Saturday, June 11, 2011

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

Mallorca – September 1974

"It's your father's job," was the only explanation Mom offered through clenched teeth as she extracted cups, saucers and ashtrays from boxes in a different rented living room in a different town with a different school.

This time, Rebecca had watched the tops of clouds from an airplane window as they flew across the ocean to Spain, then onward to a different country – Mallorca.

Only minutes into their "new adventure," as Dad called it, she stood in the middle of the apartment trying not to listen to her parents arguing in the bedroom. Dad's low voice intersected Mom's shrill protests. Somewhere in the mix she heard, "New start," and "Time to think.”

Since June, they'd been at it. Rebecca only hoped the new neighbors didn't understand English.

She skirted the mound of suitcases in the living room, opened the balcony door and stepped into the heat. Flamenco music filtered from somewhere below, almost obliterated by the hiss of sand pulled to sea by the surf. The classical notes crept into her psyche with exotic sweetness, nothing like the raw guitar licks that blared from her sister's stereo back home.

She closed her eyes and concentrated on the sounds, if only to drown out her parents.

Dad finally came outside and leaned against the balcony railing. As usual, he hid his impatience behind a serene expression and a freshly lit cigarette.

Inside, the sound of colliding dishes punctuated Mom's side of the argument. She wore her emotions on the outside and dishwashing was always a clear indication of her mood. When she was in good spirits, she sang above the gentle clink of cutlery against crockery. When she was pissed off, plates crashed together like cymbals.

Dad squinted against the reflected sunlight and took a drag on his cigarette. He rubbed his chin with a knuckle and cocked his head at the door. "Don’t worry, she'll get used to this. She always does." He leaned an elbow on the railing and pointed south, over the expanse of Mediterranean. "Algeria is that way. See, it's not far. I'll be back for a visit before you know it."

"But we just got here." She tilted her chin, straining to see. But it was too far, beyond the horizon. "No schools there, huh?" she said, with a light tone she didn't feel.

He gathered her in the crook of his arm and drew her close. His shirt smelled of Old Spice and menthol tobacco. His deep voice rumbled against her cheek as he assured her, "It'll be good for you to have new experiences."

New experiences, old excuses.

Behind her, Mom's strangled tirade escalated until she started to sound like Yosemite Sam. Rebecca flinched and swallowed hard.

Dad backed away and gave her shoulder a perfunctory rub, as if it would erase all the animosity that had built up since he took this job. He motioned toward the deep blue Mediterranean with his cigarette. "Look at this place. A winter without snow for once – it'll be fantastic."

The glass door slid open again. Rebecca turned to see her mother standing in the doorway. Mom glared at Dad's shoulder blades, while he seemed engrossed in the curl of blue smoke that drifted from his Export A.

Mom rubbed her eyes and huffed in that way she always did when she'd lost an argument. "By the way, thanks for leaving me with a sink full of dirty dishes and no food in the fridge. Will you at least stay long enough to help me shop for dinner?" She folded her arms and frowned. "Frank?"

Dad stiffened and stubbed out his cigarette on the balcony railing.
He made as if to slide past Mom, but stopped to give her a brief peck on her pale cheek. "Sorry, Val – uh, Dear. You know my plane leaves in an hour. If you need any help getting around, I wrote Mrs.
Shepard's number beside the phone."

Mom's eyes flared. "And who is this Mrs. Shepard?"

Dad blinked and took a deep breath. "You probably don't remember." He waited, but Mom's flushed face and shifting glance indicated she didn't. "She's Alan's wife. She lives next door." He turned to Rebecca, his expression softening. "Their kids will be going to your school. Maybe you could be friends."

Making friends wasn't as simple as being the same age and living in the same building. Rebecca lifted her hand in farewell but didn't say a word. She was afraid if she hugged him, she'd close her arms around him and refuse to let go. She'd look like a crybaby, and Dad would tell her to grow up.

After a series of urgent murmurs from the entranceway, the front door closed with a muffled slam. A moment later, Rebecca's little brother Michael came outside and stood on tiptoe to peek over the railing.
"Far out; a pool! I bet we could dive right off from here," he exclaimed, lifting one leg. He glanced at her with a wicked grin.

"Try it and you're dead, stupid," she replied. "We're three floors up."

"But that's the deep end."

"You could still hurt yourself. Don't even think about it." She rested her elbows on the railing and stared out to sea, imagining the North African coast with its whitewashed mosques and minarets and sand, and Bedouins with swirling robes. Dad was going to have the best time ever and she wished she could be with him.

She wondered if Bedouins still kidnapped Western girls and sold them into harems. It would be exciting to ride across the desert, live in tents and be rescued by some handsome guy with long hair like in Mom's romance novels.

Now those books were packed in a cardboard box in their basement along with winter clothes and knick-knacks they didn't want broken while Dad rented out the first house he and Mom had ever bought together. It seemed their lives revolved around boxes, even when the boxes went nowhere.

They even had to give away their dog. That was the hardest part.

Bedouins were nomads, but they probably didn't have to leave so much behind.

Chapter Two

When she wandered back into the apartment, her mother was stuffing peseta notes into her purse. "Well, we don’t eat until I go shopping." She checked for keys and headed to the door, muttering, "I hope to God this is enough money. How am I going to ask for anything?
I don't know Spanish. Your father knows Spanish. Jesus; I'm tired. I need a drink." She stood in the small entryway, hands on her hips and her purse swinging from her wrist. "Well, come on. Let's go."


  1. Much stronger! The tension comes through more clearly and we can really feel for her.

    The beginning still feels a bit choppy for me because you are shifting through time. Suggest you take a strict linear approach: unpacking dishes, snide comment leads to argument, quote from dad about new adventure in Mallorca, more argument, arguing since June, Rebecca escapes to balcony.

    Where is the sister? Make it clear since you bring her up. If it's intended to be a mystery, build it up a little.

    Overall, that's a bit of my problem with this. Five pages in, I still have no clue where you are going with this. I'm hooked, but I'd like to get some sense, even if it's just a line, of her goals and needs, something she is intending to do rather than just enduring the situation with her parents and transition to a new country.

    Looking forward to next week!


  2. Agreed. I also realize this time that I don't have a clear grasp on the MC's age. She feels a little younger than I recall, maybe the line "She'd look like a crybaby, and Dad would tell her to grow up." That feels more MG to me than YA, am I mixed up? Was this YA? Sorry about that.

    The opening is better, but it jumped too much. It starts with her mother making a comment while unpacking, she recalls the flight and all of a sudden the parents are in the bedroom arguing. So the mother's whereabouts change. Read through and see what words are actually necessary to ground us, and which can be revealed as we read.

    Still like the sensory details with the father, the mother's reaction with the dishes, and the little brother interaction.

  3. This is much better than it was, but I don't feel so much for the narrator this time. In fact, I feel kind of removed from her, but I can't figure out why. Maybe it's because the time jumps around a bit. It may be better to play the scene out in a linear fashion, rather than recollecting etc as well.

  4. I'm not going to rehash the comments that have alredy been given. They're right on the money and I'm sure you know what to do by now. Only one other thing jumped out at me this time. If this is only "A few minutes into their 'new adventure'" and there's "no food in the house," how can there be dirty dishes in the sink? I love the way Mom shows her emotions by the way she washes dishes, don't get me wrong, I just think there needs to be some explanation as to why they're there in the first place. :)

  5. This is a big step up from the first go 'round. I, too, love the sensory details, but am a bit frustrated by some unanswered questions. It's always so hard to get the back story in without slowing down the story and losing tension. This has a lot of tension and forward movement. I'd really like to continue reading!


Tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you! :)