Gender Bending Entry #8 White Space by T.J. Breckenridge

I normally don't post on the weekends, but given the number of entries in this little contest, I took the posts through on Saturday and Sunday this week. If you missed the weekend entries, you can still read them and have your vote counted:

Entry #6 by Kyle Schuler

Entry #7 by A.K. Reid

How much longer will the experiment continue? There are a total of ten excerpts and the final excerpt will be posted on Wednesday, January 2, 2013. At that point the experiment will end and I will use the weekend to assess the data and choose a winner.

Without further ado, here is Entry #8 by T.J. Breckenridge. Here is how it works:

Several authors submitted pieces they had lying around. I asked only that they choose something that would not easily be identified with their writing style. Fans can easily pick up on an author's voice, and since several of the authors are very well known, I didn't want people recognizing specific writing styles.

When an author didn't have pre-written piece, they wrote a piece just for this blog, primarily because we knew that once it hit the interwebs, it would become a freebie for everyone.

We took a brief hiatus for the holidays; however, I'm back now and will be running posts until we reach the end of the contest. Please keep your comments focused on the question at hand.

As always, please don't break my website.

Here we go ...

READ THIS FIRST: The rules and the prizes. Your mission: comment on whether you believe the author of this excerpt is male or female.

White Space by T.J. Breckenridge

Margot knocked on her neighbor’s door.  While she waited, she stamped her feet to dislodge the snow. Their dogs barked inside, and a moment later Evelyn, her white-haired neighbor, peeked out.  She unlatched the door and said, "Oh, dear.  You must need something pretty bad to brave all this snow."

Eighteen inches of fresh snow totally enveloped their small town, as it did the rest of the Midwest.  But that wasn’t the worst thing about the day.  The worst thing was that Margot had to do something that went entirely against her nature: ask for help.  And all because that jackass husband of hers hadn't bothered to get the snowblower fixed.  She said, "I wondered if we could borrow your snowblower when Tom is finished with it.  Ours is out of commission, and Fred's likely to kill himself shoveling the driveway."

"Of course.  Tom's off clearing the sidewalk by one of our rental houses right now, but I'll have him bring it over when he finishes."

"Thank you.  It means a lot."  Already she was calculating the proper reward gift, probably a casserole or a batch of fresh oatmeal cookies.  She would never accept charity; her universe was entirely quid pro quo.

***

Fred wiped his face.  It was twenty degrees, but he was sweating like the proverbial pig beneath his layers of protection.  He'd already discarded his scarf and woolen hat, and debated whether to unzip his outer coat.

He took another look at the task ahead of him.  There was a foot of snow on the driveway at its lowest point, and it drifted up to a yard high along one side.    It was heavy, wet snow, too, the kind that made Dr. Oz warn people like Fred to take it easy to avoid a coronary.  Fred had already been working for an hour, and had barely cleared a third of it.  He adjusted his grip on the ergonomic shovel’s gracefully bent handle, and dug in to shift another load.

Then he heard the sound of a pull string on an engine.

He looked up.  At the far end of the driveway, near the godawful pile the town's snowplows always left there, his wife stood adjusting the thrower spout before settling the snowblower's big red mouth against the snow.  A plume rose fifteen feet into the air before landing in the yard, on top of the drift. She moved it forward slow and steady, carving a perfectly straight line that would eventually catch up to his erratic hand-made one.

"Hey, hey, HEY!" Fred called.  He jammed his shovel down into the snow blade-first and stomped his way to Margot.  "What the hell are you doing?"

"What you should be doing," Margot yelled over the motor.  "If you'd gotten the damn snowblower fixed, that is.  Watch your feet, I don’t want to chop off your toes."

He started to turn away, then instead pried her hand away from the kill switch.  The motor sputtered to a halt.  He said, "Look, will you stop helping me?  I've got it under control."

"This will take you all day,” she said.  “That is, if you don't have a heart attack or a stroke first.  I'll be done in fifteen minutes."

"So what if it takes me all day?  It's not like we have to be anywhere, is it?"

"You're not a young man anymore, Fred.  You'll be fifty on your next birthday.  Just use the damn snowblower, and then get ours fixed tomorrow when the roads are clear."

"No!" he shrieked, like a child or a maniac.  "That ... it's not the point!"

Margot leaned on the snowblower's handle and sighed, with the exasperation only a long marriage could provoke.  "So the point is not to clear the driveway?"

"No, it's ..." He stopped, considered whether to keep going, then charged ahead.  "Ever since they told me I was diabetic, I've been eating right, losing weight, exercising more, all the bullshit the doctor insisted on, right?"

"Yes, as long as I buy you the food and make your dinners.  I even have to write down your snacks for you."

Normally he'd snap back at this, but he was onto something bigger.  "This was my first test to see if I was really getting healthier and stronger.  I don't want to use the snowblower, I want to shovel it myself.  A year ago I couldn't have done this.  I have to see if I can now."

"That's stupid, Fred.  Really.  I don't mean to be harsh, but you're going to be down with your back for a week after this, and I won't be able to take off work to help you."

They looked at each other.  The gulf between them had never seemed so wide; the distance from her pragmatic realism to his idealistic belief in meaning was so great that they heard only the indistinct echoes of each other's voices, not the actual words the other was saying.  He sagged, defeated, and she kicked the snowblower in frustration.

"I'll finish with the snowblower," he said, and waited for her to move aside.

"No, just stay out of the way," she said, and reached for the pull handle.