NP2 – A Wing and a Prayer: Chapter Two

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I’m not quite pleased with the overall jive of this chapter and there are a few things that I know I would like to go back and rework at some point (the school scene seems really isolated to me, like it doesn’t quite go, so I’d like to somehow connect it to the rest of the chapter) but I think it will work better — or rather, I will work better — if I wait until I have more of the novel completed. It’s kinda been one of those weeks…where you just can’t get what you want onto paper…or even worse, you don’t even know what you want on paper, let alone try to get it there.  I figure, I can always come back.

A Wing and a Prayer: Chapter Two

“All right then, class; you may put away your books.  We have half an hour before the bell rings, and I would like to see just how quickly and quietly you can put your gas masks on.”  Elinor stooped next to a golden-haired little boy who was trying unsuccessfully to unpack his gas mask from its little cardboard box.  “Just like this, Harry.  Now, remember how we did this yesterday?  That’s right, Susan…put your chin in first.  Now the straps go over your head.  Make sure it’s quite tight.  Don’t you all look silly?”

It was a chilling task, preparing eight-year-olds for the possibility of a biochemical attack.  She wondered, briefly, what kind of people the Jerrys were that they would poison the very air that children breathed.  What evil lurked in the heart of man that enabled him to conceive such horrors?  Elinor went on talking smoothly, encouraging the children’s naïve impression that this was all some strange game.  “Wonderful!  Now, just breathe as usual.  I am going to tell you a story.  I want you all to be very quiet while you listen and we will see who can keep their gas mask on the longest without fidgeting.  Are you ready?  Once upon a time, there was a princess…”

XXXXXXXXXX

The end of the day was always hardest, even on Wednesdays when both children and teachers got half-holidays from school.  Her head usually ached from the long hours of grammar, arithmetic, reading and history in the stuffy classroom, but today it was more than that.  She felt…empty.  Today there was only the void…no.  It wasn’t just Ethan being gone.  It was the fear that he was gone forever.  She could bear his absence if she could know that she would see him again; that someday he would hold her in his arms and call her his own; that last month’s goodbye would not be the last.

Is it wrong?  You know how much I love this man…is it wrong for me to feel so afraid…so lost?  God, I’m so afraid for him…why are You not enough? And is it wrong?

With a sigh she entered the little shop, welcomed by the tinkle of bells on the door and the pungent, earthy scent of dried lavender.

“Hello, Mrs. Belmont,” called Elinor to the plump old lady at the counter.  “Mum wanted me to run in and see if you’d got the tea in yet?”

“Why, Elinor, darling!  I haven’t seen you in ages!  You’re always so busy with the school and your piano students, you don’t come round here much anymore.  Well, you’re in luck, dear…the tea just arrived this morning.”

Quietly smiling her thanks, Elinor drew five ration booklets from her purse and looked them over.  Though the Pooles kept a small vegetable garden, a gnarled apple tree, and a few chickens on their property, they relied on the village store for the bulk items which they could not grow themselves.

“I’ll have a bit of the stew meat, Mrs. Belmont,” she said at last, peering into the dimly-lit glass case, “a few rashers of bacon and a package of tea.  I don’t suppose…” she continued hesitantly, “there are any letters for me?”

Out of the depths of the case, Elinor could vaguely hear Mrs. Belmont’s high-pitched voice.  “I don’t believe so, dear…were you expecting one?”

Though she had steeled herself for this very response, she felt hope quicken and die.  “Oh…not really.  That is, yes, but—”

“Wait a moment!”  Mrs. Belmont suddenly emerged from the case, pink and out of breath.  “Now that you mention it, I think I might just…wait here, Elinor.”

And as the good old lady bustled into the back room where the village post office resided, Elinor tried to calm the surging waves of emotion that suddenly shook her slight frame.  It took her by storm and the hardened wall she had so painstakingly erected around her own heart crumbled in its tide.  Oh, God…

“Here it is, lovey!  From Mr. E. N. Hayne…so that’s how it is, is it?  I never knew you had a beau, but then you never were one to talk about your private affairs in public.  France, eh?  Well, that’s a long way off, to be sure…”

But the woman’s good-natured teasing echoed emptily in Elinor’s ears.  Silently she paid for her items and silently she gathered them up.

XXXXXXXXXX

“Home already, love?”  Rosamund looked up from the plaid wool she was pinning with a smile.

“It’s Wednesday – half-holiday.  Where are Jack and Polly?  I thought they would be playing in the yard, it’s so nice today.”

“Oh, that’s right.  I forgot today was a Wednesday.”  The sewing machine began to rattle away busily again.  “Jack and Polly…Derek took them down to the beach to see the fishing boats.”

Elinor leaned across the sewing machine to plant a kiss on her mother’s softly graying hair.  “Are you sure that’s all right, Mum?  Derek is…well, he’s not exactly…”

“He’s seventeen, Elinor.  I let you take Ian and Derek when you were just ten and they were five and four.”

“I suppose.  It seems different somehow.”  She laughed for the first time in a week.  “I suppose I always forget how old he is really is; or maybe I just feel so much older that in order to flatter myself at all, Derek must be a child in comparison.”  Her eyes softened into a silent sigh.  “And Ian…whenever I try, I always seem to remember him as such a little thing…I think to me he will always be a baby.  Oh, Mum, I’m sorry.”

“For what, Elinor?  It isn’t wrong for us to speak of him.”  And through the unshed tears that deepened her mother’s brown eyes, Elinor saw a pure, subtle joy.  “It is beautiful…beautiful to know that Ian and your father stand face to face with their Master.”  The fabric slipped to the floor unnoticed.

“I wish I could feel that sort of peace, Mum.  You…you always seem so confident.  So…strong.”  She paused for a moment, unsure of how to continue.  “I had a letter from Ethan today.  Mum, I’m afraid…I’m afraid I love him too much.”

~c. a.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. mekame31 says:

    Hey again. I agree that chapter two was more difficult to write than chapter one. You actually have to start going somewhere and I personally struggled with that. Great job on this, though.

    When I read the first couple of sentences of this chapter, I was totally blown away. When Elinor says “All right then class,” etc. etc., I was expecting something very homey like “Let’s have storytime now!” Then you get to “I would like to see just how quickly and quietly you can put your gas masks on” and it’s like…wow. That contrast is just…wow. Those first few sentences just *made* the chapter for me. Totally fantastic job on recognizing that opportunity and bringing that contrast out so powerfully. That whole little segment at school is undoubtedly my favorite part of your first two chapters.

    Honestly, I think you could extend it even more. I have this personal thing, and I think it comes from looking at things from a movie director’s perspective, where I try to write using “visual symbolism”. Which I know doesn’t make any sense =)…Um, well, trying to explain it’s like in my “picture story” about the guy and the flower how I would say that the guy came home with a wet spot on his suit. I didn’t ever say he was sad. I just said that. I don’t know if that was a good thing or not, it’s just a thing I like to do. So if I were writing this (which I’m not, so feel free to ignore me), I would actually remove the sentence that says it straight out: “It was a chilling task, preparing eight-year-olds for the possibility of a biochemical attack.” I would just keep working up the intensity of the contrast using a lot of word pictures. But honestly, that is because I write books like they are movies. It’s just my style; not neccessarily a good or bad way of doing things.

    I also really liked the conversation between Elinor and Mrs. Belmont. The dialogue and the descriptions were fun and homey and lively.

    Now, I’m thinking Elinor needs something to do pretty quickly so that she can stop worrying about Ethan quite so much. Some kind of conflict or purpose. Or at least an air raid. There is a great scene in the movie “Mrs. Miniver” (which has roughly the same setting as your story) where a German paratrooper crashed in England and is hiding, wounded, near the main character’s house. And all her men are gone (son to the front, husband temporarily fighting as well)and her kids are upstairs asleep and this German comes into her kitchen with a gun and she has to give him all this food. And eventually he faints and she calls the police and so on. But it is such an interesting scene because of the collision between home and the war.

    I think that contrast is something you captured at the beginning of this chapter so powerfully. It certainly seems like you could throw some more of that in as you go along.

    I have to say that I am an unusually impatient, picky audience when it comes to books and movies. So I am already getting a little irritated with Elinor’s one-track mind and her sort of feeling sorry for herself. That’s why I think she needs something new in the next chapter or so to move on to. But that’s just me.

    Honestly, I am really enjoying your story. You are really talanted and are doing a great job. I feel bad that my comments are so long and all like “change this or that” when I don’t really know anything about it. Please let me know if you want me to back off on the comments and the opinions. Seriously. I won’t be offended if you are like…wow, who is this person who keeps annoying me with 30 pages of comments on every stinking chapter? =)

    1. carreena says:

      Actually, I feel honored that you take the time to write such lengthy comments. Makes me feel like you must really truly like my writing if you take the time to criticize it in true Megan style. =) (Just kidding about the criticism…make that “analyze”) And for this chapter in particular it was great…like I said at the beginning, I was really struggling with how to make this connect with the first chapter but not make it seem too moony and dreamy. I think that it needs some serious work, but I was glad to at least get something turned in…Amazing how tough it is, writing two short little chapters of a short little book in one week when you’ve also got surprise company and just two computers between a family of…well, a junior-high and a high-school and a full-time college student! =) ANYWAY…I very much agree that it seems like Elinor is feeling sorry for herself, and it’s beginning to lose interest…as in, we’ve got two whole chapters of a guy who isn’t even there. Get a grip, girl. (Meaning Elinor) Thanks for not being afraid to point out the obvious or the not-so-obvious, as the case may be.

      Now, as to air raids, you’re jumping too far ahead! Something that I really wanted to capture as the story moves on (and I’m thinking that I might speed up the little chapter-by-chapter outline I wrote up) is how, at the beginning of the war, when the air raids first started, everyone was all freaked out, yet by the middle of the war it was just an everyday occurrence — a nuisance, but not really a big deal. The only trouble is that this mindset was probably more prevalent in London where bombings happened all the time than in little Winchelsea. That idea I rather stole from “Foyle’s War,” which, by the way, is a great series. If you like that sort of thing. =)

      Thank you again! Now that I’ll only be doing one chapter per week, I’ll hopefully have time to go back and rework this chapter…either way, I’ll definitely keep your comments in mind as I write the next one.

    2. carreena says:

      Oh, and about the gas masks…I wish I could say that was my very own idea. It wasn’t. My mom found this website when she was looking up something for my sister called BBC School Radio or something like that, and it had this audio clip of a teacher doing exactly the same thing under the same circumstances. Like you said, it blew me away. She talked in this very calm, very quiet voice and then told the children to “take out their knitting while she told them a story.” It was crazy, just realizing that those steps really were necessary. Having the kids practice wearing their masks for long periods of time so that when the real deal came they wouldn’t take them off…wow.

      There was something else I was going to say, but I forgot what. I’m sure it was terribly important. =)

  2. mekame31 says:

    Woww…looking back at that comment I had no idea it was that long. Sorry again =). This is the sort of stuff I get carried away doing. I love creativity and working with other people on their writing so I tend to go crazy without thinking about it…

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