UKArchive ID: 18850Mistakes by thegeeza
Originally published on March 9, 2007 in Fiction

Wounds sometimes won't heal until you do something about it - and it's never too late to try. 1,015 words.
This is my effort at e-griff's prose workshop challenge. The supplied words from the challenge are highlighted in bold at the beginning of the story - the rest are mine.

I didn’t like him. I handed him the gloves and he nodded. I didn’t like that smirk. He said nothing, just turned away, his broad back mocking me.

Tomorrow, I promised myself.

That night there was a storm – violent, tropical. Lightning rent the sky, thunder crashed and rain sleeted down, oppressive. I couldn’t sleep, thinking of the next day, as the water gurgled in the gutters and pipes.

The next morning, I went out early.

I could feel the heat of the morning sun, pulling the moisture from the long grass as I walked alongside the road. The damp smell made a refreshing change from the clouds of dust that would dirty a white dress before you could reach church.

I stopped at the gate, rickety with age, and looked at the house. It looked worn and more tatty than when I lived there, but otherwise just the same. There were fresh flowers on the porch, as my mother had always demanded of my father, despite the fact she had been dead many years. I saw the curtain twitch, and knew it was too late to back out.

I walked up the path, cracked and dotted with small weeds. He had made efforts to keep the house tidy, but he was old and tired. I knocked on the door and waited. No answer came, so I tried again. As I let go of the knocker, I could see it needed painting. I thought of Him, and how he rapped the door with it, all those years ago, shouting for me to come out.

‘Daddy! Open the door … please.’

It opened. His blue eyes looked dull and he had aged a lot since I saw him last. He looked at me, as if I was a stranger, but opened the door wide so that I could go in. It smelled musty but clean. Everything was as I remembered it last, but older, much older. Every ornament was in the same place. He passed me and walked into the kitchen, so I followed.

‘Do you want something to drink?’

‘Yes, please.’

‘I’ve got … milk?’

I waited for something else, but he looked at me, expectant. I nodded. ‘Thanks.’

He poured it into a glass carefully, hand shaking. I watched, saying nothing. I had not spoken to him for ten years and I had nothing to say. Nothing that made any sense. He put the glass on the table in front of me and looked up.

‘How are you, Sarah?’

‘I’m fine, Daddy.’

‘Good.’ He swallowed hard. ‘And how are those grandchildren?’

‘Fine.’ I said. ‘Just fine.’

‘I … saw you,’ he said, ‘with them, one afternoon in town. Both of them.’

‘Oh,’ I said.

‘Couple of years back,’ he said. ‘Guess they must’ve grown some by now.’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Grown a lot.’

There was a long pause as we both looked at the glass of milk.

‘Larry said that he met you once in the square,’ he said, looking up at me. I said nothing. ‘He said they were a couple of fine looking kids. He said that he gave them a dime each for a treat.’

‘Yes. I remember that day.’

‘I,’ he said, but coughed and rubbed his face with his old hands that were still as big as shovels.

‘What, Daddy?’

‘I wanted to … I wanted to ask their names, but … I felt … I didn’t feel that I could.’

‘You should have,’ I said. I realised how silly that sounded. ‘Kevin and Rebecca.’ He looked at me like I had revealed a great secret. ‘Kevin and Rebecca,’ I repeated. ‘We call her Becky.’

‘Like your grandmother,’ he said. ‘Like Lou’s mother.’

‘And Kevin is your middle name,’ I said.

‘Yes it is,’ he said, nodding, ‘it’s my middle name.’

‘I’m sorry, Daddy,’ I said, quickly. I looked down. Even the milk seemed too wholesome to look at.

‘Sorry for what, Sarah?’

I felt a tear running down each cheek. ‘Sorry for … everything.’ He didn’t speak. ‘I made some big mistakes. I’ve regretted those mistakes every second since I … since I left.’

There was silence. I felt his huge hand on my shoulder. ‘Everyone makes mistakes,’ he said. ‘Everyone.’

‘When Mummy died … I … I couldn’t … I couldn’t cope.’

He squeezed my shoulder. I looked at the tatty cupboard, and then the plates, arranged just how Mummy liked. I felt such emptiness, such selfishness. I remembered the dances, I remembered how I started going to them the Saturday following the funeral, I remembered the feverish teenage sex, the pain release and meeting Him. I remembered again when he banged on the door that day and dragged my pregnant body around to his house. I remembered the chapel wedding and the three guests. After that, I remembered nothing at all. Just his brutality.

‘Everyone makes mistakes,’ he said, softly.

‘He’ll never let me leave alive,’ I said.

‘Everyone makes mistakes,’ he repeated.


‘Where the hell have you been?’ he shouted, opening the door. ‘And who the … and what’s he doing here?’

His shoulders seemed to rear up, and his muscled body covered the entire doorway. I looked at Daddy. He was completely still.

‘I’ve come to take my girl home,’ he said, quite simply.

Frank blinked at him. ‘You’ve come to what?’

‘Take my little girl home,’ he said. ‘As well as my grandson and granddaughter.’

‘Have you lost your mind, old man?’ he said, stepping down, still towering over us both. ‘I could crush you like a –’ He put his hand around Daddy’s neck and smiled.

‘Leave him – ’

I jumped back as something exploded in my head.

I was bent over, shocked, partly blinded, but I looked up and saw Frank’s mouth open, surprise on his face. His hand was bright red, holding his chest. Daddy had a pistol, still aimed at him. He shot it again, sending Frank tumbling to the side.

‘I should’ve done that ten years ago,’ he said, dropping the pistol, turning to me. ‘I made mistakes too.’

(c) Steve Smith. 2007.

© thegeeza (thegeeza on OLD UKA)
UKArchive ID: 18850
Archived comments for Mistakes
Ginger on 09-03-2007
Hope you don't mind a little crit. I felt this should have been much longer. The story rolled smoothly along as she came home, all at a good pace. Then they went to hubby, and it was all over in a flash (so to speak). IMHO, that scene could be drawn out effectively, creating more tension, and giving a better feeling of yuck towards the hubby. More of an argument, maybe?

Anyway, just my thoughts, discard at will! 🙂

Also, there was a nice nip at the end.


Author's Reply:
No, don't mind crit at all!
I agree, re: the ending. Should've put more into it.
Thanks for reading and commenting!

Rupe on 09-03-2007
A couple of specific points first:

'I walked up the path, cracked and dotted with small weeds'
-- Technically ambiguous. I'd put a 'which was' before 'cracked' to sort it out.

'It smelled musty but clean'
-- This struck me as bit odd. I've been in houses that smelled musty but LOOKED clean, but I don't think it works to combine clean and musty under smell - musty implies some sort of rotting & by extension not a clean smell.

What I liked:

-- The detail about the glass of milk. It's got connotations both of childhood security, poverty, and simplicity that are really telling in this piece. Excellent stuff.
-- The fact that you don't waste words & particularly that you go very easy on adjectives and adverbs. It's always possible to shave off a few words here and there, but there's very little excess fat on this piece & the words you've chosen carry the intended meaning well.
-- The general outline of the story is believable & the twist at the end, though surprising, is not too contrived. It fits.

What I didn't like:

-- I agree with Ginger that this could be longer. It's good bit of writing, but my overall feeling is that it has the shape & implied issues of a longer piece of fiction & you've just condensed it down. As such, it seems - not clichéd - but not especially striking. Yet the issues implicit in it would stand more involved treatment.
-- There's a slight mixing of British and US English here, isn't there? The setting seems to be in the US ('he gave them a dime each') but you've also got words like 'tatty' & a few extra prepositions, which tend to be dropped more frequently in US English as far as I'm aware. Do they use 'tatty' in the US?
-- Most trivial criticism - since it relates to the terms of the exercise & not the quality of the piece itself. I don't think you really went with the beginning. You got it out of the way & then reverted back to the territory where you feel happiest writing. At least that's the impression I got. Nothing wrong with that in a way - there's no sense in writing about what you're not interested in. But the fact you put the opening sentences in bold sort of says it all ('nothing to do with me squire...').


Author's Reply:
Thanks for all that feedback, Rupe.
I'm not sure about the path bit - technically ambiguous, yes, but there's no mistaking it refers to the path - I'll have a think.
Agree re: the musty - and yes, rotting is not clean - need to be "looked" like you say.
Agree re: the ending, as per Ginger. And yes, it was supposed to be set in the US - and shall review and look for words that could be better americanised. Good point.
I guess I took only the mood from the storm at the beginning. I did this quickly on Wednesday and couldn't really think of anything with gloves - although, waking up this morning, I did, so I might have another go.
Again - thanks for taking the time to put down your thoughts.

sirat on 09-03-2007
I agree with Lisa about the slightly abrupt ending. I would add a small criticism about the beginning, which I felt was a bit flat -- the emotional weight of the moment didn't come across for me. The terse dialogue between father and daughter is good, and communicates the awkwardness that they feel in one another's presence. It's a story that I think should focus on relationships and emotions rather than action, and I'm not sure that the surprise ending involving the gun was the best way to bring it to a resolution. I would have liked some kind of confrontation in which the power of the father's personality reduces the bully to a sniveling wreck. Maybe I'm asking for a bit much there! It's a good story and with a bit more work could be a great one.

Author's Reply:
That's odd, you've got a load of space at the end of your reply!
Agree with your thoughts on the ending. When writing, I wanted him to do something quick and decisive - but perhaps that was too much.
Thanks, David.

e-griff on 09-03-2007
I'll not repeat the saem, but i agree generally with the others about the end.

Isn't it funny? so far Rupe and Blue have a villain with the same name (Mercer) and you and delph have wife-beaters.
(wonder what was on TV last week?)

Author's Reply:
Thanks, John. I agree too. Same name is a bit spooky, for sure. I'm going to do another one over the weekend that I thought of this morning that's a bit off-the-wall (and has gloves!), so stand by for that one!
Thanks for reading and commenting.

delph_ambi on 09-03-2007
Hmm... I disagree with the others about the ending. She's spent ten years in this miserable marriage. She could've got out. Needn't have suffered all that time. So I like the contrast that when she finally goes to her father, it really takes no time at all to resolve the situation.

Very well told story.

Author's Reply:
I wanted the action to be quick and decisive, but I guess gun is probably the least imaginative. You can end any story by just pulling a gun and shooting. I think it had to be a violent act - in his language - but he was old and a fist fight would've been a little hard to believe! There was a lot of pent up feelings in there for the characters.
Thanks for reading and commenting.

Flash on 09-03-2007
Hi Steve

I have to be honest, i don't think this worked for me. The sudden intense ending looked a tad rushed, in fact the whole piece had a feeling of something that was rushed about it. Like a previous commentor noted , the switch between the American and English voice was notciable and halting. I think Americans say Mommy as opposed to our Mummy. I think it's better in an English setting myself, and a story that would pan out better if extended.


Author's Reply:
Hi Alan - how's you? I do regret the gun, although I wanted it resolved quickly - but perhaps I should've thought it through more. Yes, it's certainly "Mommy". I put it in America as it felt like mid-west US and the dusty setting thereafter seemed to fit better. Ta for reading and commenting, mate.

Claire on 09-03-2007
Hi there hun, now I liked the ending, yeah the piece may be much better with an extension. But, to me, I found the speech was the biggest problem, I kept losing track of who said what near the beginning and in places it sounded a little clumsy--deffo not your normal style.

Overall, the story itself is good, but it needs that little bit more to make it special. Maybe more descriptions, or even a flashback.

Author's Reply:
Hi Claire,
Thanks for reading and commenting. Interested to see where you thought the speech was confusing? I had a quick look and couldn't see it. I think that's probably the hardest thing for the writer to pick up.
Again - ta for comments!

RichardZ on 09-03-2007
Hey, Geeza. 🙂

Well, they all got here before me. I agree with the ending that it's very fast. Picking up on something Sirat said though, I too would have liked her father not to stoop to Frank's level. (Or even excede it in this case.)
It's a shame for Sarah to reconcile with her father, only to see him go to prison for the remainder of his days over Frank-the-prat.

Other than that, there was one line that I chafed on.

'There was a long pause as we both looked at the glass of milk.'

Your piece is very neat overall, and while this does fit in with the overall style, I felt it was too clinical.

I'd have liked Sarah to voice her thoughts during this, that she couldn't hold his gaze, and he couldn't hold hers, the emotions behind it, regret, embarrassment, fear, etc.

Other than those mini-gripes, I liked where you went with this, even though the melancholy feel brought me down a bit. 🙂



Author's Reply:
Hope it didn't bring you down too much!
Thanks for that. I wanted him to do something quite decisive to represent the change, but I agree that the gun was probably too easy (and a bit crass), and I should have tried to construct something a little less obvious.
Cheers for reading/commenting - Steve.

KDR on 09-03-2007
Hi Steve,

Bit of a change for you to do a bit of 'gender-hopping', but this still worked. I found myself going back and re-reading a couple of things near the beginning, but thought the imagery in the opening para was good. I thought it might carry on in the same vein, but it kind of faded after awhile.

British/US English: I know it's been noted, and you know more about US terminology, etc, than I do, but maybe if this was a New England setting? They do tend to use more 'British' terms than is normal in the States (or seem to).

The ending, though quite good, felt like it was bolted on somehow, like it wasn't the 'true' ending. It didn't quite jibe for me, and was (as you've noted elsewhere) a bit of a cop-out.
I'd have liked the old man to have countered the hostility and aggression in other ways...and just because he is old, doesn't mean he still can't throw a punch (or bend Frank's thumb back... Doesn't have to be all 'haymakers').


Author's Reply:
Karl, Funny you should mention the gender thing. I thought the provided opening indicated male - which it probably doesn't and is probably because I am male - but it made me determined to make the character female.
For the language, I had it in mind as a mid-west setting but it wasn't foremost in mind to maintain it, and therefore it slipped - thus proving it's hard to write what you don't know. I think it probably only falls down in a couple of places, but it's enough. If I had written it previously and come back to it, hopefully I would've picked up on it myself.
Bend his thumb ... ha ha. I did want the ending to be quick, decisive and strong - but the gun was the wrong object. Characters that are violent can be out-argued - probably easier than most - but it would always descend back to their level, from the frustration and because it's what they know. I can't think how an old man could grab his daughter back, and the kids, without doing something quite out of the ordinary and final, else the bully would've just beat him up!
Thanks for reading and commenting, as usual!

RoyBateman on 11-03-2007
Hi, Steve - well, that's what I get for coming relatively late to a's all been said! I'm sure that you could expand this relatively easily, building on the already good atmosphere a little and allowing the final scene a bit more breathing space - I had to re-read it to make sure I'd got it fully, though it made perfect sense when I did. Whatever you do, it's obviously not going to please everyone (Who does??) but I'm sure there's general agreement that this only needs a bit of work to produce a very powerful story with a stunning ending. And, I'm quite sure you're capable of doing that!

Author's Reply:
Many thanks for your kind words. Agree that it could get better with some more work/thought.
Cheers for reading and commenting!

bluepootle on 11-03-2007
I felt that, rather than drag out the confrontation (which does have a kind of abrupt justice about it at the moment which could easily be lost in tinkering) I'd go for adding more emotional/historical depth in the scene between her and her father. Lets have more reminiscence of the relationships, and maybe introduce the gun motif earlier (could her husband have threatened her with a gun? tie it in so that you increase the sense of this being justice) so that the sense that the time for words is over is really heightened. Hope that gives you some fresh ideas...

Author's Reply:
Thanks, BP - you could be right. It was a quick ending I wanted, but following comments, I'm not sure a gun was the right object, but I'm still okay with the speed of it. If it wasn't quick and decisive, I feel the bully would've just whacked the old man.
Cheers - Steve.

SugarMama34 on 14-03-2007
Hi Geezer. I found this an interesting write and I liked the way it flowed (wish mine would flow as well as this). I thought that the dialogue was very good and the story was believable. It had a hint of mystery about it at the start as we didn't know if the person going to the house was male/female or why after so many years they were going back there. I enjoyed the imagery too, it wasn't over done and was just right for this story, however, I do agree with the others about the ending cut too short. I think you could make it longer and more powerful between your three characters - show the emotions and the reactions of each one. A story I've enjoyed.


Author's Reply:
Hi. Yes, the ending can definitely do with something a bit different. I haven't thought of anything that seems plausible yet! Many thanks for reading and commenting.

Seebaruk on 15-03-2007
Hey, definitely very little that I can add that hasn't already been said. I loved the awkwardness of the daughter and father reunion, it felt very real. The ending is a bit of a debater, on one hand it feels rushed, but on another, I doubt the father would have very much to say to the guy anyway, especially if he'd already decided to blow him away! Maybe the husband could have lashed out at him before getting shot or something, but whatever, it was a good read 🙂

Author's Reply:
Glad it felt real. The ending did provoke a lot of opinion, so I'm happy about that, as hopefully the beginning and middle made people care enough to think about it!
Many thanks for reading and commenting.