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Novel Excerpt: Thoughts? (1 Viewer)

Sparktheunknown

Senior Member
Here's a bit out of a novel I have in editing:



Kelli's back ached as she bent and strained to buckle them into their respective child seats in the back seat of the small car a moment later.

She drove around town looking for a decent grocery store. Dickinson was still new to her. The extent of their new neighborhood was slowly setting in as Kelli drove past the empty storefronts and gas stations with bars on the windows. They were entirely out of their element, and she lamented inside over how unsettled she felt.

At the last mile, just before giving up, she found a Walmart super store just beyond town. The area was full of shopping centers and strip malls; the type of shopping she was used to. It hadn't taken long to fill a grocery cart with various food stuffs when Ruby suddenly announced at full volume that she was about to pee her pants. They were already in the middle of the checkout line. Kelli had the cart mostly emptied on the conveyor belt.

“You have to wait, honey.” She said absently, trying to unload everything in the small space left by the person ahead of her.
“I can't Mommy!” The little girl held her crotch and danced in desperation. Her red hair bobbing with her.
Kelli cursed under her breath. She hadn't been thinking straight at all. She had forgotten to have Ruby pee before leaving home. Kelli grabbed her hand and threw the baby onto her hip.
“We have a potty emergency, I promise I'll be right back.” She said to the cashier, interrupting the conversation she was having with the customer ahead of her. Kelli couldn't wait for an answer, she ran with the kids to the bathroom and helped Ruby between her little dances onto the toilet.
She balanced the baby and helped Ruby wash her hands and also managed to wash her own. She helped her back into her jacket and grabbed her hand and ran back to the checkout isle. It hadn't taken long. Kelli stood dumbfounded at the end of the checkout cuonter. It was the same cashier, but the items on the belt were not hers. She'd only been gone less than three minutes, but her cart was nowhere in sight.
“Where are my things?” She implored the cashier.
“There were frozen items, they were re-shopped.” She said without skipping a beat between scanning items, obviously lying.
“I wasn't gone more than a couple minutes, can't you stop the person who's putting it all back?”
“Sorry ma'am. Store policy. We can't leave frozen food out, it has to be re-shopped immediately.” She barely even looked up from her work. The woman she was helping looked at Kelli as if she were a leper and scooted away slightly.
Kelli's blood boiled. So much so that she thought for sure that her head would explode from the pulse of her heartbeat. She gathered up her children again and ran in the direction of the food department. In the frozen section she searched for an employee pushing her reclaimed cart, but the isles were empty. She doubled back through the entire grocery store looking. Finally she gave up and grabbed a new cart, starting the whole agonizing process over again.
Eventually she made it through the checkout isle and out to the car. The day was rapidly coming to a close. They had been gone for nearly 5 hours and accomplished little more than spending ten dollars in gas and over one hundred on groceries.
“I'm hungry.” Ruby cried as Kelli buckled her into her seat.
“Okay baby, I'll get you some food.” Kelli buckled Joshua in his seat before rummaging through the food for something to suffice for their dinners. She gave them each a spoon full of peanut butter, some applesauce in a little pouch and a cheese stick. After they finally finished their foods she gave them each a cup of cheese crackers.
At last she fell into her seat, started the engine and began the drive home. Waiting her there was the process of getting the children and the food inside before putting it all away. Joshua desperately needed a diaper change and Ruby had peanut butter all over her hair and fingers, which Kelli found she had then used to draw a smiley face on the back of the front seat. Her head pounded when she saw it. Kelli's back ached still. Her stomach was in an even tighter knot than it had been yet. This was what one single, benign, outing took out of her. How was she going to survive work and daily life as a single parent?
Her very sanity seemed to be coming unhinged with the world around her, and that sensation was magnified when she had took a wrong turn on the way home; certain she had come that way originally. Eventually she found their road and turned into the trailer court.
Kelli hauled the kids into the bathroom and scrubbed them up. She answered their questions and made jokes to ease their troubles. She brushed their teeth and fished out pajamas for them. Half an hour later, in the dark of their new bedroom, she crashed with them in their tent.
“Where is daddy?” Ruby asked again.
“I don't know.”
“Well, when will you know then?” Ruby propped herself up on her elbows. Her big brown eyes were wide and her perfect red lips were pushed into a very serious pout.
Kelli felt a burning dislike for Tim. She had been grossly betrayed and cast aside as though she were entirely valueless. She had wasted her best years on him; ruined her perfect female body birthing his children. Not that she regretted having the children one iota, she only began to wish it had been with someone who appreciated all that meant. Here she was alone, fending for her young like some animal in the savage wild. Her body scarred and ravaged by gravity for having birthed them and sustained them. Who could ever want her now? Who would ever want her children as his own? Even their own father sent them away. She wanted to breed the same contempt and angst in the kids as she felt, but something inside her wouldn't allow it. Inside her knew it was like losing something too great to ever have back: dignity.
“Daddy found a different... life, Ruby.” She spoke slowly, choosing her words carefully, “Some times people do wrong things, and it hurts us, but we love them anyway. Daddy is being bad. But he loves you, and I love you, and we get to have our own different life now too. It will be fun. You'll see.” She pulled everything she had left inside her soul to sound convincing.
Ruby remained skeptical.
“This house is not fun.” She whispered.
Kelli chuckled. “I am not having much fun in it either. We'll find a funner place soon. We'll just pretend its a nice hotel.”
Ruby thought about that for a few seconds and then nodded slowly; satisfied. She laid her head down on her pillow and snuggled against her baby brother who had climbed over Kelli while they were talking. Kelli kissed them both, and hugged them close before slipping out of the room to carry the groceries in.
She felt so lost and alone standing on the steps outside the trailer. But she stuffed defeat and despair down into the dark corners of her mind, one more time, and hopped down the stairs. The day wasn't done yet, and there wasn't time for pity. Or pain.
The night was cold and crisp as she popped open the trunk and reached in for the bags there. A fuzzy layer of spring frost was growing across the white paint of the car. It reminded her of sweet confectioners glazing. It also reminded her that she hadn't eaten yet that day. She decided she'd have a bowl of cereal once she got the groceries put away.
Inside Kelli laid the pile of bags on the island and turned the thermostat up against the chill outside. She put the dry goods in the cabinets that she had left empty for that purpose, laying the bags of cold food near the fridge as she came across them. Suddenly she had a sinking feeling. She whipped the fridge door open, remembering that when she had turned it on earlier it had never kicked. It hadn't even turned on when she checked it some time later. Sure enough the inside of the appliance was still warmer than the house.
She trotted over to the door and looked down the park drive at the trailer the landlord had indicated was Howard's. There were no lights on. She grabbed her keys and locked the house and walked the short distance to his trailer quickly.
There were only ten trailers in the park. Five on each side of the road. They were old, most of them from the '70's and were tan and dark brown. Some had decks and porches. Others, like hers, had only fiberglass steps leading up to the door, they thumped like drum skins when people climbed them.
All of it seemed even dingier and more hopeless in the monochromatic dark. Howard's trailer was like hers also: narrow and short, looking more like a contractor's office on a job site than a home. She took the four steps two at a time and rapped on the closed door. No one moved inside. She knocked again, this time calling out his name, to no avail. She looked around, there was no vehicle parked in the driveway and she couldn't remember if there had been one there at all that day.
Kelli gave up and retreated back to her own trailer. She walked slowly, noticing the dilapidated cars sitting outside her neighbor's homes. The broken gravel drives; the busted cement walkways. The missing pieces of siding and skirting on the trailers. The ugly old polyester curtains pulled haphazardly across the dark windows. Everything smelled cold and dusty and was tinged with oil from the railroad. At the end of their park drive, past the cement barricade, was the wide, stinking, railway. Beyond was the main drag of town. Cars slipped by there in a slow but steady stream past the broken buildings and empty storefronts. Sounds of people coughing and laughing loud in the neighborhoods around the trailer park sounded sinister and hollow. Car doors opening and front door slamming echoed through the place, rattling the tin siding and making it hum. The grit and gravel under her feet crunched and added to the noise. All of it was colored in sad sepia tones, muddied and browned by winter and the setting of the sun. And she was alone in it, for all the noise and stimulation of her senses there wasn't another human being in sight.
Like a terrible, invisible, supernova the universe around her closed in. This was her life. A single mother, below the poverty line, living in a trailer in a town she'd only ever driven through; utterly alone. She reached her steps and collapsed.
All the tears she'd been bottling up through the previous weeks unleashed in a torrent. She covered her face with her hands and tried in vain to quiet herself. But the more she tried the more she choked noisily on her sobs and found herself reeling and gasping for air. She cried until she thought she might throw up from the force of it.
Suddenly her neighbor's porch light flicked on and the door tore open. The dirty bearded man stuck his head out and glared at her, squinting into the dark. He slammed the door shut, but opened it a moment later, stuffing his arms into his dirty canvas jacket. He stamped forcefully across his small porch and down the wooden steps. Kelli tried to stop crying, but even his walking was as menacing as her life had become.
The closer he came the harder she cried. He opened the back cab door of his truck as he made his way, pulling out a tool box and a large aerosol can. He lumbered over to her and sat the collection on the bottom step, just below her feet. She hiccuped and stared at him. He pulled a pack of Redman chewing tobacco from his coat pocket and stuffed some in his mouth.
His nose whistled a little as he chewed it. For a few breaths he just stared at her, his eyes level.
“Where's your man?” He asked around the mouthful.
“He left me. I'm divorced.” She said, the syllables broken by hiccups and sucks of air.
His mouth pushed up towards his nose before falling again and making smacking noises. He stood in thoughtful consideration for a few moments. A screen door whined some where before slapping shut.
“Fridge not working?” He finally said, spitting juice like a grasshopper onto the driveway.
Kelli nodded quietly, but started crying again instantly.
“Woman. Keeping me up. Move then, outta the way.” He didn't wait for her to react, or even respond, he just shoved his way past her, grabbing up his tool box and mumbling, “Damn fridge never did work” as he went.
Kelli followed him in silently. Her hands hung limp by her side and she still breathed in shudders as she watched him. He wore a brown canvas jacket over his red plaid shirt. His beard was graying, and although it was not particularly long it was still stained around his mouth from tobacco and other things. He wore a camouflage hat and his gray hair stuck out from under it in tufts. His skin, what little there was to be seen, was reddened by sun and weather and wrinkly in places like his neck and the backs of his hands.
He pulled the refrigerator out of its cubby, reaching behind it deftly, and unplugged it before turning it around.
“What's your name?” Kelli asked, after clearing her throat and blowing her nose in a napkin.
“Scruggs. Marty. I go by either.” He fiddled with his tool box, using a fat black-stained index finger to push bits of things around before selecting whatever it was he was searching for.
“I'm Kelli. Ruby's my daughter, Joshua is the baby.” She offered, trying to sound friendly.
He fitted the small hose attached to the can onto the small tool from his box which he then affixed some place on the back of the appliance. “Don't much care who you are. Damn women always needing something. Making noise. Crying. Nothing I can't stand worse than a crying woman.” He pulled the can off, dropped the metal piece back into the tool box and pushed himself up, his knees cracking with the effort.
“I didn't mean to cry so loud...” She finally stammered.
Marty only made a “humph” sound in reply as he pushed the fridge back, plugged it in, and shoved it the rest of the way in place. It hummed happily, tinkling with cold sounds.
“Thank you.” She looked around for something to offer him. She didn't even have a coffee maker.
He stood up straight, holding the empty can in one hand and the tool box in the other. He stared at her with a look she couldn't quiet understand. It wasn't hate or disdain, but it wasn't exactly friendly either.
“I don't have anything to offer you. We just don't have anything. I could make you a cup of tea.” She looked at her hands, “It's raspberry flavored, though.”
“I don't drink tea.” The last word sounded funny as it stumbled across his mustache.
He gripped the tool box a little tighter; his hand made a squeaky sound and he looked around the empty place. Again she couldn't quite read him. He wasn't judging the space but he didn't seem to approve of any of it either. He just... looked at it all. Slowly.
“I don't drink fruity tea.” He reiterated, “You just stop crying so damn loud.”
Marty stuffed the can under his arm and opened the door, letting himself out. His big truck fired up outside and he pulled away in it. The entire park seemed to follow as the minutes passed, until it was entirely empty.
Kelli looked at the little face clock she had bought a few hours earlier. She had been careful to set it while in the store. It was twenty to midnight. She told herself to calm down, and was able to only because the gruff kindness of a stranger made the world seem a little less hostile.
She stuffed the warmed food into the fridge and threw the empty plastic bags under the sink. She saved one and hung it from a drawer knob. The ache inside her pulled tight again; they didn't even own a trash can. But they did own bowls and spoons. And cereal.
She stuffed her feet under her and curled up on the sofa, tepid cereal in hand. She pushed play on the little TV's remote. Dumbo came on. For the shortest of moments she imagined she was five years old. Mom and dad were asleep in their bedroom down the hall. She sat in the early morning dim and watched a cartoon; playing with some toys. All was right with the world. Bad things were a mystery. Scary things were only shadows on the bedroom wall. Everything was easy and simple. But that moment faded quickly. It was all at once replaced by the strange sick feeling of a foreign place and exhaustion. Her stomach hurt from eating, but not quite as bad as it had from not eating. There was no winning.
A little later she shoved the twin mattress that was leaning in the hall into the small bedroom and laid it on the floor by the pile of toys. Kelli fished a blanket and pillow from the kid's tent and fell onto the little bed.
One day done. There was no way of counting how many remained. Or where they ended.
 

Kevin

WF Veterans
Nevermind the glaring lack of indentations and such. It didn't convey with copy and paste.
No indents on this site. Double space between dialog and paragraphs is the format here. Like:

"Hi."

"Hello."

"Nice."

"What?"

"Nothing."

If your composing on MSword before you post hit "go advanced". Then click the icon in the tool bar (4th from left) of the box with 'w' in it. "Allow" should come up.
 

carastone

Senior Member
Spark--

I can really feel the frustration and despair Kelli is going through. I think this excerpt is going to resonate with anyone who has ever been--or felt like--a single mom.

If I can offer some advice, since this is in the editing stages, I noticed some punctuation difficulties, particularly with the semi-colon. This is usually used to separate complete sentences. Beware of some of the quotation rules as well. Also, I noticed that 'aisle' is spelled incorrectly; that might not show up on spellcheck, because there are two different forms of the word.

I was intrigued by the character Scruggs, because his words and his actions are so contradictory. I want to know what happens there.

Also, regarding your writing, I liked that fact that you didn't delve too much into Kelli's thoughts and emotions in certain sections when the action was taking place. Clearly, the scenario spoke for itself. It was almost as if she were reeling from one situation to another, just trying to survive, without much time or energy left for thoughts and feelings. Well done.

Good luck with this,

Cara Stone
sites.google.com/site/carastonenovels
 

Sparktheunknown

Senior Member
Darn that semi-colon. And thanks for catching Aisle. I hate when that happens. I did that with exasperated and exacerbate the other day. Yeesh. Ugh.
 

carastone

Senior Member
Glad to help. We all have tricky words. I kept seeing 'lead,' as in "He lead her to the entrance" spelled this way so many times that I started to believe I was spelling it incorrectly!
 

Velex

Senior Member
That was engrossing. I felt the mood swing into frustration, for Kelli, and saw how Scruggs caught her momentum and steadied her, like a rock.
\The little girl held her crotch and danced in desperation. Her red hair bobbing with her.

Should this be a single sentence? I think the second bit might be a fragment.
 

Tala

Senior Member
I really liked this and was there in that trailer park. i just wrote a more in depth comment, but lost it. grrr!! Your writing really picked up on the trailer park paragraph. I could smell,hear, feel and see trailer park and sense her feelings of desolation and aloneness. I am sure you have either lived that or visited. I have, in the case of the latter, now! I, too, like the line Velex noted. Really did convey the sense of frustration. I absolutely loved the line describing Scruggs eating tabacco -"His nose whistled a little as he chewed it"..You really did convey his "kind gruffness". I would read this book, I was left wondering how her life turns out. Was a bit worried about the kids' supper. Was that it?? - a dip of peanut butter and biscuits?? Thanks for sharing.
 

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