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ScientistAsHero
August 11th, 2019, 05:02 AM
1.


Rory sits in the passenger seat of the new Elantra. His eyes are wide but there is that strange, implacable calmness in them that scares me so, and he stares straight ahead at the road tumbling beneath us as we drive down the highway on this overcast night. He is nine years old. He has inherited, unfairly the way I see it, most of his physical attributes from his father, who has not been present the entire time he's been alive. Sandy blonde hair, large blue eyes, fair skin. Rory is thin, like Grant. He looks tiny in the passenger seat, illuminated in the instrument panels dim light.
“When can I see Lucas again, Mommy?” he asks. Most boys his age have graduated to calling their mothers mom, but not my Rory. I kind of expect him to call me Mommy even when he's a grown man, and I guess that's alright, if a little odd, but right now that's the least of our concerns.
His asking about Lucas brings forth in me a combination of unbearable sadness coupled with a sharp, hot flash of fury. I am insanely angry at my son, unreasonably incensed at this prepubescent boy. Suddenly, ridiculously, I think back to episodes of The Simpsons that Rory and I watched together, many of which feature the father, Homer, becoming mad enough at his son's hijinks that he resorts to physical abuse, although in the context of the show it is humorous – but what relief Homer must feel, I think, when he wraps his hands around Bart's throat and angrily shakes him from side-to-side. I feel like doing the same to my son now. Will Rory's eyes comically bug out of their sockets and his tongue bulge hilariously out of his mouth as I throttle him? My eyes begin to water as I wonder briefly, absurdly, if I did that – would it fix him?
I force myself to keep my voice level.
“I don't know, sweetie.”
I try to focus my attention on the intermittent yellow line that separates the direction of traffic on this curvy mountain road. The darkness outside the reach of the cars headlights makes it feel as though we are stationary, and the yellow line is all that is alive in our near-lightless universe, an infinite, winding creature that slowly dances and pulses forever a few feet in front of the windshield. It is a transitory thought, surreal, but it also distracts at least momentarily from some of the terror, the trauma, I'm experiencing, turning it into numbness, and that is much preferable.
Rory doesn't seem scared in the least.
Most of the time, he doesn't seem to feel anything.


▪▪


Rory came sliding out of me on April 7th, 2006, at Saint Jude Medical in downtown Seattle. Of course, the city is notorious for its rain, but as I recall on that particular day it was incredibly sunny and bright, in fact so much so that I requested my blinds be closed to make the room darker. My disposition at the time was by no means the same vein as the weather.
It was my first birth and I'd become increasingly frightened of the impending experience throughout the last trimester, and when my water had broke and I'd checked into the hospital I'd been terrified. It was really going to happen, it appeared, although some rational part of my brain had known that all along. My apprehension was compounded by the fact that Grant had chosen the opportune time of his firstborn child's impending arrival to decide that he wasn't ready for this, he couldn't deal with this, he was too young and unprepared, and had left us, lending a hearty dose of desperation to the whole affair. I was twenty-three and sure as hell felt that I wasn't ready either, especially with his departure, but biology dictated I couldn't just up and run away from the dilemma as he could. Not that I wanted to, though, even with the trepidation. I was scared and sad, but was determined to see this through and do my best to provide my son with as stable, happy a life as I could. It would just have to be without Grant, I supposed.
It was early afternoon when Rory arrived, around 1:30.
Anita and my mother were on either side of the bed, holding my legs up, and though I later learned from some of the other mothers I knew that mine was a relatively easy delivery, taking only five hours instead of fifteen or twenty, at that moment it felt anything but easy, and I cried out with animal shock and outrage at what was happening to my body.
The nurses had managed pretty much everything: the IV checks and the dilation checks and the vital stat checks, and then, only at the last minute, as Rory's head began emerging from me, the doctor swooped in, a large, cheerful man of about mid-fifties, to complete the process. Although he was wearing a surgical mask he was also wearing civilian clothes – a polo and slacks as a matter of fact – making me wonder, even through the intense pain, had he been out playing golf? The nurses made way, and he sat between my open legs and pitched his voice in with Anita's and my mother's, coaching and encouraging me, telling me that I was doing great, doing fabulous, telling me that this was all going to be over soon, that we were in the home stretch. Then Rory emerged the rest of the way. Even as I rejoiced at his arrival I felt a tremendous emptiness in me that wasn't there just a few seconds before. He was held there by the doctor, already flailing his tiny arms and legs, slimy and red, and it was jarring and miraculous and sad to me all at the same time that he was here, now, he was no longer an unseen, potential entity gestating in my womb but a real, live human being, somehow here, in the same material world that I and everyone else I knew occupied. The nurses used a rubber suction bulb to suck the birth fluids from his mouth and nostrils, and he began to cry. My mother and Anita were both sobbing as well, with big smiles on their faces. We were all of us characters in a Lifetime Original Movie, it appeared at that moment. They both worked together to cut the cord. Originally this job would've been Grant's honor, but seeing as they were the two most important people in my life, I hadn't been able to pick one over the other to do it. Afterward Rory was whisked away by the nurses and the doctor turned his attention back to me, telling me that we were almost done. He placed his entire gloved hand back inside me but after the experience my genitalia had recently gone through I only flinched a little at the dull ache as he coaxed the placenta out onto a large metal tray.
When he was finished exhaustion overtook me and I passed out. The last feeling I had before the darkness enveloped me was dismay because I wanted to immediately see my new son.


The day I took Rory home from the hospital was simultaneously both joyous and profoundly depressing.
“Fuck Grant,” Anita told me simply as she pushed me out the lobby doors in a wheelchair. I'd recovered fairly quickly after the birth, and had been able to stand on my own two feet for the last several days, but it was hospital policy.
Mother carried the carseat behind us with my new son sleeping inside.
“Anita Joe,” she admonished, as though Anita were one of her own daughters, “when this child gets older you're going to have to learn to control that mouth of yours. I'm not going to have my grandson picking up your dirty language.”
“Don't try to tell me you're not thinking the same thing,” Anita retorted. She was beautiful, my best friend, a dark-skinned Latina goddess, then of twenty-six, with frizzy black hair that she almost always wore up in a ponytail. Thin and lithe with delicate features. She directed her voice toward me. “I mean, who does that, Carrie?” she asked. “For eight-and-a-half months the guy was the consummate mister good daddy-to-be, reading all the books and going to all the classes, then, in the last inning he turns into a gigantic pussy and runs away. It almost – almost – would've been more understandable if he'd snuck off in the dead of night the first few days after getting the news.”
“I don't want to think about Grant right now,” I said as we boarded the elevator that would take us to the third floor of the parking garage.
We arrived at my vehicle at the time – a Nissan Pathfinder – and I got out of the wheelchair to climb tiredly up into the back seat. Mother carefully fastened Rory's carseat into its base on the opposite side and Anita pushed the wheelchair to a corral nearby.
I leaned my forehead up against the window, finding myself mildly annoyed with Anita for bringing Grant up. I hadn't been thinking about him, but now I was – the first time we met.
It was 2004, roughly two years before Rory's birth. I was working at Razzi's, a full-service restaurant, to help pay my way through school.
Grant was a web tech with enough aptitude for his job that even at the age of twenty-four he was already assistant lead developer at his firm. During his lunch break, he and his co-worker Steve came in to grab a bite; apparently their offices were only a couple of blocks away.
I was their waitress. Before Grant noticed me they were deeply involved in shoptalk, but afterward he didn't seem to be able to concentrate, and at one point I saw Steve look toward me and then turn back conspiratorially to Grant and laugh, whispering something to him. I didn't get the impression that it was anything dirty or untoward (I had experienced a fair number of such occasions during my then four years with the company, so I felt as though I had a pretty good grasp of when they occurred) but it did pique my interest.
After they left and I went to their table to clear the plates I saw that Grant had left me a note on the back of the customer copy of the receipt. I wasn't to understand it fully until I found out more about his occupation later, but nonetheless I was sweetly bemused:


<html>
<head>
<title>An ode to Carrie the Waitress</title>
</head>


<body>


It's super geeky, this is true
But writing code is what I do
So if you'll read this poem I write
Then in your mind I'll stay all night


Grant Whittle
555-2691


</body>
</html>


What happened later with Grant's departure served to profane these memories, and back in the Pathfinder, as Anita drove us in concentric spirals down the floors of the parking garage, I found myself softly weeping. At the same time as I felt loss I also felt guilt, chiding myself for the sentimental trip into the past. Grant wasn't deserving of any more of my wistful nostalgia; he'd forfeited all that when he left us.
“Hormones,” I muttered, what I thought to be under my breath. “Hormones, that's all it is.”
“What?” my mother asked from her place in the front passenger seat. She had the visor pulled down and was putting on a fresh coat of makeup in the mirror. She would've been about fifty-nine at this point, a modestly plump woman, still pretty, with thin-framed glasses and a slight modicum of silver in her otherwise red-blonde hair.
Rory slowly arced his head from one side to the other in his slumber, and against the low churn of the vehicle I head a gurgling sound emanating from his lower half, which I supposed could either be a fart or a poop.
“I wasn't aware I said anything aloud,” I said.
I saw Anita's eyes on me through the rear-view mirror.
“You're tired, hon,” she said authoritatively. “Small wonder, either. You just popped a near nine-pound human being right out your hoo-ha. You know my Anthony sometimes moans to me about having to work eight-hour shifts down at the railyard. Eight hours. The nationwide average, for Christ's sake.”
“Men can be such whiny babies,” Mother agreed to both of us. She'd finished applying her makeup. She'd been too busy and distracted to keep up with it while we were in the hospital, and now she pursed her lips and blinked her eyes like it was a relief, like we were finally getting back to civilization after a sojourn in the wild. “Carrie, how your father used to carry on when he was sick. He'd have a sore throat or a touch of sinus pressure, and suddenly the world was supposed to stop turning. Stronger sex indeed.”
“Girl power!” Anita called out, laughing, as she banked the Pathfinder around the exit to the parking garage and started driving down the street adjacent to the hospital.
I shushed her, as Rory's eyelids fluttered, maybe a bit too harshly. I was exhausted and somewhat cranky. The rest of the ride passed by without much conversation.
I lived in a quiet residential district on the northeast part of town. We drove down streets lined with old, stately elms and oaks and catalpas. It was around dusk and there were still some people out – kids riding bikes, couples walking dogs, old folks meandering down the sidewalk. Grant and I had often strolled down these same streets in the evening during the course of our relationship and had gotten to casually know many of the residents. Now some of them who were out recognized my Pathfinder and waved. Most of the neighborhood had seen me when I was pregnant, but I doubted if any of them had been paying enough attention to know that I was now on the return trip home from the delivery.
We slowed in front of my house – well, at this point it was my house as well as my mother's, I should say; she had moved in with me shortly after Grant had left – and pulled into the driveway. Grant and I had originally purchased this home. Some time after he'd left, he sent me a text telling me that he'd deposited enough money for four months mortgage payments, but it was a minuscule gesture on his part and I sincerely hoped it didn't make him feel even one iota better about what he'd done. It was a cute place, what should've been homey and quaint, and to be sure, it had been when we'd first moved in. Two-story, three-bedroom, off white with dark brown trim and a steeply angled roof. But now it still smacked of Grant, as though his presence had embedded itself in the very sheetrock and mortar, and I couldn't look at it without remembering some aspect of our life together – evenings sitting in the swing on the porch having cocktails; coming home on Saturday afternoons and seeing him pushing the lawnmower out in the front yard, shirtless and sweaty and imminently desirable (after he took a shower, of course; although the visual appeal was there, I could never stand the smell of grass clippings.)
I carried Rory across the threshold of the front door and walked unsuspectingly into a welcome-home party for myself and my new son.
It was a small group, but I was tired and grouchy and secretly grateful that it wasn't any bigger than it was. In attendance were Helen, Jane, and Sun-Yi, my mother's friends; Anita's two sisters Maria and Jessica who had each brought their two respective children; as well as Sophie, Anita's then three-year-old daughter, and a few of my female co-workers from Razzi's. They had hung a banner done in crayon against the far wall, above the fireplace, with drawings of trucks and airplanes and train engines, and it was here that they all gathered around Rory and I, centering their attention on him, fawning and laughing. He gradually woke up and began looking around curiously with enormous eyes and tongue sticking out the side of his mouth at all the strange new faces.
The party didn't last long, thankfully; those in charge were women and mostly mothers themselves and could empathize with my predicament. They knew I was exhausted and had months of intermittent sleep ahead of me, and though it was politely never mentioned, also that I didn't have the convenience of a parental partner on hand to alleviate some of the burden. I wasn't thinking about all those night to come just then, I was just thinking of that particular night, how much I wanted to simply doze for ten or fifteen minutes. Before too long everyone started to bid their good-byes and disperse back to their vehicles parked elsewhere around the block, which they had cleverly hidden to disguise their presence before my arrival. I sat on the couch with Rory in my arms. He'd gone back to sleep, but I didn't fool myself to think that it'd be for long. He would want to wake up every couple of hours to feed, and although he was a bottle baby – I'd tried to breastfeed him while still in the hospital, to no avail – he was no less voracious than any other healthy infant in appetite.
Anita's husband, Anthony, came over to pick Sophie up, because Anita was staying the night at my place for a couple of nights to help me out. Anthony was a big guy, somewhat overweight, of Italian heritage two or three generations ago. When he came inside, Sophie ran up to him and leapt into his arms, shouting excitedly that he had to come, he had to come now, he had to come see Rory the new baby. I noticed how Sophie herself had inherited mostly her father's ethnicity, then, and I thought how strange it was that I'd never noticed it before: she wasn't dark-skinned, like her mother, but kind of a pleasant olive complexion, as if she spent a lot of time in a tanning bed.
Anthony stood above me, holding Sophie in his arms. She wanted to give Rory a good-night kiss, so there was an awkward moment of Anthony leaning down toward me and Sophie hanging onto his neck with both hands, her legs wrapped around his middle, straining to kiss Rory on the forehead. She finally managed it and when she did I heard her whisper “I love you,” to the bundle in my arms, and despite my tiredness I was touched and gripped her shoulder and said softly “he loves you too,” on her way up. As Anthony plodded out the front door, her eyes never left my son.

Nadinarte
August 14th, 2019, 01:00 PM
Hello there and thank you for sharing your work! ( ◞・౪・)
I'm sorry to say this but after the third section I had to stop reading: too much description is an understatement.
The reader doesn't need to know every single detail. It slows down the pacing and it makes it very difficult to carry on.


He placed his entire gloved hand back inside me but after the experience my genitalia had recently gone through I only flinched a little at the dull ache as he coaxed the placenta out onto a large metal tray.

Why?? (((φ(◎ロ◎ φ)))
Why do I need to know this information to get the gist of the story? We all have an idea of how babies are born. You could say that it was a painful experience, that's enough.
( ⚆ _ ⚆ )


She was beautiful, my best friend, a dark-skinned Latina goddess, then of twenty-six, with frizzy black hair that she almost always wore up in a ponytail. Thin and lithe with delicate features.
Well...ok. I don't really need to know this much about Anita's looks, do I? ( ̄д ̄ ')
"My best friend was beautiful, a dark skinned-goddess." Enough, even too much if this is a character that is not going to come up in the future.
You can spread more physical descriptions later on in the book, in small doses, if you really want but remember that the details of a physical description are proportional to the importance of the character!
These are only few of the many overdoses of unneeded information in your writing.
Important tip: everything should be inserted in your text for a reason, every detail justified.
Accompany the reader, they can imagine most of the things you describe as they go. Reading is not a passive experience.


Rory sits in the passenger seat of the new Elantra. His eyes are wide but there is that strange, implacable calmness in them that scares me so, and he stares straight ahead at the road tumbling beneath us as we drive down the highway on this overcast night. He is nine years old. He has inherited, unfairly the way I see it, most of his physical attributes from his father, who has not been present the entire time he's been alive. Sandy blonde hair, large blue eyes, fair skin. Rory is thin, like Grant. He looks tiny in the passenger seat, illuminated in the instrument panels dim light.
“When can I see Lucas again, Mommy?” he asks. Most boys his age have graduated to calling their mothers mom, but not my Rory. I kind of expect him to call me Mommy even when he's a grown man, and I guess that's alright, if a little odd, but right now that's the least of our concerns.
I choose this section to give you an example of what I mean by "infoverdose" and "justified info".
I take the liberty to rework on the first passage of your story. Forgive my audacity but I find it the most practical mean of explanation.

Rory stares ahead. The implacable, strange calmness of his blue eyes scares me.
In the overcast night, driving down the highway, my little boy's features remind me of his runaway father. So unfortunate.
"When can I see Lucas again, mommy?" he asks. "Mommy", that's how Rory calls me. He's old enough for the "mom" upgrade, I'd say, but he still looks so small in the front seat.
Who knows? Maybe he'll still call me mommy when he's a grown up man, I almost expect it. Right now, though, that's the least of my concerns.

My attempt is not to prove that this is any better of what you wrote. I just want to show you how many things I got rid of and I still I am giving pretty much the same information that you did, the juice and the feel. There are many things that I didn't report, in primis the name of the car! 。。゛(ノ><)ノ
Details are given bit by bit...I didn't even use the word "car" though you know they are in one because I mention that she's driving in the highway and that he's in the front seat.
Choose what to say and think of why you're saying it. It will improve the reading experience incredibly.
Once you skimmed the superfluous info and cut down on descriptions, I'd concentrate on the length of your phrasing and the flow of the events. I love good descriptions as long as they're meaningful to the story and the feel, so they are a good thing in a reasonable dose. In fact, I am very descriptive writer myself.

I am hoping you'll revise your text and post it again for us. I'm looking forward to read it! ( ´ ▽ ` )ノ

Nadia

ScientistAsHero
August 27th, 2019, 04:16 AM
Thanks for your input.

ScientistAsHero
August 27th, 2019, 08:11 AM
Hello there and thank you for sharing your work! ( ◞・౪・)
I'm sorry to say this but after the third section I had to stop reading: too much description is an understatement.
The reader doesn't need to know every single detail. It slows down the pacing and it makes it very difficult to carry on.



Why?? (((φ(◎ロ◎ φ)))
Why do I need to know this information to get the gist of the story? We all have an idea of how babies are born. You could say that it was a painful experience, that's enough.
( ⚆ _ ⚆ )


Well...ok. I don't really need to know this much about Anita's looks, do I? ( ̄д ̄ ')
"My best friend was beautiful, a dark skinned-goddess." Enough, even too much if this is a character that is not going to come up in the future.
You can spread more physical descriptions later on in the book, in small doses, if you really want but remember that the details of a physical description are proportional to the importance of the character!
These are only few of the many overdoses of unneeded information in your writing.
Important tip: everything should be inserted in your text for a reason, every detail justified.
Accompany the reader, they can imagine most of the things you describe as they go. Reading is not a passive experience.


I choose this section to give you an example of what I mean by "infoverdose" and "justified info".
I take the liberty to rework on the first passage of your story. Forgive my audacity but I find it the most practical mean of explanation.

Rory stares ahead. The implacable, strange calmness of his blue eyes scares me.
In the overcast night, driving down the highway, my little boy's features remind me of his runaway father. So unfortunate.
"When can I see Lucas again, mommy?" he asks. "Mommy", that's how Rory calls me. He's old enough for the "mom" upgrade, I'd say, but he still looks so small in the front seat.
Who knows? Maybe he'll still call me mommy when he's a grown up man, I almost expect it. Right now, though, that's the least of my concerns.

My attempt is not to prove that this is any better of what you wrote. I just want to show you how many things I got rid of and I still I am giving pretty much the same information that you did, the juice and the feel. There are many things that I didn't report, in primis the name of the car! 。。゛(ノ><)ノ
Details are given bit by bit...I didn't even use the word "car" though you know they are in one because I mention that she's driving in the highway and that he's in the front seat.
Choose what to say and think of why you're saying it. It will improve the reading experience incredibly.
Once you skimmed the superfluous info and cut down on descriptions, I'd concentrate on the length of your phrasing and the flow of the events. I love good descriptions as long as they're meaningful to the story and the feel, so they are a good thing in a reasonable dose. In fact, I am very descriptive writer myself.

I am hoping you'll revise your text and post it again for us. I'm looking forward to read it! ( ´ ▽ ` )ノ

Nadia

If you can't even get through the first part of the story as is, I don't know why you'd prompt me to re-write it and then put it up again for another of your critiques. To be honest, your initial statement kind of tainted the rest of what you said in my opinion.

I can't help but feel that the general outlook on reading these days is that it's a chore. "Shorten this," or "make this more concise." I don't feel that I go overboard in my descriptions, at least in what I posted here.

Why did I decide to describe an aspect of childbirth? You could ask why does any author describe any aspect of anything that, as humans, we are well-acquainted with, or at least have technical knowledge of? Why does an author describe sex, or eating, or feeling pain? We all know what these things mean. No elaboration is strictly needed, at least for us understanding the story. But in my mind, describing them imparts an authenticity to the human experience, and I don't think that we should shy away from them just because they might, at first take, be "gross" or "unpleasant" (which is what I took away from your reaction to my talking about the removal of the main character's placenta after she'd given birth).

You mentioned my description of Anita, her being a dark-skinned Latina goddess. Well, she is Latina. If I just said, as you suggested, a "dark-skinned goddess," it would be ambiguous as to her ethnicity. She is a character that is going to feature prominently in the story, as a matter-of-fact, and while she could've been African-American or Asian or Caucasian, without any real change to the narrative, in my mind she was Latina, and I don't think it's overly taxing on the reader to impart this information to them.

I am not normally this rebellious to criticism, but it kind of rubbed me the wrong way that you couldn't even get through the entire thing before suggesting that I redo it and post it again. (And your constant usage of weird, text-based emojis is slightly irritating.)