View Full Version : Sheila's Tale: excerpted from larger work (matrue themes, 1850 words)

February 3rd, 2012, 06:40 AM
The following is an excerpt from an original piece that is currently in the works. It is the background of the female principle, Sheila. It is primarily told in her own words. Expletives have been largely deleted or cleaned up to accommodate a wider audience but foul language comes to her naturally for reasons that are soon apparent. The piece contains mature themes.

[Jon is a PhD candidate in archaeology at a university with a prestigious department in that discipline. He also has a master’s in library science and a bachelor’s in classics from two other institutions. With no desire to teach he is merely a professional student. Sheila is his girlfriend. She works as a real estate agent in a time and place where that occupation is still lucrative. The couple just had a huge fight the night before that ended in her bashing his head with her heavy pocket book. She left him on the street to nurse his wound and took a cab home. The scene below opens the following day when she meets her girlfriend Mary for drinks and a long chat.]

Sheila’s Tale
(excerpted from “The Professional Student”)
by Jim

Flanagan’s Inn was their girls’ hangout. Sheila never told Jon about the place, wanting some kind of free zone. She would often go there to meet Mary, sometimes with a few other women, to talk and have lunch, dinner or a few drinks. ‘Four Green Fields’ was playing on the juke box as Sheila entered. She sighed, that was her father’s favorite song. It always reminded her of him. He passed away when she was just a girl of nine. Her mother took to drinking after that, leaving Sheila, with some minimal guidance from her aunt, to her own devices.

Mary was seated at a booth in the back. She was enjoying what looked like a vodka and tonic. Mary rose as Sheila approached the table and gave her a hug. “So honey,” Mary began to ask, “Is it over or what?”

“Let me sit down and have a beer first.”

Mary said nothing as her friend took off her light spring jacket and slid into the little booth. A waitress approached. Sheila recognized her as new and looked at her name tag to see ‘Siobhan.’ She was ‘from the other side’ as they say. Flanagan’s hired quite a few immigrants with questionable documentation. It gave the place a distinct atmosphere, high end in décor and price, but very Irish. “Can I get you a drink?” she asked with a lilt.

“A pint of half and half, please.”

Siobhan raised an eyebrow, she was not yet used to American women ordering man sized drinks in a polite setting. At home, women in a nice place ordered half pints. She jotted it down on a pad and drew away towards the service bar.

“Was she worried she would forget? She actually wrote that down.” Mary said with a grin.

“You sound like Jon.”

“If I actually become Jon, shoot me.” She smiled at her friend but Sheila stared stone faced. Mary took a sip of her drink.

“The Chief snuck in another one on the Canadian express.” Mary said, referring to the bar owner and his habit of bringing in family from Ireland down to the states through Canada. “I don’t know how he gets away with all the illegals he has working here.”

“Shush,” said Sheila “Keep your voice down. All you need is for one of them to think you’re gonna drop a dime. They’ll spit in your drink.”

“As long as they don’t pee in it,” Mary said and laughed.

“I wasn’t gonna say.”

They talked about work and Sheila detected that her friend was rank to ask her about last night. The waitress served the beer and the real estate agent took a long sip. It tasted wonderful. She loved good beer. Jon had introduced her to fine wine, not the jug white that her mother drank. She learned how to appreciate it but when given a choice, a well brewed beer was preferable. If cans of Bud were all that was available, she’d drink that – and like it.

Mary was dying to hear a story. Sheila finally spoke: “I’m not going to tell you the gritty details. It upsets me too much to talk about it. I’m thinking about giving him the push.”

“Congratulations! How long have you been with that idiot? You’ve been together as long as I’ve known you.” The two women met when they were students at City University.

“Twelve years.”

“Twelve years together and there’s no ring on your finger. You should have your head examined!” Mary bounced up and down on the banquette in excitement.

“It didn’t do you much good. You were through with Pete after five years.”

“Don’t bring that up. It’s irrelevant. We’re talking about you.” Mary said, somewhat annoyed.

“I don’t need to be engaged or married. I need to be in a healthy relationship, that’s all.”

“Fine, call the jerk tonight. Tell him it’s over and then leave everything else to me. He doesn’t deserve you, girl. You’re way too good for him. You want healthy? I’ll find you healthy.” Mary said.

“You don’t know our story, Mary. I’m gonna fill you in.” She took another sip and a deep breath. She had good reason to keep her personal history private. “You know I grew up on the south end with no father and an alcoholic mother.”

“I know, and you pulled yourself up by your bootstraps. I love you for that. That’s why that preppy tub of lard doesn’t deserve you.” Mary said.

“Please let me finish. I still love him. If it wasn’t for him, I’d probably be out on Adams Avenue strung out, turning tricks.”

Mary said nothing, her eyes growing wide. She just stared at her friend’s face, heavy with make-up as always, to cover acne scars. Sheila started wearing make-up when she was eleven, the dime store crap. It took its toll.

“When Jon was getting his masters at CU, one night he went out slumming with a buddy down my way. He met me in a bucket of blood near my house. I was only eighteen but the owner used to let me in because I was seeing a regular named Richie. I had a fake I.D. but it was my neighborhood. Everyone knew how old I was. As long as I didn’t sit at the bar and kept a low profile, everything was cool. He was about thirty and a fantastic dart shooter. I mean like national caliber if there is such a thing in darts. I got expelled from high school. I couldn’t get a decent job. I thought he was the best I could ever dream of doing. Jon came up to me that night and asked me to show him how to shoot darts. He stunk, couldn’t even hit the board half the time. But I worked with him all night. Richie was out at a league match at another bar so I had nothing better to do. We went to a club afterwards and just talked, about books mostly. I wasn’t educated but I read a lot and I was great with numbers. He said I had a remarkable mind. No one ever said that to me before. He was not just a college guy, he was a grad student. I overlooked the gut and was expecting to go home with him. He never asked me for any more than my phone number.”

Mary interjected: “Before you go any further I’m going to say this: you have a fantastic body, a great job, you drive a nice car, you have a kick-ass apartment and what does he have? Squat, that’s what. You work out three times a week. How often does he go to the gym? Never, he doesn’t need to belong to a gym because he’s a student at Burnham; and he sits on his fat butt, wasting away. He doesn’t even own a car. Sheila, he’s a loser.”

“Not to me. Don’t interrupt anymore, I know what you think about him.”

Sheila continued: “Jon called me a couple of days later and I couldn’t believe it. We went out and talked some more. He said he thought I should get my G.E.D. I never considered it but he said he would help. Except for a wasted life so far, I had nothing to lose. So I agreed to try. I dumped my boyfriend and started studying. Do you know what that bastard Richie said to me? He said: ‘Plenty of other sluts out there. I don’t give a damn.’ That’s when I realized what he really thought of me; what the world thought of me.” She choked a little on those last words but went on with her story.

"Three nights a week, we met at the CU library. I shouldn’t have been allowed in but Jon arranged it. I can’t even imagine what those kids must have thought: spandex pants and halter tops.”

“With your chest? You’re kidding me.”

“No. That was my wardrobe except for one peasant skirt that my aunt gave me for Christmas. I scrounged up eight bucks and bought a cheap white blouse at K-Mart to go with it. I wore that as much as I could. I don’t know which was more embarrassing. The slutty clothes or the same outfit every night. During this whole time he never made a move on me. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought he was gay, but he was seeing this other girl in the Library Science program. She used to come in while I was studying and drag him outside. She was heavy but had long blond hair and great skin.”

“Hey babe,” Mary interjected, “When a girl has a body like yours, they can get away with bad skin. You’re always comparing yourself to other women and downgrading yourself. You’re way too self-conscious.”

Mary was always talking about how great her girlfriend's body was. It had become tiresome. Sheila ignored her and continued: “I knew she was jealous and talking about me. For the first time in my life I actually started to feel good about myself. After eight months I got my diploma and I wanted to thank him the only way I knew how. When I made a move, he stopped me. He said ‘Let’s get you into college first.’”

“In for a penny, in for a pound; so I studied for the boards and scored a little over 1000 combined. ‘Good to go’ was all he said about it. Jon wrote my recommendation and prepped me for an interview. When I got into CU, we had a night of wild sex to celebrate. He ditched the fat blonde and we’ve been together ever since. I met you when I declared my major in Marketing and you know all the rest.”

“Well,” said Mary becoming acerbic, “He’s a damned saint. I’ve changed my opinion.”

“No he’s not. He’s a sarcastic lazy horn dog. We all know that, but I do really love him. The problem is: I’ve grown, he hasn’t.”

Mary said nothing for a while as she stirred the ice in her cocktail. Finally: “Don’t you think he was doing it as much for him as for you; like some kind of sick Pygmalion fantasy?”

“Yes, I do… now. But I’m attached.”

“Educating Rita.”

“What?” Sheila said.

“Educating Rita, It’s a movie.”

“Who’s in it?”

“Michael Caine.” Mary said.

“Oh, I love him.”

“Then you should definitely see it, soon. Did you ever go bungee jumping?”

“No.” Sheila’s said, angry that Mary was appearing to go off-track.

“You’re on a wooden platform built on the railing of a bridge. You’re wearing a cuff that wraps both your ankles so strong and so tight that there’s no way it can come off…”

“I know how it works, Mary. What’s your point?”

“There’s a guy standing behind your shoulder: a rugged outdoor type with a beard, kinda hot. He’s giving you encouragement because he knows you’re terrified. He puts his hand on your back and you think he might push you, but he doesn’t. ‘Jump’ he says, ‘Just jump, you’ll be so happy you did.’”

“Please tell me the damn point, Mary.”

“I’m that guy. I can’t push you but I can promise you that you will be so happy once you just jump.”

The Backward OX
February 3rd, 2012, 10:38 AM
Nice story, even though most of it’s been told a million times. The ending was good with its use of analogy but I couldn’t tell whether the jump was supposed to refer to giving the boyfriend the heave, or something else. Maybe that’s just me.

Few nits:

Flanagan’s Inn was their girls’ hangout.

Even allowing that, as an excerpt, this is out of context, I still can’t see “their girls’” as correct. I think “the girls’”.

“So honey,” Mary began to ask, “Is it over or what?”

One doesn’t begin to ask, one asks.

Flanagan’s hired quite a few immigrants

Even though Flanagan’s Bar (with an apostrophe) is the name of the establishment, you may find somewhere down the track an editor who will say that in the quote above, they want it written as Flanagans without the apostrophe.

She jotted it down on a pad and drew away towards the service bar.

drew away? Ships draw away from quaysides, or perhaps in a story written entirely in flowery language you might get away with it, but here it stands out like dog’s balls as incongruous.

Sheila stared stone faced.


Keep up the good work.

February 3rd, 2012, 11:21 PM
Hi Ox,

Thank you for giving the piece a careful read. I appreciate your time and effort. I realize the theme is hackneyed (I tend to overuse that word) but it is a background that has a plot, a story within a story (I love myths and cannot avoid using them). It is not the plot of the larger work which is about the boyfriend and deals with character flaws larger than his Pygmallion fixation. Thank you for the corrections, the stone faced bit I actually did catch but neglected to correct for some reason. I must have been distracted. Thank you very much for the tip about the possesive form in the name of the pub. I didn't know that and never would have caught it.



February 4th, 2012, 03:17 PM
Hi Jim,

I feel rather inadequate to comment; I have read your comments on other works, and you are always spot on, IMHO. But here goes anyway...

I like the style. To me, it is conversational in tone, which fits the excerpt well. Knowing now that it is from a larger work, with plot, character development, scene, etc., the 'hackneyed' bit can be ignored. Most stories have a bit of that, anyway... nothing new under the sun, really.

A few things I noticed:

Flanagan’s Inn was their girls’ hangout. I would say 'their hangout' - drop girls'. Sheila never told Jon about the place, wanting some kind of free zone. She would often go there to meet Mary, sometimes with a few other women, to talk and have lunch, dinner or a few drinks. ‘Four Green Fields’ was playing on the juke box as Sheila entered. She sighed, that was her father’s favorite song. 'She sighed; it was...' I think a semi-colon works better here. It always reminded her of him. He passed away when she was just a girl of nine. Her mother took to drinking after that, leaving Sheila, with some minimal guidance from her aunt, to her own devices. I would say her mother began drinking, but that is just me.

"Sheila continued: “Jon called me a couple of days later..." Here, I think 'Sheila continued her story:' would read a little better, but again, that is just an opinion. There is nothing wrong with the way you did it.

All in all. well done!

Best regards


February 4th, 2012, 08:50 PM
Hello CB,

Thank you very much for the kind words and pointed criticism. I appreciate it. I am humbled that you think that my comments to others have been 'spot on.' I have read your analyses and the feeling is mutual. (Please don't feel that I am clustering about the round table of mutual admiration. I hate that.) I feel that I have been considered by others to have been picky or unduly harsh in my analysis of the work of some. I therefore have decided to post things I don't ever intend to submit that are written in styles other than my usual formal and as Ox has implied, somewhat flowery form. They are flawed and do need work. I hope that those who may have felt me unkind will take the opportunity to fire some salvos in return. I have, however, posted them in slightly unusual places as an expression of my rather elusive character.

As to the semi-colon or lack thereof, because of my incessant use of independant clauses, I tend to drop the SC in favor of the comma so the piece doesn't scan like a polka dot tie. I use it but try to limit its frequency. I remember many years ago when the wonderful New York Daily News journalist, Jimmy Breslin was receiving correspondance from David Berkowitz, the 'Son of Sam' killer, he said: "He was the only serial murderer I ever heard of who knew how to use a semi-colon." I always think of that when my grammar correct puts up that flag. Since then, the 'semi' has always sent a little chill up my spine.



February 5th, 2012, 01:55 AM
I know what you mean about the mutual admiration society. I'm not into that, either. In fact, if you see me blunder, by all means, nail my butt to the wall! For all the birthdays I have enjoyed, I have added multiple layers of skin to my hide.

I haven't noticed you being harsh or picky, but, you haven't graded one of my papers yet!;-) I do feel our language should be used well and respectfully and hope that my writing reflects this.

Well, the semi-colon... I can see your point, once explained. I don't use it much myself, but there are instances that seem to call for it. I think it can be considered more of a style thing anyway.

Best regards


February 5th, 2012, 07:17 AM
...you haven't graded one of my papers yet!;-)

Clearly your papers must be at the bottom of the pile on Teacher's desk. After a much needed Superbowl recess, he will be back in Monday morning and locate them. He does expect a shiny apple in return.http://i938.photobucket.com/albums/ad227/kaytee_13/Icons/Emoticons/smiley_apple.gif

(Actually, I did read a couple and didn't think they needed much work. But I'll go back and look more closely. Oh, by the way, I prefer Cortlandts or Granny Smiths as they make the best pies.)

Go Giants,

February 5th, 2012, 04:26 PM
8-) Granny Smiths: check.

Go Giants: check! (I was a fan of Eli's dad, too. I guess that dates me, eh?)

Best regards


February 6th, 2012, 05:04 AM
Hi CB, Hope you enjoyed the game as much as I did.

Err, You're not the only one whose first record was a 45 rpm. I remember when the Beatles broke up but was too young to consider it a big deal. I was in college during Archie Manning's last year with the Ain'ts, however. We didn't get to see him very much because the team was so bad. If you didn't live in that part of the country, you never had the pleasure of watching Archie get sacked live. We all saw it on NFL Films though, narrated by John Facenda, "the Voice of God." (The most remarkable voice in broadcasting IMO.) I remember the Saints fans with the brown paper bags over their heads. That was a freaking riot.

I'm giving 'Once a Warrior' a comprhensive look. Very minor stuff mostly but I caught a couple things so far that you need to know about. It's going to be rather lenthy because it is exhaustive. I can post it or send it as a PM as you wish. One thing that struck me, the influence of Dune by F. Herbert. but that seems to be superficial. Curiously though, it's more the TV miniseries adaptation than the book that it called to my mind. Did I get that wrong? You gave someone a glimpse of the rest of the plot in the thread. I like the concept very much and enjoyed reading the excerpt again.

I think this thread has strayed a bit from the topic, don't you?


February 6th, 2012, 02:29 PM
Sending PM