Notes on Editing

Over the years, I’ve encountered a variety of ways to edit. Writers mould their own personal editing style, but it never hurts to try something new, especially if you’re stuck or looking for a new perspective. Here are a few of the ones I feel stand out.

 

  1. The Standard: Your typical editing style. Write a draft. Edit #1 = second draft. Edit #2 = third draft. Going from start to end each and every time.
  2. The Modified Standard: Same as the standard, but with a break (ranging from 1 month to 1 year) between drafts. I’d recommend 1-2 months, with other projects built in to truly make it feel like a break. This can give you a much-needed “refresh” and allow you to look more critically at your project with fresh eyes.
  3. The Reader: Read as if you are a new reader; don’t edit. Take notes on the side: plot holes, character development. Things that your average reader would note. This is good for looking at the big picture, and not getting caught up in specific wording or sentence construction.
  4. The Google Doc: A haphazard reviewing system, where chapters and paragraphs are not edited in order. For the chaotically-inclined.
  5. The Absentee: One draft for the win! I mean it. Don’t edit. It worked for William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. (You may also need to confine your writing periods to midnight to four AM over a period of six weeks, but I’ll leave that to your discretion).
  6. The Hairbrush: Possibly the most time-consuming, but my personal favourite. Edit from the start after every addition. So, from the beginning of a novel after every chapter, from the beginning of a chapter with every paragraph, from the beginning of a poem with every line. Very, very time-consuming, but it lets you work out kinks and plot-holes as you go. Think about passing a hairbrush through a particularly tangled knot of hair. Takes a few tries, but you get through.
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To Write Like a Writer

 

Thought it might be a good idea to restart with some of these articles. Hopefully they might be useful. :.)

The first idea I had was “how to write like a writer”. At first glance, this phrase might seem a bit of a redundancy. Isn’t the definition of a writer ‘one who writes’? Well, perhaps. But we’re not referring to term papers and grocery lists. We’re speaking about career writers. Story-tellers. The ones whose novels and shorts keep you pinned to the edge of your seat. You know the ones. Their words fly off the page, enveloping you in a world you’ve never even dreamt of.

Such writers are gifted, certainly. But there are some tricks you can use to get one step closer to that magical flying-off-the-page stage. Here are the first few thoughts which come to mind. Some are commonly known. Others, not so much. Feel free to add your own.

  1. Be excited. If you are not excited, enthralled, and entranced by your own work, it’s unlikely anyone else will be.
  2. That said, if you are not excited, enthralled, and entranced by your work, scrap it (or shelve it) and move on. There are always a million ideas. Pick a different one, and run with it.
  3. In the words of a more recent One Direction music video, “First, you have to destroy your inhibitions. You first destroy, then, you create.” Don’t waste valuable writing time worrying about what the critics will think, what your friends will think, your parents will think, your neighbour, for sister’s cat. Write for yourself. Write the most marvelous, brilliant thing you can. Throw everything you have into it: your heart, your soul, your body, your mind, and some of the sugar from that treacle tart you had for dinner. The results will follow. But, first, you must destroy all inhibitions. Write freely.
  4. Make it flow. Don’t jump from thought to thought without proper transitions. Write the boring bits. You can cut them out/down later. Like punctuation, every good story needs a few pauses in the action. Otherwise, you might fatigue your reader
  5. That said, play with your reader. Tease them, taunt them, love them, cherish them. I love good plot twists, ones which build up one way only to twist at the climax (think: Dan Brown’s THE LOST SYMBOL). You have the power to do this, to build up your story and then twist in 180 degrees. Take advantage of this power.
  6. Don’t write to get published. Your writing is more likely to be awkward and forced if you do. This will sacrifice both flow and storyline. Write for yourself, because you want to, you need to, and you love it. It will show.
  7. On the same line, write what you know. Doesn’t have to be literal; feelings are just as good. If you’ve had the misfortune to feel intense jealousy, betrayal, rage, or grief, you’ve encountered versatile feelings easily transferrable to a myriad of situations. Tap into that emotion and write. Everything will come to life.
  8. Don’t ‘play it safe’. Take risks! Try different strategies. The beauty with writing is it’s very easy to change, and you can have as many drafts as you like.

 

There are a few pointers to get you started. More to come.

Happy writing! :.)

Before Saying No

“So you want to go to college?”

Father Simon leered at me from across the desk, his gray t-shirt stretched around the frayed seams. “But you’re a girl. None of the other girls in your class want to go to college.”

“I do.”

“Wouldn’t you rather get married? Take care of your husband, have a few babies.”

“I don’t want to be married.” I grinned, still happily oblivious to the peril of my situation. “I want to be a surgeon, and cut into people’s tummies to take their insides out!” From my inside blazer pocket, I produced my prized red-and-white-striped Number Two pencil and began to mimic the television scene I’d memorised years ago.

“I need O positive glitter in here, stat! Aye, aye, Doctor Barbie, right away!” The pencil danced in the air, miming in scene. “Nurse! Do we have IV access? IV access confirmed! Starting the transfusion now! Transfusion started, Doctor Barbie!”

Father Simon regarded me in a strange way, a way I’d never been looked at before. At least, not while in a room alone with him. I interpreted his gaze as solemnity, though, and stuffed my pencil back in its pocket.

“Cassie,” he said, finally, in a voice so gentle I could barely believe it came from the same man who’d once given me lines for ‘looking too hard at a leaf’. “You know that college is expensive, right?”

“I’ll work!” I said, firmly. “I can get job in a bank! Or in a clothing store! Or in an Arby’s!” A lightbulb turned on. “Ooh, maybe I could do all three!”

Father Simon shook his head.” Those jobs won’t make nearly enough money. Here, I’ll do you a favour. Would you believe that there is one job which could not only pay your way through college, but also medical school?”

I shook my head. Even my naïve, ten-year-old brain could grasp the exorbitant costs of my plan. “Mama said that I would need loans for that.”

“In other circumstances, she would be right. But I can think of one job perfect for a clever little girl like you, a job that would make even more money than you could ever imagine.” Father Simon pushed his chair back, and stood up. “Do you wear a bra?”

“A bra? Oh, yes. It’s got polka dots on it.” Mama had bought me my first training bra just the week before, saying it was time I ‘got used to wearing one’, especially before I ‘needed the padding and wire’. The straps were uncomfortable, but they were elasticated, and, since ‘big girls’ wore them, I bore the burden without complaint. “Do you mean that I should work in a bra shop, Father Simon?”

Father Simon smiled, deep crow’s feet wrinkling by his eyes. “No, not a bra shop, not any sort of shop, actually. This is a special kind of job, and only the smartest of girls can do it.”

“What about boys?” My younger brother, James, was quite fond of playing pretend, and I was hopeful that this was a game I could teach him too, if it paid as good money as Father Simon said.

“Sadly not. This is a very special job just for girls. Girls maybe a few years older than you, perhaps, but a very, very good way to get through college.” Father Simon began to unbutton his shirt. “It’s called stripping.”

I eyed him warily. Something in his voice had made me think that, perhaps, this wasn’t the sort of job Mama had been thinking of when she said I could get one when I turned sixteen. “What do I have to do?”

“You have to take your clothes off, in a very special sort of way.” Father Simon slipped his grey t-shirt off slowly, exposing knobbly, arthritic shoulders which creaked every time they moved. He then moved onto his yellow-stained muscle shirt, taking it off so slowly I began to wonder if he were all right.

“Are you hurt, Father Simon? You seem to be moving very slowly.”

“That’s the key, Cassie. You have to do it very slowly. The more slowly you do it, the better paid you’ll get. And you have to look at the people just like this, good eye contact, roll your shoulders, swing your hips…”

I thought that Father Simon looked like a fool, with his pasty stomach, grey chest hairs, and wasted biceps, dancing like one of the bad girls’ on TV, but all jokes flew out the window when he turned to me.

“All right, Cassie. Your turn. Just like I did.”

My hand flew to my blazer pocket, clutching my trusty pencil. “You mean, roll my shoulders?”

“No. Take off your shirt. Blazer first, shirt second, but leave your bra on for now.”

Father Simon towered over me by at least two feet, and I had to crane my neck until it hurt to see his face. “Can’t I just skip to the dancing part? I like dancing.”

“It doesn’t work as well if you don’t take your clothes off first.” Realising he must have been frightening me, Father Simon resumed his seat. “Come on, I’ll help you. Blazer first. There, good girl. Now your shirt. I’ll unclasp your bra afterwards.”

Halfway through my shirt buttons, I stepped back. “I don’t like this. It feels wrong.”

“Nonsense, Cassie. Don’t you want to make money?”

“Yes, but Mama said I shouldn’t take my clothes off in front of anyone without her.”

Father Simon leant back in his chair, considering this. “But wouldn’t your mother be happy if you made a lot of money? You could buy her something nice.”

I looked down at my half-buttoned shirt. “I guess you’re right.”

“Now, why don’t you show me that lovely bra your mother bought for you? No, no, come a bit closer. What lovely polka dots! Do you mind if I feel them?”

Before he could reach out to me, though, Father Simon’s classroom telephone rang. Cursing, he stood up to answer it, motioning to me to stay still.

“Father Simon here. Yes. Yes. Oh, really? No, I haven’t seen Cassandra. Nope, no idea where she is. Oh, the mother wants to talk to me? Ooh, no, it’s not a good time. No, really not a…no, no! I’m not…oh…oh…” Father Simon dropped the phone as the classroom door swung open. In walked Principal Walkers, Mama, Papa, and James.

“Father Simon,” said Principal Walkers, “Mrs Henderson is here to discuss Cassandra’s…oh, Jesus Christ, Cassandra. Jesus Christ. JESUS CHRIST!”

I gave Mama a small wave, mistaking everyone’s shock for confusion. “Mama! Look! Father Simon is showing me a new way to make money! It’s called stripping!”

Even now, I can’t determine whose face was whiter: Father Simon, who was relieved of both his teaching and clerical duties by the end of the day; Principal Walkers, who eventually asked for a transfer to an all-boys school in Maine; or Mama, who’d walked in the classroom to speak with Father Simon about my math scores only to find her only daughter topless, and laughing. It took James and me many years to decipher the situation, and even more before we understood the gravity, but one peculiar remnant remains, even to this day.

I’ve always had quite a fondness for polka-dot bras.

At Her Feet

The Bishop’s wife seals the envelope, hot wax tightening to keep the flap still. It holds another note to another illicit lover, one of the paramours she meets on Sunday mornings, feigning illness to escape her husband’s sermons.

It is only a matter of time before she gets caught, but nothing pleases the Bishop’s wife more than the game, making a fool of her husband and, yes, the whole congregation. She is neither as slim nor pretty as she once was, and the jowls around her chin hang in unsightly ways, but surrounding herself with agile young men makes her forget her age, allowing her to relive the days of her youth. And what days they were! Suitors at every corner, throwing flowers and trinkets at her feet. She had the pick of the flock, and she chose the best (richest) available: the Lord Bishop himself.

At least the man was a fool. No match for her power, the most important of decisions fell to her. Increased taxes to fuel their weekly galas, trade agreements with the diamond-mining neighbours, commandeering the finest tailors to sew her day-dresses and ball-gowns. After all, what is life for, if not to be lived?

The Bishop’s wife passes the envelope to her attendant, a simpleton with enough sense to get the letter to the postman, but not enough sense to wonder at its contents. The Bishop’s wife enjoys surrounding herself with such people. It boosts her ego, makes her feel important. Clever. Loved. Beloved. All feelings she’d thrived upon, once she had discovered them.

A pity her husband couldn’t feel the same way.

Midnight Interrogation

 

The lights are dim, so dim I can barely distinguish my suit trousers from the soft fabric of the chair. The chair is too high, and warm; someone much taller than me has used it recently, and my feet swing uncomfortably, straining to reach the ground. I wish I could reach the lever to lower the seat, but my the handcuffs pinning my wrists behind my back make the idea impossible.

A door opens, then slams shut.

“Ciao, puttana.” This is Romeo Lupini, our town’s resident crime lord. The newly-appointed ‘right hand’ of the famed Don Fernando himself. “Shall we get started?”

“I’d answer you,” I say, “if you would be so kind as to remove the large, foul-smelling gag you’ve so callously stuffed in my mouth.” At least, that is what I try to say, but the sound is muffled by the cloth. Lupini grins wolfishly before snapping out a switchblade. The gag falls into my lap, but the knife stays close to my throat.

“Tell me what I want to know.”

I snort. The air is rancid, like dried seeds and last Christmas’ nut assortment. “Now, why would I do that?”

“Because I’ll kill you if you don’t!” The knife is pressed closer, against my skin, but I only snort again.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Romeo. If you kill me, I’ll never tell you, and then, you’ll never know. So, if you want to know, you’ll have to keep me alive. Because, as much as the fairy tales you read to your son might say otherwise, dead men don’t tell tales.”

“Puttana!” Lupini curses again, throwing his blade against the wall. “Just because I can’t kill you, stronza, doesn’t mean I can’t hurt you. And, believe me, I can. I studied ancient torture techniques in Brazil, medieval interrogation techniques in Naples, and…”

I yawned, being sure to include a loud “hhrraaaawwww” at the end. “Right-o, Lupy-o. But even if I tell you want you want to hear, will you really believe it, or will you just think that I’m saying something for the sake of saying something?”

“For the love of pasta!” howled Lupini. “Tell me, or I’ll break your arm!”

“Never!”

“Say it.”

“No.”

“Say it.”

“No.”

“SAY IT!”

“Um, nah. Don’t think so. Still no.”

“You’ll be sorry. I’ll make you sorry!”

“Well, that will make one of us.”

“One little word, puttana. That’s all it will take. Why are you dragging this out?”

I shrugged. Or, as well as I could, in handcuffs. “You look like an idiot when you’re angry. And this whole thing is a farce.”

“I’ll bring in Don Fernando,” Lupini assumed his most threatening tone, with a facial expression to match. The ensemble was ludicrous, though, and I burst out laughing.

“Don Fernando? To deal with this?!

“You are underestimating me, signorina,” Lupini growled. “And that, is a horrible thing.”

At that moment, Don Fernando himself walked into the room, eyebrows raised slightly as he observed Lupini’s red face and my laughter. “Something amiss, Romeo?”

“N-no, sir!” Romeo Lupini saluted the Don. “Just trying to crack this informant.”

“Informant?” Don Fernando’s eyebrows rose even more. I always admired that about him; just when you thought his eyebrows couldn’t go any higher, they always managed to surprise you. “And what information, may I ask, are you seeking from my daughter?”

I laughed again, this time at Lupini’s dumb-founded expression. “D-daughter, sir?”

“That’s what I said. Daughter. My daughter. Figlia. Hija. Fille. And are the handcuffs really necessary?”

I slipped my hands out, showing that I’d already freed myself several minutes ago. “Just like you said, Papa.”

“That’s my girl,” the Don said, affectionately. “Now, what did Signore Lupini need?”

“An apology,” I said. “Which he wasn’t getting.”

“Why?”

“He said I ate his cookies.”

“You did!” Lupini said, exasperated.

“I did not,” I said. “There was no name on the package. And no name, my gain. Rules of the house. Tough luck, buddy.”

“Why you little — ”

I stopped him with a wave of my hand. “Now, now, Romeo. You wouldn’t want to argue with the Don’s daughter, would you?”

I could hear his curses all the way down the corridor, as I ran to the kitchens. The newest addition to our family would quickly learn to label his food, as the rest had already. As for now, though, I was helping myself to as many cookies as I could get my hands on.

 

Personal Writing Rules

  1. Use beautiful words.
  2. Make it flow.
  1. If you’re bored, they’re bored.
  1. Be invested, but not too invested. Have other projects on the side.
  2. Give your characters space to breathe.
  3. Divorce your stories on the second edit. Treat them objectively, not subjectively, as if you are reading someone else’s work.
  4. Take a break, and try something new. Look for a new genre, a new prompt, a new style of writing.
  1. No writing is ever wasted.
  1. Read, read, READ. And don’t be afraid to critique the work of others.
  2. Write what you love.

The Little Ragtag Girl

A.N. I know I do this every year, but I like the story. >.<

As the little ragtag girl made her way through the opened window, she scanned the room carefully, noting the roaring hearth, the pot of tea, and the mink shawl. But there was no one around, no sign of life, in fact, save a lonely mouse that scuttled back into its corner as soon as her bare feet touched the ground.

She was safe for now.

The ragtag girl glided across the room, ignorant of the trail of mud her frost-bitten feet left across the polished marble floors and imported Oriental rug. It would certainly stain, but her gaze was committed to the roaring fire, a cheerful source of warmth she could only recall with the greatest difficulty. A creak upstairs broke her concentration, and she ran to the door, easing it open as she assessed her situation. A old-fashioned, festive tune filled the air, and she paused, vaguely recognising a church tune played early every Christmas morning.

There was still no one in sight, and the little ragtag girl easily made her way down the corridor, to the room she had seen from the street. Three down from the corner, four, five…she counted the doors until one flew open, and the ragtag girl was trapped in a tight embrace.

“Hattie!” squealed the hugger, a girl of eight or nine, with hair in tight braids which fell over a checkered nightgown. “I was starting to think you wouldn’t come.”

“I got lost,” said Hattie, her eyes wide as she took in her surroundings. A pink lace coverlet, pink tapestries on the wall, a row of pink-clad dolls on the mantle.

“Do you like it?” said the hugger girl, spinning around on the floor. “Pink is my favourite. I asked Santa for a pink pony for Christmas. I think it would look darling with the little dogcart we have.”

“Who’s Santa?” Shock had loosened her tongue, and the words flew out of Hattie’s mouth. The hugger girl looked shocked.

“Hattie! You mean you’ve never heard of Santa? Who else would give you all of those presents on Christmas morning?”

“Presents?”

“Yes! You know, under the Christmas tree! Wrapped in paper and…Hattie? Hattie, darling, are you crying? Don’t be cross, Hattie, I’m sorry if I made you upset, darling…oh, Hattie, please don’t cry, darling, don’t be cross with me now…”

“I’m not crying,” said Hattie. But the other girl’s whimpering persisted to alarming volumes, and Hattie, worried that someone would hear, had no choice but to raise her own voice. “ABBIE! STOP!”

“Miss Abigail?” Just like that, the old housekeeper’s footsteps were on the stairs. “Is anything amiss? I thought I heard voices.”

“See what you’ve done?” scowled Abigail. “Now Mrs Peterson shall come up, and everything will be ruined!”

“What I’ve done!” countered Hattie. “I do think you’re the…”

There was a knock on the door. “Miss Abigail?”

“Under the bed!” shrieked Lottie. But the window was already open and, by the time Mrs Peterson had begun a thorough search of the room for the ‘villainous thieves’ who had left skid marks all down the corridor, Hattie was long gone, curled up under the icicles of a house two down, finding warmth in the exhaust pipes. Abigail’s voice followed her down the street, vehement protests that she had just been ‘playing pretend’ and that her dolls’ tea party was now ‘horridly ruined’.

But Hattie stayed curled in her corner long after the noise died down, and the sun had given way to stars and street lamps. She felt her feet freeze again, but the pain was somehow dulled by visions of pink, lace-clad dolls and exotic tapestries hanging from the ceiling.

When the milkman found her the next morning, there was a smile on Hattie’s lips, deep blue and frozen shut. It was not the first beggar girl he’d found on his rounds, and would scarcely be the last, but the peaceful image of the smile on the dead girl’s face would be one that would follow him for many Christmases more to come.

Whisper

The day five-year-old Harry is discharged from the hospital, his mother thanks us profusely. I pay little attention to her gushing compliments; rounds have already lasted four hours, and there are eight of us total on the paediatric team (including the off-service residents and nurse practitioner student). Her attention is focused on the attending, anyway, so it seems safe safe to allow my mind to wander to my presentation the next day, reciting lines in my head as I whirl through invisible PowerPoint slides.

As we were leave the room, however, Harry’s mother tugs on my arm, a silent plea for a moment more of my time. Or a moment, period. Feelings of guilt erupt for not listening to her more closely. She is a kind lady, and a good mother. She deserves more respect.

“I truly meant it,” Harry’s mother says, as the guilt bubbling in my heart surges to a boil. “I can’t thank you enough. Harry loves you, too. You’ve done a lot for us.” Her voice is soft, as if she is sharing a secret. Perhaps she is; Harry’s mother works in the hospital, and is likely acquainted with the rigid hierarchy medical staff adhere to. A compliment to a subordinate in the presence of the wrong attending can effect a living hell. I’ve seen it firsthand.

Her comments surprise me, though. Although Harry is my patient, I know I haven’t been providing the best care for him. Ten months ago, I would have checked on all of my patients five to six times per day, allaying their fears, answering their questions, passing their concerns on to the attending physician. Now, though, Harry is lucky if I came in twice each day.

It isn’t from a lack of empathy, or a lack of interest, or a lack of concern. I spend my days running, always busy, always doing things, yet never seeming to get things done. I know the rumours about medical students: that we’re lazy, we avoid work, we spend all of our time on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and the newer sites whose names I can’t recall. And those are true, just as all Americans drive pick-ups, or all Germans are beer-guzzling drunks. My personal emotional sensitivity is as sharp as ever; it’s as difficult for me to hold back tears now as it was on Day One. I still care, perhaps even more than when I started.

But I am tired. Exhausted. Even as Harry’s mother continues to whisper words of encouragement, I find my focus slipping. On the paediatric service, we are required to contribute 75 hours of work weekly. This does not include the time required for presentations, essays, exams, or off-service teaching sessions. I’d become robotic, functioning with a haze in my eyes which faded only when I fell into the few hours of senseless slumber I was permitted at the end of a nerve-wracking day. A nervous wreck, two blips from an explosion.

“We’ve bought him a D-R-U-M set for his birthday,” Harry’s mother says, watching her son race two tongue depressors across his bed, like boats. “He’s taken a liking to heavy metal and punk rock.”

It was mechanical. Wake up to the alarm, run, run, get to the hospital, run, run, get cursed at, push back tears, run, run, run home, try to study, try to write, fall asleep to nightmares just as the alarm beeped again.

“So, anyway, thank you for everything.” Harry’s mother now speaks so softly, I have to lean in to hear. “You’ll do well in the future. Take care of yourself?”

I smile, lacking the energy to invest in a lie. Nothing is in my control anymore. Certainly not my own well-being.

Yet, why are we whispering, as if all of this is some sort of secret?

Snapped

Five days after the funeral, little Maddie LeBlanc returned to her second-grade classroom, back into the care of Mrs Bastion, whose teethy smile didn’t quite reach her eyes, who offered a nod in lieu of empty words of solace. All three LeBlancs were sufficiently solemn, the mother wiping her eyes with a stiff handkerchief, the father clenching his fists around the car keys, and, of course, little Maddie.

But solemnity in a child is absurd, and even Richie Adams, who was slow for his age, turned his head when Maddie entered the classroom. She made a beeline for the crumbling five-foot dollhouse in the back corner of the room, kneeling down in front of the kitchen. Maddie held the position for hours, head bent as if in prayer, and disregarded any attempts at engagement or conversation. Mrs Bastion let her be and told the other children to do the same; truth be told, she didn’t know how to handle a child who’d gone through that sort of ordeal, and was only glad that Maddie wasn’t responding in what she’d see as more typical ways: screaming, shouting, throwing tantrums. Quiet was eerie, but easy.

The classroom was silent at lunchtime, save the occasional scratch of a pen; Maddie hadn’t moved from her spot, and Mrs Bastion had opted to stay inside with the girl, trusting no one else to watch for signs of improvement. Mrs Bastion and Mrs LeBlanc were roommates in college and would go for drinks, hence the responsibility Mrs Bastion felt for the seven-year-old in front of her. Her dutiful vigil was soon rewarded; fifteen minutes into the recess, Maddie reached her hands inside the dollhouse and pulled out the plastic baby doll donated to the classroom by some long-forgotten alumnus, cradling it carefully in her arms.

Mrs Bastion watched the interaction closely, remembering some long-ago lecture about girls and dolls and sexual trauma, but Maddie did nothing out of the ordinary with the doll. She dressed it, combed its hair, fed it from the bottle, and rocked it to sleep. The routine continued with bath time and playtime when the class returned from recess, and Mrs Bastion glanced over in the middle of Green Eggs and Ham to see Maddie taking a nap with the baby doll wrapped tightly in her arms.

The days passed in a similar fashion. Maddie took the baby doll everywhere: home, church, car, park, swimming pool, ice cream parlour, never speaking a word, never giving a glimpse of what was going on inside. The doll’s hair was braided, clothes matched nicely, water bottle was rinsed twice per day. But Maddie paid no heed to anything — or anyone — else. On the fourth day, Mrs LeBlanc grew sufficiently concerned to take Maddie to the doctor. Grief was one thing, she and Mrs Bastion agreed, but this was too much. No speech, no engagement, no acknowledgement of anything in the outside world except the baby doll. Maddie was only seven, in any case. What did she know about death and dying?

Dr Moreau’s office was filled with screaming babies, wheezing tots, and germ-infested toys. Maddie ignored the multitude of dolls, cars, stickers, and sweets Mrs LeBlanc brought her way, only rocking the tiny baby doll she already held with far too much care to be normal.

“She’s been this way since Adelaide, well, you know,” Mrs LeBlanc told the doctor. “I’d say it’s grief, but she’s too young to act like this. And she certainly isn’t seeing it from anyone at home. We’re not mad. We cry a bit, of course, but not like this.”

“And she never puts the doll down?” said Dr Moreau, stroking his earlobes. “I wouldn’t be too concerned. It’s still soon after everything, and it’s not an unusual response. She’s probably transferred her attachment from Adelaide to the doll. She needs time. And distraction. Perhaps Nathalie could come over some time? She misses the girls, and she’s been begging to see Madeleine again. And you and Pierre could do with a break. Go to dinner, or watch a film. You deserve it.”

“That does sound lovely,” said Mrs LeBlanc. “But only if you’re certain Nathalie won’t mind. I know girls her age can get irritated by children, especially once the boyfriends start coming on the scene.” They set a time for the next afternoon, and Mrs LeBlanc lead her daughter back to the car, not noticing the hairs Maddie had started to pull out of the doll’s head, one by one.

The next day, Maddie was distraught. Her movements were stiff, rushed. She refused food, refused water, refused to get dressed. The doll was thrown about, soaked in the bathtub, singed by the cooker, and caught by the arm in the car door. Halfway through morning recess, Mrs Bastion found Maddie rocking a headless doll in the crib. Its neck had been twisted, then snapped in two.

“Maddie,” Mrs Bastion said. “Maddie. Maddie, what happened to your doll?”

“It was crying,” Maddie said. She continued to rock the crib forcefully, her eyes wide, wild. “I had to make it stop crying. It was too noisy. Too loud.”

“Oh,” said Mrs Bastion, her voice rising to a shrill squeak as shards of realisation began to piece together. “That’s a…different way to make a baby stop crying.”

“It’s what Nathalie did,” said Maddie. “She showed me. With Addie. They never cry, not ever again.”

Educated Woman

Mamma always said that being poor was no crime, but no reason at all for poor manners. One could be poor, but still be a lady. It was all about presentation, and poise, and confidence. Straight back. Elbows off the table. Don’t slurp. Don’t pick your teeth. Cover your mouth when you yawn. Better yet, don’t yawn at all. Look interested. Nod politely. Look at Mrs Watson when she is speaking to you. Say ‘thank you’ when the shop-lady gives you a compliment. Don’t wink. Don’t gag. Don’t swear. Let pregnant women and older men take the empty seat. Keep your legs together when you sit down. Look both ways before crossing the road.

Mamma always said that being poor was no crime, but that money was good, because you could never be happy without money. Money wouldn’t necessarily make you happy, of course, but you’d be downright miserable without it, so it was certainly worth a shot. We had no money, but that meant nothing, because one day there would be money enough to send Lacy to college, because Lacy would be an educated woman, and work in an office, or in a lab, or as a lawyer, or as a doctor. Lacy would be an educated woman, even if Mamma had to take two more extra jobs to get her there. Lacy would make something of herself, Lacy would go to college, Lacy would make this family proud.

We watched Lacy come home every day from school with a big pile of books she’d study cover to cover. While the other girls were painting their nails, gossiping on phones, and, later, meeting boys in deserted locker rooms and under the bleachers, Lacy would cover textbooks larger than she was, filling stacks and stacks of notebooks with her cramped, fluid script. Notebooks went on sale only one week of the year, the first week of October, when they were five cents each, so we had to make our stash last the year. Every margin and cover of the flimsy paper were crammed with notes, sometimes so worn-down that they’d have to be held together with duct tape or glue. When Lacy finally ran out of note space, we’d rummage through the neighbours’ recycling bins to find the previous day’s paper. If the front page photo was light enough, Lacy would rip it out and use it to scribble notes. Sometimes, if we were lucky, we’d find some other child’s half-used notebooks tossed away at the end of the semester, and scribble out the used bits. The covers were often colourful, not like the black-and-white marbled ones we had, and sometimes I’d keep one to hang on the walls: a purple unicorn, the Jonas Brothers, a camouflage hologram I could see my face inside.

But Lacy would be an educated woman, and that meant playing the part, too. No one takes a poor girl seriously, no matter how well she conjugates French verbs or discusses ancient Roman theatre. So, on her days off, Mamma rummaged through the city’s thrift stores, learning their patterns, pouncing on sales. A jacket with a torn sleeve could be repaired. The ripped edge of a silk scarf made a lovely fringe. A dress too short and lumpy could be paired with leggings and a belt. Quickly, Lacy became the most stylish girl in the school, as she carried her books back-and-forth between locker to kitchen table.

Being poor was no crime, but, not only must a lady must look the part, but she must live the part, too. She needed a proper house, not a tenement townhouse in the slums or the cockroach-infested flat all of us had been born inside. We couldn’t afford a house, of course, not a real house, like the ones educated ladies lived in, but Mamma would scour the streets and papers for neglected rentals, the ones with the broken sinks, the holes in the walls, the mice in the attic. The pretty facades with rents too high for us to afford. Every so often, we’d miss one payment too many and come home to find the locks changed or the police waiting. We took steps, of course, to try to save, to pinch pennies, keeping the lights and heat off to prevent the bills from rising, ignoring the overgrown lawns and snow-filled driveways, baking bread in pots because the cooker used less electricity than the oven. Wintry nights too cold for snow would find us huddled some basement corner, wrapped around the solar-generated radiator we’d fished out from some neighbour’s rubbish bins over the summer.

But it did little good. We could never stay in one place for long, and, as the years went by, finding a house to rent became harder and harder.

It was great fun for us, of course, to lark around the large estates and mimic Lacy dressed in clothes far fancier than any we had, but Lacy would be an educated woman, and Lacy would go to college. And it was Lacy who had to endure the hour-long manners sessions, the makeup sessions, the hair lessons. A lady always ties her hair up like so. A lady always holds her teacup like so. A lady’s makeup is never visible, and certainly never the vivid pinks and neon greens we saw on the streets. She always had one small earring in each ear, and never any piercings anywhere else.

Looking back, I suppose any of us might have passed as ‘educated’, given the amount of interest we paid to Mamma’s lessons, but Lacy was the smartest out of all of us, and the only one who could speak English properly without flipping back and forth between the street slangs we’d grown up with. None of us took it seriously, anyway; we conjugated verbs as jokes, quoted Caesar and Shakespeare during games of tag, drew trigonometrical equations with old bits of chalk on the pavement. It was Lacy who broke in the patent-leather Mary-Janes, Lacy who developed a taste for caviar and lamb-and-mint, Lacy who learnt to drive in the Volkswagen ‘borrowed’ from Mrs Fitzgerald-Nottingham down the street while she was on holidays. Lacy, who went to college to become an educated woman.

 

On her first day of college, Lacy came home and locked herself in her bedroom. We picked the lock and let ourselves in to find her picking her pillow to shreds.

“I met a boy,” she said. Perfect, educated Lacy had med a perfect, educated boy. We slumped to the ground in disappointment. We’d been expecting something profound when she hadn’t come straight to her books. The first day any of us could remember that Lacy hadn’t gone straight to her books.

So much for something juicy.

“What major?” said Tiffany, propping her feet against the wall to stretch her hamstrings. Lacy was a double major in English and psychology, but most of the first-years took similar classes. “I bet he’s an engineer.”

“I bet he’s a math major,” said Mercedes.

“I bet he’s a scientist,” I said. “With glasses. And crooked teeth.”

“He’s not a student,” said Lacy. “He’s a shop boy. He works in the coffee shop. It’s good money. I’ve been counting. If both of us worked in the shops, we could make enough to afford one of those little flats in the south part of town. Maybe even go up to the lake during the summer, and go camping.”

The flats in the south part of town were the roach-infested flats where we’d all been born. Perhaps Lacy was thinking of the same one. We’d left when Lacy was eight and I was two, and, as far as I knew, no one had taken any steps to tear anything down. But Lacy would have had more memories of that than I did.

Three days later, Lacy didn’t come home from school. Mamma folded the laundry and put cold chicken on the table, but her face was tired, resigned. As if she knew what was happening, without anyone saying a word. I didn’t know what was happening; it took both Mercedes and Tiffany three tries that night before I finally understood that Lacy wasn’t coming home at all.

I never saw her again. Two years later, Mercedes performed a similar stunt, disappearing with a tattooed hoodlum to an undisclosed location on the East Coast. Tiffany showed me pictures once, as she was stuffing tank tops, Pokemon trading cards, and socks into a duffel bag before climbing out the window into the night. She was the only one who said good-bye to me. I’m not sure if any of them ever said anything to Mamma.

I had just started high school when Tiffany left, but had recently gone through a large growth spurt which left me taller and broader than Mamma, making me the sore heiress of three closets of passed-down ‘educated’ clothes and patent leather shoes. The shoes weren’t as uncomfortable as Lacy had always made them seem, and both Mamma and I thought they fit me rather well. I took Lacy’s old notebooks off the shelves; English and math don’t change much in the space of a decade, although some of the science was a bit outdated. I corrected everything with a blue gel pen I’d won in a writing contest, jotting down formulas on the old notebook covers I still had hanging around.

 

Everyone says that doctors are rich, that they make too much money, that they’re horribly selfish and greedy. I clutch my stethoscope as I walk through the corridors, still unaccustomed to all of the attention, the respect. One day these people will wake up, and see me for what I am: a poor girl from a cockroach-infested flat in the slums whose three older sisters passed up the chance to be educated ladies. I’m an imposter. A scoundrel. A fraud. I don’t deserve to be here, among golfers and patrons and the nouveau-riche who speak about yachts and Porsches as if they were carrots and onions.

But I’m an educated woman. I know French verbs and Roman theatre as well as the rest of them, if not better. I’ve studied trigonometry and calculus since I could pronounce the words. I know how to fish through recycling bins for yesterday’s paper, and I know how hard to kick an old radiator to force it through one more winter’s storm.

I’m an educated woman. Just like Mamma wanted.

Just like Lacy was supposed to be.