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Chasing Out The Demons

by Tybalt 

Posted: 18 May 2003
Word Count: 1014
Summary: This is the opening chapter of a novella about Kate, a grandmother who has recently lost her husband, and her efforts to give her grandson Jub the love and support he needs but doesn't get from his own middle-class family. Jub eventually learns to accept his parents' failings and to move on with his own life. At the same time, Kate sheds old resentments and finds a new focus.

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Chasing Out The Demons:

Scrubbing she was, scrubbing for all she was worth. Jars, pots, rusty woks, year-old Bran Flakes, Harvey’s Bristol Cream bottles saved because they were blue, biscuit tins, a spanner, two champagne glasses, all jammed onto the worn oak table and around the tiled counters. And there was Kate in the pantry again, with her hard bristle brushes and two battered buckets sloshing with soapy water. If you could have seen her, seen the savagery with which she attacked those old shelves, you’d have known that this was no spring clean; it was as though Kate were exorcising demons.

And she was. She didn’t know it, of course. If you asked her why she’d moved in on the pantry three times in less than a month, she’d have said, “It’s been ten years since I last had a good go at it and a decade of dirt takes more than a quick wipe, you know.” She clambered down from the rickety larder steps, shunted them impatiently to one side and set about the red tile floor on her hands and knees. She was like this when Jub poked his head round the pantry door, tousled and with the faintly apologetic air he always carried round with him.
“Is it alright for me to come today Grams? I mean, if it’s not, I’ll…”
“You’re daft,” interrupted Kate as she got stiffly to her feet. “’Course it’s alright; you’re the light of my life.” She scruffled his hair and, as usual, he grimaced and ducked out of her reach. “Who are you’re trying to look cool for today?” she laughed.

It was true though, Jub being the light of her life, I mean. Whenever she saw him, a little ball of happiness scudded through her. It had always been like that, ever since she’d first seen him as a bundled-up baby with his funny old-mannish face. As she got the kettle boiling, she wondered vaguely whether she’d felt the same with her own sons, Seb and Joe, when they were little. Had she just forgotten?

Jub shuffled through her pile of unopened post; more dreaded condolence letters. She hated them. They kept the wounds open and seeping. She glanced at him sideways as he methodically rearranged the envelopes in size order and stacked them neatly.
“So! To what do I owe the honour of this visit?” she started.
“Mmmmm? No, ‘nothing really. Just bored and a bit hungry. And nobody at home again,” His voice rested on an odd monotone. Kate felt a flick of regret; she’d just tossed out the mottley contents of the biscuit tins. Toast would have to do.

Chatting about the neighbours’ new BMW and the sick pear tree, she got the tea ready and cleared a space at one end of the table. But all the while, she was taking in his thinness and the tense line of his jaw. Once sitting on the old wooden bench opposite him, she could look at him squarely. He munched on a dripping piece of toast, unaware of her scrutiny for a little while. Then his eyes, grey-green and unreadable, met hers. He grinned briefly.
“You’re staring at me Grams. Admit it; I’m so cool you’re gobsmacked.” She grinned back and sipped her tea thoughtfully. There was something up. She couldn’t make him open up but she wanted to give him the option.
“So, tell me the best and the worst things that happened today,” she said brightly. It was old device but it sometimes worked.
“That’s easy,” he retorted. “The worst thing was getting to school and the best was getting out.” Kate didn’t know if he was serious, but his flip remark made her uneasy.
“But apart from that?” she persisted.
“Art was OK, I suppose; all the rest was crap.”
Kate’s eyebrows shot up and opened her mouth to protest. Before she could say anything more, Jub mumbled, “’Sorry Grams, but school is crap.” He helped himself to more toast and, clutching his mug in both hands, slurped his tea morosely. There seemed little point in pursuing this line of conversation.
“If there’s nobody at home,” she said, “why don’t you do your homework here? Just leave a message on the answer-phone to let them know where you are.” He laughed.
“They wouldn’t notice if I was there or not.” He thought for a moment. “Naa, I’ll help clear tea Grams and then I’ll go back and do my English on the computer.”
Kate nodded knowledgeably but if, truth be known, computers bewildered her; mystifying beasts that could tell people where you lived, how old you were and when you’d had your tonsils out. But she also felt foolish for being so left behind. Ben had bought one last year so he could email Seb in New York. She kept promising to learn but there was always an excuse to leave it till another day.

They gathered up the plates and mugs; Jub washed, Kate dried. They’d somehow perfected a swift ritual over the years. He glanced at the massed counter.
”’Want some help putting all that away, Grams?” he asked.
“Not yet, pop,” she answered with her head half in the wall cupboard where she kept the plates. “Still got to wipe everything off.” She straightened up. ”Come and help me plant some new sage if you’ve got time at the weekend,” she said, stealing a hug and ruffling his hair again.
“Sure.” He swung his satchel half onto his back and made for the door. “You’ve ruined my cool again,” he added, running his fingers through his hair.
“Not possible with you,” she laughed after him.

Kate watched her grandson lope up the path, his legs too long for the rest of him, loose, uncontrolled. She slid the bolt across and twitched the key in its lock. It was stiff; she hadn’t been able to find Ben’s secret stock of DIY potions that fixed things like this. A small sigh shivered out as she turned back to the kitchen. The house seemed heavy and cold again.

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Comments by other Members

becs at 19:43 on 18 May 2003  Report this post
I really like some of the phrases you use, like "a little ball of happiness scudded through her". They completely sum up those odd feelings, even just twinges of feelings, that are so hard to describe.
PS The first paragraph- are you sure Kate's not my mum?

Tybalt at 09:37 on 20 May 2003  Report this post
Thanks Becs for the comments and glad you like the phrases - I wish I could come up with more of them.

olebut at 21:59 on 20 May 2003  Report this post
I liked this and also especialy liked some of the phrasing, it had a qauint feel to it

why do I also feel that this idylic scene is the calm before the storm. yes there are odd hints, Jub at home alone, something obvioulsy he is hiding and Kate bolting the door. But in theselves innocuous enough but i snese a brooding blackness about to descend upon this scene but what I cant wait to find out.......... good stuff

Tybalt at 09:46 on 21 May 2003  Report this post
Thanks for the feedback Olebut. When the book was in the planning stage, it was a story of hope, fun and courage. But you're right; there's a brooding atmosphere from the start so it may lead me in new directions. I need to sit on this egg for a while longer.

tweed at 22:32 on 28 May 2003  Report this post
I really liked this. A terrific sense of melancholia if that's the right way to put it. Made me feel really sad. Good luck with it.

Naomi at 11:59 on 11 June 2003  Report this post

I loved this. The pacing, sequencing and phrasing is beautiful! I especially liked the way you told us of the bereavement and the time span of it – also the insights into what seems to be a very special granny/kid relationship. It all seems very convincing for far. But I personally, wouldn’t consider this to be a children’s book, although there are obviously kid characters in it. The opening chapter is narrated through the granny’s perception, and even if this changes later in the book, this is likely to put off teenage readers. But I don’t think this is a problem at all, if you are happy to market this as an adult book. I suspect it would appeal to 30+ age group, mainly women, and especially parents and grandparents.
The presentation is very professional and the material needs very little copy editing. Sloppy punctuation, although easy to correct, does put publishers off new authors – but there is no problem with this here. I’m looking forward to reading more (yes, I am a 30+ woman with kids!)

Anj at 19:32 on 06 July 2003  Report this post
I thought this was so evocative - the little details. I imagined it was a sunny day outside, sun glinting through a back door pane, picking out all the dust Kate was warring against. Agree that it may not be a children's book though. Any way of changing the perspective to Jub's?


Tybalt at 08:38 on 08 July 2003  Report this post
Thanks for your comments. I'm still trying to work out how to shoot it at younger readers. It is a two level book - one: Kate's demons and how she chases them out; two: Jub's demons (mainly his family) and how he deals with them. It is going to have to be written from two heads (eventually) to pull this off. The question is how credible I can be as a fourteen year old. Am currently on another project which is dragging out and I must get it finished...then back to different demons.

ChrisCharlton at 22:02 on 23 July 2003  Report this post
Too melacholic for kids? (Sorry, my spelling is crap without a spellchecker - it doesn't look right!) I felt the writing was wonderful; tremendously evocative. It really paints a picture, all sighs and quiet pauses.

I do wonder where it's going, as far as kids are concerned. Both from the viewpoint (gran), and the quality of the language - there is a glorious subtlty which, I suspect (though could be wrong) may be wasted on kids! (examples: flick of regret, DIY potions to name two! Loved it!!!)


Tybalt at 10:13 on 24 July 2003  Report this post
Thank you! And you're right about its target... I'm way off mark for kids. I'm still cogitating on a) how to turn a jolly tale of hope and courage round so it appeals to big chaps, or b) whether to abandon the initial mood and head straight for the small chaps. It's my big failing; embarking on a story and finding that I've written it for the wrong lot. Still, it was great to hear nice things - does my confidence no end of good.

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