Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Know When to Be Silent

Sometimes, what your characters don't say is more effective than speech.

            "Children should be seen and not heard. Bryony, please knead so I can peek at the news."

            Bryony rinsed her hands and hurried to help, not at all surprised Mrs. Parks had yielded to temptation. Mrs. Parks was already at the table hunched over the newspaper, reading spectacles on, face cupped in her hands.

            "Leo said it has the next installment of 'The Victor's Ghost,'" Bryony remarked as she rolled and pushed the dough.

            Mrs. Parks didn't answer. (Before the Blood)

           "So what brings you to Munsonville?" Reverend asked, shifting his gaze to Mr. Borgstrom.

            "That's my business."

            Erland took a large fish and gave the platter to Erasmus, who took also a large fish and passed the platter to his father.

            "Owen said you and your sons are the finest fishermen he's ever met."

            The boys glanced at each other.

            Mr. Borgstrom snorted. He took three fish and thrust the platter at Bryony. "We do all right."

            The rest of the food went around the table in silence. (Before the Blood)

           "Religion addresses life, death, and the afterlife: experiences all men realize," Dr. Gothart said. "The underbelly of public schooling is government indoctrination."
            Dr. Gothart looked at Mr. Betts as he relit his pipe. "And yielding to the delusion that all children are capable of higher thought."

            Mr. Betts, already red-faced from the warm room and the alcohol, blushed harder and gulped his port. (Before the Blood)

            Her extravagance worried Mr. Parks, especially when meals were late, and Mrs. Parks was lost in printed gossip and cheap fiction.

            "Seven cents a week, frittered away, and you neglectin' yore household dooties to fill your head with new-fangled ideas 'stead of cookin' and cleanin' as God-fearin' women should do."

            "Orville, it's important for modern women to know the things of the world."

            Mr. Parks thumped the wall. "Trashy serials ain't useful fax."

            Puss jumped off Mrs. Parks lap. Mrs. Parks, adrift in a sea of print, didn't react.

            "Bertha, I'm talkin' to you!" (Before the Blood)

            With a harsh chuckle, Dr. Sidney Stone exclaimed, "Dr. Gothart, do you presume yourself so skilled that you raise the dead to life?"

            "I don't raise them," Dr. Gothart said.

            There was something menacing in the even way he spoke those words that forced Bryony upright, scarcely breathing, straining for the next words.

            "But I do restore them."

            Silence, except the fire crackling in the hearth. (Before the Blood)

Melissa enjoyed the little girl’s company and often engaged her in hopscotch or jump rope. John declared Melissa’s fraternization with a servant’s child most improper, but Melissa felt sorry for Anna and insisted otherwise.

“I’m sure there’s no harm done,” Melissa insisted. “Anna has no other playmates, and I promise to be discreet. Please reconsider?”

John did not reply, so Melissa assumed he agreed. Melissa remained true to her word. Everyday she reserved some time for Anna, but never in the company of the other servants, except Bryga, or occasionally, Trudi. Sometimes, they played with dolls,

Anna’s favorite game. Anna owned two, a papier-mâché doll with a stuffed, cloth body and a European doll fashioned from real wax. Bryga said John had given both of them to Anna, which led Melissa to tease John over lunch.

“Fine example you are of proper behavior,” she said.

John did not reply. (Bryony)

The phone rang, and Melissa sprang to answer it, saying, “It’s probably for me.”

It was Julie. After chatting about leeches, Melissa asked about Snowbell. Julie hesitated, then said, “I feel a little silly now, but it sure freaked me out at the time.”

“What happened?”

“Every time I turned around, that cat was watching me.”

Melissa twirled her fingers around the telephone cord, thinking. Julie had no reason to lie.

“Honestly, Melissa, I’d wake up, and she’d still be staring at me. I was a nervous wreck all weekend.” (Bryony)

Melissa inwardly groaned. She couldn’t believe this obvious phony had duped Katie, who lit up like a firefly at every mention of Cornell’s name.

“Oh, Melissa, you should have seen Cornell in action during that séance. So authoritative with the spirits. So commanding of the situation. Of course, I just had to meet him.”

 “Of course,” Melissa said with a short, rueful laugh.

“He was talking to some of the guests while eating cake. I understood why everyone wanted to be near him, so I patiently waited my turn. He was speaking to the last person when he looked up and, Melissa, you won’t believe this, he saw me. Cornell Dyer noticed me.”

Melissa absently swirled the remaining tea in her cup. She felt like throwing up. (Visage)

At school Monday, Karla was leaning against his locker, waiting for him.
“I threw away the mandrake root,” she said, avoiding his eyes.
Karla meekly stepped aside, and John-Peter flung open the door. “Good. You ruined it.”
“Can you get me another? I’ll let you carve it.”
 “I can’t do Curtis Chandler justice.”
  Karla blushed and bowed her head. “I didn’t mean for it come out that way. It’s just that.…”
Her voice trailed off. John-Peter slammed the door and spun the dial, but, as he turned to leave, Karla caught his sleeve.
“John-Peter, have you ever been in love?”
  His mouth went dry. He dropped a door and asked in a low voice, “Why do you ask?”
  “Because I think I’m in love with Curtis Chandler.”        
The boy flinched as if she had punched him, but he only said, “Shouldn’t you be telling this to Curtis?”
   “I wanted to know what you thought. We used to tell each other everything.”
Karla’s voice broke, and John-Peter glanced at the crowd of students filling the hall. He hated Mondays. (Staked!)

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