It was a good day–a short story

The scent of warm cinnamon cookies assaulted Jamie’s senses.   A picture of cookies and milk floated through his head.  He knew he shouldn’t allow himself such thoughts.  It only made the reminder of the watery rice soup he would have for supper that evening, that much more depressing but nonetheless, he thought he would do almost anything to have one of those cookies.

The thing that was weird, he thought, was that those wonderful smells came from the witch’s house.  Most of the kids made a habit of running past as if the witch would pop out of the front door and grab them.  In reality all any of them had ever seen was the housekeeper and she was a young woman who was as big around as she was tall.  She couldn’t run if she tried.

The house itself was like something out of a Halloween movie.  It’s curved windows were bubbled and its oversized turrets were badly in need of repair.  The railing on the front porch had fallen off and the  decorative columns had been replaced with plain, unpainted posts. Overall it was a wreck.

Jamie stopped in front of the house and inhaled.  It smelled wonderful.  The house itself didn’t scare him much.  He delivered the newspaper there every afternoon.  That thought reminded Jamie that he had better hurry on home.  The papers were probably there waiting for him to start his delivery route.

Jamie’s life hadn’t always been so tough.  It all started one night two years ago when his father did not return home from his job at the lumber yard.  Mr. Allison had gone to work as usual, worked all day, but he never arrived at home.  No one had heard from him or seen him since.

Jamie and his Mom had been forced to move out of their home.  They had moved five more times since.  Now they lived in what used to be a garage.  It was really just one large room with a refrigerator and stove at one end and a closet sized bathroom in one corner.

Mrs. Allison had worked as a waitress for a while, but depression soon prevented her from working.  Now she spent most days in bed.

When Jamie arrived home his mother was asleep, so he quietly folded the papers, slung the paper bag over his shoulders and began his route.

Today was collection day.  The first customer on his route was always a problem.  It usually took him at least three stops to collect from her.  He walked up to the front door of the first house in the development.  The houses all looked the same.  They were built in the late 1970’s.  Most of them were split entry homes with the outside of a fireplace flanking one side of the entry.

Jamie rang the bell and waited.  An older man opened the door.  His rolled up sleeves revealed a large snake running up his arm.  Jamie took one large step backwards and meekly said, “Collecting for the Daily News.”

“Collection boy,” called out the stranger.  And then, much to Jamie’s amazement, the stranger put his hand into his pocket, pulled out his money clip and yelled again at the homeowner, “Forget it Kara.  I’ll pay him and you can repay me.”

Jamie couldn’t believe his good fortune.  He grabbed the money, handed the stranger the current day’s newspaper and quickly retreated before the stranger could change his mind.

Jamie worked his way up and down the street of the development, collecting from some, not from others.  After he had finished delivering and collecting in the development he turned right onto Main Street.  Only the first three houses on this block were part of his route.  The first two houses were not subscribers and the third house belonged to the Witch.

Nervously he walked up to the front door and rang the doorbell.  He waited to see if the housekeeper would come out flinging her broom, as if to sweep him off the porch, like she had the last time.

Sure enough, she opened the door with broom in hand.  But this time she recognized him and smiled.   The smile, he though, was almost scarier, because it revealed her missing teeth.

“Collecting for the Daily News,” he repeated for the umpteenth time that day.

“One moment,” she said.   Leaving the front door open she walked back into the house.  Jamie peaked in.  He didn’t mean to stare, but what he saw wasn’t what he expected.  A little old woman sat in a wheel chair.  She smiled at him.  It wasn’t a scary smile at all.  Actually her smile was quite pleasant.  She wore thick glasses, but her hair was pulled back into what the girls at school called a pony-tail.  Her cheeks were blushed and she wore bright red lipstick that matched the jogging suit she wore.

The housekeeper walked back into the room and handed a purse to the witch.  Jamie couldn’t hear the conversation, but he could tell that some kind of animated conversation was taking place.  When the housekeeper returned to the door Jamie’s heart sank.  He could tell she didn’t have any money in her hand.

“Miss Walker would like for you to come in and join her for tea.”  It was at that exact moment that Jamie saw the plate of cookies sitting on a low table near Miss Walker.

Jamie hesitated and then said, “No thank you, Ma’am.  I don’t drink tea.”

“Well, you eat cookies don’t you?”

“No thank you, Ma’am,” Jamie repeated.  He was almost sure that he had heard his stomach growl when he said it the second time.

The housekeeper said, “Wait here,” and once again left the door.  Another animated discussion took place between Miss Walker and the housekeeper.  Finally the housekeeper shrugged her shoulders and wheeled Miss Walker to the door.

Miss Walker smiled at Jamie and said, “I see you have been taught not to go into stranger’s houses.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” he replied.

“Will you have cookies and tea with me if you can stay on the porch?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” he replied.

“Bring the table Shirley,” she ordered.  “And get a chair from the kitchen for this young man.”

The housekeeper complied and soon Jamie was sitting on the porch, the table and a plate full of cinnamon cookies sitting in front of him.  His chair held the screen door open.

Miss Walker was still sitting in her wheel chair.  Now it was positioned just inside the door but directly across from Jamie.  “Perhaps you would prefer a glass of milk?” Miss Walker asked.

Jamie could feel the corners of his mouth turn up as he answered, “Yes, Ma’am.”

“Your name is Jamie Allison, right?”

He nodded.

“Well Jamie, I don’t get much company and I don’t get out much.  Tell me about your day.”

Jamie began, “It has been a very good day….”

 

 

How do you write great opening lines?

What makes a great opening sentence for a novel or short story?   During the year ended 2011, I read many treatises, primarily on writing fiction.  Many of them cover the same information in slightly different ways.  Most talk about the hook at the beginning.  I think I understand the concept of the hook.  What still eludes me is the selection of the right words to make a great beginning.  Since I want to write great beginnings, not just good beginnings, I have been thinking a lot about what makes a great beginning.

Poets often write vivid, emotional and sensual openings.  They, however, can use incomplete sentences, irregular line breaks and other conventions that are not considered appropriate or even acceptable for a novel or short story.

I don’t know how to go about selecting the perfect prose that makes my opening lines “great”.  I suspect there should be a certain sense of rhythm.  I also imagine that the choice of words is critical, since hard or soft words and sounds can change the mood of the writing.  And of course I still need for the opening to “hook” the reader.

Since I am a new to writing fiction, and I don’t have the answer, I am just going to practice—after all, that is why I started this blog.

I strive to improve my writing and believe that I am ready for sincere constructive critique.  Please feel free to add your suggestions, ideas and constructive comments to the question above or to the examples below.

My first attempts at writing opening lines–

1.    It was a freak accident that had sent me spiraling downhill; leaving only a sliver of my ski visible above the snow.  (Three word Wednesday)

2. She was lonesome; but not lonesome enough to go home with the mysterious stranger.

3.  She opened her eyes.  The room appeared to be covered in texture.  She knew her eyesight was gone.

4.  She was sullen because he was brutal.  Trust was gone.

5.  (Or change the punctuation)  She was sullen.  He was brutal; trust was gone.

6.  Tammy could tolerate others’ shortcomings, unless they expected her to follow suit.

7.  The smell of warm cinnamon cookies tickled his nose.  He would do whatever it took to get one.

8.  They were too early, too tiny, and although I knew I would never take them home with me, I prayed that they would survive.

9.  He was old, tired and miserable, but I knew I would miss him.

10.  He’d been my friend, my lover, my confidant; I could not go on without him.

11.  Clean, white, snow, covered in bright red blood was not the way I planned to start this day.

12.  As I bathed on the shore, the summer sun, the little cabins and the sound of children at play reminded me of the childhood I never had.