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In The House

by LMJT 

Posted: 13 July 2014
Word Count: 750
Summary: For this week's 'neighbour' challenge. Sorry I'm late! Edit: I'm also over on the word count! Whoops!

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Content Warning
This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

‘I’d stay longer if I could,’ Christian said as Sarah wrapped clingfilm around another plate of untouched sandwiches. ‘You know I would. But it’s all I could do to get time off to come here. For this.’

‘For this,’ Sarah echoed. ‘Well, I’m sorry it’s been such an inconvenience for you.’

They were in the kitchen of their now late mother’s house and the last of the mourners had just left; the neighbours and acquaintances of her mother’s that Sarah had rarely met, but were still more familiar than her own sibling.

It had been over a decade since she’d last seen her brother and in those years he’d morphed into a stranger. His skin was tanned from the years spent in California and his teeth had the unnatural whiteness of the movie stars she sometimes saw in Cara’s magazines.

The change wasn’t just physical though. Was she mis-remembering, or had he been more empathetic in his youth? Six years her junior, he’d always seemed kinder, more considerate. Sensitive.

She placed the sandwiches in the fridge and slammed the door shut as Christian leant against the sideboard and slipped his Blackberry out of his suit trousers in what she’d noticed had become a habit. He’d even pulled it out in the church just before the service and she’d wanted to scream.

‘You know that’s not what I mean,’ he said, his eyes downcast at the screen of his phone. ‘I’m just saying I-,’

‘I’m just asking you to help me to clear the house,’ Sarah snapped. She could feel her throat tighten with the threat of tears. ‘That’s all. And I don’t think that’s too much to ask.’

He looked at her with wide eyes and she realised her voice was far louder than she’d intended.

Cara appeared in the doorway, glancing from Sarah to Chris and back again. She was dressed smartly in a knee-length black dress and looked so much older than her 16 years.

‘You alright mum?’

She was frowning with concern and Sarah had a painful flashback to the months before the divorce, when arguments with Richard had reached a heat-breaking low.

Sarah nodded quickly. ‘Fine sweetheart. We’re just having a chat. That’s all.’

Cara held her gaze for a moment. ‘I’m gonna pop out for a bit,’ she said. ‘I need to get some air.’

‘Of course,’ Sarah said softly. ‘See you later.’

When she’d gone, Sarah poured herself another glass of wine, aware of Christian’s watch as she did so. He didn’t drink, of course. She’d learnt yesterday when they’d gone to Waitrose to buy drinks for the wake and she’d had to take charge of yet another element of their mother’s death.

‘I said I’ll stay till Tuesday,’ Christian said. ‘I can help you until then. Just tell me what you need me to do.’
‘Tuesday,’ Sarah scoffed. ‘Well, if you’re here till Tuesday, what am I worrying about?’

The clock above the cooker ticked loudly in the background.

‘I don’t know why you’re being like this, Sarah,’ Christian said. ‘This is a difficult enough time as it is.’

‘Don’t talk to me like that, Chris,’ she retorted. ‘I know what a fucking difficult time this is. And I know what a difficult time it was when Dad died and Mum could barely hold herself together for the funeral. But you don’t know that, do you?’ She was shouting now. ‘You don’t know that because you weren’t fucking here. You’ve never fucking been here.’

She slapped the marble sideboard and her wineglass jumped. Christian looked at her with wide eyes and the tears she’d repressed all day began to stream down her face.

She flinched at his touch on her arm, but let him pull her close, let his arms wrap around her in an embrace she hadn’t known she needed until now.

She stayed in his arms until she heard a knock on the kitchen window and looked up to see Decima Bucnanan, her mother’s immediate neighbour still dressed in black, on the other side of the glass.

‘Is everything alright, Sarah?’ she asked, her face etched with concern.

Sarah wiped her eyes and opened her mouth to speak, but no words were forthcoming. The tears came again and she turned away.

As she walked out of the kitchen, she heard Christian say, ‘I’m sorry if we disturbed you, Mrs Buchanan. As you can imagine, this is a very difficult time for us and if you’ll excuse me, my sister needs me.’

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Comments by other Members

TassieDevil at 17:06 on 13 July 2014  Report this post
Hello Liam,
Emotive stuff with a strong feeling of reality throughout. The conversation and feelings permeated this piece but there were little touches like the blackberry that added so much also. My only criticism would be that I was expecting more story wise. You did convey the change in Sahah's attitude toward her brother well and his continued detachment but the ending needed something further in my opinion.
You have a skill for showing strong emotions in your writing and choosing such a difficult time to show your characters has worked so well.
Thanks for the read. As you said, this has very real potential for developing past that  tight word limit I imposed.

Cornelia at 18:52 on 13 July 2014  Report this post
I didn't really feel there was enough  here to make a story : woman reproaches man for not being there when needed to look after ageing mother, he comforts her and is apparently remorseful. I liked the fact that it was easy to visualise the scene and the dialogue was realistic. The woman's resentment really came across. I thought the intervention by the anxious younger member of the family was a convincing touch.

The change of mood too abrupt, though. I get the twist that we were expecting the man to be the husband and he turned out to be the brother, but I'm not sure that it's  strong enough  to be memorable.It doesn't seem to matter, really.

I think you could have started the story at:

‘I’m just asking you to help me to clear the house,’ Sarah snapped.

The intervening paragraphs of backstory, such as the ten year absence  could be included in the dialogue without seeming to interrupt the action.

aware of Christian’s watch as she did so.

I thought at first reading you might mean he was looking at his watch because he wanted to leave. Maybe Christian's scrutiny instead?

the tears she’d repressed all day

I think you mean suppressed

Decima Bucnanan

is too fancy a name for the  neighbour because it  draws attention to a very minor character. It's spelt differently the second time. Is Christian  a bit harsh towards someone who's only wanting to help? He could have just reassured her and mentioned she was his sister .

There were one or two cliches I noticed that could be omitted, such as the face etched with concern and the voice not forthcoming that seemed a bit clumsy,  but this is potentially a very interesting story. It feels as if it should be longer.

Hope this is helpful


LMJT at 20:34 on 21 July 2014  Report this post
Dear Both,

Apologies for the delay in replying to your comments. 

Yes, I can see that it's not too much of a story and, since posting it here, I've embellished it a little, but it's still not a hugely dramatic piece!

Sheila - Thank you so much for your thorough observations. Good point about the neighbour's name. Looking back, I can see that the name is a little jarring. I hadn't intended it to be a twist about Christian being her brother, so I've made sure that's not the case in the rewrite. 

Thanks again for the comments.

Liam :)

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