Purpose: to create a literary story (character-based) with six scenes, each scene limited to  250-words, a story that embodies beginning/middle/end, dramatic elements, and develops characterization through action, that is showing rather than telling.

What is to be learned: Practice of dramatizing a story through conflict, action, and resolution.   Thinking of story as a whole with interrelated scenes.  Learning careful attention to plot logic and character credibility.  Learning indirectly the difference between genre fiction , memoir and literary character-based fiction.

What to Do: A  Suggested Approach.

Think.  What is your story about?  What about your story will be significant for the literary reader.  How will you insert the elements of drama–conflict, action, resolution?  How will you use the methods of information transfer (narration, dialogue, through characters, overhearing characters, character unconsciousness, obliquely through irony and metaphor) available to prose writers (as different from screenwriters, playwrights, graphic “novelists”, oral story tellers, songwriters, and other forms of story presentation)?  Who are your major and minor characters and what are their desires and motivations? How do the characters drive the plot in cause and effect.  How do you keep humanity in the literary fictional story and avoid suspension of disbelief, fantasy, fatalism, genre, memoir?  How will you make your story unique and significant through imaginative creative structure (rather than imaginative description of happenings)?

You may need to write your thoughts out, but the most valuable thoughts will be those you live with and develop so they are a part of you when you direct yourself to writing.  This will help in logical, effective plotting, and in unique, in-depth characterization.

Decide : 1) a story premise, 2) how long story will last (in story time), 3) decide how the character will change (non-literary fiction often is concerned with revelations, who killed whom, where the gold was buried, etc. rather than character change and enlightenment).  Determine narrative technique and point(s) of view.  Consider the emotions of the character (s) . . . what are they feeling? . . . how do the emotions change and progress?

Format.

Six scenes, limit of 250 words to each scene (1500 words for entire assignment).

 


   Work submissions for Assignment 3: Create a Literary Story

First Short Story

Dawson takes the stage, the microphone screeches. The sound test, begins for the night. “Welcome to Dawson’s pub.” He says. Heat from the lights bring out the sweat. Wire strings tighten, his fingers twist the knobs, and the pick is in his mouth. Acoustic guitar is his favorite instrument.

“Hey buddy. What is up tonight?” Lucy puffs. Smoke rolls from her cigarette into his hazel eyes. She writes with a black marker on his shoulder, “Have your cake and eat it too.”

Dawson pretends he didn’t notice the seven words. Love is such a big deal to her. He unwinds the chords to the speaker and hooks them up. “Why don’t you stand by the back door and wait for Georgia.” He says. He hands her a big yellow envelope. “Give it to her.”

Lacy hands Dawson a frosted mug of beer. “Best stuff on the house.” She says. “Made it myself, fermented, poured right from the tap, and watched it foam up.

Dawson laughs with a slick smile. “Fermenting a beer takes more than a back-up singer drooling over a spout.” He says. “Takes a few months, and you were at the tap for three minutes.”

“A woman can dream.” Georgia steals the yellow envelope from Lucy’s hand. “This is for me and there’s no more wasting time.” She says. “Let’s see. Did he choose you, the high-pitched back-up singer, or me the awesome lead vocalist?”

Dawson steps between them. “Neither.” He rolls his shirt up. “Have your cake and eat it too.”

Short story two

“Hi. This is Jade. I saw you in the window last night. I was wondering if we could talk.” Samantha watches the digital number change to the second message on the answering machine. It’s been eight days since his death.

“This is Jade again. I wanted you to stop downtown and pick up my vinyl records. Melony saved them for me at the antique shop.” The red blinking light signals the third message.

“Jade here. Where are you? I’m on my way. Smack. Bang. Shots echo through the phone. Sam? Heavy breathing. Silence.”

Samantha bursts into tears, sirens flash in front of her house in the darkness, gun shots fire, and she rushes over to the tall Victorian window facing the street. Car 94 has a man handcuffed, the officer grabs his arms, the crowd stands by and watches from the curb.

Samantha searches the sidewalk for a sign of Jade. Eight days ago she was told he didn’t survive. The same place another man smashed into his car. The phone rings. Samantha waits for the answering machine to pick up. “This is Jade. Pick me up at the hospital on Fifth Avenue. The ambulance driver took me to the wrong hospital.”

Short story three

“Love forgets you when you’re sleeping.” Roses wilt on the side of the vase. Louisa breathes hard through the oxygen mask. Eyes closed, her silence bothers Frank.

“How long you been married?” Julia asks.

Julia’s brunette hair is clipped to the side with a silver barrette shaped in a heart.

“We’ve been married eight months.” He says.

 Louisa’s hands fold nicely over her chest.

“She’s a sleeping beauty. Been in this coma for two months.”

Louisa never moves, stiff as a board, and there is no response.

“Heaven is a state of mind. Didn’t know we’d be living in hell this early in our marriage.” He says.

“What would you do different?” Julia asks.

Frank wrestles with the wedding ring on Louisa’s finger. Slides it off and hands it to Julia.

“I would have never married her.” He says.

Julia slides it back on Louisa’s finger. “Why would you say such a thing?” She combs out Louisa’s hair, kisses her on the cheek. “That’s awful.” She says.

Frank kisses Louisa’s forehead. “When you’re sleeping you miss the love.” He says. He rests his head on her chest. “She took all these sleeping pills and wanted to escape to a safer place.”

“You mean when she was awake, she was sleeping. Missed your love, even though you were giving it to her.” She says.

“That’s right if I never married her, she’d be thriving, and she would have never swallowed those pills.” He said.

Louisa starts coughing, the ventilator needs to be pulled out. The nurse rushes in, and removes the tube. A few minutes pass bye. She sips a glass of water and Louisa reaches for Frank. She kisses him on the cheek, and whispers “I love you.”

Short story four

Melanie sits on the stool watching Albert dance. It has been a year since they met, the lights flash, the speakers blare with the latest indie songs, and beer is on the house.

Albert the playboy, the millionaire sweetheart, this is the man everyone adores. Gentle with the touch of his hand, smooth, sly with his words, and the art of seduction. He moves after his prey, hunts her in the midnight hours, watches and observes her every move.

“Bought this vinyl record for you.” He says. “Have you changed your mind about giving me a chance?”

His brown eyes dig deep in hers, she swerves her head, darts her eyes across the room to Soldier Boy Adams. “No thanks. I’m one of those angels that might shine, I’m a flashlight in your darkness.” She says.

“Why Adams? He’s an army guy with a broken down dodge. I could buy you anything in the world.” He says. His wallet shows how much dough he has. Hundred dollar bills. He flashes his watch, he orders the next round of drinks for everyone in the house.

“Sure you can buy me anything in the world and drive me around in your fast Lamborghini. The one thing money doesn’t buy is love. You’re fast, but never driving in the slow lane. She hands him back the vinyl record. “I don’t need this speeding ticket. Thanks anyway.” She says.

“Fast enough babes, Slow enough to give you’re a ride to heaven.”

Short story five

Tulips wilt over the vase, lack of water, lack of sunshine, the dark room would smother anything alive. Mice run around in circles searching for crumbs of cheese. Crackers are broken on the floor, the television blares, and the radio displays the digital time.

Lara slumps over the arm of the sofa passed out from the night before. Curlers in her, caked on make-up, and crimson smeared lips. Whiskey bottles line up on the coffee table, ashes are dumped on the floor, and the mice well they got out of her son’s cage.

Clara and Hubert were Robert’s pet mice. Pink beady eyes navigate her nostrils.

Lara smacks her nose, wakes up and stares right at Clara. “Oh My God. Get away from me, you dirty rodent, who let you out?” she says.

“Robert! Get out here and get rid of this.” She says. Lara stands on the table with the fly swatter gripped in her hand. “You come near me you’re dead. You hear me?”

Robert rushes around the room trying to capture Clara and Hubert. “I swear I didn’t let them out Mama, the tube is broken.” He says.

Lara jumps off the table. “You got them critters, those things were chewing on my nose hairs.” She touches the scratch marks on her face. “See here.” She says.

“Yes, Mama. If you didn’t get drunk all the time, they would have never bothered you.” He says. He holds Clara and Hubert in his hands.

Short story six

“I was wondering if you could tell me something. Why did you do it?” The psychiatrist asks. He looks over to Jesse on the sofa. The DSM V rests on the end table.

“I did it because I thought I could scare him. I wanted Jackson out of the house.” Margaret says. She bites her nails, crosses her legs, and stares out the window. “Nice bird feeder you have Mr. Walker.”

The golden finch dips his small head up and down, and picks up the small pieces of bird seed. Leaves dance on the thin branches. Spring time is always a good season for new beginnings.

“This is your last session today. You haven’t drank for a year until yesterday.” He says. “Jackson is out of the house now, but will you drink again?”

Jesse holds up a handful of sobriety tokens. “No sir. I slipped. I worked too hard for all these, but he hit me. He hit me so hard. I was dying inside when he took my baby son away, and told me I’d never see him again.” She says.

“We’ve talked about this before. You have to keep your boundaries and you must never drink. Stay away from him, will you? If you listen to me, you don’t have to worry about losing your son.” He says.  “This is a new beginning for your life. Make a fresh start and leave the booze behind.”

“Yes, I can fly.” She says. 

Instructor Response

First Short Story

Dawson takes the stage, the microphone screeches. The sound test, begins for the night. “Welcome to Dawson’s pub.” He says. Heat from the lights bring out the sweat. Wire strings tighten, his fingers twist the knobs, and the pick is in his mouth. Acoustic guitar is his favorite instrument. This is already known by the quality writing before and it is purely narrator distant POV when your nicely in scene at close range.

“Hey buddy. What is up tonight?” Lucy puffs. Smoke rolls from her cigarette into his hazel eyes. She writes with a black marker on his shoulder, “Have your cake and eat it too.”

Dawson pretends he didn’t notice the seven words. Love is such a big deal to her. He unwinds the chords to the speaker and hooks them up. “Why don’t you stand by the back door and wait for Georgia.” He says. He hands her a big yellow envelope. “Give it to her.”

Lacy hands Dawson a frosted mug of beer. “Best stuff on the house.” She says. “Made it myself, fermented, poured right from the tap, and watched it foam up.

Dawson laughs with a slick smile. “Fermenting a beer takes more than a back-up singer drooling over a spout.” He says. “Takes a few months, and you were at the tap for three minutes.”

“A woman can dream.” Georgia steals the yellow envelope from Lucy’s hand. “This is for me and there’s no more wasting time.” She says. “Let’s see. Did he choose you, the high-pitched back-up singer, or me the awesome lead vocalist?”

Dawson steps between them. “Neither.” He rolls his shirt up. “Have your cake and eat it too.”  Good. :-)

Short story two

“Hi. This is Jade. I saw you in the window last night. I was wondering if we could talk.” Samantha watches the digital number change to the second message on the answering machine. It’s been eight days since his death.

“This is Jade again. I wanted you to stop downtown and pick up my vinyl records. Melony saved them for me at the antique shop.” The red blinking light signals the third message.

“Jade here. Where are you? I’m on my way. Smack. Bang. Shots echo through the phone. Sam? Heavy breathing. Silence.”

Samantha bursts into tears, sirens flash in front of her house in the darkness, gun shots fire, and she rushes over to the tall Victorian window facing the street. Car 94 has a man handcuffed, the officer grabs his arms, the crowd stands by and watches from the curb.

Samantha searches the sidewalk for a sign of Jade. Eight days ago she was told he didn’t survive. The same place another man smashed into his car. The phone rings. Samantha waits for the answering machine to pick up. “This is Jade. Pick me up at the hospital on Fifth Avenue. The ambulance driver took me to the wrong hospital.”

 This is difficult to pull off easily when the presentation is shifting in time, and the time is not easily established.  The surprise could be maintained by telling the events without the recording and see how it goes.  For me, I need a solid time line for every sentence, I get engaged in the story and enjoy it without having to try to figure out what’s going on when.

Short story three

“Love forgets you when you’re sleeping.” Roses wilt on the side of the vase. Louisa breathes hard through the oxygen mask. Eyes closed, her silence bothers Frank.

“How long you been married?” Julia asks.

Julia’s brunette hair is clipped to the side with a silver barrette shaped in a heart.

“We’ve been married eight months.” He says.

 Louisa’s hands fold nicely over her chest.

“She’s a sleeping beauty. Been in this coma for two months.”

Louisa never moves, stiff as a board, cliche, avoid  and there is no response.

“Heaven is a state of mind. Didn’t know we’d be living in hell this early in our marriage.” He says.

“What would you do different?” Julia asks.

Frank wrestles with the wedding ring on Louisa’s finger. Slides it off and hands it to Julia.

“I would have never married her.” He says.

Julia slides it back on Louisa’s finger. “Why would you say such a thing?” She combs out Louisa’s hair, kisses her on the cheek. “That’s awful.” She says.

Frank kisses Louisa’s forehead. “When you’re sleeping you miss the love.” He says. He rests his head on her chest. “She took all these sleeping pills and wanted to escape to a safer place.”

“You mean when she was awake, she was sleeping. Missed your love, even though you were giving it to her.” She says.

“That’s right if I never married her, she’d be thriving, and she would have never swallowed those pills.” He said.

Louisa starts coughing, the ventilator needs to be pulled out. The nurse rushes in, and removes the tube. A few minutes pass bye. She sips a glass of water and Louisa reaches for Frank. She kisses him on the cheek, and whispers “I love you.”

Short story 4

Melanie sits on the stool watching Albert dance. It has been a year since they met, the lights flash, the speakers blare with the latest indie songs, and beer is on the house.

Albert the playboy, the millionaire sweetheart, this is the man everyone adores. Gentle with the touch of his hand, smooth, sly with his words, and the art of seduction. He moves after his prey, hunts her in the midnight hours, watches and observes her every move.

“Bought this vinyl record for you.” He says. “Have you changed your mind about giving me a chance?”

His brown eyes dig deep in hers, she swerves her head, darts her eyes across the room to Soldier Boy Adams. “No thanks. I’m one of those angels that might shine, I’m a flashlight in your darkness.” She says.  :-))

“Why Adams? He’s an army guy with a broken down dodge. I could buy you anything in the world.” He says. His wallet shows how much dough he has. Hundred dollar bills. He flashes his watch, he orders the next round of drinks for everyone in the house.

“Sure you can buy me anything in the world and drive me around in your fast Lamborghini. The one thing money doesn’t buy is love. You’re fast, but never driving in the slow lane. She hands him back the vinyl record. “I don’t need this speeding ticket. Thanks anyway.” She says.

“Fast enough babes, Slow enough to give you’re a ride to heaven.” 

Good dialogue.

Short story five

Tulips wilt over the vase, lack of water, lack of sunshine, the dark room would smother anything alive. Mice run around in circles searching for crumbs of cheese. Crackers are broken on the floor, the television blares, and the radio displays the digital time.

Lara slumps over the arm of the sofa passed out from the night before. Curlers in her, caked on make-up, and crimson smeared lips. Whiskey bottles line up on the coffee table, ashes are dumped on the floor, and the mice well they got out of her son’s cage.

Clara and Hubert were Robert’s pet mice. Pink beady eyes navigate her nostrils.

Lara smacks her nose, wakes up and stares right at Clara. “Oh My God. Get away from me, you dirty rodent, who let you out?” she says.

“Robert! Get out here and get rid of this.” She says. Lara stands on the table with the fly swatter gripped in her hand. “You come near me you’re dead. You hear me?”

Robert rushes around the room trying to capture Clara and Hubert. “I swear I didn’t let them out Mama, the tube is broken.” He says.

Lara jumps off the table. “You got them critters, those things were chewing on my nose hairs.” She touches the scratch marks on her face. “See here.” She says.

“Yes, Mama. If you didn’t get drunk all the time, they would have never bothered you.” He says. He holds Clara and Hubert in his hands.  Ha!

Short story six

“I was wondering if you could tell me something. Why did you do it?” The psychiatrist asks. He looks over to Jesse on the sofa. The DSM V rests on the end table.

“I did it because I thought I could scare him. I wanted Jackson out of the house.” Margaret says. She bites her nails, crosses her legs, and stares out the window. “Nice bird feeder you have Mr. Walker.”

The golden finch dips his small head up and down, and picks up the small pieces of bird seed. Leaves dance on the thin branches. Spring time is always a good season for new beginnings.

“This is your last session today. You haven’t drank for a year until yesterday.” He says. “Jackson is out of the house now, but will you drink again?”

Jesse holds up a handful of sobriety tokens. “No sir. I slipped. I worked too hard for all these, but he hit me. He hit me so hard. I was dying inside when he took my baby son away, and told me I’d never see him again.” She says.

“We’ve talked about this before. You have to keep your boundaries and you must never drink. Stay away from him, will you? If you listen to me, you don’t have to worry about losing your son.” He says.  “This is a new beginning for your life. Make a fresh start and leave the booze behind.”

“Yes, I can fly.” She says. 

Great.  I’m impressed with the imagination you show.  Keep developing conflict in your writing.  And very good imagery. 

All the best, WHC

  1. Thank you appreciate all your help. It does point out what I need to work on.

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#

Morning light bore down on my face, rousing me. I wrapped an arm around Ylli slipping my hand into his shirt. His fair hair had been streaked with grey for years but it never thinned or receded. I loved the contrasts between us when my dark tresses fell across his skin. I wrapped my legs around Ylli’s supine body, and kissed his tepid cheek. He remained stone-still.

“Ylli,” I cooed, but he didn’t stir.

I sat up, staring at his serene expression. As I shook his shoulder the flesh of his face quivered. Then I punched him in the chest hard enough wind a man. But nothing.

 

#

Back when I was an apprentice, I stood in Ylli’s workshop marveling at a hawk’s skin waiting to be mounted. He rested a palm on my young back and guided me to another corner where a fluffy bunny rested on a workbench.

Ylli reached for a rack of tools. “This knife is good for small projects – rabbits, birds, reptiles.” He made an incision above the rabbit’s tail, then gave me the handle warmed by his touch.

“Remember, always cut from the inside out, not the outside in.” He wrapped his hand around mine and together we pulled the blade through the length of the carcass. I watched the control and ease of his motion in awe.

Each day Ylli imparted a new secret. Then one day I saw him look at me the way I looked at him.

“Look at this musculature,” he said, as I lathered epoxy on a mare we were ready mount. “I can teach you everything I know, darling, but I could never learn your talent.”

I’d been a student of sculpture at the best university, but without him, my creativity would never have bloomed. We married and moved to the forest, where we lived together with nature.

 

#

I lay crying on his chest for hours. The grandfather clock resounded from downstairs to signal noon. If I wanted to keep Ylli with me, there was still time. I went into the workshop, grabbed the caliber, measuring tape and my notebook. Back in bed, Ylli’s hands were becoming blue and his back was darkening.

I raised Ylli’s heavy arm and placed it on my shoulder, stretching the tape measure from shoulder to wrist. With the measurements done, I hauled Ylli in a trolley and took him to the workshop. His arms sagged over my shoulders in a cold embrace as I set him on the tabletop. Then I took a combination blade, feeling the resistance of the skin as I dragged it around his middle – a new feeling of hide I’d never cut before. I made the second slit along his spine.  Slowly, I pulled the skin from the flesh.

Human skin is much thicker than more animals and it is also much more fragile. I left it to soak in a mixture of alum, water and salt, which would allow me several weeks to formulate a preservative. There was no way of knowing how to keep the colour of the skin, this time, no road kill to experiment on.

 

#

That first day I worked for 20 hours. No food, no rest. I had to. Intestines are the first to decay. Bacteria in the bowels survive after death to produce chemical reactions that could lead to either of two processes – mummification, or distention that ultimately explodes. It was critical to eviscerate before I could freeze his parts. I wrapped Ylli’s quartered and salted flesh in plastic, and placed him in the industrial-sized freezer. His innards I took out into the sunshine. By the red maple, I found a spade and the energy to dig a plot for the parts we no longer needed.

I awoke disoriented and then the memories came crashing back. I didn’t focus on them, merely deciding to pick up where I’d left off. Ylli was no longer there to slip between my thighs in the mornings. I missed him deeply. I thought that my memory of him was the next best thing to having him, and that if I could only create a fantasy vivid enough, I’d be content. Dreams of his body were bittersweet, they stung and yet they addicted. I would have done anything to have him back.

            I started with his left side. With Ylli’s foot and shin beside me, I sawed a piece of urethane foam down to size. Then I filed it to match the contours of his muscles. It would take several weeks to work on the form, and his skin would be pickled by the time I was complete.

 

#

One day I woke up knowing a single piece of Ylli remained to be built, and then I could begin putting him together. As I shuffled down the stairs, some coffee slopped out of my mug, dampening the top of my bed sock. When I reached the workshop my eyes were drawn to the freezer at the back of the room – the door was protruding, left ajar. I abandoned the mug on the bench and walked towards the freezer, praying it hadn’t been open too long, that its contents weren’t spoilt. The door might have been open for a week or more and I’d been in another corner, tanning skin with a formaldehyde potion, too busy to notice. The plastic bag which contained Ylli’s head was murky red and yellow, and when I picked it up, a trail of fowl liquid dribbled to the floor.

I cried, harder than the day he left me. My tears dried out and I found myself sprawled in a corner, bruised by broken antlers and covered in saw dust knocked off a counter. On the wall above me, my gaze snagged a photograph of Ylli with a lyrebird. I knew his face. I knew it so well I could almost feel his soft cheeks under my fingers when I closed my eyes. I knew the shape of his lips from a thousand kisses and his forehead from the nights I clutched it to my chest. The following day I took Ylli’s head to the red maple, and retrieved the shovel I’d left there weeks before. I could build the form of his head without this redundant matter that was no longer my husband. And I would prove I was the artist worthy of his love.

 

#

When I retrieved his skin for mounting, I saw that it was several shades darker than I recalled. Nevermind, a few summers earlier we’d spent a week at the coast and Ylli had tanned generously.

The mannequin I’d created was my best physical effort, the peak and limit of my skills. Before bringing out my needles, I arranged the skin on the form, checking the muscles of the body and the face. They were perfect, but they didn’t look like Ylli’s. I knew that stitching it up would do nothing to fix the strange angles of his face or the irredeemable slant of his chin. But I did it anyway.

The weather warmed rapidly with the onset of spring. I completed my last stitch and stood before my creation.

I took the taxidermy Ylli out to the maple tree. 

Instructor Response

#

Morning light bore [? the right word?  It means make a hole with little variance.  Accurate word choice is important, and don’t think the most accurate word is “unwriterly” or an inaccurate word poetic or lyrical (with exceptions).]   down on my face, rousing me. I wrapped an arm around Ylli slipping my hand into his shirt. His fair hair had been streaked with grey for years but it never thinned or receded. I loved the contrasts between us when my dark tresses fell across his skin. I wrapped my legs around Ylli’s supine body, and kissed his tepid cheek. He remained stone-still.

“Ylli,” I cooed, but he didn’t stir.

I sat up, staring at his serene expression. As I shook his shoulder the flesh of his face quivered. Then I punched him in the chest hard enough to wind a man. But nothing.  [Good opening.  Consider a little more clarity in the sense that what’s on the page is obscure more than mysterious.  Why not say if he’s dead or not?  To let the reader know might heighten interest.  Also learn to write easily accepted images.  I wrapped my legs around Ylli’s supine body, is a little hard to imagine.  If it’s important let the reader see it without a struggle or not understanding.]

 

#

Back when I was an apprentice, I stood in Ylli’s workshop marveling at a hawk’s skin waiting to be mounted. He rested a palm on my young back and guided me to another corner where a fluffy bunny rested on a workbench.

Ylli reached for a rack of tools. “This knife is good for small projects – rabbits, birds, reptiles.” He made an incision above the rabbit’s tail, then gave me the handle warmed by his touch.

“Remember, always cut from the inside out, not the outside in.” He wrapped his hand around mine and together we pulled the blade through the length of the carcass. I watched the control and ease of his motion in awe.  Good.  Interesting writing.

Each day Ylli imparted a new secret. Then one day I saw him look at me the way I looked at him.

“Look at this musculature,” he said, as I lathered epoxy on a mare we were ready mount. “I can teach you everything I know, darling, but I could never learn your talent.”

I’d been a student of sculpture at the best university, but without him, my creativity would never have bloomed. We married and moved to the forest, where we lived together with nature.  Great.

 

#

[Need a transition here.  The time change is unclear.  Transitions are important for clarity and flow and you can learn more here.]  I lay crying on his chest for hours. The grandfather clock resounded from downstairs to signal noon. If I wanted to keep Ylli with me, there was still time. I went into the workshop, grabbed the caliber, measuring tape and my notebook. Back in bed, Ylli’s hands were becoming blue and his back was darkening.

I raised Ylli’s heavy arm and placed it on my shoulder, stretching the tape measure from shoulder to wrist. With the measurements done, I hauled Ylli in a trolley and took him to the workshop. His arms sagged over my shoulders in a cold embrace as I set him on the tabletop. Then I took a combination blade, feeling the resistance of the skin as I dragged it around his middle – a new feeling of hide I’d never cut before. I made the second slit along his spine.  Slowly, I pulled the skin from the flesh.  :)

Human skin is much thicker than more animals and it is also much more fragile. I left it to soak in a mixture of alum, water and salt, which would allow me several weeks to formulate a preservative. There was no way of knowing how to keep the colour of the skin, this time, no road kill to experiment on.

 

#

That first day I worked for 20 hours. No food, no rest. I had to. Intestines are the first to decay. Bacteria in the bowels survive after death to produce chemical reactions that could lead to either of two processes – mummification, or distention that ultimately explodes. It was critical to eviscerate before I could freeze his parts. I wrapped Ylli’s quartered and salted flesh in plastic, and placed him in the industrial-sized freezer. His innards I took out into the sunshine. By the red maple, I found a spade and the energy to dig a plot for the parts we no longer needed.

I awoke disoriented and then the memories came crashing back. I didn’t focus on them, merely deciding to pick up where I’d left off. Ylli was no longer there to slip between my thighs in the mornings. I missed him deeply. I thought that my memory of him was the next best thing to having him, and that if I could only create a fantasy vivid enough, I’d be content. Dreams of his body were bittersweet, they stung and yet they addicted. I would have done anything to have him back.  Yes.  Very good.  You’ve instilled story momentum and question about what’s gping to happen.

I started with his left side. With Ylli’s foot and shin beside me, I sawed a piece of urethane foam down to size. Then I filed it to match the contours of his muscles. It would take several weeks to work on the form, and his skin would be pickled by the time I was complete.  I like this idea of taxidermy to try to capture or continue the affection of the dead.  And will it work?  Of course not.  But I’m interested to see why.

 

#

One day I woke up knowing a single piece of Ylli remained to be built, and then I could begin putting him together. As I shuffled down the stairs, some coffee slopped out of my mug, dampening the top of my bed sock. When I reached the workshop my eyes were drawn to the freezer at the back of the room – the door was protruding, left ajar. I abandoned the mug on the bench and walked towards the freezer, praying it hadn’t been open too long, that its contents weren’t spoilt. The door might have been open for a week or more and I’d been in another corner, tanning skin with a formaldehyde potion, too busy to notice. The plastic bag which contained Ylli’s head was murky red and yellow, and when I picked it up, a trail of fowl liquid dribbled to the floor.  This is well written.  Succinct.  Concrete.  Momentum.  Good job.

I cried, harder than the day he left me. My tears dried out and I found myself sprawled in a corner, bruised by broken antlers and covered in saw dust knocked off a counter. On the wall above me, my gaze snagged a photograph of Ylli with a lyrebird. I knew his face. I knew it so well I could almost feel his soft cheeks under my fingers when I closed my eyes. I knew the shape of his lips from a thousand kisses and his forehead from the nights I clutched it to my chest. The following day I took Ylli’s head to the red maple, and retrieved the shovel I’d left there weeks before. I could build the form of his head without this redundant matter that was no longer my husband. And I would prove I was the artist worthy of his love.

 

#

When I retrieved his skin for mounting, I saw that it was several shades darker than I recalled. Nevermind, a few summers earlier we’d spent a week at the coast and Ylli had tanned generously.

The mannequin I’d created was my best physical effort, the peak and limit of my skills. Before bringing out my needles, I arranged the skin on the form, checking the muscles of the body and the face. They were perfect, but they didn’t look like Ylli’s. I knew that stitching it up would do nothing to fix the strange angles of his face or the irredeemable slant of his chin. But I did it anyway.

The weather warmed rapidly with the onset of spring. I completed my last stitch and stood before my creation.  

I took the taxidermy Ylli out to the maple tree. 

 

Great story and well presented.  An excellent performance.  And I gain a thoughtful moral.  Something about how impossible it is for us to recreate a loved loss and to wonder why we always try even though we know it’s impossible.

Thanks for doing the assignment.

WHC

 

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Jane

 

1

            I know I overreacted but he forgets about me too often. This time was once too many. “If you can’t remember my birthday, just don’t bother planning to see me again. Ever.” Jake looked up at me, with his head lowered like a disgraced puppy. “Forget it,” I said, slamming the door. I’d fallen for that look before. I huffed out of his workshop to the Oriole Cafe.

            I ordered a drink and sat, alone, at a table for two, facing the bar. I thought he’d treat me lavishly tonight, with dinner and gifts to start. Fat chance of that now. I finished my drink and ordered another.

            A man at the bar grabbed my attention. His muscular arms and chest filled his navy blue tee shirt, spectacularly. Huntsville was a small town and I’d never seen him before. A sudden fever flushed my face. I undid the top button of my blouse.

            I worked my usual tricks; flipping my hair, crossing my legs. When he glanced my way, I put on my best smile, “Are you from around here?”

            “No. I’m here on business.”

            He didn’t dress professionally, but I let that pass. He spoke with gracious confidence. His eyes spoke too, with warm curiosity.

            I rattled the ice in my empty glass. “Buy me a drink.” I had business in mind as well.

2

            His name was Jack. “What’s good here? He asked.

            “The crab legs, if you’ve got the patience.”

            He laughed. “I’ve got the time, and patience to spare, if you’d care to join me.”

             And so we ate crab legs.

            Jack cracked a shell with calculated, precise pressure. The sound drew my attention to his hands, and I tracked one hand to his lips. He smiled at my attention. Juice dripped down his lip.

            I did some breaking of my own. Then, dipping the sweet meat into butter, tracing my lips with the wetted crab, and then sucking it, hard, I devoured the poor creature, all the while keeping my eyes on my new friend. By the time we were done, our table resembled a boneyard.

            “Can I drop you anywhere?” He asked.

            “I’d love to have you walk me home. It’s only a few blocks.”

            I relished the way he gently guided me, with a touch at the small of my back. Certainly, he had been in this circumstance before.

            At the door, I glanced across the street toward Jake’s shop.

            “Looking for someone?”

            “Oh…no. It’s nothing.”

            I don’t think I ever noticed my door before. It stood before me, a dark, daunting thing; more a barrier than an entry. But of course, I held the key. The key to what, I wondered. I turned to look at him, expectantly, but he said nothing.

            “Come up for a drink, I said.”

3         

            He took the bottle from my hand and cradled me in his arms. His lips staggered me; they felt so un-Jake-like. I took his hand and led him to the bedroom.

            He could have turned out to be cruel. Instead, he handled me gently. He found my sweet spots, not like Jake who knew them from experience, but by trial and error. He gratified me until I shrieked, “Please, stop.”

            He backed off and I caught my wind.            

            “Please, more.” I begged. He took me to the brink in countless waves of unbearable agitation. His restraint frustrated me. I thought I would drown in his torment.

            Then I saw the desire in his eyes. “Now, I said. “ Do me now.”

            I merged into his unrelenting rhythm. I curled to his physical bidding. God this felt good.

            I forgot, when I awoke, what I had done until with eyes closed, I accidentally touched him. “What’s this?” I asked myself. It’s not Jake. I fumbled with the covers. I opened my eyes. Oh God.

            I slipped quietly to the window. The world was deep into night but a light burned inside Jake’s workshop across the street.

            I looked at Jack sleeping in my bed. I cried, franticly wishing he were gone.

            I’ll go to Jake, I thought. I wanted Jake to hold me, forgive me, if only in my imagination, for he must never find out.

            But Jake’s lights were off. He stormed to my door.

4

            How had Jake spent this night, while I grenaded our relationship? I reeled at my stupidity.

            Why did he put up with me all these years? He was sorry. Couldn’t that have been enough for me? He would have finished his project and then gone looking for me, expecting to find me at the Oriole. He would have called my cell when he didn’t find me. But I had turned it off. We had been through this type of argument before. I knew how he would behave. He thought he knew me too.

            Apparently, he returned to his workshop, I’m guessing, because he was unable to sleep, worrying about our fight. He would have worked; fired his forge, heating his work-piece to a bright red, removing it with tongs, and setting it to the anvil. Oh, I knew the process well, having watched him work many times. My friends thought it strange that I liked to watch him; pounding his hot metal, curving it and shaping it to his will. I liked his sweat and the power of his determination. Tonight, he worked long into night. And now he came for me.

5

            I struggled into my jeans. “Get up. My boyfriend’s coming.” I tossed Jack’s pants to him and buttoned my blouse over bare breasts. Why didn’t he hurry? Didn’t he understand the urgency? At last, he slipped into his shoes. He reached out to me. I flinched.

            “I won’t cause any trouble,” he said.

            I turned away, unable to face him. “It’s too late. He’ll be at the door any moment. Promise me you’ll just go.”

            He shrugged.

            A thump on the door. Why didn’t Jake use his key? Oh God. He already knows. Leave it to Jake to be outwardly polite. I thought my heart would burst through my rib cage. My feet were concrete weights. I trudged down the steps at a funeral pace.

            “Let me in,” Jake demanded. I gasped at his voice. I turned to my woe begotten lover. He appeared unfazed, his jacket swung carelessly over his shoulder. I opened the door a crack. Jake pushed it wide. I smelled the residue of hot metal on his clothes.

            He glared from me to Jack. Fury smoldered in his eyes.

             “Excuse me,” Jack said, “I’m leaving.”

            Jake held his chin high and moved deliberately into his path. I held my breath. Jack stood his ground. A faceoff. I whimpered. This confrontation was my fault. I couldn’t bear a fight. I rushed at Jake, grasping him desperately, pushing him. Jack stepped outside and walked away.

6

            Jake had the look of a frantic animal. He grabbed me roughly and dragged me up the stairs.

            I wanted to tell him it was my fault. “What are you going to do?” I cried. My voice cracked and stuttered.

            “We’re going to my place. Get your things.” His voice resonated with the cold force of an avalanche. He waited, arms crossed.

            I wasn’t at all sure I should go with him but I was afraid to refuse. In the bedroom, engulfed in the odor of my sin, I hustled to gather some things and then shuttered the door. I called, shakily, “I’m ready.”

            He lurched at me, shoulders squared. A vein throbbed in his neck.

            I closed my eyes, thinking that I deserved physical punishment, would welcome it in exchange for relief from this guilt. Nothing happened. I opened my eyes again.

            He looked at me, puzzled. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

            We walked side by side without touching, me scurrying to keep up. He stared vacantly ahead, his mouth downturned.

            I bathed in his tub, scrubbing myself raw. When I slipped into bed, he turned away.

            Jake had come for me. He brought me home to his bed. I took refuge in the thought.

            My eyes moistened. I ventured a hand to his hair and stroked it. “I’m so sorry.”   

            “Not now,” he said. My fate, I realized, lay in the hands of time, and in the recourse of Jake’s capacity for forgiveness.

Instructor Response

Russ,

You’ve nailed this without a hitch.  Pacing is perfect.  The character learns something in trying to exact her revenge.  Character is likeable and very human in what she does.  Great work, and great prose.  The voice is right.  And the story logic and credible are spot on.  I’ve made a few comments but nothing critical.  Nothing needs to be changed!

Jane

1

       I know I overreacted but he forgets about me too often. This time was once too many. “If you can’t remember my birthday, just don’t bother planning to see me again. Ever.” Jake looked up at me, with his head lowered like a disgraced puppy. “Forget it,” I said, slamming the door. I’d fallen for that look before. I huffed out of his workshop to the Oriole Cafe.

       I ordered a drink and sat, alone, at a table for two, facing the bar. I thought he’d treat me lavishly tonight, with dinner and gifts to start. Fat chance of that now. I finished my drink and ordered another.

       A man at the bar grabbed my attention. His muscular arms and chest filled his navy blue tee shirt, spectacularly. Huntsville was a small town and I’d never seen him before. A sudden fever flushed my face. I undid the top button of my blouse.

       I worked my usual tricks; flipping my hair, crossing my legs. When he glanced my way, I put on my best smile, “Are you from around here?”

       “No. I’m here on business.”

       He didn’t dress professionally, but I let that pass. He spoke with gracious confidence. His eyes spoke too, with warm curiosity.

       I rattled the ice in my empty glass. “Buy me a drink.” I had business in mind as well.

(I think 1st person was a very wise choice.  Reader needs to be in Jane’s perspective and POV.  She is the story action.)

2

       His name was Jack. “What’s good here? He asked.

       “The crab legs, if you’ve got the patience.”

       He laughed. “I’ve got the time, and patience to spare, if you’d care to join me.”

        And so we ate crab legs.

       Jack cracked a shell with calculated, precise pressure. The sound drew my attention to his hands, and I tracked one hand to his lips. He smiled at my attention. Juice dripped down his lip.

       I did some breaking of my own. Then, dipping the sweet meat into butter, tracing my lips with the wetted crab, and then sucking it, hard, I devoured the poor creature, all the while keeping my eyes on my new friend. By the time we were done, our table resembled a boneyard.

       “Can I drop you anywhere?” He asked.

       “I’d love to have you walk me home. It’s only a few blocks.”

       I relished the way he gently guided me, with a touch at the small of my back. Certainly, he had been in this circumstance before.

       At the door, I glanced across the street toward Jake’s shop.

       “Looking for someone?”

       “Oh…no. It’s nothing.”

       I don’t think I ever noticed my door before. It stood before me, a dark, daunting thing; more a barrier than an entry. But of course, I held the key. The key to what, I wondered. I turned to look at him, expectantly, but he said nothing.  (Great!)

       “Come up for a drink, I said.”

 

3         

       He took the bottle from my hand and cradled me in his arms. His lips staggered me; they felt so un-Jake-like. I took his hand and led him to the bedroom.

       He could have turned out to be cruel. Instead, he handled me gently. He found my sweet spots, not like Jake who knew them from experience, but by trial and error. He gratified me until I shrieked, “Please, stop.”

       He backed off and I caught my wind.       

       “Please, more.” I begged. He took me to the brink in countless waves of unbearable agitation. His restraint frustrated me. I thought I would drown in his torment.

       Then I saw the desire in his eyes. “Now, I said. “ Do me now.”

       I merged into his unrelenting rhythm. I curled to his physical bidding. God this felt good.

       I forgot, when I awoke, what I had done until with eyes closed, I accidentally touched him. “What’s this?” I asked myself. It’s not Jake. I fumbled with the covers. I opened my eyes. Oh God.

       I slipped quietly to the window. The world was deep into night but a light burned inside Jake’s workshop across the street.

       I looked at Jack sleeping in my bed. I cried, franticly wishing he were gone.

       I’ll go to Jake, I thought. I wanted Jake to hold me, forgive me, if only in my imagination, for he must never find out.

       But Jake’s lights were off. He stormed to my door.

 

4

       How had Jake spent this night, while I grenaded our relationship? I reeled at my stupidity.

       Why did he put up with me all these years? He was sorry. Couldn’t that have been enough for me? He would have finished his project and then gone looking for me, expecting to find me at the Oriole. He would have called my cell when he didn’t find me. But I had turned it off. We had been through this type of argument before. I knew how he would behave. He thought he knew me too.

       Apparently, he returned to his workshop, I’m guessing, because he was unable to sleep, worrying about our fight. He would have worked; fired his forge, heating his work-piece to a bright red, removing it with tongs, and setting it to the anvil. Oh, I knew the process well, having watched him work many times. My friends thought it strange that I liked to watch him; pounding his hot metal, curving it and shaping it to his will. I liked his sweat and the power of his determination. Tonight, he worked long into night. And now he came for me.

 

5

       I struggled into my jeans. “Get up. My boyfriend’s coming.” I tossed Jack’s pants to him and buttoned my blouse over bare breasts. Why didn’t he hurry? Didn’t he understand the urgency? At last, he slipped into his shoes. He reached out to me. I flinched.

       “I won’t cause any trouble,” he said.

       I turned away, unable to face him. “It’s too late. He’ll be at the door any moment. Promise me you’ll just go.”

       He shrugged.

       A thump on the door. Why didn’t Jake use his key? Oh God. He already knows. Leave it to Jake to be outwardly polite. I thought my heart would burst through my rib cage. My feet were concrete weights. I trudged down the steps at a funeral pace.

       “Let me in,” Jake demanded. I gasped at his voice. I turned to my woe begotten lover. He appeared unfazed, his jacket swung carelessly over his shoulder. I opened the door a crack. Jake pushed it wide. I smelled the residue of hot metal on his clothes.

       He glared from me to Jack. Fury smoldered in his eyes.

        “Excuse me,” Jack said, “I’m leaving.”

       Jake held his chin high and moved deliberately into his path. I held my breath. Jack stood his ground. A faceoff. I whimpered. This confrontation was my fault. I couldn’t bear a fight. I rushed at Jake, grasping him desperately, pushing him. Jack stepped outside and walked away.

 

6

       Jake had the look of a frantic animal. He grabbed me roughly and dragged me up the stairs.

       I wanted to tell him it was my fault. “What are you going to do?” I cried. My voice cracked and stuttered.

       “We’re going to my place. Get your things.” His voice resonated with the cold force of an avalanche. He waited, arms crossed.

       I wasn’t at all sure I should go with him but I was afraid to refuse. In the bedroom, engulfed in the odor of my sin, I hustled to gather some things and then shuttered the door. I called, shakily, “I’m ready.”

       He lurched at me, shoulders squared. A vein throbbed in his neck.

       I closed my eyes, thinking that I deserved physical punishment, would welcome it in exchange for relief from this guilt. Nothing happened. I opened my eyes again.

       He looked at me, puzzled. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

       We walked side by side without touching, me scurrying to keep up. He stared vacantly ahead, his mouth downturned.

       I bathed in his tub, scrubbing myself raw. When I slipped into bed, he turned away.

       Jake had come for me. He brought me home to his bed. I took refuge in the thought.

       My eyes moistened. I ventured a hand to his hair and stroked it. “I’m so sorry.”   

       “Not now,” he said. My fate, I realized, lay in the hands of time, and in the recourse of Jake’s capacity for forgiveness.

 

Really well done.  Thanks for the submission.  And all the best,

Bill

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1.

She walked slowly from the kitchen to the dining room table, eyes focused on the soup tureen in her hands. Her mother followed with a bottle of wine and a basket of rolls. Hans, chin perched on tented hands, watched. Patricia seated the ceramic tureen in its silver holder and sat down. Leni placed the bread basket beside the tureen and handed her husband the open bottle of wine before sitting at her end of the table.

“It smells good, Patricia. Did you make this?” Hans asked pouring wine into his glass.

“Yes. It’s from a recipe Tante Ola sent me,” she answered as she passed the bottle to her mother.

He began ladling soup into his bowl. “I’m glad to see you helping your mother more. What else did you do today?”

Leni regarded her empty bowl. A hard knot appeared on Patricia’s right cheek.  She took the ladle from her father’s hand and began filling her own bowl while her mother poured the wine. “Well, after walking to Hertels and to Rose’s Bakery to get everything for the soup, I went to the park.”

“And?” Hans prodded. “What else?”

“Then I came home and fixed your dinner.” Patricia replied quietly, her eyes locked on her father’s eyes.

He looked across the table and watched his wife fill her own bowl with steaming soup. Her eyes met his briefly before fixing once again on the thick chunks of pork that lounged amongst the red cabbage in her bowl.

2.

After clearing the table, putting the food put away, and washing the dishes, Patricia passed through the living room on the way to her bedroom. Her parents sat, as usual, in their matching wing-backed chairs—her mother smoking, her father’s face obscured by the New York Post.

“Sit and keep us company for a while?” Hans suggested as he peered over the top of the paper.

Patricia’s chest expanded and slowly deflated. Her lips barely moved as she responded, “I have some writing to do.”

“Are you working on something important?”

“It’s important to me.”


“Well, what is this important writing that you’re engaged in?” her father prodded.

“I’m working on a series of children’s stories. I need to have them ready to send off by Friday.”

“Oh. Interesting. And where do you plan to send them?”

“Whitman Publishing is accepting submissions for children’s books.”

“And how do they pay?” he asked.

“On time, I’m sure.” She turned down the hallway to her room and flung the door closed.

Hans stared toward the empty hallway, the newspaper collapsing onto his lap.

“Must you constantly push at her so?”  Leni asked softly. Her cheeks flamed to a slightly paler shade than her hair, as Hans swiveled his gaze to her. 

 

“Leni. For God’s sake. The girl is frittering away her life. She dabbles in this and that. She starts projects but never sees them through. First it was acting, then journalism, now she’s writing children’s books . . . supposedly.”

3.

They gazed at the rainbow of hats in the window. “That one would look stunning on you, Patricia. The blue matches your eyes and with the angle tipped, the shape would highlight your cheekbones.”

“Yeah, thanks, Becca. I can see it now: Dad comes home and sees a box from DeLancey’s. . . He’s been on my case about everything lately. ‘Help your poor mother, get a job, stop moping.’”  She turned away from the hatted heads and gazed at the dresses next door.

“But what about your writing? Isn’t he proud that you’ll be published next month?”

“Children’s literature doesn’t impress him. The only thing he’s interested in is the pay. He’s convinced I can’t make a living writing kids’ books. Maybe he’s right. I’ve already had more stories rejected than I care to admit. Look at that one on the right, Becca. That empire style is just what you’ve been looking for, isn’t it?”  They shrieked in unison when a city bus sprayed slush as it passed. “Why not try it on? It would be perfect for your date with Charles.”

Becca burbled , “I think he may propose soon!”

“You’re ready for that, aren’t you?” Patricia asked as they opened the heavy glass doors of the department store.

Becca’s face beamed her answer.

“You’re so lucky, Becca. Everything is falling into place for you. I keep rattling around this damned city. I’m so tired of grey skies, concrete towers and stinky old buses. I wish I could escape this prison!”

4.

She adjusted her hat in the hall mirror and examined her teeth for lipstick smears.

“Good luck, honey.” Leni’s reedy voice traveled through a cloud of cigarette smoke.

“Thanks, Mother. I’ll pick up salad fixings on the way home. Bye.”

“You look ready to take on the world, Miz Boeck,” said the doorman as she stepped through  the door of their West End apartment building.

She smiled, wishing she felt as spiffy as she looked. It was her day of reckoning. Her father insisted that she must learn something about the business.  She hurried through the turnstile and squeezed into the train just as the doors slid shut, her father’s criticism echoing in her head. He’d have been happier with a son, she thought bitterly. Someone who would follow his footsteps and carry on the family name. Me? He doesn’t really expect me to travel the world wheeling and dealing. He expects me to sit behind a desk in that dreary office day in and day out—until I meet Mr. Right. And then of course, Mr. Right will slide into the business while I stay home taking care of mom and dad and babies and the house.”


Elbows jabbed and morning breath clogged her nostrils until her stop, then like leaking coffee beans she spilled out with the crowd surging toward Mill Street.  Her hand on the brass door plate of H. Boeck and Peters , she sucked in air like a diver plunging toward the water.

5.

A cup of black tea appeared on her desk.  Her hand poised on the ten-key, she watched Ray’s straight, narrow back disappear toward the front of the building. Glancing at the clock on the wall, she wondered, Is he that punctual about everything?   She’d never been much for tea until Ray began this morning ritual using the fine black stuff supplied by his parents in China. She sighed as she thought about the delicious meal they’d shared at Fongs last Friday night.  Oh, I hope he asks me out again.  She smiled as she remembered gazing into the black pools of his eyes with their intriguingly simple lids. She adored the way his thick black hair flopped over his forehead while he talked, like a horse’s forelock.

“Do you have that balance sheet finished yet, Patricia?” Her father’s partner gently reined her mind back to the desk.

“Almost, Fred.” She continued punching numbers and recording sums. An hour and half passed like molasses.

She didn’t hear Ray’s footsteps as he approached her desk. “Do you have lunch plans today, Paticia?” he asked soto voce.

 One eyebrow shot up as she whispered, “Not at all.”

“Pehaps you would accompany me to my favalite place in de pak? I know a guy, he has noodaa stand. Is good. Vely good.

“Oh I would love that, Ray.” She realized that she’d actually been looking forward to coming to work lately.

6.

Their hands crept across the table toward each other as they waited for the curry. Their regular table at Fongs snuggled into a dark corner at the back of the long narrow diner.

“I want you to come with me to Becca’s engagement party,” Patricia announced. She clamped her front teeth over her bottom lip to contain a smile. There was a long pause. Her lip fell free of its restraint and her smile deflated.

The waiter shuffled up to the table and placed a large platter of green curry between them. Her hands found each other and clasped themselves, prayer-like, in her lap. She held her breath and tilted her chin. “Ray?”

“Is not good idee.” 

   

“But why? What’s wrong?”

“I sink, maybe Becca’s palents not like see me.” Ray’s mouth was a thin line and his eyes fell to his hands that now also lay in his lap. The curry steamed between them.

Her forehead wrinkled, pushing the peak of her hairline into a crooked squiggle. “Ray . . . what are you talking about?”

His gaze drifted to the wall, across the pot of soup, to the edge of the table, then back to his lap. “Is not good idee. Not everyone is good and accepting like you. I no want make bad scene fa  you flend.”

The full impact of his words hit her like a sledgehammer.  “If you can’t brave Becca’s family, how will you have the nerve to stand up to my father?”

“I don’t.” He admitted.

Instructor Response

 

Good work.  You introduce characters up front, the conflicts are clear, motivations are understood and credible.  A very acceptable performance. 

As you continue to write and revise, keep this in mind.  Many readers may not stick with the story very long, or will leave the reading with a sense of dissatisfaction.  It’s not the story but mainly the writing.  You have a tendency to verbosity, and you tend to use inaccurate words that confuse the meaning, especially verbs.  Your descriptions are long, and it makes the writing tend to ponderous.  It can be argued, of course, that it’s your style . . . that it is what you want to achieve.  But you have the potential to interest many more readers, and by following a few classic rules for writing fiction, you could achieve that.  Make your writing sparser.  Be sure everything you put on the page has a story-purpose.  Learn to write effective dialogue [http://www.storyinliteraryfiction.com/essays-on-writing/dialogue/].  And this is difficult, but learn to write for your reader and avoid the need, as a writer, to appear as what you think a great writer should be.

I’ll make suggests below.  There is no intent to edit, just pointing out things, especially in the writing, where you can learn to work to improve the effect you achieve on the reader.  You might remember, you want to engage, entertain, and enlighten a reader with your fiction.  You don’t want to confuse, discourage, bore, or deflect the reader’s attention away from the story.

1.

She walked slowly from the kitchen to the dining room table, eyes focused on the soup tureen in her hands. Her mother followed with a bottle of wine and a basket of rolls. Hans, chin perched on tented hands, watched. Patricia seated the ceramic tureen in its silver holder and sat down. Leni placed the bread basket beside the tureen and handed her husband the open bottle of wine before sitting at her end of the table.

“It smells good, Patricia. Did you make this?” Hans asked pouring wine into his glass.

“Yes. It’s from a recipe Tante Ola sent me,” she answered as she passed the bottle to her mother.

He began ladling soup into his bowl. “I’m glad to see you helping your mother more. What else did you do today?”

Leni regarded her empty bowl. A hard knot appeared on Patricia’s right cheek.  She took the ladle from her father’s hand and began filling her own bowl while her mother poured the wine. “Well, after walking to Hertels and to Rose’s Bakery to get everything for the soup, I went to the park.”

“And?” Hans prodded. “What else?”

“Then I came home and fixed your dinner.” Patricia replied quietly, her eyes locked on her father’s eyes.

He looked across the table and watched his wife fill her own bowl with steaming soup. Her eyes met his briefly before fixing once again on the thick chunks of pork that lounged amongst the red cabbage in her bowl.

2.

After clearing the table, putting the food put away, and washing the dishes, Patricia passed through the living room on the way to her bedroom. Her parents sat, as usual, in their matching wing-backed chairs—her mother smoking, her father’s face obscured by the New York Post.

“Sit and keep us company for a while?” Hans suggested as he peered over the top of the paper.

Patricia’s chest expanded and slowly deflated. Her lips barely moved as she responded, “I have some writing to do.”

“Are you working on something important?”

“It’s important to me.”

“Well, what is this important writing that you’re engaged in?” her father prodded.

“I’m working on a series of children’s stories. I need to have them ready to send off by Friday.”   [This is too much exposition for effective dialogue.  It’s not credible she would say this to her father in this situation.  It’s almost a soliloquy.]

“Oh. Interesting. And where do you plan to send them?”

“Whitman Publishing is accepting submissions for children’s books.”

“And how do they pay?” he asked.

“On time, I’m sure.” She turned down the hallway to her room and flung  [wrong word] the door closed.

Hans stared toward the empty hallway, the newspaper collapsing onto in his lap.

“Must you constantly push at her so?”  Leni asked softly. Her cheeks flamed to a slightly paler shade than her hair, as Hans swiveled his gaze to her. 

        “Leni. For God’s sake. The girl is frittering away her life. She dabbles in this and that. She starts projects but never sees them through. First it was acting, then journalism, now she’s writing children’s books . . . supposedly.”  This is unrealistic dialogue.  Restructure, condense, or consider delivering information in narrative or through internalization.

3.

They gazed at the rainbow of hats in the window. “That one would look stunning on you, Patricia. The blue matches your eyes and with the angle tipped, the shape would highlight your cheekbones.”

“Yeah, thanks, Becca. I can see it now: Dad comes home and sees a box from DeLancey’s. . . He’s been on my case about everything lately. ‘Help your poor mother, get a job, stop moping.’”  She turned away from the hatted heads and gazed at the dresses next door.

“But what about your writing? Isn’t he proud that you’ll be published next month?”

“Children’s literature doesn’t impress him. The only thing he’s interested in is the pay. He’s convinced I can’t make a living writing kids’ books. Maybe he’s right. I’ve already had more stories rejected than I care to admit. Look at that one on the right, Becca. That empire style is just what you’ve been looking for, isn’t it?”  Aey shrieked in unison when a city bus sprayed slush as it passed. “Why not try it on? It would be perfect for your date with Charles.”

Becca burbled [wrong word], “I think he may propose soon!”

“You’re ready for that, aren’t you?” Patricia asked as they opened the heavy glass doors of the department store.

Becca’s face beamed her answer.

“You’re so lucky, Becca. Everything is falling into place for you. I keep rattling around this damned city. I’m so tired of grey skies, concrete towers and stinky old buses. I wish I could escape this prison!”

4.

She adjusted her hat in the hall mirror and examined her teeth for lipstick smears.

“Good luck, honey.” Leni said. reedy voice traveled through a cloud of cigarette smoke.

“Thanks, Mother. I’ll pick up salad fixings on the way home. Bye.”

“You look ready to take on the world, Miz Boeck,” said the doorman as she stepped through  the door of their West End apartment building.

She smiled, wishing she felt as spiffy as she looked. It was her day of reckoning. Her father insisted that she must learn something wanted her to learn about the business.  She hurried through the turnstile and squeezed into the train just as the doors slid shut, her father’s criticism echoing in her head. He’d have been happier with a son, she thought bitterly. Someone who would follow his footsteps and carry on the family name. Me? He doesn’t really expect me to travel the world wheeling and dealing. He expects me to sit behind a desk in that dreary office day in and day out—until I meet Mr. Right. And then of course, Mr. Right will slide into the business while I stay home taking care of mom and dad and babies and the house.” [Good.  Does a lot of work for story!  And the internalization is very effective.]

Elbows jabbed and morning breath clogged her nostrils until her stop, then like leaking coffee beans she spilled out with the crowd surging toward Mill Street.  She got out at Mill Street and went to the office of H. Boeck and Peters , she sucked in air like a diver plunging toward the water.

5.

A cup of black tea appeared on her desk.  Her hand poised on the ten-key, she watched Ray’s straight, narrow back disappear toward the front of the building. Glancing at the clock on the wall, she wondered, Is he that punctual about everything?   She’d never been much for tea until Ray began this morning ritual using the fine black stuff supplied by his parents in China. She sighed as she thought about the delicious meal they’d shared at Fongs last Friday night.  Oh, I hope he asks me out again.  She smiled as she remembered gazing into the black pools of his eyes with their intriguingly simple lids. She adored the way his thick black hair flopped over his forehead while he talked, like a horse’s forelock.

“Do you have that balance sheet finished yet, Patricia?” Her father’s partner gently reined her mind back to the desk.

“Almost, Fred.” She continued punching numbers and recording sums. An hour and half passed like molasses.

She didn’t hear Ray’s footsteps as he approached her desk. “Do you have lunch plans today, Paticia?” he asked soto voce.

 One eyebrow shot up as she whispered, “Not at all.”

“Pehaps you would accompany me to my favalite place in de pak? I know a guy, he has noodaa stand. Is good. Vely good.

“Oh I would love that, Ray.” She realized that she’d actually been looking forward to coming to work lately.  [The dialogue indicates this.]

6.

Their hands crept across the table toward each other as they waited for the curry. Their regular table at Fongs snuggled [wrong word] into a dark corner at the back of the long narrow diner.

“I want you to come with me to Becca’s engagement party,” Patricia announced. She clamped her front teeth over her bottom lip to contain a smile. There was a long pause. Her lip fell free of its restraint and her smile deflated.

The waiter shuffled up to the table and placed a large platter of green curry between them. Her hands found each other and clasped themselves, prayer-like, in her lap. She held her breath and tilted her chin. “Ray?”

“But why? What’s wrong?”

“I sink, maybe Becca’s palents not like see me.” Ray’s mouth was a thin line tightened and he looked to his hands that now also lay that were in his lap. The curry steamed between them.

Her forehead wrinkled, pushing the peak of her hairline into a crooked squiggle. “Ray . . . what are you talking about?”

His gaze drifted to the wall, across the pot of soup, to the edge of the table, then back to his lap. “Is not good idee. Not everyone is good and accepting like you. I no want make bad scene fa  you flend.”

The full impact of his words hit her like a sledgehammer.  “If you can’t brave Becca’s family, how will you have the nerve to stand up to my father?”

“I don’t.” He admitted.

 

Specific comments and ideas.

 

Her forehead wrinkled, pushing the peak of her hairline into a crooked squiggle.   

There are too many words here used to express a simple idea.

Her forehead wrinkled.  , pushing the peak of her hairline into a crooked squiggle.   would do just fine. 

This is an example of what some teachers label as trying to be “writerly”.   That’s the straining to sound erudite and really sounding pompous, amateurish and ineffective.  You can overcome this as you continue your career.  But it will require your searching and recognizing the tendency when you’re revising.

 

Don’t use a pronoun when the antecedent is not absolutely clear.  You often start a paragraph or a sentence with a pronoun when who is speaking is not immediately apparent. 

 

Study your dialogue.  Dialogue must be vibrant and active.  It must be as sparce as possible for the situation.   It must never seem unrelated to th e immediate scene, character, or plot.  Dialogue must have a purpose, and the purpose cannot be just to have words fill the page because the story has lost momentum or the author can’t think of purposeful dialogue.  And dialogue must never be the way people talk in real life—it can be deadly boring, at least appear as bad writing, but it must always seem to the reader the way people speak in real life.  Difficult to do.  And dialogue must be consistent with–and unique to–the character speaking, consistent with age, gender, worldview, intelligence, education, humor, and imagination.

 

Never use two or more words when one will do.  And choose nouns and verbs that will exactly express that you, the writer, desire.

 

Dialect in writing is a tricky choice.  Too much is usually not effect to many readers.  Test the effectiveness of your dialect with readers you trust to assess the acceptance of dialect in your writing.  From my sensitivities, I felt there was too much dialect for my enjoyment here.  The dialect called attention to itself as a device, and that worked against the quality of the writing.

 

You’ve got something valuable working here.  Use it as a stepping stone to perfection.  And all the best in your writing.

 

WHC

  1. Thanks for your careful critique. You’ve given me lots to work on. Fiction is very difficult for me..

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Jane

 

Too many times. That’s how often Jake forgot about her. This time it was her birthday. She told him she didn’t want to see him ever again. Jake looked up at her, with his head lowered like a disgraced puppy, but she wasn’t impressed. She had fallen for that look before. She huffed out of his workshop and bristled to the Oriole Cafe.

She took a seat at a table, conspicuously alone, and ordered a drink. A man walked in and sat at the bar. She assumed he was from out of town because she had never seen him before, and Huntsville was a small town. He was probably some kind of nomad although he didn’t look like a salesman. He was muscular; his arms and chest filling his navy blue tee shirt spectacularly.

She had been expecting a night of romance with Jake. Looking at the stranger, she got the rogue notion that sex could still be on her agenda. Her face reddened.

Jake was the only man she had ever been with. Others had tried, but she resisted, first because she was young and afraid, and then because she only wanted Jake. But she was angrier with him than she had ever been before. He had to pay her more attention. She must impress that upon him.

The man turned to look at her. She smiled and rattled the ice in her empty glass. “Buy me a drink and take me home,” she said.

 

Jack was planning to have a drink and dinner before finding a motel for the night. He couldn’t believe his luck, propositioned by this tall, slender woman. He bought her dinner, and several drinks.

“We can walk, it’s only a few blocks,” she said. He liked the way she moved, majestically erect. He wondered about her motives but quickly shut down that line of thinking. Everyone had reasons he rationalized. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

She seemed quietly reserved despite her bold come on. They came upon her apartment. She unlocked the door and looked across the street before she went in.

“Looking for someone?” Jack asked.

“Oh…no. It’s nothing.” Jack followed her upstairs. Her gentle sway excited him more with each step.

“Would you like a drink,” she asked flirtatiously. He could see she was acting.

He declined the drink and took the bottle from her hand. She was half loopy already. He took her in his arms to kiss her. She lurched at the touch of his lips. He sighed and backed off. This wasn’t going to work out after all. He started to apologize but she touched her fingers to his lips and centered her eyes on his. She took his hand and led him to the bedroom.

 

She should feel lucky. Jack could have turned out to be cruel. Instead, he handled her gently, finding her sweet spots. Not like Jake who knew them from experience, but by trial and error. When he found one, he stayed with it until she pleaded for mercy. Then he backed off, to probe again. His restraint frustrated her deliciously. She thought this might last forever, that he might never grant her final satisfaction.

Then she saw the desire in his eyes. “Now, she said, knowing he could hold out no longer.

“Come on!” She shrieked. She merged into his rhythm, curled to his physical bidding. God this felt good.

They slept. She forgot when she woke, what she had done. With her eyes still closed, her hand reached out, incidentally touching her partner. What’s this? She wondered. It’s not Jake. She opened her eyes. Oh God.

She slipped soundlessly out of the bed. She went to the window. The world was deep into night but light burned inside Jake’s workshop across the street.

She wept as she looked at the man sleeping in her bed. She wished he were gone. She should go to Jake. Jack could let himself out when he woke. Jake need never know. She smiled, lightly, in the darkness, having resolved to go. She wanted Jake to hold her, forgive her, if only in her imagination.

She glanced out the window again. Jake’s lights were off. He was walking toward her door.

After Jane had left, Jake shook his head. He had forgotten her birthday. She took it hard. He should go after her but she said she didn’t want to see him. He took up his hammer and went back to work. Hours later, when he got to the Oriole, she was gone.

Jimmy waved him over, “You looking for Jane?”

“Yeah. She been here?”

“She left with some guy. I figured he must be her cousin or something but they seemed exceptionally friendly.”

Jake’s gut sank. He rang her on her cell but she had it turned off. He returned to his workshop. Jane’s lights were on. A silhouette appeared at the window, and then a second, before the lights went out. He burned hot. He started to the door but stopped short and stood immobile, paralyzed for an endless moment, visualizing Jane with her faceless ‘cousin.’

He fired his forge. Trance-like, he watched his work-piece heat to a bright red. With tongs, he removed the metal and set it to the anvil. He pounded the piece at a feverish pace, curving it and shaping it to his will, working long into night until he spent every drop of anger. Then he headed across the street to gather Jane.

 

Jane struggled into her jeans. She shook Jack in a panic. “Get up. My boyfriend’s coming.” She tossed his pants to him. She buttoned her blouse over bare breasts. Then she paced back and forth, waiting for Jack to dress. Why didn’t he hurry? Didn’t he understand the urgency? Jack slipped into his shoes and reached out to her. She flinched.

“I won’t cause any trouble,” he said.

Jane turned her face away “It’s too late. He’ll be at the door any moment.”

Jack shrugged.

A knock on the door. Why didn’t Jake use his key? Oh God. He already knows. Leave it to Jake to be outwardly polite. Her heart pounded. She trudged down the steps at a funeral pace. A childhood memory chanced into her mind; at swimming lessons, she almost drowned, helplessly sinking.

“Let me in,” Jake called. She reached the bottom landing with Jack following. She opened the door a crack. Jake pushed it wide open. He looked from her to him. Fury smoldered behind his eyes.

“Excuse me,” Jack said, “I’m leaving.”

Jake stood his ground. Everyone stood stone still. The men stared at each other. Jane snapped her head back and forth, from one man to the other. This was her fault. She collected her courage. She rushed at Jake, grasping him desperately, pushing him aside. Jack stepped outside and walked away.

 

Jake said they were going to his place. He waited, arms crossed in the kitchen. She gathered some things from her bedroom, gaging on the aftermath of her betrayal. Hurriedly, she shuttered the bedroom door. “I’m ready,” she said, gasping.

Jake nodded and looked away.

They walked side by side without touching. She had to scurry to keep up. He stared vacantly ahead, his mouth downturned.

She bathed at his place, scrubbing herself raw. When she slipped into bed next to him, he turned away.

Jake had come for her. She took refuge in the thought. She prayed for a new chance but she got no answer.

She ventured a hand to his hair and stroked him gently. “I’m so sorry,” she said.

“Not now,” he said. Her fate lay in the future, in the recourse of Jake’s capacity for forgiveness.

Instructor Response

Well written. Story progresses nicely. There is good pacing and suspense. You might consider names. Use of Jack, Jake, and Jane, although reflective on Jane’s confusion about love and men, could be disruptive to some readers, especially when you’re switching perspectives and it’s easy to misread Jake as Jack and visa versa.

Nothing needs to be done. But as an exercise, you might rewrite it from a single POV. Take Jane for an example. To do this, you’d have to introduce information about Jack and Jake in new ways, and always through Jane’s perspective. But the reader would discover a lot about Jane. The way she knows or suspects, her reactions to knowledge and action about Jake and Jack, and you’d be closer to the action in the sex scene and less through a narrator’s perspective. Look at this section. Narrator in green. Into Jane’s perspective in red.

She should feel lucky. Jack could have turned out to be cruel. Instead, he handled her gently, finding her sweet spots. Not like Jake who knew them from experience, but by trial and error. When he found one, he stayed with it until she pleaded for mercy. Then he backed off, to probe again. His restraint frustrated her deliciously. Touching tasted so good. She thought this might go on forever, that he might never grant her final satisfaction.
      Then she saw the desire in his eyes. He shared in her sweet torture. “Now, she said, knowing he could hold out no longer.

Notice the difference between the paragraphs. Narrator description is distant from the action. Note too, His restraint frustrated her deliciously. is fuzzy narration. Who is speaking? Jane would work, especially when you use “deliciously”, a Jane’s-knowledge adverb that the narrator could only speculate about. Yet you’re in a narrator mode in this paragraph, so you lose the effectiveness of the sentence to augment Jane’s characterization. (I know you’ll probably see the entire green passage as possible from Jane’s perspective, but look carefully . . . the structure, subject/verb choice, and syntax in general make it mostly narrator.) I use this example to let you see how staying in one POV changes things in ways that might allow you to build character and increase reader interest in character and what will happen to her.

So, you could be working on a reader’s feelings and reactions to the piece by experimenting with singular perspective and POV. You would also probably need to use in-scene writing techniques, especially to reveal backstory, thought, and emotions for characters outside the POV character. All this changes the reader engagement and intellectual and emotional response. It might turn out that’s not what you want. But it also might turn a good story into a great story. [You have the skills to do this level of writing. I wouldn’t discuss this with you if I thought you didn’t. I mean, you don’t tell a man how to hold the football to produce a spiral-pass if he was born without arms.]

The quest to engage a reader to feel and think is what great writing, for the most part, is all about. In “Jane” you’ve told a story well. The next step would be to focus entirely on reader engagement and response. POV and perspective is only one way to address the challenge. You could change the time line. You could adjust when and how information is delivered (dialogue, descriptive narration, in-scene). You could consider how back-story information could be delivered more effectively. You could look to narration distance from the action. You could insert more conflict, action, and resolution—showing and not telling mainly. (Consider the paragraphi where of the three of them, Jane, Jack, Jake staring at each other. There is an opportunity for dramatization that could still resolve the way you’ve chosen, but make it much more in-the-character.) You could look for more suspense; how can you make the reader worry about what will happen the a character they care about.

(You could do this perspective/POV thing for Jake and Jack too and learn about their motivations because now you’re forced into their perspectives and worldviews. But Jane is your major character, she’s the one with motivation (to get back at Jake). She’s the one that has revelation as to her mistake.

Hope this useful. As always, great work.
Best regards,
Bill

iJake stood his ground. Everyone stood stone still. The men stared at each other. Jane snapped her head back and forth, from one man to the other. This was her fault. She collected her courage. She rushed at Jake, grasping him desperately, pushing him aside. Jack stepped outside and walked away.

  1. I’m trying to rewrite this story entirely in Jane’s POV and to better engage the reader by emphasizing in-scene action and dialogue, but I’m struggling. You mention in-scene writing techniques. Can you elaborate?

    • Sure. Read this blog post for overview. For examples, you’ll find in the moment and in scene work in the appendix of Story in Literary Fiction: A Manual for Writers. Hope this helps. Bill

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1.

Mr deValiers was already seated when I arrived, studying the menu over glinting half-moon glasses. His face looked heavier than I remembered – bloated somehow – though perhaps it was a trick of the light. The maitre d’ hovered above his shoulder, alert to the old man’s every twitch and nod.

He barely looked up as I approached; merely flapped a yellowish hand at the seat opposite and wrinkled his nostrils as if smelling something unpleasant. I smoothed my palms down the black suit I’d had specially pressed and stooped at the knees as a waiter pushed in my chair.

“A great pity,” he said once the wine was poured. “My condolences. Your father was a fine lawyer.”

“Thank-you, sir. I wish only to follow his lead.”

Mr deValiers sniffed. “As you can see, I’m not well myself. My doctor says I’ve hardly six months.”

I did my best to hide my shock. Now that I looked closer though I could see the signs: the lumps under his jaw were the cancer pushing through.

“I’m sorry.”

“Yes. Well.” Mr deValiers sighed impatiently. “I wish to bequeath an inheritance.”

I bowed my head. “Of course. A matter merely of the Will.”

He dropped his knife with a clatter.  “No, no. I told your father. Not like that.”

I waited, sensing the need to tread carefully.

“Something else, sir? As your solicitor, I am at your service.”

Mr deValiers gazed away over my shoulder. “My son Robert. I wish him to come home.”

 

2.

The graveyard was cold. I turned up my collar. It took me a while to find the headstone; it seemed to have moved from where I remembered. I flicked withered stalks away from the plot and tipped dirty water out of the flower holder. The cheap bunch I’d bought crinkled in its plastic wrapper.

“Hello, Dad.”

I laid my offering.

An awkward silence.

I turned my face to the grey clouds and wondered why I had come. What had I to say that hadn’t been written in all the angry letters we had exchanged? He’d never backed down and now he was dead. Let that be an end to it. I pushed my hands deeper into my pockets and stamped my feet.

At least I could make a difference for deValiers: his book was not yet closed. But so far Robert had proved as elusive as a ghost and something about his utter untraceability was making me uneasy. I was only too aware of how far beyond my professional remit I had already stepped, yet there was something about the old man’s request that would not leave me alone.

A dark flock of birds clattered across the sky. The flowers gazed up at me, white and innocent. I pressed my hand on the cold gravestone and searched for something else to say. But my mind was blank. I mouthed a silent goodbye and turned my steps towards home.

 

3.

“Is green tea OK? We don’t have coffee.”

“Green…? Sure.”

Lita leaned back against the worktop while the kettle boiled.

“You’re from London?”

“Robert’s father is very ill. I’ve come at his request.”

The kettle began a gentle shriek. She lifted it from the cooker with a tea-towel and filled a chipped teapot.

“Let’s go through.”

To my relief, the living room was clean and sunny. We sat cross-legged on the floor and Lita watched me steadily while I drank. 

“When Robert came to our commune,” she said, “he was very unhappy. Something was wrong for him, right in the core.”

“He told you so?”

Lita smiled. “It was plain to see.”

“So he came here. To you. To this.”

“He needed to start again. We helped him to do so.”

“He was running away.”

“I wouldn’t call it that.”

I pressed my temple. A headache was beginning. “And after? Where did he go?”

“Abroad, perhaps. He liked the sunshine.” She shrugged. “What is it to you?”

I put down my mug, more forcefully than intended. “I need your help. Mr deValiers is dying.”

Lita swirled her tea and looked away to the mandalas in the window. Her eyes were grey and seemed older than the rest of her. “I can’t help with that.”

I fought to hold my voice steady. “Robert is his only son. Mr deValiers wishes to see him.”

“No doubt.” At last she returned her gaze to mine.  “But does Robert want to see his father?”

 

4.

The muezzin’s call to prayer wailed across the roof-tops; somewhere in the courtyard below a bird was shrieking and flapping. I followed the woman as we climbed the spiralling yellow stairs up the tenement. My handkerchief was soaked with sweat and my English suit was suffocating. She climbed slowly, her lungs giving out a wheeze with every step.

As we ascended, I imagined telling deValiers the glad news. I could hear his throaty voice thanking me, congratulating me; I imagined his expression of delight and pride. At last I had reached my goal. At last I would bring Robert home. The woman led me slowly but surely up the yellow stone steps, looking back through her thick veil to check that I followed behind. Surely even in this strange place, so detached from his homeland, I need only lay the simple request before him. I pressed my hand to my breast pocket. The plane ticket crinkled under my fingers.

The woman stopped outside a low wooden door and pointed sharply.

In there.

Despite the heat, a shiver ran through me. Was Robert really here? I had grown so accustomed to his non-existence that I was almost afraid to find him. The woman pointed again, and turned to go. I raised my hand to knock, but she grasped my arm and shook her head. She tapped her ear then pressed her upright palms together.

The call to prayer.

She rocked her open palms towards me, breathing heavily.

Wait.

 

5.

My father paid for the flight?”

I cleared my throat. “He was so pleased that I had discovered your whereabouts.”

“A strange sort of pleasure.”

What haughtiness! Annoyance prickled my gullet. I shifted uncomfortably on my low seat.

“He wants to make amends,” I said. “A sort of restitution.”

Robert leaned his elbows on the window ledge, almost unrecognisable in his dark beard and white robes. He did exist, this man I’d pursued for four long months, but his transformation unnerved me. Nothing deValiers said had prepared me for this. Face to face at last I had the urge to cover my ears, to block out what he was about to say.

“Did he tell you what happened?”

I hesitated. “You had been unhappy at school, the two of you drifted apart. He didn’t elaborate.”

Robert carefully rearranged the folds of linen over his shoulders.

“As soon as Mother died, he arranged for me to board.”

I forced myself to nod. “But there were difficulties?”

“Let me put it this way. Certain teachers had their peccadilloes. I was good-looking and submissive.”

My stomach crawled. “I didn’t realise…”

“When I couldn’t bear it anymore, I wrote to him. Told him what was being done to me. In his letter back, he ignored those particular sentences. They were… inconvenient to him.”

The bird in the courtyard was silent. On the table, the plane ticket fluttered in the breeze. Robert reached out and closed the shutters. “And now he wants me home.”

 

6.

The sickroom stank of fever and sweat. I pushed a chair up to the bedside and leaned in as close as I dared.

“Mr deValiers? It’s Michael.”

His hand twitched the bedclothes. His tongue made a clicking sound.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t come sooner. The flights were delayed and…”

DeValiers’ jaw jerked. I looked to the nurse but she merely tilted her head. I pressed on.

“When I last called, I believed your son to be in Cairo.”

A grunt.

“- And I did find him there. He looked… well. He’s made a sort of life for himself, in his way.”

A flicker of pain crossed deValiers’ face. One pale, sticky eye searched the darkness of the room.

“But did he come?”

I pushed my thumbnail into my palm. What could I say to this sorry old man? How could I explain that I’d returned alone, that I myself had torn Robert’s ticket to shreds?

“We spoke. I was able to express your wish. I think he understood.”

His head rasped against the pillow: a nod. The clock ticked a dozen slow beats.

“But did he come?”

I shook my head. “Sometimes,” I said, my voice cracking. “Sometimes, it’s not easy to forgive.”

The room was still. DeValiers’ body was rigid under the sheets. Water ran from the corners of his eyes. At last his hand groped for mine and his bony fingers gripped my knuckles. I only just made out the words:

“Thank-you for trying. Thank-you for coming back.”

Instructor Response

1.

Mr deValiers was already seated when I arrived, studying the menu over glinting half-moon glasses. His face looked heavier than I remembered – bloated somehow – though perhaps it was a trick of the light. The maitre d’ hovered above his shoulder, alert to the old man’s every twitch and nod.

He barely looked up as I approached; merely flapped a yellowish hand at the seat opposite and wrinkled his nostrils as if smelling something unpleasant. I smoothed my palms down the black suit I’d had specially pressed and stooped at the knees as a waiter pushed in my chair.

“A great pity,” he said once the wine was poured. “My condolences. Your father was a fine lawyer.”

“Thank-you, sir. I wish only to follow his lead.”

Mr deValiers sniffed. “As you can see, I’m not well myself. My doctor says I’ve hardly six months.”

I did my best to hide my shock. Now that I looked closer though I could see the signs: the lumps under his jaw were the cancer pushing (right word? Eroding? Emerging? Erupting?) through.

“I’m sorry.”

“Yes. Well.” Mr deValiers sighed impatiently. “I wish to bequeath an inheritance.”

I bowed my head. “Of course. A matter merely of the Will.”

He dropped his knife with a clatter.  “No, no. I told your father. Not like that.”

I waited, sensing the need to tread carefully.

“Something else, sir? As your solicitor, I am at your service.”

Mr deValiers gazed away over my shoulder. “My son Robert. I wish him to come home.”

 

In this opening segment, make gender of the protagonist clear.  It makes a difference in the interpretation of the scenes, and to not be sure keeps a reader wondering, and prevents total acceptance of story and premises.

 

 

2.

The graveyard was cold. I turned up my collar. It took me a while to find the headstone; it seemed to have moved from where I remembered. I flicked withered stalks away from the plot and tipped dirty water out of the flower holder. The cheap bunch I’d bought crinkled in its plastic wrapper.

“Hello, Dad.”

I laid my offering.

An awkward silence.  (This has a narrator feel to it in distance and syntax.  Can you keep in the close 1st person?  e.g.  The silence annoyed me.  The silence deepened the chill.  The total lack of sound seemed to absorb my identity and for an instant, and I questioned my existence.  {These are only examples, make up your own.]  The idea is to keep in a close 1st person and let the observation work for you in setting, in emotions of the scene, and/or in characterization in general.  You could over do this, but with restraint, you can make this short sentence, which is nice for the pacing, work for you.)

I turned my face to the grey clouds and wondered why I had come. What had I to say that hadn’t been written in all the (our) angry letters we had exchanged? He’d never backed down; and now he was dead.  (Semicolon is a suggestion for emphasis.) (Also, what did he never back down from?  Is it something that can add to plot, theme, meaning, or characterization?)   Let that be an end to it. I pushed my hands deeper into my pockets and stamped my feet.  (Great!  How skilled you are at keeping the reader in the story with great images and with action that replaces narrative description.  Just to let you know that not many can do it with such aplomb.)

At least I could make a difference for deValiers: his book was not yet closed. But so far Robert had proved as elusive as a ghost and something about his utter untraceability was making me uneasy. I was only too aware of how far beyond my professional remit I had already stepped, yet there was something about the old man’s request that would not leave me alone.

A dark flock of birds clattered across the sky. The flowers gazed up at me, white and innocent. I pressed my hand on the cold gravestone and searched for something else to say. But my mind was blank. I mouthed a silent goodbye and turned my steps towards home.

 

This scene is great for the story.  A good choice.  It seems to tie in nicely with the protagonists desire to help another father still living.  But what the conflict was between father and protagonist might be clarified, subtly, and related to the motivations and desires of the protagonist.  Is there a reason here that would motivate the protagonist to tear up Robert’s return ticket?  And why?  To protect Robert?  From what?  To spare the old man?  From what?  It is important to know that tearing up the ticket was not just because it wasn’t going to be used; instead, it should have a purpose clear to the reader that reveals character and emotions in the story.  It might also reveal something between protagonist and protagonist’s father that would explain an instinctive understanding about what is going on between Robert and de Valiers.  You can do this without exceeding the word limitations, which will, through well written prose, increase the value of this segment overall.  But stick to your instincts and don’t let a father-protagonist story derail the story of Robert and his father.

 

3.

“Is green tea OK? We don’t have coffee.”

“Green…? Sure.”

Lita leaned back against the worktop while the kettle boiled.

“You’re from London?”

“Robert’s father is very ill. I’ve come at his request.”

The kettle began a gentle shriek. She lifted it from the cooker with a tea-towel and filled a chipped teapot.

“Let’s go through.”

To my relief, the living room was clean and sunny. We sat cross-legged on the floor and Lita watched me steadily while I drank. 

“When Robert came to our commune,” she said, “he was very unhappy. Something was wrong for him, right in the core.”

“He told you so?”

Lita smiled. “It was plain to see.”

“So he came here. To you. To this.”

“He needed to start again. We helped him to do so.”

“He was running away.”

“I wouldn’t call it that.”

I pressed my temple. A headache was beginning. “And after? Where did he go?”

“Abroad, perhaps. He liked the sunshine.” She shrugged. “What is it to you?”

I put down my mug, more forcefully than intended. “I need your help. Mr deValiers is dying.”

Lita swirled her tea and looked away to the mandalas in the window. Her eyes were grey and seemed older than the rest of her. “I can’t help with that.”

I fought to hold my voice steady. “Robert is his only son. Mr deValiers wishes to see him.”

“No doubt.” At last she returned her gaze to mine.  “But does Robert want to see his father?”

 

Well done.

 

 

4.

The muezzin’s call to prayer wailed across the roof-tops; somewhere in the courtyard below a bird was shrieking and flapping. I followed the woman as we climbed the spiralling (sp?) yellow stairs up the tenement. My handkerchief was soaked with sweat and my English suit was suffocating. She climbed slowly, her lungs giving out a wheeze with every step.

As we ascended, I imagined telling deValiers the glad news. I could hear his throaty voice thanking me, congratulating me; I imagined his expression of delight and pride. At last I had reached my goal. At last I would bring Robert home. The woman led me slowly but surely up the yellow stone steps, looking back through her thick veil to check that I followed behind. Surely even in this strange place, so detached from his homeland, I need only lay the simple request before him. I pressed my hand to my breast pocket. The plane ticket crinkled under my fingers.

The woman stopped outside a low wooden door and pointed sharply.

In there.

Despite the heat, a shiver ran through me. Was Robert really here? I had grown so accustomed to his non-existence that I was almost afraid to find him. The woman pointed again, and turned to go. I raised my hand to knock, but she grasped my arm and shook her head. She tapped her ear then pressed her upright palms together.

The call to prayer.

She rocked her open palms towards me, breathing heavily.

Wait.

 

Nice touch for suspense.

 

 

5.

    “My father paid for the flight?”

I cleared my throat. “He was so pleased that I had discovered your whereabouts.”

“A strange sort of pleasure.”

What haughtiness! Annoyance prickled my gullet. I shifted uncomfortably on my low seat.

“He wants to make amends,” I said. “A sort of restitution.”

Robert leaned his elbows on the window ledge, almost unrecognisable (sp?) in his dark beard and white robes. He did exist, this man I’d pursued for four long months, but his transformation unnerved me. Nothing deValiers said had prepared me for this. Face to face at last I had the urge to cover my ears, to block out what he was about to say.

“Did he tell you what happened?”

I hesitated. “You had been unhappy at school, the two of you drifted apart. He didn’t elaborate.”

Robert carefully rearranged the folds of linen over his shoulders.

“As soon as Mother died, he arranged for me to board.”

I forced myself to nod. “But there were difficulties?”

“Let me put it this way. Certain teachers had their peccadilloes. I was good-looking and submissive.”

My stomach crawled. “I didn’t realise…”

“When I couldn’t bear it anymore, I wrote to him. Told him what was being done to me. In his letter back, he ignored those particular sentences. They were… inconvenient to him.”

The bird in the courtyard was silent. On the table, the plane ticket fluttered in the breeze. Robert reached out and closed the shutters. “And now he wants me home.”

 

 

6.

The sickroom stank of fever and sweat. I pushed a chair up to the bedside and leaned in as close as I dared.

“Mr deValiers? It’s Michael.”

His hand twitched the bedclothes. His tongue made a clicking sound.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t come sooner. The flights were delayed and…”

DeValiers’ jaw jerked. I looked to the nurse but she merely tilted her head. I pressed on.

“When I last called, I believed your son to be in Cairo.”

A grunt.

“- And I did find him there. He looked… well. He’s made a sort of life for himself, in his way.”

A flicker of pain crossed deValiers’ face. One pale, sticky eye searched the darkness of the room.

“But did he come?”

I pushed my thumbnail into my palm. What could I say to this sorry old man? How could I explain that I’d returned alone, that I myself had torn Robert’s ticket to shreds?  (Because he wouldn’t go, or to prevent him from ever going?)

“We spoke. I was able to express your wish. I think he understood.”

His head rasped against the pillow: a nod. The clock ticked a dozen slow beats.

“But did he come?”

I shook my head. “Sometimes,” I said, my voice cracking. “Sometimes, it’s not easy to forgive.”

The room was still. DeValiers’ body was rigid under the sheets. Water ran from the corners of his eyes. At last his hand groped for mine and his bony fingers gripped my knuckles. I only just made out the words:

“Thank-you for trying. Thank-you for coming back.”  (This last line has more opportunity.  As is, it seems what we would expect.  What inside the man can be revealed?  Could he deny that he really wanted his son to return?  Could he be angry that he didn’t?  Is there some way to reveal that he carries great guilt over not responding to his son’s cry for help when abused?  Does Robert’s not returning prove to him the rightness of his view of his son as a crass, uncaring, mean human being?  Or is the old man aware of the effect he’s had on Robert’s life. The idea is revelation here.  And it doesn’t need to be the just the old man, there might be something the protagonist discovers, and you have the skill to deliver it succinctly here.)

 

As a general comment about the purpose of the assignment (you did great!), keep aware of a strong skeletal support for a story to which everything relates and don’t write about extraneous emotions and feelings, multiple unrelated themes and opinions, expository narration, etc.  Write to have maximum effect on the reader (you do this naturally) without abstractions and inaccuracies, confusing syntax, poor word choice, and poorly developed character desires, motivations, and logic.  And always have a story purpose for everything you think and write when creating literary fiction.  Purposeless fiction writing is unrewarding for a reader.  So continue to do what you do well, that is make meaningful story-related choices in your creation of characters, plot, and setting.  Use the power of fiction to entertain the reader; never succumb to memoir or nonfiction to get words down on the page, when fiction will suit your purpose best.

Always a pleasure to work with you.  Thanks for the submission.

Bill Coles

  1. Many thanks for your comments.

    I have to admit, I didn’t have all aspects of my story and characters clear in my own head (including the final revelation), and of course this shows up in my writing as you have pointed out! A good lesson for me not to be lazy and skimp on thinking out my stories in proper detail.

    I also very much take your point about everything having “story purpose”. I now think of stories as like a tree – everything has to connect to the main “trunk”, even the tiniest twig!

    Many thanks again or your help. I look forward to tackling another of your assignments soon.

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1.

Whack, whack, whack!

Only a solid typewriter like the Olivetti can handle such abuse, and have now for over ten years. Anger, frustration, hatred and more hatred flows from his mind through to his fingers and explode on the keys as they hammer the page, imprinting his poison on sheet after sheet of paper. Cigarette ash, dust and dirt accumulate between the keys where it floats around or cling to sticky alcohol or beer.

He burps, takes a last drag from a bitter tasting cheap cigarette and reach for the glass whilst glaring at the page.

Yes, we were wrong. Yes, no one can ever justify something that brought about so much division, hatred, or animosity as Apartheid did to South Africa. And yes, we probably deserve every ounce of frustration we now feel. But no one, no one can ever justify the damage you are doing to our children – the next generation, who had absolutely nothing to do with it, yet have to suffer the consequences.

 

She was friendly, or at least trying to be. “Hi Max, it is Wendy.”

            Wendy, news editor, and the one who gets to decide whether they take his writings and pay him, or leave him dependant on a daughter whose hate for him have changed to apathy – it’s lowest form.

            He knows the next sentence by heart.

            “We love your writing. Straight from the heart, hits like bullets. But …”

 

2.

He looks up through the water at the naked bulb in the ceiling. Light dances here and there as the water plays with the picture. Blow out slowly, all of it, and then one deep breath of water. Hold it, hold it, hold it, until the light goes and you step out into wherever.

            But he can’t.

            Not even this.

            Not even … anything.

            Luke warm water and tears run down as he sits up. One pale fucking bulb still burning. And only just.

 

He shuns fresh air on all but one day a week. The day of the weekly paper. One nice fat paper with page after page of fuel to feed what he already knows. That the world is wasted, and none righteous, not one. And yes, here it is. Another arms deal, more corruption, more greed, more evil on page one already. He licks his lips, reading as he walks back inside, slumps into his chair, lights a cigarette, and unclips his red marker without missing a word.

            He pages and marks, grunting here and there as his mind consume and stores for who knows when, adding to an increasing mountain of muck.

 

“What do you think of …?”

            “Asshole!”

            “And …?”

            “Asshole!”

            “So who is not one?”

            “Me.”

            The joke he made when she was younger is now confirmed – with him one too.

 

3.

He floats further and further from the light with the cold calling, calling – the sound of nothing … and as he wakes the chill remain, the darkness still.

            The telephone sounds new, foreign, yet persisting until he gets up.

            “Yes!”

            “Dad, it’s Mom – you’ve got to come!”

 

The clothes hang loose and make him about as uncomfortable as the faces around her bed.

            One by one they look down at her, frail and white in her bed, then slowly up at him, their eyes asking ‘why?’.

            Their daughter looks like her, same blond hair, blue eyes. Beautiful. The little girl tuggs at her arm. “Who is he?” She leans over, the words grandfather and others make the girl frown as she hides behind her mother already knowing about him, that it was him, yes him who caused all this. Every single tear her mother cried, all the pain her dying grandmother had, and yes, even this thing happening to her now.

            He takes a step forward to reach for her hand, but their eyes stabs him back and keeps him away. You caused enough harm. Stay!

            A nurse offers coffee, tea,  which all but the young girl refuse. She drinks slowly, peaking a glance at him every now and then. Then up at her mother who still has to acknowledge his presence.

            So they wait till death takes her.

            And leaves him in his hell.

 

4.

One photo, thousand memories.

            She hesitated.

            He convinced.

            They became.

            But never quite.

            They say that marriage is not what you get, but what you bring. He brought his bags. Heavy, filthy, many, and in time her smile faltered, then went … but reemerged in the little girl. For many years they lied to each other, and to her, until even she could see. And when it became time, she took up the bags, looked down and believed what they showed.

 

5.

The knock is faint, but persistent. He growls, turns the other way and closes his eyes. Still the knocking.

            “No sales!” He yanks the door open, angry face ready to devour.

            They stare at him with wide eyes. His daughter and the little girl.

            “She wants a grandfather.”

            He looks at her unbelievingly, shuffles this way, then that, then invites them in whilst trying to move clothes, plates, cups, saucers into a corner, realising the futility thereof before raising both hands.

            “It’s ok, we won’t stay long. She saw you at … at … and now wants her own grandfather.”

            He sits down, staring at them. Not believing.

            The little girl looks up at her mother, who nods. She takes small steps toward him, hesitates, looks at her mother, then at him, then down. She turns around and walks back to her mother.

            “Coffee .. uh.. tea?”

            She nods, the girl smiles.

            His hands shake as he washes three mugs, fills the kettle and fiddle here, fiddle there, eventually finding a tray and the courage to walk back.

            Three mugs, three pairs of eyes, three worlds.

            “Should I call you grandpa, or just John?”

            A ray of sunshine finds it way around one curtain and then slowly, slowly edges darkness aside.

Instructor Response

Many good ideas.  Moving potential.  Here are some thoughts about alternatives for development.  (I’ve placed some thoughts about the writing interspersed in the text that I’ve copied below.)  The main points are, develop timeline, make cause and effect clear among emotions and action, in next step write effective transitions to cover leaps in time. 

Story now progresses like this:

1.      Man in office or home.  Distressed over what apartheid has done to families and how unfair it is to innocent children.  Wendy, editor, turns down his writing

2.      ?in bathtub.  Suicide attempt.  Backstory of getting paper.  Joke (unclear purpose).

3.      Call from daughter re mom (his wife).  Dying.  Man is the cause (not sure how). 

4.      Photo (of wife?).  Daughter takes place of wife.

5.       Man’s granddaughter comes to accept him, and fulfill his life.

Great!  If you are to progress, remember the concept of blocking out these five sections is to begin story, develop it dramatized, and end it.  The end is great.  Good scene and will serve you well as the focal point of story ending.  Be sure in revision to let the reader know the timeline of the story.  When does it take place and over how long a period?  When you get to the end, be sure to anchor what happened to the granddaughter that kept her away (and why she changed) to make this a meaningful approach to him.  What was her motivation?  Why was she motivated?

The purpose of the first segment seems to be to introduce man and his abhorrence of apartheid, that he is a writer, and that Wendy the editor turns down his writing.  This seems to provide the motivation for the attempted suicide.  Seems reasonable.

In the third segment, he is still in the bathtub.  Continuous?  Then he is on to the hospital for his wife’s death (? Suicide).  As you develop this, you’ll have the space and story time to make all this clear.  When you do continue, develop the relationship between man and wife, present and past, and with specifics of effects on the daughter (it seems that this is a crucial moment that will make the daughter prevent her daughter from seeing her grandfather).  Keep the motivations for actions up front and clear.  Don’t be too obscure in your scenes.  You have a tendency, at times, to overwrite as the expense of clarity—both in imagery and cause and effect.

The fourth segment develops the time from the wife’s death to the granddaughter’s approach, maybe ten plus years?  When you expand this be sure you’ve chosen the best POV.  Also write your transitions effectively and clearly to move through time and to continue the emotional arcs of man, daughter and granddaughter.  This is a strong emotionally-laden story, and for maximum effectiveness you’ll want to develop in scene events to project the heightened emotions to the best, credible level possible.

1.

Whack, whack, whack!

Only a solid typewriter like the Olivetti Reader needs to know when this is occurring, the typewriter puts it many years ago, and for credibility, the reader needs to know and not ask questions like, Did they have an Olivetti then? can handle such abuse, and have now for over ten years. Anger, frustration, hatred and more hatred flows from his mind through to his fingers and explode on the keys as they hammer the page, imprinting his poison on sheet after sheet of paper. Cigarette ash, dust and dirt accumulate between the keys where it floats around or cling to sticky alcohol or beer.  There is a new assignment (4) on beginnings.  See if it has any value for you here.

He burps, takes a last drag from a bitter tasting cheap cigarette and reach for the glass whilst glaring at the page.

Yes, we were wrong. Yes, no one can ever justify something that brought about so much division, hatred, or animosity as Apartheid did to South Africa. And yes, we probably deserve every ounce of frustration we now feel. But no one, no one can ever justify the damage you are doing to our children – the next generation, who had absolutely nothing to do with it, yet have to suffer the consequences.

She was friendly, or at least trying note: this is a shift in POV, not wrong, but may be distracting (“trying” puts it in her head) to be. “Hi Max, it is Wendy.” Maybe, as you write story, open this paragraph with Wendy to replace “She” and take advantage of a different dialogue to introduce conflict and/or characterization.  As is, it is exposition. Something like “It really sucks, Max,”  or “I’m having a hard time looking at you this morning,” or “You couldn’t have spent more than five minutes on this, Max, and you write about nothing” or the like.

Wendy, news editor, and the one who gets to decide whether they take his writings and pay him, or leave him dependant on a daughter whose hate for him have changed to apathy – it’s lowest form.

He knows the next sentence by heart.

“We love your writing. Straight from the heart, hits like bullets. But …”

2.

He looks up through the water at the naked bulb in the ceiling. Light dances here and there as the water plays with the picture. Blow out slowly, all of it, and then one deep breath of water. Hold it, hold it, hold it, until the light goes and you step out into wherever.

But he can’t.

Not even this.

Not even … anything.

Luke warm water and tears run down as he sits up. One pale fucking bulb still burning. And only just.  This is suicide attempt.

Clarify time here. 

He shuns fresh air on all but one day a week. The day of the weekly paper. One nice fat paper with page after page of fuel to feed what he already knows. That the world is wasted, and none righteous, not one. And yes, here it is. Another arms deal, more corruption, more greed, more evil on page one already. He licks his lips, reading as he walks back inside, slumps into his chair, lights a cigarette, and unclips his red marker without missing a word.

He pages and marks, grunting here and there as his mind consume and stores for who knows when, adding to an increasing mountain of muck.

“What do you think of …?”

“Asshole!”

“And …?”

“Asshole!”

“So who is not one?”

“Me.”

The joke he made when she was younger is now confirmed – with him one too.  This isn’t clear to me.

3.

He floats further and further from the light with the cold calling, calling – the sound of nothing … and as he wakes the chill remain, the darkness still.

The telephone sounds new, foreign, yet persisting until he gets up.

“Yes!”

“Dad, it’s Mom – you’ve got to come!”

The clothes hang loose and make him about as uncomfortable as the faces around her bed.

One by one they look down at her, frail and white in her bed, then slowly up at him, their eyes asking ‘why?’.

Their daughter looks like her, same blond hair, blue eyes. Beautiful. The little girl tuggs at her arm. “Who is he?” She leans over, the words grandfather and others make the girl frown as she hides behind her mother already knowing about him, that it was him, yes him who caused all this. Every single tear her mother cried, all the pain her dying grandmother had, and yes, even this thing happening to her now.

?? who is they? eyes stabs him back and keeps him away. You caused enough harm. Stay!  (Why stay?)

A nurse offers coffee, tea,  which all but the young girl refuse. She drinks slowly, peaking a glance at him every now and then. Then up at her mother who still has to acknowledge his presence.

So they wait till death takes her.

And leaves him in his hell.  When you rewrite this scene make it clearer and carry the reader through it step by step, leading by the hand.

4.

One photo, thousand memories.

She hesitated.

He convinced.

They became.

But never quite.  This feels poetic, but ask if it is clear to the reader and what you want to convey here.

They say that marriage is not what you get, but what you bring. He brought his bags. Heavy, filthy, many, and in time her smile faltered, then went … but reemerged in the little girl. For many years they lied to each other, and to her, until even she could see. And when it became time, she took up the bags, looked down and believed what they showed.

5.

The knock is faint, but persistent. He growls, turns the other way and closes his eyes. Still the knocking.

“No sales!” He yanks the door open, angry face ready to devour.

They stare at him with wide eyes. His daughter and the little girl.

“She wants a grandfather.”

He looks at her unbelievingly, shuffles this way, then that, then invites them in whilst trying to move clothes, plates, cups, saucers into a corner, realising the futility thereof before raising both hands.

“It’s ok, we won’t stay long. She saw you at … at … and now wants her own grandfather.”

            He sits down, staring at them. Not believing.

The little girl looks up at her mother, who nods. She takes small steps toward him, hesitates, looks at her mother, then at him, then down. She turns around and walks back to her mother.

“Coffee .. uh.. tea?”

She nods, the girl smiles.

His hands shake as he washes three mugs, fills the kettle and fiddle here, fiddle there, eventually finding a tray and the courage to walk back.

Three mugs, three pairs of eyes, three worlds.

“Should I call you grandpa, or just John?”

A ray of sunshine finds it way around one curtain and then slowly, slowly edges darkness aside.

 

Good work, and thanks for participating.  WHC

 

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