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Cora Tyler Young, better known as “Cutie”, is struggling. She has been struggling and stubborn for a long time. At eighty-four, simple tasks take immense amounts of effort and she needs help. As stubborn as she is, help doesn’t come easy. Especially not from her closest relatives– her son and his wife– who don’t seem to want anything to do with her.

She is stuck in her ways and relies heavily on Loretta– her nurse. Loretta and Cutie’s relationship is an intricate back in forth of like and tolerance. They are both stuck at a crossroads in life where they’re trying to get by, set in their ways, and attempting to handle the intersectionality of womanhood and their current society. Though, it is through very different lenses.  

Cutie, an elderly and wealthy white woman, evokes strong feelings with whomever she interacts–including Loretta. She often spouts prejudiced statements, acts rude when she is grateful and has an overall air of “better than”.  While Loretta, in trying to get by, deals with it. She is always respectful and tolerant.

On election day, where Cutie is taken to vote, Loretta puts in her month’s notice. She is leaving and it frightens Cutie. Sends her straight into a tailspin of self-reflection. Whether young or old, Cutie admits to herself that she has always been this way; ” she has been delicate in her moods her whole life.(Boggs,174)”

She is reflective of the years that have passed, of her behavior, and her life’s outcome. She does not recognize what she has become.  She is not satisfied.  She seems to wonder what life would be like had she chosen and behaved differently. In a way, she is ready for change, and yet, she continues to see herself as waiting for it to happen to her.

 

I found it interesting that Boggs decided to write this story as a continuation of sorts of her short story “Imperial Chrysanthemum” from earlier in Mattaponi Queen. I liked how Boggs switched the point of view of this story even though she is continuing to write about Cutie and Loretta (this story is told from Cutie’s point of view whereas “Imperial Chrysanthemum” is told from Loretta’s point of view). After reading this story, my view/opinion of Cutie changed. Before reading “Election Day” and having only read “Imperial Chrysanthemum”, I thought Cutie was a stubborn, bossy, pain in the rear old lady who had absolutely nothing to do with her life aside from giving her nurse and family a hard time. However, after reading this story, I found that Cutie is a just a lonely old lady who really does care but who puts on airs to hide how she truly feels.

What I think is most interesting about this story is the portrayal of change. Since we’ve last seen the characters of Cutie and Loretta, little has changed between them. Cutie’s character is still as stubborn as ever, still set in her usual way of doing things; she is still hesitant to accept Loretta’s help, and she refuses to miss out on election day. She is happy to see that the area around her is virtually the same as ever, too, and she is content to have everything stay the same, all the time—the same routine, the same faces, the same places. Loretta, however, still desires change for herself—time to herself, away from the routine of her job. Their respective behavior mirrors that of real life individuals: where older people tend to be content with things staying the way they have always been, the young tend to thrive on change and the excitement it brings. There is something comforting in seeing these respective views portrayed in these two characters; it makes them feel so much more real, much more human. It makes the ending all that more heartbreaking to see that, while change for one individual (Loretta) can be something freeing, it can be completely shattering for another (Cutie).

I enjoyed reading Belle Boggs short story, “Opportunity”. The story of a young school principle is very relatable. Many of the settings mentioned in the story, places like Richmond, Kings Dominion, and the Hampton Roads Tunnel are recognizable even though I have only lived in Virginia for a short period of time. The story pays careful attention to detail and you can learn a lot about the characters from the small stories about them within the short story. It continually goes back in time to when Lila was with her ex boyfriend Byron while continuing on with the story in the present about Lila’s father, her issue with organizing a career fair and a new love interest. The dialect of the characters fits well with their characteristics and background. The ending keeps the reader thinking and looking back to see how it relates to the story.

Write a story in which the first sentence of the story begins with one of the phrases below and the last sentence begins with another of the phrases:

In the middle school library, …
In the dim light of the garage,…
Inside the bakery,…
In the hospital waiting room,…
In the distance along the river bank,…
In the lobby of the Red Roof Inn,…
At the reptile house at the zoo,…
In the museum cafeteria,…
In the small closet,…
Up in the air,…

Also, one of the pictures below should serve as the location for one of the scenes in the story. Place the story in the FICTION Exercise 3 folder on Google Drive by Sunday, November 5, at midnight.

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Belle Boggs short story “Opportunity,” is about a woman who lives in Virginia and is figuring her way out in life. like the title suggest it shows how there are many opportunities that are available to the main character and she has to pick which opportunities are best for her. At the beginning of the story she has trouble finding people to come to a career fair and present for her because there are not many jobs in her town. But by the end she finds more people and has many people helping her. Throughout the story she goes on a few dates and meets a man but she is still unsure about what exactly she wants to do with her life.

When I am feeling nice I think about me and Cutie doing something with the money, going to South Carolina to the beach for the winter maybe, or taking a trip to Italy, away from all these fools. On my meaner days I go to the drawer at Tamara’s. I like the cold, briny taste of a silver spoon in my mouth.

In Belle Boggs ‘Imperial Chrysanthemum,’ Loretta’s voice shines through with her subtle, yet noticeable, sass. The way in which she handles the demeaning situation of being Cutie’s nurse, is both comical and understandably draining. She helps this woman with everything in her life, but she is not in desperate need of a nurse. To top it all off, the intricate history Loretta and her family have with the Young’s makes for an interesting relationship between Loretta and Cutie, yet they do not speak of it. In the paragraph above, the relationship is seen as sometimes caring and other times revengeful. It can also been seen that the voice of Loretta is strong and present in this paragraph with the word choice when describing wanting to get away from those ‘fools.’

Belle Boggs’ “Imperial Chrysanthemum” is a wonderful and thought provoking short story, all of its characters unique and their own. Boggs’ use of dialogue and internal thought give our narrarator, Loretta, a distinct voice and personality. This includes her conflict with Cutie, who always seem to be looking down on her caretaker.

Loretta, Cutie said, would not know what to do with silver asparagus tongs or cucumber forks. She feeds me colored food. (Pg. 32)

Mrs. Young goes on to say on the next page that

Loretta…has a pension. (Pg. 33)

These comments seem snide and especially racist in way of Loretta, a woman who, though she doesn’t want to, takes care of Cutie, who seems to always fight her; whether it be getting out of the car deciding what they want to do the next day. Cutie does, however, seem redeemed, a least a little bit, when Loretta mentions the way she says her name.

Sometimes when she says my name it has a melody, almost like singing. Lo-ret-ta. It is one of the things that keeps me from hating her.

Though these “things” aren’t so explicitly mentioned again, it seems to me that Loretta cares for Cutie, in her own way, despite what the older woman did to her family. Their relationship is an Imperial Chrysanthemum; both being a pain in the ass to the other until they have their rare, shining silver moment of calm.

 

Once again, Belle Boggs gives us a great example of what a solid short story looks like. What I loved most about this was the ending. Or, really, how she didn’t end it. We’ve discussed, in class, how we need to not give the reader exactly what they’re reading. Don’t tell them exactly what’s going on, rather show them and let them get there themselves. It’s more powerful if you can make a point without explicitly telling the reader what your point is. And I feel like the idea seems so simple but I struggle with it nearly every time I sit down to write, so I definitely appreciate the chance to see it well executed. And I’m curious how long it took her to be able to do an ending so well.

This story has a clear voice from the beginning. Not only that, but each character that you come into contact with has their own specific voice. Boggs does such a great job at giving very direct details, such as

Cutie’s two rooms are the kitchen and the sunroom, where she has her daybed and her desk and two sitting chairs. There’s a ceiling fan and a little table where I serve her a cold lunch, Monday through Friday, and an early hot supper (31).

but also subtle details that really add to the depth of the story, such as

I never had any babies, but that was not my choice. And besides, I was always focused (33).

With that one small sentence, Boggs gives away a whole new side to the narrator. Boggs does this throughout the story, and I think it makes the characters’ personalities stand out more. There are also very deep moral questions that are brought up throughout the story that leave you questioning what you would do in that situation.

In Imperial Chrysanthemum, the main protagonist, Loretta, struggles with ideas of self and justice. Throughout the story, Loretta works for Cutie Young– running errands, checking vitals, keeping her company– as a means to an end. The end being a boat called the Mattaponi Queen. While working for Cutie, Loretta struggles with ideas of justice and how it effects her experience as a whole. Her older sister Ruth has a checkered history with Cutie and this knowledge finds its way into Loretta’s everyday interactions with her. On many days she is patient and caring, if not a little inwardly agitated. On others, she is full of bitterness: maybe bitter about the subtle micro-aggressions Cutie throws her way or carrying the bitterness her older sister held towards Cutie.

She is consistently reminded of her oscillating feelings toward Cutie and her experiences with those Cutie has impacted. Her niece Tamara is the alleged daughter of  Cutie’s son Horace. Thinking of her sister Ruth: how she was treated, how she must have felt to have nothing for herself– not even her child. And thinking of Cutie who in old age, while stubborn, never really causes her any real trouble, creates inner conflict.

There is unfairness in Loretta’s experience as a woman of color. Unfairness in what she carries and how she is expected to behave. This affects the way she perceives justice and her self.  She seems to ask over and over again what the difference between comeuppance– small victories, in this case, maybe not even her own–and revenge is. Is their justice?

It always shocks me how dynamic the characters Boggs creates are, specially for such short stories. To create such a strong image of who a character is and their importance to the role of the story in such a limited number of pages is truly an art form that I aspire to obtain someday. You have been telling our class all semester that when we are writing to not lay everything out for the reader, that we need to let them come to their own conclusions at certain times, and that is exactly what Boggs did with this piece. She ended the story without a true, traditional conclusion/wrap up paragraph and let the audience come up with their own ending based on what they personally “saw” when reading this story. I think that this story especially really was a great example of what you have been saying, and I plan to use this as a guide for the next story I write, and see if I can execute it as flawlessly as she does here.

In “Imperial Chrysanthemum” each character have a distinct personality and a clear voice. Boggs describes the actions of the characters in great detail; “She presses her pink, wrinkled thumb into the concave surface of the spoon and closes her eyes as if that spoon could tell us where to find its mate.” (32) Boggs presents the reader with important details about the characters in her story through the narration of the main character, Loretta. At one point in the story, the narrator, Loretta, expresses an important detail about her life, “I never had any babies, but that was not my choice. And besides, I was always focused.” (33) This small detail allows the reader to better understand Loretta’s character, and from that point on, the reader has a different perception of Loretta and her life.

I know a boat can’ t tell you anything you don’t want to know. All it says is get away, get away. (44)

The narrator is constantly surrounded physically and mentally by people in this story. If Loretta is not assisting Mrs. Cutie, she is reflecting on the complicated relationships in her life. Loretta is a quiet woman who keeps her emotions silently bottled up. She contrasts with Mrs. Cutie and other characters in the story, like her niece Tamara who is very outspoken. She longs for the moments where she can be alone, which is why I think that Loretta’s house boat is a metaphor for the way in which she wishes to escape the mundane avocations of her life, and start anew.

A puzzling circumstance that begins and ends this story is the question of where Mrs. Cutie’s precious silverware has gone. There seems to be no certainty given through the characters’ actions that give way to who the culprit of stealing the silverware might be. However, when the sheriff questions Loretta about letting anyone other than herself into Cutie’s house, she lies because she suspects that her great-niece’s boyfriend, Charlie, might have stolen it when Loretta allowed Tamara and Charlie into Cutie’s house one day.

I think the ending of this story is charming, in a way, in how the narrator describes how Loretta “gets Cutie back” by having her family steal Cutie’s imperial chrysanthemum silverware, even if she doesn’t outright say it. “On my meaner days I go to the drawer at Tamara’s. I like the cold, briny taste of a silver spoon in my mouth.” (46)

 

I really liked the recurrence of “imperial chrysanthemum” throughout this piece. Not only is it the perfect title for this piece, it is also the distinct pattern on Cutie’s antique and highly valuable silverware collection, which the reader comes to learn is the main focus of this story .  Boggs is very descriptive and uses lots of imagery when describing Cutie’s house, Cutie’s mannerisms and nuances, and the narrator’s boat (the Mattaponi Queen). I was surprised at the end of the story when the reader finds out that after all the trouble Cutie and the narrator went to to try to find the silverware, Cutie gives in and ends up just taking the money for the stolen silverware. I liked how Boggs included the detail that Cutie never cashes the check-she keeps it hidden away under a jar on her dresser. This story’s conclusion captures Cutie’s essence and stubbornness one last time before the end of the story and leaves the reader feeling surprised, understanding, and sympathetic towards Cutie and her “lost” silverware.

This short story is very relevant to what we talked about with our fiction stories that we wrote for class. The majority of us wrote the ending in a way that informed the reader of what they were supposed to learn from it. In this story by Belle Boggs, she shows us how to end a story properly without a set conclusion paragraph. Instead she left the reader wondering and this is something we can take note of when writing our own work. It is okay to let a reader come to their own conclusion is what I learned from this story.

I really enjoyed this story, and enjoyed seeing all the different personalities of each of the characters and the different ways in which they all interacted with one another, especially once we are able to see more into their backstories the further the story progresses. Cutie’s determination to find her beloved silver is especially interesting and understandable considering her age; at such an old age, it is one of the few things she has left to be proud of and count on to always be there, and in an instant, it is all taken away from her. I thought that the narrator’s strong desire for solitude–a place of her own where she can just be alone–was very understandable as well, considering all that she has been through involving other people and how that could lead her to think that being on her own is the best thing. I also really enjoyed speculating on the future of the character Sammy; will she end up growing up to be just like the women in her family, or will she go on to really make something of herself? Belle Boggs really knows how to create a setting, a situation, and a group of characters–she knows how to make it all feel real. Overall, it was just a very fascinating story to read and see unfold; I couldn’t wait to see what happened next.

I really liked this short story because of how it ended. As I began to read, I tried to put a picture in my head of how I believed this story would end, or how I thought it should end. The ending would be either nice and heartwarming with Ronnie telling Jeremey about the baby and them being happy, or Jeremey would get upset about her keeping it from him and the story ending with them unhappy. Either way, she had to tell him; The story had to have a conclusion. I think this was a great ending becuase, it leaves the reader wondering, or really imagining themselves, how it will end. We leave off with the couple walking up to this party and everyone is smiling and happy just to see each other. This seems to be a typical family gathering for a cookout and Jeremey, after all he has been through, is really happy just to see familiar faces and to see the dogs. He doesn’t  need the news of his wife being pregnant to make him happy. So, being said, I really like having this unknown ending for myself to put together an ending of what I think would have happened.

I think what I like best about this story is the lack of imagery as the story progresses. Yes, the first paragraph is mostly made up of description, but it becomes less and less until it’s nonexistent unless it’s being said in dialogue. So often, I know I find myself feeling like I have to include mountains of description, but this is a great example of how one can do so without breaking up a story’s flow, or giving to the plot through more of an engaged way rather than telling the reader what is going on.

Tallent’s “No One’s A Mystery” shows the complications that arise when an older, married man who has a child, shows a young woman romantic attention. The narrator, an eighteen-year-old girl, is infatuated with Jack, who is having an affair with the narrator behind his wife’s back. The narrator does not understand the consequences of her and Jack’s relationship because she is immature in a way to where she only thinks in the present moment. She does not feel guilty about sneaking around Jack’s wife, who has no clue that he is cheating on her with a younger woman. Although Jack might feel a romantic attachment to the narrator, he does not allow himself to believe that his relationship with her will last. It seems as though Jack is comfortable staying with his wife and wishes to continue to “have his cake and eat it too.” Jack likes the predictability of his marriage, “I just know… Like I know I’m going to get meatloaf for supper” (48)  because, in that, he feels safe and secure that he will always have someone waiting for him.

In the first sentence of the story, the narrator states that the journal Jack gives her for her birthday is “light as a dime.” (47) I see this as a possible representation for how Jack feels about his relationship with the narrator– light as a dime–not putting any weight or specific meaning into it. Rather, it appears that Jack is so calm about the situation because he has possibly done this before with other women.

During the ending conversation between Jack and the narrator, the narrator is optimistic about her future with Jack because she is so caught up with feeling in love with him. Jack shuts down the narrator’s optimism for the future due to the fact that he is already settled down and has a child. This story shows the complexity of relationships between people when they are on opposite sides of the spectrum. Jack is intrigued with the narrator because of her youthful innocence, which makes him feel of greater importance due to the way the narrator looks up to him. The narrator is infatuated with Jack because he makes her feel more like a grown woman. Each character plays off of the other by filling a void in which they lack. Jack needs to feel important or even possibly have a fresh start, and the narrator, just beginning her adult life, wants to experience love, romance, and sexuality in relationships.

In Elizabeth Tallent’s story, “No one’s a Mystery,” we find out right away that the man is with another women and his wife does not know about it. We find out so much information in such a little amount of time. The author does a really good job of creating a voice for each character. The women in the car is very worried and does not like things to be messy. When the man is more carefree and calm. This is different from their views of the future though. The women knows what she wants and has a plan whereas the man is worried that she is going to leave him. It is interesting to see that contrast and how you would think they would be switched views. Reading this it makes you feel bad for the wife of the man, because she has no clue what her husband has been doing.

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