Charlotte’s Shadow

“Did Daddy hurt you again?”

Charlie turned from the mirror, the purple bruise below her eye only half concealed.  Her young son looked up at her, his red, puffy eyes accentuated the paleness of his face. Charlie’s heart broke; he’d been crying again. She tried to smile and found it didn’t fit her face so she let it go.

“A little,” she said.

Owen ran to her, burying his face in her midriff.  She hugged him tightly trying desperately not to let her tears flow.  Kyle usually avoided hitting her where the bruises would be visible, but last night he’d been careless; out of control.  She hated how Kyle beat her.  She hated that Owen knew. What must he think of her?

“Come on, Owen.  Breakfast and then off to school.” She gently maneuvered him toward the kitchen, holding his hand. He was the only good thing to come out of her marriage. She should have listened to her mother. “Charlotte, you be careful, my girl. He’s got a nasty streak in him, that one.” But Charlie hadn’t listened.  She was Charlotte Stockton and Kyle Jeffreys loved her and oh, she loved him so completely. Perhaps it was a blessing her mother wasn’t alive to see how things turned out with Kyle.

“Can I have strawberry jam on toast please?” Owen’s voice pulled her back to reality.
“Sure thing, honey,” Charlie dropped two slices of bread into the toaster.

“Would you like the radio on, Mum?”  Owen’s hand hovered over the old radio that sat on the window ledge.

“Not today, dear, Daddy is still in bed and we shouldn’t wake him.”  Charlie shot a nervous glance toward the main bedroom.

She packed Owen’s lunch box while she waited for the toast, her senses attuned to any sign of Kyle being up.  She contemplated making lunch for Kyle, but if she made it wrong… no, she would make his when he was up and could say what he wanted. Cyanide sandwich if she had her way, she thought and a guilty smile touched her lips.

The toast popped up making her jump.  She buttered it, spread it with jam and handed it to her son.

Then she heard it. The bathroom door closed and she knew Kyle was up.

Owen heard too and looked at her, his eyes wide and haunted.

Charlie forced a smile. “Off to school for you, my good man.”

Owen needed no more prompting; he grabbed the proffered lunch box, stuffed it in his school bag, gave her a quick hug and scurried out the door, his unfinished toast in one hand.

As the screen door banged shut, Owen called, “I love you Mum!  ‘Bye, Dad!”

Kyle strode into the kitchen, his tall, broad frame almost blocking the doorway. Charlie backed away in fear as he approached, his face red with rage, his ice-blue eyes glaring at her. “Where’s Owen?” His voice was low, menacing.

“He’s off to school,” Charlie replied, trying for a cheery note in her voice, but failing. “You’ve just missed him.”

“The brat’s been in my office.  I found one of his toys on my desk.  On my bloody desk!” Kyle suddenly threw the toy at Charlie, catching her in the mouth before she had time to react.  Instinctively she touched the welt that was already forming.  Please no, she prayed, not again, not so soon.  She knew from past experience that fighting back only made things worse.  So she said nothing.

“How many fucking times do I need to tell that boy to keep the hell out of my office?”
Kyle turned away, giving Charlie faint hope that she might get through this without another beating.

Kyle’s anger was currently focused on Owen. “I’ll give the little shit a good belting. See if he learns to do what he’s told any quicker than you do.”  He took a cup off the rack and shoved it at Charlie. “Here, the least you can do is make your husband a coffee in the morning; you’re not good for much else.”

With shaking hands, Charlie took the cup from her husband and turned away, her mind in turmoil.  Kyle had never threatened Owen before.  Surely he didn’t mean it, no, he wouldn’t hurt Owen; he loves his son.  I’m his punching bag, she thought.

“What would you like me to make for dinner tonight?” Charlie tried to steer the conversation onto less confrontational matters as she waited for the kettle to boil.

“I’ll be late.  Playing poker with the guys.”

Charlie felt panic rising inside her. Kyle playing poker meant Kyle drinking, and that meant she’d be sporting a fresh crop of bruises tomorrow morning.

She placed a cup of coffee on the table for him, trying desperately to control her trembling hands. “Oh, OK.” Her voice was weak and she could hear her own fear in it.

“I’ll deal with Owen in the morning.” Kyle said.  “About time he got some discipline.  Little brat.  A taste of my belt should fix him.” He took a mouthful of coffee before continuing. “You make sure he stays home, you hear?  Don’t go thinking if you send him off to play with one of his little pals he’ll escape his punishment.  If he’s not here when I get up, he’ll get double.” He scowled at her.  “And you’ll get some more too if you think you can go against me.  You mark my words, do you hear me?”

Charlie didn’t answer.  She was numb with shock, realizing that Kyle’s threat was real.  He had never threatened Owen before.  Not like this.  Sure he’d given Owen a smack if he’d been naughty, but this was far more serious. She was terrified.

“Well?  Did you hear me?  Do you understand?”  Kyle had risen from the table, fists clenched at his sides, his eyes narrow slits as he approached his wife.

“Yes, of course, Kyle.  I understand,” Charlie said, trying with all her might to sound calm.

8 thoughts on “Charlotte’s Shadow

  1. Cat Lumb says:

    This is an intriguing beginning for a novel, but I feel that there are a lot of clichés present in the language describing Kyle and his behaviour; as a result he feels like a stereotype. I suspect that his threat to hurt Owen is the inciting event that will make Charlie act, but by the end of this extract I wondered why she bothered to stay with him at all – given Owen seems so aware of the abuse and Kyle is demonstrating no loveable (or even likeable) traits.

    The dialogue reads well – the difference in the way each character speaks is apparent: even between the way Charlie talks to Owen versus her husband. It felt quite natural and made it easy to imagine the characters in the kitchen having this exchange.

    There are also some good strong verbs in the piece that strengthen the writing, but be careful of too much repetition – I noticed that the statement ‘he had never threatened Owen before’ cropped up twice, and it’s very telling (versus showing).

    There is some great potential here. Good Luck with it!

  2. Jim says:

    This was hard for me to read, but mainly because I’m the father of 3 adult daughters. Thankfully I’ve not had to deal with this kind of situation. But I know it exists. I hope you’re successful in telling the story so others can find hope (I’m guessing that’s where you’re going with it). I hope you get to whack Kyle in telling the story.

    Good luck.

  3. Julie Griffith says:

    An abused wife is a common protagonist, so she’s going to have to have a very unique, engaging voice to set this story apart from others along the same lines. I, personally, would have liked it better if she had lied to her son when he asked if his daddy hurt her again. Then if you skipped to the paragraph where she remembers her mother warning her about Kyle, it would lead us to suspect that he did hurt her. Let us find out on our own that he’s abusive without being told outright by the protagonist. I would also like to see her be a little more hostile in her thoughts toward him. The arsenic thought was good, but felt a little too much like she was joking. I’d like her have serious thoughts about him dying. Like imagining him crashing into a tree on the way home from the poker game. Also some foreshadowing of what’s to come would keep me wanting to read on. The writing is good, and it’s obvious you have the tools to make this a good story if you can make it unique and avoid cliches. Good luck with your story. 🙂

  4. Briana says:

    I don’t know, I’m having mixed feelings about this opening.
    1. Abused wife who stands for violence toward her children? Nothing in this opening led me to believe she wanted to change things or was gaining courage. It’s like she just took it even though she tells us she knows it is wrong. I understand why and how this can be “reality” but I’m not sure this is what people really want to read. It’s not going to draw in a reader.
    2. Because of this, I lacked empathy for the characters and felt a little upset. If I’d picked this up I may have stopped reading.
    My advice:
    Open this story from a different POV, maybe a happy time stating that it all goes downhill from there or an instance where the main character is a little fiestier, and we see why she won’t fight back anymore or a point in time where we see WHY she feels hopeless.
    Good luck!

  5. S. A. Smith, Author says:

    Personally, I wouldn’t open with “Did daddy hurt you?” because the reader has no connection to the people. I like your writing. I read the entire piece. I’m not sure if I’d read any more and I’ll try to outline why. 1. Abuse is one thing but line after line I felt bombarded. Like when you’re listening to a girlfriend who has left their boyfriend for the umpteenth time. You kinda tune out.. 2. The child has a tear-stained face at one point and then skips off to the school. 3. The wife is beat to a pulp one night and expects another beating the next. 4. The husband wakes up in a fit and threatens to beat the son. Maybe the writing is too matter of fact. I don’t know. Let’s just say, if my husband beat me to a pulp and threatened to beat my son, I wouldn’t think about poisoning him, I would. Hope this makes sense. Good luck with your novel.

  6. Ellen_Brock says:

    I’m gonna butt in here real quick because I come from a family of social workers so I actually know a lot about this subject matter.

    To avoid stereotypes I would identify what sort of abuser Kyle is so that you can write him consistently and accurately. You don’t have to identify it for the reader, but knowing it yourself will help it to ring true. Abuse doesn’t make someone a big mean nasty person inherently. There are lots of reasons people abuse. To name a few, abuse can be caused by head injury, impulse control disorders, personality disorders, an abusive childhood, etc. I would especially look into borderline and narcissistic personality disorders. The borderline individual does love their partner but has a fragile ego and gets angry easily, the narcissistic individual manipulates their partner into staying with them through essentially fake gestures of love and affection as well as by eroding their self-esteem.

    For the victim, they typically are in love with their partner and rarely hate them. If they hated them and wanted them dead, they would kill them or leave. Most women stay in abusive relationships because their partner actually does love them but can’t control his behavior for one reason or another or because their partner has eroded their self-esteem and psychologically manipulates them and rewards certain behaviors with love and affection to keep their partner just happy enough to stay.

    I think this is why the other critiques mention some issues with plausibility. If she hates him, why would she stay with him?

    I really hope this helps! Best of luck with your story!

  7. allisonnewchurch says:

    Thank you all for your comments. I appreciate the time and effort you have put into critiquing Charlotte’s Shadow.

    Hopefully, I can answer some of the questions.

    Firstly, Kyle started to become abusive when he started gambling (and drinking) and losing heavily. Initially it was only once in a while, but has become more frequent and increasing in intensity. (I can see that I need to explain why Charlie copped a beating the previous night)

    Kyle refers to himself as a ‘real man’, and yet has ‘performance issues’, which can only be overcome with violence as we find out when he visits poor, unfortunate Kimberley.

    Why does Charlie stay? A number of reasons.

    Firstly, because up till now, Kyle has never threatened or hurt Owen (although she later finds out that this was not the case).
    Secondly she is believes that Kyle loves Owen and would never hurt him and Kyle’s threat is challenging that belief.
    Thirdly, she feels trapped. Her parents are both dead, she has no siblings; she feels she has no where to go, no refuge. She hasn’t seen her grandfather for a long time so till now has never considered the possibility of hiding out with him.

    Kyle’s threat against Owen is the catalyst for her to finally leave. She cannot and will not sit idly by and allow Owen to become a victim. The scene after the one you’ve read makes this clear.

    There are some good points in your comments, and I shall ponder and apply where appropriate.

    Again, thank you.
    Allie

  8. chickinwhite says:

    You have an interesting writing style, it´s easy to read it all.
    Though, I go with Ellen, advising you to make sure you know the background of Kyle exactly. The risk is high to get lost in some superficial stereotypes, and end up in a copy of many other stories on the way.
    Do not forget that you want and need to be special!
    Good luck to you!! 😉

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