Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cyber Beta Readers Rule!

Without further ado, here's the second part of Chapter 1 of my untitled WIP. (May I suggest that you read, if you haven't already, the first half, so as to get some context.) I've decided to save my analyses of the art of critiquing for the next post, so stay tuned ...

(Brief formatting note re Chapter 1 - the section you read the other day is separated from the one below by "***").

Marcus awoke with a start. He tried to open his eyes, but there was something covering the left one, and the right one was having difficulty focusing. Light flooded into the room, exacerbating his throbbing headache. He closed his eyes and reached for the top of his head, which was covered with a bandage.

“No, no, don’t touch that, Darling.” That doting, chirping voice, bathed in a faint vapor of gin and vermouth, could belong to none other than Marcus’s mother, Minnie. He wrenched open his right eye and could almost make out her diminutive frame, haloed by the deluge of light all around her.

“Where am …”

Birdlike fingers were now stroking and tugging at the bandaged cap on Marcus’s head. “Your beautiful hair, all mashed down like that. You’ll look a fright when they take this thing off, but don’t you worry. As soon as they let you go, we’ll run you right over to Alfred’s to get it washed and cut and …”

“Mother, where am I? What …”

“Hush now, my angel. Don’t get yourself worked up. Everything’s going to be fine. The doctors say you’ll make a full recovery.”

“What happened?”

“Oh, there was some kind of trouble down on Wall Street today, a bomb or something.”

Minnie’s nonchalance in reporting a bomb explosion, especially in light of her sincere anxiety over her son’s mussed hair, might have seemed odd, disturbing even, to a passerby, if there had been any. But not to Marcus.

The world was rapidly coming into focus through his right eye now, although his mind still felt somewhat mired in a fog. As suspected, he was in a hospital bed, in a hospital room. It appeared to be a private room, for which he was grateful. The only other person in the room was his mother, who perched on a metal chair at his foot. She must not have been there long because she was still bundled in her fox-tail coat, the one she wore from September to May because of her tendency to get chills.

Marcus attempted a smile at his mother to show her that he was glad she had come, but the tension in his face muscles triggered a painful jolt to the back of his head, and he yelped. Minnie was out of her chair and hovering once more.


“I’m alright, just a little pain in the back of my …”

“Well I should say. You suffered a nasty blow to the top of your head. But don’t worry, it didn’t do any permanent harm. There was a nice doctor in here just before you woke – I can’t remember his name, unfortunately – anyway, he said at the very worst, you might have the teensiest little red scar underneath your hair, but that’s it. You’ll be back at Yale in no time.”

Yes, of course, I have to get back to school, Marcus thought. Life has to return to normal. No time to stop and take stock of what had just happened. That’s the way Minnie had raised him: you put on a smile and act as if everything is just fine no matter what blows life deals you. As a boy, Marcus had admired his mother’s ability to maintain a stiff upper lip after his father had left them, and again after Edgar, Minnie’s second husband, ran off right after the twins’ birth. It was only in recent years that Marcus realized his mother’s stoicism was made up of about twenty percent personal resolve, with the rest being attributed to some combination of gin, vodka, and whisky.

There was a light rap at the door, which stood ajar. A pale-faced, be-speckled man of indeterminate age entered the room. Marcus noticed his mother sit up straight, pushing a wayward auburn curl back behind here ear and straightening her feathered cap. She then stood up, flashing the doctor her brightest smile.

“No need to get up, Mrs. Beaulieu. Good afternoon, Mr. Torrington. How are we feeling?”

“Alright. My head hurts a little, but that’s about it.”

“That’s what we like to here. That little lug nut came at you at an alarming speed. It could have killed you had it hit a few inches lower. Thankfully, all it did was knock you unconscious. And here we are now, wide awake.”

The doctor smiled, not in anyone’s particular direction, and Minnie smiled at him. According to them, that was about all that needed to be said.

“What exactly happened?”

The doctor shook his head, half-smiling, half-frowning in a way that made him look like a circus clown. “There was an explosion downtown, a bomb they think. Probably the work of the Bolsheviks, the Anarchists, maybe. I’m sure the IWW had a hand in it somehow.”

Minnie clucked in distaste at the mention of the radical socialist trade union. Marcus’s mind was slower to process the doctor’s words. Anarchic unionists bombing the stock exchange. His grandfather would have been the first to say, “Let’s not jump to any conclusions. Just because someone’s working class and a unionist, it doesn’t make them a terrorist.”

Suddenly, the misty fog in Marcus’s mind dissipated and he bolted upright in a panic. “Where’s Grandfather?”

Marcus felt his mother and the doctor’s hands pressing him back against the bed. Minnie was cooing “there, there”s and the doctor was mumbling, “Take it easy, champ.”

“Where is he?”

“Don’t worry, champ, he’s in good hands.”

“Good hands?” Marcus sat up again, but this time, he was not going to be pushed back down. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Marcus, please.”

Marcus didn’t give a damn at that moment about his mother’s embarrassment in front of the doctor. “He’s dead, isn’t he?” The last word got lost deep in Marcus’s throat. He fell back against the bed and shut his eyes, squeezing them tight to stem off tears. His head was pounding so hard that he did not recognize the pulsating beats as coming from his own body.

“No, your grandfather is not dead, son.”

Marcus opened his eyes. “He’s not?”

“No.” The doctor hesitated, and then smiled like a fool. “Mr. Torrington, your grandfather is in good hands down at Broad Street Hospital. They’re keeping him in the intensive care unit there.”

Marcus sat up slowly. “Intensive care? In a different hospital?”

Minnie chimed in: “That’s where they took everyone after the blast. It was a ghastly sight. I absolutely insisted they transfer you up here, so you could be near home. Unfortunately, your grandfather’s condition didn’t allow for him to be moved.”

“Yes,” the doctor said, “your grandfather apparently sustained some rather substantial injuries from the blast. I had my nurse telephone over to Broad Street, and she reported that Mr. Torrington is in stable condition at the moment, although it’s difficult to say how soon, or how completely, he’ll recover.”

“What are you saying? Can he talk? Can he see? Can he walk? What?”

“There, there, no need to shout, Darling.”

“Answer me!”

“Mr. Torrington, I’m sure the good doctors at …”

“Answer me!” Every muscle in Marcus’s body seemed to be twitching, so much so that he couldn’t move. He could not do what he wanted, which was to climb out of the hospital bed and shake this grinning idiot until the facts fell from his gaping mouth.

A secret button must have been pushed, because a slim young nurse in pristine white appeared, her arms draped beside her shapeless hips. In her right hand was a syringe. Marcus decided not to fight. He glanced calmly from his mother’s pitying expression to the doctor’s condescendingly serene gaze, and then looked up at the serious young woman, who whispered, “This won’t hurt, Mr. Torrington.”

“Sure, whatever,” Marcus said, offering up his left arm. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to drift into downy nothingness. For years to come, when the anxiety gripped his throat at night and threatened to choke the life out of him, he would try to remember this deep sleep over all else that had happened that day.


  1. This part was much stronger! If this was your beginning, I would definitely be intrigued. I almost wonder if you couldn't start with Mom saying, "Don't touch that..." and have things filter in to Marcus in waves. We'd feel his confusion because we were only getting parts of it too.

  2. Wow Lindsey, I think you're seriously onto something. Last night, I was replaying the first half of the chapter in my head, trying to move the catastrophe to the top, but not really coming up with a structure I liked. But starting with the hospital scene makes a lot of sense to me. Hmm, now I wonder if I shouldn't hold off on the whole explosion revelation until much later in the book ... you've given me so much to think about! I am definitely going to come back to you for more beta-ing in the future!

  3. I would agree with Lindsey, your second half is more compelling than the first.I'd start here.

  4. DONE! I'll start recrafting it for your collective approval in the New Year.