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-   -   A short story - too descriptive? Too sad? (http://forums.writersbeat.com/showthread.php?t=23100)

Echo75 03-06-2010 10:41 PM

A short story - too descriptive? Too sad?
Thanks to all who read and commented. I am going to do a bit of tidying up on this one and submit. Wish me luck!


~WishfulWriter~ 03-07-2010 07:16 AM

That was amazing.

I loved it. I loved the details, and it made such perfect sense. The imagery was perfect, and it was a good length. I have to tell you, I do not normally get hooked on short stories, but I did with yours from the first sentence all the way through until the last. It was such a great story, and you even had a few tears develop in my eyes.

So good. SO good.

maery 03-07-2010 12:09 PM


Echo75 03-07-2010 01:17 PM

Awww, shucks. Thanks guys! :-)

I wrote it several years ago for a competition, but it didn't win and it has been shelved since. When I re-read it recently I went, oooh it's a bit sad and I wondered whether that's something people want to read about or whether it was alienating in its subject matter.

But I am considering submitting it for publication elsewhere, so hoped it might still find an audience. I'm glad it touched you in some way.

S.R. Hansford 03-07-2010 01:19 PM

The first line was strange and failed to hook me. Mostly because it claimed the night was "hot, humid and pregnant ..." and odd personifications like that, unless intentional, generally turn me off of a story. It happened again when you said "Every summer the expanding tin roof complained about the expanding household." My problem with descriptions like that is just that they feel a little too flat and ambiguous for me. How can the night be pregnant? How can a house complain? In the case of the house, I guess you meant it groaned or creaked, but I can't be sure.

Otherwise, after I got over that, I found myself enjoying it. The first ten paragraphs or so were shaky, but after that it seemed as if you must've gotten into your groove because your style seemed to better fit the character's personality from then on.

But I then went from deeply interested to interested to mildly curious of how the story may progress to uninterested. And I know that's mostly because the entire first section of the story is really filler information. It feels less like a story and more like a stylish recounting of some woman's life and times at some house during college. So I stopped there. But I thought you might be interested as to why. Hope this post didn't read too cynically. The story felt a lot like something I'd see in a magazine. Though I'm not the guy to go to for information on what's marketable, I'd guess this might be more marketable than most other stories I've read here, even as a first draft. I'll try to get back to this later and finish it off.

~WishfulWriter~ 03-07-2010 01:50 PM


Originally Posted by S.R. Hansford (Post 283203)
The first line was strange and failed to hook me. Mostly because it claimed the night was "hot, humid and pregnant ..." and odd personifications like that, unless intentional, generally turn me off of a story. It happened again when you said "Every summer the expanding tin roof complained about the expanding household." My problem with descriptions like that is just that they feel a little too flat and ambiguous for me. How can the night be pregnant? How can a house complain? In the case of the house, I guess you meant it groaned or creaked, but I can't be sure.

Otherwise, after I got over that, I found myself enjoying it. The first ten paragraphs or so were shaky, but after that it seemed as if you must've gotten into your groove because your style seemed to better fit the character's personality from then on.

But I then went from deeply interested to interested to mildly curious of how the story may progress to uninterested. And I know that's mostly because the entire first section of the story is really filler information. It feels less like a story and more like a stylish recounting of some woman's life and times at some house during college. So I stopped there. But I thought you might be interested as to why. Hope this post didn't read too cynically. The story felt a lot like something I'd see in a magazine. Though I'm not the guy to go to for information on what's marketable, I'd guess this might be more marketable than most other stories I've read here, even as a first draft. I'll try to get back to this later and finish it off.

Actually, I thought quite different. I loved the house personification. And I loved the first line, it hooked me from the start.

I also thought the college life bit was important to the story --- why else would a woman smoke pot unless she had before? And it also explains why she was missing something in her marriage. The times at the college house were exciting and fun, and her new life was lacking that.

sparklyydancer 03-07-2010 01:56 PM

That was excellent!

CoachMT 03-07-2010 04:11 PM

I'd have to agree with SR Hansford. For myself, the first line seems hokey — almost "dark and stormy night"-ish.

I read through, but really wasn't interested in the recounting of their courtship and marriage. Your writing, for the most part, is clean and tight. The subject matter just didn't spark me. But, like I tell my daughter all the time, it's a good thing that we're different — if we were all the same, the world would be a very boring place! :)

AdamMMA 03-07-2010 10:50 PM

Personally I liked the story, thought the pre-marriage backstory was necessary to explain some events which happened later.

As to the whole "if we were all the same, the world would be a very boring place" thing; I agree and, to expand, this reminds me of a conversation I had with writing tutor - if you send your work in for publication a lot can depend on whose desk it ends up on.

Echo75 03-08-2010 01:08 AM

SR Hanaford & Coach, thanks for your comments and sorry it didn't resonate with you. It had struck me that this might find more of an audience with female members and not gel quite so much with the blokes, but its good to know as it will help me decide where to submit.

SR, I'd prefer to leave "pregnant" only as its a precursor to the plot in a sense, in that it is pregnancy that changes the central character on so many levels. It's figurative writing and I think most people will get that, rather than read it very literally, in the same way that we use the term "a pregnant pause".

Adam, glad you enjoyed it. It is very true that the success of the writer depends so much on the desk the piece lands on -- different people like different things. That's why so many excellent writers still have their hoard of "form" rejection letters I suppose! I think it might be time to submit this one back out to the big wide world and see how it goes. After all, worse case scenario is a rejection letter I guess. :-)

Gaines 03-08-2010 01:42 AM

Well written as expected this nice piece of "chick lit", ( a term used for the purpose of finding it a pigeonhole), is a sweet and sour taste of real life situations. Love and loss to often go hand in hand in ways we cannot measure. Your ability to speak between the lines what is left unsaid in the telling pulses throughout the work. I hope it finds the right desk.

Echo75 03-08-2010 02:07 AM

Thank you
Thanks Gaines!

goldengirl 04-12-2010 08:09 AM

Yes a chick type story and to the right publisher it will be a winner [try Gemini. The editor, David, is a softie for sentiment]

The first line is a matter of taste, some will like it, some not. IMHO if you can do without it, why chance a reader not continuing because of it? I didn't mind it by the way.

nice one!

Wonka 04-14-2010 07:45 AM


Originally Posted by Echo75 (Post 283058)
The night was hot, humid and pregnant with the anticipation of sweat-soaked sheets. Preganant doesn't do this beautiful sentence any justice. I say leave it out and just have "hot and humid with the aniticipation of sweat-soaked sheets." When we were younger, this was exactly the kind of night that inspired lust—usually on the premise that if you were hot and sweaty anyway then you had less to object to.

Tonight, Damien’s back was to me, set firmly away. Too straight for comfort. I was too hot, he complained. But I didn’t feel it. It had been almost two years, yet his desire remained as flaccid as his temperament.

The fan clacked on every spin, a ruminant chewing up the air and spitting out a rarefied version. A ruminent? How can a ruminant be a metaphor for a fan? It doesn't work and I also think you're overdoing it here. Just say "The fan clicked on every spin" Again, I could not sleep. My mind was wide-awake, waiting for a wake-up call from a silent room down the hall. I lay with my eyes closed, watching the paisley swirls of semi-consciousness paint the canvas of my eyelids with vaguely forming dreams. I wouldn't know where to start or when to stop critiquing this sentence. It seems like you're just flexing your vocabulary. It's far too grandiloquent and I'm not sure it makes perfect sense. Once again you're overdoing it. How about "watching the swirls of semi-consciousness paint my eyelids with vaguely forming dreams." Replaying my life—dad’s death, graduation, our wedding, Kat's birth, the past 22 months. The sheer waste of it all was the only soporific.

My mother is convinced Damien is cheating. Why do writers change tense when it comes to dreams? I'm not saying it's wrong, I just don't get it. Please excuse my ignorance but I would like your answer on this Karin.
“All men are cheats,” she says, starting a monologue I have heard too often. Where she got the notion I do not know. My father never cheated, not even at cards. But my mother’s mantra seems to be almost an inheritance, passed down from her mother, from generation to generation, like the family china. It made more sense to my mother than the other alternatives, but I knew better. Damien was not playing away. He was not even playing.

We first met in a dilapidated queenslander in St Lucia. I think this is where you could well establish much of your fanbase on this piece, and also many of your critics. People with a thorough knowledge of literature will infer and carry on reading, whilst others may start to feel challenged and intimidated. Will they carry on reading??? Hmmm. Some will and some won't IMO. I would just say "We first met in a broken-down queenslander in St Lucia." Then everybody will be happy with the way you just fall into your expository prose here. It was filled to the brim with students and, in the fashion of most student digs, it was a house obviously weary of freeloaders. Every summer the expanding tin roof complained about the expanding household. When I moved in, eight people already called 158 Biloga Street home—including my friend Liz—and each paid just $45 a week, including utilities, for the privilege of sharing with such an eclectic bunch.

Inside, the house was an orgy in hardwood. Rooms shot off like entwined limbs, tangling in every direction as if trying to escape the general mayhem of the living room and kitchen. Smoke routinely blossomed from these areas—both the result of experimental student cooking and of kill "and of" the kilograms of weed that passed through the house weekly Kill this adverb and jaundiced the walls. perhaps say "the kilograms of weed that often passed through the house and jaundiced walls."

In the kitchen, the floorboards bowed and a hole in the corner was generally kill this adverb accepted as the rubbish chute. Having absorbed multitudinous once again I think you're doing it here. "Multitudinous" is a poor choice for this sentence and you're going to piss people off IMO, especially when you consider one is naturally going to love the way you write until things like this happen. Why not please a wider audience and just say "myriad bubbles"? bubbles and spits of Veejay’s renowned yellow mango curry for more than three years now, the wall near the stove was a work of art in peeling saffron.

In the lounge room kill "room" cornices crumbled in the shadows of the ceiling, ready to pull from the gummy wall panelling like tar-stained teeth. not a good simile IMO. Is tar often found on teeth? Perhaps it's it's just my ignorance. Louvres were the only form of air-conditioning. They opened out to the wide but dangerously kill "but dangerously" termite-riddled veranda, their dusty panes mirroring the drooping eyelids of the inhabitants, isn't this overdoing it? How can a dusty pane mirror peoples eyelids? I don't buy it. several of which usually occupied the L-shaped brown couch (affectionately kill this adverb, it's awful. (my goodness you're quite fond of them Karin! Lol!) nicknamed the Cow thanks to its furry cushions and affiliation with grass).

For me, the exposition should have stopped about here for now. I think the following is where it starts to get a bit tedious and you could have introduced it later after building the plot more effectively. But hey, I'm just one person with an opnion or two and I'm not experienced when it comes to critiquing litearture. Especially beautiful literature like yours.

The Cow was prime real estate for stoners. Like clockwork, a joint made its journey from the coffee table, along the full length of the couch at least once every 30 minutes. Newcomers were bound by house rules to join the fartherest end of the line and perch on the Cow’s furry flanks. The no-man’s-land beneath the cushions was hoarders’ central. Judy, the only housemate who took cleanliness even slightly seriously (much to her chagrin) was entitled to the $2 coins, secreted chocolate bars and forgotten (or lost) “baggies” she rescued from beneath the cushions on her weekly cleanup. She was, however, less impressed by the abandoned condom wrappers and stubbed out joints, and even took to leaving used prophylactics “godfather-style” on the pillows of suspected fornicators. I had to read this paragraph about ten times to understand it, and I usually understand good literature, so this can't be good IMO. Too verbose and complicated.

Carpeted areas were living organisms in themselves—a meld of hair (pubic and regular non-lady-garden variety), trodden-in fast food and highly prized particles of spilt marijuana. The latter were routinely kill this adverb and watch out for repetition. You've used "routinely" already and that's not good IMO. hoovered up by Jason when supplies ran low (the only time domestic chores appealed to him) and turned into the vilest, most sickeningly kill this adverb, yuk! craved curly spliffs. Jason insisted they were more powerful than the best skunk he’d laid his hands on, but who knew whether the hallucinogenic effect was attributable to the skerricks of weed or to severe food poisoning. Jason was unlikely to care either way.

Mushrooms flourished in the bathroom, and although not planned nor planted, Jason ate them anyway and ended up in emergency getting his stomach pumped—at least we attributed it to the mushrooms, in reality any number of the things he’d done that night could have been responsible.

At one time, the biggest mystery of the house was why a straight 25-year-old male needed copious amounts of amyl nitrate and persisted in telling anyone who would listen of its amazing sphincter-relaxing do you need to say sphincter here? I think it's worth considering who your target audience really is when you adopt this style of writing. properties. However, after Liz’s friend Big Gay Dave was found naked (but for a bright-red reindeer-antler headband) Now I'm getting frustrated and handcuffed (consensually, as it turned out) kill (consensually, as it turned out) to the towel rack in the bathroom at 4 am one New Year’s Day, we reasoned that Jason had never explicitly kill this adverb referred to himself as heterosexual. There was little, it seemed, he would not do.

Bisexuality aside, it was difficult to say who would be in any one room at any one time, night or day. The household would not have differed much had it been composed of bonobos. why not just say chimpanzees instead of "bonobos" and make it easier for everyone? I think it's things like this where you're going wrong and some people will just get tired of it sooner than you probably think. Most couplings were neither surprising nor long-lived. Soon enough, less-than-private shagging inevitably kill this adverb evolved into equally kill this adverb noisy arguments and public break-ups.

I was one of the more elusive female members. Even after living there for six months my only indiscretion was a brief pash with Todd, making me almost a virgin compared to some of the current and former tenants.

I had moved in during my second year, shortly after my father’s death, and the constant stream of people and drugs helped take my mind off things. Anyway, I was one of the few residents who actually attended university on occasion, and between that and my under-the-table weeknight job at the Sung Foo “Fine-dining” Chinese Restaurant, I was hardly ever in.

Pretty much everyone accepted 158 Biloga Street as a household railway station without the trains (although Cherry, from the back room, was often referred to as Central Station—everything went through her). She was long and lean from an opiate addiction, with dirty blonde hair that was brushed once a week at the same time she washed it. Cherry was a university tutor in humanities or something—no one was ever sure—but she always ensured she was home by four when she strode expectantly kill this adverb! to the chemist for her dose, added a joint for “desert” and nodded her way through The Bold and The Beautiful in a dreamy, soap-operatic state.

Surprisingly, Cherry was in charge of collecting and paying the rent. Even more surprisingly she was trustworthy in completing the task, kill this sentence up until the comma and replace it with "But she was trustworthy in completeing the task" even if Todd maintained that she had stolen and pawned his revered GI Joe collection. Liz maintained that a grown man who kept a GI Joe collection had it coming to him anyway. Liz and Todd had a love-hate relationship. Despite Liz having the hots for him, he’d slept with her best friend Nicola and then kill "then" never called her again … or something. I never did hear Todd’s side of the story.

Damien moved in around November 1999 and quickly kill this adverb and say "and soon hated it" hated it. He was straight to my curved. straight to my curved? Sensible to my giddy. A suit to my short skirt. None of the posse, as our eclectic hoard was known to each other, liked him. Liz called him The Omen, even in front of him. He drifted through the ever-increasing smoke with a sullen indifference to the daily necessities of his housemates, rarely talking except to chastise someone or to hand over his share of rent.

He mostly kill this adverb stayed in his room. "He was always in his room"? His saving grace was a Fender Telecaster Thinline, now I'm pissed off (not that you should care of course Karin, I'm just sharing my emotions with you and I hope it helps, but perhaps you should bear this in mind? However perhaps you shouldn't. I just don't know.) this on which he belted out rock ballads with regularity. Regularity is a poor word choice here. Revise? As you can imagine, despite his preppy good looks (or maybe because of them) his reluctance to join in soon wore thin. I was the only member of the “posse-pussy” (a special sub-group reserved for female residents) that bothered to make him feel welcome.

Despite his self-enforced isolation from us all, he obviously kill this adverb appreciated my efforts. A few months later, on one of the rare occasions that he had joined in one of our parties, I found myself naked and squeamish in his waterbed going through his photo albums and noting, with faint amusement, that I featured heavily kill this adverb in any kill this and say "in all the shots", "any" doesn't even make sense in that sentence, does it?" shots taken on the premises. He was seriously into me, and, before long, not just figuratively kill this adverb and revise.

By June 2000, Damien and I had moved into a love nest in Tingalpa. The house was a quaint, architect-designed one-bedroom. A Queenslander in bonsai—high on stilts, still with a veranda and iron lace, but not large enough to swing a cat. We had two and it wasn’t large enough for either. Yett, yet for a while, life in the Doll’s House was bliss.

Damien had finished his degree and started work with a city firm—a career choice that suited his dyed-in-the-wool "dyed-in-the-wool" is this necessary? I couldn't even be bothered trying to make sense of it. conservatism. My newly red-haired self was employed as a subeditor, working out of an office on Elizabeth Street. I spent my days reading and re-reading a few of Brisvegas’s free magazines, chronicling the local gig scene and editing articles on tattoos and extreme sports events. Damien and I met for lunch in Albert Street most days—his collar and cufflinks juxtaposed with my baby doll dress teamed with fishnets, Docs and a nose ring. It was a match made if not in heaven then in the dreamy after world of some bizarre parallel universe. I'm growing tired of this stuff now. Is it necessary? Why not just provide your readers with a brief description of the way the chracters were dressed? Part of me wanted to stop reading after this nonsense about parallel universes, nose rings, collars and cufflinks. How can they possibly relate so intimately? But naturally, you will get away with things like this more often than others because you're so gifted. And yes, you are so gifted Karin, whether you know it or not. Trust me, I know talent when I see it. In fact you're so good, I'm carrying on with this despite my displeasures. But not right now! I'm off to get a bite to eat and I shall return to critique the rest! Probably later today or if not, tomorrow! Unless you would like me to stop of course? And don't worry, all my positive feedback will come at the end. There's so much of that too. ;)

I'm back, but after thinking everything over during dinner, I've realized that too much has happened that I don't understand, and unless I start to understand this piece, I'm not sure how much more I can read. Here goes...

Few of my friends, Liz included, were able to see what brought us together or, even more to the point, what kept us there. They conceded he was attractive, in that “too groomed” city suit way that effectively kill this adverb masked his sexual prowess. (He may have been conservative in some ways, but in the early years of our relationship, years we both refer to as “before Kat”, sex certainly wasn’t one of them). Plus he was kind and, if a little humourless at times, extremely kill this adverb use "very". generous. I now think it was, in part, his sheer kill this adjective sense of responsibility that impressed me most.

He took care of the cobwebs that would have otherwise filled whole corners of my life. He submitted our tax returns, opened our bank accounts, photocopied our passports before we left for our honeymoon. He routinely not again! bought bin-liners—and I routinely Oh no! filled them with things that probably should have been put in the recycling bin, or so he told me. He even made a list and stuck it on the inside of the cupboard door under the sink: milk bottles (washed); newspapers (please fold rather than scrunch); aluminium cans (please crush vertically); wine bottles (rinsed. NEVER WINE CASK BLADDERS—that means you). It struck me at the time as wanton overkill, but mostly kill this adverb his strange obsessive-compulsive ways were a source of humour for me.

My family life had been erratic for as long as I could remember. I was the product of an unlikely romance between a museum curator in ornithology and a 1970s bikini model. Mismatched unions were hardly front-page news to me.

Between spending hours patiently kill this adverb sitting in a muddy hide making notes for dad on his eccentric twitching holidays and my mother’s insistence that I undertake a modelling and deportment course, I forged a unique existence as a tomboy–glamour girl hybrid. Teenagerdom—and what I thought was a highly individual gothic style (which would later be revealed as terribly de rigueur for teenagers in the late 80s)"terribly de rigueur" Yuk!—imbued me with an offbeat irreverence for anyone who actually gave a shit. Of course, this meant I was never good enough to satisfy my mother, but dad, I think, was proud of me, even if I chucked in my science degree in favour of an arts degree in my first year out of the “nest”. Perhaps my love for Damien was symptomatic of finally leaving behind that teenage apathy, appreciating the fact that he did actually give a shit. Once. This paragraph, overall, is too complex IMO. Can I go on much longer? I'll try.

We moved from the cocooned intimacy of the Doll’s House just before Kat was born. At this time that we also had our first major argument.

I had my heart set on a cute three-bedroom "renovator" in Morningside, which had a magnificent jungle-like garden and backed onto bushland. It was also strongly kill rumoured to be haunted by the spirit of an old lady in Victorian attire, which I found cool and quirky, but Damien found ridiculous and weird. He didn’t believe in ghosts, but ignored my argument that if he didn’t believe in them anyway, how could he possibly find them weird? At any rate, the cottage needed work and the entertaining areas were deemed not suitably kill impressive for Damien’s new clique of Law Society friends.

At this time also, Damien’s generosity graduated to pomposity. I refused to budge at all until, after months of arguments and with my womb’s ever-growing presence pressing the matter, we ended up with a sterile three-bedroom townhouse in Bulimba. Brand new, with all the mod cons.

“Wouldn’t it be nice," insisted Damien, “to have our own place, our own home in which to make our own life. No mail to return to senders chasing previous tenants. No history? No ghosts?”
By the time we moved in, I was thinking only of the nursery—what colour it would be, whether to stencil the walls with baby elephants or cheeky monkeys. My maternal kill brain had few other concerns.

We were growing again. Moving ahead. Life was in full bloom. I sailed expectantly kill along Oxford Street with the smug superiority of a five-month pregnant woman in her late twenties. By the time I was seven months gone, I was a Spanish Galleon, my precious cargo billowing out in front of me, my ankles thick, red and solid, like pillars on the wharf ringed with ropes to steady me against the full sail. I was at my utmost importance. Have you overdone it again? Perhaps it's just me? I don't know, perhaps you haven't overdone it at all, and perhaps I just need to read more books and improve my vocabulary? However I never experience these problems with Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Danielle Steel, or Martina Cole. Hmmm . . .

Did Damien known at that time that every tiny kick was aimed firmly at his pedestal? I don’t think so. He stroked and solaced her small indigestive rumblings. He cooed to the balloon-like bulge and rubbed oil on my stretchmarks. I was two people to him now.

Pretty soon—after the tumult of Kat’s squawking arrival—the loved-up bubble of our giddy shared initiation into parenthood burst and Damien returned to work. The house began, to me, to seem lifeless, passive, resigned to ordinariness.

When Damien was at work by day (Kat’s birth having fostered in him some strange desire to provide more and better), I fled the house as if it were a dungeon.

Damien’s evening presence brought with it an array of ever-more expensive and unnecessary trappings: a fridge that could email (although I didn’t know who to try it out on, most of my friends having disappeared soon after Kat’s birth), a plasma television that spread across one wall, a hand-dryer for the spare bathroom.

I spent half the day pushing Kat along in her all-terrain titanium stroller, Karin, that's just about enough for me and I'm gonna stop right there because I have become angry. Not with you of course! I've just become angry with the dissapointment, as quite frankly, I've never read anything that is so beautiful get ruined like this. I've seen how things get ruined before by grandiloquence, verbosity, and prose lofty in style, but none of it was as beautiful as the way you often wrote in this piece.

Karin, I don't really know what else to say. I feel quite emotional after all that so there's obviously something very special about your work (I've spent all day on it after all). I was blown away by many of your descriptions, wishing I could write as well as you, drooling over your incredible style, character development, and much of your exposition has told me you can be a great novelist, (A lot of your writing is far superior to many published authors I've read), but then everything just became too difficult for me to understand. And when I don't understand something, I get frightened and angry with myself because I know I don't read enough books, and maybe that's what the probelm is here. Thanks for the read and I hope this helps. You are so talented it's shocking and if you don't end up becoming a full time writer then something is seriously wrong. But saying that, I've just realized I don't know half as much as I thought I knew about literature, and overall I'm having a pretty crap day.

Just to avoid the house’s stifling affluence. Yet still it contained me and its nuances controlled me. Specks of dust on the white-tiled laundry floor. A faint, tracing paper scratch on the wooden floors in the living room (Had that been there yesterday? Would Damien notice?). The drapes needed dry cleaning. Kat’s greasy, experimental finger-painting and tiny footprints were immediately banished to the realm of filth, erasing her childish presence from the stylish surfaces.

Despite my best efforts, small failures consumed me. Damien’s anal-retentive tendencies demanded that the house’s newness was maintained. It was a newness that disturbed and alienated me. Nothing in the house creaked with the weight of history—in the making or of the past. Nothing flapped in the night. The roof was tiled: the rain slid off, oily and nonchalant, and never bounced with glee as it had on the tin roof of 158 Biloga Street. It was precisely the lack of history, the lack of ghosts that made this home unbearable. It sat with the monumental soullessness of a family tomb.

I attempted to counterbalance my own lack of emotion for this place with various remedies. Feng shui added dangling red charms, a water feature in the entranceway, and numerous potted plants. I had pencil-drawn Kat’s height on the walls, charting her human progress, but even this monument to permanency was ephemeral. Next year, and the next, the numbers would inch up the wall like the pale thin-skinned geckoes that used to cling, Velcro-footed, to the walls of Biloga Street but had abandoned this newer dwelling.

Damien had resented the pencil marks on the paper-white wall.
“Why didn’t you just use the Winnie-the-Poo height chart I bought her?” he asked, unable to keep a touch of exasperation from his tone as he rubbed at the marks with his thumb.

I thought then that the numbers next to the height would go on growing—fourteen, fifteen, sixteen—until the mortar in our relationship deserted its supporting bricks and the house, and our marriage, tumbled into nothingness. The next day, I traced over Kat’s diminutive measurements in permanent marker. Each day now, they glare back at me tauntingly.

The day he bought the car I was at my wit’s end. For months I had been dropping hints that I wanted to return to work. Damien wouldn’t hear of it. He didn’t want Kat to miss out on anything. I couldn’t tell him that I felt I was missing out on everything; that I could hardly breathe. To his mind we had everything -- everything he’d worked so hard for. How could I possibly rather return to work than relax in the new outdoor Jacuzzi while Kat joyfully leapt around in her backyard jumping castle?

I consoled myself with gardening. I needed life—I had to see it happening. So I planted a vegetable garden. Damien scoffed at my backyard endeavour. “We don’t need to grow our own vegetables, darling”, he condescended. “I offset all of our carbon credits, remember”.

That day, even the garden hadn’t helped. Liz had called, out of the blue. I hadn’t spoken to her for more than three years, not since Kat was born. Liz had sent a gift and then vanished into the realm of “friends who don’t have kids”. Still, I was pleasantly surprised by the unexpected incursion of my old, more exciting life.

“How’s The Omen?” Liz giggled, and I had briefly wondered whether to tell her the truth. Instead, I decided on: “He’s fine, how are things with you?”
Turned out that was the wrong question. Terminal brain tumours don’t make for light-hearted conversation. The doctor had given Liz three months tops. She wanted to catch up. I hung up the phone so violently I broke the handset.

With Liz’s illness firmly in mind, it was little wonder I was less than impressed when Damien arrived that evening in a brand-new slate-grey Toyota Land Cruiser.

“Surprise,” he smiled, leaping happily from the front seat and dangling the keys in front of me.

“Daddy got a new car”, yelled Kat, who, at three, always immediately ran to the door and waved out the front window when he arrived home.

“Yes, I did sweetheart,” he murmured, swooping Kat up and kissing her ruddy little cheek.

“It’s for you and mummy.” He turned to me, “I know you feel a bit isolated at the moment, honey, so I thought you might like getting out and about more in this, rather than the Audi. Madam, your chariot awaits…”

He bowed as he flung open the door. “I even bought a new car seat for Kat, she’s getting too big for that old one, aren’t you poppet?”

“But we don’t need a new car,” I argued, “And a four-wheel drive? Damien do you have any idea how much fuel…”

“For God’s sake!” he cut me off. “Didn’t I tell you I offset all of our carbon credits”?

I turned and walked into the house to the sound of Kat’s excited, “Can I dwive it wif you, Daddy?”

Liz arrived that Friday. Her red Mitsubishi Lancer pulled into the driveway just as I returned from an emergency milk-buying mission in the new Land Cruiser. I parked behind her and hopped out to unbuckle Kat, who had developed the gripping shyness unique to three-year-olds who’ve just met a strange adult.

“Wow, look at you!” Liz cried, leaping out of the car to come and hug me. “New car, huh”, she gestured. She looked wan and her once long brunette hair was now a close skull crop. Surprisingly it suited her dramatic features.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her I hated the new car, the new things, the new me. Not knowing what she was going through.

“I see you’ve had a haircut,” I made an attempt at light-heartedness, unsure how to broach the serious subject that lay between us.

“Yeah well, apparently scars are the new black,” Liz smiled, turning her head to reveal a shiny red gash, now glazed over and covered with sprouting hair.

“Who’s this lady?” Kat clambered out of the car, dragging her one-eyed baby doll, Baby Dora with her. It was her favourite, despite her father having recently bought her a far more expensive and less-handicapped playmate.

“This is mummy’s friend, Liz. Say hello?”

“Hellwo. What’s that fing on your head?”

“Ooh, Chloe, she’s adorable. A little mini-you!” Liz laughed, and then squatted down to chat.

“That’s a scar, sweetie, but it doesn’t hurt.”

“It looks hurty,” Kat frowned.

“Yes, but its ok now,” Liz glanced across at me sadly.

“I guess that’s another thing to add to the list,” she smiled sadly. “You’re lucky, Chloe. I always wanted to have kids…”

“…just never met the right man?” I finished up for her. Wanting to add, “Who has?” but knowing that Liz didn’t need to hear my woes.

“Come on inside and we’ll have a cup of tea.” I brandished the milk. “I remembered you like full cream?”

Liz smiled, “Yeah well, the extra bit of fat’s not going to kill me is it!”

“I can show you my bedwoom,” Kat yelled, now quite the extrovert as usual. “It’s pink. Daddy made me a dollhouse!”

“Ooh, do you have your own room? A pink room…lucky you,” Liz played along, before turning to me admiringly. “Just look at this place? Seems like you did okay for yourself with The Omen after all.”

I pointedly avoided responding.

“So anyway, Big Gay Dave’s now married to an American guy and Cherry is a lecturer, can you believe it?” Liz filled me in a few hours later, after the niceties of coffee and cake and “how’s the family” and all of the other minor and “safe” topics were out of the way and we could focus on reminiscences. “And Jason’s running a nightclub in the Valley, you know?”

I didn’t, of course, but I nodded, playing along with any conversation that would stop either one of us from turning to Liz’s more dire diagnosis.

“Is he still drug-fucked?” I asked, reveling in the fact that Kat had gone down for an afternoon nap and I could use an adult word I hadn’t used (nor been) for years.

“Oh yeah! That reminds me,” Liz pulled a small, embroidered purse out of her handbag. “D’you mind? Purely for medicinal purposes, you understand.” She grinned.

My heart quickened. I hadn’t smoked pot since shortly after I quit breastfeeding, and then only once. My younger brother had passed around a spliff at his 21st and I’d taken a drag, only to have to listen to Damien’s disappointed sigh as I accepted the twisted green fag and took an encouraging puff. I hadn’t enjoyed it. Damien had been concerned for me, which translated as patronising, and I’d resolved it wasn’t worth it any more.

“Sure! Feel free,” I spluttered, “but…”

“Yeah, yeah, outside…” murmured Liz.

“No,” I laughed, “I was going to say, only if I can have some!”

“Wouldn’t be a proper joint if I didn’t have to share it with someone,” smiled Liz.

“Yeah, and at least you don’t have to share with the entire Cow this time.”

I drew hard on the spliff. The first tendrils of smoke whorled up into my lungs and I breathed out with exquisite depth. I soared. It felt as if my soul was released along with the smoke.

“Easy Tiger, you’re meant to breathe it in, not blow it out—novice,” Liz grinned.

“Oh my God! That’s good.” I flopped back onto the leather couch and pulled my feet up onto the chaise without removing my shoes (strict contravention of house rules).

“I can tell you haven’t smoked in a while.” Liz raised her eyebrows.

“Wouldn’t be the only thing I haven’t done in a while,” I laughed.

“Oh?” Liz seemed curious, but my train of thought was chugging on.

“Do you ever feel like you've done nothing but just waste your life?” I asked, in my moment of introspection completely forgetting the painful reality for Liz’s visit.

“Yeah,” nodded Liz. “I know that feeling.”

We got about an hour and a half of “adult time”, in which I divulged my unhappiness and Liz divulged her fear of death, before a small, tousled blonde head appeared around the living room door frame.

“Peggy has a spwlinter in her big toe!” Kat exclaimed earnestly. “Doctor Liz has to come help me wemove it.”

I sighed as Liz disappeared into the bedroom and I overheard Kat ask, “Did you have a spwlinter in your head, Liz?”

I packed up the coffee cups, a twinge of nostalgia gripping me at the sight of Liz’s pink lipstick mark on the rim, and immediately regretted burdening her with my unhappiness. After all, what was an unfulfilling marriage to a dwindling life?

Afterwards, I crept down the hall and peered around the door to see Liz’s battle-scarred skull resting on the top of Kat's small tousled one. Kat had nodded off again, clutching Peggy, who’d been bandaged almost from head to toe. Tears rolled down Liz’s cheek as she lay still, watching the cherubic little face.

“Little monster,” I whispered lovingly.

“You know, you really are very lucky," Liz whispered back, wiping her cheek. “Now I guess I better make my escape while the little terror still sleeps huh?” She carefully wriggled her left arm out from under Kat’s dozing form.

“Yeah, but she’ll cry blue murder when she finds out her new favourite playmate has gone,” I smiled. “We have to do this again soon.”

“Definitely, I’ve got all the time in the world for this little munchkin,” Liz laughed, patting Kat’s wild hair flat on the pillow.

We hugged at the door, promising to do it again the following week, both of us doing our best to ensure there was no sense of finality to our goodbye.

Within a minute of my closing the door, Liz returned. “You parked me in with your swanky new car,” she gestured.

“Oh shit, sorry. Hang on, I’ll grab the keys. The cruiser keys weren't where I usually left them, hanging on the key ring on the kitchen wall, so I rummaged around until I found them on the bench, beneath the plastic shopping bag that had contained the milk.

“Coming Liz, I yelled”, hearing her revving her car in the driveway in mock impatience.

“Found ‘em!” I waved the keys at her. “Impatient as always!” I rolled my eyes as I opened the cruiser door and shifted it into reverse.

I like to think I was a good mother. There were times, I knew, when my patience had worn as thin as Kat’s favourite teething ring, when I erased her dirty fingerprints from the glass coffee table and wondered what my life would be like without both of them: husband and child. There were times when little but the sight of her beautiful blue-green eyes slowly filling with tears stood between her bottom and my slap, but I never struck her. I never hit my daughter. Until that day.

The cruiser slapped up against my daughter’s small body like the crash of a tsunami. I lurched forwards, craning to see what I had hit, feeling the crunch of what I presumed to be the neighbour’s dog under the wheels. And then I heard her scream. I hear it still. It reverberates around my brain with a keening, heart-wrenching immediacy.

The next week is missing from my life. I don’t know who rang Damien, but I guess it was Liz or possibly me. All I remember is holding Kat’s tiny, bloodied hand in my large shaking one in the ambulance. Her face, as white as alabaster. Her huge, terrified eyes gleaming like orbs. Her last words: “Will I have a scar like Liz’s, mummy?”

I don’t remember attending the police station. I have no idea what questions they asked me. I know Liz told them we thought Kat was still in bed.

I don’t remember them taking possession of Liz’s little embroidered bag, nor the actual charge of dangerous driving under the influence of drugs. All of these things happened to someone else.

I don’t know who organised the funeral, but I guess it was Damien or possibly my mother. I was catatonic and I still can’t ask.

I do remember the next week. It passes in a sickening montage that imprints itself on my brain at night.

My brother stripping the blood out of the concrete driveway.
Kat’s tiny white coffin covered in yellow rosebuds.
Her pale still hands folded over Baby Dora.
The doll's one eye ogling me accusingly.
Liz collapsing at the funeral.
Sods of Earth, too dark, too black, tumbling down into the grave.
Damien sleeping in her tiny pink bed.
Damien smashing up the Cruiser with a hammer.

He never blamed me. Never said the things he must have thought—that I should have been watching out for her. That had I not been stoned this wouldn’t have happened. That I shouldn’t have been behind the wheel of a car at all.

It was his fault he said. He should have never have bought that stupid car. He should have known better. I remained mute.

Within months, he stopped trying to get me to visit a counsellor with him. And I stopped apologising to him. Neither of us blamed the other, but nor could we find any solace in our marriage. Still, we could not leave each other, we were bound to her, and to this house.

The once ghostless house was now alive with them. I would start at night, convinced I heard her call, her tiny feet slipping on the tiles.

At Liz’s funeral, I cried so much I had to be taken out. Damien sat with me, patted my hair, wiped away my tears. He never once asked why I could cry so bitterly and so long for my friend and yet, since that horrible day, I could not shed a single tear for our daughter.

He wanted me to cry with him, to turn his midnight solos into a pitiful chorus of grief, but though my every nerve ached for her and every minute of every day my soul was consumed with guilt, I could not cry. I could not hold him in his anguish. I could not even stand to hear it. It was only on her birthday, when I found Damien clutching the wall and sobbing over her height chart, fixed in permanent ink, that I was able to cry again.

Slowly, gradually, we started to talk.

He returned to our bed and, after fourteen months, we locked up her little pink room. We whispered goodnight and shut it up like her favourite book of fairy stories—the Aladdin’s Cave of memories we wouldn’t enter again.

We ate breakfast together.
We went out for dinner.
We celebrated our anniversary.
Sometimes, we even joked, laughed, kissed -- entirely without passion.

At twenty months, Damien finally consented to move. Were we mending the screaming chasm between us? Closing up the painful void from which her tortured breathing gasped by night?

Sometimes now, we could even appreciate her memory in each other—her cheeky smile breaking through his hurt, her slightly upturned nose wrinkling over my morning coffee. However, our lovemaking remained non-existent. I knew that every time he looked at me he recognised, in that same instant, Kat's turquoise eyes glimmering dully in the face of the woman who had killed her.

The fan clicked on monotonously, splicing thirty-second intervals in the crescendo of cicadas outside. It was useless—its long blades moving the dense sweating air along, pushing through it like a bouncer moving through a dangerous stew of human fog. I lay there with his back to me and tried not to remember the night Kat had been conceived.

And then I felt it—the faintest movement. Had his body moved against mine? Had he made to turn towards me? Did I even want him to?

“You know,” he said, his voice small and strained in the soupy darkness. “Before the accident, I was terrified you’d leave me.”

The air hung. Even the night held its breath. Then the silence separated—a curtain of apologies cast aside.

“Before the accident,” I repeated quietly, “I already had”.

He rolled over, reaching for me clumsily. His body was thin and foreign to me after its long absence. Then his lips came down upon mine, wet eyelashes brushed my eyelids, and we rocked our nightmares to sleep.

I wish you all the best with this Karin, please let me know if I can be of any more help.

Echo75 04-14-2010 06:50 PM

Thanks, Wonka, for bothering with it. I will revise my use of some adverbs, particularly "routinely". Whoops! :-) I routinely use routinely, it's one of my routinely annoying bad habits.

I think you might be taking the "no adverbs" rule a little too literally in some cases, however. Where I feel removing them will weaken the writing or make intentions or actions a little less well-defined, I'd prefer to leave them. To me, removing adverbs is more valid where a weak verb is used in conjunction or where they constantly follow speech tags, e.g. "You used adverbs?' he said questioningly.
"Why do you ask?" she answered tentatively.
"Because, you're breaking the rules!" he answered firmly.
"I really don't care," she said argumentatively." Etc etc etc.
In many cases adverbs are fine and add something. In others they don't. So I will review this piece in light of that.

I will also look at the first line - mostly the "hokey, dark stormy night feel". Having said that, I would like to leave pregnant (had you read to the end you might understand that usage, as it is a precuror in a sense to a major theme). Much of the backstory is also necessary to understand the MC's motivation later on and some is just fleshing out the hedonistic uni lifestyle. :-)

I know what you mean regarding some readers and language, but I can only write what I feel to be my style and voice. I enjoy having a good vocabulary and would hope my readers did likewise. That's what dictionaries are for, after all. It's not pretension; it's just that I don't think dumbing down the English language is necessarily the way to go. If you read literature from the 1800s, the language is extraordinarily rich compared to now. Some words in regular use then are all but extinct now and I think the average person's vocabulary has suffered. If people are going to be turned off by the occasional big word (e.g. dilapidated over broken-down) then there are probably not big fans of literary works, which is fine. I think they're probably a minority (among writers and avid readers anyway)for the market I'd like to target (chick lit as this may be) and would hope others would either extrapolate meaning or go look it up. I also like creating a visually rich scene - although yes, at times I can go overboard. Can't we all?

Although I am sure you meant it as a compliment, being told I am "gifted" makes me decidedly uncomfortable. It seems almost hubris. I can assure you I am not. I just write and put on paper what I think works, like any writer. Sure I have been writing for a long time and I write daily for my work (although non-fiction) but everything is a construction, every word is a choice (unconscious or conscious) and writing overall is work. Believe me it's not automatic. It's not naturally flowing out like this -- as you can tell by my little peccadilloes and the things I am unable to edit out of my own work (even editors struggle to edit their own words subjectively, just another good reason for editors to exist, even though some on here seem to really dislike us!) So no, to me, it's not a gift, it's a labour of love :-)

Thanks for reading and sorry you didn't make it to the end.


Epictetus 04-14-2010 08:55 PM

I verily enjoyed that. Verily is not a word, I know. Point is that this story was very touching. I didn't cry as I probably would have way back when. But it nonetheless hit home for me. I see my life going the same way as that of the protagonist. (Shudders) Speaking of which, does she have a name? If so I forgot. Your use of personification, imagery and the like was expertly done. I'm starting to get an idea of the writers I will have to contend with when I start posting my own texts.

Till then...
I'm looking forward to the challenge.

And I can't stress enough how good that was.

Epictetus 04-14-2010 08:56 PM

And one more thing...
Where does this story take place in?...
If indeed it is a particular present day world location...

Echo75 04-14-2010 09:16 PM

Thanks you
Thanks Epictetus. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

The protagonist's name is Chloe, but it's used only once, by her friend Liz. And the scene is set in Brisbane, Australia - like me. :-)


Wonka 04-15-2010 03:37 AM


Originally Posted by Echo75 (Post 299834)
it's just that I don't think dumbing down the English language is necessarily the way to go.

Not necessarily, no, you are correct. But from time to time it can really give stories the kiss of life when applied in the right places, and vice versa. I think many authors don't sell as many books as they would like because they don't recognize this. But for heavens sake, no, literature should not be dumbed down just because some people can't be bothered to pick up a dictionary. However it should only be complicated when it has to be complicated IMO. J.K. Rowling and Martina Cole are perfect examples to support my argument.


Originally Posted by Echo75 (Post 299834)
If you read literature from the 1800s, the language is extraordinarily rich compared to now. Some words in regular use then are all but extinct now and I think the average person's vocabulary has suffered.

There's no disputing that. But I doubt anyone from the 1800s can match J.R.R. Tolkien and his vocabulary (I doubt anybody could). And one thing's for sure, nobody could have and nobody ever will write a story so rich in magnificent scope and beauty as The Lord of the Rings. Not a chance.


Originally Posted by Echo75 (Post 299834)
If people are going to be turned off by the occasional big word (e.g. dilapidated over broken-down) then there are probably not big fans of literary works, which is fine.

My apologies Karin, perhaps I didn't make myself clear. I'm not saying words like dilapidated should be sacrificed at all costs for words like broken-down. Far from it. I'm just saying there's a time and a place for these things. Take me for example (okay I'm not exactly Stephen King) but there's not much wrong with my vocabulary (I can promise you that, that's not my weakness when it comes to literature), I fully understood what dilapidated meant when I read that part about the house, but my alarm bells started ringing because a word like dilapidated has a kind of political or even scientific ring to it if you like. It would have been a good choice if you were describing a scientist walking in to find one of his projects dilapidated or something, or having a politician describing the diapidated state of a 3rd world country, but you where just describing where your character met her partner.

I'm not trying to change your opinion of course (I think you know a lot more about literature than me), but sometimes amateurs know something too, and some people will think you overdone it there IMO. But hey, what do I know! Lol!


Originally Posted by Echo75 (Post 299834)
I also like creating a visually rich scene - although yes, at times I can go overboard. Can't we all?

Not only do you like creating visually rich scenes, your readers are blown away by them because you do it so well. You're better at it than most professional writers I've experienced, and I must say, if I could write like you I would probably get lost in the beauty of my own prose from time to time. Trust me, I'm not holding anything against you. I think you're someone very special.


Originally Posted by Echo75 (Post 299834)
"Although I am sure you meant it as a compliment, being told I am "gifted" makes me decidedly uncomfortable. It seems almost hubris. I can assure you I am not. I just write and put on paper what I think works, like any writer.

I certainly did mean it as a compliment, and I apologise for making you feel uncomfortable. However, I will have to disagree on the latter. I don't think you're like most writers. And let me tell you something else: most writers are not capable of reaching your standards, even if they spent the rest of their lives reading and writing for twelve hours per day, so yes, natural talent has got much to do with it. Your abilities are unique IMO.

I'm with Stephen King on this one: yeah, many of us can improve and become competent if we work our ass off, but can most of us become great? Fawgedaboudit.

singphantom7 04-15-2010 05:58 AM

This is wonderful, so far. Sadly I can't finish it in my twenty minutes before work, but it has pulled me right in and I intend to come back to it. The voice here is amazing to me, and so is the detail, and I'm surprised it didn't win. It seems very publishable, from what I've read so far. Can't wait to finish!

DavidGil 04-15-2010 06:23 AM


I admittedly don't have time to go through this at the moment, though I'd like to when I have chance. I just have a big work load at the moment and the damaned internet is making me want to browse, thus distracting me.

However, I did read some of the prose and saw your comment about being gifted.

Personally, I think you're being a bit too hard on yourself there. To explain: I'm not good at many things, but writing is one of my few talents. That doesn't necessarily mean I'm good at it, but it's one of my few skills.

So, even if you don't think you're up there with the best of writers, I'd say you certainly have a gift/talent for the written word. And well, judging from the comments, you've got a good piece here when your way with stringing words together isn't considered. (You know, it's good outside the technical merits of your work?)

I'll see if I can give it a looksie when I've some spare time. Probably over the next day or so.

Mike C 04-15-2010 07:43 AM

I hate it when I read something that makes me jealous.

If you hadn't asked if it was too descriptive, it wouldn't have occurred to me. With that in mind, I did, a couple of times, think "Time to get to the action..." but I wouldn't change it; I love the pace, you use the space well to create a feel for time and place and personailties. One gets used to shorts dashing headlong into the action, but this is... lyrical is the best word I have.

I disagree with Wonka both on your vocabulary (which I think was pitched perfectly) and on your use of adverbs, which never stood out or became intrusive.

I'm not suprised this didn't win the competition, not because it's not good enough, but because contests are a lottery. But I'd be equally suprised if it didn't find a paying home somewhere else.

Echo75 04-15-2010 06:09 PM

Thanks David and Mike. Much appreciated and glad you enjoyed it.

I will take it down sometime over the next few days to modify (a few removals of adverbs and some typoes) and submit.

Thanks again!

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