The Mediocre Life of a Champion Cheat

Uncle Moon’s Public House was a pit, a filthy den with wood floors scraped raw and walls scarred with cigarette stains. Kelly decided she could get past the look of the place. It was the smell that hurt. Forget the stale beer smell and body odor pitch of your average dive bar. Uncle Moon’s carried a stench that torched her nose hairs and made her sinuses itch.

She tried holding her breath. When that failed she sniffed under the bar mats and behind the cash register. At one point, she burned off half the ice, convinced something had come up through the drain. Finally, after poking her nose into every filthy corner, she determined the smell was coming from underneath the soda machine.

The bar regulars watched with what seemed to be amusement.
“It’ll decay,” Jack and Coke said.

“Ahh, poor, little mousey-poo,” Scotch Rocks chimed in when Kelly scrunched her nose.

“It’s just a dead mouse.” They all may have said in unison. Kelly couldn’t be sure. At 38 years old—twenty full years into adulthood—she was stuck eating a shift meal complimented by the smell of rot. What she could not understand was what they rest of them were doing here. The customers could go home. They could eat with their families. They could all get up together and go on to a restaurant that didn’t reek of mouse guts.

Instead, they stayed. In the four days Kelly had worked there, she’d seen most of the bar patrons more than once. The tables were a hodgepodge of repeat faces and new ones. Although, Kelly expected in a town like this the table faces would soon be familiar to her too. She suspected most of them knew who she was being that she was the favorite niece of Uncle Moon.

“Did you ever think about getting an exterminator in here?”

“I’ve got mouse traps all over the place. They’re too smart. They love the dumpster in the alley,” her uncle poured half a cup of sugar into his decaf.

“It’s tough when mice can outsmart you.”

“I’ve been outsmarted by worse. At least, they work for it. Climbing into the dumpster and running around working for their food. I try to give the mice a hand out. I put it out on a little platter for them and they don’t take it. Unlike the rest of our country.”

In the eight years since she’d last seen her uncle, he’d become addicted to the Fox news.

“If only we could snap a limb of anyone looking for food in this country.”

“If only,” he said, calling her bluff.

The bar jutted out in a U-shape off the wall. Her uncle sat next to the wait station which was also the only place to enter or exit the bar. While he never claimed to be on the health department’s model restaurant list, he maintained that the pub was more comfortable than most anyone’s living room. And that’s where he had succeeded more than the fancy places that served two bites of food per course on expensive plate and garnered rave reviews, but never lasted more than a few years.

Kelly could smirk at her uncle’s politics all day, but she couldn’t deny his business sense. He’d owned the pub for close to thirty-five years. And as far as she knew, it turned a profit early on and never stopped.

The after work crowd was picking up now. Most of them would eat at tables, unless the tables filled up. The bar was for those who drank their dinner. Luckily, everybody in the place agreed that Uncle Moon’s was the kind of place you ordered simple drinks. There were no drinks with disgusting names that could be made of anything. No Sex in a Dirty Bathroom shots or Watermelon Sex kittens or Dirty Sanchez Stingers The one thing she truly liked about bartending was the zen-like moments of business. On a busy night, all you can do is make the tickets in front of you. You can’t think about who you hate or your credit card bill or the fact that you haven’t been to the dentist in years and your toothaches. You can only think about the task at hand. It’s easier to get into that state when the drink names are all in the drink: Jack and coke, Gin and tonic, Chardonnay, Beer. She never had to stop and think about anything. She could stay in this mode for hours and at the end of the rush sit back and feel a sense of relaxation.

Unless something or someone broke her rhythm.

10 thoughts on “The Mediocre Life of a Champion Cheat

  1. Bob Buchko says:

    Like the writing and the title piqued my interest. However, unless this is intended to be a politically charged novel, I’d be cautious with the left vs right leanings. Turned me off to the story. If it is meant to be a political statement, then it’s not my cup of tea but should appeal to a lot of folks.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Your title piqued my interest and I found your first paragraph interesting.

    However, I had to reread the second paragraph twice, trying to figure out what ‘burned off the half ice’ meant (I still don’t know).

    In addition, I couldn’t get past the fact that a restaurant could be successful in spite of a dead mouse stench.

    While I can’t pinpoint anything ‘off’ in your writing, I’m sorry to say I’m not interested in reading more.

    I wish you the best of luck!

  3. Leah McKinnon says:

    The first chapter could be rearranged with the last two paragraphs coming first. You thoroughly described the bar and clientele but not Kelly. It’s not until the last paragraph (before the final line) where I got a hint at what the story might be about. I would suggest a re-word to make reading easier too.

  4. Eliza Worner says:

    Interesting title and I enjoyed the writing. I really enjoyed the first paragraph, it set the scene up nicely and really created a good atmosphere.

    But I couldn’t understand what “burned off half the ice” meant.

    I was also a little unsure who was talking to Uncle Moon in the conversation. Why didn’t you use “she said” at least once? I guessed it was her but it could have been any of the patrons. I think it might be because the previous chapter jumbled me, it was clunky and repetitive and I couldn’t make sense of the sentence ” She suspected most of them knew who she was being that she was the favorite niece of Uncle Moon.”

    “Kelly couldn’t be sure. At 38 years old—twenty full years into adulthood—she was stuck eating a shift meal complimented by the smell of rot.” is telling rather than showing.

    I was thinking that those two sentences I quoted could be wrapped together with a bit about how she has grown up in the bar, hanging out with Uncle Moon. Or something. Maybe the patrons have known her since was little. Just a suggestion.

    The last paragraph was really long and lost me. I have worked many menial jobs and they’re the ones that leave me time to think about shit, rather than allowing me zen peace of mind. As a barmaid she would get the patrons sitting at the bar telling her their life’s woes so maybe that’s how she could escape from her reality instead. It would feel more authentic. Also maybe they feel like family to her and she is comfortable there, it’s a bit like a bubble outside the real world.

  5. maggiehasbrouck says:

    I love your title and enjoyed your writing at first, but it started to feel a little aimless. I want some hint of the plot to ground me in the story.

    With all the focus on the dead mouse under the soda machine, I was expecting a severed hand or something to set the story in motion. If the mice aren’t that integral to the story, they may not warrant so much space in the opening paragraphs.

    The last paragraph is a little long and could use some smoothing, but for me it feels like it could be the start of the story.

    Thanks for posting

  6. kduhrich says:

    Hi,

    I think you write very well, I just don’t know if this opening is going to pull people into the story. I thought the same thing about the dead mouse that others have mentioned. I was expecting a body, or something to set up a murder. I don’t know what type of story this is going to be from this opening.

    But, the writing is great–very clear, descriptive. The only thing I caught was:

    “Addicted to the FOX news.”

    This read a little funny to me. Maybe, “addicted to the FOX News Channel.” Or, “addicted to the news on FOX.”

    I think this could be really good, you just need to find a way to set up the drama a bit more quickly. I didn’t mind the political references because you’re using them to describe a character.

    Good luck!

  7. S. A. Smith, Author says:

    I liked the opening sentence and your voice. .I suggest you leave out “It was the smell that hurt”, (passive verb was) which detracts from the next sentence. You have a lot of repetition describing the same thing….example, your last sentence, Uncle Moon’s carried a stench that torched her nose hairs and made her sinuses itch. sums up the whole paragraph .

    The next paragraph carries on with trying to find the culprit of the smell, but now I’m confused. Who is this girl and what role is she playing? What is this story about?

    A mouse Ahhhh!. .I thought she might find the head of the “Champion Cheat”. Now that would add a little more excitement…lol

    Good luck with your novel.

  8. Cat Lumb says:

    It was easy to read and you have a good voice and some nice phrasing. However, I’m not sure where the story is. This opening seems to focus a lot on the dead mouse smell and the background of her Uncle’s bar and I’m left thinking ‘So what?’.

    There’s nothing to pull me into the story and make me want to read on I’m afraid. But it demonstrates your writing skills, so perhaps with a bit more work this opening could be developed into something special.

    Good luck.

  9. John Dawson (@johnsonofdaw) says:

    I will comment as I read each paragraph

    1. Liked the writing, good choice of words.

    2. Ditto – but am enduring unsavoury experience so need a reason to soon.

    3. 2 people said “it’ll decay”? Syntax a little awkward

    4. The bar jutted out – we are now into description of setting but I’m waiting for a hook

    5. Kelly could smirk – still waiting

    6. You would probably would me somewhere through the next, longest, paragraph, your writing is good but so far we have an unattractive scene with nothing to tell me why I should stay there, no hook. If I got to the last line it might keep me reading one more paragraph but by then I’d need something to intrigue or worry or appeal to me.

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