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The Darker Half

by Chestersmummy 

Posted: 24 November 2018
Word Count: 2940
Summary: This is another chapter in my dysfunctional twins saga. In this excerpt Anna first discovers her father's illness. This is very much a first draft and I would like to know if it flows, if it is interesting and if it makes sense. Thanks for your help


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“Mum, are you sure Dad’s alright?”  Anna wiped away the condensation clouding her view and peered out of the kitchen window.
            “Mind what yer doing.  Now there’s soap all down the winder.”  Her mother had tutted and swiped at the window with her dishrag.  As she raised her arm, Anna saw the circular patch of sweat staining her jumper and noticed the tired lines criss-crossing her mother’s face.  She felt a twinge of sympathy. When had her mother started to look so old?  And why hadn’t she noticed it before?  She knew why but pushed the thought away, as she pushed away all other thoughts of Alec. Gently, she took hold of her mother’s shoulders and steered her away from the sink.
            “Mum.  Why don’t you go and sit down.  I’ll finish the washing up and bring you a cup of tea in a minute.”
            Her mother grunted but didn’t argue and Anna poured away the old water, slimy with grease, and watched as fresh water steamed into the bowl. That done, she looked out of the window again.  Her father was still sitting on the garden bench but now his face was clenched with pain.  He doubled over, arms laced around his middle and she knew that if she had been outside, she would have heard him groan.  Quickly she turned off the tap and ran outside.
            “Dad, are you OK?”  Her father raised his head and the greyness of his skin frightened her.
            “Sure love, I’m fine.  Just a bit of indigestion.  It’ll be gone in a minute.”.
He didn’t look fine.  Anything but and she felt a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach as she sat down beside him, both watching in silence as the rays of the failing sun set fire to the treetops.  Despite her nagging worry, Anna gradually felt a feeling of peace stealing over her; they hadn’t been alone together like this for a long time.  Her hand crept towards his and she squeezed. As she did, the years melted away and she felt as close to him as she had as a child. She leaned her head against his shoulder and closed her lids, not wanting to reveal the film of tears in her eyes. She didn’t visit enough, and guilt suffocated her.  Her father had hated it when she’d left but she’d gone anyway. She’d had to. The drip, drip, drip of Alec’s poisonous behaviour had worn her down until she couldn’t stand the atmosphere any longer. Even now she had to force herself through the front door, not knowing whether she could bear the sight of his face.
            Suddenly, a blackbird swooped low over the lawn, it was gone in an instant leaving only the echo of its alarm call, but it was enough to bring her back.  She shivered, realising the sky had swallowed the sun and the warmth had gone out of the air.  Gently, she let go of her father’s hand. “Come on, Dad.  Let’s go in.  It’s getting cold.”  Bugger Alec, she thought.  From now on I’ll visit Dad every week.
She took his arm and they walked slowly towards the house.  He was thin, she realised, birdlike and stooped as well.  Almost like a stork.
“Are you eating alright, Dad?”
He smiled.  “Haven’t got much of an appetite, love.  Price of getting old, I suppose.”
But was as it just old age?  She had asked herself.
Anna ached to have a word alone with her mother but instead was forced to sit in the lounge and listen to her mother talk whilst her father silently sipped his tea. Very soon, her mother’s monologue veered towards its favourite subject, as Anna knew it would.  It appeared that since she’d had left home, Alec had morphed into the perfect son. 
“Got himself a good job, pays well and e’s smartened himself up no end.  Looks proper handsome. You wouldn’t recognise him.”  She shot a look at Anna.  A look mixed with bitterness and triumph. “Yeah. I always knew he’d turn out good. Since you’ve been gone, ‘e’s come out of his shell.”
Anna couldn’t help herself.  Although she’d vowed not to talk about Alec ever again, curiosity got the better of her.  She looked over at her father and saw a shred of vitality in his eyes.  He winked at her and his lips curled into a slight one-sided smile.  A feeling of warmth floated through her. She hadn’t been mistaken, it was like the old times. She and her dad humouring the delusions of her mum.
“So what does he do then? What is this wonderful job he’s got?”
Her mother bristled. “There’s no need for that sarky tone, my girl. ‘E’s doing well and ‘e hasn’t needed a lot of fancy certificates to prove it. That’s all I need to know.”  Putting down her cup, she hoisted herself up, looking meaningfully at the clock.
“Sorry mum.  I didn’t mean to be sarcastic. If Alec is doing well, I’m pleased for him.”  It was a lie, but a white one. She needed to keep the peace to help her dad. Anyway, she’d got her answer, her mum hadn’t a clue what Alec did, only that he brought in money.  
She saw her father was struggling to rise as well.
“Right, now I just need to be a gentleman,” he said. “Please don’t leave before I get back.”  She watched as he threaded himself through the furniture in the direction of the toilet.  As soon as he’d disappeared, she seized her chance.
“Mum, do you realise how frail dad is? Has he seen a doctor?”
“Doctor!  Don’t make me laugh girl.  You know your dad. At least you should.  ‘E don’t believe in doctors. Not been near one since I was misdiagnosed.”
“Well, I think he should. Can’t you persuade him? You must see how ill he looks.”
“E won’t listen to me. Never has done since the day we were married. You were the only one he’d pay attention to. Why don’t you talk to ‘im?”
After she said goodbye, Anna thought about what her mother had said.  She was right, Dad could be very stubborn.  All the same, something needed to be done. Next week, when she went home again, she must try to make him see sense. It was only a week, she consoled herself, a week wouldn’t make much difference.
            The journey home, by train and tube, didn’t take all that long but it was complicated - she’d deliberately designed it that way to put Alec off the scent. But even when it was dark, she usually enjoyed the walk to the station, along the winding lane bordered by shadowy and secret hedgerows deep inside which she’d listen for the furtive rustle of night creatures. As she walked, she enjoyed the sound of her own feet, knowing full well that at least for the next week, they’d be muffled by thousands of others pounding the same grey city streets and, on clear nights, she’d watch the flickering tapestry of stars, stretched across the sky.  But, tonight, she was enjoying nothing because, although he was physically miles away, Alec was stalking her. She couldn’t stop thinking about what her mother had said. That Alec had bloomed since she’d left. Surely that couldn’t be right?  She shrugged off the thought; most of her childhood had been tormented by feelings of guilt but she’d grown out of that now. Long ago, she’d realised that she’d done nothing wrong. But it was Alec’s mysterious job that was really bugging her. If her mother was right, he was earning a lot of money. But doing what? He wasn’t particularly bright, and she knew full well that he’d left school without any qualifications. The only explanation she could think of was that he was doing something outside the law and if he were to be caught it would be a disaster for her mum and dad.
            By now she’d reached the station and robot-like paid for her ticket, barely speaking to the ticket officer whom she’d known for years. When the train finally wheezed into the station, Anna boarded automatically, taking her seat without the briefest glance at the other passengers. Once inside her head, Alec was difficult to dislodge and station after station sped by unnoticed as the train rattled towards Euston. It seemed to her, as always, that her brother was the source of all her woes. She couldn’t get used to living in London and if it wasn’t for him, she’d have got a job nearer home, maybe Hemel Hempstead or even Watford. Maybe she would have been able to find a little terraced house in one of the various new estates being thrown up locally, instead of having to settle on a dingy flat in Camden. But after that last episode, she couldn’t wait to get away. Not only had Alec had managed to ruin her home life but he had ruined a friendship she’d thought would last forever.
 
Try as she might, Anna remembered little of her early years except for a few dim memories that materialised now and then, wavy and indistinct as if glimpsed through the bottom of a thick glass bottle. Other than these, her life seemed to begin at the time she met Greta when they had all been six years old.
“What is that noise?” Her mother was upset, Anna had  realised. Her face was as red as a fire engine, there was a smudge of something black on her nose and strands of hair had escaped from her chignon and were floating in the air.  It was the boxes Anna thought, they must be getting on her mother’s nerves and that didn’t surprise her. The big, brown cartons seemed to have taken over, they were everywhere, piled up in corners, littering the floor and blocking doorways. Her mother was standing in the centre of the room, in one of the few clear spaces, her hands bunched into fists, her eyes rolling in a helpless sort of panic. Every now and then she’d turn towards one box, then change her mind half-way and wheel-round to another. As if from far away came the faint sound of hammering.
            “Daddy’s putting up shelves.”
            “No, not that noise. That squeak.” Anna listened again and heard a faint and scratchy sound as if someone’s fingernails were clawing down slate, rhythmically, over and over again.
            “Don’t know,” she said at last, but her mother had lost interest.
            “Where’s your brother? I thought you was looking after ‘im?”
            Anna shrugged her shoulders. “I was, but he ran off.”
            “Well, for Chrissake go and find him. Quick, this minute. The last thing I need is for ‘im to get lost.”
            Anna turned and squeezed through the door. She noticed that the removal van had gone now. She’d thought it exciting when it first arrived, panting and growling up the hill, like a ginormous dinosaur, but had changed her mind when it started eating all their furniture. She’d felt a bit frightened then, wondering where they were going and what their new house would be like. To try and calm herself, she’d wandered around re-visiting all her favourite places for the last time but that had only made her feel sad. She didn’t feel any better now; she hadn’t taken to their new house. It was much smaller and shabbier, and as she went through the front door, she noticed the grubby blue paint was faded and chipping off in places, so you could see the bare wood. Her daddy was going to have a lot of work to do, she decided.
            She looked around the garden and down the path that cut through the long grass that was supposed to be a lawn, and towards the gate. To her relief it was closed, so she guessed Alec hadn’t left the garden. She still couldn’t see him but she could still hear that squeak, it was louder now so perhaps it was Alec, up to some mischief or other.
            “Alec,” she called.
            “He’s up there.”
            Anna almost jumped out of her shoes. The voice was coming from next door’s garden and as her head swivelled, she saw a girl of about her own age, sitting on a rusty swing, her legs pumping as she propelled herself backwards and forwards. She had curly blonde hair tied back with a pink ribbon that matched the colour of her dress and her eyes were very blue. As Anna stared, the girl let go one arm from the swing and pointed upwards. Following the line of her finger, Anna gasped as she saw Alec half-way up a crooked old apple tree, his body wedged in a cleft of the twisted trunk and a branch. She ran to the foot of the tree and stared upwards.  Alec stared back at her.  His muddy brown eyes looked huge and his face was paper-white. He looked, Anna decided, like a very bad-tempered owl.
            “Alec!” She yelled. “How did you get up there? You come down this very instant before mummy sees you.”
            Won’t.” Alec yelled back. “Won’t, won’t, won’t…”
            “He means can’t.” For the second time that day, the girl next door made her jump. Without Anna noticing, she had hopped over the sagging wire fence and was now standing by her side.
            “He’s stuck.” She explained. For a few second there was silence as they both thought about it. Anna’s stomach was churning. If they had to call the fire brigade, she was in so much trouble. After all, she was supposed to be looking after him.
            “He your brother?” the girl said. Anna nodded.
            “I got brothers too. They’re a pain, aren’t they?” Just at that very moment there was a commotion next door as two whooping and yelling boys barrelled out of the house and charged down the path.
            “See what I mean? They’re going to the park to play football. Sometimes, they play at home, but they always make me be in goal and aim right for me, ‘though they say they don’t.  Look.”
She pulled up her skirt and Anna saw a big bruise flowering just above her knee. It was swollen and looked as purple as the wicked queen’s cloak in the Sleeping Beauty panto she’d seen last Christmas.
“Wow. I bet that hurt.”
“Yeah. I told Mum and she yelled at them but it never seems to make any difference.” She looked back at the apple tree.  “Tell you what, I’ve got an idea. I’ll climb up and try and get him down. You stand at the bottom and catch him if he falls.”
            Anna’s eyes widened but before she could say anything the girl was swarming up the tree like a monkey, her Plimsolled feet skilfully finding footholds in its gnarled trunk. Hoisting herself up onto the same branch as Alec, she edged her way towards him and there was a long, muttered conversation which Anna couldn’t hear, although she was straining her ears as hard as she could. Eventually, to her great surprise and relief, they both started to move, Alec wriggling along the branch while the girl helped him, pointing downwards at the footholds that she had used. Slowly, they both clambered down. Alec clutching at the trunk for dear life as his good leg searched for crevices and his calipered one swung uselessly. Anna gaped at his clumsy descent, amazed that he had managed to climb that far in the first place. His arms, she realised, must be very strong. At last he was on the ground and she stood watching as he clutched at the tree for support. His chest was working like an accordion and she could hear it whistling as he fought to catch his breath. Leaves and twigs decorated his hair, his face and hands were filthy and there was a bright red graze running down his good leg. Usually, he was so fussy about his appearance that he’d fly into a hysterical rage if there was so much as a smudge of dirt on his face or clothes but now he looked like a dirtier version of Dennis the Menace in the The Beano comic that her Dad bought for them. Anna felt the beginnings of a giggle at the back of her throat and clamped her lips together as tightly as she could.  At last, Alec managed to straighten up and turned to glare at her.
            “What are you staring at?”  he wheezed, and not waiting for a reply. shoved past her and rocked his unsteady way back towards the house.
            “Aren’t you going to say thank you? And why did you go up there anyway?”  She shouted after him but if he heard, he didn’t reply.
            “Typical,” the girl said. She looked at Anna and grinned. Anna grinned back and then their grins widened until they both exploded with laughter. tears of helpless merriment streaming down their faces.  At last, the girl wiped her eyes and, her voice hiccupping, said “my name’s Greta, by the way. What’s yours?”
Anna remembered that day as clearly as if it was yesterday because it started a friendship that lasted for years. She and Greta sat next to each other at primary school, both went to the local grammar school and would have been friends even now, she was sure of it, if it hadn’t been for Alec. But she wasn’t even going to think about that. That was dead and gone and only came back to her in nightmares and anyway, it was too late now.
           
           
 
 
 
           
           
           
           
 
           
 
           
 
 






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Comments by other Members



Catkin at 20:23 on 24 November 2018  Report this post
Thanks so much for posting a new chapter, Janet.

I look forward to reading it very soon.

I think it would be helpful if you gave chapter numbers. Without them, it isn't obvious that there is a new chapter. You could miss out on a few critiques.

Carlyagain at 09:13 on 26 November 2018  Report this post
Hi Janet

I really enjoyed this chapter. It was well written, pacy and interesting.

Not relevant to your wip when you send it out, but usually I struggle when there isn't spacing between the paragraphs, due to the length of the page in WriteWords (contracts are always bunched together in small long sentences) but you have a good amount of white space with the quotes.

I have a few nitpicks, but that is all.

But was as it just old age?  She had asked herself. - I would take out the 'had' as you haven't used this earlier, so it feels as if we are going back in time when we're not.

I understand why you are losing the 'h' but it looks unsightly on the page with 'e's, whereas it works for 'im. I don't know what you'd do about this though. I have noticed that you haven't got the first apostrophe in all the 'e's:

e’s smartened
gone, ‘e’s come


In the following, you have three 'was'. I would lose the first 'telling' sentence and then show her dabbing her eyes in the second, as it's a great piece of show.

Her mother was upset, Anna had  realised. Her face was as red as a fire engine, there was a smudge of something black on her nose and strands of hair had escaped from her chignon and were floating in the air. 


her Plimsolled feet - lower case 'p' would work better.

and, her voice hiccupping, said - take out 'her voice' as it works without this.

Otherwise I really enjoyed this chapter. It was intriguing and definitely makes the reader want to find out more.

Carly
 

Carlyagain at 09:14 on 26 November 2018  Report this post
Doh! This should say, 'with the speech' and shorter paragraphs.

with the quotes.



George1947 at 11:07 on 26 November 2018  Report this post
Hello Janet,
Have no fear, your pice is interesting and oes all things you hope for. The following observations should serve only to underline how good, is, the piece as a whole. Well done

Anna wiped away the condensation clouding her view 

I like this very much. Her first intimations of her father;s sickness is through a fog

Suddenly, a blackbird swooped low over the lawn, it was gone in an instant leaving only the echo of its alarm call,Anna wiped away the condensation clouding her view

This is a personal observation, not a literary one. A blackbirds call is not alarming, a magpie's is.

Almost like a stork.

Is this stork-like behaviour (Is that how it is spelled?)

floated through her.

Again a personal thing: flowed through her.

After she said goodbye

I can't remember why I marked this

complicated - she’d deliberately designed it that way to put Alec off the scent. But even when it was dark, she usually enjoyed the walk to the station, along the winding lane bordered by shadowy and secret hedgerows deep inside which she’d listen for the furtive rustle of night creatures.

I don't understand why this is in. Maybe it reffers to something earlier?

the train finally wheezed into the station

Such a strong word for an inconsequential train.

the bottom of a thick glass bottle

I think this is a bit clunky

as red as a fire engine,

Someone help me here. If I use a simile like this, I think it should say something about the person (inthis case Mum). as red as her pinny, as red as her roses. Stuff like that. Or is this just me?

The transition to a time twenty years earlier, is not clear. (Maybe it's just the word processor.)

twisted trunk

Do apple trees have twisted trunks?

like a very bad-tempered owl.

Lovely, but personally I'd drop 'very'.

was yesterday

were yesterday?

George



 

Chestersmummy at 11:53 on 27 November 2018  Report this post
Hi Carlyagain

Many thanks for taking the time to read this. Your comments were very helpful and I will certainly act on them. The only one I wasn't sure of was whether or not there should be a capital P in 'plimsolled' as I thought it was a trade name. Will have to think about that one.
Best wishes

Janet

Chestersmummy at 12:16 on 27 November 2018  Report this post
Hi George

Thanks for reading this and I am glad that you enjoyed it. Your comments certainly made me think and I will try to answer them.
(1)  Blackbird alarm call - I didn't mean to infer that the actual call was 'alarming' but blackbirds do have an 'alarm' call - (especially if there are magpies around!). I was just searching for something natural to break the peace of the moment.
(2)  The walk to the station was meant to show how much she missed the sights and sounds of the countryside now that she was living in London.
(3)  The wheezing train: this scene was meant to be written in the days of steam trains - which were monsters - so I was trying to evoke the sound of such a thing as it slowed down. (probably not very well).
(4) 'as red as a fire engine' - I agree that this is too much of a cliche and will try to think of something else, also will try to sort out the 'thick glass bottle' to try and make it sound less clunky.
(5) It probably depends on the variety of Apple Tree but the ones I have in mind certainly do have twisted trunks.

Best wishes

 

Carlyagain at 18:53 on 27 November 2018  Report this post
Hi Janet

capital P in 'plimsolled' 


I think it is like hoovered, where a trade name has been incorporated into our everyday language so no capital required. But you need to do what you feel comfortable with.

Carly x

salli13 at 08:28 on 29 November 2018  Report this post
I enjoyed reading this so much that I did not find anything wrong with it.  Will have to read it again with a more critrical eye.
Salli

Catkin at 03:08 on 30 November 2018  Report this post
Yes, it’s interesting. Chapters of this novel are always interesting.

Yes, it flows, and yes, it makes sense.

Anna’s poor father! I hope she gets him to the doctor’s soon. (And it’s good that I think that, because it shows you have done a very good job of making me care.)

This must be an earlier chapter than the one about meeting Lucy, that you posted last time, Janet. I enjoyed reading this chapter, but I was also a touch disappointed not to be able to read more about Lucy. May I ask why are you posting the chapters out of order?

I didn’t find much to pick at, at all, but here is what I did find:
 

Dad’s alright?

- I think I ought to write The Catkin List of Frequent Nitpicks, because ‘alright’ is one of them. Doubtless, ‘alright’ will eventually take over, as it’s everywhere, but in my book it doesn’t exist as a word. I still believe that what you need is ‘all right’. (On the subject of Catkin’s list, I’m so glad you write ‘OK’. We’ll have none of that ‘okay’ nonsense around here!)
 

            “Mind what yer doing.  Now there’s soap all down the winder.”  Her mother had tutted and swiped at the window with her dishrag.

- because you say ‘her mother had tutted’, that gives the impression that what she tutted was ‘Mind what yer doing’ etc. Is that what you intended? Because if it was, you need: “Mind what yer doing.  Now there’s soap all down the winder,” her mother had tutted, and then she’d swiped at the window with her dishrag.” - I’ve put a ‘then’ in there just because I think it sounds better, and I’ve added ‘she’d’ because you need it. Without it, the grammatical sense is that her mother tuts at the window, as well as swiping at it.
If what you meant was that her mother speaks the words, and then after she has spoken, she tuts and wipes, then you have caused confusion, because it reads as though the words are what was tutted.
 

she felt a sick feeling/felt a feeling of peace

- two felt a feelings close together, but also, to say she felt a feeling is tautology. Perhaps ‘there was a feeling’ or ‘she had a feeling’?
 

the rays of the failing sun set fire to the treetops

- I’m not sure about this. You could read it literally, as sun sometimes does set fire to trees. It’s obvious that you don’t mean it literally, but because that sometimes happens, it seems a little off to me. It’s as if it’s not enough of a metaphor because it’s too close to a possible reality. I think you should use a ‘looked as if’ phrase.

She leaned her head against his shoulder and closed her lids, not wanting to reveal the film of tears in her eyes

- that ‘lids’ reads as if you were trying to avoid using the word ‘eyes’ twice, because it would be so much more natural to say ‘closed her eyes’.

Suddenly, a blackbird swooped low over the lawn

- how does she know this, with her eyes closed?

On the question of Es, e does look rather odd on its own. I’ve sometimes seen it written with two es, which looks better. Or the other thing you can do is put it in a couple of times so the reader gets the idea, and just write it normally the rest of the time. And such a tiny point, but all your apostrophes to show missing letters are the wrong way around.

although he was physically miles away, Alec was stalking her

- do you mean that he is in her thoughts in an intrusive way, or that he is actually stalking her? It sounds as if he has been actually stalking her in the past. If he is still stalking her, what is he doing? Perhaps you come to that in another chapter?
 

really bugging her

- was that phrase used in the age of steam travel?
 

her life seemed to begin at the time she met Greta when they had all been six years old.
“What is that noise?” Her mother was upset, Anna had  realised.

- here, the transition into the past is too abrupt. I think you need a scene-setting sentence before the dialogue.

   

“He your brother?” the girl said. Anna nodded.
            “I got brothers too.

- He’s and I’ve?
 

 Anna remembered that day as clearly as if it was yesterday because it started a friendship that lasted for years.

- but in the Lucy chapter, you say of Anna that “she’d never really had a close friend”.


I hope that is of some help. It’s a fascinating and powerful story, with great characters, and I look forward to reading more.
 


Catkin at 03:12 on 30 November 2018  Report this post
... no, it isn't an earlier chapter, is it? It's just that you have skipped on, and not posted several chapters.

Chestersmummy at 17:55 on 30 November 2018  Report this post
Hi Catkin
Many thanks for your post which was incredibly helpful, as always. I will try and answer the points you raise.

(1) I'm not posting the chapters out of order, it's just that my story jumps about a bit from early past, late past and present! Maybe that doesn't work and if it ever gets finished, maybe I will have to change it.

(2) Will certainly change the 'alright, 'tutted' and 'e's'. (I can only find one apostrophe on my keyboard!)

(3) I agree that 'setting fire to the treetops' is a bit of a cliche - will try and think of something else. Will also try to do something about the blackbird swooping.

(4) The family have moved to a rather down-market area and consequently the young Greta is not very grammatical - which is why I have used 'I' instead of 'I've' etc.

(5) On the question of the stalking it is yes and no. In this chapter Anna feels as though Alec is stalking her in her mind but, as it happens and this comes out later, he has been physically stalking her as well.

(6) Agree that 'really bugging' is not right. In fact it didn't sound right when I was typing it which is really very sloppy of me.

(7) I will soften the abrupt transition into the past that you pointed out and will also go back to the Lucy chapter, find out exactly what I did say and alter it.

Again, many thanks for your help and I am very happy about your positive comments.


 

Catkin at 23:44 on 30 November 2018  Report this post
You're welcome, Janet.

I wondered if it was that Greta was ungrammatical.

(I can only find one apostrophe on my keyboard!)


There is only one. With smart quotes, if you type an apostrophe before a word, it will point towards the right, but to show a missing letter from the beginning of a word, you need it to be pointing to the left. The only way I've found of doing it is to copy a left-pointing mark and copy-paste it where you need it. (If there is an easier way, I'd love to know what it is!)


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