I wrote this last year to enter in the Alberta Retired Teachers Writing Contest. It wasn’t a winner, not even a runner up but I still like it. Rivalry can raise its nasty head without warning.
Dead on the Page
Ellen reads the group another long-winded piece. Beverley yawns behind a discrete hand at the story’s stream of unconsciousness and Carol thinks it’s no wonder that she couldn’t handle The Dubliners.
“What do you think?” asks Ellen. Carol tries to remember anything she can comment on. Wool-gathering, out-of-body experience, whatever she labels it, she missed the last third of the story.
“On page two…” Bruce, the token male and former high school English teacher, starts to address the errors in spelling, grammar and word usage.
“Give it a rest, Bruce.” Charlene’s grammar slips sometimes and she’s done with Bruce and his nit-picking. Half the time, he doesn’t even bring writing to the Seriously Scribes monthly meeting.
Beverley and Charlene make a few desultory comments. Carol pretends to review the story, turning a page here and there.
“This might be your best story, yet. You should submit it to Grain,” she lies.
Carol can’t wait for the others to be done. She has an announcement.
“Bruce, your turn,” says Ellen. He is on her left and once the first reader is established, they go round the table clockwise. Bruce reddens and reaches for his coffee.
“I was too busy to write anything new,” he says. “Next month, for sure.”
Charlene distributes copies of her new poetry to everyone.
Carol presses her lips against the looming yawn. Charlene’s poetry is as pedantic and fussy as the cats that appear in her nature odes. Carol imagines Wordsworth twitching in his grave.
“I like the internal rhyme in the second verse,” Bruce says. “Have you considered echoing it throughout?”
Charlene looks over the top of her reading glasses at him.
Her voice is flat. She knows that her poems aren’t original but she writes them for herself and harbours no elaborate fantasies about becoming the next Margaret Atwood.
Carol says, “I like the imagery. That’s your forte and it comes through so well in the last verse.”
She likes Charlene and admires her work ethic. Carol knows that none of the poems come to Charlene easily; she recognizes her shortcomings but every time the Seriously Scribes meet, Charlene has new work. That, in itself, is admirable.
Carol looks at Beverley.
“How’s that fourth chapter coming?” she asks.
“I’m not sure,” she says. “I changed the scene order and I dropped some dialogue.” She passes out copies of the chapter re-write.
Carol can’t recall how many times Beverley has re-written chapter four. If the group had any integrity, they’d tell Beverley to let it go. Some novels are dead on the page.
They suffer for twenty minutes of the new order and tightened dialogue but the chapter still doesn’t work.
Charlene says, “I like this new approach but don’t we have to know why Olivia hates Norman? Did you delete that part?”
Good for Charlene. She does pay attention and tries to help every member of the group.
Beverley’s eyes blur with unshed tears.
“You’re right,” she says. “I didn’t even notice. I tried so hard to get the wording right. I worked at this all month.” Her lower lip trembles.
“The rest is well written and moves the story along,” says Ellen.
Beverley just says, “I’ll work on it some more.”
Carol knows that the sad thing is, she will but the new version will have new problems.
Ellen turns to Carol.
“What have you got?” she asks.
Carol laughs and with a flourish pulls a sheet from her folder.
“They accepted it,” she cries.
Her triumphant announcement meets a confused silence. The coffee shop where they meet is small and just then the grinding of the latte machine precludes speaking. It goes on for several minutes while Carol sits, annoyed. She is not competing with a coffee maker when she has something so momentous to share.
When the noise quiets to the normal hum of voices, Carol begins.
“Dear Carol,” she reads.
My staff has completed the review of “Dark Secrets.” I am pleased to inform you that we think your work would make a positive addition to our Donahue Publishing list of titles.
To begin the process of publishing your book with us, I have passed your file on to …
Carol continues to the end of the letter and waits for the accolades to begin. Nothing. Don’t they get it? Didn’t they hear? Donahue is going to publish her mystery.
Each Serious Scribe has a different expression; not one of them looks joyful.
“I will mention each of you by name on the acknowledgements page,” Carol continues. She considers that a great honour.
“You didn’t tell us you were writing a novel.” Beverley’s tone is accusatory. “I’ve been working so hard at mine and you didn’t even hint at a novel in the works?”
Ellen isn’t happy.
“I have worked on my short story collection for five years now,” she says. “And you’re being published?” She makes it seem shameful.
Bruce looks like a beached fish, his mouth working to say something but making no audible sound.
“Congratulations,” he croaks at last. He has expected to be the jubilant novelist at some point.
Carol can’t believe it. Why aren’t they happy for her?
She looks at Charlene, the Scribes member everyone depends on for encouragement and support.
Charlene is packing up her writing.
“What are you doing, Charlene?” Carol is shocked.
“Leaving. Carol, this group is about trust. You destroyed that trust with your selfishness. I’m done,” she says.
The others follow Charlene and walk with purpose to the exit. Carol drops her letter. As she sits alone, her coffee grows cold. Then she brightens. Her novel isn’t dead on the page.