So these are a couple of exceprts from the novel I'm currently working on. The work is told across various time frames, and what follows are from when the main character is a small child. They aren't designed to appear consecutively in the book. Before I say more, the pieces:
Parker and the Pick-Up:
It was dim and it was foggy and it was a little bit cold inside the cab of Daddy’s big, yellow pick-up truck, but Parker didn’t mind so much.
“Do you want to play another game of I-Spy?” asked Jerry.
“Okay,” said Parker. “I’ll go first. I spy with my little eye… something green and leafy.”
“Is it a tree?”
“Yes, but you have to say which tree it is.”
“Is it that tree, over there under the street light?”
“Noooo,” said Parker.
“Is it that tree next to the stop sign?”
“Noooo,” said Parker.
“Is it that tree over there by that woman?”
“Yeah! Good job guessing, Jerry!”
The woman next to the tree looked over at the pick-up, as if she could hear them, but Parker didn’t think she could. She was too far away, and besides her teeth must be chattering so loudly she could hardly hear anything. She really should have worn a coat, or some long pants, or a shirt that went all the way down to cover her belly. She looked to catch her death of cold, as Gramma would say, and Parker wondered briefly if maybe he should let her borrow his coat. It probably wouldn’t fit her anyway - she looked like she would need something bigger than a size 3T. And anyway Daddy would get upset if he got out of the pick-up. She had lots of friends, though – she seemed to talk to every guy who walked past. Maybe one of them would let her borrow a coat.
“Is it my turn to think of something?” asked Jerry.
“Nah,” said Parker, “I don’t think I want to play anymore. We already I-Spied everything around here anyway.”
“When do you think your Daddy is going to come back?”
“I dunno, he said he’d just be a little bit, and that was when the clock said seven-zero-six. It’s already eight-four-three, so a little bit is probably almost over.”
Parker buttoned another button on his jacket and snuggled into his blanket a bit deeper. He didn’t exactly know the word “insulation”, but he understood the concept, and he wished he had another layer to snuggle beneath. It was a tiny wish, though, a wee hangnail of a discomfort, and he pushed it aside. What he really wished was that he could understand how the big, glowy sign worked.
The letters were a little bit funny on it, all loopy and connected, so it was hard for Parker to read. It looked something like “Smalley’s Ban,” but sometimes people wrote funny Rs that looked like Ns, so he couldn’t be sure. What the letters said wasn’t really important to Parker, though. He wanted to know how they glowed so brightly, so pretty and green. Parker had a glowstick last Halloween that glowed brilliant green when you bent it just so, but it wasn’t nearly as bright as Smalley’s Ban, and also it stopped glowing after just a couple hours. The giant sign before Parker, though, had been spilling waves of green for as long as he could remember, so it must be something different.
“What do you think it is, Jerry?”
“Oh, I dunno. Maybe it’s full of fireflies.”
“Or maybe it’s radioactive? I think radioactive stuff glows green, like in cartoons.”
“Maybe,” agreed Jerry.
“Are you cold, Jerry? You could fit under my blanket.”
“No thanks,” said Jerry, “I have my fur. Have you ever seen a mouse in a blanket?”
“Well, there was that one time, remember? You were cold and there was a blanket and I think you kept sneezing and you had icicles on your whiskers. Then Tom showed up and tried to eat you?”
“Oh,” said Jerry. “Well… that one time, maybe. But usually the fur is good enough.”
Parker heard a whoop-whoop and saw a blink of blue and then red flash across the parking lot. A police car drove up along side the lady with the not-very-warm clothes and started talking with her.
“You think maybe he’ll let her use his jacket?” asked Parker. The woman walked away from the tree and across the street, then disappeared into the fog. Parker knew from Mommy that policemen were nice and helped you when you were lost or in trouble. Parker knew from Daddy that policemen were fuckers who would never cut you a break. The woman looked like someone who needed help, though. Maybe the policeman had told her where to find a coat.
The door in the building next to the glowing Smalley’s Ban opened, and there was Daddy. He looked happier than he had when they’d arrived, and that was good. He also looked wobbly, a little like Parker felt when he’d been spinning in circles over and over. He’d asked Daddy what he did in this place before, but Daddy had told him never you mind and reminded him that Mommy better not ever find out. Mommy often told Parker not to spin in circles in the house because he might break something. Maybe she didn’t like Daddy to spin either, in which case this could be their little secret.
Daddy reached his yellow pick-up and stabbed a key at the door a few times before there was a click and a creak and then a large, fragrant Daddy where moments before had been a little, brown mouse.
“Will Mommy be home from work when we get there?” asked Parker.
Daddy opened his mouth as if to speak, but all that came out was a giant belch and a smell like the stuff Mommy rubbed on Parker’s knee when he scraped it up. He shook his head and then turned to Parker; the black field of Daddy’s beard split in what might have been a smile, and that curious smell grew thick and heavy.
“I’m sleepy,” said Parker, and laid down on Daddy’s lap. It was a short ride home, but Parker was fast asleep before they got there. Behind his eyes, he and Mommy and Daddy and Jerry spun and spun in great, wide circles until they all fell down laughing.
Parker and the Mob Dynamic:
The grass wasn’t green and the sky wasn’t blue. It was unseasonably cold. The ground was spongy with unexpected rain. And the few mushrooms that fought their way up through what may as well be permafrost stood meagerly at ankle-height.
It was, all told, almost entirely unlike an episode of the Smurfs. Yet the small mob strung out behind Parker seemed not to notice.
“Follow me, my little Smurfs!” he shouted over his shoulder, and the dozen or so first graders did, laughing and shrieking. And it had all been so easy, he thought. All it had taken was two people. “Let’s play Smurfs!” he had said to Ian and Jeffrey. “I’ll be Papa Smurf, and you follow.”
Ian and Jeffrey were not his normal friends. Truth be told, he didn’t have normal friends. He had people with whom he played, of course. People he would chase, people who would chase him, tag-partners, four-square-buddies. But they did not come home with him after school. They did not have sleep-overs, or play-dates. Parker didn’t exactly know the word “associates”, but he understood the concept, and that’s what these people were to him – associates. He played nice with them at school, he even liked them, but when he went home in the afternoon, his relationships stayed behind, tucked away in a corner of Santa Maria Elementary’s sprawling blacktop until the next morning.
Parker wasn’t entirely sure why he had approached Ian and Jeffrey, two children on the scarier side of the bell curve when it came to height and weight. Perhaps just to see what happened. But he had made the suggestion, and they had bought in, and that was that.
Once he had secured two, the rest just happened. “C’mon!” Jeffrey had shouted to Richie. “Hey, we’re playing Smurfs, let’s go!” said Ian to Tomas. And then they were five, and then they were ten, and now half the first-grade class was in tow, including Heather, the little girl with the big red hair who made Parker’s tummy feel strange. And wherever Parker went, they would follow.
Parker didn’t exactly know the phrase “mob dynamics”, but he understood the concept. And it was awesome.
“Come, my Smurfs! Gargamel is going to get us, hurry up!” and he turned right, the swarm of children bending in a single mass behind him. They were doing as told, and they were happy. This wasn’t like when Mommy told him to clean his room, or when Daddy sent him to the liquor store with a fiver and a note reading “Please let my Son Parker by 1 pack of Kools ciggrettes.” This was more like giving his associates a big present, like Christmastime in November.
Parker felt like Santa Claus, even though he knew Santa Claus was just a fun story that Mommy and Daddy told Nica to make her behave when the weather got cold. Nica was still too young to know any better, and so were most of his associates for that matter, but that was irrelevant, as Mommy sometimes said. What was relevant was that he was making all these people happy, and that was a Good Thing. Good Things were what Good People did, according to Mommy, and Parker very much wanted to be a Good Person.
Good People didn’t get whuppins.
The swarm of Smurfs neared the sandy area, where the wooden play structure reared from the damp sand like some doomed, prehistoric thing clawing at tar. Parker climbed a ladder and stood on the breastbone of the lumber-beast and…
Parker hadn’t a clue what should come next.
Twenty-some-odd faces – the number had grown – stared up at him, waiting for wise old Papa Smurf to give an order, and wise old Papa Smurf just grinned uneasily.
“We need to… to… build a fortress! To save us from Gargamel! Out of sand! Let’s build a sand fortress!”
He was losing the moment. He was losing the crowd. A mob is only as cohesive as its leader is confident, and Parker was no longer confident.
This wasn’t as much fun as he thought it would be. This was hard work. And if he didn’t do something quickly, it was also going to be embarrassing.
But then the school’s bell broke through Parker’s uncomfortable silence, and the children turned and dutifully ran to their designated line-up spots. Their brief lives as Smurfs were already in a distant past, and Parker’s awkward spectacle had dissolved before it could even form a memory.
He ambled towards the back of the wooden dinosaur – this one was a Diplodocus today, he decided – with an eye towards his favorite slide. The bumpy one, with the little bounce at the end. There would be three whistles coming from the teachers on patrol, and it wasn’t until after the third one when the teachers became very grumpy. As long as he started running to his line before the second, they would be pleased as punch, as Miss Foster sometimes said.
Kids below him were gradually diffusing towards the blacktop, with only a few of the older kids still oblivious. The expected few – Robert and Alex from second grade, Tina from third grade, and a face to which Parker could never place a name. The play structure, now, was empty.
Except for Jonas, standing at the top of Parker’s favorite slide.
Jonas was a third-grader and had no friends. He didn’t even have any associates. Jonas was a loner because Jonas was anti-social, as Miss Foster had once whispered to Mrs. Johnson. Kids who played with Jonas – or near him, for that matter – quickly wound up missing toys or with patches of angry red skin on their arms from what Jonas called an Engine Burn.
Most of the other kids were afraid of Jonas. Parker figured he probably should be too, but he wasn’t. Mostly he found Jonas interesting – did Jonas like being a loner? Did he not like other people? Did he not understand how they worked? Sometimes Parker would watch him as he stole a toy or shoved a smaller kid in the back, and wondered if Jonas knew that there were better, smarter ways to get these things, if only he understood the Rules and how to work within them or – where possible – around them.
But this was not a time for questions, this was a time for sliding.
“Scuse me, Jonas,” said Parker, and moved to brush past the larger child.
Jonas turned his attention to Parker for the first time. White clouds of breath puffed from between cheeks dense with freckles and blotches. His frame was wide and packed with the third-grade equivalent of muscle, and his hair was dark and cropped short. A large, bulbous nose glowed with broken blood vessels beneath his two rodent-like eyes.
Parker didn’t exactly know the word “stereotype,” but he understood the concept just fine.
“What do you want?”
Parker repeated politely: “Scuse me.” He made an I’m-going-that-way gesture with his hands, just to clarify.
“Screw off. Unless you wanna get punched. You wanna get punched?”
Parker had watched enough movies to know that the best way to disarm a bully – and he was pretty sure Jonas qualified as a bully – was to act cool and disinterested. This seemed a decent enough time to try it out.
“Not petickilarly,” said Parker. “I just wanna slide.” From across the playground, the second whistle blew.
“Yeah, I think you wanna get punched,” said Jonas, spreading his stance.
Maybe Parker was using the wrong movie.
He tried again:
“I know what you’re thinking. Was that three whistles, or just two? Well, I guess the question you really need to ask yourself is: ‘Do I feel lucky?’” Parker tried on a sneer, but it didn’t quite fit. “Well do ya… punk?”
As Parker went sailing through the air from atop the play structure, he wondered how he could’ve made the conversation go better. He thought he heard the third whistle, but it was hard to tell over the crunch of his left arm collapsing on itself as it hit the moisture-hardened sand.
This pain, this was something new. Something interesting. He didn’t much like it.
Things grew fuzzy, then.
There were distant sounds, and then closer sounds, and then the gray morning light dimmed as figures towered over him. Words like “give him room” and “are you okay?” and “can I see?” and “what happened?” rained down upon him, or maybe that was actual rain, because suddenly he felt more damp than before.
“I think my arm’s broke,” he tried to say, but afterward wasn’t sure if he’d said it out loud or just in his mind. He tried again – “I think my arm’s broke” – and that one felt better.
Faces floated above him, bobbling in and out of focus. He recognized them all, and the names were there, only indistinct, like he was trying to view them through thick gauze.
He wondered if he was doing this right.
“Should I cry?” he asked one of the faces.
Maybe that wasn’t the right question, because the face’s mouth melted from a tight line of concern to a slightly-open frown of confusion.
“What?” said the face. “Oh, it’s… you can cry if you want to, honey, it’s okay.”
Parker nodded. He didn’t cry.
Soon he was being carried and the pain crashed through his arm like sheets of lightning and things went gray. Flashes, then, of Miss Foster, of Mommy, of old men in white coats and green walls and strange smells like the inside of Mommy’s medicine cabinet. Sometimes Jerry would be sitting beside him or atop him. Sometimes he was completely alone.
In the end, he wore a cast on his arm for six weeks and had three pins in his elbow to keep his bones from falling out. It hurt at times, and itched at others, until Parker wanted to tear the cast off and dig at the itch with his fingernails and who cared if his bones fell out or not. But Parker got to keep his cast, and many of his associates signed it, until little scrawls of misshapen letters filled the white from wrist to elbow.
And right in the middle, right in the space he most often saw when he laid his arm on the desk during class, was the word “Heather,” with big, looping letters and an exclamation mark at the end, and the whole thing encased in a clumsy heart.
In the end, maybe it wasn’t such a bad break after all.
(Note: the titles won't actually appear in the novel, at least according to current plans.)
So my intentions here are to establish Parker as a bright little boy who is very distant from other people and exists largely in his own little world. What I'm particularly looking for is criticism on style and form and overall feel, as well as impressions on Parker himself. I'm aiming for a breezy, almost fairy tale-type feel in the prose, and I don't think it's quite where I want it to be. The style is meant to contrast with a more sophisticated and much starker
style used for the rest of the book, and also to contrast with the content of these pieces themselves.
And I'll leave it there for now. I welcome any feedback you might be able to grant me. Thanks!