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by Armadillo 

Posted: 11 September 2013
Word Count: 1676
Summary: Nothing complete at this stage! Just a snapshot into the life of a man who is struggling with his relationship and his feelings for his newly born son.

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When Freud saw his son come into this world his heart melted and ached and opened like a boiled mussel. A great sense of transition overcame him, as he shifted into the second half of his life. He had lived only for himself, oh and of course for Marianne, but she didn’t look up to him like Joseph would. Little Joseph was but a screaming mole rat. Freud felt dizzy, watching from above as a third person, seeing too, himself, the doctor - as if from God’s perspective. Turning to the door he shuffled out of the room in a flash, his vision still trailing behind, still as God’s vision, though descending slowly into himself. His legs wobbled as he sat down.

“Freud”, the doctor smiled and put his hand on Freud’s shoulder. “Congratulations”. He too must have been a father. His eyes searched Freud’s and there was an understanding in the doctor’s eyes that consoled Freud and so gave him the strength to return to his wife.

Marianne looked up at Freud with a beaming smile; a mother at last. They had been trying to get pregnant for many years. They were always furious at each other, not really blaming each other, but rather taking out on each other the frustrations of furious love. It was a passionate marriage, far from an old bickering couple. Would it deteriorate after Joseph was born? He knew stories of wives who had become obsessed with their newborn. Forgetting their husband, their love was concentrated solely on the baby. Life from now on was built around the baby. Five years of nappies and bed-time stories. His was a dubious feeling. Was it excitement or fear?

When Marianne was settled back at home things developed as so. His wife no longer was interested in him. Freud would hear her call ‘Freud?’ and he would hope to God that it was one of her strange questions he had liked so much. Ah who was he kidding? ‘Will you put the milk in the microwave, Joseph needs feeding’. Of course he wouldn’t complain. He wouldn’t dare. He would not even let on when she would ask ‘are you sure you’re okay?’ Once she had asked him this and he was almost going to confess all his troubles when she interrupted ‘Shit, he’s crying!’ dashing for his crib. And so it went like this, the weeks multiplying into months, tumbling over and approaching one year, and Freud grew sullen and quiet. Freud grew deeply depressed.

‘Freud Christmas is approaching and my parents are coming for lunch. I only beg you to put on a smile. At least look as if you’re enjoying yourself. Anyone would think you had post-natal depression’ and she burst into a laughter that absolutely disgusted Freud. He continued to go about the house, carrying out jobs for Marianne. Since the baby came along his boss had told him to work from home. ‘Help the wife, I know how it is’ he had said, as he rearranged Freud’s dear office, putting things in boxes.

Sometimes Freud wished Joseph had not come into this world. He looked down at him one night when he was changing his nappy. ‘You little brute you’ve taken her from me’ he whispered. He felt awful for saying it. He wasn’t a religious man, but he needed to confess, he needed to let it out, but to whom? All Marianne did was laugh at him. A mother makes for a nasty wife. Maybe she would go back to her usual self. Maybe they would go back to their usual selves, when Joseph was older, surely?

Freud went to the bathroom one morning and stared at his reflection in the mirror. How had Marianne not noticed his suffering? Freud was balding, and his eyes were red and yellow. There were permanent bruises for bags under his eyes. He thought back to when he was eighteen. He had broken up with a girl. She was not just any girl. His heart had throbbed like hot coals. He had realised he wanted her more than anything when he couldn’t have her. Such a terrible trick for nature to play in relationships, taking the other for granted. It was this carelessness in taking things for granted that made him lose her. After those years of his life he was sure there would never again be anything quite of that sort, that groping sadness. This feeling inside him truly exceeded it. The doorbell rang and he wished it were his own parents and not hers. Tucking in his shirt and heeding her call, he opened the door.

“Freud dear”. Marianne’s mother flung her arms about his neck, kissing him with lipstick still wet.

“Bill” he said to her father, shaking his hand.

“Where are your lovely paintings?” she asked. “What about the Picasso we gave you? I’ll have you know it could be an original” They spilled into the living room where the sun lit the room so thoroughly that in summer Marianne would shift the paintings from its dulling ability to fade all things.

“Marianne shifts things all the time. She claims the sun will damage them.”

“Nonsense” said Bill shaking his head seriously, and bowing to conceal his trembling jowls. “In fact the paint is really quite resilient to the heat.” He launched into a description of the fine chemicals that were added to the pot, helping to create the resilience of the paint, explaining to Freud, without noticing his disinterest, that the paint was of a certain material. Freud allowed this time to observe the garden out the window, noting how messy it had grown. Marianne’s mother had seen his distraction and spun around to where he was looking.

“Oh! The lawn’s a mess. You should be out there Freud. Now that you work from home you have time to do these things,” and she raised her eyebrows to receive his reply.

“I may work from home but I still work as hard.”

Her eyes turned to marbles. She spun towards the doorway where Marianne stood with the baby. “Ooh here he is.” Freud was relieved to see that it brought joy to his mother-in-law. Marianne’s father stood back, smiling but keeping his distance.

“Do you wanna hold him Dad?”

“Oh no, really it’s fine. I am happy to watch.”

“Come on Bill you used to be quite able and willing with Marianne when she was little” said Judy.

“Oh but really it’s fine.” Judy was already passing the baby onto Bill as he stumbled on his words, full of overly polite and gentle protestations. Becoming panicky that Judy would let go, he embraced it awkwardly. Freud saw a look in his eyes. The man was remembering his days he fathered a baby. His shoulders lowered from his ears and the corners of his taut mouth eased closer together almost to the shape of a kiss. And then his mouth expanded into a full smile as if a distant memory passed over him.

“See! He’s loving it” said Judy. Marianne was prattling on to her mother as she always did. Freud’s anguish was almost gone when he saw Bill with the baby. He wanted to hold the baby, but he daren’t disturb Bill’s reverie. The spell was broken by a knock at the door.

“Ah Freud will you get it?” said Marianne.

“Where’s Dad?” he asked his mother upon opening the door. She was struggling to form her words. “Ah Freud” she said, smiling sadly, “he’s left me.”


“Yes. He had had enough. We were fighting a lot these past few months. I didn’t want to tell you.”

The noise in the other room fell silent. She wiped her eyes and let out a deep-winded sigh.

“We’ll talk about it later. I saw it coming you know” she whispered. “And where is my little grandson?” She went into the lounge to greet the others. There was a change in the face of Bill, a fresh vitality in his eyes.

“Lovely to see you Sheryl” said Judy.

“Yes, how have you been Judy? And Bill?”

“Marvellous” Bill boomed.

“And here is the little one” she said, tiptoeing towards the baby. He lay cradled in Bill’s arms. They all leaned in to look.

Freud kept staring at his son. With an overpowering urge he took him from Bill’s arms. “Oh deary me look what you’ve done” said Marianne, as Joseph started to cry. He was determined to reach that calm that Bill had with the baby. He walked around the dining table and into the bedroom. He sat on the bed and jiggled Joseph. The baby had reduced to snuffling. Freud watched Marianne through the bedroom doorway. Her cheeks were enflamed with patches of red. Her eyes were trembling with a new spirit that he hadn’t seen in her before she was a mother. Bill rubbed his wife’s back. Freud’s poor mother made an effort to appear interested and curious at the conversation that passed around the group, nodding eagerly with forced laughter. Bill exchanged words with Marianne and they went away to the kitchen. Judy and his mother were left to make small chat. He saw his mother’s face clouded in a melancholy air. She still wore her wedding ring, but something told him it was nothing but a scrap of hope. She wasn’t likely to fight for her husband’s return. Hers was a nature that stirred in people a pity that is felt upon seeing a fat person eating, expressionless and unhappy.

The baby lay in his arms glancing curiously around the room. He smiled. For the first time Freud felt something for the boy clam up inside him. He suddenly saw his mother’s eyes in the baby, and the line going down his nose was like Marianne’s. A duty was instilled in him. To Freud he was no longer the baby, he was no longer an ‘it’. Freud’s anguish, though it was deep and long, changed utterly to a different pain. ‘Joseph, my son’ he said.

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Comments by other Members

Armadillo at 08:41 on 11 September 2013  Report this post
Thanks to Euclid for leaving a comment - I'm sorry I had removed the story and made some small amendments, i should have used the owner edit, now Euclid's comment has gone. Woops, points taken, thank you

apcharman at 11:29 on 11 September 2013  Report this post
Hi Tom,
I read this with interest because, firstly it is quite a theme to take on, and secondly because there are lots of interesting sparks of very creative thinking.

Breaking things down for full analysis into Story, Characters, Style, Pace and Syntax

A very short summary of the story would be something like this:
A man falls into a crisis following the birth of his son, feeling neglected by his wife. His parents-in-law visit for Christmas and his father in law seems comfortable with his son. His mother visits and he learns that his father has left her. Following this he feels more comfortable with his son and his lot in life.
‘Freud’ is a weak-willed and self-pitying man who seems to want his problems sorted out for him. He waits for his wife to rekindle his marriage and resents his sons for introducing change. He is moral and questions himself but is passive throughout the story and regains contentment as a result of events around him.
Marianne, Freud’s wife is very thinly characterised, shown only as someone who asks for his help constantly. His parents and parents in law are also thinly characterised with reference to paintings showing their vanity.
The story does not fall into a genre. It is narrated third-person past tense at some distance from the main character, although it also reveals his thoughts. A lot of emotional events are related as statements, such as “Freud felt lonely”.
The story covers time in a very constant pace without pause but without real urgency either. There is little variation in pace, although time is covered inconsistently with a few months in the first part of the story and then a single day in the last part.
The story uses phrases and terms in original ways “His heart... opened like a boiled muscle” and sometime clichéd expressions are inverted such as feeling “something for the boy clam up inside him…” There are also some interest observations like “Seeing a fat person eating, expressionless and unhappy.”
There is a level evenness to the writing that points towards the aim of very subtle observation. And I think there are some interesting subtleties (the fat person eating being a prime example). However, For my money the subtle nuances are obliterated by over-simplistic narration. “Freud naturally felt excited, Freud naturally felt scared” is just too blunt for my liking. And I think there are a number of occasions when the MCs feelings are stated much to simply. ‘Show don’t tell’ is the key adage here.
The other direction I think this needs is some variation of pace. Everything is told with a sort of standardised pace so that nothing has prominence and nothing becomes background. Variation of pace will bring voice into it and introduce some more life into a story that can offer some gentle understated observations on life.
Hope those are helpful comments.

butterfly2000 at 20:09 on 11 September 2013  Report this post
Hi Armadillo!

I’m by no means very practiced at giving feedback, so I hope my comments come across as they are intended! So here we go…

‘Freud had left his body’ - I felt this superfluous after the preceding ‘Watching from above’ - it felt to much like you didn’t trust the reader to have understood this experience and they will ;0)

‘He needed to sit down’ - how could you show this instead? ‘His eyes closed for a few seconds, his legs almost giving way beneath him’ or something along those lines perhaps? Again, it seemed a little too much like telling instead of showing.

‘They had been trying to get pregnant’… maybe this might be better as ‘They had been trying for a baby…’?

‘Freud felt naturally excited. Freud felt naturally scared’ - this jarred too much when I read it. It doesn’t seem to fit. I might have expressed it more like ‘Freud questioned his anxiety. Was it excitement? Was it fear?’ Maybe those two sentences would work really well in another style or genre of writing, but I didn’t think this was their natural home!

‘Freud dear?’ This seemed at odds with the ‘passionate’ Marianne, of not that long ago (I‘m assuming) - and maybe a bit dated and unlikely. Why am I thinking that? Are the characters older than I am thinking they are? Is it set in a different era? Or perhaps he GIVES her this voice in his head? because that’s how he now feels he’s being treated?

The event with Freud’s mother - I would like to see more made of this. It is a major event when long-time marriages break down, but it feels almost a nothing event in this scene. It’s not clear why this is in the story...

I love this in the opening paragraph ‘his heart melted and ached and opened like a boiled mussel’ - it spoke to the poet in me and I was in the feeling ;0)

And equally, I like the part where Bill is, at first, cajoled into holding the baby. That comes across nicely for me, especially this part…
‘His shoulders lowered from his ears and the corners of his taut mouth eased closer together almost to the shape of a kiss. And then his mouth expanded into a full smile as if a distant memory passed over him.’

I hope you find my comments constructive, and thanks for the opportunity to read and comment ;0)

Armadillo at 22:30 on 11 September 2013  Report this post
Thanks Apcharman and Butterfly, these are helpful comments and I agree with most of them.

In 'showing' something, it essentially telling something else which shows it, right? When I am showing things often it reads in 'telling' language - like in the decsription of the father in law taking the baby.


Becca at 08:51 on 12 September 2013  Report this post
Hi Tom,
I think that your one big writing job is to get very involved with the editing process. Getting good at editing your work won't detract from its style, it will only enhance it. Here is a really simple trick, that always applied, would elevate your writing noticeably ... don't allow yourself to use the same word within a good few sentences of the last time you used it. If you make this a standard procedure, it'll cause you to really start thinking about the juxtaposition of one word to another in a sentence. Examples of what I'm talking about are 3X 'each other,'and 2X 'furious' close together. In para four the word 'would' crops up repeatedly.
In general lack of serious editing is the big issue, Tom. So for example, I feel you could've put across the idea of mother's losing interest in husbands on the birth of babies in just one sentence... something like:- After a couple of months at home with the baby, it struck Freud that, as he'd feared while he'd gazed at her in hospital, Marianne had begun to lose interest in him.

I agree that you have a poetic sensibility that's really strong, and while I think you should always hang onto that part of your writing identity, you might think about cliches and make sure you ban them completely. A cliche being any phrase you've heard people use before such as 'beaming smile.' And around that same idea 'her eyes turned to marbles' was so comical that it didn't work for me at all. I think you could give her some other action that shows how she feels much better than the marble idea, make her turn away, make her touch her cheek, mess with her handbag, if she's got one... something like that? That would let the reader know she's uncomfortable, and that would be an example of what Andy means about 'showing' not 'telling.'
[I enjoy your stories because I sense something unique about the way you see the world, you've just got to get practiced at it. Do you ever read Tim Winton? He wrote a novel about surfing that's fantastic]


Armadillo at 21:31 on 12 September 2013  Report this post
Thanks Becca, points taken. Still learning how to edit - proves sometimes to be difficult.

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