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Monday, February 25, 2013

Gone

Friday night my writer's group held a small and casual reading at a coffee shop in downtown Stuttgart. I read the opening chapter of the novel I began writing in November, and I think it was received well. Though I did have to consciously keep myself from flinching at some of the coarse language included in my piece, I surprised myself at how calm I remained during the entire event. (One fellow group member is a priest and sat right up front. For some reason, I associate religious leaders with milder language?) I didn't burn up and turn bright red, I didn't stutter, I didn't even fidget constantly with my face and hair. I'm not sure what got into me, but somehow I managed to not only host the evening, announcing the welcomes and the thank yous, but managed the rhythm of the night without getting dizzy or anything. It was strange, and I liked it.

You see, I'm not a natural leader and I've never been comfortable in front of a crowd, and I'm certainly not one to step up and take control in such situations...which is why this is all so strange to me. Part of my high comfort level is no doubt tied to the fact that I'm familiar with this group of people, and they've all been extremely supportive in my new leadership role. To be honest, if I were challenged I might crumble into a nervous pile on the floor, but luckily I've got people who I  consider natural leaders backing me up. So this is good for me, this step away from that which is typical, this new challenge. But I digress.

With some gentle prompting, I've decided to share my first chapter here. Usually I'm against censorship, but I do feel the need to censor some of the language since I've got nieces and nephews and this is so very public. (Plus, I still choose to live under the delusion that my parents aren't aware that I know such language. Make fun if you must, but I'll always be part-Good Girl.)

Please keep in mind that this is still in draft form and will hopefully improve in the revision process. I'm interested in what your thoughts are after reading it. Would you want to read on?


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CHAPTER ONE: GONE


It wasn’t the impact reverberating up my arms that broke through the rage roaring in my ears, but the wet crack that sounded out beyond the skin and muscle that wrapped around his torso. When he fell to the floor at my feet there was another snap behind the thump, and before I could take my next ragged breath I found my sneakered foot embedded in his ribs. He wasn’t crying, but growling at me through the pain, and that was when I realized I was the one standing above him this time, his bat hanging by my side like an extra limb. I watched him curling in on himself, cursing me between gasps from what I hoped was a punctured lung.


“What’s that, Daniel?” It was the first time I’d spoken since my brother walked in the front door and met his own bat across the ribs. I knew it wasn’t smart to kneel closer to hear him; he had twenty years of testosterone and muscle on his side. Instead I popped the top of his bent knees with the bat and asked again.

“You’re ******* dead!” he screamed clearly this time, and I smiled because he didn’t know.

When he moved as if to get up, I widened my stance over him and took a hard swing, the bat smashing into his left arm. He let out a primitive wail and after another hit, didn’t try to get up again.

I thought about our father’s eyes watching me incapacitated from his bed a couple of hours earlier, and the feeling it brought bloomed in my chest warm and calm. Something happened that changed me. Keeping my eyes on my writhing brother, still gasping from the living room floor, I crossed the room and sat in our father’s chair, the well-worn, brown leather recliner that reigned over our house.

“No, you see I’m not the one who’s dead,” I argued gently, the roar having died down in my ears and my pulse easing back.

Daniel managed to lift his head enough to turn toward me, the hate in his eyes making room for a hint of fear. “What the **** are you talking about?”

I smiled again; I looked forward to telling him.

Earlier that evening, I’d walked into my father’s room with his dinner, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, having no idea this was the last meal I’d cook for him. When he found out the cancer spread from his lung to his lymphatic system, the prognosis looked grim enough for him to refuse further treatment. My father told people he wanted to die in comfort, but in the back of my mind I believed he was punishing me for his illness. After all, regardless of how quickly his health declined, it was I who acted as his nurse for the last couple of months, feeding and bathing him, helping him to the toilet chair beside the bed and cleaning it after each use. When he first got sick, I was terrified of him dying because I was scared of being left alone. I once believed that a house full of angry hands was better than an empty one. By the time I served his last plate of meatloaf, however, I was warming up to the idea.

Since my mom took off for good I struggled with the fear of being abandoned by everyone I knew. Granted, it wasn’t much different after she left since she was hardly around anyway, but at least I knew I had a mother somewhere. The day she left was so anticlimactic it seemed both inevitable and unbelievable, like we were nothing but a passing mistake in her life, easy baggage to cast off.

I was sixteen and had passed my Driver’s Ed class, which I practiced telling her all the way home on the bus. I didn’t worry when she wasn’t home, though it dampened my excitement some knowing the next time I saw her she’d probably either be too high or too exhausted to care about my news. I watched TV for a while and then started dinner as usual. When my father got home from work he was more irritable than normal but I knew better than to mention it. We sat around the table, me, Dad, and Daniel and nobody asked where Mom was.

“How’d baseball go today?” our father asked.

“Sucked. O’Riley don’t know ****. He’s putting Jackson in to start on Saturday,” Daniel grumbled through his mouthful of spaghetti. “Dumbass.”

Daniel was a senior that year and pitched on our high school baseball team.

“If you practiced more, maybe he’d put you in,” our father replied, ripping a bite from his garlic bread without moving his critical gaze from my brother, who I knew felt it.

“I passed my final Driver’s Ed exam today,” I volunteered. I’d been holding my breath.

My father and Daniel both looked at me for four seconds exactly, and then continued eating without comment. Even though I was used to this, my heart still fell.

“I’ve been saving up babysitting money for a used car so I don’t have to ride the bus to school anymore,” I added. “And also so when I get a real job-“

“Nothing wrong with the bus, Sarah,” said my father.

“I know, I was just-“

“I know what you were just, but I’m telling you not to go letting yourself believe you’re better than anybody else just because you know the difference between the gas pedal and the brakes.” He took another bite of spaghetti, his eyes drilling into mine to hold me in place. “Next thing I know, you’ll be parading yourself around like your ***** of a mother, and I don’t need another good-for-nothing woman to deal with.”

I bit my lower lip to keep from speaking because I didn’t know what I hated more, that he called my mother a ***** or that he thought I’d wind up just as strung out and weak as she was.

“You got something to say?” Daniel piped up, a satisfied smile stretched across his greasy face. He’d always thought he was something special being the son.

I shook my head.

“Do you?” our father asked, his hand wrapping around the handle of his fork on the table, a gesture I knew well.

“No, sir,” was all I could say.

“Speaking of your mother, she won’t be coming home this time.” He said it so casually, so carelessly as if he’d just told us it’d be raining on Saturday.

“Whatever,” Daniel spat. “Who the hell cares.”

“Where is she?” I asked, forgetting myself.

I knew the instant the words escaped my mouth that I should’ve kept quiet. His eyes flared and his fist clenched. When he spoke, the word came clearly and slowly. “Gone.”

My knees trembled under the table, my hands suddenly freezing. It would just be me now taking the blows. At least with my mom around from time to time there was someone to share them with. As much as I hated her for not taking me and running, I still needed her around. I focused on breathing and held back the tears for fear of further ridicule.

“She finally up and left us altogether, stupid *****, and you should be grateful. You might have a chance of becoming useful now.” I could smell his garlic breath and thought I might throw up right into my plate.

We finished eating in silence and after I was done washing up, I threw up in the dishwater instead. We didn’t talk about her again after that. I knew I no longer had a mother after that, too. Happy Sweet Sixteen. She chose to leave us; it would’ve been easier to take if she’d died. 

As I stood beside my father’s bed watching him pick at the dinner I cooked for him, images of my mother’s swollen and bruised face flashed through my mind. It’d been two years since she left and I’d taken on her share of things as was expected, but seeing my father in such a weakened state began to give rise to something new within me. It began with a flutter in my stomach that slowly reached into my chest. Foreign at first, I slowly realized this feeling must be hope.

“Where’s Daniel?” he asked, his voice gruff and impatient.

“Work,” I answered simply.

His sigh rushed out in more of a huff, and he stuck his finger into the blob of mashed potatoes. “God******, they’ve gone cold.” His weakening body did nothing to soften his temperament.

I started to reply, but the back of his hand knocked the words right out of my mouth.

“I don’t want to hear it you dumb ****. Is it too much to ask for hot food? Don’t I deserve a decent meal for taking care of you all your damn life?” Despite his complaints, he kept eating.

I pressed my fingers to the side of my mouth, tonguing the inside part that was now bleeding, while my father grumbled and cursed his way through his dinner. I was expected to wait so I could take the tray away the second he was done. Patience wasn’t something he practiced.

“What the hell are you staring at?” he asked, his fork poised in front of his mouth.

I hadn’t realized I was looking at him. “I’m not staring,” I replied.

“Don’t you argue with me,” he began, but stopped suddenly when a sharp breath in stuck in his throat. His eyes popped wide and his hands went frantic grabbing at his bed sheets, knocking over his iced tea, then tugging at the front of his shirt, ripping at his collar. It wasn’t until he grabbed his own throat that I understood what was happening.

At first I jumped back, startled by the burst of movement, but as I listened to the sound of air trying to fight its way around the clog in his throat, my mind began to buzz. It’d be so easy to let this happen; I was in the kitchen washing up and didn’t hear him. It was an accident. Though my thoughts sped through my head, I moved slowly and with purpose, first taking the tray from his lap and placing it on the floor. He was balking against his own body when I climbed onto the bed, straddling him and watching the panic take hold of his weathered face.

“Shhh,” I soothed, taking his hands and pushing them palm down at his sides. “It’s going to be okay.” I scooted up his body and pressed my knees into the backs of his hands.

I’d just turned eighteen and graduation was only a couple months away. With him gone I could walk away from this place if I wanted and no one could stop me. I could achieve what my mother was too weak to: freedom.

He watched me with wild eyes, still trying to force the mashed potatoes from his windpipe, but didn’t struggle against me until I leaned forward into his face, resting my weight on both arms that were now resting hard against his. Inches from my father’s face, I watched him fight to breathe and it thrilled me. All he could do was kick his legs beneath my weight and try to squirm out from under me, but it was all wasted effort. The cancer had greatly weakened his body, but not his mind, and he knew exactly what was happening. My veins coursed with adrenaline while his depleted of oxygen, and when he finally stilled, I felt something else I’d never felt before.

Power.

After I replaced the food tray to his lap and repositioned his arms, there was no question what had to happen next. Daniel would be home from practice soon. My mind flooded with memories of all the pain inflicted on me at the hands of my big brother, the one who was supposed to protect me instead of joining in. The rising feeling of hope stirred deep within me and started to spin into a hot wind that grew with each passing minute, fueled by the anger I carried, my own kind of cancer. The longer I waited with Daniel’s wooden bat across my lap in the dark of the living room, the stronger that wind grew, spinning up through my body and into my head, until my rage was a hurricane screaming in my ears behind the thumping of my heart.

And now here he was, glaring up at me in pieces on the floor.

“I said, what the **** are you talking about?” His voice cracked. I wondered if he’d figured it out.

I leaned forward in our father’s chair and tilted my head at Daniel as I said the word, “Gone,” soft and sweet like I was speaking to a child.

Daniel started screaming in rage or sadness, I didn’t know which, and I stood and raised the bat again. He was too loud.

“No! Please!” he yelped when he saw me.

“Shut your mouth, Daniel, or this bat’s going to get very bloody.” I had no idea where this calmness came from. All I knew was that this was over; I was done.

“What did you do?” he asked, his voice strained. He was sobbing like a pathetic little baby; he sounded like our mother.

“It’s over, Daniel, do you understand? Do you understand what I’m saying?” My hatred made me strong for the first time.

He shook his head, but I didn’t know if it was at me or the terror of the situation.

Suddenly I was on him, sitting on his chest, my right knee crushing the broken arm at his side. He cried out but stopped and stared up at me, waiting. With the bat shoved crossways deep into his throat, I leaned in to say what I’d never had the courage to say before.

“Never ******* touch me again.”


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© Copyright 2012 Lindsey Cole, all rights reserved.

14 comments:

  1. Whoa..that was so good! I couldn't believe it was a girl..total surprise. At first I don't like her, but then the more I read, I'm like kill them..rooting for her. Way to go! Can't wait to read more!

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    1. Thanks, Mel, I'm glad you liked it!

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  2. Oh my gosh, Lindsey, I'm so drawn in to your book! You are so incredibly talented! I must know what happens next!! Congratulations on doing to reading so courageously and strong as well. I'm proud of you! :)

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    1. Thanks, that's so good to hear :) You'll come to the next reading, right??

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    2. Purchasing a private jet now so I can. :)

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  3. First off, BAM, wow, yeah! I don't know if you can keep this kind of action up over a whole novel (I hope this isn't the climax right at the beginning), but it definitely is a great hook. The story is great so far. Don't take the following as a sign that I didn't like it, just some suggestions.
    Advice:
    I'm not sure I like the girl yet, but I usually give a book three chapters before I decide whether I'm on his/her side. The dad seemed more like an unloving/slightly verbally abusive dad, and bro seemed ambivalent to it...so while I don't doubt they both deserved this fate, I'm not sold on the justice of what they got yet. I'm assuming you will give more background in further chapters.

    The first two sentences are a little convoluted. I thought it was a pair of lovers (or a rapist) struggling and falling to the floor. After reading the whole paragraph it made sense, but I was lost for a while. Just rework the sentences, maybe turn them into three sentences. I didn't understand the rage in ears thing (but it works so well later when you say "until my rage was a hurricane screaming in my ears behind the thumping of my heart.").

    I like the jumping around in time from present to recent past, to history, back to present. Worked well for such a short chapter. Hard to do.

    If this is the main conflict, I'm afraid it will be a short novel. So I'm interested in seeing what other motivation/conflict will keep the story going. Obviously, that can be your secret, but just remember that the story should always be going forward.

    I hope I don't sound too teacherish. I wouldn't leave such a long comment if I thought it was only okay. It is real close to be a dynamic opening chapter that will catch the eye of publishers and/or readers. Good job.


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    1. Thanks so much for your comments, Chris. You never have to worry about sounding too teacherish - to me, it's a good thing for sure. I really appreciate that you took the time to give such thoughtful feedback, so let me address some of it...

      This is definitely not the climax, just the first *spark* of the 3 major ones of the novel. After the opening chapter you get more backstory woven into this girl's current story, and therein lie all the whys and hows that explain why she chooses the path she does.

      I'm a little over 55K words in, but should still probably add another 20K-ish before I can call the first draft complete. If you're interested, I'd be interested in your feedback on the larger piece once it's in better form for beta readers.

      Thanks again for your thoughts and compliments!

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  4. So...much...to...say...
    First off, congrats on a compelling first chapter! A good portion of what makes a book successful in my eyes is the ability to make me want to keep reading, and this did it. The way you characterize the father and asshole brother made me root for the heroine, but now I'm dying to know how she deals with the clean-up. The father, easy enough to explain to the cops, but the brother beaten to a pulp? I think that's what piques my interest, because how do you talk your way out of that one? I want to find out, and it raises questions - does she kill him? Does she blackmail him? Run? Set up an elaborate back story? Hide the body? Agh, I want to keep reading!
    Also, certain phrases add a gritty colorfulness to the scene, like "his bat hanging by my side like an extra limb." The line about the armchair "reign[ing] over our house," does SO MUCH to characterize the father, and I like how it's the first descriptor of him.
    I also like how the image of the main character's mother comes up right at the moment of her father's death; it's a strong way of illustrating her primary motive to just let him choke.
    I agree with Chris in that it's nicely paced and structured. A little of the back-and-forth in time adds to the confusion of the scene without creating its own confusion as to what's going on, which is a nice artistic touch. I think it could stand on its own as a short story, even.
    Is it lame that I have no criticism to offer? And that's what I'm trained to do, too. I suck. I'll try better next time.
    Congrats, Lindsey! Can't wait to read more!

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    1. Yay, you read it! Thanks for your comments, and I'm sure there will be more opportunities to offer criticism :)

      It's nice to hear how different people react to certain parts, so thank you - this is so helpful! You're totally getting the first draft to read when it's ready - given you have time :)

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  5. Oh, me likey! You really draw the reader in right off the bat! (he he) Great into with a bit o' back story so we are on her side to start. Eager to read more!

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  6. As I’ve said before: me likey!! Vivid descriptions, emotions on a rampage, and this overwhelming feeling that, for the first time in her life, Sarah is acting, not just reacting. She has reached her breaking point, the point of no return, where the darkness inside her is finally unleashed – and she likes it.

    Her reasons and the causal chain for her finally snapping like this are very believable, IMO. Her father’s weakness gives her the upper hand, and once she realizes how easy it can be, that she is capable of doing so, this also gives her the courage and coldness to go up against her brother.

    I would definitely read on, curious as to whether her brother is still alive and if so, what their relationship is like now, if there is one at all. And also to learn whether she got away with the murder of her father.



    One thought I had, since you’ve told me the basic theme and storyline of the novel:
    How does chapter two continue? Directly after chapter one, or later?
    From what you’ve told me, the main conflict of the story isn’t with her brother (or father), so my (admittedly very wild) guess is that chapter two starts several months/years later. If it’s later, I feel like “Gone” would be more of a prologue than a first chapter (great title, by the way!).
    Like I said, just a thought, since I don’t know yet how or where it continues.



    PS: You said in your post you were mainly interested in our overall thoughts and whether we would read on, since this was still a draft, but in case you’re interested in more specific feedback, I jotted down comments about anything and everything that jumped out at me while reading it. Let me know if you’d like me to send you those via email. But no sweat if not. :-)

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    1. Yes, absolutely, thank you! Send me everything :) I appreciate the time you've taken, Pia :) I'm interested in any feedback you've got, I just left it general here because my blog usually isn't a place I post fiction for feedback. I'm looking forward to seeing your notes, and will strive to return the favor.

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  7. I feel totally late to the reveal - but want to read more - where is chapter 2. 3 and more? I love your flow of writing and passion of character. Thank you for letting me read it.

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