Steak, salad and a pipe.

..I’d heard that Francis was ailing, and he looked thin sliding into a booth with his buddy Bob. But he’d been thin to begin with. Wiry.  Two years ago he’d cut, split, and hauled six or eight full cords of firewood off the back lot. Stacked it at his son’s house, then his son sold the house, and Francis could not come to terms with the buyer over the worth of the wood. He loaded it all up again and took it home.

..They switched booths once:

..“Cold as a barn over there”

.. Bob was gazing out one of the the big diner windows and through the maze of wires and signage. Far to the west, over the river, he spotted a flock of geese. His vague vowel sound and gesture turned Francis toward the birds:

..“Bunch of ’em….Hell of a bunch of ’em….Headed south….That’s a hell of a bunch of ’em”

..Both men seemed lost in the sight, Bob murmuring his agreements. Then a stake rack truck rolled past hunched low:

..“Jesus, look at that. That’s a hell of a load o’ wood.”

..The distinctive clenched delivery, though the pipe was in his pocket. An acquaintance entered and questioned Francis:

..“It was a bigger operation than I thought. Hiatal hernia. My stomach looks like I got hit with buckshot.”

..Laparoscopic surgery, I thought:

..“Two and a half weeks ago. Tired all the time, but I guess it’s comin’ along. Should have had it done sooner, it probably wouldn’t a been so bad.”

..Standing over their booth on my way out was more a salute than an inquiry, but there was a quick tale of the mourning doves under Francis’ feeder:

..“Why the hell they knock the seeds down and feed in the driveway? I don’t know.”

..In the lot I noticed his truck, and realized he’d driven his younger friend to the diner.

..Belly surgery at ninety, I wondered. Emergency style.


5 responses to this post.

  1. A style is beginning to emerge. You’re profiting from shorter sentences but always remind yourself, you’re in charge not the format. The short sentences should not only be there for a reason (typically for dramatic impact; they don’t work as well with acts of reflection), ideally there should be identifiable grammatical and narrative links between them even if these links are invisible. Here’s an example of getting the grammar right:

    Out in the lot I noticed Francis’s truck.
    He was driving.

    Putting the two together suggests the truck is moving. Is this what you want to say? Isn’t Francis here in the diner with the narrator? Wouldn’t this be better: He had driven here.

    For me the climax of the story’s in the second para: the fact that this dogged, stubborn character is prepared to cart the wood away after all the labour in getting it there. Here short sentences may work better. Also look for pruning opportunities. Don’t you agree “So he loaded it all up again.” is superior. We don’t need to be told he took it home.

    Pay attention to dialogue (and to who’s speaking). You’ve hinted these guys are blue-collar (Jesus, look at that.) So apply the same view to everything they say. For instance: Hiatal hernia’s a bigger op than I thought. My gut looks like it’s buckshot.

    Doesn’t have to be eng.-lit. Better if it isn’t. It’s more vigorous. I may not have got “op” right, possibly it’s a British abbreviation not US.

    “Mesmerised” is your word (ie, as author) and you’re entitled. But sometimes you can side with your characters. How about “struck dumb”


  2. A good story and I was glad you made him old at ninety and not less than that since I am nearly seventy four. The story is obviously told by a narrator who “had heard” about Francis, but is apparently on the scene to overhear the conversation. Does his presence need some explanation. If he’d known Francis well enough you would assume they would have spoken when seeing each other in the diner or outside in the lot. Is the phrase “Laporoscopic surgery” part of someone’s speech or the thought of the narrator?


  3. I’ve just noticed that in the post the words “I thought” are added, but in the copy I see as I type these comments I see “Laporoscopic surgery:” only.


  4. Thanks for the comments guys. This was a quick news story, almost everything in quotes was actually stated. I realized on first draft that there could be confusion about who was speaking, and I should have developed the angle that Bob is a fairly inaudible fellow who sort of murmurs along. I tried to deal with the whole matter in the title, which at one point was simply “Francis Speaking”. Possibly a little less abstract than the longer title, but still not enough of a clue. Part of Francis’ statements were to me, and I trimmed too much in trying to avoid (or, even more challenging, make smooth) the transitions from speaker to speaker. I hadn’t initially thought of this as a writing exercise but more of a journal entry. Of course it turned into a writing exercise, but I didn’t really devote myself to it, thinking it would suffice for the few readers I have who actually know Francis. Managed dozens of edits and finally just tossed it up. I will look it over and possibly reorganize it if I feel like exercise before another subject arises. Sir Hugh, I think your differing editions are the result of my confusion with the WordPress editor (previously mentioned). First post came up without my latest revisions (forgot to “save draft”)……I imagine your first view was through an email feed of some sort? RR…yes…that is a much better wording on the truck matter, I appreciate the time you take with your suggestions and will try to keep them in mind.


  5. I’ve cleaned it up quickly, and I think it’s much better for your suggestions. Making him 90 was just part of the report Sir Hugh. A group of his friends threw an open house party at the VFW for his 90th six months ago, and a couple hundred people came. I’m sure he had a good time, and I’m sure he would say the fuss was a bunch of bullshit.


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