NP10 – The Emptiest Day: Chapter Ten

Ok, so this is crazy…two weeks in a row, chapters done before the weekend!  Like I said last week, I don’t consider this my best work (I’m not saying what I do consider it, for fear of the wrath of certain unnamed persons…you know who you are…) but at least the bulk of it is done so I can possibly get some feedback and make revisions before I turn it in to Ms. Gaines.  So…feedback, please!

Thus far: In the last chapter Elinor and her family were planting their spring garden and Elinor had several flashbacks to when she read Ethan’s letters.  She was worried because the last letters came in early February and it is now late March and she still hasn’t heard from Ethan.  To make matters worse, the last letter that she received from him was an “in case I don’t come back” letter.  In an attempt to cope with her fears and dreams, Elinor asked Rosamund how she stayed so strong when Elinor’s father died.  They talked for some time, and then Derek told Elinor that she had a phone call.  Dun, dun, dun, dun…this chapter picks up almost exactly where the other left off.

The Emptiest Day: Chapter Ten

It was a woman’s voice, femininely low and brutally calm.  It droned on and on relentlessly – too many words, too little information, twisting around her soul like barbed wire.  Elinor wrapped her fingers tightly around the telephone, desperate to feel something, anything besides this void.  Even if it were only the smooth plastic in her hand.

“Yes…yes, I understand.  Thank you,” she whispered hollowly before she watched her hand replace the receiver.  And then Derek’s arm was around her shoulders and there was the solidness of a wooden chair beneath her.

“Elinor…are you all right?”

She shivered and nodded, but the hurt that flashed and retreated swiftly in his eyes reproached her.  “Uh…no.  Not really.”

“Can I get you something?  A sweater or a glass of water or an aspirin or…” he trailed off helplessly.  “Would you rather be alone?”

“No!  No, don’t go.  It’s just…”  The barbed wire bit deeper and she was scared.  Please…don’t leave.   It isn’t real yet, but it’s waiting for me. And I can’t face it alone. “Don’t go.  Please.”

Derek sat down again, folding his thin hand around hers.  “All right.  I’m here.”

Silence came crashing down.  Elinor tried several times to push it away, but it was hard enough just breathing under its weight.  Only the clock in the corner had the courage to continue ticking serenely, mercilessly.

“It’s…Ethan.  Isn’t it?”  There was something incredibly gentle in Derek’s expression, something shy and boyish and almost fatherly.  His hand gripped hers tighter.

“He’s not…she said he wasn’t…”  Elinor gave up that attempt and tried again.  “But he was shot, or there was an explosion.  Or something…”

“He is alive, though?”

She hesitated and nodded.

“Thank God,” Derek whispered fervently.  “How bad is it?”

“I don’t know.”  Somehow Derek’s knowing made the situation honestly, cruelly real, and his steady voice stopped the spinning.  “She didn’t say.  And I couldn’t ask.  Something about shrapnel and contaminated plasma…and the sooner I could get to him, the better…a hospital outside of London, she said…I wrote down the name.”

The back door scraped open and Rosamund, Jack and Polly came into the kitchen.  “Tell Mum, please, Derek…I can’t.”  And Elinor fled up the stairs.


“I think seven is a good number, don’t you, Ethan?”

He scooped up a handful of sand, letting it run through his fingers like water.  “Only seven?  I imagined us with twelve…”

“And the first boy…his name will be David Ian.  David Ian Hayne.”

There were just two mournful notes in the crashing waves, joyful and unbearably sweet.

“I think…that those are beautiful names,” he said softly.  A surge of water reached up and broke over their feet and the quiet mood.  Ethan laughed.  “Our first daughter will have her mum’s name…and her eyes.”

“But it’s so confusing, having two Elinors.  What about Rose, for her grandmother?”

The smile on his face was crooked and boyish.  “Elinor Rose, of course.  It wouldn’t be confusing… I’d call you Darling and the kids would call you Mum.  It would be perfect, Elinor!”

“Well…in that case, what do you think about Ethan William, for a boy?”

That evening the sun set golden.

Elinor stared down at the black and white photograph in her hand, watching the soft, faded lines grow dim beneath the dust of time, earth, and broken dreams.


What is there for me to say?  I am so very empty and You are so far away and all I can think to say right now is Your name…God.

Oh, God.

In the sound of a heartbeat the answer came.  His name was enough.  There was no other cry, no other word she needed to say.  No tear that needed to fall.

His name was enough.

The photograph dropped from her fingers and landed on the wooden floor like a live grenade.  And she did not stoop to pick it up.

“Elinor?  May I come in?”

She half-turned and saw her mother in the doorway.  “Derek told you?”

“Yes,” sighed Rosamund.  “Yes, Derek told me.”

Elinor crept into the arms that her mother offered and held on blindly, childishly, as though by the strength of their embrace she could somehow make it all right again.   There were no tears, just empty sobs that took her breath away.

“Shhh…” Rosamund crooned, stroking Elinor’s hair softly.  “Shhh…”

“I’ve got to see him, Mum.  It might be the…last time.”  Mum’s sweater smothered the sharpness of those two words.  They didn’t sound quite as terrible spoken as they did echoing in her head.  Elinor pulled away gently.  “I’m sorry…I’m all right, now, Mum.  But I’ve got to see him.”

“Elinor…Derek and I were talking.  Neither of us thinks it’s a good idea for you to go alone, and I can’t go with you.  There’s Jack and Polly and I’ve so many commissions on hand right now that we can’t afford to lose…”

Elinor watched her frightened hope fall to the ground and land next to the smiling picture. 

“I know, Mum, but—”

“Just hear me out, Elinor.”  Rosamund’s voice sounded very tired.  “Derek says he thinks his boss will give him a few days if he explains the situation.  He left just a minute ago to ask.  If you can get someone to fill in for you on Monday and Tuesday at the school, then you and Derek can take the five-ten tomorrow morning and be in London by noon.”

The window was open and Elinor could feel the warm, peaceful breeze.  Like the world is made of gold, and right now is just the tarnish…“I can get Susan Barnes to take my class for a day or two,” she murmured.  “Is Derek really willing to go with me?”

“He wants to, Elinor…he wouldn’t hear of you going alone.”

Elinor laughed, brokenly.  “Hold me again, Mum.  I’m so scared…”

She felt her mother’s arms wrap protectively around her.  And for a long time there was just golden sun and tarnish and the tickle of Mum’s earring on Elinor’s cheek.

~c. a.


5 thoughts on “NP10 – The Emptiest Day: Chapter Ten

  1. laurac1994 5.15.10 — 2:09 am

    Oh, I like this one, Carreen. I especially love the character development of Derek to this point; as a brother he just seems so grown up and sweet and caring towards his sister when she feels overwhelmed. And the whole chapter is very emotional, but not overly so. As always, nice job. =)

  2. Okey dokey, I am finally here to comment! I feel bad about my tardiness, I really do. Apologies that I couldn’t do this in time to offer some “revisionary” advice before Tuesday–not like you really need it. And now, anyway, here we go.

    Well, first of all, very dramatic turn of events. I like it. I wasn’t sure if Ethan was dead at the beginning or not–I tended to think not, just because you don’t strike me as a character-killer–but I think that you kept the suspense up well and didn’t spill the beans too early.

    I like the slowly unfolding dialogue between Elinor and Derek. I also–don’t know if I have mentioned this before–really, really like how you keep throwing these lovely flashbacks in the middle of dramatic moments. It adds a lot of emotion and meaning. Like…it helps us understand what the character is going through more deeply, reminding us how important these things are to them. It also provides contrast, which I’m a big fan of. You can’t get much more subtle and powerful than by using contrast, and you do it very well.

    I especially like this sentence: “Elinor stared down at the black and white photograph in her hand, watching the soft, faded lines grow dim beneath the dust of time, earth, and broken dreams.” And all your descriptions are awesome as usual. The part about her hopes falling on the floor next to the picture and the part about the gold/tarnish were fantastic.

    Umm…I don’t actually have a terrible lot of criticism this time. I don’t know what the wild attack of X’s is in the middle…I would remove that? Also, I guess if anything a few of your descriptions are starting to sound “recycled”–not really bad, just a little. I only note this because I have so much trouble with it in my own writing. Once you hit on something really good, like the idea of some emotion falling on the floor or looking at a photo, or ending a flashback with a short “and” sentence, it is really easy to–conciously or unconciously–keep using it over and over. Not in the sense of repeating a theme or something, but more like “oh, didn’t she kind of already use that description earlier?” So some of this is seeming slightly familiar descriptive-wise. The idea is, I guess, that those descriptions are so unique and powerful that using them more than once starts to weaken them. *sigh* that’s really vague and unhelpful I’m sure, but just something I noticed. Like I said, I do this all the time without even realizing it…my characters tend to do and say the same things over and over and over and…well, you get the idea.

    Overall, I thought this was a really good chapter and I can’t wait to hear what happens next! Looks like Elinor might get to go on a bit of a fieldtrip–exciting.

  3. Seriously, Megan…don’t worry about it! It’s not as though I don’t know that real life gets hectic. Besides, I’m going to have to miss out on your last chapter ’cause we’re leaving town for two-and-a-half weeks. And if that’s not enough to make you feel better…let’s just say that I consider it a huge honor that you spent so much time on all my other chapters, and therefore who am I to complain that you did this one late. =D

    Oh, and the attack of x’s…that was meant to be a divider of sorts, since the blog doesn’t let me just do a double space, and it was supposed to go in the middle not the side but when I copied and pasted it messed up the formatting. If you don’t like it…well. Do you have any other suggestions for dividing scenes?

  4. I think 4 asterisks (shift+8) make a more subtle/traditional divider. But it’s not a big deal. I was just wondering because it looks exactly like something I would put in to remind myself to go back and fix something and then forget to take it out again lol…

    1. Ok, I feel like an utter dork. For some strange reason, I thought that your little explanation of how to put in an asterisk was an explanation of how to put in four. And I was rather wondering why you don’t just do shift 8 four times. Thinking that perhaps you were trying to show me a shortcut, I was holding down shift, the plus symbol, and eight and thinking…all I come out with is a plus symbol and an asterisk…why isn’t this working? And then I realized that you were just saying how to get one asterisk, which I will have you know that I do know how to do. Sheesh…

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