Len Kuntz will serve as judge for this month's Scribophile Television Show Contest. He has had over 500 pieces published on-line and in print. In this first installment of a three part series, Len is graciously allowing me to reprint and discuss "Pointilism," a piece that appeared in LITSNACK, the literary journal I edit. In the next two weeks, Len will share his thoughts on the writing process, poetry, flash fiction, and publishing.
POINTILISM by Len Kuntz
She says, “I am a sore jar, look here at my bruises, see how they’ve clouded up plum and charcoal?”
She is bones and blades now, with skin hanging loose as drapery.
In college, along with a band of other students, I would draw her, each pencil shaking like a seismographic needle. How could they just sketch? Didn’t they see her, know she was naked, know she was the most stunning woman in the world? The teacher inspected my work with a twisted face, as if he’d smelled rotten egg salad, and asked if I was sure I belonged in the class. “It’s a new art form,” I said, “in the way that pointillism was new one day.”
She’s fresh out of the shower. Her pubic bone pokes out like a helmet. Before she can grab her robe, I take her wrists in my hands and tell her to look at herself in the mirror. “I know,” she says, “I’m a fat, ugly cow.”
She dresses. She puts on three pair of legging and heavy flannel trousers, pads her blouse with several underpinnings, uses garish makeup in hopes of distracting our therapist from her sunken cheeks.
At the appointment she laughs and flirts with the doctor. She leads and lies. A machete goes to work on my rib cage.
“See,” she says when we’re done, “that was easy.”
We go to The Ivy for dinner. Ben Afflect is there with his movie star wife. Their kid is throwing cheese crackers at patrons and squalling.
The waiter brings a radicchio salad and I watch my wife rearrange lettuce leafs and red onion rims as if she is creating a pastiche art piece.
Eat something, I think but do not say. My pleading only backfires. I order more wine, a bottle this time. Her eyes arch. I don’t care.
At home her cell rings. They want her for the Spring show. I hear her squeal. Her heels clatter on the floor. She says to the caller, “Of course not. I’ve actually dropped more weight. Yeah, yeah, I knew you’d be happy.”
When she hangs up she runs into me for a hug. She is bones. I can’t even find cartilage.
I want to ask if it’s worth it, but I could ask that same question of myself. Why do I stay with her?
She pulls away, tears streaking down the sharp ridge of her cheeks, but she’s grinning. “Let’s do something crazy,” she says.
“Like what?” I ask.
“Let’s make a bowl of popcorn, and eat the whole thing.”
WHY I ACCEPTED THIS STORY FOR LITSNACK:
I found the overall anorexia/bulimia theme very powerful, especially from the (presumably male) point-of-view of the significant other.
The author never once uses the words anorexia or bulimia.
Detail and Imagery
Kuntz has a great facility with detail and sensory imagery in this piece. Some examples include "clouded up plum and charcoal," "their kid throwing cheese crackers at patrons and squalling," "her heels clatter on the floor," and "tears streaking down the sharp ridge of her cheeks."
Depth of character
In paragraph three, we get backstory on the narrator that is gracefully integrated into the story. We get a strong sense that these two characters share a history and we glimpse their distinctive personalities (and feelings for each other) in just a few short lines.
Some examples of Kuntz' use of powerful figurative language include similes (". . .skin hanging loose as drapery," "her pubic bones poke out like a helmet," "I watch my wife rearrange lettuce leafs and red onion rims as if she is creating a pastiche art piece") and metaphors ("a machete goes to work on my rib cage," "she is bones and blades now. . .") Irony: In paragraph number four, the narrator leads us to believe that, by reaching out to her, he might get through to her, but her perception is not what he--or we--expect. And of course, the irony at the end, where the woman intends to be upbeat and cheerful is absolutely heartbreaking.
The "X" Factor:
As Simon Cowell will attest, there is also an indescribable, subliminal "X" factor that makes a piece of art special. It's hard to define, but one example that I feel gives this piece its depth and resonance is in a line like "a machete goes to work on my rib cage." We are supposed to empathize with the narrator and yet, by using the "rib cage" image we are again--subliminally--reminded of the horror of this woman's disease. This kind of subtlety of language and metaphorical connection lifts the entire story above the average submission.
Accepting this story was a no-brainer.