This is my first time attempting an in-depth critique like this. I'm going to try my best!
First I want to say that I really enjoyed it. This was moving and sad. Long, but readable. Held my interest to the end and had very few errors. I'll point out the ones I saw.
I was downtown on a Thursday afternoon when a crew of men and women armed with notebooks and television cameras ran straight to me and offered me a million dollars. They asked me to look at two boxes, which they held in front of me, and simply choose. They told me, as well as the cameras, that one box had the "Big Cash Prize of a million dollars!" while the other had a single ten dollar bill. They spoke to the camera again, reporting elaborately on a rather simple situation, then turned to me and told me it was time to pick. I reached forward and chose the box on the left. There was laughter and smiles and congratulations. Someone shook my hand and others asked me to sign a waiver. And as fast as they had come, they were gone. I continued on my way, ten dollars richer. Ha! Loved the way you tricked people here. I thought he had it! But that would be too good to be true.
At first, I wasn’t sure how to fully comprehend what had just happened. A million dollars could have changed my life. Or could it have
? Would it have
? I doubted it, and I think that’s why I didn’t give it another thought. The only thing on my mind now was what I should do with my newfound ten dollar bill.
Had Elsa been with me, the choice would have been simple. She loved dollar menu anything. She loved fries
, she loved burgers
, and she loved chicken sandwiches
. I'm not sure why you emphasised the food. It's not that it's wrong, I just wonder why.
Had she been here, we’d have simply chosen the closest fast food joint and fed ourselves.
But Elsa wasn’t there.
I walked down Elm, wondering when I last thought of her. I wondered where she was, and what she was doing. Had she found what she was looking for? I hated asking myself questions, and hated more that they’d returned. Awkward wording for this sentence. I'm not sure how you'd change it. Again I don't think it's actually wrong, but I had to read it twice.
I entered the corner Jewel Osco, and walked to the back corner where they stocked the alcohol. You have "corner" twice in one sentence. It's just a pet peve I have with my own writing. Try "...and walked back to where they stocked the alcohol". Flows better.
And no, I didn’t do this because I wanted to get drunk. I’d not had the spare money to spend on alcohol in months; now seemed an opportune time to indulge.
I stopped in front of the wine and beer and stared. The bottles were neatly arranged in lines like cans of soup at the grocery store.
I remembered the last time I had wine. Elsa sat across from me. We both tried our hardest to act normal, to act as if it hadn’t happened again. We ate at Maggianos, the restaurant I’d taken her to for our first date years ago. We sat in the same corner and ordered the same meals. We ate our food in almost unbroken silence, until she cried, until we both cried. She sipped the wine from her glass, and then drank mine. Wow. Now that I've finished the piece, this paragraph really hits me.
I felt sick standing in front of the wine as a rush of dizziness fell over me. I turned and walked as fast as I could manage
out of the store and to the street corner. The cool afternoon air brushed over me, and brought color back to my face. I stood there for minutes, leaning against a street pole, watching the traffic go by,
as the dizziness faded. I watched pieces of trash blow across the pavement, and people walking across the street. There were no clouds above; just a bright sun. A few moments later, I continued down the street.
I loved to read with Elsa. I loved to read books after she was done with them so we could talk about them over lunch,
or breakfast. She bought books by the dozens
and read them while waiting for me to come home. She read anything, from coffee table banter to literary genius. I loved her for that. I loved her for many reasons. This painted a lovely picture of Elsa's personality. It just makes me like her more.
It had been weeks since I’d opened my last book. It was Alice in Wonderland
, a book Elsa never had the chance to read. I mean to say, at least not with me around.
After she was gone, I read on the couch. Somehow, reading in bed no longer seemed right. It no longer offered the same comfort. Some time ago, though, my living room lamp broke -- quite suddenly at that -- and I’d not found the time, the money, nor the effort to buy a new one. Being ten dollars richer, I decided that today would be as good as any to buy a new one.
I walked to a hardware store and found the aisles filled with lamps. Some were taller than me with long necks. Some were small and delicate. Some had cloth shades, and others were made of glass stained orange and red. Some had Coca Cola written on them, while others had pictures of children and clouds. Amazing description of a boring, old lamp aisle.
I walked the aisle up and down, inspecting each one closely. Some sold for $13.99, others for $42.87. A few were priced somewhere between, while others were far more expensive. I touched a few, felt their texture on my fingers. I turned them on and off to test them. I thought about sitting on my couch, and reading under them. I thought about leaning back in my bed, and reading A Pale View of Hills
, while Elsa read poems by Bukowski. Did it seem right? I’m still not sure.
I remembered the last time we bought a lamp together, and what it was for. It was smaller and brightly colored sky blue. Around the base was a small stuffed bear with a bright smile and a fuzzy nose. This lamp was for our daughter.
Again, a wave of nausea washed over me, as if pricked with poison at the base of my neck. I panicked. I stepped back and fell into someone’s shopping cart. They asked if I was okay, and I told them yes. I walked through the long aisle of lamps, looking down at my footsteps. I followed them outside, back into the sunlight. I pressed up against the building’s white stone side, and slid to the ground. My heart raced. I focused on cars driving through the parking lot
. I watched men walking in and out through the automatic door with small bags of hardware and tools. I watched couples walk to their cars with rugs and paint and siding and wallpaper. I closed my eyes, and pressed hard against the wall. I counted, but can’t recall how high. I think you could shorten this paragraph a bit. You could focus more on him and not describe the customers and their purchases in such depth.
And then, maybe minutes, maybe hours later, I stood, and walked home.
That night, I sat in my living room and watched television. I flipped through channels hoping to find a documentary, or some cooking show that’d interest me enough until I was tired. I paused on a channel and recognized a face. It was the man that had come up to me earlier that day, wearing a suit and obnoxiously yellow tie; the one that had offered me a million dollars. Only this time, he spoke to a woman who carried in her arms several bags. Her face was red, her teeth were bright white and her eyes were wide and blue. She laughed along with the others and eagerly reached forward. She lifted the box on the right to reveal a ten dollar bill. Oh, she screamed, and laughed. They all laughed. The man handed her the ten dollar bill and she went about her business. Maybe next time, the announcer said; maybe next time
I remember the hospital waiting room, and standing with all the others. Some sat watching television. Others read books or magazines or whatever they could find. Some walked up and down the hallways, and others watched out the window. A woman paced with her arms crossed. Her heels clicked on the tiled floor. It was late. I had stopped watching the clock in hopes that news would come faster. But it didn’t help. I’d stood there for hours, ignoring the clock, and news hadn’t come any faster.
A man stood next to me, and spoke.
“How’s it going,” he said.
I nodded back to him, and smiled.
“This is torture,” he said to me. “I’ve been here for hours.”
“Me too,” was all I could muster. I’d been there, in that exact room, in that exact spot, many times before this, all with the same news. I prayed for things to turn out differently, but knew in my heart that no one was listening.
“I’ve walked up and down this place…well, all the places they’ll let you walk. Been to the cafeteria, had some coffee. You know? Why do they make the coffee taste so bad? Must be a hospital thing,” he added.
“I don’t think I’ve had it yet,” I said, “but I’ve I had
no idea.” I smiled, or at least tried to. He smiled back. There was a pause between us as we both watched the traffic below.
“Good luck,” he said, without turning his head. He touched my shoulder. I touched his back and squeezed. His smile was real. He was hopeful.
I turned back to my window and watched the traffic. It was dark. The headlights of the cars illuminated their paths down the streets and around corners. It was like Christmas, I thought to myself. It was like a little decorated scene with moving parts, like a little model that ran in circles. I thought about that, and about Christmas, and my parents and my sister. I thought about love, and about books. I just thought, until a man in a coat came up to me and asked me to follow.
I asked him how Elsa was, and he said fine.
I asked him how the baby was, and he said I should follow him.
That was three years ago.
I got up, made breakfast, dressed myself and went to work. All day, I thought about Elsa and her baby, our baby. I thought about our Ariel, and Samson, and David: our three children that never made it past birth. I worked for hours, thinking about their faces and their funerals. What a strange thing to do; a funeral for a baby.
What a strange thing we do.
Oh, man. Unbelievably sad.
I left the post office and asked my manager for the next day off. He agreed, and smiled to me.
“Get some rest,” he said. “You look tired.”
I smiled back, though I don’t didn't
know why. I walked across town and ate a sandwich for lunch. I opened my wallet to pay and found the ten dollar bill I’d won the day before. I paid with a card, protecting my prize. I moved the ten dollar bill into my pocket, and left the restaurant.
The shop windows were filled with holiday decorations and brightly colored lights. A big sign said SALE, and little bulbs flashed green and red. I walked in a few stores and said hello to the owners. I considered buying something but nothing seemed right. Nothing seemed worth my ten dollars. My one-million ten dollar bill.
I went home and sat on my couch. And for the first time in however long, I opened Alice in Wonderland. I read about the striped cat, and the Mad Hatter and his 10/6 hat. I read about the Queen and her axe and the playing card men, and the rabbit that was always late. I read for hours and finished the book. Then I closed the cover and sat a while and cried.
And when I was finished, I took the book to my bedroom and placed it back on our shelf. Her books were still there. She’d left them with me when she moved out, along with our photos and notes and blankets and pillows. She hadn’t taken a thing but herself, and that was all I’d really wanted to keep.
“I need time,” she said to me.
“We both need time, but not apart,” I said back.
“I can’t do this.”
“You can.” I paused. “We both can.”
“I can’t do this,” she repeated.
“You have to try. We need to try.”
She was quiet for a while before she spoke again. Tears ran down her face. She loved me, this I know, and I loved her. And she loved her children. She’d told each of them so. I knew, looking into her eyes, that she’d already gone.
“I need to leave for a while. And I don’t know when I’ll be back.”
“I don’t know if I’ll be back,” she added.
“I love you,” I said.
“Don’t,” she said back.
“But it’s true.”
“I know it is.”
“Then why don’t you stay?”
She didn’t answer, and the next morning, she moved back home.
That evening, I went for dinner and walked around the park. Couples walked along the path, and children and dogs played in the grass. I walked around the lake several times before deciding to return downtown. The holiday lights were up and stores were bustling with activity. I felt better after reading, and after walking around. I felt warmer.
I walked into Robert’s Toy Store on 5th and Jackson. It was filled with mothers and father, and lots of children. They pointed at boxes and plastic packaging and laughed. I felt warmer still, like I had before, but without the dizziness.
I liked this. The repetition here doesn't bother me at all. It adds to the story and makes the voice poetic.
Construction sets and boxes of legos lined the shelves. I thought of Elsa and the times we’d walked through similar stores arguing about what to buy. We loved to argue, especially about toys. Will it be a boy; will it be a girl; does it even matter?
We looked at all sorts of toys, and wondered what to buy and how the baby would love it. We bought so many things.
And it was the hardest thing to do, to donate all of the toys to charity, when Elsa left.
I stopped in an aisle lined with stuffed animals. They were filled with stuffed bears and giraffes and lions and pandas
and snakes and all the animals one could think of. I felt their soft fur and looked at their stitched smiles. It was a warm feeling I’d not had in years, and I was becoming drunk on the sensation. A couple stood behind me and looked at similar animals. The woman was pregnant, and supported herself by her hands on her back. The man stood beside her and pointed at animals he liked. She smiled and pointed at others.
“This is cute,” the woman said, pointing to a bear. “You can’t go wrong with a teddy bear. She’ll love it.”
“But this lion is cute and doesn’t have any buttons on it,” he said, pointing.
I listened to the conversation, and smiled. Oh how I’d missed conversations like that.
Come on! If it’s a girl, how can you go with the lion? Girls don’t like lions, they like dolphins and monkeys and butterflies and
…I thought in my head.
The couple argued some more, then moved on without choosing a stuffed animal. Another moment passed before I knelt down and picked up an elephant. Its nose was long and curved, its smile was stitched in bright yarn, and a pink ribbon was tied around the neck. It was soft to the touch. I held it in my hand, and smiled as I looked at its silly face.
I walked to the register, and greeted the teen behind the counter. She asked me if I found everything I was looking for. I smiled, and said that I had.
Without hesitation, I reached into my pocket, grabbed the ten dollar bill, and handed it to the girl behind the counter. She made my change, and gave me a receipt. She asked if I wanted a bag, and I declined. She thanked me, and I stepped away from the register.
I stood a moment, holding my elephant, and looked out the glass doors. And for a moment, I thought I saw Elsa across the street, walking alone as I had, looking in windows. Her hair was long, longer than remembered. But she was a distance away, and I couldn’t be sure it was her I decided to turn away, and ignore what I’d seen. I didn’t want to think it was her. And I hoped that, if she had spotted me; that she too didn’t want to be sure, that she turned and ignored me as I had her.
In front of me was the pregnant couple at the register. Several items were on the counter top, but none of them stuffed animals. They paid for their items and the cashier bagged them.
They walked towards me, heading for the door.
“No stuffed animal?” I asked them, awkwardly interrupting their exit.
“We couldn’t decide,” said the woman, in a menacing tone that had its humor. She smiled and pressed against her husband. “Can’t go wrong with a teddy bear,” she said.
“Can’t go wrong with a lion,” the husband said.
“Can’t go wrong with anything, really,” I said.
I looked down to my stitch-smile elephant, then back to the woman. Her eyes caught mine. I reached forward and handed her the stuffed animal.
“Oh no,” she said. “I can’t take that. You just paid for it.”
“It was free,” I said. “It’s okay. Really.”
The woman paused and looked to her husband. There was a shimmer in her eye that I’d missed for so long. Her eyes were captivated me. She took the animal, and thanked me.
I thanked her back, and watched the couple exit the store.
I left the store shortly after, and returned to the hardware store I’d visited the day before. I walked straight to the lamp aisle and selected one at random. I walked to the register, and paid for it. The cashier told me to have a good night, and I assured her I would.[/quote]
This was just an all-around good (and sad) story. I loved the end, becuase its unusual to see strangers being nice to each other like that. You'd expect in real life that the couple would decline a gift from a stranger. They'd politely say "No thanks" and move on. I like that the took the elephant.
You might want to make him win a twenty dollar bill...hard to find a lamp or stuffed animals today under ten (: Ha. It was just a fleeting thought I had, but ten can work. Awsome writing.