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MrTickle
October 18th, 2018, 03:16 PM
Hey guys, I haven't posted here for a while and I've missed this forum so I just wanted to share another one of my surreal short stories with you. I intended this one to be a kind of nod to Kafka. Thank you for reading :-)



Children of Soil and Cement



The reason I took on Ms. Beattie as a client was because she claimed to know everything about her family, but she still sounded scared.

I didn’t get many customers sounding afraid when they rang up. They were usually enthusiastic and fizzing with energy down the phone as they hoped to find out they were sitting on a gold mine of cash, or hoping I would tell them about relatives they wished they’d met because they had interesting jobs or lives.

Ms. Beattie sounded different. Her voice down the line distant and delicate like the walls were closing in, squeezing each word out of her like there was something at stake. I had to press my ear to the receiver to hear her, it felt like when you held the binoculars backwards and the objects seemed so far away.

“You’re probably used to people being a little sketchy on their families past. But I know all of mine. The reason we are talking is because I need to know if ever in your career, when you’ve been researching family members, if they have ever, changed identity?” She spoke with a pervasive paranoia that made me look at the pictures of family trees sitting on my desk staring at me, checking to see if the eyes of each portrait were following me as I tilted my head.

I avoided the almost paranormal undertone to her question and said, “Sometimes people I’ve researched have had to go into witness protection – changed their name, facial hair, once I saw they even had facial rec-“

“No, Mr. Shetlan. Not aesthetic changes, nothing physical. I’m saying they are now from somewhere else.” I usually worked in the dark, only a lamp lighting the papers in front of me because it helped me dive into another families past and forget my own life was happening around me, but with Ms. Beattie statement I wanted to remain in the shadows.

I didn’t know why she couldn’t have gone to a doctor about this. It seemed more suited for them. But I kept hold of the receiver and asked her to explain the ‘change’, hoping she would let slip on a trend of behavioural changes or mental illness in her family that would simplify this strange situation.

“Me, my brother Franklin, ma and pa live in a two bedroom cubby-hole-of-an-apartment in West Drive, downtown. I work at Wacotax bank for eleven months of the year – mental grunt work, checking numbers, all that. My brother and parents do the hands on grunt work: building trade. We all work hard all year. But we don’t spend the money on ourselves, no, that’s never been our family values. We like to share. Ma and Pa always went on about saving enough money through the year until December when we can head back home to Marshalton and bring gifts to the local charities for the less fortunate like injured war vets and mental patients. My parents have always been so kind and understanding of those who haven’t had an easy start to life like themselves.”

“So when Christmas came around this year we did our usual routine of buying presents and placing cash in little boxes for the local charities back home to open when we returned, and we were sitting around the table in the kitchen like always on the 23rd of December - me and Franklin cash laid out on the table, scooters for the kids, special walking boots for Sparky and Mono - two men who don’t have the use of their legs, and so on. But ma and pa sat across the table, eyes focused on something distant like a foreign shore they have just been cut adrift from. I said to them, ‘Are your presents a surprise for everyone this year?’”

“They both frowned like they weren’t sure what I was talking about. Franklin laughed saying they were just kidding us. But Pa dropped his eyes to the blank space on the table in front of him, nodding his head like he was agreeing with himself that I and Franklin were boring him. One thing I noticed about Pa as he sat there was what he was wearing: a grey and cream three piece suit. He always wore dark colours because he said he didn’t want to drag any unnecessary attention to himself. It was almost comical at how he was suddenly so lavishly dressed. But here comes the real surprise. He looks up at us, his eye glazed, and says,
‘You must re-build the sunken settlements, and re-align the fallen moon.’”

“Then ma and pa both rose from their seats in a quiet polite manner as if an important business meeting in the Kremlin had just come to a close. They headed into their bedroom, and the apartment was still and airless. I told Franklin maybe they are a bit stressed and told him to go and buy some presents on behalf of them as I knew they wouldn’t be coming. That gave me space and time to listen and watch through the gap in the doorway of their bedroom. And I still cannot believe what I heard. They were huddled close together like the apartment was bugged and were whispering in Russian accents. They were holding pictures showing blueprints and pencil drawings of Marshalton with tall skyscrapers, Russian churches side by side for miles. And they held a letter that they kept referring to as the ‘poct’. I think it’s Russian for ‘growth’.

I had heard enough. I was about ready to tell her to send her parents to a doctor, so I just said what was on my mind, “Is there a history of mental illness in your family miss? You said that your parents didn’t have the easiest starts to life.”

“No, sir, there is not. I believe the change that has happened to my parents is because of something far less tangible. Ma and pa were both given up by their parents at the age of 8 and 6 - two sets of parents with marital and job problems that couldn’t look after them anymore. They were given to the youth foster home in Marshalton. They just call it the ‘Home’ there,” I began to listen with more interest suddenly, “the foster home provided a routine and safety for a while, until . . . ” she let out a sigh as if the words were sitting in a dark corner of the room and she didn’t want to shine a light on it encase it growled its stalagmite teeth at her, “They said they didn’t trust the Home anymore,” she paused, a car’s headlights slid across my dark office, “I know this sounds weird as hell, but they always said it wasn’t the people they didn’t trust. It was the building.”

I scratched my neck, trying to erase the shiver sent through me with her last statement. I really hoped she was just messing because I sent my daughter to the Home when she was just thirteen.

She paused, almost an embarrassed silence like she knew her story sounded farfetched, “listen, if you don’t want to take this job, it’s fine, I - ”

“No. I’ll take it.” I had to. If this involved any other foster home outside of Marshalton, I would have wished her all the best, but this could affect the one person I truly cared for. When I had to let my daughter go my biggest fear was her changing and becoming someone else.

I told Ms. Beattie that I would start by looking up her family records, and checking to see if there were Eastern European links to her grandparents in the Marshalton’s files. I could have checked those files somewhere in Waco, Texas but I needed to see the Home was not this strange place and that my daughter was still the same. I never read or sensed any subtle hints from Molly that things weren’t fine from the letters, nor hesitancy in her voice in the phone calls.

But before I could put the phone down, Ms. Beattie notified me that I must check my mail box. She had sent me the letter, the ‘poct’. I opened it and looked at it anyway. And to me it was just a bumpy maze of lines like small bits of straw had been glued to cream coloured paper. I chucked it in my empty briefcase and headed for my overcoat.



*


The night always seemingly arrived earlier in Marshalton than elsewhere as the shadow of the desert rocks above hung over the town like God's umbrella. Marshalton was known as ‘The Spine’ of Texas as it's literally one long road. The spine keeping the apartments and shops either side in line. And where the spine meets the skull is the Home with its high black gate and Italianate 19th century structure: steep windows that I used to stare through hoping to catch a glimpse of Molly, talking to a friend she’d made, dancing by herself like she always did in her room at home, or at least wearing the same clothes I’d bought her and not completely freezing out my influence on her life.

I tell the cab driver – a fedora silhouette - who has not titled his head in conversation to me once to drop me by the bungalows on the east side of town. I walk to Mattlock Grove. And stand outside number fourteen where my daughter lives. She moved out of th Home at the age of nineteen and got a job in Marshalton as a florist according to her letters.

I wanted to see if she still has that slim but athletic physique, and hardened jaw line of her father - a girl that you can depend on to protect you with fierce loyalty and warmth. The same girl who hugged me and Trish every time to stop us from arguing, after she had been out for the fourth late night in a row with people I don’t know, and the same girl who stuck up for her friends who got bullied in school. Hopefully her positive traits were picked up from me. It was two in the morning. I wasn’t expecting her to turn on the light on the porch so I ducked into the nearest line of bushes aware that I looked like a desperate paparazzi. But Molly didn’t open the door because she saw me, she was going somewhere. She headed off down the road in a cream dress with an almost intimidating march like there was serious business to attend to.

I couldn’t risk her seeing me, encase she had decided that I had abandoned her on that day. If she was the same caring girl she would still be understandable that I had to hand her into the Home for some time away to sort mine and Trish’s relationships out. I’ll never forget that she handed all her possessions and toys to her friends for them to have when I told her she was going on ‘a long holiday just without the nagging parents’, ‘but you’re more like a friend than a parent’ she had said in the car on the way there. I hope she still thinks that.

I followed her through the desert town’s haze of static. It was like moon dust blowing through the air, grey particles blurring my vision. She walked to a diner at the top of the street. I didn’t want to follow her in but the flies that began to swirl in the air were becoming so overwhelming I thought I might inhale them unless I shot inside.

She hadn’t seen me since the day I dropped her at the Home. I sat across the diner from her. I had a clear view. I could see her sitting there looking at the entrance waiting for someone or maybe something to happen. She sat with an upright rigid posture. No food or even drink ordered. A cold stare and emotionless eyes were not what I was expecting from such a usually warm, and welcoming face. The designer dress was a surprise too. She never liked materialistic things when she was younger, always deciding to buy clothes from charity shops so she could give money to someone who needed it. Her bleach blonde hair was thin and straw like. Her nail polish cracked and chipped. The veins under her skin fighting to the surface like a network of wires. There was a cold authority to her. I was staring at the duck tape that was lining the diners windows like a game of tic tac toe when her (assuming) friend came in and sat down. Her ‘friend’ wasn’t ready for such a late meeting, she was dressed in pyjamas, and carrying a weary frown that looked set in stones since she crawled out of bed.

Molly began the conversation without any small talk. She started by talking about how her husband (she mentioned him in the letters. His name was Duncan. He was a florist. Couldn’t fight in the war due to a prosthetic leg, but helped with local war charities) and said that he had lost his job and had become a ‘night photographer’ about a month ago. Yes, as vague as that. Her friend did not look at her like she was pleased to be hearing any of this, or that she was glad to be at this meeting. She was dozy eyed, yet frowning, concern edged along her face. It was like witnessing doctor and patient together. Molly then pulled out a photograph of one of her husband’s photos he’d taken.
Apparently he’d been sending his work back at night via a guide dog with photographs tied to its collar because he couldn’t come home and show Molly any of them due to him staying on the job ‘waiting for the perfect shot,’ according to Molly. My daughter flicked the picture over to her friend any a bored manner as if the photo meant less than the money it would make. Her friend replied, “It’s very good Mol but I’m concerned for your husband. He has been working such long hours.”

“No, he must only come back when he can earn as much as I do during the day. I’ve told him I want to turn this town into a city one day. But first we need the funding to start our own construction business.”

“Mol. I-I’m saying this as a friend. As someone who cares for you. What you’re saying right now does not sound like you.”
The friend continued to look at her astonished. That wasn’t my daughter in the letters neither the one I dropped off at the Home. And her friend thought the same. I reached into my pocket and find Ms. Beattie’s letter. But it had grown ivy out of the envelope for some reason, but it wasn’t important at that moment. It was my excuse to go and talk to my daughter.

My three piece suit catches her eye. Her eyes flick up to my face but do not deepen, she continues staring at me vacantly, “Excuse me miss, but I have left my glasses in the car and I’m trying to read this letter and - ”

“It’s not a letter,” abruptly interrupting, “it’s a map.”

“How can you tell. It’s covered in ivy.”

She tuts, lashes it from me – I nearly waved a finger at her and told her to not behave in such a bratty manner, but this wasn’t my daughter. “This is a map,” with her finger she traces up the ivy, “this is ‘The Spine’ that we are currently on, and this is leading you to the new buildings on Gretta Avenue.”

I would have asked her for more information but standing in front of this cheap replica of my daughter was making my head feel full of cotton.

You know, I only wanted to get into genealogy because I wanted people who felt like outcasts or lacked understanding of themselves to learn that they were fine just as they were. ‘Look, your grandparents were homeless too. Look your uncle had drug problems too.’ I didn’t want people to feel bad when they didn’t know themselves and got led along by someone who treated them like dunces. Through me they learnt about their family history and values. I just wish I knew mine. I tried to create my own for my daughter as I didn’t know my parents or family, but I’ve let her down. Cut her adrift and she never had a lighthouse to guide her away from the danger. She was lost somewhere. And maybe that ‘map’ is where I’ll find her, and you never know, maybe even Ms. Beatties parents.

Gretta Avenue no longer hosted a Home for the undefended youth. The Italianate structure had been stretched and contorted by some blow torch that pierced the iron skies and sculpted a new building. What lay in the cul-de-sac was a set of buildings consisting of high towered grey rock granite structures with small square windows that looked like the small jam filling in a large cake. And black tape, like a giant film reel, climbed up the side of each building like something out of a Xul Solar painting. The building held a neon sign covered in letters that I did not recognise. They looked Russian.

I paid the second silhouetted taxi driver I had seen that day, my money disappearing through an endlessly black car window, and wandered into the marble lobby without disruption. Oak and leaf patterned sofas filled the lounge. Many floors swirled above my head. It was like being inside a Russian Church. Six elevators in the shape of a mouse hole in the skirting shot up and down like chemicals in test tubes. I saw the counter, the metal shutter three quarters down. A pair of hands splayed out like a pair of gloves in a boutique. I walk over to the hands and ask what happened to the old care home. One of the hands separates from the pose, the other stays firm, like its examining. It’s a suspicious twin. The wondering hand retrieves a key and places it on the counter. I picked it up and shuffle to the elevator, flicking my eyes side to side to see if anyone is watching, or if the walls have eyes. As the elevator silently glides through the floors, I can’t help but think about how I used to perceive the Home. I used to have abrupt images of Molly talking to the carers at a kitchen table in the morning, her spoon in a full bowl of cereal, her reeling off memory after memory of me and talking fondly, but the carer she spoke to was nodding robotically, their hands under the table smudging out one of her photos of her and I. But I had a new image seep into my head in that elevator. The building was smudging the resident’s memories. It was moulding the residents into sculptures that fit its decor.

The elevator glides to a finish like a rocket landing on some distant planet. I was placed on a small narrow hallway in the shape of a half hexagon. Three doors in front of me. My keys says eighty nine. The other two doors are open. Rich people have gathered inside. They all sit on the furniture like they are part of it. Wearing colourful suits and dresses full of swirls and ambigious patterns like the Russian Kremlin had sneezed on them. They were waxed into a pose of eternal gazing. I entered my room. It was full of metal filing cabinets. I yanked at one, deciding I did not once to stay here for longer than I had to. I had to use all my strength to slide it open. It was full of concrete. Did they pour concrete into the old files of the parents when they built this building? I sit on one of the arm chairs. Small bulbs of light bouncing along the desert horizon like electric flies behind me. Shadows wave across the light under the doorway. I hear Russian voices, but speaking in an English accent outside. They talk of how they bought the land here about a year ago, that they built this hotel to bring a bit of class and incentive to the town of Marlshalton. They then go on to talk about the buildings structure and how it could dynamically change without needing physical labour. A second voice, another Eastern European, more like a Polish accent, said, “So I could get this dance studio running soon.”

“In no time.”

No time.

I run to the door and open it. My head sweating. No one there. The doors in the rooms next to me now closed. No numbers on them just small square mirrors only big enough to see the reflection of one small part of my head.
I bomb down to the bottom floor using the fire exit, abandoning my search for the files. There weren’t going to be any. The building holds all you need to know and the only way to find it is to hug the wet cement. Anyone who has lived in the Home will change with it, no need for father or mother made of flesh and bones. I gave my daughter up to it, let her be re-wired by the spaws and dust mites she inhaled from the building.

On the entrance outside is snow lining the pavement. I can see my breath shoot out like clouds in front of me. The hotel now situated in a snow coated Polish street at night. I walk a bit towards black railings lining a public park, clasping my suit jacket tight around my chest, walking hunchback to stop the cold from shooting through my body like rigor mortis. On the corner by a block of flats my daughter was slumping on the sidewalk, plastic bags of rubbish surrounded her. Her face cracked and ageing. Her body wrapped in a cheap fur coat and tights with cuts in them. She talked to faceless passersby, offering herself for a couple of buck. How could I complain? It’s more than I offered the Home for her.

Theglasshouse
October 18th, 2018, 11:18 PM
A lot of backstory is present in the beginning of the story. As this information may be vital, because of the ending. You need to deliver it in a more pleasant way. One that entertains more us readers. Because of the title of the story I was guessing at how the ending was going to transpire. I liked the story because of the surrealistic descriptions, and I did feel an emotion when he found the person he was looking for. I did feel the commentary from the 1st person narrator was delivered and not too surprising because of the title of the story. I did feel an emotional connection, but felt he should have been more worried about his daughter. The authenticity of the atmosphere of a Russian bucolic countryside with churches is interesting. So I liked the story for the mentioned reasons, it has a few shortcomings that can be addressed if you think they are a problem. So good work.

MrTickle
November 1st, 2018, 01:32 PM
Hey guys, I have edited the first part of the story with the idea of cutting down the exposition a little and making the story flow better. Thanks.

Theglasshouse
November 2nd, 2018, 02:58 AM
If it helps since the story's conflict is a bit naunced or buried ( the conflict or story problem), that you can introduce it as soon as possible. When the father is searching for his daughter, could you find a way to complicate things when he is searching for his duaghter? Such as his family is thinking he is having an affair since he is searching for his long lost daughter. Which the story uses as a metaphor to make the ending come to life. I would introduce it. While there is no antagonist for the story except some difficulties one could easily see a character antagonist used, and maybe more kinds of antagonism. Such as mother nature or the weather, after all the character is a unique concept you created.

Since you know the goal of your character which is to save his duaghter maybe from homelessness or being lost, is my interpretation can be rescued by the father. I have seen some writers say a climax is useful. After all frustrated attempts he sees an opening or a window of opportunity and she is saved. Maybe there is an epiphany whether some consider it, what has life or what you make us think could probably be or not be a human. This is debatable and is surrealistic and fits well with your theme of life and not it being sentient life. The ephiphany could be also that she rejects being his duaghter. I hope this helps some. How he recovers her is to give it a different ending I realize.

This calls for rewriting which is easy once you know the ending. Focus on one one goal of the character per scene and it being frustrated, and then finding help continues the story. ( positive development and negative development thanks to cuase and effect). Even if surrealism is a niche, I still liked what I read. Like any story and especially a short story it could be further developed.

MrTickle
November 2nd, 2018, 11:16 AM
If it helps since the story's conflict is a bit naunced or buried ( the conflict or story problem), that you can introduce it as soon as possible. When the father is searching for his daughter, could you find a way to complicate things when he is searching for his duaghter? Such as his family is thinking he is having an affair since he is searching for his long lost daughter. Which the story uses as a metaphor to make the ending come to life. I would introduce it. While there is no antagonist for the story except some difficulties one could easily see a character antagonist used, and maybe more kinds of antagonism. Such as mother nature or the weather, after all the character is a unique concept you created.

Sincd you know the goal of your character which is to save his duaghter maybe from homelessness or being lost, is my interpretation can be rescued by the father. Ive seen some writers say a climax is useful. After all frustrated attempts he sees an opening or a window of opportunity and she is saved. Maybe there is an epiphany whether some consider it, what has life or what you make us think could probably be or not be a human. This is debatable and is surrealistic and fits well with your theme of life and not it being sentient life. The ephiphany could be also that she rejects being his duaghter. I hope this helps some. How he recovers her is to give it a different ending I realize.

This calls for rewriting which is easy once you know the ending. Focus on one one goal of the character per scene and it being frustrated, and then finding help continues the story. ( positive development and negative development thanks to cuase and effect). Even if surrealism is a niche, I still liked what I read. Like any story and especially a short story it could be further developed.

i appreciate your well thought out response, thank you very much :-) but I want to keep the story as it is. The reason the character is doing this is because he fears his daughter changing just like his wife did and how she abused him. But for me, I wanted the story to be about a man giving up his daughter to a building that has become her mother or father. And when the building changes owner and aesthetic, the daughter changes with it as she is now more influenced by the building than her own father. It’s a simple message that I do not want to change. But thank you anyway

Theglasshouse
November 2nd, 2018, 02:26 PM
I see I didnt get that part about the ending. If you dont want to change it that is understandable. You tried something experimental here. Just appreciate the basic advice on antagonism and story goal since that creates conflict when there is resistance. It is a way to create emotional tension, by rooting for a noble cause, such as rescuing someone from abject poverty. Which could be a dramatic need. Which is a common everyday life occurence. Your imagination will pay off somehow with this story since it is creative and full of potential. Remember that emotion creates interest to read on. We want their attention. To start with a conflict can be a hook you could use. Like I said still enjoyed the story and that is still a good creative choice for this story.

Fatclub
December 8th, 2018, 02:00 AM
The first sentence confused me . The MC took on Ms Beattie because she claimed to know everything about her family? Or did she indeed know, or was it unusual for someone to claim to know, etc. I read on hoping for enlightenment to discover Ms Beattie was scared and looked back to see if this was the reason the MC took her on.
Incidentally, I hope you intend to lose sympathy for Ms Beattie by referring to her as Ms Beattie. Normally, women who like to be known as Ms are taking themselves far too seriously.
Your use of the word 'client' had me thinking the MC was a lawyer, so the resulting thoughts on people contacting the MC were confusing.
Occasionally, when reading a published novel, I have to go back to the start of paragraphs to understand. Even bestsellers. Many times per novel, in fact. So maybe it's just me.
But on this forum I'm finding this again and again on opening paragraphs and sentences. I lose confidence early in. You lose Writer's Authority and, therefore, your reader.
Perhaps people are just a bit slack here because it's a writer's forum.

Dluuni
December 8th, 2018, 05:22 PM
Issues, I'm not sure what they are yet. My attention drifted somewhere in these paragraphs:

"The night always seemingly arrived earlier in Marshalton than elsewhere as the shadow of the desert rocks above hung over the town like God's umbrella. "
"She hadn’t seen me since the day I dropped her at the Home. I sat across the diner from her...."
"I didn’t want people to feel bad when they didn’t know themselves and got led along by someone who treated them like dunces."

All I know is that somewhere in the vicinity of those sentences, the writing lost its stickiness. I reread them and they did it again. Those are the places your reader is most likely to put the book down and not pick it up.