Bridge

Despite the vague description of the message, Dr Thomas Wang thought that he had reached the right place. The café was a small independent building out of red bricks, with all the frames of its windows and doors painted white. A small blackboard hanging on the wall had been wiped out of content, although obviously not with much care, for remnants of white chalk still left on it, having yet replaced by any of today’s daily specials. Before it stood a young waiter, who was checking a little notebook in his hand while whistling a lively tune with pursed lips. And he seemed delighted to see, in all likelihood, his first customer of the day.
‘Good morning,’ said the doctor in a low voice, adding little more to reciprocate the waiter’s warm and lengthy morning greetings. Thomas quickly ordered his coffee, grabbed a number plate, and went to sit at one of the outside tables. The winter’s cool morning air chilled him. The sun was nowhere to be seen, and heavy fog surrounded the Sydney Harbour Bridge at the other side of the bay. He had thought about taking a walk around the Opera House first, but the possibility of missing the woman he meant to see deterred him. So he stayed where he was, wrapping his coat more tightly around himself, and refused to get inside as kindly suggested by the waiter when he brought him his coffee.
Halfway through his second cup, Thomas made out the young woman he was waiting for from a distance. She seemed to have caught sight of him too and was approaching him with steady steps.
But who was she indeed? Thomas was unable to confirm her identity until she was closer. He raised one arm and waved, at which she only nodded as a way of acknowledgement. Or was it a nodding at all? Could it have actually been an illusion of his mind, given the long distance, the fog, and the slight up-and-downs in her gait? He didn’t know. The distance between them was still too long for him to stand up and greet her, so he decided to pass the awkward time in between by lowering his head and sipping some coffee. However, to his own disappointment, he stood up too soon all the same, at a point where the immediate thought of sitting down again struck him as hardly more ridiculous.
The young woman didn’t order anything and sat straight before him across the table. Her pale-blue eye shadow was now recognisable, maybe even more conspicuous than he had seen before, and her direct gaze aggravated his uneasiness. Thomas sat back down, they exchanged some wordless greetings, and, reassured of the futility of trying to order something for her, he brought up the main point of this meeting, in a more or less quivering voice:
‘So,’ he said, ‘it’s you? You’re behind all this, aren’t you?’
‘I wouldn’t put it like that myself,’ said the young woman.
‘So you’re not denying it. Where is she, then?’
The young woman didn’t say anything to the doctor’s question. Instead she looked at him in a strange way, as if, with her big, green eyes, she was actually trying to convey rather than hide something there.
‘Why’re you looking at me like that?’ asked Thomas. ‘Haven’t you promised to explain everything?’
‘Well,’ she said, pulling a pack of cigarettes from her handbag, took one out, and lit it.
‘Well?’
‘What is there to explain,’ she finally said, blowing a mouthful of smoke to her side, ‘except what you’ve already known?’
‘There’s everything to explain. I know nothing about you. I didn’t even know you smoked.’
‘Oh Thomas,’ said the young woman, shaking her head a little, ‘naturally there must be many things you still don’t know about me, but whether I smoke or not is probably the least important one among them. Now tell me, Doctor, what do you intend to achieve out of this little conversation? Well, you needn’t answer that. I know. A great love is lost, in fact many other things are on the verge of being lost as well, and you want to know the reason behind it, an answer to all the questions. But you want it too hard, my dear, that, gradually, before you know it, you become obsessed with it, you lose control of yourself, and your curiosity now has become your worst enemy. That I can imagine, and perhaps, well sympathise. But the truth,’ she paused here to blow some smoke. ‘The truth, sometimes, is much less complicated or mysterious than you think, and more, how should I put it, tasteless. That’s right, plain and tasteless, not worth telling, or that one would even feel ashamed to reveal it to another person, not because there’s something shameful in it, but simply for its foolishness, lack of artistry, and worthlessness. So, Thomas, you would be very disappointed if I were to tell you the whole truth. However, it’s not for your sake at all that I must refrain from giving you any answer; it is entirely for the consideration of myself, out of my own selfishness, although the fundamental reason for not telling is the same. And for that you must forgive me.’
‘Why are you telling me all this?’ asked Thomas, more confused than ever, ‘what could it possibly mean? Can’t you simply tell me: Who are you?’
‘In fact,’ she said, ‘I think you’ve already known the answer. You are looking at it now.’
‘I don’t really understand.’
‘Perhaps you will, eventually.’ And at this, she rose and made her way to leave.
‘But you promised!’ shouted Thomas, failing to keep his excited voice under control. The waiter, too, was startled by such a loud cry, nearly dropped a glass he had been polishing, and was drawn to look in his way. Much agitated and standing up, Thomas fixed his eyes on the young woman’s retreating back, who paused for a moment at the doctor’s exasperation, flicked some ash off her cigarette, and then went on her way without so much as a slight turn of her head.
Step after step, the young woman went away and disappeared, either into the distance or the fog. Greatly disappointed, Thomas remained at his table, now and then taking a glance at the fog-shrouded Harbour Bridge, and was lost in thought. What did she really want? The question still perplexed him. His memories about her, for some reason or another, appeared vaguer and more scattered than he would wish to admit. Countless images were flashing through his mind in a chaotic order, as if the sole purpose of their existence was to show their very lack of meaning. And yet, out of these memories something did emerge, a thread that was intangible, out of reach, but leading somewhere, or rather a charming voice, chanting and murmuring, telling him that he was almost there, and all he should do was to keep on searching, even at the cost of losing himself further in the process.

14 thoughts on “Bridge

  1. johnsonofdaw says:

    Bridge: I’m thoroughly hooked. Who is she and what does she want and why does a doctor fret so much about her? An unacknowledged daughter? A casual lover? A kidnapper? A long lost acquaintance who has changed? A one drunken night stand only half remembered? An old patient? The daughter of a dead patient? A blackmailer or his messenger? Someone who has taken a loved one from him? It’s clever writing to get me leaning every which way. If you fulfil the promise of your opening you’ve sold me.

  2. Brett Mumford says:

    I found the missing words at the beginning very off-putting. Unless there is a secret meaning to ‘…independent building out of red bricks…’, or is the word ‘made’ missing? The lack of background information on the point/purpose of the meeting left me wondering why the main character was there. He did not seem upset, just mildly curious about who ‘she’ was, no tension to suggest a direct conflict between them. Then their dance with dialogue to carefully not say anything contextual, to not give any clue for me to use to glean some understanding of the emotional flow here. If I had read this opening in a bookstore, I would have put it back on the shelf. Sorry.

  3. Bret says:

    Hello,
    Very interesting first chapter which makes me want to read on.
    These were some great sections in this scene: (Hope you don’t mind a little cut and paste)
    {‘So,’ he said, ‘it’s you? You’re behind all this, aren’t you?
    ‘I wouldn’t put it like that myself,’ said the young woman.
    ‘So you’re not denying it. Where is she, then?’
    ‘Why are you telling me all this?’ asked Thomas, more confused than ever, ‘what could it possibly mean? Can’t you simply tell me: Who are you?’
    ‘In fact,’ she said, ‘I think you’ve already known the answer. You are looking at it now.’}
    I might have started the book with this and built the tension from here. I could picture the setting in my mind the way you described it, but I would maybe weave that in throughout, again focusing more on the characters and the mystery.

  4. Isabel says:

    I liked the voice and I could imagine the setting, but i felt a little distant from the characer. I couldn’t feel his emotion. I would read a little further to see if it became clear why he was looking for the girl or why she mattered.

  5. Kevin says:

    Thank you very much, JOHNSONOFDAW, BRETT MUMFORD, BRET, and ISABEL for your great feedbacks.

    I’m very dissatisfied with it too. I couldn’t agree more with BM about the inadequacies of this piece and am considering a major rewrite. And I still need to work on my English; that’s for sure. Thanks again.

    • Bret says:

      I’m right there with you, Kevin..I’ll be doing some major rewriting and restructuring, but it will be better in the end, won’t it. Stick with it .

  6. Rachel says:

    What about giving us a bit more of a hint at the beginning that the meeting will go awry? Maybe start with him shouting at her back, startling that poor server. Then you can start where you do, with him waiting for her and hoping she will be able to tell him what he needs to know. I’d also recommend cutting it down. What tells us something important about Thomas or the woman? What is just a throwaway observation about the setting? What do we need to know about them that we don’t? Make it all count and pare it back as much as possible.

  7. Jen says:

    Hi,
    I’m definitely intrigued and would read on. I’ve imagined several scenarios as to what could be going on. I’m curious to know the real story.

    The writing seems strong to me but could be cleaned/shaped up a bit. I’ll give a few examples/suggestions. If you’d like more specific examples, let me know.

    The café was a small independent building out of red bricks, with all the frames of its windows and doors painted white.

    Could be something like:
    -The café, an independent building of red brick, had white window and door frames…..or …had gleaming/dingy white frames around the windows.
    -The café stood independently, its red brick sharply contrasted by stark white window frames.

    There are some filter words. I’d like to be shown more, instead of told. Some of the dialogue is long, formal and unrealistic, unless that is intentional for these characters.

    I like the part where she stops and flicks the cigarette ash, good visual.

    good luck!

  8. Pam Portland (@TruckingWriter) says:

    The fact that the reader doesn’t know what’s going on in this scene can be okay, if we feel a connection to the main character. But he’s a doctor, with no particular problem. He’s in the heart of Sydney, he’s gainfully employable (as far as the reader can tell), and although there is a measure of intrigue, he doesn’t pursue her when she up and leaves. He doesn’t feel particularly in need, or in any great peril.

    Using some of the notes I’ve gleened from this course, I thought about lesson #2 and does this character drive the plot. He shows up, he drinks some coffee, he has a conversation, and that’s about it. Adding to that from lesson #3, he doesn’t seem to have any major flaws. Maybe a good exercise would be to go back to some of Ellen’s early questions and see what more you can learn about your main character.

    The setting and imagery is pretty clear, but I think Thomas needs more depth. Have fun getting to know him!

  9. Kevin says:

    Rachel, Jen, and Pam, Thank you very much for your great advice. I’ve realised that this particular beginning for my novel is inadequate on so many levels, so is the novel itself, as reluctantly as I would like to admit. My main character is very weak to begin with, I’ve failed to convey the mood of the scene, and many problems remain with the writing itself. All this becomes more obvious after I studied the writing materials posted Ellen, to which I owe many thanks.

    Jen, if you would be so kind to give me more of the examples you mentioned, I’d really appreciate it.

    Thank you for all of your great feedbacks again. And good luck to you all!

  10. Gentle Reader says:

    This is intriguing. Here are a few thoughts:

    1. Dialogue tags:

    ‘Why’re you looking at me like that?’ asked Thomas. (Why’re is not a real contraction.)
    ‘Why are you telling me all this?’ asked Thomas.

    Here you want to use Thomas asked. Putting the “asked” first isn’t the popular way to do it these days.

    ‘But you promised!’ shouted Thomas.

    Here you want to use Thomas shouted. Same deal.

    2. You use the word “was” way too much. Here are some tips on how to strengthen your writing by eliminating unnecessary “to be” verbs: http://www.stlcc.edu/Student_Resources/Academic_Resources/Writing_Resources/Grammar_Handouts/To-be-Verbs.pdf

    Here’s a list of what I find in this brief excerpt:

    The café was a small independent building out of red bricks
    who was checking a little notebook in his hand while whistling a lively tune with pursed lips
    The sun was nowhere to be seen
    So he stayed where he was
    Thomas made out the young woman he was waiting for from a distance
    She seemed to have caught sight of him too and was approaching him with steady steps
    But who was she indeed
    Thomas was unable to confirm her identity until she was closer
    Or was it a nodding at all
    The distance between them was still too long for him to stand up and greet her
    Her pale-blue eye shadow was now
    she was actually trying to convey rather than hide something there
    startled by such a loud cry
    and was drawn to look in his way
    and was lost in thought
    as if the sole purpose of their existence was to show their very lack of meaning
    a thread that was intangible
    telling him that he was almost there
    and all he should do was to keep on searching

    3. In general, word repetition is a problem. For example, the word “young” is used repeatedly:

    Before it stood a young waiter
    Thomas made out the young woman he was waiting for from a distance
    The young woman didn’t order anything and sat straight before him across the table
    ‘I wouldn’t put it like that myself,’ said the young woman
    The young woman didn’t say anything to the doctor’s question
    ‘Oh Thomas,’ said the young woman
    Thomas fixed his eyes on the young woman’s retreating back
    the young woman went away and disappeared

    We get it that the woman is young. Why not give us some other clues/description of the woman?

    I would also do some judicious editing to tighten this scene.

    Please don’t get discouraged by my comments. They are simply meant as way to go from good writing to great writing. I love Sydney, btw. What a great setting for the first scene of your novel!

    • Kevin says:

      Hi, Gentle Reader. Thank you for your great and specific feedbacks. This is really helpful and I should really keep an eye on my word choices. Please don’t worry about discouraging me with your comments, for I’ve long come out of such discouragements and now I’m all for improving my writing. Thanks again 🙂

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