That Which is Left is Lost

Explanation: Chris has returned home to his wife, they have had a short argument about the fact Holly was fired for helping him find his patient’s relatives and the atmosphere is charged as Holly brings up the idea of adoption. It’s their first scene in the novel together and I’m concerned Chris does not come across sympathetically – there has been some short passages of back story previously about a previous patient (Bryan Porter) and Chris’ relationship with his father & step-father – both of whom abandoned his mother.

*****

“Let me get your dinner,” she said.

Chris righted the fallen chairs as Holly opened the oven. A blast of warm air accosted him as she retrieved his meal and placed it on the table.

“Sit with me?” he asked gently. She’d cooked a roast; the meat slightly dried out from the time in the oven, vegetables soaked in gravy and mashed potatoes that now had a crisp coating. “Tell me about your day?”

Holly eyed him with suspicion, but she sat down across from him and opened her mouth to speak. For a few seconds no sound emerged, but then:
“I’ve got nothing to tell.”

Chris took a deep breath and put a piece of cauliflower in his mouth to give him a moment to think. Holly continued before he’d even swallowed.

“I need you to come home and focus on us, leave work behind and come home to me. We’ve lost our marriage over the past few years – spending our time chasing ghosts for people who don’t even matter to us. What about the things that we care about? That we want?”

On reflex, he winced. “You mean a family?”

Holly nodded. “It’s torture being home all day, wandering from room to room, imagining what our lives could be. Maybe this is our opportunity, our time to try again. We need to stop putting other people first and start looking to ourselves.”

Chris pushed his plate away. His stomach felt knotted and empty at the same time. He looked down as his half-filled plate, the vegetables soggy and brown from the gravy. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea. We’re not as young as we were before, I don’t even know if…”

She cut him off. “No, you don’t understand.” She hurried over to pull a sheaf of papers out of a drawer. “This. I want to try this.”

He looked at the debris of information in front of him. Adoption leaflets, printed success stories, application forms. His mouth dried up and when he tried to speak his lips felt numb.

“Adoption,” he croaked. “I thought we talked about this, after the last…” his gaze rested on Holly’s flat, toned stomach and he recalled how many times it had swollen up, only to expel what was within.

“We did,” she replied. “But this time it’s different. This is our only chance Christopher, our last option. I can’t let it slip away. Not now.”

“How long have you been collecting this?” he asked, shuffling through the papers.

“I told you, there’s nothing else to do all day but wonder about what could have been. This is the only thing I’ve had to stop me going crazy.”

“But, we agreed. An adoption wouldn’t be our child, it would be a substitute. We wouldn’t really be parents.”

“We would.” She bent down in front of him and thrust her hands into his own. “We could get a baby. We could bring them up as our own. No-one would have to know.”

“We’d know,” Chris said.  “And eventually so would the child.”

Holly shook her head. “Not necessarily.”

Chris dropped her hands. “We couldn’t lie to a child, Holly. They’d find out sooner or later and they’d hate us for it. Or we’d tell them and they’d use it against us one day.” He pushed the papers back into a pile. “I don’t know how it could work. Not for us.”

Holly remained at his side with her hands resting limply on his legs. She wasn’t looking at him, instead focused on his shoes which he’d forgotten to take off.

“I’m sorry, Holly. We’ve already talked about this. We both agreed-“

“That was two years ago,” Holly interjected, swaying back onto her heels and then standing. She took a step away from him. “It’s been two years since we even tried, Christopher.”

Had it really been that long? The twins had been the last loss, after the in-vitro procedure. Holly had carried them for three months and believed they were safe. The sorrow had cut cleanly and things hadn’t returned to normal for some time. Then, when they had, the Porter case had disrupted things again.

“I don’t want to grow old and end up a lonely patient on your ward Christopher. No family and no friends, because everyone we know already has children and they’re too afraid to invite us over out of guilt.”

Madeline Tailor flashed through Chris’ mind.

“We need this Christopher, I need this.”

Her brown eyes locked on him, large and wide, full of desperation. They remained like that for a moment, tears staining Holly’s cheeks and Chris saying nothing because he couldn’t bear to disappoint her again.

“Please Christopher, at least think about it. I’m not sure if I-“ she hesitated.

“What?” Chris didn’t want her to say it, but if she meant it then he had to hear it.

“I don’t know if I can carry on in this marriage knowing there isn’t any hope we’ll ever be parents.”
He ran his fingers across the tension on his forehead and took a deep breath.

“You’ve caught me by surprise,” he told her. “I didn’t expect this. Let me think about it, okay? Just give me some time to process the idea.”

She smiled and leaned into him to give him a kiss him on the top of his head. She thought she’d already won. Chris didn’t know how he was going to refuse her this one thing. Perhaps if they spent some more time together she wouldn’t feel so lonely. As much as he wanted a child, Chris couldn’t imagine caring for one that was not his own. It was selfish, he knew, but in his experience even unconditional love wasn’t enough to keep families together; how could he expect a child to love him if there was no blood ties to bind them? Had Bryan Porter’s adoptive daughter really cared about him when she accepted their invitation to visit, or had it all been a ploy to get access to his money? Chris certainly hadn’t felt compelled to like his own step-father, and the feeling had been mutual; in the end the man had even abandoned his mother and he was supposed to have loved her. Chris didn’t want to take the risk with a child not his own. The consequences were just too high.

He wrapped an arm around Holly and held her for a few moments. Then, she broke away and started to tidy up the papers that were spread across the table. She didn’t even seem disappointed that one had landed in the remnants of his dinner, a great big gravy stain marking the page. She probably had them all bookmarked on the computer anyway.

17 thoughts on “That Which is Left is Lost

  1. Leah McKinnon says:

    Wow – very intense. I don’t think Chris comes across as cold, you can tell he’s concerned about Holly’s feelings. I’m almost hoping they do adopt and he finds out it’s much better than he expected but that would make it a short story I’m sure. I would keep reading this.

    • Cat says:

      Thanks Leah, there’s so much to come before they get a child (lots of complications) but it’s good to know I’m being too critical about my portrayal of Chris. Thanks for reading and leaving feedback. 🙂

  2. Lula says:

    Well written and intriguing. The question of whether adoption is the right option for a couple is a big and complex one and you’ve set things up well to explore the various issues. Chris is clearly conflicted and I don’t think he comes across as cold. He is expressing things a lot of people might feel but wouldn’t necessarily feel free to say (because of fear of how it would sound).

    • Cat says:

      Thanks Lula, it is a very complex issue and I’m glad you think it’s handled well regarding Chris’ reluctance. Thanks for your comments, appreciate the feedback. 🙂

  3. chickinwhite says:

    Hey there! I´ve readit all and I do not see Chris as a cold one. Though, I understand your doubts, because his wife is quite emotional, and he´s more reflective.
    I would try to at least show a bit of his fears (cannot love an adopted baby like his own, perhaps the silent threat his wife throws in: that she doesn´t see a future for their mariage if he doesn´t give it a try..) There is no need for much, but one or two hints to his doubts and emotions would intensify the feeling, I think.
    All in all, this scene is well written and especially his wife´s despair you´ve caught well!
    Good luck on your way!

    • Cat says:

      Thanks for this feedback, I think you may be right about adding a couple of contextual sentences in to explain his doubts and fears. Perhaps he doesn’t come across as concerned as he should be about the possibility of Holly leaving him, because this is what scares him the most.
      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. 🙂

  4. Jutta says:

    Very well written, a real joy to read.

    I read the other comments, too, so I know I am the only one, but to be honest, Chris does seem a bit cold to me. Not right from the beginning – that was sweet – but starting with “On reflex, he winced. “You mean a family?” It hurt just reading that sentence. What must Holly feel, when she sees him wincing at that point, even adding “You mean family”?

    From that point onward, I am on Hollys side, even though personally, I do not understand the whole ‘life has no meaning without kids’ idea. However, I feel for Holly and since I am made to understand that Chris is indeed caring about other people more than about his wife and a possible (adopted) child, I don’t particularly like him. I don’t strongly dislike him either, but I don’t feel for him much.

    Hope this helps. Good luck & whatever you do with Chris: sounds like a great story!

    • Cat says:

      Thanks Jutta – this is exactly what I worried might be the case with this scene so it’s great that you can pinpoint the exact point at which allegiances were switched – very useful information and I can understand why. I will need to tweak this reaction if Chris’.
      Really appreciate your feedback, thanks for the encouragement too. 🙂

      • Jutta says:

        Hi Cat,

        So glad to hear the feedback helps!

        If I may suggest a subtle change, you might want to approach it like this:

        What drives Chris, is that he loves his wife (I assume he does?) and he knows what will hurt her feelings. So he tries to avoid doing/saying anything that might hurt her = in this conversation, he tries to check his reactions – every single one of them – before he does/says anyhing. He will reach a point, when he just cannot keep this up any more. After all, he is only human. At that point, however, the reader has already seen how very hard Chris tries. That way, the reader feels that Chris is doing his very best to be gentle – so they will perceive him as being gentle. Couple that with insight into the fears and the psychological scars from his childhood (if possible, earlier on in the conversation) and the reader will feel for Chris even more.

        All my best & ‘groetjes’ from Holland,
        Jutta

  5. Ella says:

    I, like several commenters so far, didn’t find Chris especially cold. The emotions of the scene felt mostly natural — not too intense, but not ignored, either. The scene makes me interested to see more of this story arc.

    Two points at which he does feel cold, though: First, … he recalled how many times it had swollen up, only to expel what was within. (A possible factual problem here: it sounds as if Holly has had a number of first-trimester miscarriages, or so I’m guessing from her belief that the twins were safe after three months, but most women don’t begin to show until the second trimester. That doesn’t mean that she couldn’t; it just means that your mentioning it here may cause the reader to stop and wonder about it, which can break the flow of the scene.) The verb ‘expel’ sounds (to me, at least) unnecessarily violent, and ‘what was within’ sounds a little as if he’s thinking about foetal tissue when the real point is that they want a baby. I wonder if there might be a more tender way to phrase that.

    Second, if this is the end of the scene, the line about her probably having the pages bookmarked seems rather a flippant ending. If it’s not the end, it’s probably fine; I just find that the last line of a scene strongly colours my memory of the entire scene, so something more emotional might help keep up the warmth of the scene.

    One little thing: direct address needs a comma both before and afterwards, so: ‘We need this, Christopher, I need this’ (and likewise several other places).

    • Cat says:

      Thanks for these very valid points Ella – good catch on the pregnancy timing issue! Hadn’t even considered that, so grateful you brought it up. I think you’re right about Chris needing to be more tender too – especially if he can’t get over his doubts about a child not being his own: he would be more tender about his own.

      This isn’t quite the end of the scene – I ran out of the word count Ellen had suggested – but I will check how I end it to make sure the emotional warmth is there, as I agree that the last line of a scene can have greater impact.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, really appreciate the advice. 🙂

  6. Jim says:

    Being a guy, I thought you handled his emotions in the scene fairly. (Don’t get me wrong, I have 3 daughters whom I love immensely, along with their mother.) Guys can be more on the “calculating side,” looking at what decisions like this can mean to the larger scope of things. I think you captured his consideration of what it might mean quite well. He comes off looking somewhat selfish, and I assume that’s what you want to convey.

    There’s a POV problem in the next to last paragraph, where you say “She smiled and leaned into him to give him a kiss him on the top of his head. She thought she’d already won. Chris didn’t know how he was going to refuse her this one thing.” My understanding is there should at least be a paragraph break when moving from one person’s POV to another’s.

    According to what my editor tells me, your use of ellipses in this instance isn’t correct–“We’re not as young as we were before, I don’t even know if…”

    She cut him off. “No, you don’t understand.”
    I’m told to use an em dash and not ellipses when dialog is being interrupted. Use ellipses when a person pauses in their speech or allows it to trail off.

    I’d read this story. Best of luck to you as you continue writing it.

    • Cat says:

      Thanks Jim – it’s nice to get some reassurance that – as a woman – I’m not misrepresenting how a man might approach things! I was a little concerned about writing from a male POV to begin with but think I’ve settled into now.

      I think the POV issue you mention needs to be rewritten – as it’s meant to be Chris assuming his wife thinks she has already won, so it is obviously a bit clunky the way I phrase it at the moment.

      Thanks also for the pick up on the editorial issues for ellipses and em-dashes: I only recently discovered this and so it’s good to have someone highlight where they need to be altered.

      Appreciate the feedback and support. Thank you 🙂

  7. John Dawson (@johnsonofdaw) says:

    For the record I wouldn’t be one of your readers because the subject matter doesn’t attract me, so my comments may not be worth much. Nevertheless:-

    I’ve read all the above and I agree with nearly all the comments – the writing is good. All I could add is about your use of the food, gravy stain etc. I found it effectively mood creating in an unattractive way, so if your intention was to give the reader the feel that the status quo wasn’t very satisfactory, you succeeded very well.

    Best of luck.

  8. Robert Buchko says:

    Good scene; I liked it. For the most part, the dialogue felt very natural. I was a little put off by Holly’s reasons for wanting kids. Fitting in with the neighbors? Someone to stay with her as she got old? Not saying it’s not realistic. I think that’s exactly why a lot of folks have kids. Just seems a little selfish. And Chris shouldn’t feel bad about “this one thing”. It’s a HUGE thing that changes your entire life! As for Chris being cold, I would’ve thought so if I hadn’t read his backstory in the explanation. Maybe you could work his background into the dialogue a bit? It sounds like Chris is pretty self-aware, based on the last paragraph, so I think it would be natural for him to mention why he’s not a fan of adoption. It’d lend some personal perspective to his “why adoption won’t work” argument. As it stands, that part reflects pretty poorly on Chris (at least out of context); sometimes the kids who know they’re adopted are the ones who appreciate and love their parents the most as a result.

  9. Eliza Worner says:

    Chris comes across as quite reasonable. I’m not sure how much you’ve already revealed about his past and his family relationship, especially with his Step Father, but I was wondering if this could be a good spot to expand a bit more on that to really drive home the reasons behind his fears about adoption.

    I’m a little concerned about Holly for the future of this story and feel she might be on a turning point of a psychotic episode. When she suggests lying to everyone it rang some warning bells. What lengths is she willing to go to to lie about being pregnant and having a baby? I wondered what kind of person would suggest that. If it were me, my more rational argument would be “how could you not love a small baby who relies entirely on you for life and love.” So basically what I’m saying is, Chris seems normal but Holly seems a little worrying.

    I enjoyed this extract and would keep reading. Well done.

  10. Sofie says:

    Chris does not come across as cold for me. I can understand his reasoning. It seems that Chris and Holly are on totally different pages about a possible adoption; Chris is thinking everything through, but Holly seems to be willing to do everything so that she can get a child. So it will be very interesting to see how that conflict unfolds.

    I would keep definitely keep reading. Good luck!

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