This Show Case features six pieces submitted in response to our twenty-first Writing Prompt: Undone. You can see responses to each prompt in the drop down menu for this page. Try an item. They are all delicious. We hope they stimulate your mind, spirit, and urge to write. Maybe they will motivate you to submit a piece for our next prompt, which you can find on the Show Case home page.
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by Scott Vander Ploeg
I especially am fond of John Donne’s sign-off at the end of a letter he wrote to his wife from prison: “John Donne, Anne Donne, Undone.” The paronomasia in this witty ending inheres in the realization that being ‘undone’ is polyvalent, so that it could be read as being defeated, to have succumbed to the penalty for having married above his station, which is why his father-in-law, George More, Lieutenant of the Tower, had Donne imprisoned.
We might recall the Guess Who song, “She’s Come Undone,” in which that lyric suggests a similar situation of loss, as found in the refrain: “It’s too late / She’s gone too far / She’s lost the sun / She’s come undone.” Donne’s “undone” could similarly suggest that his situation is dire and his identity is at risk. His predicament is so constrained that he has lost himself or unraveled.
Another reading of “undone”—and the one I favor—is to have something that is normally fastened or closed, instead open or unfastened, such as his pants front. Prior to the 1890’s invention of the zipper, buttons were a popular way to fasten clothes together, so to be undone might be to be unbuttoned. Is our poet Donne making a funny, perhaps causing his bride to blush at the prospect of phallically undone Donne? She went on to have a dozen pregnancies with him, dying in childbirth in 1617. He apparently was often undone.
Perhaps I should be Donne now….
Falling with the Falls: A Visit to Niagara
by Boris Glikman
I first came face to face with Him when I was five and skinny to the bone. Mum took me to meet Him as soon as we arrived at the seaport town, even though it was already night. From a distance I could hear His voice, the steady rhythm of His basso. Perhaps it was just as well that I could not see Him on our first meeting, for all my other senses were saturated with His presence. I stood there, absorbing His being through my body’s pores, yearning to sacrifice my child’s body to His power so that in swallowing me up I would become one with Him – He part of me and I part of Him. Mum was calling me to go back to the hotel, but I just stood there, not willing, indeed, not able to move a fibre of my body, a muscle of my limbs.
That was the day water, in its most magnificent and astonishing incarnation, came into my existence and a Love was born.
And now here at the Falls this love affair, after years of tiffs and misunderstandings, is being rekindled.
The flow of the river leading up to the Falls looks menacing and brooding. There is a belligerent arrogance in its bearing, like a bully gearing up for a fight, totally unlike other rivers which flow with sweet serenity and smiles on their faces.
There is water cascading all around me in a form I’ve never witnessed before –
air-like and rising as clouds of smoke. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see earth turning into fire or air turning into earth here, fulfilling every alchemist’s deepest dream. Perhaps the error of alchemists was in believing that a philosopher’s stone is a thing rather than a location, for at this place all metamorphoses are possible: the four elements transmute into one another at will; incorrigibly jaded senses, which once saw only disappointment and disillusionment in the world, acquire child-like wonder and see anew the beauty of life.
Incongruously and paradoxically the only thing that has any stability, that survives unchanged and unscathed in this torrential maelstrom of air and water is that most insubstantial element of all—light. There are myriads of rainbows festooning the waterfall, blithely making their home in the very midst of the plunging hurricane. They shine forth gloriously, oblivious to the cataclysm that surrounds them.
For a moment, my rapture is tainted by doubt. Sure, this is spectacular and all, but what significance does it have to my life, to human existence as a whole? What is the meaning of this downpour, the meaning of me standing here, watching it at this particular point in time?
Is this Nature’s allegorical portrayal of the original Fall from Grace? Or is it a liquid metaphor for the final tumble we all eventually must take? For there is no way the fallen water can ever return to its previous plane of being, except as a misty ghost of its former self.
An inexorable flow of a solid wall of water.
How easy, how tempting it is to join the plunge, to become one with the deluge! The avalanche is calling out to me with all its might; it is so persuasive in its roar. The whole world is falling around me and I am the odd one out, stubbornly holding my ground and remaining ludicrously stationary.
Perhaps only this colossal torrent is capable of wiping away all of my sins, cleansing my being from the layers of inner grime accumulated over the decades. I must position myself so I am standing directly under the deluge, right where the waterfall hits the ground.
And I emerge from beneath the Falls reborn – all shiny and pure again, like that five-year-old child.
Herk Hog Comes Undone, Part 1: Up The Hill
by Mimi Speike
“Marines, fall in!” barks Sly, a-grin.
The milling chicks mobilize quickly into rows of wee bravos.
“Well, they obey, at least. Hooray for that. A true, for-real set-to against a foe, any true opponent at all? I hold out small hope they’d stand firm against a worm.” That’s Dax weighed in, the finnikin.1
The story relies on illustration to identify the speakers –
Here will be an image of Dax. (Dax is a goose.)
Who’s Dax, Daxis? Daxis2 is this guy. He’s the drake offered to take care of Sly’s smack3 some story back. He’s the big noise loblolly-boys4 from hereabout had best watch out for, a bad dude, in a foul mood.
(Image of Sly)
“These be my lugs. So what they’re mugs? This here’s horseplay against the day I steal to sea, like did Robbie and old White Toe and Bandito, my Uncle Dek’s crew of roughnecks, ship’s cats back home, no more a-roam, content to spin their sea-lies in the White Ram down to Borrowtown, to moralize, heave heavy sighs, toast some shipmate degenerate storm-sucked away off Where-th’-Hey: Here’s to Rizzo, deep down below with Davy Jones, God rot his bones.
“I’ve made a friend of the bar-tend. Let’s you n’ me have a look-see one afternoon. Their Crab Colquhoun,5 a bowl of ale, they never fail to find me yum-yum-in-the-tum-tum grub to die for. Their sea-pie ya gotta try.”
“I’d go for bread, good bread instead. A cider wine would I incline to also.”
“Hal, me lovely pal, will have aside less fortified, not me own taste, won’t get ye basted. Drat you, cat,” he mumbled. “That word’s a brickbat blow to the bean for one tureen or spit or roast-pan-bound. Foremost, a duck or goose free on the loose. Stick to the fish, sir, you’re some squishy of the gut, and – yikes – that butt! You think Miz Coate ain’t taken note? You’re Christmas joy this year, big boy.”
“Live while ye may, so they do say. What must be, must.”
“Nay! A robust long hike’s the thing, you starveling. Work off that weight ‘fore it’s too late.”
The slope: Hoyt’s Hill, scrub rock and rill, a rough landscape. Dax: out of shape, nigh to undone, hardly begun. Sly: quite himself, the merry elf. His marines: cackling, crazed, sad-sack dolts, loony lunks and just-plain-punks.
The fattie’s huffing, and he’s puffing. “Hold up there! This steep backstair be a challenge. This your revenge, that I, bemused, no jot enthused, tried to dissuade, dared to tirade against a skeevy thievery?
“Pry loose a yegg? This slurp? It beggars belief. Chew, this whacky-doo? Our big-mouth imp, a well-known whimp6 has the appalling nervy gall to burgle from a broody mum her new-laid tot-to-be? Him? Rot!
“Oh, he may float that jolly boat.7 It’s . . . harken, laddies . . . one his addled fantasies, this plan to seize a yet unborn sibling o’ yourn, shell not yet breached. Sly, I beseeched him, this unsavory behavior, more yer bright-boy bull-crap, right?”8
Who’s Dax addressing? Chicks! Who press to be explained the vile, broke-brained intention: “He promised us we’d have us a lark. A lark! The scut! The filthy gutter-snipe! Crrr-rripes!” a spokes-chick pipes.
“Pish-posh!” Sly yowls. “Hogwash!” he howls. “Me better angel, none deranged, dislodged that plan from me brain-pan quick. My new stunt, we’re gonna hunt the Quan-Wang,9 way the rarer prey.”
Dax leads the group past the hen-coop. “Hey, Ma! Yo! Pa!” (etcetera) cries the demented regiment, so proud to show off, nod and crow and tip the rim of a broad brim headgear, a crude ineptitude, but full-first-rate to this elated go-get-’em consortium. (Sly’s mama tried. I oughtn’t chide her for her stab at chicks fierce-clad.)10
Sly had stock-piled next to the stile, gay hats and spats for all these brats. The chicks, befrilled, decked out, are thrilled. They’d follow Chew to Timbuktu.
- One extremely or excessively particular, exacting, or meticulous in taste or standards. (Related to finicky).
- Daxis, an English name, means water. (Found this on the web, have not been able to confirm through a second source.) The duck’s mama named him Daxis. Maybe she made it up. Ducks give their children funny names.
- Smack: A traditional fishing boat used off the coast of Britain and east coast America for most of the 19th century. I use the term (obviously) very loosely.
- Loblolly: a thick gruel, probably from English dialect lob to boil + obsolete English dialect lolly broth. First known use 1597. Also: a lout.
- The cook’s a proud member of Clan Calhoun.
- Whimp: a clipped form of whimper, with roughly the same meaning as our wimp. Whimp was used in the mid sixteenth century.
- Jolly boat: a small boat hoisted at the stern of a vessel, used to ferry personnel to and from a ship. It’s not a pleasure craft, despite the name. Probably from Danish jolle (17c.) or Dutch jol (1680s), both related to yawl; or it may be from Middle English jolywat (late 15c.), a ship’s small boat.
- No Dodo bird on hand, Sly had decided that a chicken egg would do.
- I’ve borrowed from Edward Lear’s Quangle Wangle. No Dodo bird on hand, Sly makes a creature up. The chicks decide Herk is the Quang Wang. Did Sly intend it? I don’t think he’s thought that far ahead.
- Given the number of actors, and her limited resources, she did just fine. (You’ll see it in the illustrations.)
Herk Hog Comes Undone, Part 2: They’d follow Chew to Timbukt
by Mimi Speike
A bold sea-knave, a female fave, has him his sport in ev’ry port, romps with his pals, nuzzles the gals, nibbles ’em good like ship cats should, hence the tag Chew, his retinue of dames legend, Kiel to Gravesend.
His lugs–his crew–idolize Chew. He’s fans galore, high, low, rich, poor. Queen Bess esteems him her Boots, deems him the brave equal of Raleigh. All England lauds him and applauds Felipe’s bane, scourge of New Spain.
The peeps, the cat, they’re up and at. These bullyragging,11 strutting, bragging firebrands are, notwithstanding their size, loud. Rollicking rowdies stage a broad-comic maraud.
Dax, now. Where’s Dax? These maniacs, these uphill hikes, much less a–yikes–wild roustabout–No thanks! That lout, he’s had his fill, he’s down the hill. He’s skipped. Fled. Flown. To each his own. He’s done. The guy has gone bye-bye.
In his hawthorn hedge, Herk, forlorn, dazed and confused, basely abused by the obscenely gleeful, mean-mouthed, savage-screaming, wild-eyes-gleaming, poufs of fluff playing at tough, cowers and prays the popinjays will tire of their push and shove and leave him be. Dream on, sweetie.
Goons spout their trash-talk balderdash, regarding it the height of wit: > Some real choice gnaws on those rear paws. > Dibs12 on an ear, you cruds, you hear? > Dibs on the eyes. Anyone tries . . . hear me good, chicklets. Them’s me nicks. > Check out that rump, a lovely plump hind quarter there. That I will share.
No street fighter, hedgehogs prefer to snuggle down tight to the ground. This sort enwraps, tends to collapse into a ball, but that ain’t all. I’m sad to say (worst case) that they, in deep duress abjectedness, sometimes benude of spines, extrude the prickered shell wherein they dwell snuggery-fast till danger’s past.
Deep breath, folks. Dax, chicks, Sly, relax. No boo-hoo, please, from you zanies. Herk’s the one who needs tending to. Where has he got him to? Some spot. Your thinking caps on? Think, you saps. Sly, you go first, ’twas your accurst tall-tale-ing led us here, shithead.
His exposed hide, he can’t abide, I shouldn’t guess. He’d find oppressive his hedge-shrub, it’s gotta rub – gotta abrade, I am afraid – tender sore skin.13 He’ll be hid in a cozy hole. Say, with a mole, no aggressive, a live, let live.
Down to the pond did he abscond, to the milkweed and the bunch-reed.
Search! bleats Sly. Chicks! You lunatics are not to fright the bedlamite14 the worse. They, mute, nod and salute.
Here comes Sly’s Mum, and she looks glum. “Poor skilly15 lurks with me, you jerks. He huddles beneath our settee.16 Seems jackass-slime had ’em a time. Better brung-up ye was, me pup. An’ you near grown! Ye shoulda shown some better sense intelligence. Ducks!”
“Dax. It’s Dax!”
“Is it now! Quacks! Just where was you through that ensue?”
“Got out of hand, can’t understand, ma’am, how our spree, innocent glee, turned unpleasant bedevilment.”
“We all us knew he’s fragile. Chew! Your long-time friend! This is the end o’ that pal-ship. The little pipsqueak wants no part o’ you, sweetheart. Keep you well clear o’ him, m’dear. Try to coerce, you make it worse. He may rebound if ye don’t hound him. Let him lay low for a day, or two or three without ye be at him. You rest, count yerselves blessed I take pity on such as ye vile run-amucks, damn bird-brained clucks!
NEXT: Hugs ‘n Bugs
11. Bullyrag: to bully, badger, scold. ALSO: (1530s) A term of endearment applied to either sex. Meaning deteriorated through “fine fellow” and “blusterer” to “harasser of the weak” (bully-ruffian, 1650s). Shakespeare has bully-rook “jolly comrade.” Any of these meaning fits this situation.
12. The term dibs acquired its sense of “claim” from the game of dibstones, an old children’s game which takes its name from the obsolete verb dib, meaning to dab or to pat. It closely resembled the game of jacks. Alternate forms were similar to what we consider to be the game of marbles.
13. Quills lost at a high rate, we see several noticeable changes in the behavior and mood of the hedgehog. His skin is quickly pierced by new quills to replace the ones lost. As new quills emerge the skin becomes increasingly tender and sore, much like the gums of a teething infant, the pain leaving him short-tempered. Young hedgehogs lose their baby quills in the maturation process. Is his recent grumpy behavior part of the growing process?
14. Bethlem Royal Hospital, a London psychiatric institution, was the origin of the word for chaos or madness. Bedlam is derived from the hospital’s nickname. Someone odd was often referred to as a bedlamite.
15. Sly’s mom shortens skilligalee: a thin broth or porridge, usually of oatmeal. Also: a coin of little value. Archaic/origin unknown.
16. At this time, the term settee was used for a certain kind of ship. It was not applied to a piece of furniture (a seat holding two or more persons, with a back and arms) until the early eighteenth century. I insist on believing that Sly’s Mama calls a bench in the barn a settee. (Sit/settee) She’s connected the dots on her own. Sly gets his extraordinary intelligence from her, not from his Papa, as you’ll see in book one of this series.
by GD Deckard
Roy’s Reconditioning Camp For Cats was doing better than expected. “Too damn many cats,” he told the cats. RRCC had begun nobly enough. Roy’s ad in Cat Fancier magazine, “Make Your Cat a Better Cat At Roy’s Reconditioning Camp For Cats,” had promised to earn him a living without effort. All he did was switch cats & ship them back. The job was easy until there were too many cats for one person to handle. And answer complaints.
Without looking up from his breakfast bowl, Roy mumbled past bits of Toasty Nipples, “Business is good. I’m swamped. But I got no time to answer the phone. What kind of name is Se Défaire?”
Nervously, for this was Bernadine Se Défaire’s first ever job interview, she acknowledged, “French, sir.”
“Do you like cats, Miss Se Défaire?”
Bernadine squealed. “Oh, yes, I love cats!”
“Good. You are now the Customer Service Manager. All you have to do is to listen and say, ‘Oh. Yes. It’s your cat. Just reconditioned,’ is all.”
By the third day, Bernadine began to suspect there was something wrong with Roy’s approach to reconditioning cats. The hardest people to get along with were from Animal Control. Yes, the cats were well cared for, no, they were never mistreated, see for yourself. Yes, people were getting their own cats back. Just reconditioned, that’s all.
Art from Animal Control waved a thick sheaf of complaints at her and asked, “What can you tell me about Mrs. Grangre? She says here that her cat is a Main Coon and she received back a Rex. She’s even submitted shipping slips showing that she sent you eighteen pounds of cat and received back six.”
“Oh, it was her cat.” Bernadine smiled sweetly. “See, it says right here, on the front,” she handed the man a brochure. Your Cat Will Never Be The Same! That’s Our Slogan, And That’s Our Guarantee!“
Art emitted a whiff of confused suspicion. Bernadine wrinkled her nose and wondered. She hadn’t actually seen any of the cats being reconditioned. Roy conducted his work in a windowless big black box that he had named in honor of J. B. Watson. Cats went in, cats came out. What happened in between was a behavioral mystery.
Roy’s workspace was cramped. The floor was littered with shipping boxes, cat bowls, cats, and litter. “I need a more space.” He shoved a cat into a box and slapped on a return shipping label that Bernadine prepared for each cat received. Hopefully, not the label prepared for the original owner. That had happened once and occasioned the only complaint Roy considered legitimate.
A draft of fresh air made him mutter, “It stinks in here,” and look up to see Bernadine standing in the open door with Art from Animal Control.
“What! Se Défaire! What is the meaning -“
“It is French. For ‘to come undone,’” Bernadine smiled.
“I’ll undo you; you little French bit-“
“Non Monsieur Roy c’est toi qui t’es défait.”
“English. Speak English, damnit!”
Bernadine smiled sweetly, “No Mister Roy, it is you who undone yourself.”
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