NP2 – A Wing and a Prayer, Chapter 2, Draft 1.5

Well, here it is at long last.  Obviously, it isn’t perfect yet (the ending still needs something, not sure what yet), but I know it’s a huge improvement on the first draft.  I tried to keep Elinor from seeming so moony while still providing a smooth transition from chapter one’s emotion to chapter three’s more “real life” feel.  Have at it…

Chapter 2 (draft 1.5)

“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 tight, everyone.  Don’t you all look silly?”

A collective giggle came from behind the masks that stared innocently back at Elinor as she went on talking smoothly.  “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.  Would you like to pretend that you are elephants or dragons today?  Dragons?  All right, then, I will tell you a story with dragons in it.  Sit still, Harry.  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, especially during the rainy winter months.  Today the sun broke through the clouds for a few hours, allowing a little extra light to break up the monotony of gray skies, gray buildings, gray pavement and gray seas.  Elinor turned her back against the afternoon breeze and let the sun melt away the tension of this morning’s lessons.  The pain of saying goodbye to Ethan had grown numb with the anesthesia of time, but little things made it flare up again, as raw and emotional as ever.  Little things like preparing children for biochemical attacks or the way that the clouds lit up, some nights, with the red glow of far-away bombs.  It was just life, but sometimes…it hurt so much.

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 and thyme.

“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.  What ‘ave you been doing these days, my dear?”

“Oh…school- and piano-teaching, mostly.  Mum’s got so many sewing commissions that she can’t attend to them all, so I have been doing some of that in my spare time.  How are you, Mrs. Belmont?  Have you heard from your nephew lately?”

“Well, that’s very nice, dear.  No…no, I haven’t, and I’ve really been quite worried sick over it.  You see, he’s with an airborne division and they don’t get much chance to write home, or send letters when they do write them.  But still, it has been…well, but bless you, I’m sure you know how it is.  Well, my dear, you’re in luck…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 babbling something indistinctly.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Belmont, I can’t quite…” she began, before she realized that the woman was merely commenting on the scarcity of bacon in these times.

“…and if the meat ration gets much worse,” she heard a little more clearly, “I just don’t know how I’m going to make it for him anymore, and you know, it is Mr. Belmont’s favorite dish, it really is.  Now, about the letter, I don’t believe you have got any, dear…were you expecting one?”

“Oh…not really.  That is, yes, but—”

“Wait a moment!”  Mrs. Belmont suddenly emerged from the case, pink and breathless.  “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 erected during the last month around her own heart crumbled in its tide. 

“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.  North Africa, 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 table 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.  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 melted into a silent sigh.  “But 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.  Even though he was six when he…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.”  Pins leaped across the rug as 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, uncertain of how to continue.  “I had a letter from Ethan today.  I have it here, if you would like to read it,” and she offered the open page.

Their eyes connected for a fleeting moment and Rosamund read the answer to her unasked question in her daughter’s face and she shook her head.  “I trust you.  Both of you.”  And the moment remained unbroken.  “How is he?”

“All right, I think.  It is hard to tell.  He writes that he misses our cooking and that his company is a rough lot, but close and very loyal.  He was grazed on the shoulder at El Agheila – he says it wasn’t serious.  He also said…”  Elinor halted again and dropped her eyes.   “…he said that he lies awake, nights, and wonders how many men he killed and how many of them went to…went to hell.  And he wonders what it will all do to him, even…even if he gets through it alive…

Rosamund reached out and squeezed Elinor’s hand.  “Elinor,” she began.  But the back door slammed open and Derek and the children came in, laughing heartily over something Jack had said.  And whatever encouragement she was going to offer was drowned by the children’s excited voices.

~c. a.

*There really is a general store in Winchelsea called “The Little Shop.”

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5 thoughts on “NP2 – A Wing and a Prayer, Chapter 2, Draft 1.5

  1. Just noticed this, Carreen (excuse me, I mean Secret Agent c.a.) I admire your self-discipline; I’m terrible about revising.

    I agree that this is a great improvement on your previous version–not that version one was a disaster by any means! Elinor seemed less annoying in this version, which is good. I especially liked your third paragraph, as well as many other spots. You are really talanted with descriptions. Awesome–or, since you have put me in the British mood, jolly good show.

    As far as suggestions–you said you liked them, so now I feel obligated–there’s really not much. I’m not a huge fan of your last sentence. All the “was”s and twisty tenses make it clunk a little, at least for a closing sentence. But I like the idea.

    Also–and this isn’t a problem, just an observation–I noticed that you are starting to use a few what I call “stringy sentences”. They are the sentences that either start with “and” or string an unusually large number of phrases together with “and”s or both. Example: “Their eyes connected for a fleeting moment and Rosamund read the answer to her unasked question in her daughter’s face and she shook her head.” I’m not saying there is anything wrong with them–I mean, I’m using them all over in my NP. They are actually a great stylistic last resort when things are starting to get boring. In your case,\ I’m just wondering a) if they fit the style of your story and b) if so, do they need to be more consistent. To my mind, they seem like kind of a modern-sounding style. I use them to give a feeling of precipitous action, whereas your story is kind of old-fashioned and gently paced. As for the other thought, I don’t remember seeing a lot of them in other chapters. So where am I going with this? I forget…um, well I guess just to point them out in the sense that you might want to either start using them a lot more or a lot less. For consistency’s sake. Like, decide whether they fit and then commit to them or abstain from them.

    But all that is *really* little stuff. I think this is great. And again, congrats on the discipline to start revising already.

    Now I have to go face my NP4. Doesn’t it always seem at some point like the chapter will never come together? And eventually it does. But before that…*sigh* It’s like playing a mind game with myself; I know it’s in there, but I have to figure out what to do, or listen to, or eat, or whatever, to coax it out. And if I hit a dead spot, I have to quickly skip ahead to something more exciting before I lose the “inspiration” and stop being able to write at all. Tell me that I’m not crazy and you know what I mean =).

    • Thank you so much for the suggestions…the point with the “ands” was to add emotion and tension and (just kidding about that last “and”), however, I see your point. I’ll try to be more aware of where I’m using it so that it (hopefully) makes lots of impact when I do rather than taking over the old-fashioned style. It’s somewhat annoying, I always tend to slip into writing in whatever style I happen to be reading at the moment. When I started this project I was reading (surprise!) an old book. Right now I’m basically reading everybody’s novels, and I think it’s rubbing off on me. Argh!

      The last sentence…I know. It was driving me nuts trying to end that chapter, and I meant to go back yet again and spruce up the last paragraph a little. My main goal was to make Elinor less infatuated-sounding and more normal.

      And about your last little rant, it does always seem like that. For me, sometimes it doesn’t eventually. Sometimes it isn’t in there, therefore won’t be coaxed. And sometimes it just needs to marinate. You’re not crazy. I know what you mean. May I suggest food wars, Waterdeep, and Cheez-Its?

      On second thought, never mind. You’ve prolly already tried them. =)

      And because I’m rambling any way and might as well tack this on too, let me just say that I really appreciate the time you’re putting into my story — to the point of re-reading revisions and re-commenting on chapters in addition to your own workload…wow. I’m humbled. And very grateful. So thanks. =)

      • Oh I totally know what you mean about picking up other writing styles. It’s so hard not to do. I haven’t been reading much lately, so maybe that helps. But I still recognize influences and ideas from all over the place when I look back over my writing.

        I understand what you are saying about the “and” sentences. Whatever you want is fine. I just can’t picture a book like “Ismael” or “Anne of Green Gables” or something old-timey like that using those constructions. More like Ted Dekker or Ray Bradbury…*shrugs* They are a great way of adding emotion, I agree.

        I’ve never thought of marinating my story before…hehe I like it. Only, my dad marinated some chicken last night and it gave me horrible nightmares of which you were a part (I swear that is not why they were nightmares…you were the happiest part about them…and no I don’t remember what you looked like. So maybe I will stay away from marinating anything for a while.)

        I *live* on Waterdeep and Cheez-its when I am writing. I also found that watching “The Minority Report” helped (no idea why…strange movie). I don’t think any of that would neccessarily help you, though. Sorry. =)

        Hey no problem. I enjoy your work. I mean, if you go to the trouble of revising then I totally will comment.

        Like I said in class…I consider you my happy blog buddy. =)

      • Oh, no! I’ve featured in one of Megan’s nightmares…I was probably throwing M-arinade at her. Behind my back. Under cover of my wig. =)

        Hehe, usually I live on Sara Groves…which is weird because she writes really personal songs–as in, too personal to make much sense to anybody but her. I guess her musical style is inspiring?…dried cranberries, and avocado with salt, pepper, lemon juice and corn chips. =) I agree, I don’t think Minority Report would help me much, though. Conspiracy Theory might help for the food fight, though…=)

  2. And yes that looks very long but I just figured out that your blog cheats…it puts everything in huge letters and makes it deceptively large looking. Ha.

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