My novel is about love. Deep, profound love between family members and how you move forward when it’s lost or changed. I’m in the middle of re-reading the manuscript one last time this week before sending it out. AND I finally found a name for it—that has been a yearslong adventure in itself. I’m so proud of it and hope I get to share it with you all and more in real, printed, published book format. Until then, this is an excerpt from the novel early in the story that helps establish the relationship between my main character, Melanie, and her brother, Malcolm.
Mel had a vivid memory of sitting alone on a tire swing during recess one afternoon in elementary school. It was one of those bright spring days that looked like summer, but still felt like the final days of winter. On the far side of the school yard, her brother sat unmoved as two older boys lumbered toward him. They were renowned tormenters at their school.
Brock Mason and Michael Morgan spent their 15-minute recesses gleefully terrorizing other kids. When not separated by teachers for bad behaviour, they walked around the school looking like the number ten, one long and tall, the other stout and round. Brock was white, heavy set with small dark eyes and wheezing breath. He chose their victims. Tall, brown and lean, Michael determined their punishment. They shared in the pleasure of doling out whatever crude form of torture schoolyard bullies often resort to. Until that day, they had ignored Malcolm.
As they approached her brother’s small silhouette, sweat pooled in Mel’s armpits and butterflies took off in her stomach. She stopped the swaying tire to watch the exchange, knowing she wouldn’t make it across the yard to offer what meagre protection she could.
He said something to stop the boys in their hulking advance. He stared up at them through thick lenses, his eyes likely large and questioning. She saw his shoulders lift in a heavy sigh as he closed the book, using a finger to save the page. He’d been attempting to read War and Peace without much success every recess for the past few weeks. The complex narrative and unending sentences of Tolstoy remained beyond his young mind, brilliant though he may be. She could almost hear the sigh, having heard it so many times in their small two-bedroom apartment. It was the put-upon sound of a dreamer interrupted.
They crossed their arms as they drew closer and leaned toward Malcolm casting a shadow over him. The tension in the schoolyard simmered. The other kids shivered feeling a change in the atmosphere, though only a few had noticed the scene playing out in the field.
The two boys were the meanest among the older kids at Middlebury Private Elementary School. Most kids accepted their licks and taunts with little protest, accepting the realities of evolution that dictated their school’s hierarchy long before any of them had heard of Charles Darwin and his thoughts on survival.
Not Malcolm. He was the type of kid to ask teachers to explain the meaning of life simply because he was interested in their perspective. He would then challenge the views of the few who answered him seriously. Unsettlingly precocious, they handled him with a mixture of discomfort and appreciation. He was one well-behaved if overly opinionated charge among many who were not. The other kids in the yard had begun to notice the distant stand-off. Those paying attention seemed to hold their collective breaths along with an unmoving Mel.
The boys leaned further down over her brother, their words only for him. The trio appeared to exchange a volley of words back and forth, the duo leaning in and pulling back in unison like a hammock swaying in unruly wind.
Mel could count on one hand the number of times in her life she had underestimated her brother. That moment was one of them. After a child’s eternity, but was likely only a few short minutes, the two boys looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders, nodded down at an unmoved Malcolm and continued walking around to the far side of the school. Malcolm re-opened his book and continued to read, unaware of the close attention the rest of the school yard had been paying.
He refused to tell her what he said to the boys, referring to the encounter as, “an understanding between gentlemen,” a phrase Mel thought he must have picked up from Tolstoy.
Having been the victim of Malcolm’s irritation, intellect and ability to find the thing that mattered most in your heart and unravel it, she had some sympathy for Brock and Michael. For a long time after that day she held within her a certainty, with no sense of the world and its vagaries, that her brother, little though he might be, would be alright.
Also, if you’re enjoying this newsletter or if there’s something you’d like me to cover in a future letter—an element of your storytelling you may be struggling with, please let me know by leaving a comment below. I’m here to help.
Thanks for reading and I’ll “see” you next week.
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