Author Topic: Marks on a Red Brick Wall - 1546 words  (Read 1724 times)

Offline Lena Brennan

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 107
Marks on a Red Brick Wall - 1546 words
« on: November 20, 2016, 11:37:55 AM »
I'm really quite fond of this piece and have sent it to a few literary journals in the hope it would be accepted for publication.  It has been declined every time and I'm not sure why.  I would be very grateful for any feedback you might offer.

Marks on a Red Brick Wall
The three of us stand outside the red brick terraced house on Southbrook Avenue, Dublin, where our fathers had grown up. My sister Lena, our cousin Paula, and myself. All of us hoping the front door won’t open, the current owner coming out to ask what we thought we were doing. But there seemed to be no one at home. Each of us had been back here on separate occasions, but never all three together.
"That's not the same front door that was here when granny was alive," I say. "There was a lovely old door with a brass knocker and letter box."
"Yes!" Agrees Paula. "My mammy was always polishing that brass.  She loved to see it shine."
"And granny used to have a key hanging on a piece of string on the inside" I recall. "We would put our hand in through the letter box and pull the key out to open the door."
Lena looks blank. "I don't remember a thing," she says.
"Well you were only little when we used to come over on our holidays" I reply.
"When my family came to live with granny, after my daddy ran away and left us, we never needed our own key," says Paula. "You wouldn't be able to do that these days."
I try to peer through the heavy front-room curtains, remembering the crocheted lace that used to hang there. Recalling the piano where my father would play while I danced around the room.
"Remember that photo that used to hang above the settee?" I say.
"The one that you knocked off the wall and the glass broke?" Paula replies.
"That's not what happened!"
"Is that where you said dad scratched his initials on the bricks?" Lena points to an area on the red brick wall, next to the window ledge.
The bricks are chipped and scratched with the initials of children long grown up. Long passed on. In one of the scratchings I can almost see the nail that was used. An old, rusty nail with a thick point. One that left orange stains on the fingertips. One that made deep marks in the brick. Long lasting marks for future generations to see. The hand that held it, strong and sure. Next to it I see a faint mark in a lighter hand. A silver-new nail with a thinner point. A smaller, unsteady hand, still learning letters. Copying an older brother, perhaps.
Our three heads close together as we squint at the scratching. "See? 'G Mc 1945'."  Lena points.
"Yes.  And there's my daddy's initials. See? 'F Mc 1947'. Sure they're all there, if you look hard enough." Paula runs her fingers along the bricks. "All the Mac brothers are there."
There's a faded, round splodge of yellow higher up the wall. Made when a stray ball plopped into a bucket of paint hanging off a wooden ladder. There's notches on the wall too. Four straight marks with a line through them. Four more. Marking time. Waiting for what?
The three of us lean against the window ledge, staring at our feet, each with our own thoughts. I look at my shoes, bought from the 'pre-owned' shop for one euro. Black 'sensible' shoes with a pattern of tiny holes across the top, as if someone had taken a darning needle and poked through the leather to let out the air. Lena wears blue sandals, her toes peeping. Stumpy toes with rough, ridged toenails, in need of a pedicure. Our cousin's suntanned feet glisten in her flat, pink pumps and the little bows across the top sparkle in the sunshine. We have the same thickness of hair that our fathers had. Once dark brown, almost black. Now of various shades. Mine fading into lightness. My sister's striped with highlights of blond. Paula's, tinted with copper and lustrous in the sunlight. I can hear voices coming through the open window from across the road. Convivial, conversational voices. Laughter. The muffled ringing of a telephone from further up the street. A soft breeze swishes past us and rustles a discarded ice cream wrapper along the pavement. I remember hot Saturday afternoons and the ice cream van playing Greensleeves as it trundled along the street, interrupting our games and sending us running inside to beg for sixpence for a 'Flake 99'. Luring us around the corner, the slap of our sandals echoing along the pavement, frantic in case the van leaves before we get to it. Returning triumphantly with ice cream smiles.
"There used to be a little sweet shop on that corner over there," I say.
"Ah, that's long gone," says Paula. "That closed up while we were still living in the Avenue."
I can still remember the scent of vanilla and caramel as you walked into the shop. The jars full of sherbet flying saucers, liquorice comfits, jelly babies and toffees.  The way the shopkeeper slid the sweets into the brown paper bag with a little shovel and twirled the bag with a flourish.  
At the other end of the Avenue, behind the moss covered wall, is the railway line where the electric train whizzes past on its way out to the seaside, or back in to the city. I remember the rhythm of the old diesel engines rattling along the track – clackclack clackclack, clackclack clackclack, and the fumes they left in their wake. My vicarious excitement when the train slowed down and I could see the passengers trundle past on their way to the seaside. Adults' laps laden with bags full of towels, orange squash, and soggy ham and tomato sandwiches. Children with buckets and spades, waving from the train window, their faces shining with Ambre Solaire coconut oil.
Lena peers through the front-room window. "So how did that picture break?"
"Your sister knocked it off the wall with her jumping," Paula laughs.
"I didn't!"
"Okay, tell us the story, then" says Lena.
"It was the framed photo of granny and grandpa on their wedding day. Isn't that right?" Says Paula.
"That's right. Grandpa had such bulging eyes. They seemed to pop right out of the photo. I was afraid of those eyes, they gave me the creeps. They always seemed to follow me around the room, wherever I was."
"I thought it was a lovely photo of the two of them," says Paula. "I remember it was black and white, and granny was sitting on a chair. Grandpa was standing next to her, with his hand resting on her shoulder. They were so young! Granny was beautiful. She was a fine looking woman in her time."
"So," I continue, "I told granny I didn't want to sleep on the settee because I was afraid of the photo, but there was nowhere else for me to go. She said she'd put a table cloth over it so I didn't have to see the eyes. I asked her not to do that, in case the photo didn't like being covered up, but she did it anyway."
Next to me Paula snorts and nudges Lena. "And that's when your sister jumped up and down and knocked the picture off the wall," she laughs.
"No, I didn't" I protest, but we are all laughing.
"Okay, go on" Lena says.
"Well, I went to bed that night but I was woken by the sound of breathing noises. The breathing seemed to be getting louder and louder, even though I had my head under the blankets. A laboured breathing, as if someone had their head inside a plastic bag. I wanted to get out of that room but I was too scared to move. Eventually I thought that if I pulled the cloth off the picture, it would leave me alone. So, I stood up on the settee but, before I could get the cloth off, the photo seemed to throw itself at me and that's when it landed on the floor and broke."
"So you did knock it off the wall then," says Paula.
"No! It knocked itself off the wall, but no one would believe me when I told them."
"I believe you," says my sister and puts her arm around my shoulders. "Millions wouldn't, but I believe you."
"Ah, we're only messing with you," says Paula, glancing up at me through her long, thick eyelashes. She was always the better looking of the three of us. She stares back down the Avenue and I follow her gaze, remembering our portly uncles arriving at granny's house on a Sunday afternoon, putting along on their Vespa scooter. One steering and the other a pillion passenger. Both squashed together like two fat sausages on a frying pan.
The afternoon is moving on and the houses are casting longer shadows across the road. Someone has started cooking the evening meal already and the scent of onions frying on a pan floats up the Avenue. I can hear my sister's stomach rumbling and I pull mine in to stop it doing the same.
"Time to move along" I say.  
“Not yet,” Paula produces a shiny silver nail from her pocket.  “You keep watch first,” she says.
When each of us has left our mark on the red brick wall, we link arms and make our way back to the car.




« Last Edit: November 21, 2016, 07:26:29 AM by Lena Brennan »

Offline heidi52

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 13213
Re: Marks on a Red Brick Wall - 1546 words
« Reply #1 on: November 20, 2016, 11:56:39 AM »
I'll just give you my opinion as a reader, if I may.

I think what your story is lacking is conflict. You almost touch on it when you mention the  cousin having to live there or Grandpa's creepy eyes, but then you back away - right away and so I am left wondering what the point of the story is. Just a walk down memory lane? I don't have a connection to the characters, or the place so why would the details you mention move me?

It's well written, even though there were places where it could be tightened (isn't there always?) but I think it needs more "story".

Offline Lena Brennan

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 107
Re: Marks on a Red Brick Wall - 1546 words
« Reply #2 on: November 20, 2016, 01:47:09 PM »
Thank you Heidi. I'll work on the conflict.

Jo Bannister

  • Guest
Re: Marks on a Red Brick Wall - 1546 words
« Reply #3 on: November 21, 2016, 04:15:08 AM »
Some of your punctuation is missing, which makes the piece look more amateurish than the writing actually is.  And I was troubled by the variety of tenses.  I know you wanted to tell this in the present tense, but that affects your choice for your reminiscences.  I think you should probably cut down to just present and past.

And then, a story really does need a point - something to reward the reader for his time.  It's a nicely written anecdote about three girls revisiting their childhood home, but we've all done that - why would we be interested in your experience if nothing out of the ordinary happened?

That may be why you're not having the success you hoped for with it.  The other reason, of course, is that there's a hell of a lot of competition out there.  You need to tick all the boxes, and maybe invent some new ones to tick as well, to make your story stand out from the crowd.

But good luck with it.  You obviously enjoyed writing it, so maybe it's time now to work on something else - give yourself two shots at publication.

Offline Allis Chalmers

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 5
Re: Marks on a Red Brick Wall - 1546 words
« Reply #4 on: November 21, 2016, 05:48:21 AM »
Hello Lena Brennan

I don't think your well written little piece qualifies as a 'story' and has none of the elements required for a short story magazine.

I used to see this style of writing when judging competitions and although many (such as yours) were competently written I felt they did not meet the criteria and could not be judged as valid entries

 To be a 'story' a piece must have a point, some conflict and a reason for its existence and (for me) a beginning and a middle and an end.

You do write well but I always find the present tense thing a little over powering and (I think) best reserved--as required--for crafting a synopsis.

I have tried to be objective and wish every success with future pieces.




Offline Lena Brennan

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 107
Re: Marks on a Red Brick Wall - 1546 words
« Reply #5 on: November 21, 2016, 07:24:50 AM »
Thank you all very much for your comments.  I truly appreciate the time you've spent reading my piece.  I will take my 'story' back to the drawing board, bearing in mind all the useful feedback you've given.

Offline Simple Things

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1824
Re: Marks on a Red Brick Wall - 1546 words
« Reply #6 on: November 21, 2016, 08:35:20 PM »
Punctuation.

You take an image(and you do this many times) and then use that same image again. So I take twice as long to see your point as I need to.

An example. I will do my best not to change your meaning.

Quote
The three of us stand outside the red brick terraced house on Southbrook Avenue, Dublin, where our fathers had grown up. My sister Lena, our cousin Paula, and myself.

So much info to digest so early.

We stand outside the red brick terraced house on Southbrook Avenue, where our fathers had grown up. [/quote]

Since you are going to give them names in the next sentence(and in that way giving the total number)  there is really no need to give a digital number representing that same image again. You do this a number of times in such a short piece. This stalls the story and will tire a reader; sometimes without them knowing why.

You shouldn't rush your pieces out for review. The punctuation is an issue.

hillwalker3000

  • Guest
Re: Marks on a Red Brick Wall - 1546 words
« Reply #7 on: November 22, 2016, 08:44:42 AM »
Quote
I'm really quite fond of this piece and have sent it to a few literary journals in the hope it would be accepted for publication.  It has been declined every time and I'm not sure why.

The immediate question I would ask is are you targeting the right kind of market? Do 'literary journals' accept anecdotal stories, or would you be better looking for some kind of regional magazine that specialises in more personal tales set in the Dublin area?

My initial impression on reading it also suggests this needs more work before submission. The opening paragraph is top-heavy with detail yet surprisingly confusing. We know who's there and where they are, but we have no idea what they're doing there. So I'm wondering why you're telling me this stuff. Is there a point to it?

Your punctuation is also careless in places:
"Yes!" Agrees Paula. should be "Yes!" agrees Paula.
and
"And granny used to have a key hanging on a piece of string on the inside" I recall. should be "And granny used to have a key hanging on a piece of string on the inside," I recall.
That's often enough to earn a rejection slip whether the story is captivating or not.

As for the story, it has a certain charm. And some of your descriptions are very evocative. But we need a little more to draw us into the scene. Give us a reason to continue reading without giving the whole game away. Maybe mention the silver nail right from the start - and the fact that this is a pilgrimage. Then allow the scene to gradually unfold.

If you want to see how a master does it look no further than some of Bernard MacLaverty's short stories which are mostly placed in the same kind of setting.

Good luck.

H3K

Offline Lena Brennan

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 107
Re: Marks on a Red Brick Wall - 1546 words
« Reply #8 on: November 22, 2016, 09:08:56 AM »
Simple Things and H3K thank you for your input.  I must have read through this piece a million times and missed the punctuation issues.  Very unprofessional!  The detail in the first paragraph is, as you say, top heavy.  Thanks for the Bernard Maclaverty pointer.  I've not read any of his work.

Offline lamont cranston

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 198
Re: Marks on a Red Brick Wall - 1546 words
« Reply #9 on: December 01, 2016, 08:21:00 PM »
I would study stories the literary journals have all already accepted and published.  I'd note the exceptionally well done things in those stories and compare those traits to my story.