UKArchive ID: 18676Hard by chrissytotoro
Originally published on February 19, 2007 in Fiction    

Not sure about this (when am I ever sure of what I post here? 🙂 ) I haven't done a lot of tarting to it so any comments of any persuasion will be welcomed.


It's raining. It would have to be for something like this. All the bad things in life are accompanied by rain. The first time you get kicked out of your digs isn't a balmy summers' evening when rough sleeping'll be a bit of a lark. The first girlfriend who dumps you doesn't leave you standing outside the pictures on a warm afternoon in midsummer. You never bury your dad on a bright sunny day. So why should this be different? When shit's descending on your bare head from such a great height, it has to be accompanied by rain. And rain helps mask the tears, doesn't it? Stops you feeling like a complete tosser.
It's not my fault. Oh how many times have I said that? It's not my fault. When my school reports said I was inattentive and easily distracted. That wasn't my fault. It was Barrington and the other knuckle-walkers who beat up any kid who dared to show the slightest intellect. And turnin' up at home pissed and throwing up over the new hall carpet that wasn't my fault, it was the 'ruby' that was off. And bein' late for Brian's wedding when I had the rings. That wasn't down to me either, that was the bleedin' copper who clocked me doing forty in a thirty limit. And missin' mum's funeral because I hadn't finished a job I was meant to be doing. I had to earn a living.
And this, this isn't down to me either.
We're sitting in the car park, her, me, the box on the back seat and the fact that she's giving me the 'silent' isn't helping. I can't explain it. It's out of my control and there is nothing I can do.
I want to tell her that I love her, that it doesn't matter to me what she's done, that it was all probably my fault anyway, that I must have done something but I can't say those things, not so that she'll understand that she isn't to blame.
I lean forward and look out at the seemingly endless, flat, concrete space. No one's here yet. It's five o'clock in the morning. I suppose the night duty people are kipping.
My big problem is, I can't be alone. I need someone to just care for me. Like I needed my mum when I was at home, or my mates or girlfriends. I need Karen. I need her to tell me that I am a good bloke and that she does care about me and that what her parents think of me doesn't matter because I'm what she wants. That's what I need.
And my needs come first, don't they.
I look at her but she's not looking at me. She's just sitting there, silent, waiting.
"It's not your fault," I say and she turns to look at me, sort of happy looking, like she's misheard or heard something she was wanting to hear. "It's me."
And how many times has that been said?
"I'm weak, and thick, and I just can't hack it on my own, all right ?"
I get out of the car and go round to open her door. She just sits there, with that 'it's raining' look so I just leave the door and get the box off the back seat. It's heavy but I don't put it down.
She gets out of the car and comes towards me. I slam the doors and lock the car. There maybe no-one around but I don't like to take chances.
As we walk across the car park I try again to explain things.
"It's Karen. She has to come first. I know I promised I'd be there for you but ...." I stop talking, stop trying to justify it. I made a promise to someone and now I'm breaking it. End of.
We've reached the buildings and now it's really the hardest thing I've ever done but I know it has to be done.
I put the box down and straight away she's fussing about it but I don't touch her, I don't speak, I just back off, turn and walk away. Every step I take I want to turn round and see what I've done but I don't. I walk straight back to the car.
The rain is falling really hard. And it's running down my cheeks.
I get into the car and start the engine. Just a few more minutes and I'm out of here. I'm gone and she's just a memory. Somebody else's problem.
I'm almost at the gate and then I think I hear something. I stop, listen and then drive round in a big fast circle.
She's still there where I left her. Trembling and cold and frightened because she doesn't know what the hell is going on.
I slam the breaks on, fling the door open and run to her.
Bending I snatch up the box and run with it to the motor. It's not that wet but she is. I don't give a monkey's.
I push her into the car on the drivers' side and shove her over to the passenger seat.
Sod you Karen! If you don't like it, tough tits! I promised my dad I'd look after her and I will. I'm livin' in his house and I will keep my promise.
She looks at me with that instinct that some dogs have when they see their owner crying and she rests her head on my thigh.
From the back seat I can hear the puppies whimpering.
I really have to get them all back home.
It's far too early in the morning, though it has stopped raining.

© chrissytotoro (chrissy on OLD UKA)
UKArchive ID: 18676
Archived comments for Hard
Romany on 19-02-2007
Clever little twist. I must say that I was a little confused when you switched from talking about/to Karen, to the dog, but of course that was partially intentional. I suppose it lost me a little bit, round about 'As we walk across the car park I try again to explain things.
"It's Karen.'
because at that point I imagined 'Karen' was stil sitting on the front seat. Original story though.

Author's Reply:
Guess it's me trying to be too clever. I wanted to lead folk into believing that he's dumping his 'bit on the side girlfriend' in favour of his 'steady girlfriend'. And then at the end it's something quite other. Maybe I should have another look at it, though I really can't think how I can make it clearer without giving the whole thing away.
Thanks for commenting.

juliet on 19-02-2007
Hi Chrissy, a great little story with a good twist. However i did get very confused by who was on the front seat, can't you use the name, e.g. Ruby or something ambiguous.

I thought the beginning was strong, i'd like the way the narrator describes himself, whilst showing the reader the opposite (clever).

I think you can build up more of the scene before the dump without giving too much away. He loves her, so i want to see more of this relationship, maybe a bit of reminiscing about the good times, or more description. Her eyes of chocolate, her supple limbs that kinda thing.

I also like the fact that the narrators moves forward in this piece finally accepting responsibility for his actions. A lot of short stories 'fail' becuase the characters are not faced with conflicts that cause them to change, good or bad.

This definetly needs more work (imo) but i can see already it will be a wicked piece.


Author's Reply:
Thanks Juliet.
As I said in the intro, I didn't do much 'tarting' in fact I only did a very quick spell check and word count so I can completely accept that it could definetly do with some work. I think I will have to be very careful though, cause I give too much away, the story loses any point. I will have a good think.

wfgray on 19-02-2007
Hell Juliet, you had me completely and utterly confused. At first I thought there had been a love entanglement that had gone wrong then came the twist with the dog. Yes it always rains when there is trouble about. Whether it is women, men or dogs. I love dogs but they can cause some trouble in a family, especially if they are lost. Nice read. Will

Author's Reply:
Will, many thanks for reading and commenting. I'm genuinely pleased that you enjoyed the piece.

discopants on 19-02-2007
Hi Chrissy,

I liked the start of this, the character finding excuses for his own inadequacies and failure to take responsibility.

I didn't get the sense that the narrator was looking to dump a woman or bit on the side- I was thinking of a young child and the thought that it was dog had also crossed my mind so the twist didn't come as a surprise to me. I think that because you deliberately omitted any detail regarding the 'second' character I automatically assumed that it wouldn't be who we should imagine it to be.

As Juliet says, though, there is a strong development of character, with him facing up to some responsibility at the end of the piece.

Author's Reply:
discopants, much thanks for taking the time to read and comment.
The thing was with this one, it came into my head and I wrote it down from what was going on inside my mind. I'm not sure what triggered it but I didn't really do much with it on the developmental side.
I guess once I had the idea I was caught in a bit of a bind. If I describe the second occupant of the car in too much detail, I risk losing the 'surprise' at the end, which, as I think I said in a previous response, is the whole point of the piece but if I don't do much description at all, I flag up that there is going to be a 'surprise' which I didn't want to do either.
Guess I lucked out on this one.
Back to the drawing board.

Rupe on 20-02-2007
Yes, I also enjoyed this, though it did take a couple of reads through to get it.

What I particularly liked was the way you caught the defensive, self-justifying inner voice of the character. 'It's not my fault' is one of the cheapest, most exasperating phrases in the English language & alarm bells ring whenever I hear it - particularly if it turns out to be me who said it(!) The examples you used (the funeral etc) built this aspect up very convincingly.


Author's Reply:
Rupe, much thanks for reading and commenting. I am genuinely pleased that you enjoyed it.
Oh yes, we all do the self justification thing, don't we? but I suppose we wouldn't be human if we didn't.

juliet on 20-02-2007
Chrissy, i don't think you lucked out on this. It is a good story, but it needs more work. Don't scrap it, work with what you have got and resub. I look foward to a more polished version. And well done on the nib, that ought to tell you something. Juliet

Author's Reply:
Juliet, much thanks for the return visit.
Don't think I'm saying I'll scrap it, not the way I do things.
I shall have a look at it and see what it wants me to do with it.
Much thanks for your interest. It is genuinely appreciated.

SugarMama34 on 20-02-2007
Hi Chrissy,
Sorry I'm late with the review, but it's been a little chaotic here. I thought the narrator told about this guy's past really well, the fact that he is always making excuses and that's it's not his fault, is very good and the reader can see how this guy ticks a little.

At first I thought that it was Karen on the front seat with him in the car, then I dunno something just clicked, and I thought nah it's a dog, though the heavy box had me guessing, so that part did come as a surprise. I didn't expect it to be puppy's. It's a good short story and I'm glad that he took responsibility for his actions and done something right for once, without thinking of himself. That part came across really well.

Cheers From Lis'.xx

Author's Reply:
Lis', many thanks for dropping by and commenting.
The man was worked out because he's a lot of people I know and he's me bit. (Not the throwing up on the hall carpet and blaming it on the the iffy 'ruby'. I don't drink and I don't eat curry) but things can always be someone else's fault if you can't face up to taking responsibility for your own mistakes or failures.
I think he's more than a bit confused because he is being pulled two ways; by his love for his dad and his need for Karen. At the start he's decided that his need for Karen is most important but then his dad has cared for him and has left him the house and thing he promised was simple, should have been easy.
Glad you enjoyed it.

Sunken on 20-02-2007
Hello Ms. Chrissy. Well ya fooled me. I know that's not difficult, but there ya go. I thought it was a casket of ashes in the seat for some reason. I think I'm just obsessing about death of late for reason. Kept my attention right to the end, never an easy thing to achieve. Well done on the nib.


last in casualty

Author's Reply:
Sunken, many thanks for reading and commenting and I'm truly pleased that you enjoyed the read.
Keeping a cute little munky guessing is an achievement I agree.
As for the ashes, I can see your point. There are two funerals mentioned so it could have been that.
Many thanks for your interest.
she's fond of dogs and munkys.

sirat on 21-02-2007
I liked the defensiveness of the main character and his unwillingness to accept responsibility. I did wonder why we were being told so little about the other "person" in the car, but to be honest I found the dialogue and narration a bit contrived for the purpose of leading the reader astray. For instance would one really say of a dog theat "she's giving me the 'silent' ? Or "As we walk across the car park I try again to explain things". To a dog? I think this is deliberate reader deception and (at least in my book) breaks the rules of trick-ending stories. It really only works when the clues are all there, staring us in the face as it were, and we don't see them. It works best of all when this failure to see what's coming points up some prejudice in the reader. I don't mean to sound negative but I think the characterisation is the best thing in this story. I think it would be more interesting without the trick ending - just an examination of somebody's feelings in having to do what this man had to do. Just a personal viewpoint I know.

Author's Reply:
Hi Sirat, many thanks for reading and commenting, though you have given me much to think on and that is never good at this time in the morning.
I said in the intro and in other comments that I haven't done much if anything to this apart from tap the keys but I think my idea in writing it was for it to be about a chap who dumps something he's promised to care for because it doesn't exactly fit in with his life style.
The 'trick ending' could, I suppose be changed but it would still have to be the ending.
As for the dog giving out the silent treatment, well I would certainly be concerned if any of the dogs of my acquaintance were silent when traveling in the motor.
The explanation to the dog well yes I suppose that could be seen as contrived but mostly because it's him trying to explain to himself and to the reader and not because I want to trick the reader. And I did have a friend whose dad kept bees and I remember when the old chap suddenly died someone having to go and tell the bees that he was dead. If bees can understand stuff, why not dogs. I frequently talk to my dog about things.
Any way many thanks for taking the time to comment. I will certainly review this piece.
confused of Gwynedd

teifii on 25-02-2007
Hi Chrissy. I got there at last. Congratulations on the nomination --well deserved.
I loved it. I too thought it was Karen there at first but when I realised it wasn't i still thought it was human, another girl. As for the box, I thought it was a dead baby, so I was quite relieved it was live puppies.
I don't hink you need to do anything to prevent the reader being confused midway. Isn't he/she supposed to be?

Author's Reply:
Hello Daff. Many thanks for reading and commenting. I'm really pleased the story worked for you and that you enjoyed it.
Dead babe?
What with Sunken's ashes (not literally his, the ones he mentioned) and now your dead babe (same applies) you two ought to get together 🙂

Kazzmoss on 25-02-2007
Oh wow, dogs, puppies, what a clever twist to the story. Really enjoyed reading this, Chrissy. - Kazz

Author's Reply:
Kazz, many thanks for reading and commenting. Glad you enjoyed it.

jay12 on 02-03-2007
This is a good story but it's very heat breaking. I think you could polish this up with an edit too and maybe space the text so that it seems less bunched up at the start - that would make it easier to read on a small screen. (Sorry if I'm picking flies).

Take care,


Author's Reply:
Jay, many thanks for reading and commenting and I'm pleased that you enjoyed it, despite its need for polish. (I am working on it -- thinking about working on it -- e'en as I write.)