Saturday, June 11, 2011

6 1st 5 Pages Workshop - June Entry #5, Rev 1

Rosi Hollinbeck -- Middle Grade Historical

Freddy ran to his front porch and grabbed the tin pail. He could make it to the streetcar stop if he ran his hardest. The buttons on his knickers were loose, and the heavy cuffs flapped against his shins. Poppa wouldn’t like it if he looked like a bum. He arrived at the corner of Ohio and Green and saw the car two blocks away. Dropping the pail, he buttoned his knickers below his knees.

Squat, brick tenement buildings and a rusty overpass carrying Chicago traffic stood across from him. Someday he would design beautiful bridges and elegant skyscrapers like those in the Loop.

Poppa stepped from the streetcar and handed Freddy a quarter. They didn’t speak German much since the Great War, but when he spoke, his thick, guttural accent turned “w’s” into a “v’s” and the soft “th” sounds into hard “d’s” or “t’s.”

“No wasting time. We got some tings to talk about. You come straight home after de Schenke.” He turned and walked away.

“Well, that don’t sound good,” Freddy muttered as he walked to the speakeasy. Poppa was usually happy after work, but not today. Freddy hurried. He had seen the back of Poppa’s hand enough times to know not to make him wait.

Freddy pushed his way to the bar and put his pail up. He could barely see over the tall counter, but Otto knew who he was and what he wanted. And he knew better than to give Freddy a pail of foam.

“How you doin’, kid?” Otto smiled down at him. “Got a quarter? Put it up here.”

Freddy slapped the quarter down and watched while Otto filled the pail and scraped foam off before fitting the lid. The Cubs game blared from the radio behind the bar. Grover Cleveland Alexander was pitching against the Boston Braves, and the Cubs weren’t doing too well.

“Stupid Cubs! When’s the last time they had a real team?” Freddy heard somebody growl.

Someone answered, “1918. Eight years! Da bums.” He slammed his mug on the bar and pointed to it, letting Otto know he wanted another.

Freddy loved the Cubbies. He would like to hang around and listen to the game, but didn’t dare.

Otto pushed the pail across, and Freddy took it, walking as quickly as he could without sloshing. It was only two blocks to home, but the wire handle cut into his hands. His arms ached by the time he set the pail on the sink-board. He pumped cool water to get the kinks from his fingers.

When he turned around, Poppa loomed over him. Poppa lifted the lid and nodded with a satisfied look. “No wasteful foam. Das ist gut. And you didn’t spill none. Ya. Sehr gut.”

Yes. That is good. Good he got it right. Poppa took a glass mug from the cupboard and dipped into the beer. He drank it down without a breath and filled it again, sat heavily at the kitchen table, and kicked another chair out from under it.

“Come. We talk.” He nodded toward the chair.

Freddy heard a whisper of feet by the partly-closed door to the hallway. His older sisters, Emmi and Gertrud, peeked between door and frame. Emmi crouched so Trudy could see over her, and she wiggled her forefinger at Freddy as if waving hello. Freddy sat. His feet didn’t quite reach the floor, and he swung them without thinking.

Poppa drank another half beer and wiped flecks of foam from his bushy mustache. His sharp blue eyes pinned Freddy to the chair.

“Momma been getting sicker and sicker. Doctor says she needs better medicine and food. More meat and such. You want Momma to get well, don’tcha?” Poppa said.

“Of course, Poppa. We all want Momma to get well.” Why would he ask?

Freddy searched his memory, trying to figure out when she had first gotten sick. It was a few days before Christmas. Now in August, she still stayed in bed, so small she was like a doll under the covers. Even though Trudy was only fourteen and Emmi twelve, they took care of Momma, bathing her and helping her turn so she wouldn’t get sores. They didn’t go to school anymore. Trudy whizzed around with brooms and rags, keeping everything shining. When Freddy smelled delicious aromas, he knew Emmi was in the kitchen, working her magic with vegetables from the garden the three of them kept in the back yard.

But everyone worried about Momma – his sisters and even his grown brothers, Walter and Karl, who came by to visit two or three times a week after work.

Freddy helped Momma walk to the back porch each afternoon to sit in the sun for a little. He was almost as tall as she was and thought he probably weighed more. He surely was stronger. When she laid her hand on his arm, it was as if a dry autumn leaf had landed there. Sometimes he thought he should carry her out, but she was so fragile, he was afraid she would break or fly away on a puff of wind.

Poppa picked up the salt shaker and sprinkled some in his beer. “They cutting back hours at the factory. They only gonna pay us to work ten hours each day and only half a day on Saturdays starting next week.” He stared at the table top, then picked up the glass and drained it again. “You gonna need to go, Freddy. We can’t afford to keep you.”

Freddy heard a quiet sob from behind the door. When he looked, Trudy was gone, but Emmi remained, her eyes wide and full of tears. Freddy swallowed hard, forcing his own tears down.

“Go, Poppa? Go where?” Freddy tried to look into his Poppa’s eyes, but Poppa took his jackknife out, opened the little blade, and started cleaning the black from under his cracked, blunt fingernails.

When Poppa spoke, his voice was thick, as if he needed to clear his throat. He seemed embarrassed. “We don’t got enough, Freddy. You’re a man now. You need to go.”

“Poppa,” Freddy said, almost a whisper, “Please, Poppa. I’m only ten. I don’t know where to go. I can find milk bottles and turn ‘em in. Or carry shopping for rich ladies. Maybe Otto down at the bar will lemme sweep and mop. I won’t eat much. I can —”

“Stop!” Poppa thundered, his fist hitting the table hard. The salt shaker fell over, spilling on the table top. Freddy stared. That was bad luck. He should throw some over his shoulder, but he couldn’t move.

Poppa stood and walked to the sink-board to fill his glass.

Freddy stared at the pail. It had cost a quarter. A QUARTER! And Poppa had one every day. But he couldn’t afford to keep his son.


  1. Hi Rosi,

    You've managed to make the last line even more powerful than before! And that takes some doing. Wow. The opening still feels off to me though, and the run up to it doesn't really add as much value as *showing* what Freddie cares about would. That diffuses the impact of the father's ultimatum. I'd love to also see a little more of Freddie's attitude and survival skills (or lack thereof) coming through, more of his fears. Not much, just a hint.

    A really intriguing story! Looking forward to seeing the next round.


  2. I agree on that ending - wow! Very nice. What a jerk (the dad). I think the issues at the beginning are voice related. I'd like to be "closer" to Freddy. Instead of "Freddy heard" Just someone said. Since it's from his viewpoint (even in 3rd person) we assume we're hearing it through Freddy. You can increase the urgency or worry about his father by simply rearranging lines. For instance you could order the knickers paragraph this way:

    Freddy arrived out of breath at the corner of Ohio and Green, the tin pail still swinging from his hand. He beat the streetcar, but only by a block. Good thing too, the buttons on his knickers were loose, and the heavy cuffs flapped against his shins. Poppa wouldn’t like it if he looked like a bum. Dropping the pail, he buttoned his knickers below his knees.

    You don't have to use my words, but I wanted to show you how that little bit increases the urgency. Go through and look for other areas you can tighten that way. When you present an issue, like anticipating Poppa not liking something, carry through right away with Freddy's response to that.

    Look at your transition words. If you use the word "but" for example, make sure it's there for a reason.

    Instead of telling us things like Freddy liked the Cubbies. Show us through his dialogue. How cute would it be to have him join in the grown up conversation with his two-cents about the team? And that would certainly say something about his character. If he wouldn't do that? Then have him think what he might say and decide not, showing what it is that stops him.

    I'd also like some physical reaction at the end (though it may be coming and I just didn't get to read far enough).

    Good revision. Keep it up!

  3. I don't have much to add that hasn't already been commented on. I agree that we need to get closer to Freddy, be in his head more than just behind his eyes. I think he'd have a more emotional reaction to his dad telling him he had to leave, and a physical one. It would be like a blow, hearing that.

  4. I have to admit, I don't have much sympathy for the father, telling his son he has to leave at 10 years old. On the other hand, he's German and an immigrant, a combination known for being harshly practical, not sentimental. I sense Freddy loves his dad in spite of that, or at least tries very hard to please him. Nice line about Poppa spending a quarter on beer every day when it could be used to feed his son. Very telling.

    So, do I have any suggestions for you? How about listen to what Martina, Lisa and Kate said; I got nothin'. :)

  5. So, I'm a little late to the party... in a good way :)

    Everybody's given awesome advice. FWIW, this line really struck me: "Poppa was usually happy after work, but not today." It's so succinct and yet filled me with dread. I wondered if the excerpt might become more suspenseful if it started with that kind of line, omitting the section in the speakeasy (even though I really like that part).

    Also, I felt that the backstory with Mama ("Freddy searched his memory, trying to figure out when she had first gotten sick. It was a few days before Christmas...") slowed the scene for me. By that point, I'm already dreading what's going to happen with Poppa.

    As for Freddy's reaction to the news, I really like where you took this. He's obviously intelligent and resourceful, but by giving us more of a hint to his thought processes, his insight doesn't come off as unrealistic.

  6. Thanks, everyone. I appreciate all the comments. I'm working on this. (Just when you thought you were done...sigh.)


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