December 3, 2014 at 12:05 AM #5094
Name: Jenna Miller
Title of Manuscript: Crawling Backwards (Fiction)
Word Count: 1250
Note: I’m not great with summarizing my own work, so if it’s too vague and you have suggestions on how to improve that as well I would appreciate it.
Rodney Holte revisits his life as he processes the unexpected and curious loss of his best friend. Flashes of memories take him from his early university days to the present forty years later. Secrets surface as the past and present entwine with a cast of characters, leaving Rodney with the struggle to embrace devotion in the face of deception, and love in the process of letting go.
First Five Pages:
The body knows when it has been left behind. An invisible film takes form over it and announces instant protection from additional harm. Pain is inevitable at the first sign of abandonment — that moment where the hands reach out and find nothing. Lips smile while the brain pleads insanity. Knees shake in need of structure. Pulse beats faster and slower without warning. Without warning, faster and slower beats everything.
Loneliness isn’t news, that much is certain. Putting on a face of contentment has never been difficult, but the ticking clock growing louder and deeper with each additional reminder of being by one’s self causes irrevocable melancholy. There is no out from this reality, but the reality was never sweet to begin with; it was passable at best.
The world continued to turn outside into new beginnings. Sounds of early morning car horns and church bells echoed from the streets into residential chimneys, down to the burning fireplaces where bodies are meant to be kept warm. Burning embers – shifting from eccentric orange to flirtatious blue – are the only reminder that life continued inside the flat, for the face staring at the flames hadn’t moved in hours. There was a heartbeat, but little more. Eyes shifted, legs crossed and uncrossed, hands produced occasional trembles. The only sound heard throughout the space was the crackling of wood. A glass of brandy was finally lifted from the inhabitant’s lap, sipped, and set down again.
Beside the breathing body was a small stand, and on it an envelope, unopened. Written in a fine cursive, the name held meaning: Rodney. Whoever it was from, the recipient didn’t feel too compelled to open it, for Rodney took another drink before setting the glass down on the stand, covering a portion of the envelope. His eyes never left the flames.
When he finally moved to stand, his knees performed a slight crack that came with the combination of sitting too long and aging. The suit he put on the morning prior was still on his person, neatly tailored, but no longer freshly pressed. Forced to carry on the day, Rodney left the flames inviting privacy and walked down the hall into his bathroom. He opened the glass shower door and turned on the water, letting it heat to a nearly scalding temperature as he took off his suit, neatly folding every article of clothing and setting the small pile on the counter. He stepped into the shower and closed the door, letting the hot pellets consume him.
Rodney saw a flash of blond hair upon opening his eyes, causing his previous thoughts to drift away. He quickly turned off the shower. He didn’t recognize her, didn’t know her. What was she doing in the men’s washing facility? Perhaps the university had some strange rule about this being acceptable, or it could have been a dare. Being in his first year at University College London, he didn’t have an answer. Either way, it was odd behavior, and embarrassing.
“Are you mad?” he asked, grabbing the towel off the curtain rod. He wrapped it around his waist and stepped out in time to see her turn back at the door, his hair twisted about in a thick lather of shampoo.
“I’m sorry,” the young woman said, her tone sweet and nervous at the same time. This instantly calmed Rodney. The flush of her cheeks mixed with the ribbon in her hair, and a powder blue dress that hung at her knees and a book in hand confirmed that she meant no harm. She had the image of pure innocence, borderline angelic; the combination of shower steam and bright lights made it look as though he’d stepped into heaven.
“What are you doing in here?” he asked. “It’s after two in the morning.”
“My roommate wanted privacy,” she said. This was code for shagging, Rodney learned. “I wanted somewhere to read, and since everywhere else is full of sloppy drunks I decided to come in here.”
“You picked the men’s bathroom?”
Rodney emitted a light laugh, unable to help himself. How queer she was, settling on a man’s sacred place to read, and yet she appeared so casual. It was admirable at any rate, choosing books over one of several parties going on throughout campus. Either way, she had to leave. Instead of being rude about it, he went to the counter and grabbed his keys, pulling one off the loop. He walked over to her, holding the key out to her. “Here. I’m in room 325. It’s a single. No one will bother you there.”
“You’re giving me your room key?” she asked.
“Only if you let me in when I get back.”
She seemed amused by his gesture. A smile formed on her face, one eyebrow slightly higher than the other. He didn’t like when people stared at him like that; it made them look as though they had a power over him.
“What?” he asked, rubbing the back of his neck, something he did when nervous despite there being no reason for nerves at present.
“I think introductions might be nice before you give me access to your life,” she said, her smile increasing slightly.
“Right,” he said, feeling absurd for not thinking of that first. He extended his hand to her out of courtesy. “Rodney Holte.”
“Helen Wilcox,” she said, taking his hand and shaking it before taking the key.
Rodney left the shower, wrapping a towel around his middle and stepping to the mirror, his haggard reflection looking back. The effects of brandy were replaced with a different numbing sensation; he’d been avoiding this reality. Life and death were staring him in the face, his hardened heart attempting to keep up.
Forcing his thoughts to take a break, he went about the morning routine. After brushing his teeth, he layered a dollop of shaving cream over his face and slowly stroked the razor across his skin. Not having enough focus, he drew blood on the last stroke, causing him to mutter a curse under his breath and look down at the blade that now appeared to pulse a deep shade of red. He stared at the threatening color momentarily before rinsing it off in the sink and wiping his face clean. He looked into the mirror again and began working on his hair, which was peppered and in the Kennedy style, a nice look for a fifty-eight year-old. It parted to the left like Robert’s. He’d always respected him more than John, even if he was an American.
Rodney took his suit from the night before and walked a little further down the hall into his bedroom to hang it in a clothes bag to be dry-cleaned. His dress code was simple. He owned seven suits, one for each day of the week. Going outside of the routine was unthinkable, just as buying a new toothpaste brand or taking a different route to work was unthinkable. He brought his suits to be properly cleaned every Monday and Thursday, taking them in before work and picking them up after. His favorite suit was reserved for Sunday — navy blue with subtle pinstripes. There was something both elegant and daring in branching out from the various solids. He picked out the suit and changed into it, careful with each button as if they were about the fall off their thread.
Rodney returned to the sitting room to finish his brandy; he was going to need it.
- This topic was modified 2 years, 6 months ago by Jenna Miller.
December 3, 2014 at 6:29 PM #5100
I’m really interested in what’s in the letter.
I’m not sure of the continuity thought. You’ve got him in the men’s bathroom, he gave his room key to the woman, then proceeds to his bedroom and the sitting room. Is he in a hotel or a home?
I’m going to read it again, I can see he build up to the turmoil, but the question in the continuity had me hung up a little bit.
The synopsis looks like it will be an awesome story.
December 3, 2014 at 7:03 PM #5101
Thank you for reading my pages. I apologize if I didn’t make it clear, but the scenes in Part One go back and forth between present time and memories, so the scene with the woman is in the past.
I tried breaking up the text a bit to show the scenes changed, but it’s harder to accomplish on this site than my Word document.
I hope this helps! Thanks again.
December 5, 2014 at 5:18 PM #5105
This is a very interesting premise. I, too, am intrigued and would love to read more.
The opening about the body dying confused me a little. I like when we get to the letter and Rodney, so you might consider starting there (or at least getting there a little quicker).
I kind of sort of understand that the scenes jumped from the present to the past, but only because I read the summary. You’ll definitely need to make that more clear. I like the idea of the shower kind of tying that transition together, you’re just going to have to make it clear when you shift from present to past (especially since we don’t know anything about Rodney yet, we don’t understand that he is old and so school obviously means a flashback).
Otherwise I think this is very interesting, and I love the scene with young Rodney and Helen! Nice job!
December 5, 2014 at 9:53 PM #5109
Thank you for the feedback, Janelle! I’ve been trying to sort out how to make the transitions more obvious. These flashbacks just occur in Part One, and most sections are too short to make them actual chapter numbers. I also don’t have chapters within Parts Two and Three, so numbering them in the first Part would feel off.
What are your thoughts on separating the sections with “Now” and “Then” headers to make it more obvious? There are many ways of doing that, but do you think the idea of headers would work better? (Anyone else feel free to chime in here if you’re reading the comments.)
Also, thanks for the suggestion in regard to where to start the novel. It’s definitely worth considering when I go back to edit more thoroughly. 🙂
December 8, 2014 at 9:24 PM #5115
I agree with the two lovely ladies above me–the transitions are a bit jarring. We go from present to past to present in the space of five pages. It leaves me feeling a bit whiplashed!
Have you considered fleshing any of these scenes out to make them a bit longer, and give us a bit more grounding into your story? Because your writing is gorgeous. Simply beautiful. But I’m left more confused about what’s going on, about who’s story this is or what it’s about, and by the end of your five pages, we should have the faintest glimmer of an idea.
The shower scene is one that I’d really love to see expanded, because I’m instantly intrigued by these characters. Have you thought about bringing your POV a little closer? Having a close-in third person might do wonders here. It could also help differentiate the time shift?
Overall, though, lovely work!
December 8, 2014 at 10:05 PM #5118
Thank you for your feedback, Jenny! It’s most helpful.
Considering the feedback from everyone, I’m thinking that combining some parts to make them longer instead of smaller snippets might work best. I’ll play around with layout and see how that goes. Thanks again!
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