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DanielF
December 20th, 2013, 09:33 PM
I’ve come a long way these past three years. I am writing this sat, quite comfortably I must say, in my single-bedroom apartment. On the small table beside me, is a glass half-filled with water. A year ago, that would have been a can of beer, and it wouldn’t have only been half drunk either – it would have been downed in one and I would have been supping my second already.

And while I‘m at it, I wouldn’t have been sitting in any apartment either, that’s for goddam sure. I would have been huddled on a pavement somewhere, freezing my you-know-whats off.

Hell, things have really changed for me since my days as a homeless person. Did I say person? I could have said dog, for that’s what I felt like most of the time. A damn dirty dog. People used to look at me like I was the filth of the earth, or a plague that would infect you at the slightest touch. It was always a pleasant surprise whenever someone would throw me some loose change. But mostly, all I was ever thrown were bad looks.

Then, one day my life changed forever. I will never forget that man with the friendly smile. The man who saved me from my life of hell. With a hug.

It had been a frightfully cold day. The sun was blanketed by thick, blackened clouds and the wind crept under my coat, sending shivers coursing through my body.

I can’t rightly remember if I was drunk or not, but more than likely I had had whatever alcohol I could get my hands on. I don’t think I need to say that I was a raging alcoholic. I hardly ever had any cash, and when I did I didn’t care about food. Hell no. I would fritter away whatever I had on cheap cans of booze. It got so bad, I would hang out around bars and nightclubs at night and drink any leftovers I could find.

My only possession was a watch my wife had given me on my thirtieth birthday. Now I don’t know much about watches, but this one was something special. When I put it on that first time, it felt like a natural extension to my body, the way a decent pair of shoes can be. I only ever used to take it off whenever I had a bath, and my wife used to laugh at me because of it.

Her laugh. I will always remember her laugh. If nothing else, I will cherish the sound until the day I die.

Three years ago my wife died.

To this day, I can recall the feelings I felt when I first set my eyes upon her. I was stood at the station, waiting for my daily commute to work by train, when the most beautiful woman I had ever seen walked passed me. Despite being pelted by the heavy rain I was mesmerised by her beauty; it seemed to radiate from her and she lit up the dark day.

She carried a pretty umbrella and wore an elegant red coat. She must have felt my eyes upon her and she looked right at me. I swear to this day, she was looking right into my sole. She didn’t look shyly away like I imagined she would have, instead she smiled faintly and cautiously moved towards me.

“You look like you could do with an umbrella,” were her first words to me. She stood by my side and sheltered both of us from the torrent.

“Hi, I’m Robert,” I said.

“Nice to meet you Robert, I’m Mary.”

Now I don’t know if you believe in love at first sight, or not. I firmly thought there to be no such thing. I had dated women before and had not loved a single one. Yes, I had liked them, I mean why else would I have gone out with them? But, I didn’t really love them, if you know what I’m getting at. Had I ever thought of having children and growing old with any one of those women? Hell no.

But, as I was sitting next to Mary, who I was overjoyed to learn was getting on the same train as me, my stomach seemed to flutter with an excitement of some kind, and the half-hour journey raced by. What we had talked about, why I have no idea now, of course. That was nine years ago. But, from that day, yes, I believed in love at first sight.

Within a year of that chance meeting, Mary and I were married. We loved each other dearly and I write this with fond tears of remembrance of her, and also with tears of pain. When she was diagnosed with cancer, her life was eroded almost at once. Watching her demise in her last few months haunt my dreams to this day. We had always wished to have children. We never had the chance.

Within four months of my wife’s death, I was homeless. I guess I just didn’t want to live without her any more, and I was self-destructing. Mary and I had saved a little over the years so we could pay a deposit on our first house together, while we were renting an apartment. But I soon gambled away that eight thousand pound, that’s for goddam sure.

I had stopped going to work too. Not that I would have been much good had I kept at it. Accountancy was never really my thing anyway, and with the depression that had started to eat away at me, I couldn’t have got through a single day had I tried.

Pretty soon I was on the streets. Of course, my friends and family had offered to help me, pleaded with me even, to come and stay with them until I got back on my feet. But couldn’t they understand? I could never again get back on my feet. My heart was beating, but it didn’t feel anything any more. I was a wreck of a man. A broken spirit. I had become a shadow.

I said something about a man changing my life earlier, didn’t I? I’m sorry, I got carried away a bit there and seem to have missed the point a bit. So, as I was saying, I was tightly huddled to protect myself from the roaring wind when I noticed a man walk towards me.

I saw, even from quite a distance, that this guy was smiling like a Cheshire cat. And he was looking directly at me. I got to thinking that this guy was some sort of looney, or at least drunk or high on drugs.

But, undeterred by my angry, bearded grimace, he approached still until he stood not one foot away from me.

“Got any change?” I muttered, really wishing the white-collared man would just go away. White collar? Why was he wearing a white collar?

I noticed that the man was clutching something in his hand, and realising I was probably thinking it was a small penknife, he unclenched his fist and opened his palm towards me. It was a small, heart-shaped badge.

“My name is Father Brian,” he beamed. “I am a vicar at Westley church, which is just around the corner from here. Have you heard of it?”

I shook my head, feeling slightly more at ease now.

Still smiling (forever smiling it seemed), Father Brian told me that one day a year he would devote himself to giving out a small badge in return for a hug. He told me that he was known as the Hugging Vicar, and asked: “Do you want a heart for a hug?”

At first I thought he was joking. I kind of let out a chortle and scoffed at the idea of me, a smelly, filthy tramp with a four-inch long beard getting up and embracing this beaming, obviously crazy, man (or vicar, even).

But there was something about this man, with his warm smile and friendly demeanour, that made me feel rather guilty at the thought of telling him to get the hell outta here. And so I stood up and felt his arms wrap around my body.

It was such a strange sensation that at first I was as a statue, and then, for some reason, I felt totally relaxed and coiled my arms around the vicar too. I felt tears sting my eyes, and before I knew what was happening, the tears began to stream helplessly down my face. And still, the vicar held me tight.

Finally, the hug was ended, but I felt like an overwhelming weight had been floated away from my being.

“My Son,” said Father Brian, “perhaps you ought to visit Westley Church if you have the time. It might do you the world of good to speak with me and find the solace you crave.” And then he attached the tiny heart-shaped badge to my chest and slowly walked away, smiling evermore.

I never did return to seek out Father Brian, like he had suggested. But, four months on, I feel I owe him my gratitude. Without his knowing, he saved me from despair that day. I had wondered how much longer I could survive living on the streets, spending hardly a waking hour without booze and with no companionship whatsoever, apart from the odd acknowledging grunt from a fellow homeless guy.

I had guessed I’d have been dead within a year, especially if the winter was a cruel one (I had been quite lucky so far). But Father Brian restored a sense of humanity inside me, which was the nourishment my soul had craved ever since my wife had died.

I know that nobody could ever replace my Mary. But I finally realised that I was ready to start living again, until we meet again.

The_D_is_silent
December 24th, 2013, 03:51 PM
The main problem I see here is too much summary. The whole thing was pretty much told second hand. The reader wants to experience what happens from moment to moment. Try to pick important scenes from the summary and flesh them out

Abita
January 12th, 2014, 09:58 PM
Daniel, I'd advise you to scan through the piece and replace any lines that strike you as a "stock" description you've read before. Lines like "shivers coursing through my body", "she lit up the dark day", and "stomach fluttering with excitement" all sound very familiar; try re-working these phrases to make them your own, and really reflect the scene and tone of your story.

Also, be sure to keep a consistent tone. For the most part the voice of the narrator is convincing and gives the reader an idea of the character, but I just didn't believe that he would use words like "chortle" and "evermore."

I liked starting off the story with the half-full cup (very telling). I understand you can't go into much detail if you're keeping the story short, but you may want to hint at how his life turned around at the end, so we come back full-circle.

Timb5
January 13th, 2014, 03:09 AM
Nice little piece here. I agree with The_D_is_silent in that it feels like it needs to have the scenes drawn out a bit more emotionally.For e.g. when Robert remembers Mary’s laugh (Her laugh. I will always remember her laugh. If nothing else, I will cherish the sound until the day I die.)

Describe it for the reader. Was it the sound of a nightingale in the morning; a new sunrise; full of warmth, life and humanity; did it betray her background, what part of town she was from etc. Crucially how did it effect Robert? (lift his spirits; put a smile on his face; inspire him to get out of bed in the morning etc). This will help make Robert’s feelings for Mary create an emotional response in the reader.

I’m a little confused with the story chronology. At the start it says ‘These past three years have been a ride…’ yet towards the end it reads ‘…he had suggested. But, four months on, I feel I owe him my gratitude.’ which suggests the story is more recent.
So does the story take place now or four months after the hug?

Other parts I found confusing:


‘It got so bad, I would hang out around bars and nightclubs at night and drink any leftovers I could find.’
Did you mean Robert scavenged people’s leftover drinks when no-one was looking?
“My Son,” said Father Brian, “perhaps you ought to visit Westley Church if you have the time. It might do you the world of good to speak with me and find the solace you crave.”
How does the Father Brian know Robert craves solace? Was it the look on Robert’s face of how Robert reacted when he was hugged?
‘It was such a strange sensation that at first I was as a statue, and then, for some reason, I felt totally relaxed and coiled my arms around the vicar too.’
Similar to the above - what was the reason Robert felt strange?

Also, the phrasing in this sentence feels awkward. Like it could be broken up into smaller sentence:
I kind of let out a chortle and scoffed at the idea of me, a smelly, filthy tramp with a four-inch long beard getting up and embracing this beaming, obviously crazy, man (or vicar, even).

Finally, there were a few typos (nothing major). Corrected below:

People used to look at me like I was the filth of the earth, or a plague that would infect them at the slightest touch.
She must have felt my eyes upon her and she looked right at me. I swear to this day, she was looking right into my soul.
Watching her demise in her last few months haunts my dreams to this day.
“My son,” said Father Brian,

Overall, though it was a nice economical piece of work. Hope the above thoughts help. Let me know if anything needs clarifying.