This week for Open Pen, Elizabeth Katherine submitted a narrative excerpt. She is a rather brave soul and as for us to rip her piece to shreds. In particular, she asked for a critique on how she builds the atmosphere, creates suspense, and writes the characters. She would also love to know if her story is clear, makes sense, and is interesting over all.
Thank you for taking the time to make a few comments on her piece. Even short, simply comments are very helpful.
If you would like to submit a piece of writing to be critique, you can read the rules and submit on the Open Pen page.
Thirty Forty Five by Elizabeth Katherine
With her eyeballs rolling backwards, like the lead of a slow moving bullet into her brain, it is hard to remember. But there was a man, she thinks. Yes.
To her on that day, at that time, there was only supposed to be a rumbling, deep and earthy. When she closed her eyes she was tucked into the warm ground, feeling only the residual shudders of the speeding train. A mile away downwards, the shrieking metal and thoughts of iron twisting with burning blood and screams were gone. The liquid languidness of the driver, his slow blinking eyes, his mildly inebriated air; they all faded. She was in the stifling womb of the earth now, away from it all. Safe.
That was all that was supposed to have happened. That was what two hundred pounds worth of therapy would make happen. No more pills. She would just close her eyes, and the world wouldn’t suffocate her anymore.
Yes, there was a man. She is sure now. She waits for her mouth to form the thoughts that are tripping over themselves-it is she can feel them scorching the neurons that carry them, burning rubber tires on road-but she is not sure what comes out is audible.
She really had no idea how she had noticed him when she was so far down. Some unfortunate infant was at fault for her noticing. The viscous heat of the train and accompanying odours of the biomass it carries collapsed into each other and slid perfectly into her peaceful scenario of the earth’s padded insides; the bellow of a human child did not. That cry broke the façade, made it impossible for her to sink in, to forget for a moment her crippling anxiety.
It made it impossible too for her to not notice the bobbing black baseball cap a foot away from her.
There were plenty of hats on the train. Red ones, green, blue, yellow, winter hats, ball caps, Fedoras, fifteen in all to be exact, six men, nine women; so why notice this one? And why notice that it had a gold buckle at the back, and was suede, like his gloved hand tugging it down over his face-left hand to be exact? Marsha shook her head, tucked her purse further under her arm, checked her watch and tapped the glass face. She had better things to worry about, always better, always things. The train was thirty minutes and forty five…forty four, three…forty seconds late. That meant her usual thirty minute connection to the office from the station would now be long gone, and she would have to find another train, have to call all her clients and apologise, have to stay at the office longer, leave later, deal with the raucous flush of acid that was clawing at her innards…
As they passed through the tunnel, flickering shadows slid in through the windows, blurring the train’s inhabitants together; smearing their faces in Marsha’s vision. The mesh of human voices had risen slightly, and now she could see the familiar tightening of annoyance in peoples’ body language. How many lives had been affected by this delay?
And yet this man seemed entirely removed from the abysmal worries of the human consciousness. No one seemed to notice how the shadows moulded themselves to his silhouette, reclined against the cold metal viscera of the train, tension absent. Where was the toe tapping, the impatient flare of nostrils, and the humane worry? Where was this man going, and why did he not seem in a rush?
It was a while before Marsha realized that thoughts of a metal colliding and missed appointments had long since left her. The banal fears that doggedly clung to her only continued to dwindle in the wake of his shadow.