Oct 28, 2011

Write on Wednesdays, exercise 20 - 'I thought I saw...'

Write On Wednesdays Exercise 20 - Write the words " I thought I saw" at the top of your page. Set a timer for 5 minutes. Write the first words that come into your head after the prompt. Don't take you pen off the page (or fingers off the keyboard). Stop only when the buzzer rings! Do this exercise over and over if you wish. Write beyond 5 minutes if you like, you can link it up as an extra post.

I'm so glad to be able to do another WoW piece. With this one, my aim was to explore self-doubt, which I feel the phrase ‘I thought I saw’ captures so wonderfully. If anyone is keen to find out, I don’t actually know if my character is right or wrong. J 
I was more interested in exploring her emotions and her choice of actions revolving around her self-doubt. I hope you enjoy it, and feel free to give me some pointers – even down to punctuation. I haven’t edited this one very well due to time constraints, but I must admit I went beyond the five minutes... tee hee hee!

I thought I saw...

My fingers massaged the inside corners of my eyes. Surely it must be twelve-ish, I thought. Another involuntary giggle escaped my lips - Ted was on fire with his quips and comebacks tonight, and the raucous laughter from the others sparked a second wind in me. I blinked open my eyes to see the wine glass in my hand come slowly into focus. It had been empty for some time; nothing but a faint sticky red ring at the bottom and a few colours of lipstick on the rim.

I put the glass down on the splattered table cloth, stretched my knuckles, and thought about calling a taxi instead of walking home. On the long table, stacked plates were shoved to the side, where bare elbows propped up ruddy, beaming faces. Nina returned to her dining room, tears of laughter streaming down her red-hot cheeks in fine lava trails. All she could do was wave the jug of coffee at us, while she dabbed her eyes with her other sleeve and sighed. She had heard Ted from the kitchen, and she didn't mind at all that her fiancé was poking fun at her again. I thought - this time - though she gives as good as she gets, he was a bit unfair. I couldn't help but dart my eyes through the archway to the living room. Lucy was in earshot, having scampered down the carpeted stairs in her kitty slippers. As usual, it was well past her bed-time.

Drawn back to the table, I rejoined the conversation. Soon I was chuckling again, and my eyes watered effortlessly - for no reason, really. It was automatic, from seeing tears on a dear friend's face. Maybe it was just too much red wine and a very long day. Where was my phone? On the side table in the living room, I remembered. I peered through the archway again.

The most dreadful feeling rose through my nerves, so intensely it was as if I’d been lowered into another atmosphere. My whole body locked up, to the point I was afraid to turn my head for fear my neck would snap. My flagging eyelids widened into hard circles, only to see the whip of Lucy's long, red hair as she ran up the stairs. A man sat perched on the edge of the sofa. I struggled to remember his name from earlier that day. Was he a good friend of Ted and Nina? It was all I could helplessly think of.

But how should that make a difference to what I think I just saw?


I looked up at Nina, but her voice became lost in the vacuum of space that formed around me and bulged against my ear drums. A shadow fell across the room from a source I couldn't detect.

"You look like you've seen a ghost!" Nina said, without a care in the world. I wanted to cry. I was going to throw up. She squeezed my shoulder, too hard - with the grip of someone who doesn't realise how much they've drunk. She moved on to the next person beside me at the table.

I glared past Nina's lightly swaying form. Everything - right down to the weave in the fabric of her skirt - was completely vivid to me now. The stray cotton sprouting from the seam at her hip appeared as epic as a solitary tree on a hillside. Beyond it, my vision held the man just as sharply. And he had discovered this; I was now making him feel uncomfortable. I dropped my gaze to my arms in my lap, where they had remained the whole time, flattened and heavy like two sunken battleships.

Was I just seeing things? What exactly did I see?

No matter how many times I framed the question in my mind, I felt no conviction in my answer - I just didn't know for sure. You cannot be wrong about these things. I grew insatiably thirsty for something. Not water, certainly not alcohol. I just needed to know.

Surely I must be wrong. In fact, you could easily be wrong, I berated myself. If that was the case, I wanted to rewind the last few minutes, to have kept my eyes closed instead and not risk being so ridiculously, cruelly mistaken.


I took a deep breath and steadied my voice. "Nina... what's your friend's name?" My words came out in the tone of a complete stranger, and I coughed to shake myself out of it. She looked over her shoulder to where I indicated.
"Oh - that's Matt. Remember? Ted's workmate. Why?"

"I've gotta go. I'll drop by to pick up my phone in the morning, okay? We’ll chat then."
Her neck shifted abruptly backward and her face screwed up in confusion. I let her trail after me as I walked to the front hall.

"Oh, alright…” Nina said, and then came up with her own explanation as we both reached to open the door. "You look... utterly exhausted!"

My lips pushed upward into a shallow smile and fell flat again.
"Do one thing for me, Nina. Go upstairs and check on Lucy."

"What? Why? What do you mean?"

"She was downstairs, a moment ago..."

Nina breathed sharply in, and as her eyes searched mine for some kind of context, I struggled to think what I could give.

Instead, I turned away. Feeling sick to my stomach, I knew that another second of looking into Nina's eyes would eventually feel like a lie of some kind. As I walked down her front path, my heightened nerves still felt the hard tug of her hand on my shoulder. I just needed to step back and think clearly before I said anything, I told myself, and prayed it was the right thing to do.

Nina called out into the darkness, her voice now sobered with apprehension.

"See you in the morning… and have a good sleep."

Write On Wednesdays


claire said...

This was a really great and intense piece. It could make a good longer piece, and the descriptions were very good. just one question, did you really write that in five minutes? I am impressed.

Kimberlee said...

Wow. This was a terrific piece of writing. Jarring and nervewracking (over the suspense of what happened) but really really well done. I hope there will be more. :D

Anonymous said...

I was hooked from the beginning, and you held my interest all the way through. It was intense and very well written. Now, I want to know what happens next!

Melinda Chapman said...

Thanks so much for popping by and giving such awesome feedback - I really appreciate it! :)

Claire - I wrote the piece initially in a flow of consciousness, but with the setting and emotion in mind. I got up to the part where she internally questions herself.
After that point, I then added the rest and did two basic edits. Normally I would have left it, but I felt the subject matter was pretty intense and I wasn't satisfied with how it was [and wasn't going to publish it]. I needed time to process my character's actions, and then accept that it's okay that this is not a story of pushing morals [ie. did my character do the right thing?], it's a story of critical self-doubt.

I then had a strong image of her friend farewelling her and wishing her a good night's sleep. I thought it would give the reader the opportunity to perhaps connect that there's no way she'll be getting any sleep that night. The story really ends there for me - on the thought of her lonely, hellish night ahead, as we've all been there in some form, if not the scenario. Hopefully not the scenario! ;)

I don't know what happens next! Perhaps someone else could write that. hehehe.

I didn't keep my initial exercise version, sorry! I will definitely stick to the rules next week. Thanks again!! :D

Sif said...

What the hell did she see? This was well written - and I have to add I was a bit daunted by the length of the piece before I started writing, but was so drawn into the second half that I didn't even notice the length thereafter. The second paragraph is a lot to get through without the visual break, is there any way you can break it into two paras? Other than that, this was completely enthralling!

Melinda Chapman said...

Oh thanks, Sif! You're so right - I've done the chop, in the best place I could. At least that para is shorter.

I'm so glad you were enthralled, and that Claire, Lillie, and Kimberlee were hooked in too. I can only hope to have such an effect from my writing.

And, um - I don't know what the character thinks she saw - she won't tell me. ;)

Kirsty @ Bowerbird Blue said...

I love your characters and description of the woozy night. Wonderful writing and a truly terrible glimpse of something frightening.

Melinda Chapman said...

Thanks, Kirsty! Yes, a little research was needed to capture the wooziness. ;)

Rain said...

Melinda, I swear I'll get around to reading this and commenting on it, but for now I just wanted to let you know that I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award. You deserve it; it's that simple. Your blog is one of the most beautiful I've come across, and I am madly in love with the way you write. =)

/ Rain

Melinda Chapman said...

Rain, you are an absolute gem of a soul. It's a pleasure to receive this award from you - but an absolute pleasure to have met you. :)

Please don't worry about not getting time to read my WoW piece... hehehe, I was naughty to extend it, but I felt I had to with this one. I will be very good and not inflict WoWers with such a long piece next time!
And thanks so much for your gorgeous, encouraging words that you had for me, and for everybody, on your VBA post - the whole post put a huge smile on my face. :)

Rain said...

Wow. This piece is excellent. The descriptions were so vivid that I could feel myself there, looking through the main character's eyes; I have never been drunk, yet I felt the lightheadedness and grogginess resulting from the wine and the late hour. Everything is beautifully narrated and constantly kept me at the edge of my seat, wanting to read the next line.

What did the character see? Ah, the doubt... but, as you said, this is a piece about self-doubt and not about whatever it is she thinks she saw or about whether Lucy is safe. I love that you yourself don't know what she saw. I only wonder whether Matt had anything to do with it, but that's a question I can live with. ;)

I relished the way you described her inner conflict, the way her mind fought against itself to try to decide whether she indeed saw something or not. This can be interpreted in so many ways: perhaps she was just imagining things as a result of her inebriation, perhaps the play of light and shadows that inevitably comes with a late-night dinner confused her and she merely saw a flickering shadow, perhaps she did see something but it was so hideous that her mind instantly blocked it out... and so on. In spite of this being a story about self-doubt, it has considerable potential to be a story about many other things...

All in all, wonderful writing, Melinda. Only one tiny detail bugged me, but upon rereading it I don't know anymore whether or not I'm misunderstanding things a little. At the end of the fourth paragraph, right before Nina asks the main character whether she wants more coffee, it says "It was all I could helplessly think of - but how should that make a difference to what I think I just saw?". If she's thinking the bit in italics, ignore this. If it's part of the narration, however, the brief transition from past tense to present tense sort of breaks the flow of the piece, which is otherwise smooth and perfect. Perhaps it should read "but how should that have made a difference to what I thought I had just seen?".

I'm glad my VBA post made you smile. I cannot ask more of it. =)

/ Rain

Melinda Chapman said...

Thanks Rain! What awesome feedback! I'm glad it inspired so many thoughts about what the story meant - you've given me some things to think about too!

Thanks also for your help regarding para 4. It was her thought, not narration... but I will look at putting a full-stop in to separate them as it clearly needs something. :)

Oh - I worked out from the story if she saw something or not... I couldn't help it! Just ignore below if you don't want to know, Rain. :)

From her behaviour, I think on a deeper level she suspects she was just seeing things. Her gut tells her this - that's why she withdraws and leaves. She removes herself from the situation, not Matt. Why would you do that if you thought there was even a chance something happened?

Probably, because I wasn't intending to write about molestation as the core theme, and it was a flow of consciousness, I subconsciously let it unfold that nothing happened to Lucy. :)

Rain said...

Thank you for sharing such a good piece with us, Melinda. =) I do like the way you separated the thought into a new paragraph. That, along with it being in italics, makes it pretty clear that it's the character thinking.

Oh, you sly person, how can you tempt a scientist with knowledge and then imply that they might not want to obtain it? Of course I read below! =D I must say I feel relieved for Lucy. I had feared the worst.

/ Rain

Melinda Chapman said...

Hahaha! Nooo it's not true.. I'm not implying that a scientist might not want to obtain the knowledge... rather, a scientist might want to obtain it themselves... ;)

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