Peer Review by #Simone/Madame (United States)

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Counting Down

By: ShardsofLight

PROMPT: Open Prompt

    It was late in the day, almost time for visiting hours to end.  A thin woman with a harrowed face sat on a rickety plastic chair with a similar anxious man.  Matching wedding bands glinted on fingers in the sterile white light.  A round black clock ticked in the background, the only noise interrupting the dead silence. The woman rose and peered through a glass window on a door.
    “We can’t.  We can’t.”
    “We have to.”
    “We could try again, couldn’t we?”
    “We can, but we won’t.  Not again.”
    “We can't just do nothing!”
    “We aren't.”
    The man began to pace around the narrow hall, glancing around at the clean white room. He was a young man with a young wife, the picture perfect family. He felt at odds with calming pictures framed on the walls. The clock kept ticking, keeping time with his frantic steps.
    “I'm tearing out my hair here.  We need to make a decision.”
    “You're asking me to…  No.”
    “What do you mean ‘No’?!”
    “No. We’ll try again. We’ll try something else. Something has to work.”
    The woman stood firm, with her arms crossed over her chest. The whitewashed expression of her face was marred only by the tears streaming down her face.  Her fingernails, or rather, the nubs of what was left, were raw and torn, as if they had been bitten and picked off.  She stared at the man, his bloodshot eyes and pale face looking ghastly in contrast with the deep purplish bruises under his eyes.
    “They said this would be the last time. He said it would be the last time.”
    “I don't care what they said!  I don't care what he said!”
    Her steadfast face crumpled as she dissolved into tears yet again. The once solid and comforting body of her husband settled around her and together, they leaned against the cold door with its ominous window.
    “I can't either. Oh my god, I can't.  This is wrong. They expect us to live with ourselves after this?”
    “Excuse me, visiting hours are nearly over.” A small woman in a white coat approached them. When she saw the tear tracks staining the woman’s face, her mouth twisted into a strained sympathetic smile.
    “Oh, I'm sorry it didn't work.”
    “Is there anything else we can do?”
    At this, woman in white’s face turned solemn, clinically detached. She glanced at the mocking clock which still ticked incessantly, noting the late hour.
    “No. There's nothing else.  You'll have to make the choice soon.  It would be easier for everyone to do it now.”
    “What would happen…  If we didn't?”
    “You would only delay the inevitable. We don't know what will happen, but there are other factors to consider.  Pain, for one.”
    “I know, but you don't understand what you're asking me to do. What you're asking us to do.”
    The woman in white did not respond, already walking away, tired by the scene she had borne witness to over and over again. The man punched the door, wincing as the thin skin around his knuckles broke.  He and the woman impassively watched the blood run down his wrist before disappearing into a threadbare jacket.
    “This is my responsibility,” the woman said, “My life, my everything. I can't just-”
    “I know. I can't either. But this isn't about us. Not anymore.”
    They slowly stood up and pushed open the door, a blast of cool, filtered air hitting them upon entry. The room was    frequently disinfected, but had a smell to it. A musty, almost rotting smell seemed to overpower the room and niggle in the corner of the couple's minds. Machine noise and raspy breathing filled the room, but the couple heard only the clock, ticking it's familiar metronome. Tick tock, tick tock.
    “We have to be the ones to do this, don't we?”
    “This will kill me.”
    “This will kill you.”
    “If we don’t, we’ll never forgive ourselves.  If we do, we’ll never forgive ourselves.”
    The taciturn replies grated on the woman, but she did not let it show.  Tick tock tick tock. The clock seemed to be counting down the little time they had left. It was a large white schoolhouse clock with big black numbers. The longer the woman stared, the faster the second hand appeared to move, destroying the few moments of peace she could grasp.
    “There’s not much time left.  Just a few hours.  I never thought it would come to this.”
    “No more trying again.  No one has the strength to.”
    “It's not really a choice, is it?”
    “... No”
    “It's for the best?”
    “I don't know.”
    “Couldn't we just wait and hope?”
    “I don't know.”
    The man and woman whispered to each other, staring down at the figure on the bed in front of them.  As the woman’s fingers brushed over an ashen, youthful face in a gentle caress, the clock continued to count down, it's noise an ode to death. Tick tock, tick tock. Life death, life death.

This was supposed to be a very short story, meant to emulate Ernest Hemingway's short story style.  My main strategy was to use dialogue to tell the story and circumvent the main issue of taking a child off of life support.

Message to Readers

I would love to know how successful I've been at emulating Hemingway's short story style. I would also like to know anyone's opinion of the plot, and how clear the story was in general.

Peer Review

If I were telling a friend about this piece, I would say that a husband and wife were struggling over a painful decision.

Both parents are torn about what to do, but still they know they'll have to endure whatever pain together.

I'm not really familiar with Hemingway, so I didn't know what the couple was struggling over, but as soon as I got to the end I was all good. I didn't understand the difficult choice was over a child, but maybe if it were hinted in the beginning or middle I'd be less confused.

Reviewer Comments

Please write more of these dialogue-short stories. This one was amazing.