Master Plotto Week One Winner: Cortney McLellan

Masie Cochran

This romantic round of Plotto inspired stories had us reminiscing about old flames, listening to mix tapes, and eating large amounts of chocolate.

Congratulations go out to Cortney McLellan, this week’s contest winner, whose story reminded us of American Beauty and how it’s sometimes hard to love the one your with.

Be sure to check back later today for this week’s prompt.

Last week’s prompt: A, married to B, is haunted by memories of a former sweetheart.

Twenty-Eight-Inch Hedge 

Photo courtesy of
Taufiq Klinkenborg

I scrub dishes, fold pants, pair socks. Friday nights my husband and I read magazines at the table. Our hmms and huhs rise from our mouths to mingle in the dustless air.

My mom calls and asks why the boredom. “Dullness is a sin in the young,” she says.

“Drama is a sin in the old,” I say.

She’s only visited once since we left the city. She was like a teenager, teasing how the bushes in the sub were all the same height. Any higher than twenty-eight inches, and the view to the street gets obscured. A child might run out and get hit by a car.

“What are you painting?” she asks, and I want to hang up. If I explained that you can’t paint when your mind suggests only bananas and kittens, she would lecture and we would fight. There’d be months of silence. She is not in good health. She could die and my last words to her would be angry and my last image of her unpleasant. I’d criticize her alcoholic boyfriend and she’d confide in him and at her funeral he would glare.

“Oh, something red,” I say.

The day I got married, she shook me by the shoulders, listing my ex-boyfriends and praising their passion. “Keith, Tony, Marcus,” she said. Cheater, jail, heroin overdose, I wanted to say. But we were in church, I was wearing a veil, and I needed some peace.

“And George.” My husband’s name is an accusation every time. “George?”

“He will never hurt me.”

“He wouldn’t get excited in an earthquake, Fay.”

But disasters are her thing. Boyfriends who yell louder than they laugh, hit harder than they hug. Their ups and downs slamming us around like racquetballs.

“I’m not into earthquakes,” I said.

“Child,” she said. Then I pinned on her gardenia corsage, she shut up, and I got married.

She talks, she lectures, I pace before the front window. There’s a boy outside, seventeen maybe, crashing around on his skateboard in the cul-de-sac. He has strong legs and gets going fast before shooting himself up and off a plywood ramp. He flies for a second before falling. When he lands he is Marcus exactly. Marcus that day in college when we walked together and he did skateboard tricks for me all over campus. In the evening we sat in the grass, Marcus in just the position as this boy outside my window, the boy lying in the street on the other side of my twenty-eight-inch hedge. I can smell his sweat and something tingles and spreads across my chest and I want to go and sweep his hair from his eyes. But Marcus had always wanted more excitement, and he found it in heroin so lucky for him.

“You there?” my mom asks.

“Of course.” I’m here. I can blink and nod and be just here. Just in today, a soft day with nothing hidden inside.

A native of Michigan and Alaska, Cortney McLellan now lives with her family in Azerbaijan. Her stories have appeared in Storyglossia, Monkeybicycle, and cream city review. She is excited to begin studying for her MFA this summer at the University of Southern Maine.