Writing me Down

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Exercise 6.3 – A building that has changed its purpose

Derek looked around at the mass of primary colours – blue and red rope climbing nets, multi-coloured balls, red squashy plastic shapes with children slithering over them, yelling at ear-piercing volume.

Yet he swore he could still smell the disinfectant, and hear the clatter of the dinner trolley.

Parents dodged past him, fielding toddlers, climbing with them into tunnels and hurtling down slides with their little treasure on their knee, shrieking, showing all their teeth. Would that treasure look after them when they were old, he thought. Old, dribbling, and shouting for their tea. He turned another corridor towards the bouncy castle, and stopped. It was down this corridor Emily had been. She had been quite sane really, almost normal. The corridor still had the same blue lino underneath the cheap chord carpet. He could see it at the edges, and remembered how it gleamed wet that evening, with the stench of disinfectant in his nostrils. He stood now, watching children leaping onto the orange and blue bouncy castle, listening to their shrieks above the drone of the air pump.

It was on this corridor that he found her body, her head at an ugly angle. These same walls – then faded beige, now custard-yellow – had been the only witness to what happened.

He felt a small hand tuck itself into his.

“Come on, Granddad!” Little Emma tugged his hand. “Come and see me on the slide!” Derek mentally disinfected the memories, and allowed himself to be pulled back into the joyful present that was his grand-daughter’s 3rd birthday party.

Exercise 6.3 – Trapped

Eloise glanced around the cabin at the faces – all studiously not looking at her. Diddy was now screaming, his face purple.

“Shh, Darling. Here, do this colouring book with Mummy.”

“Want down NOW!”

“You can’t sweetie, I’m sorry.”

Diddy recommenced screaming, punctuated by the sounds of seat belts being snapped into place. Eloise felt her own seatbelt tight across her hips, restricting her movement.

“… expect to be in Adelaide in 8 hours time …” the voice crackled over the tannoy above Diddy’s screams.

The seats in front of her seemed too close, crushing her legs against the bags stuffed with toys and toddler snacks. The smell of perfume, strong and sweet, made her feel nauseous. She heard the rattling of packets behind her, and the smell of roasted peanuts started to compete with the perfume. Her stomach rumbled loudly. She remembered with regret those snacks she had had to ditch at the check-in desk to reduce the weight of her hand luggage. Diddy’s snacks, of course, continued to press into her legs through the bags. She sighed and looked out of the window. The blue sky and sunshine seemed remote, miles away from the grey cabin interior.

Diddy started to drum the back of the seat in front with his feet. Eloise saw the top of the passenger’s head shift slightly to the side as she whispered something to her companion, who turned and stared at Eloise. She shrugged and smiled weakly. What could she do? The tannoy crackled again:

“ … special offers … scratchcards … win holiday vouchers!” The voice, smart and groomed as its owner, marched on through the onboard commercial shopping entertainment. Someone shoved past on the way to the toilets, knocking her elbow, and she caught a whiff of ammonia as the toilet door opened and closed.

Exercise 6.2 - Setting and Character Mood

Version A

Jen walked slowly between the neat rows of identical white headstones, stroking her stomach. Suddenly, her hand clenched and she stopped, breathing carefully and steadily. The writing on the stone, marble white as her face, swam in a haze in front of her. Gradually it sharpened into focus. “Harold Winter (25) Much beloved son – always missed.” Tears glistened at the corners of her eyes. Losing a son. She felt her stomach again, cradling it, willing the pain away. It’s only indigestion, she told herself. She walked on, feeling the weight of that stark white row of losses. A crow called three times, mocking her before flapping lazily into the yew tree. The grey clouds pressed down on the graveyard like a pall of smoke and the silence of the dead rang loud in her ears. She felt hot despite the chill wind, and hugged her coat close around the treasure she carried. Hurrying her steps, she clanged the gate behind her, and hastened to the hotel and the comforting presence of Peter.

Version B

The first thing that struck Mary when she opened the gate was the birdsong. A blackbird was singing its heart out, filling the graveyard with liquid song. Against the white stones the flowers stood out in rich colour – scarlet and gold, pink and orange. She took a deep contended breath and smelled the new-mown grass and damp earth – the smells of spring, of new beginnings. She smiled as she strolled between the handsome headstones, gently caressing the smooth marble of each one. “Thank you,” she whispered to each one. “Thank you for giving us peace so we will live in comfort in our gorgeous new home.”

Exercise 6.1 (Guess which character!)

The polished mahogany writing desk overlooks the rose garden. A sheet of blank white paper sits squarely in the middle, framed by two newly sharpened pencils. A pile of gleaming identical paperbacks sit on the edge of the desk, the author’s name matching the name on the neat pile of business cards in the tray on the windowsill. The cast-iron Victorian fireplace with rose decorative tiles contains a pile of crumpled papers in the grate. The colourful cushions on the sofa are freshly plumped up; the pile of literary magazines on the coffee table lies neatly next to the overflowing ashtray and empty coffee cup. On the red and green painted walls hang mahogany-framed awards for ‘Poet of the Year’.

Exercise 5.5 – The voice of a fitness fanatic.

This is for anyone who wants a good laugh. :)

Where did I put the mango juice? Oh, it’s there behind that large lettuce. I am so thirsty after the gym tonight. Did all my repetitions. What a pants class that was, though. Didn’t even get my pulse up. I’ll have to do double-class tomorrow or I’ll be falling behind on my targets. Perhaps I’ll go for a jog before bed to work off the carbs from that pasta I had with Jo. I need to get in shape for the 50k race next summer – I’ll need to be running every evening. Might as well start now. I bought a running machine for the spare bedroom but it’s not the same as road running. Fine for doing 30 mins before breakfast. It’s not the same as going to the gym though. What’s the point of having a fit body if no-one sees it?

25 Feb 06 – Hilda (Day School Exercise creating a character from a list of objects)

Hilda straightened up, eased her aching back, and reached for yet another tissue.

“Damn cold,” she mumbled, plying the tissue with frozen fingers. She blew her nose loudly, then shoved the tissue into her bulging pocket. Her hands were covered in mud, with dirt under her fingernails and around the cuticles. It lined the creases in the flesh of her hands. She rubbed them on her faded green chords. As she did so, she felt something hard bang against her thigh. The creases on her forehead deepened as she pulled out the key fob and looked down at the photo. After a few seconds, she placed it carefully back in her pocket and bent slowly back down to the potatoes.

An hour later, in her kitchen, she stripped off her dripping coat before limping into the bedroom. Painfully she eased her aching body out of the chords and aran jumper, and towelled her frozen skin before dressing in tweed skirt, tank top and blouse. She pulled on her flowery apron and headed for the warmth of the kitchen. Ignoring the dog lead hanging by the door, she opened the cupboard and took down the flour.

“I’ll bake you some Florentine cake,” she said firmly. “You’ve always liked that.” She picked up her glasses from the kitchen table and leafed through a file of shabby handwritten pages. Unwinding the rubber band from the packet of flour, she tipped some into the mixing bowl, then reached for the eggs in the basket on the side. As she did so, her foot brushed against the empty dog basket. She stopped, reached for another tissue, and blew her nose.

The gravel crunched as a car pulled up outside, and Hilda threw the tissue in the bin, wiped her floury hands down her apron and leaned to look out of the window.

The first thing that she saw was the black-and-white terrier puppy in her daughter’s arms.

25 Feb 06 – The Valley (Day School Exercise)

The first rays of the sun lit the hills with a dim light. Ahead, Clare could glimpse the valley cutting into them. She stopped, dug her flask out of her bag, and unscrewed the cap. The smell of strong, fragrant coffee felt like a hug – warm and friendly. It helped her feel less scared – less like an outsider. The memory of those desks, hundreds of grey desks, started to recede. She took a gulp of the strong coffee, then popped an M&M into her mouth. The hills were absolutely silent, but she had a sense of some hubbub of activity as if muffled by a blanket. The sun popped up over the hill, its bright orange light turning the valley to an electric blue. Somewhere she heard laughter, and then a strange chaotic sound, like an orchestra tuning up. She stood up and walked into the valley, moving towards the sound.