Just Write: Week 6, 3rd March

It has just struck me, on week 6 of reporting back on my Monday night writing adventures, that perhaps the title of each of these posts is possibly not the most exciting hook…. Bit late now. Will look to rectify when I get to term 2.

This week’s class was broadly a build on the previous two in that it looked at characters, through the lens of archetypes, and dialogue. However, before we get into that here’s my homework from the previous week. With just “Yes”, she said as a trigger we were supposed to write a short piece early in the week and then return to it later in the week and edit. I found the former far easier than the latter – to the extent that I ended up writing two pieces. Voila:

The “fun” one (names changed to protect the innocent):

“Yes”, she said. 

“Ah… god, sorry. I didn’t realise”. So it did only open one way.

We looked at each other, me attempting an expression that wrapped up innocent ignorance, profuse apology, and a cautious smile to suggest that we-might-as-well-see-the-funny-side-eh ? I caught the look on her face, not so thinly veiled rage and exasperation, and rapidly dialed down my cautious smile. Aimed for even more apology. It was difficult to rein it in though and it was threatening to escalate from a cheerful smile into a mischievous smirk. All the more so as the torrential rain was now literally dripping off her face. Abruptly I realised I was standing there under an umbrella. This seemed somewhat un gallant in the circumstances, almost as if I was rubbing it in, and I half heartedly offered up its protective canopy to a now sodden Laura.

“Fucking hell”, she half sighed, half seethed. “I’ll have to go all the way round now”. I decided against asking her to mind the language in front of my daughter. Seemed churlish.

“Sorry Laura, I didn’t realise this gate only opened from the inside. I’m so sorry”.

“Well now you do” she said. “Of course it does, it’s a school gate. They generally don’t want people getting in”.

“I saw you running over…” I started before it occurred to me that this wasn’t likely to make things better. I paused but it was too late. She looked at me, an eyebrow raised in question. Quite a wet eyebrow.

“You saw me running ?”

“Er, yeah. I saw you running towards us, waving, but I couldn’t make out what you were calling…” It was the best I could manage.

“I think it was ‘hold the gate’” she said.

“Yes I suppose it probably was” I replied. “But I didn’t quite catch it and so I pulled the gate shut behind me.” Another unhelpful thought popped into my mind and before I could resist it I added, “It’s a school gate. You don’t want people getting in”.

With that, and perhaps now accepting that the back gate wasn’t going to open any time soon, she let out a final, exasperated noise – if the girls had been studying it phonetically it would probably have been “uurgghh” – and ran off back towards the front of the school.

“Katy’s mummy didn’t seem very happy daddy” said a small voice below me.

“No Nevie, she didn’t, did she ?”

“Was it because you shut the gate ?”

“I think so Nevie”

“And she got really wet ?”

“Yes Neve”

“She was absolutely soaking” she declared and after thinking for a moment she added, “And it was your fault really wasn’t it daddy ?”

I didn’t answer but instead turned my attention to getting us across the road to the car park and out of the downpour. As quickly as I could I strapped Neve into her seat, jumped into the front and pulled the car out onto the street. As we sat at the junction back on to the main road, waiting for a gap in the traffic so that we could make our way home, we both caught sight of Laura, now with Katy in tow, making their way back to to the car park. Katy, coat hood up, cheerfully waved at Neve. Laura, without coat, hood, or umbrella, did not.

“Daddy ? Would it be okay if Katy came round for a playdate soon ?”

“Let’s see Neve. Let’s see….”

……

The “sad” one (entirely fictional):

“Yes”, she said.

Later she realised she hadn’t really understood what she was saying yes to but everything had seemed to happen so quickly. Mum had asked her over and over:

“Are you sure you want to come ?”

She’d asked it gently at first but increasingly she’d pushed the question.

“Everyone will understand if you don’t. Are you sure Em ? Are you sure you’ll deal with it okay ?”

Later she realised that Mum had been looking for her own way out. Maybe she was trying to protect her or maybe she was trying to protect herself. Anything but face up to the reality.

“Of course I’ll be there Mum”. Quietly but firmly.

“It’s such a lot to deal with….” Her Mum held her gaze for a moment before looking back at the floor. In half a murmur adding: “You shouldn’t have to…”

Emily watched her mother, neither of them speaking for a few minutes. She noticed how tired she looked, eyes drawn, bags swelling beneath her lids. It struck her that her mum had looked like this for a while, not just since it had happened but before that as well. She just hadn’t noticed it before. It struck her that she hadn’t noticed anything. Tears rose in her eyes and fell silently down her cheeks at the realisation.

“Em ?”

Emily shook her head and closed her eyes, drawing her knees up to her chest and pulling herself into a ball. She shook her head to deny the tears but they fell anyway. The tighter she pulled on her legs, the smaller she tried to make herself, the more they fell; as if they were being squeezed forcibly from her.

“Em… Em….”

Her mother reached for her, wrapping her arms around her coiled frame. It was awkward at first, all there was to embrace were elbows and knees, sharp points of protection for the softly convulsing person within. Slowly though jagged bone gave way and her daughter allowed her to get close, returning the embrace, laying her sobbing head across her chest.

They sat like that until they both stopped crying. Emily’s mother gently took her daughter’s face between her hands and lifted her head up towards her own. Their foreheads nodded, touched and they rested there face to face.

“Your Dad…”

“Don’t Mum… Don’t…”

“Your Dad would have wanted you there Em, you know that ?”

Emily bit her lip and mutely nodded her assent.

“But it will be hard. It will be really hard. No one will blame you if you don’t think you can go. I won’t blame you.”

“I can’t believe… I can’t believe he’s gone”

Her Mum didn’t respond.

“I just can’t believe he’s gone Mum”

Later, when she’d learned all of it, she realised quite how difficult that moment must have been for her mother but understanding it didn’t make it any easier to forgive her. In that darkest moment she hadn’t realised that she wasn’t offered the truth and that the truth was darker still.

“Are you sure you want to come to the funeral, Em ?”

“Yes”, she said.

……

As mentioned earlier I found the editing (in so much as I did any) quite difficult. I have a load of notes for the second piece in particular which largely say things like “this bit needs work” or “change this bit”. I’m not entirely sure but I suspect that isn’t all that a decent editor does, is it ? Overall I was reasonably happy with both pieces. The tone in the first one is more natural for me and may form part of a series of (mis) adventures based around my six months off work whereas the second one was tougher. However, the second one is broadly a scene – or the beginnings of a scene – from a much longer idea for a story that I’ve had for a while. I hesitate to bandy the word novel around but it would be a story of that sort of length…

In that spirit the piece I ended up writing in the class, following some discussion about archetypes, was based on the same character as the homework – Emily, a teenager struggling to find herself following the death of her father, eventually finding expression through their shared love of country music (which, in itself, makes her something of an outsider in the UK). As luck would have it the archetype I picked out of a hat in the class was “troubled teenager” and the similarly randomly plucked situation for that archetype was “unexpectedly meeting someone whom they thought had died”. The result:

She turned the key in the lock and pushed open the door, reflexively looking at the matt for that day’s post. She barely had time to register that there was a neat pile of letters stacked on the table in the hall, not carelessly scattered across the floor, before she heard the sound.

Three chords softly strummed on an acoustic guitar, echoing up the hallway. Echoing out from the study: from Dad’s study. The same three chords rang in her ears as she walked cautiously towards the study door. It was that Tom Petty song he’d tried to teach her. F. F minor. C. Was that it ? Free falling. He’d loved it, said it was about him – something she’d never really understood until afterwards. Her friends had always teased her about it: “Got your cowboy hat Em ?”. She’d gone with it after a while and told herself that they were right. No one her age listened to that stuff; it was music for old men. Sad old men that left.

She pushed the door and stood in its frame and the playing stopped. A figure she knew, a face that she knew burned in her brain, looked up and smiled.

“Em…” he started.

“Dad ?” was all she managed before the room swam and she fell to the floor, that ghost was the last thing she saw before she fainted.

……

This was odd in the sense that, in the bigger story I have in my head, this scene doesn’t exist – he is definitely dead and definitely doesn’t come back. However, I was quite happy with it, particularly the internal dialogue bits towards the end which start to reveal a bit of Emily and what she’s been through. I may stay with her for a while, kinda irrespective of whether I think the scene is in my story or not, and see what she does…

The eagle eyed and musical amongst you will note that Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ does not go F, F minor, C but I couldn’t remember what the chord instead of F minor was… and nor could Emily so it was okay ! That song was never really in my head in relation to this story either but popped in during the class. It’s not a perfect fit for the story I have in mind but works well enough if you squint a bit (dial up the i’m gonna leave this world for a while section)… As I’m good to you here it is in all its glory:

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