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June 13, 2010
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Four year old Keaton gripped a green crayon in his tiny fist, pressing it hard against the paper.  His parents fought beneath the sound of the tv in the background.  Scribbling in rhythmic circles, he furrowed his brow.  His mother came into the room, a dishtowel in her hands.

"What are you drawing, Keaton?"  Her voice had the tremble of someone forcing their words to sound happy.

"Money," he said, then glanced up.

She came closer, examining the pages scattered around him from behind.  All contained a dollar, done again and again in various sizes.

"You've drawn a lot of it."

"Yeah," he said, "we need a lot, so we can be happy."

She put a hand to her lips, standing there,  then bent down beside him.  "Money can't make us happy, Keaton."

"I am going to draw so much that you and daddy never fight again."

His mother sighed, putting a hand to her forehead, and was silent for a moment as he continued to color in green bills.  Then she reached out and stilled his hand.  "Daddy is going to move out, Keaton."

"Why?"

"Because it's better that way.  But you'll still get to see him."

"Will you see him?"

She propped her chin on her thumb, fingers curled into a fist around her mouth.  "No, not as much as you."

"Why not?"

"Because daddy and I just don't work well together."

"But you love him."

"No, Keaton, I don't.  But don't worry.  Nothing is going to change.  You will always be a part of my life, and your dad's life."   She stood up, carrying away the scribbles.

- - -

In some ways, his mother was right.  Breakfast was still breakfast, school was still school, and buzzlightyear macaroni and cheese still boiled in a pot Keaton wasn't allowed to touch.  But there was a hole in Keaton's life, in the space between his mother and father, and he was right in the middle of that hole.   

"Keaton!  Look what I got for you!" his dad said, holding a buzzlightyear costume up, his face alight.

Keaton looked at it.

"Here!  Try it on!" his father laid it on Keaton's lap.

Keaton pushed it off.  

"What… I thought Buzzlightyear was your favorite!"

"No."  Keaton stood up, and began to stomp on the costume.  "No!"

His father stared, eyes wide.  "Keaton, stop!  If you don't like it, I'll take it back."

Keaton crossed his arms.

- - -

"What do you want?  Ironman, Batman, Superman?  Or you could be a doctor, they can heal people," his mother explained in the costume aisle at Target.

"Doctor?"

"Yeah!  They have these neat stethoscopes that you can use to listen to other people's hearts."  His mother disentangled one from a costume and demonstrated, putting them to her ears and to Keaton's chest.

"Could a doctor fix you and daddy?"

His mother sighed, took off the stethoscope, putting it back on the hanger.  "No, Keaton.  But they can fix broken bones, tummy-aches, and all kinds of boo-boos."  

He stared hard at the costume.  "Okay."


- - -

Keaton pushed off the pavement with his foot, sending him shooting down the hill.  He was fourteen and the skateboard was last-years Christmas present.  He flew down the hill, speed accompanied by the sound of concrete and wheels, chalky and dull, a sound he could feel buzzing inside his legs.

He soared past the bum who always sat on the corner of Eighth street and skidded to a stop at the park, where a little boy stood licking an ice cream cone that dripped all the way down his hands.  Keaton strode up to the little boy, knocked the ice cream out of his hands, then gave him a good shove.  The little boy tumbled back and landed on his rear, tears already forming in his eyes.

Keaton raced back to his skateboard and pushed off, disappearing around the corner, where he hopped off and peeked through the bushes.  A mother and a father rushed towards the little boy, forming a protective circle around him.  The father picked him up and the mother cleaned him up, kissing him on the forehead.  

Scrunching up his face, Keaton stuffed his hands in his pockets and kicked his skateboard, following it down the street.

An empty building with a window stopped Keaton, the surface reflecting the entire street back on itself.  He popped the skateboard up to his hand and caught it without looking, his eyes trained on his reflection in the window.  Furrowing his brow, he studied himself, straightening his t-shirt and messing with the direction of his hair.  

When he put his board back to the pavement, sneaker scuffing as he pushed off, the frown stayed on his face.

- - -

The bottle of vodka Keaton put to his lips was empty.  Disgusted, he tossed it aside, staggering down the sidewalk.  The sound of breaking glass followed him as he wove his way down the concrete towards home.  A motorcycle puttered around somewhere in the distance, roaring to life and then fading away.  He reached his house, suburban plainness shrouded in the darkness, and stumbled inside, feeling his way up to his room, where he collapsed into bed, world-numb.

The world was too bright when he woke up, stretching, sheets tightening around him.  He winced, then wrinkled his nose and opened his eyes.  There was dirty laundry on the floor and vomit.  His vomit.  The stink of it triggered flashes of the party.  Pulsing music, pretty girls, and alcohol.  He groaned, squeezing his eyes shut, and rolled over, pulling the covers over his head.  

Later, when he found his way downstairs, his mother greeted him with, "Well look who decided to sleep the day away."  

He rubbed his eyes "Did not, it's still light."

"Did too, it's five.  Dinner time!  I made a casserole.  And there's a letter for you."

"You know I can't eat anything like that when I've just woken up… the letter from dad?"

"Nope, from Harvard."

He yawned.  "Really?"

"Yeah!" she grinned, her hands going up and then coming back down, holding the edge of the kitchen counter.

He grabbed some cheerios out of the cupboard, a bowl and spoon, and the milk.

"Well?  Aren't you going to open it?"

"Eventually."

"Keaton.  Open the letter!"

He rolled his eyes, grabbing it, and used the other end of his spoon to slice it open.  "Dear Mr. Young, Your application to Harvard University has been accepted."

"Yes!" his mother said, popping into the air like the cork of a wine bottle.

"Cool," Keaton said.

"Keaton!  This is your dream!  At least act happy!"

"I am happy.  I'm also half asleep, and I have a headache."

"It's amazing, it's absolutely amazing.  I'm so glad that I can send you there for free, you know they're not doing that for new employees, it got to be too expensive."

"Yeah, I'll be sure to count my lucky stars."

"You better, young man.  This is an opportunity people could kill for."

He nodded to his cereal.

- - -

"Excuse me," Keaton said to a girl standing between him and the trashcan.  "Excuse me," he said again, holding his lunch tray.  

After another moment she turned and saw him.  Her eyebrows shot up and she made a gesture of apology, stepping out of the way.  

"That's okay…" he said.

She turned and touched the arm of the person she was with, another girl, and point to Keaton.  They exchanged what looked like a conversation in sign language, and then the other girl said, "Hello, this is Jess, she's deaf, that's why she didn't respond."

"Oh, that's cool," Keaton said, his eyes on Jess.  "Nice to meet you," he said, putting out his hand.  

Jess glanced at the other girl, who signed.  Jess turned back to Keaton and signed something to him, reaching out her hand.

"She said, 'nice to meet you.'"

- - -

"How's it going?" his mother said after he picked up the phone, plopping down on the couch.

"Well, pretty good, except for the fact that I live on mac and cheese."

"Buzzlightyear shapes?"

"Always."

"You're in a good mood."

"I met a girl," he said, putting his feet up on the coffee table.

His mother laughed.  "That's great, just don't get too distracted…"

"I won't."

After he hung up, he grabbed a library book that sat on the couch beside him.  Learn American Sign Language.

- - -


Keaton opened the front door, carrying his briefcase, and walked into the house.  The voice of an opera singer cranked to max volume blared from the kitchen, setting him on edge.

Jess stuck her head out of the kitchen, and broke into a grin, running towards him in an apron that was designed to look like a giant flower.  She threw her arms around him and kissed his cheek, then beamed into his face.

Wrinkling his brow, he walked into the kitchen and switched the music off, and without stopping went to his office.  He sat in his chair, hands on his face.  His wedding band pressed against his cheek.  Reaching across his desk, he lifted the phone and punched in a number by memory.

"Gus, it's Keaton."

"Oh, hello Keaton.  Something happen since our last session?"

"What kind of deaf woman blares opera music on the radio?" he said.

"Well, that's the only way she can feel it."

"Surely it doesn't have to be that loud."

That night, as her chest rose and fell and he stared at the ceiling, her hand came up and draped itself over his chest.  He turned away, closing his eyes.

- - -

I want a divorce, he signed.

A shadow passed over Jess's face, leaving her expression pale and hollow. Why aren't you happy? she signed.

I don't know.  I thought our love could be bigger, could make everything okay.

You never let me in.


He didn't know what to say.

I love you,
she signed.  You are a good husband, you provide for me and take care of me.  And you are a good man, strong and honorable.  But this is a coward's act.  Don't shy away from the possibility of happiness!  Embrace it!  You fix people for a living, but you're still broken.  Leaving this marriage will just make that worse.  Look at your own family.  Your mom is always so proud of your accomplishments because her life is empty.

Don't talk about my mother.


Jess looked at him, the color in her face again, an emotion bearing down in her eyes. I'm talking about you.

Keaton's face relaxed in stages, releasing the clenched muscles in his forehead until another emotion entirely rose up into him.  He fell into her arms, sobbing.

When he pulled away, he signed, I'm afraid.

I'll be here with you.
Very, very rough.

Not sure I should even be submitting this. I just don't know. It had a very rough conception, and I'm not sure I pulled it off.

Bildungsroman for #Writers-Workshop

I want to add that I've never really written anything with such a long timeline before. The danger is, will it work as a story or does it resemble more of a character profile?

Additionally, sustaining conflict over that entire period was difficult. I'm not sure I succeeded in linking the conflict, either. I'm not even sure if the characters have motivations and are interesting! haha.
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:iconneurotype:
:w00t: You wrote it!

I find the idea of divorce as a motivation for character development interesting, not just because parents always insist it isn't that world-shattering but also because you've done a good job of having it creep into even the scenes where it shouldn't matter that much. My favorite was the Harvard acceptance scene, where he cares more about getting a letter from his father. (Is he going to be a pre-med, by the way? It might help tie things together more if he's sticking with the doctor thing--and also remind us of the earlier happenings.)

The one thing I did find weak was the ending. Overall the spare dialogue works well--this is a great example of pure showing over telling--but at the end they're suddenly experiencing unspecified (but acted out) emotions and the closing line is, well, very predictable. Perhaps she should just hug him more tightly: she's already said everything she needs to say.

The long timeline seems apropos to the genre--and why can't character development be the driving force of the plot? Literary fiction forever. :D

I think this is more successful than you realize: yes, it's not the traditional single conflict; however, it does what it should and expresses it beautifully (well, until that end bit). If you are looking for a place to improve then go for the voice: it's very consistent throughout, whereas going from kid to teen to adult would be even better. (For instance, Buzzlightyear as one word makes sense when he's little but not when he's older and should know it's a name rather than some exotic one-word beast of awesomeness.)


[thematic focus brought to you by workshop!]
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:iconthornyenglishrose:
I understand that you haven't had much time to go through this, and a lot of the technical stuff I'm about to pick out you probably would have picked up yourself, but I'll point it out now to save you the trouble.

Four year old, when an adjective as in this case, should have hyphens: 'Four-year-old Keaton'. But having said that, I'd rather you didn't tell us his age, but just gave us enough information to make a guess accurate within a year or two through the characterisation (the dialogue between Keaton and his mother does this perfectly well). Also, TV should be capital letters, I believe.

Referring to a parent with a name like Dad, Daddy etc., it should have a capital letter. When you're saying 'his dad' and such, which is what you do most of the time, lower case is indeed correct. Sticking with the subject of upper/lower case letters, I get that buzzlightyear is the child's way of thinking of the word, which makes sense and is effectively done; there's no need to acknowledge that it's a proper noun, as he wouldn't. But at one point you start it with an upper case letter - Buzzlightyear - so you need to be consistent with whether it's a B or a b.

You tell us his age again: he's fourteen. There isn't much in this paragraph to show us how old he is. I'd like to see some more clues in his behaviour, maybe with his attitude towards the child with the ice cream, thinking him a 'stupid kid' or something. You give us some good stuff towards the end; body language, his clothing and the way he plays with his hair. I'd like to see that earlier, or just a bit more, and scratch the number. A couple of technical things here too; 'Eighth street' should be 'Eighth Street', and 'last-years Christmas present' should be 'last year's' - apostrophe rather than hyphen.

In the next section, you give us a great idea of his age without telling us. Vodka, parties, sleeping in - and, of course, a Harvard letter. I agree with =oblivion00 that it works well, him wanting a letter from Dad (not dad!) and not being too bothered about Harvard. It harks back to the child we've already met, and makes us remember and believe that this is the same character. So, really good job there.

After that, there are a few things about the section that don't quite sit right. Is it his dream to go to Harvard, or his mother's? Either way, I'd like to see some mention of it in a previous section. Also, the mother tells us a little too much in the dialogue; she's talking about new employees and sending him for free just so the reader will know. I think you can get that information in more seamlessly.

Typo: '...and point Keaton' ought to be pointed. That's a nice section; short, to the point, and somehow I never expect to learn that a character is deaf (very prejudiced of me, I know!). A couple of issues with Jess's friend/interpreter's dialogue. I don't think she needs to say, 'That's why she didn't respond'; we get that, and so does Keaton. Then a bit of punctuation that needs fixing. It should read: "She said, 'Nice to meet you'."

On the buzzlightyear thing, which =oblivion00 has a comment about - I don't quite agree with her. Yes, he knows now that it's not all one word, but again it harks back to his childhood and that younger incarnation of his character. That's likely to happen when he's away from home and talking to his mother. So, I think it works. Nice touch with the book as well. It's understated, which I like. We get what's going on without getting bogged down into a lot of explanation.

Nice jump forward. The briefcase tells us what stage of his life he's at, and the crayon and skateboard and lunch tray have a similar effect earlier on. So, great use of objects and symbols. That's a really nice technique - I like it a lot. Anyway. I'm afraid I can't visualise 'an apron that was designed to look like a giant flower', and I don't quite see its significance either. If you had something in mind for that, I'd like you to clarify - but again, without getting bogged down into explanations (which you can totally do!).

Even though I kind of agree with =oblivion00's points about the ending, I do like that final section. She's right, though, about that last line, in my opinion. I'd like you to leave it at, 'I'm afraid'. It would give us some ambiguity - less hope than we have with the story as it is, but some hope all the same. The signing is effective, especially as we haven't seen any communication - except some one-sided displays of affection - in the section that shows their marriage. I'd almost forgotten that he'd been learning, but it came right back to me when they had the conversation. I'm not sure, though, that she would say all that - and it has nothing to do with it being sign language. I can't imagine anyone launching into a long analysis, getting into the specifics of why he's a good husband, in that situation. She could make the same points, but more succinctly. You're a good husband and a good man. But this is a coward's act. We could be happy. You fix people for a living, but you're still broken. Don't end up like your mom. Something like that.

Part of me wants to say I'm curious about whether Keaton ever had any more contact with his father, whether he and Jess had kids and whether he's planning to have any contact with them. But maybe it's better for me just to wonder. I'm very impressed by the way you raced through his entire life, using a minimal amount of words, but you got in everything you needed to. There is so much behind the little things - the money drawings, the signing book, the opera - and it all works very well. This is a long, full story in about 1,800 words, and that is very, very clever!
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:iconwyldhoney:
wyldhoney Featured By Owner Jun 21, 2010  Hobbyist Writer
You create a very good character here, sometimes I symphatized, other times I wanted to kick his ass, and sometimes he surprised me - I'd say you made him very life-like! The little, recurring things are a great addition to the story. The only thing I can nitpick about is the spelling of Buzz Lightyear. :)
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:iconmackwrites:
mackwrites Featured By Owner Jun 21, 2010
All righty thank you! :) and for the fave.
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:iconwyldhoney:
wyldhoney Featured By Owner Jun 21, 2010  Hobbyist Writer
You're welcome. :)
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:iconsadisticicecream:
SadisticIceCream Featured By Owner Jun 20, 2010   Writer
I loved the concept of this, because I know a lot of people who are so scared of opening themselves up to other people because of what their parents have been through.

I think the ending a little forced, though. I feel like there needs to be a little more there to flesh out the scenes and Jess's character. I wanted to know a little bit more about how Keaton really feels about her, because I think there's a shadow of it there, but not quite enough to be satisfying to the reader.

Otherwise I really enjoyed this. :D
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:iconmackwrites:
mackwrites Featured By Owner Jun 20, 2010
Yes, I think the ending was a bit forced too. I think I will make it a task tomorrow to edit this piece. Too often I deal with the ideas of responses I get from my stories in my mind, and not on paper.

Thank you :) and for the fave.
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:iconsadisticicecream:
SadisticIceCream Featured By Owner Jun 20, 2010   Writer
I do exactly the same thing. So I wish you much luck with editing. :D

You're very welcome. :)
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:iconmackwrites:
mackwrites Featured By Owner Jun 21, 2010
:)
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:icondigitails:
DigiTails Featured By Owner Jun 18, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
Actually, I liked it despite your hesitations.

It seems a little...flat. I know everything that motivates him, be rest assured of the fact that I know why he does everything. But...it seems a little devoid of his emotions, and I'm not too sure that that was intentional.

Or more that we know he's feeling emotional and can guess why, but we don't see so much inside his mind, his desires, his dreams.

Also, I would have liked to see him at the end after she helped him out, or he ran away and divorced her.

A few notes:

:bulletblack:He was fourteen and the skateboard was last-years Christmas present.
:pointr: last-year's

:bulletblack:The world was too bright when he woke up, stretching, sheets tightening around him.
:pointr: The structure left me a little confused. He woke up, he stretched, the sheets tightened around him. That's what you meant right?
:pointr: Another thing that bothered me about this scene is that his mother didn't try to investigate what he was doing, sleeping, or why there was vomit on the floor. It just seems like something a mother in her position would do.

Anyway, onto other things that I liked. Again you clearly show us his every motivation. I also liked that you left us without knowing his age with every scene but showed us through clues his age. Very clear at each point his general age, so kudos to you on that.
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:iconmackwrites:
mackwrites Featured By Owner Jun 18, 2010
"Or more that we know he's feeling emotional and can guess why, but we don't see so much inside his mind, his desires, his dreams."

:nod: I don't know if that's a bad thing, though. I'm still trying to figure out how to show thoughts and things on the inside in a graceful and "showing" manner, steering well away from "He felt sad." I've always wondered how to show thoughts in a way that made them accessible, but not outright told them.
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:icondigitails:
DigiTails Featured By Owner Jun 18, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
Mhm, that is tricky. There's a way to do it, and although I try I'm not so sure that I'm so good at it.

But I'm glad to see that you didn't do that at all, and we can tell how he's feeling by his reactions, but there isn't much of inside his head, just his bodily reactions.
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