Wednesday, January 23, 2019

January Secret Agent #37

TITLE: Neither Fish nor Fowl
GENRE: Adult Mystery

Ashly plays with the rag dolls, his Aunt Teresa made for him with love and detail, 5 birthdays ago. The dolls are small, can be hidden quickly behind a pillow or under a cushion should his father, Frank, enter the room. Ashly is too old for dolls, but they have become a talisman, a quiet rebellion, and a comfort. He hears Papa’s footfalls in his study above. They are rhythmic, like a distant jungle drum. The drumming settles into a headache of anxiety. Papa paces when he has a pronouncement, and the pronouncements come when he has decided that something, anything, must be done with his disappointing son.

Ashly watches Teresa on the settee. She’s trying to knit, but with each footfall of her brother Frank, she drops a stitch and murmurs, “Drat.” She puts the wool aside and picks up her ever-present hanky.
Frank calls from the landing, “Teresa.” The anger in his voice startles. Teresa jumps with a fright, and within a minute she stands in the doorway of his study. Her doughy body is encased in a dress that squeezes her fat with the same relish with which she wrings her lace hanky.

“Frank?” she demurs.

“Come in and close the door.” He clips each word.

She eases the heavy mahogany door behind her.

Ashly has followed and presses one ear against the cool wood of the now ajar door. In spite of his small size and feminine manner, he has courage.


  1. I get a good sense of what is going on in this scene - a little boy that the father is disappointed off, a scared aunt who takes care of him, and a domineering father. I do feel it's a bit wordy and choppy, but could really shine by cleaning it up a bit. For instance, the first sentence is very choppy and needs a comma to be removed.

    But I will say that this sentence is description perfection -- "Her doughy body is encased in a dress that squeezes her fat with the same relish with which she wrings her lace hanky."

    Hope this helps a bit! Good luck!

  2. This is good. I definitely want to know what Teresa and Frank are talking about in the room, of course. And I'm betting it has everything to do with Ashly and his playing with dolls and being such a disappointment. I already am feeling sorry for Ashly because his father probably makes Ashly's life miserable, if he's that young and already dealing with anxiety. And because Teresa is the one making the dolls for Ashly, I'm sure there is some big tension going on between Teresa and Frank.

  3. I was immediately drawn in by the rag dolls and how poor Ashly has to hide his playing with them.

    I would remove the comma after “dolls” in the first line, put a space between the second and third paragraph, and keep the dialouge tags simple.

    I really like Aunt Teresa and I hope she puts Frank in his place. 0:)

  4. I thought this was done well. There's something about this that just draws me, and I think it's the tone created by the present tense. We're presented with a narrator who seems distant, just giving us facts without emotion, and yet I feel the danger in Frank, the fear in Theresa, the sadness of the the whole situation. And yet Ashley himself isn't sad, fearful, or weak. He plays with his dolls, regardless of his father's wishes. He listens at doorways. He won't be squashed easily.

    A few small things --

    She's trying to knit, could be She tries to knit, to make it active rather than passive.

    You could cut 'The anger in his voice startles," because you show it in the next line when she jumps.

    And I thought you didn't have to tell us Ashley had courage. It seems evident.

    Good luck with this!

  5. Maybe it's just me but I found all the commas distracting, and I don't normally notice punctuation!

    I'm not sure how old he is supposed to be, but he seems like a bright kid.

  6. This is off to an intriguing start, I'm really curious to know more about what's going on and instantly sympathetic to the kids, so good job!

    I would rephrase "feminine manner." It's an oddly adult way to describe a child, plus your risk implying that women don't have as much courage as men, which I don't think is what you meant. Minor quibble, though.

  7. You don’t need to tell us his name’s Frank at all, but especially not twice. You can introduce the name Frank in “Frank?” she demurs. (though demurs isn’t the right word in this context)
    Would a child make comparisons to distant jungle drums?
    Multiple footfalls and pronouncements.
    She wrings her hanky with relish? That means to get enjoyment from the act. I don’t think that’s what you mean to say here.
    In spite of being small and feminine he has courage… This phrasing will rub many people the wrong way, so I think it’s important to clarify that his father is the one who thinks he’s too small, too feminine, not enough… but in his heart, Ashly knows he has courage.

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