The Finishing Touch (Friday Fictioneers, February 2015)

Copyright Marie-Gail Stratford

Not the brightest button in the box, Josh stumbled over the words, his father’s amused gaze only heightening his discomfort.

“It was real s-savage, Dad.”

What Josh had seen as he’d peeped through the thick cordylline grass had rooted him to the spot, petrified.

“Son, if you don’t know what they was doin’, I guess it’s time we got you broken in.”

Miss Kitty at the Golden Horse saloon bar offered her best girl for the purpose.

Josh came downstairs later, dazed and flushed

“OK, son?”

“Fine… there wasn’t a rock handy, so I didn’t do the last bit.”

A posse left town within the hour.

I’ve never tried a ‘wild west’ story before.  The first version of this  didn’t have the last line but when I tried it out on my husband (the story that is) he didn’t get it.  I’d be interested to know whether others (a) would have got it without the last line or (b) still don’t get it, even with it.  😦   Thank you to Rochelle of Friday Fictioneers for her services to the cause of literary fiction, or something very closely approaching it. 

About Sandra

I cruise the French waterways with my husband four or five months a year, and write fiction and poetry. I love animals, F1 motor racing, French bread and my husband, though not necessarily in that order.
This entry was posted in Friday Fictioneers, Just Sayin' and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

103 Responses to The Finishing Touch (Friday Fictioneers, February 2015)

  1. Dear Sandra,

    I read this twice and then read your explanation. I thought I got it until the last line. Actually the bit with the rock confuses me. Maybe it’s too early and I’m a little dense, needing more coffee.
    As always I’ve no quarrels with your writing. A note on the dialogue though…”I didn’t do the last bit…” sounds rather British.
    Okay, I’ll stop now.

    Shalom,

    Rochelle

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Indira says:

    Hi Sandra! Though it’s hard to accept that I’m so dumb, I could not follow.

    Like

  3. dmmacilroy says:

    Dear Sandra,

    I’m glad you tried your spurs on in the Old West genre. I love that your warped and wonderful imagination went along for the ride.

    Aloha,

    Doug

    Like

  4. Hi Sandra,

    I might be a little thick.. but I seem to be in good company. I liked the tone of the story, and i got the gist of the story… The rock piece and the last sentence made me feel that there were sinister doings here.

    Björn

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I got it right away, Sandra. Without the rock. I’m surprised at Husband. Doesn’t he understand the workings of your mind….oh, never mind. They never really do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sandra says:

      Thank you Barbara! Did you mean ‘without the posse’? Just for the benefit of others that follow: What Josh was spying on was an act that started as love-making, but ended up in murder. I wasn’t sure the rock alone would do it, so I added the posse. The other half is now sitting opposite me, virtuously avoiding ‘I told you so…’ 🙂

      Like

  6. I got it by the rock bit. Shocking and oh my what a dumb dad.

    Like

  7. I just about got the hint that he’d witnesses sex morphing into murder, but I did have to read it through a couple of times because I wasn’t entirely sure. I’d say the last line helps with clarifying what he’s seen, but it’s still very open to interpretation.

    Like

  8. wildbilbo says:

    Sandra – I read this three times, just not getting it. Then… illumination. This is really clever. Loved it.

    Like

  9. I got it, I got it, and before reading any comments! Too bad his dad didn’t check what was going on the entire time before telling Josh to emulate it! But Miss Kitty wouldn’t be a part of all that!! 🙂

    janet

    Like

    • Sandra says:

      No, I don’t think she would. It was just my way of putting her role into context 🙂 Though I’m not sure that the reference would mean much to those who don’t remember Gunsmoke. It was Gunsmoke, wasn’t it?

      Like

  10. I got it…very dark, and very powerful.

    Subtle writing, too – it’s all about what isn’t said.

    Like

  11. Wonderful story, Sandra. I always love a twist in the tail, and yours is perfect. Thank goodness there wasn’t a rock handy up those stairs. 😆

    Like

  12. stomperdad says:

    HA! I got it. Thought I didn’t realize I got until I read some of the other comments. I had to read it a couple times. I got the first part right away “real s-savage, Dad”. Then I got the “offered her best girl” part. After the 2nd or 3rd reading I made the connection 😀 Awesome puzzle!

    Like

  13. storydivamg says:

    Dear Sandra,
    After reading twice and then reading your explanation, I realize I did get it. And I’m glad to see that you tried your hand at a western.

    I agree with Rochelle that a few “Britishisms” may need to be revised to reflect Old West speech more accurately. However, I do not agree that this was in any way a failure. Anytime we try something new there is a learning curve, and you’ve gotten off to a great start.

    All my best,
    Marie Gail

    Like

    • Sandra says:

      Yes, I think you and Rochelle are right about the Britishisms. I’m usually quite ready to use Americanisms, and they come reasonably naturally to me, but I couldn’t resist the ‘bit’ bit. It seemed to sum up the simplicity of the character. Thanks for reading.

      Like

  14. mjlstories says:

    Needs a couple of reads, but works just fine. (Trying to be a tad less British here what, in the spirit of the genre)
    Also the last line means I’ll sleep tonight.
    MJ

    Like

  15. I got it straight away, and without the posse bit, I think – although that’s hard to know for sure because I read the whole story before I read your note about it. But I knew it was love making (or more probably rape) which turned into a murder with a rock. A good cowboy story!
    Claire

    Like

    • Sandra says:

      I think the cowboy theme had to be done sooner or later. It took me this long because my brother was a western fanatic and we always had to place ourselves at opposite ends of the spectrum. I’m glad I got it out of the way. Thanks for reading Claire. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  16. paulmclem says:

    Not sure about the ending. I was expecting something funny, but it would appear a murder most foul has just been committed. My guess is he must have witnessed a brutal rape (which ended in death for the woman) and assumed that was a normal sexual encounter – hence the rock. Not an image I want to keep in mind for too long.

    Like

    • Sandra says:

      Actually the thought of rape never entered my mind. If it had, I probably wouldn’t have written it. I saw it as one of those perverse twists in a relationship, maybe where the woman made fun of him afterwards or told him he’d just had his last experience with her. But you got the rest of it, Paul. Thanks for reading.

      Like

  17. I got it without the comments or notes – I thought it was pretty clear.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. It was crystal clear from the first read. A sinister story, showing us a glimpse of boy’s future. Nothing good can come of this. I think this was nicely crafted, but than again, I am a fan of Old Wild West.

    Like

  19. Sandra, I had no trouble getting this before the posse bit. It was quite clear and very well done.

    Like

  20. I got it also up to the rock part. I wasn’t sure what happened then, a fight or love making. I figured someone got killed or they wouldn’t have sent the posse. The writing was done well . If Miss Kitty was there, I don’t know if she would have approved the father’s “treat”. For the owner of a saloon, she was rather moral in some ways. 🙂 — Suzanne

    Like

  21. I got it, and think I would have without the addition of the posse line. What threw me was looking through grass. Some dads, though, SMH. Darkly funny, I enjoyed it.

    Like

  22. Sandra, welcome to the wild west. Your story works well, but the last line seemed out of place. Thinking it over, I think the problem is that you jump too far into the future. I mean, they haven’t even found the body, identified a suspect… The posse leaves town, but I feel I missed a whole bunch of details between the comment about the rock and the sending of the posse.

    Like

    • Sandra says:

      Interesting point you make Lisa. For me, the essence of flash fiction (particularly when this brief) is that the reader has to join up the dots. But there’s a world of difference between the mind of the reader and the imagination of the writer. In my mind, the scenario goes “what do you mean son?” followed by something like “well when I saw John Doe and Mary Smith doing this up at Choctaw Ridge it ended with him hitting her over the head with a rock” and then the posse heads out up there to see if the victim is still alive and whether there’s a trail to be followed. Too many dots then? 🙂 🙂 Clearly it doesn’t work as so many are not getting it. Thanks for thinking about it Lisa.

      Like

  23. Nan Falkner says:

    Dear Sandra, I know I’m really stupid, but I don’t understand this. My take is that Josh had watched someone lovemaking and then his dad asked for help from Miss Kitty, so the “rock” part meant that he didn’t harm his gal? I’m dumb, I’m dumb, I’m dumb. But I know from reading the other replies, that they all get it. Sorry – I still love your writing. Sorry, Nan 🙂

    Like

    • Sandra says:

      Hi Nan. Don’t feel bad about it – you’re in exalted company. 🙂 I think the explanation lies in the comments, but it’s hardly worth the trawl-through. Same time next week? 🙂

      Like

  24. plaridel says:

    i got it on first reading even without the last sentence. he must have some pretty strong hands.

    Like

  25. gahlearner says:

    This sent chills down my spine. I thought I got it without the last line. Then I had to look up ‘posse’ since that’s new in my vocabulary (at least in the context used). And now I know that I got it without the last line, but that line makes it clearer. I love it, great twist there.

    Like

  26. Hi Sandra.

    Nicely written as always. Must admit, at first I thought I got it. Then I didn’t. Now I’m not sure. The rock bit implies that he didn’t bang her round the head with it, or something else suitably morbid. But then the last line meant that he most likely “off’d” her.

    But then if you got back to the rock line, you question if he didn’t finish what he started, just exactly what did he do and how far did he get. Does that make sense?

    Like

  27. I really liked this! And I did get it too. I mean, when he said what he saw and he father assumed it was sex, I thought it could have been something else (Because of the word salvage, which I then confirmed with the rock like), and then when he came out of the room, I realized that there was some sex involved after all. lol
    But yeah, I could have gotten it without the last line.
    Great story!

    Like

  28. I got it and I liked it – a lot!

    Like

  29. draliman says:

    My first thought was that he’d witnessed someone having sex with and then murdering a prostitute and the poor kid now thinks that’s what’s supposed to happen and he’s a bit worried he couldn’t “finish the act”.
    If that’s correct, then I reckon it was better without the last line. I might even have done a last line like “It doesn’t have to be a rock, son,” said the father, reaching for his knife. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  30. afairymind says:

    I got it without the final line but I think it works better with it – though I do like Draliman’s alternative! Good story. 🙂

    Like

  31. yaralwrites says:

    I liked it and I did get it and the last line makes it even better.

    Like

  32. Sandra,
    Put your husband on the “blog line “.
    I’m with you, Mr. Sandra. I still don’t get it.
    It’s been a rocky story. I got rocks my head.There were rocks in that road. And that story didn’t quite get my rocks off (excuse my language if you find that line offensive in any way, I couldn’t resist it.) – even though the father might have had that in mind for his son.
    The act of sex is rather savage so I didn’t get that he was actually watching a sex murder. Besides, my wife is always yelling that I’m killing her. Ha.
    Best regards,
    Randy

    Like

  33. Sandra, that was awesome as usual. Loved it.

    Like

  34. Michael B. Fishman says:

    I liked the story, Sandra, and I applaud your taking a risk to try a ‘wild west’ story. I think the story is fine with the last line about the posse and the struggle isn’t with if that sentence should remain or not, but with the 100-word limit. Obviously the kid witnessed a murder when he was peeping through the window and he thought that’s what he had to do as well when it was over and I think this story just needed a few more words to convey that.

    Like

  35. Sonya says:

    Dad should have let sonny finish telling him what he’d witnessed, so I suppose it’s a good thing there weren’t any rocks handy… What an interesting take on the prompt!

    Like

  36. Well, I had to read through the comments to make sure I understood the story, or to confirm what I thought was going on. I liked it though, I definitely wouldn’t call it a ‘fail.’

    Like

  37. Amy Reese says:

    Wow, what a story, Sandra. I’m glad he didn’t do the last bit, whatever that might be. I’m assuming it was to kill her, but maybe he didn’t go through with it. Nicely written piece, as always. 🙂

    Like

  38. Dee says:

    I think this was great, got it without the posse. Great imagery and well written as always.

    Liked by 1 person

  39. Finally, finally got it. Hope they get to hang ’em high. And hope Josh isn’t too scarred by it.

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Thanks for making me think about the wild Wild West.

    Like

  41. Solothefirst says:

    I got it straight away, loved it and think you did a really good job with it! Well done indeed…. A fitting western

    Like

  42. Melanie says:

    Well that’s why he was petrified. Oh poor Josh! He witnessed a murder.
    This is great Sandra. I like this one. A lot.

    Like

  43. Oh darn, I didn’t get it. I wish I had because I love the premise. I understood everything until it came to the rock and didn’t realize had had witnessed a murder until your explanation in the comments. 😦

    Like

  44. Margaret says:

    A clever story and a successful twist at the end. I’m glad you called in the posse to go catch the murderer. We can’t have that kind of character on the loose confusing impressionable youngsters like Josh.

    Like

  45. MissTiffany says:

    I’m joining the confused party today…I’m afraid I didn’t get it. But I did get the old-west vibe and felt the build up through out the story. Just wish I understood the climax!

    Like

  46. rgayer55 says:

    You’re opening line told us much about the character. It seems his Father was a pretty dim bulb too. Kind of a twisted little western here, Sandra. I don’t think the posse will have much trouble finding them, and the insanity plea wasn’t in vogue in that era, so I suppose by next Friday Josh will be swinging from a rope.

    Like

  47. milliethom says:

    I love accents, and you’ve done a good job with the Old West one. Rochelle’s undoubtedly right about ‘the last bit’ sounding very British. I say it myself, quite a lot! I liked the red hues of the cordyline grass, which fitted the prompt well. I did guess the rock suggested murder – or some evil goings on – so would probably have ‘got it’ without the posse. I thought your story was very well written, Sandra. 🙂

    Like

  48. Ellespeth says:

    😦 “Not the brightest button in the box…” Like we say back home: the nut doesn’t fall too far from the tree. I hope that not having a rock means that the prostitute could have survived.
    Ellespeth

    Like

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