes. “I spent so long in traffic on the way here. It was awful.”

“Oh yea”

“Yes. You wouldn't believe how stupid some of these drivers are. God! Then I got to the party. I just wanted to have a Bacardi and Coke, and stupid Anthony doesn't have Bacardi.”

“That's too bad.”

“You don't care. Do you? You have no idea how hard it is for me.”

“I know”

“Do you Harry? My restaurant is so much harder to run than every one else's. We always get the cheapest customers, and we always get the worst workers. How am I supposed to turn a profit, Harry?”

“That's a toughy,” Harry submits the necessary feedback, as he fills his glass to the brim. He caps the bottle and Anthony struts back into the room.

“Hey there, Mr. Bartender. Can I get a Screwdriver with Grey Goose?” Anthony requests with a grin. Harry agrees and makes the drink. He hands the finished product to Anthony, picks up his own glass, and raises towards his boss.

“Thanks for the party, Sir. Cheers,” Harry gestures sincerely.

“Yeah. I throw a pretty good shindig. Don't I,” Anthony agrees before his eyes narrow and they focus on Harry's glass. He cautions, “Wow, kid. You might want to slow down.”

“Don't worry, Sir. Deb is driving tonight.”

“I'm not worried about you. I'm worried about my liquor cabinet, you fish. I'm just kidding, but seriously quit be a freeloader.” Anthony cackles at his own brilliance, as he turns in search of more entertaining company. Harry's fury boils up, and the pressure builds until the levies break. Once Anthony has left the room, Gregory begins to squeak again like a rusty fan. Without acknowledging the whining, Harry turns around and reaches up to the top shelf. He plucks the centerpiece from Anthony's cache, and fiendishly tears at the top of the bottle.
As Harry finally gains access to his prize, the fat man changes his tone, “Harry are you sure Anthony want's you to drink that?” Harry stops for a moment and glares at the spineless glutton, who is incapable of accepting responsibility. He begins to ramble again, and Harry focuses on his captured loot. He carefully pours his glass of retribution.

Harry raises his glass to Gregory and interrupts the mumbling, “Fuck it. Cheers!” Gregory is baffled and raises his glass suspiciously. They tap their vessels against one another, and Harry takes a big sip of the aged alcohol, concentrating on the rare and distinguished flavor.

Gregory hesitates, not sure about the validity of Harry's actions, and begins to question his compatriot, “No. You are going to piss off Anthony and he is going to wrap me up in this whole debacle and it's going to cause my store to get less attention..”

“Shut up, you self-involved worm, ”Harry snaps unexpectedly, “Stop blaming every bad thing that has ever happened to you on someone else. You are without the capacity for responsibility. If you stand up and shed a couple hundred pounds, you will realize that your physique declares you to be a man. Once you prove this to yourself, start acting like it. Own up to your own mistakes, you whining child.”

Gregory sits with a drink in his hand and his mouth opened wide. Harry unloads the rest of his overstocked cup, and quickly replaces the cargo. Gregory is still speechless as Harry leaves the room with a new spring in his step.

As he step's in to the empty foyer, Harry is met by the ever-scheming Ted. Ted launches into his plan once again, explaining the concepts he is sure that Harry misunderstood before. Harry takes a long, slow sip, until Ted has a full head of steam spouting, “Then we will be able to take that money and reconfigure the structure of...”
“Ted,” Harry pops, “No! I do not want to be a part of any of your half-witted schemes. Even if I didn't know that you still drive home drunk five days a week, I would not do business with you. Even if you weren't asking me to lie, cheat, and steal, I would not do business with you. Would you like to know why? I'll tell you. You are a weasel. You will take the easiest way for yourself out of any situation. You do not value hard work or responsibility.”

Harry takes another sip of his scotch and smiles when he's notices a tingling numbness in his nose. It spreads to his face, and he is content with the buzz. The newly liberated man decides that he will cap off his rampage by finally giving his unappreciative snob of a boss a piece of his mind. “Where is that bastard,” Harry mutters to himself at the mounting confusion of Ted. Harry takes off into an unoccupied hallway.

He steps slowly wondering where his next target is to be found. After passing three doors and turning a corner, he stops at the fourth. There is music coming from inside. It is specifically an old Bing Crosby Christmas album. Harry suspects Anthony has taken another subordinate to gloat about his hundred thousand dollar sound system. Harry grips the doorknob, twists, and flings it open. He is jarred by the image of Stacy, with her fancy dress pulled up to her waist and Jerry, behind her with his annoyingly skinny tie rocking back and forth. Harry snatches the door closed. His eyes bulge, without blinking. He sips on his scotch.

Harry quickly walks back to the foyer where Anthony stands staring at the chandelier. Harry stands at the edge of the hallway and contemplates his options. Anthony stops his thought, “You know Brad Pitt has this same chandelier. I saw him give a tour of his house on television. He pointed out the chandelier and seemed quite proud of it. Brad seemed quite happy. He always seems to be happy. I thought I'd like to have this chandelier, but now, I'm not so sure.” He lowers his chin and looks Harry in the eye. Harry realizes it; He knows. Anthony may not know what his wife is doing only a few seconds away, but it is obvious that he knows where his wife's heart is.

Harry bobbles, “Well I think that is quite a fine chandelier, Sir.”

“Yes it is,” Anthony sighs, “but can you imagine how many hours of my life I dedicated to this chandelier? For God sakes, a ten dollar lamp could do its job. I just wonder what else I could have bought with those hours.” Harry stares at the old man as his well-earned hatred melts into pity. A thick silence hangs in the air for what feels like days.

Deb steps into the room like a refreshing breeze, “Harry, there you are. I've been looking all over for you. My sister just called. Her car broke down a few miles away, and I told her you could take a look at it. I'm sorry Mr.Anthony, but I think we are going to have to leave a bit early. I couldn't find Stacy, but please let her know I had a great time.”

“I will, Deb,” Anthony assures,“Let us know if you need any help with that car.” As he speaks, Harry sees something, for the first time. He sees jealousy in Anthony's eyes. Harry shakes his boss's hand and tells him farewell. As the front door closes behind him, Harry grabs his wife by her shoulders, looks deeply into her eyes, and kisses her passionately and thankfully.

Deb states out of shock, “Well it looks like somebody got drunk.”

“I love ya, Deb,” Harry explains.

Deb replies, “I know, babe. I wouldn't have it any other way.”

December 16th, 2012, 08:37 PM
Ok I fixed hopefully all of the errors due to importing from the text document. Critiques. Let me have 'em.

December 18th, 2012, 06:12 AM
There were some minor errors. I'm sure you'll catch them on another go through. The story was coherent, readable, a little funny, a little sad.
He is not only captured by the unjustifiable contrast.... That whole sentence is a doozy. Took me three tries. Why not make it easier? JMO,
He steps slowly wondering where his next target is to be found... hmmm. Seems odd.
Hey y'all ...as her tightly fit designer dress shimmers. Two subjects, one sentence (something like that) There's better people here on this site than I , both for grammar, and story. Cheers-K

December 18th, 2012, 06:33 AM
Why is Harry so angry at Anthony? Thats a serious question you never answer. Sure, Anthony is a bit of braggart and likes to show off his money, but I cant comprehend why he is deserving of such intense, unyielding hatred. And frankly the whole story falls apart without that.

Is he just jealous because Anthony has more money than him? Has Anthony been engaged in unethical business practices? Is it just personal disagreements? You really should look to develop that aspect of the story more, because it makes no sense without understanding why Harry would have such intense hatred towards him.

December 19th, 2012, 03:56 AM
Your overall story is nice, and I think you could make it excellent with some reworking. I hate to use a cliche, but you've got a lot of 'telling' when you need more showing. A lot of it is overwritten, and I think the story would benefit with more focus on what's going on in Harry's head, rather than some of the descriptions of what he's doing.

Beneath a thin layer of gray-flecked black, a pair of weary eyes are fixated on a luminous screen. As his wife works tediously on her masterpiece in the mirror, the man's callused thumb repeatedly depresses the grey rubber on his remote.The screen flickers rhythmically, and she calls, “Harry, you're ready to walk out the door. Right?”

For example, I think this would work better saying something like, "Harry ran his fingers through his thin, gray-flecked black hair, staring at the television without contemplating what was on the screen. He was jolted out of his trance when his wife shouted, "Harry, you're ready to walk out the door, right?"

You could then go on to explain that Harry was dreading the evening, and that even though it was his boss who was throwing the party, Deb was forcing him to go. It had to be done, though.

Also, a few other things -- Harry has to be at least 50, and even though his boss is at least 70, I don't quite buy that he'd refer to him as "son" or talk to him in a manner of 'someday, with hard work, this can be your's...' He might say that to a 20 year old, or maybe even a 30 year old, but I really don't see him saying it to someone who's 50ish.

I'd ease up on the boss' showing off his wealth -- it can be more subtle. It's too heavy handed here, and I also don't buy that the boss would tell Harry not to have the top shelf liquor. He'd probably have someone tending bar, or he'd have the other liquor placed on a table for guests to make their own drinks. He might have the real expensive stuff visible, on a top, hard to reach shelf, that was clearly not offered to the party guests, but I just don't think he'd explicitly state that. And what he'd say to everyone is to go ahead and drink all they want -- giving them the message that he can afford to treat his guests in a first class manner, even though you could show that this message is false, by him providing inexpensive (or mid-range) liquor for the guests and acting like they should be grateful, while having the super expensive stuff visible, for all to know he has it, but not being offered to the guests. That message will resonate more than having the boss outright say this.

“Harry,” the man barks from under his untamed mustache, “come talk to me for a moment.” Harry releases his partner and sends her an apologetic look.

The "apologetic look" is an example of the telling us when you can just show us. The "releases his partner" is awkward. Just say something like, "Harry reluctantly released Debra's hand and he returned her gaze. He knew she understood."

I also don't think you want to make it quite so explicit that the boss knows that his whole life is hollow. We get it. He's not going to admit it to himself, or if he is, he certainly is not going to let on to anyone, especially his workers at this party he's having to reinforce his need for superiority. Show us with a slightly changed look in his eye at the mention of his wife, or something Harry notices when Deborah comes up to him and touches his arm affectionately that shows that the boss is longing for that kind of relationship.

I don't quite buy some of the dialogue from the coworkers planning a scheme while at the party. I think that needs to be eliminated or toned down.

But you've got some good elements to work with here, and I think it could be made into an excellent story.

December 20th, 2012, 09:15 PM
Overall I think it's a good story. But I have to agree with chichagoliz when it comes to the scheme at the party. I also have the same problem too of show vs tell. So I can tell you do a lot of telling.

December 23rd, 2012, 11:58 PM
Straight away from the first line I can already tell I really like your style! It needs a bit of ironing out, though - there are a lot of adverbs, especially in the first couple of paragraphs, and quite a lot of adjectives as well, which I recently found out are frowned upon too. (Though not as much as the adverb, which to be honest I feel a little sorry for.) You also need a quick proofread; there are a couple of typing errors.

she calls, “Harry, you're ready to walk out the door. Right?” When I read that, I figured that Harry was a teenage boy whose mum was telling him to get ready for school. As Deb doesn't seem like a nagging housewife, I assume that isn't what you were going for so you might want to reword.

A grunt breaks free as each foot is crammed into its leather prison. Although I like the juxtaposition against "breaks free", I think the metaphor needs work. Why is his shoe a prison?

Around, around, over and through- he ties his tie the same way he has for years. We don't really need so much detail here - this is the type of thing an editor would tell you to cut straight away.

Harry had owned his own flooring business Sudden switch to past tense here, though that's probably a typo since I didn't notice you doing it again.

an elaborate performance of chimes, “dong”s and “gong”s is unleashed I really like this bit. It's derogatory towards the owners of the doorbell without stating outright that they're unlikeable / arrogant etc.

Harry purses his lips to contain the fire that burns behind his tongue. He looks at the wealth surrounding him, and remembers every pay cut and cheapskate move his boss has made in the last two years. Harry chuckles to himself and thinks, “I guess I'd be even more mad if he had nothing to show for all of his penny pinching.” This could be a great tense moment, but Harry goes from one end of the scale to the other. In a second he is burning with rage, then chuckling and thinking light-hearted thoughts.

I also noticed a lot of synonyms for 'said'. Whenever I read a book that does this, I usually find it distracting. A good old-fashioned 'he said' is often the best way to go :)

January 14th, 2013, 05:27 AM
This story keeps you wanting to read more.I especially liked when he gave his co-workers a piece of his mind. I also agree with chichagoliz about the reasoning behind his anger toward his boss.It seems like there has to be more to it than just his boss showing of his success.

The Rust on the Razor
January 15th, 2013, 12:07 PM
I enjoyed this story. You have a fluid, easy to read style and the story is one worth telling. I have a couple of points that came to my mind whilst reading:

I would have liked to have understood more about Harry's motivation, was it regret for his own business? Jealousy of Mr Anthony's? He drove his work truck "with pride" and I wasn't sure whether that was true. I liked his character- he seemed impulsive but human to me and I would have probably liked him even more if I'd understood why he was so cross.

When he came out of the room and bumped into Ted, he'd only moments previously been giving his other colleague an earful- and so it felt out-of-kilter to have him being relatively calm and measured, allowing Ted to bleat on and on.

You did an excellent job of describing the intimate scene with Stacy and Jerry without telling us exactly what was happening- the line about his skinny tie told us everything we needed to know. Very subtle and clever.

If this was the only thing I'd written since high school, I'd be pleased with my efforts but think to myself I should have been writing all along :)