“Hap birday to me, hap birday to me,” Bailey intoned. “How old’m I again, Mama?”

Mrs Jacks kept her eyes on the road. “Forty-eight, Bailey. Forty-eight years old.”

Bailey fiddled with the glove compartment, slamming it open and closed.

“Nice car, nice car.”

“Leave that alone, Bailey. Sit properly.”

Bailey set up a steady thumping of his head against the seat rest.

Up ahead, two figures stood at the roadside. They were waving their arms. One was tall and one was short. As the car approached, the short one stepped right out into the road. Mrs Jacks slowed down. The man came up to the open window.

“Thanks for stopping, ma’am. We’re in an awful pickle. Won’t you just pull in here and give us a hand?”

Mrs Jacks peered out through the windscreen. “Hand with what?”

“Just pull over up here and we’ll show you. Your husband don’t mind. Do you, sir?”

Bailey mumbled and hit his head with his fist. The man jerked back then laughed. “Lords above. My mistake.”

Mrs Jacks flushed and put the car into first. The two men, one tall one short, walked along beside. She came to a stop on the dusty verge.

“Step out of the car,” the tall man said.

Mrs Jacks gripped the steering wheel. The sun was pushing down through the windscreen.

“Please tell me what it is you need help with. My son here, you can see… It’s been a long day. We need to get home.”

The tall man took her door handle and slowly pulled the door open. His hip was about level with her eyes. She saw he had a gun on his belt. She got out of the car, breathing hard with the pain in her joints.

“I need my walking stick, from the back seat.”

The tall man shook his head. “Not now.” He leaned down and looked into the car. “You’d better get out and all.”

Through the windscreen Mrs Jacks saw her son’s mouth droop.

“No no no, Bailey, it’s all right. Do what the nice man says and out you get and we’ll have ice-cream when we get home.”

Bailey’s eyes screwed up.

“No! Don’t want to!”

Mrs Jacks hobbled round the bonnet and opened the passenger door. “Please, Bailey.” She bent down stiffly and unsnapped the seatbelt. She pulled him by the arm and helped him clamber out. “Please, Bailey.”

 They stood together at the side of the road: the old lady and her imbecile son.

“Now listen good,” said the tall man. “We need a car, and yours is a nice one. Keep your mouths shut and there won’t be no trouble.”

Mrs Jacks felt the sun burning down on her head.

“Mama, my ice-cream?”

“When we get home, Bailey.”

The short man got into the driver’s seat. He turned the keys in the ignition, making the hot engine roar.

“I want my ice-cream!” Bailey started up a long, wide wail.

“In a minute!”

Mrs Jacks grasped Bailey’s arms to stop him flailing his fists. She felt her back creaking, and panted with the effort.

The tall man rested his arm on the roof of the car and smirked.

“Dropped, was he?”

Bailey’s wail got louder, rising above the noise of the engine.

“He’s my pride and joy,” said Mrs Jacks as Bailey’s elbow caught her in the chest. “He means no harm.”

“Hold him properly then.”

She tried. The tall man bent his knee to get into the car. Mrs Jacks felt her fingers lose their grip. Bailey stumbled forwards and lunged at the door.

There was a sharp crack. Bailey sat down heavily on the ground.

“Bailey Boy! Bailey Boy!”

“Shit,” said the short man.

The tall man got back out of the car. He pointed the warm gun at Mrs Jacks and looked down at Bailey, sitting hunched against the front tire.

“Let me at him,” cried Mrs Jacks. “He’s hurt, he needs a cuddle!”

“You stay right where you are. He’s already caused you enough trouble.”

Bailey sat motionless. Mrs Jacks looked at the gun that was pointed at her and back to her son there by the car.

 “You can’t kill me! I have to drive him home.”

 “Listen, lady. You’re witness to a shooting now. I can’t let that stand.”

“No no, don’t you shoot! He needs his Mama! He can’t wash or dress or eat a thing without. And now he’s all dirty, look, he needs a bath!

The tall man gave a short, sharp laugh. He put his foot against Bailey’s shoulder.

“Your Bailey don’t need nothing anymore.”

He pushed and Bailey sprawled sideways into the dust, a lifeless corpse. Mrs Jacks looked at the blood caking beneath him and felt as if a trapped bird had flown away out of her chest. She looked up at the tall man with the gun.

“Why, he’s dead.”

“That’s right.”

Her head cleared for an instant. “Then I’m free to go.”

“That’s right.”

The tall man shot her neatly through the heart. She fell backwards and lay with her arms spread out, her face smiling up at the cloudless sky.

The man wiped Bailey’s blood off the door sill and got into the car. “Let’s get moving.”

The short man snorted. “Grannies and cripples now, is it?”

“Shut up, Bobby. It was a good deed we done. Put them both out of their misery.”

Instructor Response

This is excellent. You’ve retained the inexplicable horror of the original but made it your own. Dialogue is excellent, a special talent. And the scene moves! Great job.

You’ve got the narrator telling the story. Nicely done. Reader gets a good sense of all the characters quickly, mainly through dialogue and action. Again, nicely done.

Here’s a suggestion to push your talents to the extreme. Let’s say you want to add to this scene in ways that would provide characterization about the mother. How her emotions evolve through the scene and how this emotional arc could display her feelings about her son, and life in general. Her prime feeling could be love, but that’s too easy. Maybe resentment, disgust, dislike, shame, victimization (anger), etc. The possibilities are endless. But with your skills, you have the ability to insert this emotional progression through the scene and make it work for you as a writer. Use the mother’s point of view this time, but I’d suggest staying in third person for most effectiveness, not first person, which would lose effectiveness. Internalize, but be prudent.

If you choose to try it, you’ll probably begin to feel the conflict of plot and character in fiction writing. In other words, you’ve created a terrific action scene that moves the plot with suspense and momentum. If you change the purpose of the scene to develop character, you’ll begin to change the scene in ways that are not bad, just different, with different effects.

This sort of practice puts you in control of the storytelling, and keeps you, as a writer, focused on providing for the reader in ways that will be engaging, entertaining, and enlightening. And it will also help you stay aware of the emotions of characters and narrators in all your writing, giving a sort of baked-in dimension to writing that most authors never achieve.

Anyway, good luck. And thanks for submission.

WHC

  1. Hi WHC,

    Many thanks for your feedback. I very much agree with what you say about the character’s emotional development. You are right that the ultimate story purpose is to explore and resolve the mother’s complex feelings for her son – which are suddenly shifted for her by his unexpected death. I just found it hard to get all that across in this short ending scene! Adding more internalization would certainly help, as I agree as it stands, her thoughts and feelings are not coming across enough.

    My plan though was actually to develop this scene backwards, into a short story, which (as you say) would expound the mother’s conflicting emotions. In my head, ultimately she wants to be free of her son and able to die in peace, but cannot imagine how this could ever happen, as she is his mother and he needs her. She is torn between her lifelong responsibility for Bailey and her desire to reach the end of her own painful life. But then – bam! – Bailey gets shot and she realises she can now die herself without worry….

    I like the idea of just developing this emotional arc in the above scene first (a good challenge). Then I’ll have a go at developing it through a full short story.

    Thanks again for your help. I’m looking forward to the next assignment!

    • Your thinking is on target. And you’re right about a single scene being too short to deal with plot and charaterization, and stories–that are made up of scenes (useful to think of a scene as a mini story)–always should have both enmeshed in the telling. That’s the advantage of literary prose storytelling. So, in a general sense, every scene has an emotional arc that may or may not be stated . . . for every character. Emotion is in your scene, but you appropriately followed the directions which were to rewrite a scene that, although seemingly filled with emotion, is stragely void of O’Connor expressing them except through violent action and dialogue–still not admirably achieved by her, I think, with the emphasis on plot. Emotional arcs clearly created subtly is one of the skills that makes a good fiction writer stand out from the average and mediocre. Thinking about feeling as they impregnate a scene (as they so in life) allows an author to translate the writing into pinpoint dialogue, and vibrant description and action. If you have the emotions of a scene in mind, every element become synergistic. I’m glad you’re going to work further on this. Be sure not to think of it as a correction. You scene was very well done. This is simply practicing to keep in control of your writing, making everything count. Great work!

      All the best,

      WHC

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