styg50

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I told myself I would write an introductory post after I got done searching past threads on The Forum for topics that interested me. Well, I'm still reading old threads, but I wanted to share this little story with all of you, since I have been sort of 'leeching' since I got here. B) Consider this an experiment, since it is a first draft and normally it would get shoeboxed for about a week, but I am wondering what kind benefit I might gain by "shoeboxing" it amongst a wonderful group of individuals like yourselves.

I would appreciate any criticisms, especially in regards to pacing, flow, structure,grammar...ah, heck, with anything. B)

Thanks for reading!

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Start

So there they were, just before sunrise, as the town slept and the waters of the channel lay calm and silent. She was crossing the narrow channel in a small skiff, having left the town side only moments ago, the white vee of her wake writing her signature on the blank waters. He was kneeling into the engine hatch of a small fishing troller that was moored at a float on the shore across from the town, the shore they called the ‘home side.’ Her course would carry her straight to the float, and in the still air of the frigid morning the sound of her motor reached the man and caused him to stand straight up in the half-cockpit that served as the engine room of the vessel. He watched her bring the skiff around in a graceful curve, as she slowed to avoid producing a thoughtless wake. He absentmindedly attempted to wipe oily hands clean with an equally oily rag.

The horizon brightened on the eastern end of the channel, and in the rising light she could make out clearly the name on the prow of his ship: The Stella Maris. She loved to see that name, and to see that boat. As she tied up the skiff at the float and gathered her meager packages, she found she couldn’t contain her excitement at the thought of what progress may have been made, and she fairly skipped over to the railing of the troller where she beamed her bright smile over into the darkness of the engine room. “Anything?” she asked.

He shook his head slowly and tossed the rag onto a pile of mechanics tools, the weapons with which he had been waging a war against rust and friction, the wasted and the seized, for over two months. “Still won’t start,” he said, exhaustion cracking his voice.

She set the packages on the edge of the float and crawled over the rail to sit on the edge of the engine room hatch. She still had on her uniform from work, and he marveled at how it was the exact shade of her hazel eyes. He had never ceased to be amazed at how well everything seemed to ‘fit’ her.

“I’ve been thinking,” he said, “maybe I should go ahead and take the equipment operator job at the barge line. Then you could get off night shift. Move back to days. It’d be easier on you.”

“I like night shift. I get more hours this way. Besides, what about all your years of fishing? They can’t pay you for that. And who would fix the motor?”

He snorted derisively. “Not me.” Then he sighed heavily and reclined back against the edge of the hatch, his head near her knee. He closed his eyes, and exhaled a long, heavy breath. “Its just frustrating, that’s all. I’ve fixed everything I know how. It didn’t turn over, but now it does. It wasn’t getting fuel but now it is. I go as far as I can go, and then I just…I just stop. I don’t know what to do next. I don’t have any more ideas. I stop and I just can’t get started. Like this damn motor.”

“That’s what you said last time you were stumped, but you thought of something then. And the time before that. And the time before that.” She tousled his hair playfully. “Besides, this isn’t you frustrated. You frustrated is when you tighten up so much that even I can’t get in anymore.” She stopped tousling and straightened up with her chin defiant. “You fixed Lassiter’s boat, when no mechanic would touch it. If you can do that you can do anything.”

He stiffened noticeably. His lips drew a thin hard line and his jaw twitched. He stared straight ahead. She withdrew her hand apologetically. “I didn’t mean…”

“Did you speak to him last night?” he interrupted, his voice terse.

His frustration seemed to have washed over her as well. “Its no use,” she replied. “It’s a waste of time to talk to him.”

“Did you talk to him?”

“Yes. No. I..I don’t know. I talked at him. I think he said no.”

“You think?” he turned to face her. “Did he say no or not?”

She crossed her arms, her voice rising. “YOU try and figure out what he says! He says one thing but he means another. Its like he has two mouths and talks out of both of them at the same time.”

“If he gets on the board before we get our permits…” he stopped abruptly. “Its bad enough that they are suspending the fishing seasons left and right, but if he’s the one calling the shots, its…its…” He looked up at her and the concern written across his face spelled out the answer he almost couldn’t speak. She reached down and grabbed his hand, which gripped the edge of the hatch tightly. “It would be a death sentence,” he said, so quietly she almost couldn’t hear him. “He owes us. Doesn’t he understand that at least?”

“He’s not that kind of man,” she said.

He started. “No he’s not. In fact, that’s just it,” he leaned back and looked over the engine thoughtfully. “I’ve seen motors seized so badly it took days to free them up enough to rotate. I’ve broken rusted bolts and nuts free that were never to have moved again. I can look at them and I know what it is going to take, how much time, whether I will have to break them to make them right. But a rusted mind… If I looked into Lassiter, I wouldn’t know what I was seeing, the insides wouldn’t make any sense.” He continued to stare thoughtfully at the motor.

She looked out over the sea that was growing brighter with each passing moment. The western horizon was a slowly shrinking band of darkness, and she watched it intently. “He’s a monster. We see it. Others will see it too. We have plenty of time.”

He murmured “Mmm hmm,” and then knelt down beside the engine, grabbing up a wrench from the bilge. He began to remove the valve cover bolts.

“Its like he takes pleasure in making others suffer,” she continued. “And then he doubles his fun by graciously accepting their pleas when they can’t take it anymore. And if you don’t speak that language of his, that pitiful, insufferable double-talk…” She was beginning to get worked up.

“Five eighths.” His hand reached up from the darkness around the engine.

“What?” she asked, startled.

“And a nine sixteenths.” The hand remained up, fingers outstretched, palms up.

She looked down beside her at the assortment of tools, and gingerly sorted out the two oily wrenches of his choosing. She placed them in the hand which quickly returned to the darkness. She heard them clinking and saw them flashing quickly. He rose up out of the hatch excited and pawed through the tools strewn about the hatch. “Fuel and air. If I have fuel and air the motor will start. It doesn’t have a choice about that.” He picked up a knife and an oily surgical glove and began slicing the fingers off of the glove. “But it won’t start, so one of them is missing. I know its not fuel, so it must be air.” He ducked back into the hatch, still talking excitedly. “All this fuel that I have been dumping down the cylinders, it must have washed the insides clean. Without the oil in the cylinders, there is no seal. No seal means no air. The air has been escaping.” He rose back out of the hatch and rummaged through the pile of tools again finally coming up with a small squeezeball, used for siphoning fuel. He jammed it into a cup of oil by the hatch and sucked up a snoutful.

As he ducked back in again, he kept talking to her of the fuel wash, of the constant attempts at starting since it had failed, and how these attempts were killing the motor even as it was being salvaged. She could barely keep up.

“But what’s that thing you are making?” she asked.

He popped back up. “This?” he said, flopping around the strange oil filled rubber device he had built out of the squeezeball and the pieces of surgical glove. “This is a rough invention that will let me oil the cylinder walls. Not pretty, but it should work. The trick is that if I don’t put enough oil in, it won’t make a difference. If I put too much, the motor could run away if it starts, and probably lock up for good.”

“Do you think this will get it started?” she asked almost breathless.

He knelt back into the hatch. “Get ready,” he said.

She jumped up and went to the cabin of the troller. Inside the front entrance there had been steps leading down into the pilots cockpit, but they had been long since removed to provide access to hidden parts of the motor. She leapt down without hesitating and went straight to the silver key in the dash.

“Ready!” she called.

“Try it!” he shouted back.

The engine cranked over smoothly. The work he had done over the months to bring the engine from immovable slab to the point where it could turn so effortlessly hadn’t disappointed. The engine cranked smoothly, but did not fire.

She let up and waited for the signal.

“Again!” he called out after a few moments.

The starter surged and the engine cranked quickly, but still…no fire.

“Again!” he shouted.

She turned the key, the engine turned. Nothing.

“Again!”

Nothing.

She let up on the key and stood watching the entrance to the cockpit. If he was moving out there she couldn’t see or hear him. How many times had she turned the motor over with the hope that THIS time it would start. Every time it had been the same. She felt tears welling up in her eyes. It wasn’t worth this.

From the engine room came the faint tink-tink sound of the wrenches. A few moments passed. His breathing was heavy as he continued to crank and tighten on the forsaken engine. She was biting her lip.

“One more time,” he called to her. His voice sounded hollow, like she was hearing it from the bottom of a well.

She looked at the key, but didn’t turn it. The same, every time, she thought, the same as always. On the horizon she saw the sun finally rising from the ocean, the water bright, the air charged. Like always.

She reached up and grabbed the key tightly and turned it. Hard.

The motor cranked. It was different. The engine seemed to be grabbing hold of something like a tiger that had gained purchase for the pounce. The floor of the boat rumbled. Was it her? Was she still turning it over?

She looked at the key, but her hand was no longer over it. It was instead covering her mouth. And from behind it a smile was slowly creeping out.

With a leap she was at the entrance and out. He had climbed out of the engine room and she collided into him in an embrace.

So there they were. Exhaust billowing from the Stella Maris’ stack, and the day rising with it. On one horizon, a watery sunrise. In the fading darkness of the other horizon there was a star that looked like a boat, or a boat that looked like a star. In time the day would rise to obscure it, and the young couple would go inside, get warm, and be troubled by everything that was left to do.

But not just yet.

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Loved it! You've got a wonderful flair for description that put me right into the story and made me care about the man and the woman.

The only thing I would question would be the references to Lassiter. I wasn't clear what his relationship to the couple was and what problem or obstacle he presented to the accomplishment of their goals. Whatever it was, I didn't see how it was wrapped up in the conclusion of the story, so I think you could have eliminated mention of him altogether.

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Loved it! You've got a wonderful flair for description that put me right into the story and made me care about the man and the woman.

The only thing I would question would be the references to Lassiter. I wasn't clear what his relationship to the couple was and what problem or obstacle he presented to the accomplishment of their goals. Whatever it was, I didn't see how it was wrapped up in the conclusion of the story, so I think you could have eliminated mention of him altogether.

I agree with Betsy. The characters are real and warm and alive. This sounds like it is part of a larger story, in which Lassiter might prove to be a very interesting obstacle, but as it stands it is unclear. However, he doesn't detract from the vivid depiction of these decent young people and their surroundings. Very enjoyable. Thanks.

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Loved it! You've got a wonderful flair for description that put me right into the story and made me care about the man and the woman.

The only thing I would question would be the references to Lassiter. I wasn't clear what his relationship to the couple was and what problem or obstacle he presented to the accomplishment of their goals. Whatever it was, I didn't see how it was wrapped up in the conclusion of the story, so I think you could have eliminated mention of him altogether.

Thank you Betsy! When I was proofreading for posting, seeing Lassiter's name jumped out at me, partly because it is the only name in the whole piece, partly because it seems too abrupt of a mention. Your point about not seeing how he ties into the rest of the story makes the issue a little clearer to me. Two things I need to think about how to accomplish. 1. Leave lassiter in but don't name him. Instead I could refer to him by the position he occupies or intends to occupy. This in turn could tie him better to the conflict in the story if I 2. Do a better job of showing what the ultimate goal for the couple is, namely being successful fishermen. This is a case where I didn't describe well enough what I was thinking, namely that he is a bureaucrat that has control of their economic future via government controls. When the story occurred to me, I saw them both the man and woman as working on something, the man the motor, the woman the mind of the buraucrat. It didn't come together that way.

Or, as you say, I could leave reference to it out altogether. Depends on how much writing I want to do. B) The connection was intended to be there, which is the purpose of this line at the end:

In time the day would rise to obscure it, and the young couple would go inside, get warm, and be troubled by everything that was left to do.

The "it" is talking about the star but is an indirect reference to the boat, Stella Maris. Obscured is meant to mean that it is still there but just can't be seen, and it was the fact of Lassiter that was to trouble them as they tried to move forward. I was meaning for it to say that the boat was a form of future value, and it wouldn't be completely realized until they completed their quest, but an unresolved, seemingly unresolvable (much as the earlier problems on the motor seemed unresolvable), problem was still to be faced, in the person of the bureaucrat.

As far as connecting the character of the bureaucrat to the theme: this means its time for me to formally identify the theme, I suppose. B) I'll think about it and get it up as soon as I know.

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I agree with Betsy. The characters are real and warm and alive. This sounds like it is part of a larger story, in which Lassiter might prove to be a very interesting obstacle, but as it stands it is unclear. However, he doesn't detract from the vivid depiction of these decent young people and their surroundings. Very enjoyable. Thanks.

Thank you, and I've enjoyed reading your works throughout the Forum as well.

I did get caught up in seeing more of Lassiter than I had intended to ever include. I had no intention of the man having any sort of reaction to Lassiter, just that he had a connection to him because he fixed something deemed unfixable that belonged to Lassiter. But the reaction wrote itself. Lassiter would frustrate this man like no motor ever could.

I excised a lot in the initial proofread, including a playful bit of dialog where the woman pretends to know what is wrong with the motor, which can't help but get a smile from the man, and a large section of dialog dealing with the man's dislike of Lassiter, that seemed too heavy handed. So I think there is a lot more low fruit here... B)

In fact, I was thinking some more about the passage where the "...day would rise to obscure it..." I was thinking about how the "it" in this case is a GOOD thing, and how the day, normally a source of illumination and productivity, would be the thing to hide it from view, to make it seem like it was lost. But I can imagine a circumstance where this young, productive couple has taken refuge in nightshifts, how when the rest of a shattered and dying town might be succumbing to slumber they are still up and about trying to get things done. Then I flip this around and imagine Lassiter sleeping in until noon, stumbling around in his pjs and bed-head, and issuing orders for a sleepy little bureaucracy whose goons routinely leave work an hour early and are generally not accountable. A Day by any other name...? B)

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Styg50, fleshing out the Lassiter connection could prove to be very interesting, for you as writer and for me as reader. It appears there is a lot in your mind waiting to be expressed. As you said in your response to Betsy, "It depends on how much writing _you_ want to do."

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Styg50, fleshing out the Lassiter connection could prove to be very interesting, for you as writer and for me as reader. It appears there is a lot in your mind waiting to be expressed. As you said in your response to Betsy, "It depends on how much writing _you_ want to do."

My own preference in a piece of this length is to omit Lassiter. Without him, this is a simple, yet effective, "man vs. nature" story involving overcoming frustration and despair and having moral support in the pursuit of that value. That is quite enough for one very short short story. Adding a political sub-theme would just clutter it up.

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Styg50,

I thought the prose was wonderfully clean, vivid and easy to read. The descriptions and dialog flowed without being contrived. Very well done. I see being on the boat fixing a busted motor.

Here are my few Simon Cowell comments:

1. Names for the HE and SHE characters would have helped me connect better.

2. Some visual description of the characters early on would help me visualize them with the same vividness as the surroundings.

3. An early hint of the crux of the story would have helped know why I should continue reading. (aside form the great prose). Just one little sentence would do it.

4. Finally, what was the fundamental question or moral issue faced by the characters. The boat was broken, they worked hard and fixed it, end of story. Of couse, as Brian points out, that may push you towards a longer story.

Thanks for shoeboxing this here, I hope you have more stories to post.

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This is beautiful writing. It is not a short-short, though; it is the start of a larger story. Isaac Asimov used to hold short-short story competitions in his science fiction magazine. They tend to be telegraphic tone poems, solid description, as you have, but both your resolution and your hints of a future conflict lead the reader to expect "the rest of the story" (as Paul Harvey would say). I've bumped into this, myself, before. You've written this, it's a nice setup, good character presentation of man and woman, but the introduction of The Obstacle tells us there's a much bigger story than what we get.

I really did enjoy reading it, though. Very clear, graceful prose. If you want to write the story, I think you're quite capable of doing it.

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