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Cold Kitchen, Hot War

by steve_laycock 

Posted: 29 March 2006
Word Count: 1134
Summary: On the back of everyone’s comments, I’ve decided to begin my book again, probably from the middle. It’s boring me to write it, and that’s never a good thing. So here’s one I made earlier … (written for a women’s mag when war in the Gulf was on the horizon)

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I’d always wanted a warm kitchen. I wanted one of those country kitchens you see in the magazines, with bronze pots and pans hanging around an enormous agar and a continental smell of baking bread hanging in the air. I worked hard all my life and earned one. I’d never felt it turn so cold so quick.

“I want to go.” my son said, staring down at the saltcellar he slowly turned in his hands. “I volunteered.”

My heart sank and my gut turned cold. “Where are they sending you?”

He spoke slowly, almost guiltily. “We’re being flown to the Gulf in two weeks. We’ll be on the HMS Kent for a few days then we’re being transferred to Oman for Desert training…” He stopped as he raised his eyes and saw my pale face staring back. “We’re Peacekeepers,” he said with a surety any mother would be proud to hear in her son. “We won’t be on the front line.”

The numbness I felt was suddenly washed away, and replaced with a desperate passion. “Yet,” I pleaded, “Andy not yet … but … they’re talking about expanding the war. They’re talking about going in further … if you’re there … you’ll be …” My mind raced ahead to a conclusion I couldn’t face.

“I’ll be able to make a difference if I’m there.”

Like an air balloon deflating, my body collapsed on the seat. I breathlessly cried, “You could be killed, if you’re there, baby. You could die.”

A silence as stony as the slate floor tiles fell between us.

My mind travelled back: summers watching him play on the lawn at my parents’ house, winters dancing around the Christmas tree, autumns shifting through fallen leaves, chilly spring mornings when he’d wear his shorts to school – he always wore his shorts, no matter how cold it was, he was stubborn like that … stubborn like his father.

My heart chilled as I remembered Andy’s face the day he watched his father leave, the day he made sure his father left. Andy was gritty, strong, determined not to be bitter; it was the first time I’d seen him as a man. He was fifteen years old when he punched his father and ordered him out of the house.

I broke out in tears, my body fell back in the chair sobbing, my hands covering my eyes. I didn’t even want to see the light. I felt his arms fold softly around my back and turn me toward him in an embrace.

I wanted to tell him not to go, order him not to go; I gritted my teeth, sick at my inability to hold him back, to protect him from himself.

“It’ll be ok, mum, I’ll be back soon,” he whispered. I pulled back and turned my face away from him.

I didn’t want to, but: “Don’t go!” I said.

I stood up and moved toward the sink. I don’t know why I do that. When times are hard – and all our hardest times have happened in this kitchen, all our bitterest arguments – I always retreat to the sink by the back door. I opened it a little, pleased at the breath of cool summer evening air.

“Do you remember when Dad left,” he said behind me. I didn’t want to look round. “I knew the difference between right and wrong. That it’s wrong to be weak, to turn away. Dad was weak when he hit you, when he took out his anger on you; he was weak and he was wrong. I’m not like that. If can do something about this, I have to try.”

I struggled to fight the hot tears which threatened to flood down my cheeks. I turned to look at him.

He was a man. As he stood before me in the kitchen then, I knew. My little man was big now.

He spoke clearly, with focus, and determination. “These people need help; I’m not going out there to fight terrorists, though by God if I have to, I will, I’m going out there to help. I can help …”

“There are other ways,” I said, turning away from him again.

I knew there was little chance of persuading him not to go, but I had to try. “There are jobs you can do from home. There must be something else you can do?”

“I’m a trained peacekeeper, and I’m good at my job. I’m not turning my back now.” He smiled and continued, with the determined air he used when informing me of his decisions. “Though I am clear about who I’m there for. I’m going to help civilians in a war they’re not a part of. I’m going to help mothers and children … fathers. People who can’t help themselves.”

“And if you get called into battle? To the front line?”

“Then I’ll go.”

“And die?”

“If needs be,” he said calmly. I could feel anger growing in me; bitter, impotent anger, as though his philosophical approach to death ignored the impact it would have on his family – on me, his sister or his wife.

I remembered fights we’d had before, when he first began missing and then left school, when he left to go travelling, when he joined the Army in the first place. I would always push him to question his decisions, he always took it as disapproval, and in the end he did what he wanted anyway. Too much of his father in him.

“Mum,” he said at last, “I know you think I’m stubborn.” He smiled, “I know you think I’m arrogant and I don’t listen to you. And I know you’re scared for me. I know we haven’t always got along, but I want you to know something: I’m proud of you mum. I’m proud to call you my mum.” I could feel my heart slowly breaking inside me. “You taught me what’s right, you taught me how to be strong. I want to go and fight for what I believe in. I’m not going there with illusions. It’s gonna be tough, I’m gonna see things …”

I couldn’t bear it, “Don’t!” I turned my head away, tears silently streaming down my face.

I heard his voice continue as he moved closer to me. Before I knew it he was standing before me, holding my shoulders, then my blurry gaze. “You taught me that the world is a beautiful place, mum,” he said, “I think it’s worth fighting for. Let me go into a place where my strength can save peoples lives. Let me go with your blessing.”

I put my arms around him and held my little big man close, soaking his shirt with my tears. “Take care, my son,” I whispered. “I love you so much.”

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Comments by other Members

Nell at 07:52 on 01 April 2006  Report this post
Hi Steve,

I'm printing this out - get back to you later.


lang-lad at 11:14 on 01 April 2006  Report this post
Hi Steve,
Only last night, I met at dinner with friends a young man who has in the last three years left the army and who saw action in Afghanistan. His account of combat training was the most sobering and chilling reality check I think I have ever had.

For me the start of this piece is at "I remember Andy's face the day he watched his father leave..."

That changes the emphasis of what it is really about but it also brings the story into focus and, I think, shows up the kitchen idea as a bit of a blind alley. The opening has done its job as the catalyst that got you going on the creation of a story that I think has a much deeper heart to probe.


Nell at 12:15 on 01 April 2006  Report this post
Hi again Steve,

I think the main difficulty with this piece is the putting across of all that intense emotion from this imagined mother's perspective. There's a lot of cliché in there, much dramatic physical manifestation of her internal conflict, and rather than making the reader feel empathy it tends to have the opposite effect. There are many non-deliberate repetitions too, and coupled with the above and the deliberate ones this dilutes the power of the writing. If you'd like more specific points I'm happy to post them - just say, but I think Eliza's right about where the story starts, and that it has a deeper heart to probe.


strangefish at 10:50 on 03 April 2006  Report this post
I'm with Nell and Eliza on this one -- there's a lot to explore here, the mother-son relationship, the father-son conflict, the imprending doom of war under a foreign sun, which is weakened by the focus on the Aga at the start.

I understand the reasons why, the domestic safety and warmth of the kitchen, the soul of the family turning cold, but it seems a little over-egged.

The fight with the father could be made more of and would benefit more if it was brought in only when the son mentions it.

Like an air balloon deflating, my body collapsed on the seat. I breathlessly cried,
be careful with adverbs, they can often come back to bite you on the arse... painfully. breathlessly and cried just sound wrong and cliched. The air balloon image as well adds little to the description.

With a renewed focus and polishing you do have the backbone of a good story/scene here but I think it's worth rewriting with a few of George Orwell's rules in mind: Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print; and If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

steve_laycock at 20:36 on 04 April 2006  Report this post
thanks guys, i'll def have a look at that Orwell site.

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