Wednesday Write-in #26: Sad Uncle Dale

Wednesday Write-in #26 @ CAKE.shortandsweet

Prompts: bloodbath  ::  sweet and sour  ::  unplanned


I don’t like my Uncle Dale. He’s a cynic and family gatherings are his forum for lamentations on commercial holidays and young optimism so he’s also an asshole. He bitches on Thanksgiving and he bitches during Christmas and he bitches in February when we’re all gathered on the north side of the city for Grandma’s birthday.

And he always makes me party to his weeping and moaning. Maybe he thinks I’m hip.

Maybe he’s trying to pass the torch.

“Nice to meet you, Benjamin,” he will say to the latest boyfriend to be coerced into participating in the first family introduction (the “bloodbath”, as Dale likes to call it). “Rachel’s told us so much about you. What are you studying down there in Champaign?” Then Dale will lean in close once the nascent pair has moved on and, with his voice down beneath the din created by the rambunctious grandchildren say, “sweet and sour chicken, if you ask me Laura.”

But this particular bloodbath is always worse because Grandma’s birthday coincides with Valentine’s Day and Dale hates Valentine’s Day.

“Why thank you, Mimi,” he’ll say to my little brown-haired niece after she gives her sad Uncle Dale a valentine, then start in on it directly. “Look at how young they get them started with the cards and the candy and the streamers. Get ’em spending young so you can get ’em spending forever, you know? The parents are programmed too. They’re all in on it. It’s perverse.”

Yeah Dale, I know.

“It’s pathetic that Americans need a consumer holiday to remind them to say ‘I love you’.”

Okay, Dale.

I guess part of me agrees with my sad Uncle Dale. It’s all so affected sometimes, something I avoid at all costs whenever there’s a man in my life. And when there is, I certainly don’t bring him to Grandma’s unplanned bloodbath to meet Dale, master of ceremonies.

But where is Mrs. Sad Uncle Dale? At home counting her ‘love you’s’? No. I think not. I think there is a reason that sad Uncle Dale has earned himself such a somber moniker.

I think he knows he’ll be alone some day.


Filed under Featured Content, Flash Fiction, Wednesday Write-In, Writing

21 responses to “Wednesday Write-in #26: Sad Uncle Dale

  1. Like Sarah, at first, I thought this was a male narrator right up to when he says her name. No idea why.

    I really like the idea of the passing of the torch. Also, the last line for me is really powerful.

    You’ve developed a strong, familiar character in Uncle Dale; a person that most people usually avoid at family functions. I really like his cynicism towards these bloodbath’s.

    Laura sitting with and listening to Uncle Dale tells me a lot about her. Her admission of agreeing with her Uncle, makes me believe she is heading in the same direction.


    • @kiwirebecca

      Maybe it’s the sign of male writer still inept at writing female characters, or from the female perspective.

      To me, it’s almost like Laura is a fellow cynic, but that people like Dale fall under her umbrella of cynicism, if that makes sense.

      I am pleased that this story resonated with you.


  2. Baba

    I missed your Valentine card !


  3. ndico9

    Well done, Martin. No matter which of the comments you choose to heed, at least take a look at the VERY last line–that is something the reader can and needs to figure out for him/herself.


    • @ndico9

      Thank you. I’m not sure how I would end it without that last sentence–it’s placement is more about completing the structure of the composition than it is about “showing the reader”. I agree though, that this might be better left for the reader to figure out. Maybe that speaks to the need for some structural revisions to eliminate this last line.

      Thanks for getting me thinking.


  4. Interesting coming to this only after the images have disappeared! To me, the piece flowed great because it wasn’t broken up – and I have to confess I was reading one your other pieces earlier and I was struggling with the images breaking up the text in it. So, yeah, maybe there’s something to be said for having a good think about whether you keep them, and if so, where in the story do they go?

    Anyway, all that aside. I really enjoyed this piece, I thought Sad Uncle Dale was really vivid. I particularly liked the lines where he’s speaking to her and she’s just replying in her head – we all know that, where you’ve given up arguing with someone because it only prolongs their moaning!

    Another interesting (or perhaps, at this stage, ridiculous) side note – at the start of this story I thought I was reading a male narrator! Maybe there’s something wrong with me 🙂


    • @Sarah

      I told you I was going to consider new perspectives re: gender! No no. This is really all just a ploy to confuse the hell out of you.

      Joking aside, thank you for the feedback. I’ve taken the various comments about the imagery to heart and have concluded that, in the future, I’ll likely opt out of using them. The more I think about it, the more I agree.

      In writing Dale and Laura I tried to stay true to my own experiences in these situations. So the read that I even got close is vindicating.


  5. Elaine Peters

    There’s always someone who bitches but who still keeps turning up! I don’t feel that Laura will pick up the torch, she seems just to go with the flow. I haven’t seen the images so no comment about them specifically, but in general I prefer to read a short piece uninterrupted by pictures.


  6. I agree with the feedback so far and have removed the images, for the record. Thank you everyone.


  7. Elaine McKay

    I like the ‘torch’ line too. I also like that she wonders why he latches on to her. Good observation.


  8. I have to say I read the story better when ignoring the images. But I enjoyed the couple image with it’s bleak colours, fitted well with the story mood methinks. I like the Uncle Dale character, could listen to him more. Love that mini-rant about Vallie’s Day. I like him passing the torch on to Laura. It would be fun if it worked and the story ended up her echoing him. Mrs Sad Uncle Dale made me laugh with it’s Mr Men character resonance. I enjoyed that moment. I think it’d be fun if she did exist, Mrs Sad Dale. (Great name choice, Dale. Like vale of tears.) Most men like that are married, in my experience….gives them more to complain about!


    • @beccaaudra

      The consensus seems to be that the images don’t work in this piece–the more I look at it, the more I agree.

      The interplay between Dale and Laura represents some different perspectives that I come across a lot, especially around “holidays” like the 14th of February. If it was space-appropriate (maybe medium-appropriate is a better term), then I could certainly explore all the subtexts and subplots here, like Mrs. Sad Uncle Dale.

      Thanks for your feedback — I do value it.


  9. I agree with Craig. That passing the torch line really struck me and I think would have provided a powerful ending. I did very much enjoyed the story – there’s certainly an Uncle Dale in my family, as I’m sure there is in so many!


  10. Part of me wants to say that first section (before the image) is enough of the story. Maybe work a few of the later lines in, but I liked the how it ended with the passing of the torch line.


    • @Craig

      A thought-provoking suggestion. Thank you.

      I suppose that could stand alone. My aim was to get to know Laura and Dale a little better and, in doing so, explore some different perspectives on consumer holidays.


  11. Patrick

    I think you’ve really managed to conjure up a real picture of a sad old bastard. Hope I don’t become like this. Nicely written.
    Now for some cruel words: As much as I like your artwork I felt that this time the images interfered with the reading of the text. The flow was interrupted for me; I had to go back a couple of times. Here endeth cruelty.


    • @Patrick

      Thank you for the feedback. It’s an interesting discussion that you bring up, that of the use of imagery in a fictional text. I’ve gone back and forth on it, to be sure. While I certainly don’t throw them in there slipshod, I do know that the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of their placement is subjective to each reader (my colleague has expressed outright that there is no place in literary fiction for images or illustrations).

      Of course, “interrupting the flow” is something I’d like to avoid at all costs because, ultimately, my commitment is to the written word, not the images I choose to associate with it. I’ll have to keep ruminating on this.

      I’d love to hear other people weigh in.


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