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Thread: Leaving Hope

  1. #1
    A.J. Fisk
    Guest

    Leaving Hope

    This is the second draft of a short story that I wrote a while back. I have only done minimal edits to it (grammar and cutting). The reason that I'm posting this one for a critique is that a longer work is in a similar style and I'm trying to get a leg-up on editing before I finish the manuscript. Any feedback will be appreciated.

    This one runs about 2200 words and isn't meant to be depressing. Leaving Hope can mean several things. Thank you in advance. (Hopefully the formatting transfers.)

    Leaving Hope
    By A.J. Fisk

    The house was finally empty; all traces of noise—dishes clattering, running footsteps…laughter—had faded away into the consistent hum of nature, the kind of quiet that you can’t find in the city. Susan, my wife, had taken our two children out for the day to some amusement park—some place that would allow them to run wild and let loose all of that pent up energy that they couldn’t seem to do here at home. Or, maybe, it was because we wouldn’t let them bring the house down around our ears that kept them so agitated and eager to move.
    I had called-in to work today, made up some story on the fly about food poisoning from the night before. The chicken teriyaki was apparently not sitting very well with me and had now found a new home on my living room carpet—or, at least, that is what I told them. No, that wasn’t the real reason that I stayed home. I needed that quiet. I needed the space away from everyone—my boss, my coworkers, my wife and my children. I had to make some time for myself. I was approaching a very bad snapping point. Maybe a nervous breakdown, maybe a slow homicidal walk through the offices at my work or—more likely—a rope tied around my neck ending in a short drop.
    Was my life so bad that I was considering these things? No, not really. I started out in life with so many aspirations. After I gained a bachelor’s degree in business and accounting I was looking forward to a six-figure salary that would be the envy of many of my old high school friends; people that I kept in touch with out of fear, not out of friendship or love. Fear? Yes, I’m a 21st century coward—like so many others. I kept tabs on how well my ‘friends’ were faring in their lives and measured myself up against them. Was I bringing in enough money? Was my family life as good as or better than theirs? Was my house big enough?
    Most people won’t admit it but when their high school reunions come swinging back around they don’t want to be the ones that are laughed at or looked down on for not making it anywhere. As for me, what have I accomplished? Did I gain that six-figure salary and all of the extra-added bonus features? Yes, I did; the car, the family and even a nice little house on the lake. I have it all and I will continue to have it from here on into whenever I decide to retire—with a nice fat 401k plan to settle down with.
    So why am I so down? That question has been bouncing around my head for months now and I still can’t answer it without feeling that I’ve missed something, left something out. I think that question first came up when I began hitting the snooze button a few too many times in the morning and stepping out of bed was more of a war than it used to be. At twenty-seven I shouldn’t have been so worn down by such an easy job. All I did was punch numbers into a computer, make a few phone calls and fire people. Not all that taxing of a job, really.
    When that war started I also began to show signs of premature aging—bags under my eyes, hair falling out and what was left turning grey—yeah, I think it was about that point, a year or so ago, that I decided to pick up smoking. I know, my life starts taking a couple of steps into the ground and I nudge it right along. Smart, huh? At least I didn’t pick up drinking or heroine; it could have been worse, right?
    After that started my wife began to grow more and more concerned as I did the only thing that I could do—grow more and more distant. I wasn’t doing it on purpose but every time I tried to open my mouth instead of giving an explanation I almost yawned. It wasn’t that I didn’t care because I did, I just wasn’t able to tell her what was bothering me because it honestly drove the will to live right out of me whenever I thought about it.
    And so, after more than a few valiant attempts, she backed away from trying to get me to talk and just waited for me to come to her. That was a year ago—and she’s still waiting. Since this whole thing has started we may have had sex about three times and each of those was lackluster at best. Anymore, it’s a rarity that we even sleep in the same bed. Sometimes I fall asleep on the couch or don’t even go to bed at all; I just sit up staring off of our porch and into the sparse trees at the edge of our property.
    The only thing that has kept me sane this long is the calming touch of darkness and whispering sounds of nature; those things that most people take for granted are the only things that give me solace. So, I would sit there staring off into the trees and even further down towards the lake where the moon would be dancing on top of the water, glittering reflections lulling me into complacency. After a few hours, when the sun would start its slow climb into the sky, I would sneak into bed and lay there for another couple of hours, waiting for my alarm to go off.
    Today was not very much different from then; I held my post on the porch until the morning birds began their charming song. I didn’t even bother to go lay in bed, I had turned the alarm off before coming out the night before. I had only decided to call-in to work just before sunrise but I must have considered it on a subconscious level long beforehand. Did that little voyeur in my head know what I was going to do before I did it?
    I don’t know and I guess I don’t really care, either. In my experience, not knowing what is held there is for the best; knowing can drive you insane. Also makes me wonder what secrets it is holding out on me about my current situation, though. Am I ready to know why I am so unhappy? Will I ever be ready?
    The same litanies of questions are coming again—the exact reason why I stayed home today. I couldn’t be around my coworkers or my family with that constant buzzing in my ear. Having them constantly repeat themselves when they say something is becoming a burden on all parties; I just can’t seem to stop this machine from attempting to process all of the information that is thrown at it. In that, I think I am turning out like my father. Although he was a good man he was always distant, always off in another world.
    My mother put up with his distracted nature only because of how he acted towards us when he was fully present—body and mind. He loved her like no other and taught my sisters and I all of the life lessons that he knew; some, though, he left us to find out about on our own. Guess those times were the biggest lessons he ever taught us—how to be your own person.
    Still, I could never get close to him because of that static distance. Then, when I was nineteen, he passed away from some unnamed cancer. I had just started living on my own and hadn’t spent time with him in months but, for some reason, the news didn’t bother me nearly as much as I would have thought. That is, it didn’t bother me until I was informed that I wouldn’t be able to see his body—as a final heroic gesture he gave his body to science in order to study the mysterious cancer that had claimed his life.
    I had spent months in my own self-indulgent isolation, ignored many of his phone calls and laughed at his expense with my friends; now, what? I was never going to see the man that helped bring me into the world again. Not a glimpse, a single word of apology, not a hug or caress; the last thing I would have to remember my father by is his picture in the obituary, a picture taken months before on his birthday that I had not shown up for.
    And to think, I had chosen cigarettes over alcohol; I guess I’m not as smart as my degree claims me to be. That is one scene from my life that I play over, time and again, while I stare off into the woods and wonder if things could have been different. After all, that is what we tend to do, isn’t it? When something so… traumatizing happens, we go back over our memories, years down the road and wonder ‘what if’, as if that really matters.
    We live in dreams to make our own realities…livable. At what cost, at what expense does this come to us? My father would never know the true price of his but for me, the signs were all around. My children were distant and my wife, a stranger; this cannot last for much longer, I know that. And so, here I am, in this empty house writing out a letter to her and, later in their lives, my children. I want them to know the love I have for them and that I will always have for them. I want them to know that this wasn’t their fault and that I am sorry for leaving them like this.
    I was never very good with words but I hoped this letter, as pock-marked as it was with tears, would do more than just suffice as my final words. After reading it and rereading it, I wrote a final, ‘Daddy loves you. And Susan, I wish I could have been better to you. I love you all.’
    I laid the note on her pillow, taking a moment to breathe in her lingering scent and then, with tears creeping to the corners of my eyes, I walked into the living room and to a picture of all of us; the back fell away almost as soon as I touched it and the picture fell, all of the faces smiling up at me. The picture was taken at a family reunion, on my father’s birthday two years before. We all looked so happy, we were happy, I had to believe that.
    Smiling down at the picture I picked it up and replaced the back of the frame. Susan would know what picture was missing and the significance that it held for me; I just hope that she won’t be angry at me forever. Maybe, at some point, she will come to understand why I did it…maybe.
    And so, holding the picture out in front of me, my eyes never leaving it, I made the slow walk down through the woods; I took my time, enjoying the feel of the sun and the sound of the birds chirping, a dog barking in the distance. And then, too soon, I heard water lapping against the sand, still smooth from the receding tide.
    I looked down at the picture again and smiled, closing my eyes and crushing it against my chest, my feet taking on a life of their own and urging me towards the water-line. It rose to my ankles, the cold bite sending goosebumps up my legs. I had forgotten that it was just turning into summertime; the water still had that icy edge to it.
    For a brief moment a child-like thought crept into my mind, I wondered if, just maybe, my body would drift down and freeze, preserved to be found and revived at a later date. Some utopian idea of the deepest of sleeps without the consequences. My smile only grew wider and I waded further into the water, turning into a slow paddle as the land gave way to the deeper parts of the lake. It was funny, though, that I was to go this way; I had always been afraid of the water since the time I had almost drowned when I was younger. I never went out past my waist and now—now I was enjoying paddling out to meet my fate.
    I let loose of the photograph and continued my paddle, the picture drifting back the way I had come; all of those little faces still smiling, staring up at the growing sun. As cold and fatigue began to take hold, my mind finally began to slow; I began to feel calm and serene, almost human again. I had only one thought going through my mind as the water started to drift over my head, one thought accompanied by a picture full of smiles: Daddy loves you.



  2. #2
    A.J. Fisk
    Guest

    Re: Leaving Hope

    ....and it didn't. Sorry about how blocky it came out.

  3. #3
    Rogue Mutt
    Guest

    Re: Leaving Hope

    It's not that hard. You just put an extra space between paragraphs. And most people will say 2200 words is too much anyway if you really want people to read it.

  4. #4
    Janice W-D
    Guest

    Re: Leaving Hope

    I assumed the title might herald two or more meanings of Hope. Therefore, I looked forward to reading it until I saw the word count and formatting.

    This site isn't a critique group. We're more about fine-tuning each other's work. 1,000 words is the max most of us will read. Repost the first half with an extra space for paragraphs. If you can't take the time to do that, not many of us will take the time to read it.

    Best,
    Janice

  5. #5
    Stephen Holak
    Guest

    Re: Leaving Hope

    A.J.,
    It's obvious you have talent. I'm in work right now; I'll read it more carefully later.

    The only thing I have to offer at the moment is a minor punctuation thingy:

    "all traces of noise—dishes clattering, running footsteps, laughter—had faded away into the consistent hum . . ."

    "feels" better (to me) than:

    "all traces of noise—dishes clattering, running footsteps…laughter—had faded away into the consistent hum . . ."

    --regards
    --steve

  6. #6
    A.J. Fisk
    Guest

    Re: Leaving Hope

    I thought about doing that at first considering the length... however, it is all beginning to end in those 2000+ words (whereas the last short story was "all middle"). Wasn't sure how well it was going to go over with being chopped. Anywho... here it is.

    -Adam

    -------------

    The house was finally empty; all traces of noise—dishes clattering, running footsteps…laughter—had faded away into the consistent hum of nature, the kind of quiet that you can’t find in the city. Susan, my wife, had taken our two children out for the day to some amusement park—some place that would allow them to run wild and let loose all of that pent up energy that they couldn’t seem to do here at home. Or, maybe, it was because we wouldn’t let them bring the house down around our ears that kept them so agitated and eager to move.

    I had called-in to work today, made up some story on the fly about food poisoning from the night before. The chicken teriyaki was apparently not sitting very well with me and had now found a new home on my living room carpet—or, at least, that is what I told them. No, that wasn’t the real reason that I stayed home. I needed that quiet. I needed the space away from everyone—my boss, my coworkers, my wife and my children. I had to make some time for myself. I was approaching a very bad snapping point. Maybe a nervous breakdown, maybe a slow homicidal walk through the offices at my work or—more likely—a rope tied around my neck ending in a short drop.

    Was my life so bad that I was considering these things? No, not really. I started out in life with so many aspirations. After I gained a bachelor’s degree in business and accounting I was looking forward to a six-figure salary that would be the envy of many of my old high school friends; people that I kept in touch with out of fear, not out of friendship or love. Fear? Yes, I’m a 21st century coward—like so many others. I kept tabs on how well my ‘friends’ were faring in their lives and measured myself up against them. Was I bringing in enough money? Was my family life as good as or better than theirs? Was my house big enough?

    Most people won’t admit it but when their high school reunions come swinging back around they don’t want to be the ones that are laughed at or looked down on for not making it anywhere. As for me, what have I accomplished? Did I gain that six-figure salary and all of the extra-added bonus features? Yes, I did; the car, the family and even a nice little house on the lake. I have it all and I will continue to have it from here on into whenever I decide to retire—with a nice fat 401k plan to settle down with.

    So why am I so down? That question has been bouncing around my head for months now and I still can’t answer it without feeling that I’ve missed something, left something out. I think that question first came up when I began hitting the snooze button a few too many times in the morning and stepping out of bed was more of a war than it used to be. At twenty-seven I shouldn’t have been so worn down by such an easy job. All I did was punch numbers into a computer, make a few phone calls and fire people. Not all that taxing of a job, really.

    When that war started I also began to show signs of premature aging—bags under my eyes, hair falling out and what was left turning grey—yeah, I think it was about that point, a year or so ago, that I decided to pick up smoking. I know, my life starts taking a couple of steps into the ground and I nudge it right along. Smart, huh? At least I didn’t pick up drinking or heroine; it could have been worse, right?

    After that started my wife began to grow more and more concerned as I did the only thing that I could do—grow more and more distant. I wasn’t doing it on purpose but every time I tried to open my mouth instead of giving an explanation I almost yawned. It wasn’t that I didn’t care because I did, I just wasn’t able to tell her what was bothering me because it honestly drove the will to live right out of me whenever I thought about it.

    And so, after more than a few valiant attempts, she backed away from trying to get me to talk and just waited for me to come to her. That was a year ago—and she’s still waiting. Since this whole thing has started we may have had sex about three times and each of those was lackluster at best. Anymore, it’s a rarity that we even sleep in the same bed. Sometimes I fall asleep on the couch or don’t even go to bed at all; I just sit up staring off of our porch and into the sparse trees at the edge of our property.

    The only thing that has kept me sane this long is the calming touch of darkness and whispering sounds of nature; those things that most people take for granted are the only things that give me solace. So, I would sit there staring off into the trees and even further down towards the lake where the moon would be dancing on top of the water, glittering reflections lulling me into complacency. After a few hours, when the sun would start its slow climb into the sky, I would sneak into bed and lay there for another couple of hours, waiting for my alarm to go off.

    (cont.)

  7. #7
    Jeanne Gassman
    Guest

    Re: Leaving Hope

    A.J.,

    I read both posted versions-- Unfortunately, I feel that much of this piece is summary and backstory. You spend paragraph after paragraph summarizing your narrator's feelings, his history, his dissatisfaction, etc. Absolutely nothing is happening here until he goes into the water.

    I realize that the character is probably contemplating suicide, but you destroyed all of the tension of a life-or-death drama by miring us in backstory. Instead of explaining so much, start the story with his actions, feeding in SMALL bits of his history as he prepares to swim out into the lake.

    One more thought: I didn't find his unhappiness particularly plausible. If he is, indeed, considering suicide, you need to remember that suicide is act of rage and total self-absorption. People who kill themselves seldom worry about those they leave behind.

    But move this story forward. Put us in the NOW, so that we can feel his anxiety and stress.

    Just my thoughts...

    Jeanne

  8. #8
    Robert Wilson
    Guest

    Re: Leaving Hope

    Another good story.

    I remember reading something else by you a while ago but the title escapes me.

    RW

  9. #9
    L Bea
    Guest

    Re: Leaving Hope

    I pushed myself through your em dash and elipses fetishes. Much of those should be commas.

    I didn't feel anything until he started his walk into the woods. That's where you get us to really SEE and feel your character and the setting. You're using all the senses there. We can PICTURE it there (whereas the rest is just flast). Apply that to the rest and you have something.

    ~Bea

  10. #10
    Janice W-D
    Guest

    Re: Leaving Hope

    Jeanne,

    Spot on, especially about backstory and suicidal behavior. Unfortunately, my experience comes from knowing a few people well that killed themselves.

    Many suicides are visibly depressed for long periods beforehand. And depression is rage turned inward. God only knows how long they wrestle with their demons before making their last decision. For them, they don't get up thinking, should I kill myself today; it's why shouldn't I kill myself today.

    Often, when they make that last decision, they feel relieved and act somewhat happy for days or weeks while they plan the perfect exit. They don't want to get rescued by anyone. That lulls the friends/family into thinking the person finally turned a corner and will follow through on whatever they need (meds, therapy, joining a support group, talking about their feelings instead of stuffing them, changing doctors or meds, or whatever) to live a more fulfilling life.

    What goes through their heads the last day of their lives doesn't come anywhere near the romantic, bittersweet versions served up by Hollywood. Hallmark cards don't have sections for self-pity and rage, nor for the anguished love, anger and survivor's guilt of the ones left behind.

    Best,
    Janice

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