Love stories, in brief.

I’ve written before about my particular love for short, short, short fiction. Their poignancy is sometimes so great that a story half a paragraph long will stick with me all day or longer. I had an entirely different topic planned for today’s blog post, but just before I sat down to write, I took a minute to read some incredibly brief, yet strangely powerful love stories, perfectly appropriate for a post-Valentine’s entertainment. Especially since I just checked, and you guys it’s true, there’s no more chocolate left from the box in the kitchen and I’m feeling a little blue about it already.

Available for your reading pleasure here on the Hairpin, are just four very slight tales of love and romance, ultimately lost, rejected or simply faded away. The strength in these stories is that there is so much, so very much left out of them. There are no character names, sometimes the telling is a very straightforward “this happened and then this happened and then that happened and so there.” But somehow, as readers, we’re able to create an entire narrative arc. We can visualize the lovers, feel their hope, joy, pain, and ultimate loneliness.

It’s not just about writing a barebones plot and not saying much about anything, limiting yourself to a hundred and fifty words or so. Anyone can do that—I’ve tried. There’s a certain space that must be created. A vast emptiness between the lines where the real story lies. A good writer of short fiction can give just the right amount of information and the right type of information so that the story doesn’t feel cheap or lacking, but instead creates the feeling in the reader that they know exactly what the writer meant to be happening in the spaces left blank.

Love stories—particularly those about lost loves—are exponentially more effective when less is told. The emptiness and longing, nostalgia and regret are there simply because they are physically not there on the page. They become haunting instead of merely sad. Their brevity means they can be read over and over again, searching for any more hints of story, clues to what really happened.

I’d be interested in seeing any stories you can come up with in the comments—keeping it under 200 words.* It’s more difficult than you’d think! Otherwise, do you have a similar take on the style, or would you much prefer a long, fleshed out novel instead?


*The writer of my favorite story will be showered in cash and prizes! Minus the cash, but there is a DGLM mug in it for the winning, and you’re welcome to fill it wish cash of your own if you like.




This contest is now closed and I am pleased to announce the winner of a DGLM mug is Jan O’Hara! Jan, please email me with your information at rstout@dystel.com and I’ll be in touch!

19 Responses to Love stories, in brief.

  1. Ryan Montgomery says:

    Her nostrils were chapped from too many tissues and my throat was helpless without a lozenge. The TV had lost its glow. A few days before it felt fun to be sick but now the blanket was too short for us both. I tried to make love to her despite our condition but she knew better of course.

  2. Kate says:

    It was in his eyes she found the very context of her being. When she was with him, she could hear the music; feel the life. It was in his understanding of her she found her essence. She emptied herself for him, abandoning her old self so her new life would remain. It was worth it, to chase the kids around the oak tree, to sit on the porch swing sipping tea into old age. She could see it, but he could not. The more she absorbed him, the more he poured her out. At first it was the sprinkle of deception, then the drip of a lie and the final splash, the glass shattered on the concrete walkway. And then nothing…he was gone. In an instant, the self she created was vacuous and the self she left behind, impervious. She was in the middle of brokenness where neither the old nor new were welcoming, a constant state of purgatory.

  3. Jan O'Hara says:

    They met in the parking lot of a farm show when she dropped her cell phone in a puddle. He was there to sell tractor implements; she would say only that she was an agricultural specialist. It didn’t matter. Their chemistry was phenomenal. Twenty-seven days later they married.

    For a while her mysterious occupation was a game between them, fueled by her nocturnal hoarseness. “Singing teacher?” he’d guess. “Auctioneer?”

    “Not even close,” she’d say, then distract him with a coquettish arch of an eyebrow.

    But one night, he had to know. He threw out the most ridiculous prospect he could think of. “Phone-sex operator.”

    There was a heavy silence, then she sighed. “Close. Piggeries hire me to make the sounds that gets boars in the mood.”

    He laughed for five minutes straight. She shut herself in the bathroom. That night in bed, the space between them felt as wide as a cornfield.

    The next evening, he brought home roses, apologized. They didn’t make it to the bedroom. She thought she’d expire from lust until the whisper. “What did you say?”

    “Talk piggy to me.”

    In the morning, she filed for an annulment. And he never ate bacon again.

  4. Gill Avila says:

    They had been friends for seven years They’d met in college; she was upper middle class, he was working class. They worked together on successful projects and had great fun doing them. One day he dared to express the hope that one day he’d be in a position to date her. Before he’d finished stating the thought she said no.

  5. Lulu Freitas says:

    She barely noticed him the first time they met. He had a perverse sense of humor and didn’t even know how to hold a fork. Only his outrageous profession broke through her consciousness.

    When they met again, years later, she was world-weary and diminished. His success story was legendary. Now he had the upper hand. But he wielded his power benevolently. He was married now, so they became friends. He’d never forgotten her. He helped her get on her feet again. Helped her to remember who she used to be, to regain her spark.

    She woke up one morning and realized that she might never meet someone who understood her as well as he did. And now what could she do? Not the homewrecking type, she wondered if she was going to live the rest of her life hoping that something would happen to his wife.

  6. S. S. Seiuli says:

    She knew that he wouldn’t make it through the gates alive, a sacrifice for the freedom of others, for herself. She wanted to be selfish and run back to him, to die beside him, perfectly content. But there were families that needed her assistance, on voyaging them out of a life where there was no sun shine to a place where hope beamed abundantly.
    “I love you Nicholas and I’ll love you even more in another life, where the fates aren’t against us.” She whispered silently to the gates that were being shut.

    She quickly guided the women and children to the Underground Railroad. She held a small pistol in her hands as she led the way, there was a guard dressed in white near the entrance. She aimed and hit him directly in the noggin, once she got closer she signaled the other women to go ahead of her with their children. On the uniform, written in big bold letters said “Die with honor.”

    She wanted to laugh, you can’t die with honor if you’ve never lived with humanity, and no man in a white uniform had any humanity in them. Nicholas did, he’d die with honor and purpose.

  7. D. C. DaCosta says:

    Doc didn’t often visit the Lancaster Plaza Starbucks, but he’d gone to bed late after catching up on his medical bulletins, and now, on the way back from midday rounds, he realized that he wasn’t going to get very much farther without a jump-start. Standing immediately behind him in line was a fortyish woman with wonderfully large gray eyes. And no ring. He offered a compliment about her perfume, and soon they were having a nice little conversation about nothing in particular. In his most gallant manner he offered to buy her a cup of coffee.
    “Double white mocha espresso over ice. The name’s Liz.”
    They stood along the wall by the pickup counter and chatted some more while waiting for their orders. Soon the barista called out, “Liz!”
    “One double white mocha espresso over ice,” Doc announced as he delivered it. “For Liz.”
    “Doc?” called the barista.
    He picked up his cup, turned around and — where’d she go? How odd. She can’t have just vanished. He looked in every direction, glanced towards the restrooms, and then stepped to the far end of the shop, just in time to see her blue convertible sports car pull out of the parking lot.

  8. D. C. DaCosta says:

    “Excuse me!” John called.
    The restaurant hostess turned around with a smile.
    “Would you be so kind as to step into the ladies’ room for a moment?” he asked. “I’m afraid my date may not be feeling well, and…”
    “Of course.” She returned a few moments later, frowning. “There’s no one in there.”
    Oh no, he thought. Not the ladies’ room ploy! Racing the feeling of dread that was starting to spread from his heart to his stomach, he quickly added, “Maybe you saw her. Umm, nice blonde, red dress. Big shiny earrings. Really pretty.”
    “Oh, yes.” Reluctantly she added, “I’m afraid she left about five minutes ago. In a taxi.”
    He couldn’t really blame her. From the moment he’d sat down beside her in the car, everything about the evening had felt awkward, until he’d been tempted to panic and run himself. Strange, he thought, some people make you feel perfectly comfortable all the time, while others —
    In a corner of the bar where he couldn’t be overheard, he pulled out the cell phone. “Susan! Umm, hi. It’s John. Umm, if you’re not doing anything — tonight — how’s about dinner at Beaux Arts? Near City Hall… Umm. Right now?”
    He need not have worried. She said yes. Good old Susan. What a nice person.
    He happily returned to the deserted table for two overlooking the sculpture garden. Beckoning to Miguel, he requested a Tom Collins to be brought as soon as his guest arrived, because he remembered how much she liked them.

  9. Lee Westmore says:

    He sighed in contentment as he leaned back on the pile of pink goose down pillows and gazed out through the picture window at the lights of the city as they glowed orange against the blackness of the sky. He was reaching to turn off the lamp when Mara rolled over. The movement got his attention, as did the view of her tanned body before she pulled up the pale pink sheet.
    “Jason Schwartz asked me to marry him today,” she announced without preamble.
    He chuckled. “He’s a Loser.”
    “He is not.”
    “I can only think of a couple of people who are worse Losers.”
    Mara said nothing.
    He adjusted the pillow under his left shoulder. “What did you say?”
    “I told him I needed time to think about it. He made me promise to give him an answer by Valentine’s Day. Mother thinks I should.”
    He laughed out loud. “What makes Mom think he’s so great?”
    “Good job, good money, good family…”
    “He’s a Loser. If he’s got money, it’s inherited. He’s not smart enough to embezzle it!” He noticed that she wasn’t smiling. “Well, what d’you think? You gonna go for it?”
    She stared up at him. “What other offers have I had?”
    He said nothing. He looked out at the city lights once more, and for a while the only sound was of Mara’s breathing. Then suddenly he rolled over with a playful growl. She squealed, and all thoughts of Jason Schwartz were forgotten.

  10. Ken Coffman says:


    Ken Coffman

    Sorry, I was lost in thought. I’m surprised you recognize this symbol, yes, it’s pagan or wiccan. A girl showed it to me a long time ago and it stuck with me. She was pretty, like you, with brown hair and brown eyes. Eyes a man could get lost in.
    The first time I saw her, she knelt with a colorful, cotton peasant dress working up her thighs. Her legs were thin and covered with dust. She doodled in the dirt with a long finger. This very symbol, now that I think on it. The wind teased her hair, which, I noticed was braided with leaves and twigs. She said the symbol represents fate and chance romance, but she might have been mocking my nervous excitement and naked interest. When she pushed her hair back, she left dark smudges on her cheeks. It was not filth; it was charming.
    I asked if she was a witch and she smiled.
    Could be, she said. She tugged my hand. Come, we must have wine.
    I hesitated and she called me silly.
    As we climbed weathered stairs, the wind whirled and the long grass bowed and whispered.
    Her front room was dimly lighted and the air was thick with hazy perfume. She brightened the room by lighting candles in every corner; in tins, stabbed into empty wine bottles, and held by elaborate silver candlesticks. Flames lapped at darkness, but did not defeat it. Flickering shadows writhed on the walls. It was an odd dance accented by flashing, mischievous eyes. She poured wine from an asymmetrical, black, label-less bottle, and then pulled me down to a rug woven from odd-colored yarns. Decorated with strange patterns.
    We live our lives in symbols, she said. I asked what our physical act symbolized and she laughed. Love and the circle of birth, of course, she said.
    As we moved together, the walls fell away and the room moved through the candles like the solar wind flows through stars. Her stories were dreams. After my energy was tapped, she stood and, dressed only in shadows, danced. Her body was nymphic and her hair was a silken banner. Time coalesced, evaporated, and drifted into irrelevance. I was enchanted.

    In the morning, the candle flames were dead. She kissed me and I clutched her body with desperation.
    I love you, I said. I want to know you, to grow old with you, to possess you.
    She pulled away. No, you don’t, she said. You don’t want to know how I pay the rent, how I look when the sun abuses my face, and that I bleed from my nethers when the moon is full. Am I boring over time? A naggart? Stupid? Am I a witch, really a witch?
    She threw my shirt at me and ordered me to get dressed and leave. There was no resisting her command.

    Sorry if I rambled. I can’t help but think of fate, love, passion and chance encounters at times like this. You truly have pretty eyes. Can I hold your hand and pour you a drink from the black bottle?
    Can witches read minds? I don’t know the answer to that one. Let me show you again. Notice how the symbol seems like something solid. Like a key or talisman, perhaps. Like a whispered question on the wind.
    And, when you’re ready, we can go…

  11. Kellie Lovegrove says:

    All the others have been so great! Here’s my attempt. Hope you enjoy.

    I close my eyes against the pain. I remember the first time I met him. A birthday party he was throwing for a girl he wanted to date. We were introduced, we smiled at each other, and then I left after a few minutes to go see a movie. The next time was a few months later. He was standing outside his apartment holding a gray chinchilla in his hands as neighbors gathered around him wanting to see. We were introduced, we smiled at each other, I ran a finger down the back of the little fuzz ball, then left to go out with some friends. Then he came to me, baring chips and beer for a party. He was introduced, he smiled and said hello, then turned to leave. I stopped him. That was all it took, one of us stopping the other. We married two years later. Now, after five years of marriage, he’s left me. I might recover if it was another woman, but not this. Tears streak down my cheek. I bring my fingers to my lips and place a kiss to them before laying my hand on the cold granite of the tombstone.

  12. David says:

    The breeze stirred behind him as he placed the flowers in the bronze vase. Unknown to him, she heard the voice of his heart say, “I love you.”
    “Please move on to love again,” she called out, but the words fell into the void. He left her as he did each Sunday. The bond between them seemed weaker and she smiled with faith that somehow he had finally heard her.

  13. Traci Dolan says:

    Their love is eternal, born in the days of mythology – the satyr and nymph. It moved to ancient times – the oracle and warrior, and their passion and love so angered Apollo, he cast them apart for centuries. Still, they sought one another in each life, and in many they died still longing. Each awoke in this new life, born with the knowledge that the other existed. They were disappointed as they sought, and each would make their own concessions. They would settle, then yearn until they learned to stop settling. They called to each other in their hearts, and by the turn of time and synchronicity, they found themselves in a parking lot, cold seeping into their feet through concrete instead of forest and sea, and she asked, “What do you want to do now?” He answered, “Kiss you,” and it was the recognition of satyr and nymph, oracle and warrior, a King and his Queen, and they know they have many years here and many more years beyond, but they know in a next life they will seek each other again because each love is sweeter than the last.

  14. Donn says:

    Strange how the city hadn’t changed in all this time. Even the clouds looked the same as ever. Strange too how, in years to come and long after he’d be gone, someone else could sit on this bench and see what he was now seeing.

    But this feeling, as he sat here, that was his to experience alone. Nobody else could sit on this bench and go through the sorrow it meant to him. Twenty years ago he joined her here, and listened to her apologise, wish, and leave. Twenty years ago he begged the silence for something more; he reached his grasp out to a cloud.

    She hadn’t stayed. She couldn’t. She had changed too many times.

  15. Eggy Mule says:

    We fell deeply in love in a way that made me hate myself. Still I feared she would not be able to live with my secret. I kept it from her for many years. Then on our wedding night, after consummating the relationship, I whispered, “I am a Snorlax.” She cried, cried, and left me there. I have never loved again. Mostly I just sleep…

  16. Jan O'Hara says:

    Huzzah! Thank you so much for the opportunity to play. I enjoyed reading all the entries.

    Will send off an email shortly.

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