Saturday, 12 January 2013

The whole thing

I got 80 for this, 67 out of 80  for the actual story and 13 out of 20  the commentary. The commentary should have ended a bit better, it was abrupt, its supposed to be an academic piece. So, note to self for the next one... it must be tight and formal.  But I am very pleased with the mark overall.   :)

 Last Words

The last thing I remember before they brought me in here was a crushing pain in my head. I open my eyes; it’s so bright. The cold fluorescent light hangs above me. And there’s this pain in my nostrils, some sort of tubing. What are the  damn tubes for?  I don’t want to be lying here. I’m scared shitless, what the fuck is going on. Someone? Anyone? And then she is here. She’s standing over me, looking down; I smell her perfume before I focus on her. She puts her hand on my arm. I feel the smoothness of her skin, the gentle pressure of her nails into my arm.

She looks down at him, tubes and all sorts poking out of him. Strange to see him lying there, not moving. They say he can see and hear but he can’t speak. His voice. Loud and strident. You could hear  it all over the house, out in the street probably when he was off on one. It never took much to set him off. But now it’s gone. And here, he’s helpless. He’s looking at her.  Oh yes, the fire’s still in his eyes, the powerhouse still there behind them. She sits down on the hard grey hospital chair.

You walked out on me, you bitch. Three bloody months ago. Take your hands off me. I don’t want you near me.

The nice nurse brings her tea in a plastic cup and a small packet of biscuits .

Says ‘You staying long time?’  

She doesn’t really know. She hadn’t  wanted to come but the doctors were insistent, you know, they said things like ‘come in, talk to him’.

 Talk to him?   How long since she had done that? He would talk over her. Raise his voice to drown out anything she had to say. It was a classic bullying tactic, she realises that now. Now she’s had the luxury of time to think about it all. Lovely tea. Nice and sweet.

You left me.  I don’t want you here. I’ve got nothing to say to you. That’s funny. I’ve got nothing to say! I can feel a sob rising in my useless throat. Maudlin. It’s a state of mind. I won’t let myself fall into that.  I’ll get better. And she better look out. You’d better look out.

She wonders what he’s thinking. Perhaps they could do one of those things where he blinks his eyes, you know, once for yes, twice for no. Feeling a bit better? Blink blink. How hard for a man like him, with a  big voice, big fists an’ all. And knows how to use ‘em. Never used on the kid though, she never let him hit the kid. The unremitting stare of those hard grey eyes behind half closed lids. Giving her the willies a bit. She looks around.  The machine above his head, all blips and lines. Up and down, up and down. Zigging. Zagging . And that one,  is that putting the air into him through his nose? Now, what’s it called? A ventilator? That’s life support that is. She knows that. Holby. Look at these holey blankets they use on the beds. Almost the same colour as his cheeks, muddy grey. He doesn’t look well.

 With a gentle hand she lightly strokes his skin, she feels the roughness  along the back of  his hand, the coarseness of the hair on his arm. Her life with him was hell. Yes, she decides that hell is a good word. Describes it in a nutshell.  By God, she was lucky to escape, with the help of the kind neighbours and the police. But, she’s here.

  And she touches him like she hasn’t touched him in years. Caressingly. Softly. Tenderly. He’s closed his eyes. Perhaps it’s relaxing him, calming him.

Her touch is obnoxious to me.  Why’s she here? To torment me? If she hadn’t gone I would have kicked her out. She used me. Her father, he made us marry. Said it was my duty. And I’ve done my duty, by Christ I have. A home, a good one for her and the brat .A good husband and a good father. But she never showed me any bloody respect. A man deserves respect, and in his own home an’ all.  Had to show her. Open my eyes. She’s standing up to go?  What’s she looking at? She’s looking at the machine? Why’s she doing that. Stop looking at the machine. Stop it. Stop looking. You stupid cow. Why don’t you fuck off?

The tea is warm and sweet. Finishing the biscuits as well she gets up, looking for a bin to put the empty cup in. The nice nurse is looking over some paperwork but looks up as she passes.

‘You doing ok, honey?’

She says ‘ Yes, I - I don’t like seeing him.’

The nice nurse sighs and nods. She’s tired. Nine hours shift and she’s waiting for her replacement.

And that perfume.? I don’t remember it. She used to wear something when we were courting. Musky, heavy. Like the smell of warm caramel overlaid with lilies. Sensual. It lay on her skin and surrounded us. We lay alongside the bank, in the crook of the river where it bent, hidden from view. The light dappling through the willow trees that lined that part. Yes, that perfume. I remember that one. I don’t know this one. Whore! Tart! Probably got it off some cheap market stall.  Wears it for her lover or maybe he’s her pimp. Get away from me. Can’t stand the scent of you in my nostrils. Can’t move -  can’t tell you -  don’t want you here. Where’s that damn nurse, the fat, slaggish one. Take her away. Leave me. Leave. Why can’t you all just leave me?

Sitting back down, she looks across the restraining bars of the cot- like bed. He won’t need restraining. Not anymore. He’s been restrained before, but usually by a kind neighbour or policeman. Now he’s just a huge lump of a man but even so, she can sense the force that made him what he was. It’s still there. Contained, restrained.

The nice nurse looks tired, dark rings beneath her dark eyes. They work them too hard, she thinks as she watches her walking round the ward, checking the patients and the machines.  She rummages in her handbag and, following her back to her desk she asks the nurse if she would like a boiled sweet. The nurse looks at her, studying her face.

 ‘Have they told you about his condition? Have you spoken to anyone?’

The fat nurse. She’s talking to her. What are they saying?  I strain to catch some of the words. Feeding tube, catheter, incontinent, hope, recovery, home. Home. I want to go home. The home she left. Left me and took a few bin bags full of junk.  Funny that. I thought she’d have taken more. When she went, it was a shock, no idea she was going. Came home. Gone.  Thought she would’ve have emptied the place. The stereo, the savings books, the valuables. No. She took those stupid ornaments off the mantelpiece, and the photo albums.  Left the wedding album. Took her peg bag off the line. Wondered about that. She could have taken so much out of the house, out of the bank even. She took nothing of any value. Just junk. Strange that.

I’m lying still. That’s stupid. I can only lie still. She’s stopped that damn pawing.  I close my eyes. Something I have control over. My eyes. My windows. My soul.  Will she pull all these tubes out, turn the machine off?  What is she doing here? I must breathe slower, must stay calm; I can feel a sheen of sweat drying on my face.

Seeing the sweat glistening on his pale, sagging cheeks, she gently wipes it with a tissue from the night stand. All those tears, those fears. All the wasted time. A life. Two lives. We should never have married. Never. Blame my Dad. Blame me. Maybe if you had been with someone else? Someone who was a bit stronger? I loved you, she thinks, once upon a time. When we were young. And she leans over and  touches his cheek with her lips. His eyes open. Then tightly close.

What’s that noise?  A sudden change in the sound of the machine above the bed startles her and she looks up.

 ‘Nurse, nurse?’

 The lines, the numbers all change.  There’s a shrill alarm sound coming from somewhere and within a second the nurse is there, gently pushing her to one side. She’s talking quickly in nurse speak, on a radio phone calling for a cardiologist, emergency. She hears her say his heart rhythms are critical, an arrest. The nurse pulls over another piece of machinery that she hadn’t noticed before and stations it next to the bed.
            Pain. Gripping fierce  pain in my chest. I can’t – can’t  breathe.  I can see under my eyelids and in front of the red glare of pain, the nurse is leaning over me, pulling my shirt aside. Pain, crushing me.  Now I can’t see. I feel a tear trickling down my cheek. Where is she? Is she here? Is she still here? Is she…

It seems like longer, as if it’s all moving in slow motion but in reality it’s a few seconds: one moment it’s just her, him and the nice nurse. The next there are doctors, more nurses. They are all moving within the confines of the curtains now pulled round three sides of the bed.  It seems haphazard but when you watch there is a pattern, a rhythm. Like a dance. She stands there clutching her bag in her hands.  No one seems to have noticed she is still here. One doctor is checking his eyes,  his pulse. Another is injecting into his arm. The machine throws out a long, monotonous tone. The nice nurse is holding the paddles of the defibrillator and she is shouting out. Her voice. Powerful.

 ‘Clear’ and his body jumps up with a movement it will soon no longer have. And again. And once more. With each punch of the paddles the nice nurse calls out ‘Clear’ and she can almost feel the power herself, the power that’s coursing through him.  And her own body jolts involuntarily.  Then all still. Momentarily the dance stops as the machinery is checked. Then the dance starts again.

I feel light. No pain. Floating in a sea of something soft.  My limbs feel detached. Gently, slowly, I can sense a warmth and what else? Tiredness. But not weary. Just tired. And the red has gone from my eyes and, yes, has gone from deep within me. Peace like I’ve not known for a long, long time washes over me. I open my eyes. I’m standing on the river bank. She’s lying down behind me on a tartan blanket. The light on the river spins and sparkles, fragments into pieces then joins up again. Rippling and dancing along. The willow makes a pattern on the grass which moves with the gentlest of breeze. She’s laughing from somewhere behind me. A rich, warm, low laugh that hangs in the hot summer air.  I turn and she’s…

Someone touches her arm. Gently but firmly they lead her to a chair. Not the hard grey chair. Another chair. In another room. This room has no machinery. No bed. A window.  The nice nurse bends down and holds her hand. She must be speaking to her. The words forming in her large , kind mouth. The words. Nothing more to be done, no brain activity. Nothing. Donor card. In his wallet. Consent. Your consent. She looks at the nurse. Someone hands her a cup of tea. One sugar. Nice and sweet. The nurse is asking her something. She finds her voice. The power.

 The last word. Yes.

Word count: 1996

Part 2

The most difficult part of this assignment was deciding on the narrative voice. I had previously used the first person in my first assignment. I wanted to use a different point of view to demonstrate that I could be versatile and had absorbed the information in the work book regarding viewpoints. To use simply a single first person point of view didn’t allow me to successfully, in my opinion, enter both the characters minds which I felt was crucial to the story.  Experimenting with a variety of points of view, I decided to structure the narrative around the man in first person narration, almost a stream of consciousness,  and the woman in third person. However I was very aware that it could be confusing to the reader. So, I had to find a way around this without losing the impact but also retaining the reader’s ability to understand who was saying or thinking what.   My dilemma was compounded by Jack M Bickham (1997) who states that if, after you have reviewed your work, you have “found more than one viewpoint, get it out of there.” (p38).  This was not very helpful. I had two viewpoints:  inside his head, unspoken but very loud, and her third person, limited omniscient viewpoint. However, returning to the workbook, I read “You might decide the power to move briefly into different minds suits a particular story” (Anderson, 2006, p120) and this was reassuring.   So I persevered with the multiple viewpoints. By using the device of italicising the man’s thoughts it may be seen that the different viewpoints are distinguishable.

 The story is set in a very short period of time. Interspersing the story with the man’s thoughts on her perfume and where he remembered smelling it enabled me to vary the timeline and to bring in time shifts within the structure. I have repeated the river scene to enable the narrative to have depth while it still moved along quickly. I did not want to overuse flashbacks within such a short piece as I was conscious that it could all become confusing. However, I wanted the reader to feel sympathy for the man even though he is apparently not a very pleasant person. It was important for me that there was a possibility of redemption, however slight. His warm memories of being with the woman gave me something to work with without it becoming too mawkish.

Trying a variety of tenses I decided that the predominate present tense worked in the scene’s structure and  also helps to convey the woman’s voice  as almost matter of fact. She drinks tea, eats biscuits. All mundane and of the moment. Mixing the tenses was a device that gave me freedom to vary the mood and convey the everydayness of some of the character’s actions and the poignancy of the memories of the past.

I tend to edit as I go along. The story itself did not change radically. However, altering the order of the paragraphs made a great difference. It flowed better. For example, the section that begins ‘You left me…’ was originally part of the third paragraph. Placing it after the paragraph where she has had her tea read better and I felt happier with it. 

Word count: 539


Anderson, L (ed.) Creative Writing: A workbook with readings, Abingdon, Routledge / Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Bickham, Jack M., 1997, The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And how to avoid them), Writers Digest Books