Cricket and Grey: inspecting writing style

As I was looking for bits of Cricket and Grey to illustrate and take a closer look at my writing style I was surprised to discover that it flows more easily than I thought between the light and dark – it’s more consistent than I realized.  There is a lot more harsh contrast in Jane Doe, which is, admittedly, a much darker story in the first place.  Still, there’s the alternating POV which is apparently typical of me.

It is useful to look at smaller bits next to each other.  If anyone reads these bits I’d like to know if you think the tone is fairly consistent or if you feel there’s a contrast, and if there’s a contrast – would you prefer it was smoother?  Do you wish it was only from one point of  view?

Please excuse the formatting, it doesn’t translate perfectly from Word documents pasted into WordPress.

From Chapter Four:

(ignore the awkwardness of the first sentence which flows naturally from the previous one I haven’t included for brevity’s sake)

Or it would have been if it weren’t for the sight of Peter’s daughter completely covered in dirt, standing like a soldier at the mouth of the hole her father’s body lay in, intentionally not looking at the Federal officer who was saying something to her that Grey couldn’t hear but which he could see made her stiffen like a fox listening to a forest of noise for the one mouse who moves soundlessly beneath the carpet of damp rusted leaves coming closer and closer to the predator’s teeth.  When she threw the punch she wasn’t a youth anymore; the wee daughter of an old accomplice and dear friend; she grew in stature all at once so that what had seemed the body of a youth became a charged vessel of movement; not encumbered with a large bosom her body was still a grown woman’s with fleet curves and arms a powerful arrow thrown straight and sharp and true.  The daughter had her father’s artful violence.

It wasn’t straightforward after that.  Grey’s motivations became a tangle of virtues and vices.  When Cricket was driven down the hill into town and locked up for assaulting a federal officer he stayed and helped the old man bury their mutual friend under Hesse’s emotionless watch, and if he was a gambling man, Grey would have bet Hesse was disappointed not to have had occasion to shoot someone that morning.  They spoke little and worked hard.  Vultures communed silently up near the tips of the pines and tall maples surrounding the clearing where the men worked their shovels; birds of hunger hoping for something, a scrap of flesh and bone, or maybe even just bone, a sliver of marrow for mother bird; even while the scent of the body faded under the weight of soil they circled in miserable hope.

When the grave was filled and their friend done at last, whether to rest or no was no longer their concern.  The old man was agitated, puzzling his grimy fingers over the many folds and dirty edges of his mangled baseball cap of which he had several, identical to the one he worried with his hands on there in the clearing.  Grey was fond of the old man and let him chew a long speech out until he’d exhausted his ability to make no sense and at last came to the point.  He couldn’t let the girl go to prison.  Lord knew she never had no lid for that temper of hers and if he weren’t so worried about what now, for crissakes, he’d almost have to admire her balls.  Still, there aint no doubt she’d be laid out in prison and he had to think on some scheme to help her.  But here, Shockey exhausted his words and still had no solution.

As nonchalantly as possible Grey promised the old man that he wouldn’t let Cricket go to prison.  He knew what to do but when Shockey asked him what he planned he was less than clear, hoping to stave curiosity off with a vague assurance that he had something Smith might want more than Cricket.  He was as good as his word.  He was no fool and knew that it was a temporary fix at best, but buying time and dropped charges weren’t bad for a start.

Excerpt from Chapter Five:

Every morning for a week after the wake I woke to complete and utter silence, something I was used to even when my parents were alive, but it was different that week.  Something I couldn’t see had come loose in my life, something dark and territorial.  I slept with my M&P next to me, waking at every deviation in the air current, every displaced noise, every change of light.  No one visited, not for a stitch or a salve.  Death is like a magic repellant; no one knows how to talk to you after you’ve buried someone; no one knows how to look at you once the liquor is drained and the music stops.  I worked in the uneasy quiet, preparing for the influenza that would hit the county like a hammer soon enough.  I also took stock so that I’d be prepared when the tax bills came.  I inventoried everything I had, everything I owned; carefully sorting so that I could sell anything worth selling if I had to.  I had an idea where I might be able to get decent prices for my herbal medicines in bulk but until I got the bill I had no idea what I was dealing with.  I filed all the paperwork from the burial and cleaned out the rest of my father’s files while I was at it.

You never really know a person until you’ve gone through their personal effects when they’re dead.  I never went through my mother’s things.  I don’t know if father did either.  I lived most of my life between the cottage and the cabin and never knew the back corner of my parents’ closet.  I guess I’d spent so much time with my father outdoors and studying at school that I never had the time or the curiosity to rummage through their secret drawers and boxes stowed in the backs of dusty shelves where fusty stacks of necrotic photographs of people I’d never met practically crumbled in my hands.

I opened boxes full of strange treasures that had no intrinsic value but seemed precious merely for the careful keeping of them; ribbons stained beyond pleasure or use, small pieces of slate – the kind a child picks up at the shore, beads long separated from their original settings, abused bits of frequently folded and unfolded paper notes – a few of them obviously sent through our own pigeon post (who knows how long ago?), a tiny ivory carved crucifix that felt like real tusk, a curious broken piece of china with the most exquisite deep pink rose painted on it.  Such were the remnants unearthed.  No narrative to tell me their meaning, to divine their place in my mother and father’s lives, or mine.  This wasn’t my life.  I felt disconnected again, as though my parents had lived their lives in harmony and unison together while I just tagged along, separate, alone.  It was irrational.  I had always felt loved.  I had always felt enclosed between them.  Why should their deaths untether me so that I floated like a stranger through this familiar landscape like a temporary guest?

When a small stack of photographs drifted like ghosts from the shelf above me where I sat examining the sum of my parent’s lives, I tried catching them in my hands but they landed instead, like angels of deliverance, all around me.  I’d never met evil in my own house before.  I’d never really met evil at all, just bad men and women too selfish to bother with their consciences, but I’d never met a force completely without one.  I picked up the photograph closest to my hand.  It felt dirty before I even made out what I was looking at, the quality of the photograph was clinical the way hardcore pornography is; emotionless skin, graphic, detailed shots of flesh so aggressively sexual they become inhuman, nothing more than objects in space.  It was a woman’s torso.  Dark bruising mottled it but the bruising was made ridiculous, almost childish compared to the deep burns scrawled across the lower abdomen in angry letters that spelled out the word “gift”.

Excerpt from Chapter 7:

There is nothing my temper loves better than company.  I pushed out of my chair too, we shouted at each other across the table accusations ridiculous, unproductive, and painful.  After a stupid amount of yelling passed across the old thick wood dinner table my father made with his own hands Julie stood up and with a surprising amount of authority shut us both up.  This is why I love her.  She is everything soft, warm, feminine.  You can balance a tankard on her breasts and her soft light brown curls are so sensual they catch men in the tangled up-swept twists she contrives from twigs and pencils.  She is pliant with the ones she loves until they piss her off.  Tom and I have the gift of knowing how to reach the limits of Julie’s generously forgiving nature so that she rises up like a harmless sweet kitten that suddenly grows into a tiger; she managed to shove us both back into our seats smoking with temper but slave to her authority.

“You’re both giving me a headache!  Shut up!  Have some more wine.  You’re both wound so tightly it makes me wonder if you’re getting enough sex in your lives.  No, don’t answer; you’ll only lie to me.”  She took a couple of sips of wine before continuing.  “There is clearly much to be discussed between you and me, Kit.  But you, Tom, you have no authority here.  You just want to wrap all women up in your cotton gauze and prevent them from being who they need to be.  I miss the old mischievous brother who liked a woman with her own mind and a sense of adventure.  How long has it been since you’ve rejoiced in a bit of trouble?  How long since you’ve seen the humor in the ridiculous?  Pffft!”  Tom had opened his mouth to speak but closed it again.  “I know.  You’ve become a man with responsibilities but Kit isn’t yours to protect.  So back off!”  This had the effect of a slap across Tom’s face

He tightened his mouth and sat back in a tense posture of pretend relaxation.

All three of us sat in silence, listening to the crackling and the falling of logs in the woodstove.  It wasn’t late but it was dark as coal outside.  Tom got up to feed the fire just as the kitchen French doors flew open and Grey burst through them with the wrath of at least three God’s riding on his shoulders, and while they appeared capable of bearing much weight, I thought it was a bit much to come swirling himself and his uncalled for wrath uninvited through my kitchen.

Julie and I stood up with surprise as he rushed towards me and practically yelled at me “Are you actually trying to get yourself killed?!”  I asked him what the hell he was talking about and he, towering himself over me in the most menacing manner he could (which was pretty impressive, actually), said that I must have a death wish if I was so willing to throw myself away working as an armed guard for Malakai.  At this both Julie and Tommy surged forward with urgent questions and though it may have been the light of the lamps, I could have sworn they both went bone pale.

“Is it true?!” Tommy demanded.

I’d already forgotten I’d given Grey as a reference to Malakai.  The truth is I didn’t think Malakai would actually check up on my reference.  Do crime bosses usually do that?  I guess they did.  I pretended to be very calm about it all even though my heart was beating a little fast.

“Yes, it’s true.”  All three of them were bearing down on me with shock, incredulity, and anger.  It’s queer to have almost everyone you know mad at you.  They were all speaking at once and I was trying to figure out how to bolt like a cornered fox but there was no hole to disappear into.  Grey’s voice and his anger were the loudest.

“This is madness Cricket!  You can’t do this!”  He said, grabbing my wrist in a hard grip pulling me towards the garden doors.

“Let go of me.” I said with a low growl.  “Have you no words left?”

“I do and you’ll hear them right now, outside!”  He was still near shouting and at last Tommy was spurred into action and stepping forward demanded that Grey let go of me.  Here was a piece of irony not lost on me: the only time Tommy is inspired into an act of chivalry on my behalf is over a man who’s been more chivalrous to me in a few weeks than Tom has been to me my whole life.  Grey was still pulling me towards the door and I tried again to pull my wrist out of his grip, without success.  Under different circumstances I would have had no trouble twisting myself out of his grasp, a surprise left hook would have done the trick but for some reason I’ll never understand I didn’t.

“You can say whatever you need to right here.” I said challengingly.

“Let go of her Bonneville!” Tommy was squaring his shoulders up for emphasis.  “You have no right to tell Cricket what she can and can’t do.”  Julie objected to this accusing Tom of doing the same thing not five minutes earlier and told him to shut up.

Grey didn’t answer to Tommy; instead he was boring into me with his furious glare and said “You gave me as your goddamn reference.  What the hell are you about?”

“I need the job.” I said, evenly returning his stare.

“Don’t you value yourself at all?” he said a little more quietly.  “What would your father think?” it was the home question.  It was like receiving a knock in the chest.  I wanted to tell them all to shut up, to get out.  How dare anyone ask me what my father would think?  Underneath the flare of anger was pain, just a terrible pulling pain because I no longer knew what my father would have thought.  I no longer knew my father at all.  How was I supposed to let go of grief if I didn’t even know who I was grieving for?  If I could just pay off my debt I could move on, I would have the leisure to ask myself what my father would have thought.  I’d be able to grieve in my own home.  If I let any of these people help pay the bill there would be a stain on my conscience, a part of my life I’d never own.  I could feel my eyes water.  Grey missed nothing, of that I was sure.  I didn’t allow it to pool over, I didn’t allow myself to cry, but I was glad not to be facing anyone but Grey at that moment of weakness.

At last I answered with a very steady voice “Maybe he would be proud to have his daughter follow in his footsteps.”  His grip on my wrist slackened but he didn’t let go.  I don’t know how long we stood there.  It felt as though I’d shot an arrow in the dark and hit something I couldn’t see, couldn’t recognize, and it was bleeding into the dark, maybe getting contaminated while we stood there challenging each other, trying to let go of the anger, of the whatever crazy shit kept wedging itself into the air around us.  It revolved around my father.  Everything seemed to revolve around Peter Winters, as I suppose it always had.

“I told you I had an offer to make them.”  It was a lame way to break the silence.

“It never occurred to me you’d offer to run guard.”  It wasn’t over yet and the quiet was kind of oppressive.

“From what Malakai says, he could use better guards.  He says he loses one guard on average for every ambush on the road.  I’m a better soldier than that.  Jesus, I thought he hired tough thugs.”  The look Grey gave me now was curious, a strange opening of his expression as though I’d cracked a coconut and spilled the milk on his shoe and asked him to lick it up.  I could feel Julie and Tom shifting behind me.  I could feel words trying to be spoken, thoughts trying to be articulated.  “Maybe you should teach me the ropes.  This is what you do.  This is your life, Bonneville.”

“Grey.” It was a reflexive correction he shot off without thinking.  “Alright.”  He said.  Tom shot forward again and this time pushed himself between me and Grey, shoving us apart, breaking Grey’s hold on my wrist which made me feel suddenly as though I was emptied out and cold.

“You’re as mad as she is!” he accused uselessly.  “I thought you weren’t going to let her do this?”  Somehow Tom looked like a belligerent boy next to Grey, there was something so milky about him in spite of his height that I’d not noticed until that moment as I watched them closely.

“You were right, Martin, I had no right to tell her what she can and can’t do.”  It was a simple admission of defeat.  He was stepping down, but cleverly, leaving Tom suspicious and floundering.  I wanted to tell Tom to just pick a position and stick with it.  His motivations were as plain as day.  He felt he had a right to tell me what I should do but didn’t think anyone else shared that right now that my father was dead.  I felt a wisp of my old affection for him kicking at my gut, where it hurt.  He cared, that was all.  I think Tom wanted a fight, something to diffuse his own confused feelings.  I kind of wanted a fight myself and it didn’t really matter who with, just a good old punching brawl to let the electricity drain from my tense muscles.

Excerpt from Chapter 16:

There was no room in the bed for a rope.  Between the bleak spread of photographs curling up at the edges soiled from too many hands, the Remington 22 still smoking across the damp pillow, the shrouding unrolling off the edge to the floor where it spread like rippling sunlit water, and the bodies.  All the bodies.  Kit took the edge of the shrouding and picked at the threads with her pale shaking fingers until she’d pulled it enough to start the tear with her teeth.  This is what you do when you have no scissors and no rope.  Once she’d wound the selvedge edge around her fingers a couple times she tore at it more frantically, faster, because there was no rope for this.  No rope.  Of all the things in the world missing from this night it had to be rope.  Even a single antique shoe, the kind she’d seen in the museum, had found it’s way onto the floor like a lost kitten, sweet and small buttons for the tiniest feet, cracked black leather crying out for polish, anything, but no rope.  The length of selvedge grew and as it grew she began to see more clearly.  This is the way it has to be she chanted under her breath.  This is right.  This is how it must be.  He’ll come looking for my neck and he’ll want to see it like this because it’s what he’ll expect in a world with rules and law and justice and light.  This is the way to bring light.  This is the way it has to be.

“We have come to watch.” Mairead said, gesturing graciously at the linen strip curling and pooling at Cricket’s feet, rolling off the edge of the bed, snaking into the shadows of the room.  “This is the way it has to be, as you say.  Please, don’t keep us all waiting, child.” So Cricket tore the strip from the shrouding and doubled it, tripled it, and tied it to the black iron hook fixed into the ceiling on her tip toes because she could barely reach it and they were all watching.  Peter approached and kindly, gently, helped his daughter tie a strong noose to the hook.  “You didn’t fit, Bairn, butI loved you in my way.”  He said backing off.  “I know, daddy.” She said as she fit her head through it and prepared herself.  Her face was flecked with beads of sweat and when everyone exhaled she shot them, one after another.  Again and again until the magazine was empty.  “You’ve got to stop killing me Kit.  You’ve got to move on now.  Why hasn’t anyone taken away her guns?” but it was all just bodies.  Kit removed the noose and fell to her knees on the bed.  On the photographs, the shrouding, and she said “I’m so sorry mama!  I only know how to kill you.”  and shot her mother again.

More from Chapter 16:

Jack, with his loose curls tied back, was busy in the kitchen getting ready to take care of the animals which required a hearty breakfast and was surprised to see his love drag herself into the kitchen so early.  She worked very hard on the days she worked and consequently indulged in some sleeping in on her days off.

“What are you doing up, Mouse?” he asked her affectionately crossing the floor to greet her with a brief affectionate kiss before pulling out a chair for her and busying himself filling a mug of tea.  “This is too early for you.”

“I couldn’t sleep anymore.” She said.

“Was it Homer who woke you?” he asked, pushing the mug of tea across the table to her.

“Good god, no!  I’m so used to his crowing I could sleep through him announcing the apocalypse I’m sure.  I think I’m just worried about Grey.” She said.

“Why?  Would you like some sugar, darling?” he asked.

“I always want some sugar, honey, but stop throwing me your little funnies.  I don’t know why.  I guess I’m just worried he doesn’t know what he’s getting into.” She said.

“And what’s that?  The dangerous line of work he’s in?  That the feds seem to be closing in?  Or that he’s fallen head over heels for Peter’s girl?” he asked.

“The last one.” She said wrapping graceful hands around her warm mug.

“Don’t you like her?” Jack asked, a little surprised.

“Yes.  I do.  It’s just that I’m afraid she’s a little unreachable.  I guess I’m afraid she’s going to hurt him. There’s a quality about her.  Like she’s going to evaporate, or like she wants to, I don’t know.  There’s just something disconnected about her and Grey has never been so… so.”  She trailed off, partly because she was rarely so talkative in the morning, let alone up, but also because she’d never tried to articulate what their friend and colleague was.  She liked Cricket but was uncomfortable with the way she was so quiet and had a kind of silky drift to her spirit.  Natalie wasn’t into poetics but when she tried to describe Cricket she found herself sounding almost gothic and it was stupid.  She would way rather not commit such stupidity to the air.  “You were right, in any case.  They’re besotted.”

“As I am with you, Mouse.” He said affectionately before setting a plate of breakfast before her.

“Are you serious?  Ugh.  I love you with all my heart, Stallone Pantone, but I cannot eat eggs before six in the morning.”

Jack shrugged and ate the eggs himself and when, at length, he was done in the kitchen he came round the table and gave his wife and affectionate kiss and a bit of a feel which she invited him to finish in the bedroom but he said, with regret that the horses and chickens wouldn’t wait for him to make love to his wife and she should, in future, make these invitations at an earlier hour.

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