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message 1: by David (last edited Mar 03, 2016 09:01AM) (new)

David O'Neill | 12 comments Here's another short story that demanded to be written. Sometimes the words hit you in the head and bully you until you do something with them. It was like that with this one. I will soon start posting chapters on my latest novel, which will be something to get your teeth into properly.

Anyway, I hope you like this one:

Gracefully

The room had its own special smell.

I sat in the plush chair, sinking into the deep and rich burgundy leather of what was obviously an expensive antique. Stretching my feet out I was nearly able to touch the squat mahogany and glass coffee table just in front of me. It seemed to be carved from a single log of dark, almost jet black, wood and was topped with a sheet of what I expected to be nothing less than the finest crystal glass. The early morning sunlight, pouring in from windows that looked out on to a sculpted garden of lush green lawns, with a white marbled fountain in its centre, painted the room I was in with layers of gold.

Turning my gaze back into the room, I looked down at my shoes and wondered why I had made the effort. I was wearing one of my best suits, normally reserved for special occasions. But, for some reason, I couldn’t leave the house this morning without a good pair of polished shoes to go with it. It was a superstition thing, I imagined, like the football players who couldn’t play a game without wearing their lucky boots or socks, except the truth was biology didn’t care about polished shoes, good suits, or anything else.

I took another deep breath and tried to relax, realising that I was tense. It would either be okay, or it wouldn’t. And nothing I was doing now would change that. It wasn’t as if I would find out later that the cut of my shirt, or the colour of my tie, had convinced my genetic results to go one way or another. Still, I felt better wearing my best suit. Sadly, I mused to myself, the older you got the more the tried and tested rituals of time held sway over your life.

Looking up from my shoes, and still feeling tense, I paid more attention to the rest of the waiting room. I could see other similar expensive tables and chairs throughout, with other parents and their children scattered about, my own two sitting at a central table with some of the other youngsters that were there. They sat, quietly chatting in deference to their location, all of them eyeing the screens of the phones they held in front of them. I wondered what it must feel like to be young again, to be able to sit with others and compare the latest clothing style, the latest haircut worn by a football player, or the style of the short skirt the actress wore when ‘accidentally’ seen out on the town with her latest paramour. If I could do it all over again would I do anything differently? Damn bloody right I would! But who wouldn’t, eh?

Blinking slowly I looked around, taking in the oil pictures of previous consultants on the walls, the rich and verdant foliage of the palms in the corners that had no right growing there but did so because money made it possible, and at the desk where the beautiful, graceful, intelligent brunet sat, occasionally tapping at a small keyboard, or listening to instructions given via the hands free head-set she wore, and wondered … wondered if she already knew as she looked up, called out a name with a smile, pointing to a door behind her? Maybe she did but, if she did, she was an expert in not giving anything away when I came in with my two earlier, lagging, as they always did, a few feet behind. She showed me to the seat I now sat in, a cup tea offered, and taken, the empty cup on its matching saucer now desecrating the expensive table before me.

Money may buy cultured surroundings, may try and disguise where you were, but no matter how much you spent there was always that unique smell that could never be disguised. I took a long breath in through my nose and got, for the most part, the rich and bassy tones of leather, oak and bees wax polish. Underneath it all, however, was something else. There was an antiseptic bite to it, a clean beyond all clean smells that filled the gaps between the scents of wood and leather. Without it I could have been in a hotel lobby, an airport’s VIP lounge, the antechamber to a palace or the like. But with it, you knew where you were, without any doubt: a doctor’s waiting room.

The intelligent brunet worked her way though the waiting people, calling names out with gentle grace and consideration and I waited with patience, though in truth I didn’t want to be called, didn’t want to be here, but knew I had no choice. A part of me marvelled at how well she dealt with the waiting parents and children, and realised that the money didn’t pay for the tables, the chairs, or the plants, but paid for the human touch, the gentle smile, the caring look when people came in nervous and agitated, the soothing words and competent manner. The other part of me was cold and calculating, knowing how much it cost for me to be here, and that for the price of a small kingdom I should expect nothing less, though the human me, the real part of me, not the business man me, appreciated her caring demeanour.

Eventually, it was my turn.

“Steven Williamson?”

My ears picked the words out before my brain had even registered hearing them. She had said my name quietly, and was already looking at me.

“Erm … yes,” I said, pointlessly, knowing that she knew exactly who I was. I suppose you’d had to have lived under a rock for the last thirty years to not know me. Not that I was pretentious or anything but, from my early twenties, I was making music that was in the ear of the public and now, in my fifties, I was a household name whether I liked it or not. Of course, I liked it, and, of course, I didn’t want that to change, but even so, even with all my money, with all the experts I could hire to do my bidding, there were some things that money couldn’t buy. But I hoped that this wasn’t one of them. That was why I was here.

She smiled, again it was gentle. “Last door on the right, Mr. Williamson.” She pointed to remove any ambiguity and I stood, swallowing and coughing slightly to clear my throat. I suppose that this was the one environment where it didn’t matter who you were, rich, famous, dictator, all were equal in their need to know the results, equal in their reliance on nature, unable to throw money at the problem and make it go away. This was the great leveller.

“Thanks,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady. I pulled at my jacket out of reflex, straightening my tie and stretching my chin up and moving my head back and forth for a second so that my collar felt more comfortable. So stupid, I knew, but some habits are hard to loose.

Across at the central table two sets of young faces turned to look at me, starting to get up when they heard my name. I smiled at them and made a slight patting the air motion with my hand: “stay there”, it meant. This was something I had to do by myself though I was pleased that they were ready to come with me. I got raised eyebrows back and knew they wanted to be with me, but I gave my trade mark wink, and they smiled at me in return. They knew, I knew, and that was all that mattered. Parents and their children. Some bonds were without bounds, and ours was. I loved them so much and they knew that, and nothing would change that.

I turned to the door the woman indicated and walked forward with a confidence I didn’t feel.

It was strange. I could walk onto a stage with an audience of millions watching and not feel a thing. I could sit on my stool and pick up my guitar, or stretch my hands across the keys of my keyboard, and I would hear whole countries suddenly hush as I picked the first notes of an old favourite song, and all I would feel is a satisfaction. But now, as I walked the few feet down the short, wood adorned corridor to the plain dark oak door at the end, I felt like a schoolboy again, feeling as if the headmaster was going to rip me apart for my behaviour, for my attitude, for dreaming my way through class and all the lessons. But this time, well, this time there was no headmaster on the other side of the door.

I knocked. A quiet voice called for me to come in and I entered. The office was spacious, with a broad desk by a large window. Bookshelves lined the walls to one side, with the wall opposite the window holding the type of high resolution display that I recognised as costing a huge amount of money. The consultant was a woman wearing small, round glasses, that I guessed was as an affectation rather than as a necessity. Modern medicine and advances in surgical techniques had all but made eye problems extinct. Would those advances work for me now?

“Steven, please, sit,” she said, indicating the chair in front of her desk. I looked for something in her expression that would let me know the results and I suppose, even then, I already knew the answer. She was cold, professional, distant, not like the friendly, smiling, joking, person I had met six months earlier at the start of all the tests.

I knew what was coming and already I was starting to feel cold, a sweat breaking out across my forehead.

“I won’t beat around the bush, Steven,” she said, “it’s not good news.” With her elbows on the desk, she propped her chin on laced fingers, deep blue eyes staring straight at me through her glasses. “The treatment has not been able to reconcile your genetic markers … ” she pointed to the screen behind me where images swam back and forth as she carried on with the explanation, but I had phased out by then. I heard every thing she said but there was too much detail, too many technical terms that I didn’t understand. A roaring filled my ears, my throat was dry, but my eyes were starting to get wet.

I managed to ask a question during a suitable pause. “How long have I got?”

She explained, I listened, I think I cried. But I’m not sure. I’m not sure of anything at all. I have a vague, disjointed, memory of getting into the back seat of the waiting car but that’s it. A lot of it is hazy. I remember small hands holding mine and leading me out, young voices saying reassuring things, comforting things, nice things.

With an effort of will I pulled myself back to the here and now, and looked at them both.

“Oh, well, that’s life, eh?” I said, trying to be positive, but I could see the tears in their eyes. My own were blurry but I didn’t want to cry in front of them.

“How long have you got?”

I wasn’t sure who asked but it didn’t matter. I pulled in a ragged breath. “The doctor said that with modern medicine as it is, and bearing in mind I’ve only just turned fifty, I could probably expect another, ah, fifty or so years.”

The young face in the front seat smiled caringly at me. “Don’t worry, son,” he said. “Your mother and I will always be here for you, won’t we?” Mum, like Dad, successfully through the rejuvenation therapy I couldn’t have, held my hand.


message 2: by Alyssa (new)

Alyssa (ajdietz) I liked this story and was surprised by the ending. My only issue is the wordiness of the first few paragraphs. Everything feels a little too described and I would consider cutting the first 2 paragraphs. There are a few good pieces of information in them that could be put somewhere else.

I do like the descriptions, though. I feel like I'm there when the description has a purpose. The empty cup "desecrating the expensive table" painted a nice picture and segued well into the next paragraph.

One correction is worth noting because it confused me and I realized there was a word or two missing. In the last paragraph it says "Mum, like dad, ____ successfully ____ through the rejuvenation therapy I couldn't have. . ." There should be a word in either ___ that I inserted. I also think you should consider fattening up that paragraph since there's such an important reveal there. Maybe add a sentence or two to emphasize the bomb you're dropping.

Other than that I think this is a good short story. Or chapter, whatever you're making it. It stands on its own well and had me interested.


message 3: by David (new)

David O'Neill | 12 comments Alyssa wrote: "I liked this story and was surprised by the ending. My only issue is the wordiness of the first few paragraphs. Everything feels a little too described and I would consider cutting the first 2 para..."

Thanks for the feedback, Alyssa - truly appreciated.

I will have a look at the first two paragraphs and see what I can do. I will agree with you that they are wordy, and I will hold my hand up and admit I could see the waiting area in my mind's eye in such clear detail that I tried to recreate that in words. Okay, too much.

The twist at the end. Well, making it slightly longer to emphasise the bomb, is certainly interesting. I wanted to drop it quickly so that I got it out before you (the reader) worked it out, if that makes sense. Saying you were surprised with the ending was just perfect for me. I will reword the 'mum, like dad...' bit, too.

Real criticism is something that I thrive off, and when I say I appreciate it I really mean it.

Thanks, Alyssa.


message 4: by Alyssa (new)

Alyssa (ajdietz) I don't think the average reader is going to figure out that twist before you reveal it. I certainly wasn't thinking it at all.

I fall into the same trap as you where I want to paint such a clear picture that I take too much time describing it. I would keep the parts that are filtered through his thoughts, but the outright descriptions are worth taking another look at.

:)


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