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The Tin Soldiers

by Stephen N 

Posted: 31 March 2003
Word Count: 1893
Summary: This is obviously part way through a story I am writing at the moment. I shan't go into detail of the stoty line, but comments on the style would be much appreciated.

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John spent several minutes uncurling the sun lounger to get it at the right attitude and perfectly set at the correct angle. The dropping sun was at least half an hour away from touching the sea, but he wanted to be certain he was in position with a cold glass of beer in his hand. It was the last Sunday in March and the clocks shifting forward an hour heralded a perfect spring day. The sun had been warm and the breeze almost nonexistent, only enough to gently ruffle the long grass. As evening approached the temperature began to drop significantly. Where Carol and John had been able to have lunch on the patio in shorts and shirtsleeves, now John had had to wear a jumper and jeans. Carol had retreated to the warmth of the living room as the sun started its fall to the horizon. John was not going to be beaten by something as trivial as the cold. This was their first uninterrupted day in the house and he had been dreaming of this moment for several weeks. Carol had suggested that the setting sun could just as easily be seen from inside the house as outside, but John insisted it wasn’t the same. “You can’t get the feel of the day coming to an end looking through a sheet of glass.” He had said as if he was pointing out the obvious to a particularly stupid child. “You need to feel the chill of the night creeping up on you, the shadows slipping forward, the dank, sweet smell of the grass. I can’t sit by the fire with the telly blaring away. It wouldn’t be right.”
Carol had raised her eyes to the heavens as the glass doors closed behind him.
The sale of the house was fast and efficient. As neither side got bogged down by chains of buyers or sellers, the completion went ahead at a pace. Apart from John’s solicitors insistence that the original sale, that in his opinion was somewhat dubious, was investigated. He could find no grounds for the purchase not to proceed, but said when Mrs Waters father had bought the land, there was something about it that didn’t seem right. Although he wasn’t going to waste too much time over it as it had happened so long ago. With that minor upset out of the way, the whole thing went very smoothly. Mrs Waters and John had negotiated separately for the furnishings. All the major items were sold. Only some of the smaller pieces of sentimental value and Mrs Waters personal belongings went with her. John and Carol were left with a more or less totally furnished house. They had to buy a few things; linen, crockery and the like, but essentially, as soon as the keys were handed over they could move in. Without that hateful interlude of cramming vans with furniture, arriving exhausted with the prospect of having to unload it all and sort it out. They collected the keys from Mr Lupping late on Saturday afternoon, drove to the house, snatched the groceries from the boot of the car, made a cup of tea and sat in the living room coming to terms with their new surroundings. Apart from making a bed, they had moved in. A seamless shift from Wimbledon to Cornwall.

Jo had reluctantly returned to South Africa in mid February. The tears flowed long and hard. A last minute hug at the departure gate, a hand held until the last possible moment, intertwined fingers relinquished at arms reach. Then she was gone, a kiss blown as she turned out of site. Carol was inconsolable, she sobbed all the way back. John, although saddened by her going, did point out that she was only away for a few months and had promised to come home in the summer. Carol was not to be consoled and turned the intensity of her loss on him in a spiteful attack, accusing him of having no feeling or concern for either her or Jo. Spitting the accusations from a tear streaked face, fumbling to form the words she didn’t really mean. John drove on, passively accepting the onslaught, he knew when her anxiety had subsided she would apologise, seeking forgiveness for her unprovoked attack. And he would forgive her with a smile and a hug. There would be no lingering resentment, no stony silence followed by juvenile rejection. He would embrace her because he understood her. The children had grown up, but they were still the children.

Steven and Catherine’s holiday in January made little difference to Catherine’s depression. Steven had confided in Jo when they had returned, that Catherine was about as much fun as a punch in the teeth. She didn’t want to do anything, and when they did she complained. Jo sided with her brother, but made no comment to Catherine. After a week of looking after the boys she did feel sympathy for Catherine. The unrelenting demands the boys made were enough to try the patience of a saint, and she had only had them for a week, and her Mum and Dad had been there with her. Much of her feelings for Catherine had shifted from the hostility she had struggled to suppress over Christmas, to a gentler understanding of the pressure she was constantly under.

Jono and Tracey’s baby was born a month prematurely, and weighed in at five pounds seven ounces. They had named him Renoir, Renoir Joshua De-Vere.
When Carol, John and Jo had called at the ramshackle house on their way home, Jono enthusiastically accepted the offer put to him of being a caretaker. He fussed around them as if they were a liberating force entering a besieged city. He vigorously shook John’s and made a flamboyant show of hugging both Carol and Jo. There seemed to be a flood of emotion gushing from a breach in the pent up fear he had of being homeless, like a dam wall collapsing, releasing all the pressure behind it in one single powerful rush.
He nodded and agreed with every syllable John uttered. He was mesmerised by Carol’s description of the house and the remoteness of the location. He nodded furiously in agreement with virtually every word she said, as if disagreement might prompt them to withdraw their offer.
Tracy characteristically said nothing, but the beaming smile and watering in the corner of her eyes spoke volumes. She was as relieved as her husband and John found both their relief unnerving. He went on at length, saying that nothing was finalised, that they were still in the very early stages of buying the house, and things might go wrong. He was trying to dampen their spirits, but it was like trying to put out a fire with an eggcup full of water. Jono reassured him that he understood the pitfalls of buying property, but his body language, the keenness of his words, blatantly showed a childish belief that nothing would go wrong.
They left the De-Vere’s probably the most relieved and happy couple on the planet. John hadn’t expected such a response. They had called in on the off chance that they would be there, and with the intension of running their plans past them, to see if they were interested. Now he had landed himself with the prospect of determining their future. Just from the expressions on their faces as they left, he knew it would be a crushing blow to them if he had to let them down.

A fiery orange ball of sun slipped slowly to the sea, its colour changing to deep red as it gently rested its weight on the horizon, before being swallowed by the approaching night. The light, high ribbons of misty cloud were stained scarlet as the sun dropped away. Before all the light was lost, a thin film of mist crept in off the sea, keeping low to the ground, slithering over the cliff edge and advancing silently towards the house. The temperature had fallen dramatically and John’s ice cold beer had lost its appeal, although he forced himself to enjoy it. He watched the mist slinking towards him, smothering the grass, like a white sheet of finest silk was being drawn to the house by invisible hands. It curled itself round the legs of the lounger and silently buffeted the doors. There was a keenness in the cold, damp air. The smell of the mist on the grass, mingled with the salt drenched tang of the sea produced a drug like quality to the air. A drug which John consumed greedily, taking huge lungfuls through his nose, delighting in the sweet, piercing cold air as it flowed through to his chest.
Carol broke the magic as she slid the doors open. “Are you coming in? You must be frozen.” She looked beyond him at the darkness that had closed around the house. There was nothing to see beyond the glow from the living room light that that reflected against the mist in an orange pool.
“Come and take a breath of this air.” He said as he swung his legs, stiffened by the chill, to the ground.
Carol peered warily beyond the threshold and stepped nervously out onto the patio.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” John said as he stood and slipped an arm over Carol’s shoulders. “All this space, all this silence. The air’s so clean.”
“Yes, yes it’s lovely. Can we go in please.” She tugged him towards the door, her eyes cast over her shoulder, focused on the night that had closed in so rapidly. She slid the doors shut and snatched the curtains across the expanse of glass, her own flustered image stared back until the curtains were fully drawn.

John slept peacefully as Carol lay awake for the second night. She couldn’t understand why she couldn’t sleep. She was certainly tired enough, the house was warm, the bed comfortable, but something kept her mind active. It wasn’t that there was any noise to disrupt the shutting down process, perhaps that was part of the problem. At home in London the house wasn’t noisy, but she always knew the noise was there, cars passing, people about, planes approaching the airport. Life in London never stopped, whereas here, life never really started. She had to admit that during the day it was a lovely place to be, the openness of the countryside, the sea on their doorstep, the uninterrupted peace and solitude, were wonderful. But as the day was lost and the night slowly took its place, the overwhelming feeling of vulnerability began to leach into her mind. It wasn’t a desperate fear of anything, just the thought of being so alone, of what was out there? The answer was as clear as it was disconcerting: Nothing. And she knew that, but………..but what? She couldn’t formulate into a rational idea why she felt so vulnerable when there was such a obvious lack of a threat.
She turned to her side and draped her arm across John's chest, he muttered something in his sleep, but didn’t wake. Perhaps when that strange man Jono and his family moved in a few hundred yards up the lane, that might settle her nerves. Knowing that there was another human being within shouting distance, someone to call on should the unexpected come thundering in out of the silent black night.

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Comments by other Members

skyblue2 at 08:53 on 02 April 2003  Report this post
I find it difficult to be positive about this work because the extract is from the middle and we do not know the characters or their motivation.

You are trying to describe every single detail and quite honestly this gets rather tedious. It is something that new writers get drawn into doing and is not likely to find you a publisher.

The description of watching the sunset doesn't come off in the end because there is no insight revealed and it doesn't seem to move the story along apart from maybe hinting at a breakdown in communication between man and wife, although that is evident in other ways.

Shadowgirl at 17:36 on 05 April 2003  Report this post
This is my first time commenting on anyone's work - so forgive me if this is too amateur a post. However, I wanted to say as a reader, I rather enjoyed the descriptions, and details. It seemed to fit - with John relaxing on the sunlounger at the end of the day, it would be a time for him to be reflective. I could also feel the tension in the air as the temperature dropped. The atmosphere seemed to build. I would love to read more..please post more, I want to know if something does come "thundering in out of the night!"

Anna Reynolds at 15:19 on 10 April 2003  Report this post
I agree. I think the sense of tension and threat, whether internal or external, real or imagined, is built very well- of course the other characters are less easy to get a handle on here, we are in the middle of the story- but John and Carol are intriguing and the slow pace works very well. Actually I'm hoping it doesn't become a things-that-go-bump-in-the-night story-- this psychological unpeeling of deeper fears is much more interesting.

There are editing and trimming jobs to do on every piece of work-- it never stops. But that's for a later date-- please let us see more!

skyblue2 at 14:34 on 13 May 2003  Report this post
I am sorry I was so harsh in my initial comment. I'm like a bull in a china shop sometimes.
I have now read the prologue which works well.
This passage though is very similar in content and if the whole work is so slow moving it could get very tedious.
I think there is enough material to see you can write well but you do need to think about pace and dynamics.

Stephen N at 17:34 on 13 May 2003  Report this post
No apology needed David. I'm big and ugly enough to cope. I like detail and I like to write detail. Works for some folk and not for others.

All the best

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