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Dusty Heart (Novella)

Dusty Heart (Novella)

Belinda is dissatisfied with her 'perfect' life and decides to make a change.

5

Romance / Women's fiction


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Barbara Gurney (Australia)


Dusty Heart
Barbara Gurney

‘At the age of thirty-seven, she realised she would never ride through Paris with the warm wind in her hair,’ sang Belinda as she listened to the radio during her daily dusting routine.
Tears dribbled down her cheek when the song threw out words about rearranging the flowers for hours. She stopped cleaning, sat motionless on the couch, clenching the dusting cloth. After the radio used up three more songs Belinda told herself she didn’t want to rearrange flowers, or dust shelves for that matter, for unending hours.
The Eyes of Lucy Jordan stayed in her mind as she made a cup of coffee, unconsciously adding sugar when she hadn’t taken any for years. After a sip of the sweet liquid she cried, ‘Oh! Shit. I made a cup of coffee for bloody Grant.' The coffee went down the drain. 'Hell’s bells.' She mixed a scotch and soda with a shaking hand.
After the cold drink hit her throat, she yelled, ‘What am I doing dusting these bloody clean shelves?’ The bottom of the glass stared back as she wallowed in self-pity. ‘Who bloody appreciates it anyway? No one cares. I might as well fill up this lovely crystal glass again and to hell with it.’

Ten years older than Lucy Jordan, Belinda had given up the idea of travelling to Paris long ago. It was Grant who went to Paris; Grant who travelled the world.
Unsure about the wind in the hair bit, thought Belinda. I’m sure Grant wouldn’t like his hair messed up and, come to think of it, he wouldn’t find travelling in a fast car very inviting either.
Two drinks later, she decided she needed food, but she couldn’t find anything remotely inviting in the fridge. The pantry offered nothing either and she slammed the door shut, walked into the study, picked up the phone and pressed the automatic dial for her friend. ‘Sue, have you had lunch?’ she asked. ‘Or can it possibly be late enough to call it dinner?’
Instantly recognising the voice Sue said, ‘Anything wrong, Bel?’
‘I need food and I need someone to talk to, or I just might finish the whole damn bottle of scotch on my own. Might even forget about the soda.’
‘Look, I’ll get changed and be there in fifteen,’ announced Sue.

Having met when their daughters played netball together, Belinda and Sue had been friends for over twenty years. Belinda Watson was the reliable one. People would ask her to feed the dog, cat or budgie while they enjoyed a holiday. Belinda would be only too willing to transport children to sport, buy raffle tickets, cook biscuits or fill in an empty spot at a quiz night. Yes, Belinda could always be relied on.
Now, here was Belinda slurring her words and sounding anything but reliable.
After they'd exchanged greetings and moved through to the sunroom, Sue asked, ‘What’s with the scotch at two o’clock in the afternoon. It's a bit early, isn't it?
‘It’s Lucy Jordan’s fault,’ said Belinda, carefully placing her half-finished third glass of scotch on the coffee table.
‘Lucy who?’
‘Oh, you know. Marianne Faithful's song. Think it's called The Ballad of Lucy Jordan. Surely you remember it. Wind ripping through her stunning hair in romantic Paris,’ said Belinda waving her arms around in an ungainly fashion. '1978 or maybe nine! Anyway it doesn't matter. She's obviously more glamourous than me.'
‘Yeah, yeah. I remember the song, but what's it got to do with you.' Sue watched her friend fiddle with her rings.
Belinda then wiped moisture from her lips with the tip of her forefinger. ‘Sue, I’m nearly fifty. Have I ever had a ride in a sports car? Not even in downtown Gosnells.' She sighed and eased back on the couch. 'There's heaps of things I've never done. I’ve been too busy sitting here minding the house for when Grant decides to come home from somewhere different every other week. Me playing the perfect housekeeper.' Her laugh came out in an undignified snort. 'Then when he comes home I perform like a trained monkey. It’s not great you know.’ Belinda folded her arms and pouted like a child.
Sue moved from the armchair and wriggled into the space next to Belinda. ‘What started all this? You’ve always had to put up with Grant traipsing off to God knows where with his job. You said it suited you. The money and all that.' She placed her hand on her friend's arm. 'What’s up? What's wrong, Bel?’
‘I need coffee.' Belinda sniggered, 'Preferably without sugar.' She tried to stand. 'Can you make me a coffee, Sue? I'm sure I can't explain anything till my head stops spinning.’
With the coffee mug cradled in her hands to stop it from spilling, Belinda tried to clarify her emotions. ‘It’s like this, Sue. I heard that song on the radio. It made me think about my existence. I’ve been lucky with Grant bringing in so much money. I haven’t had to work, but my days are so endlessly boring.' She grunted and waved one hand around. 'Do you think I do all this cleaning because I like it?' She put the mug down. 'Goodness no! But I have to fill the countless hours somehow and it’s become a bit of a habit.’ Belinda felt tears building again and stopped talking until she regained her composure.
‘Grant will be home in three days. Then what? I wait on him hand and foot expecting he might change. Expecting he might take me out for a meal or spend some of all the pots of money he earns.' She reached for a tissue. 'Poor fool me. After all this time he isn’t going to change, is he? He’ll read his books, watch the damn telly till bed time.'
'Don't tell me he's not ready for early bed and … a roll in the so-called hay?'
'Well, yeah. But … life's more than that.'
Sue grinned. 'Maybe not.'
'Stop it, Sue.' Belinda grabbed a tissue.
'Sorry, but surely your life has it exciting bits.'
'Exciting?' Belinda's lip quivered. 'Not even close.'
Sue got up to reheat the kettle, but thought better of it and sat down and hugged her friend. Tears formed again and Belinda dropped her head to Sue's shoulder.
As they released the embrace, Belinda said, 'Thanks, Sues, I needed that.'
‘I thought you loved it when Grant came home between jobs.’
‘I did.' Belinda wiped her hand across her wet cheek. 'When the kids were little. It was like preparing a party every time. Flic and Scott couldn’t wait to see their daddy. Neither could I for that matter. It was after they left home I found it difficult. Felicity moving east didn’t help, and then when Scotty moved out I lost motivation. I became obsessive about the house. Didn’t want to be less then perfect, did I!’
Belinda reached for the previously rejected alcohol, but Sue took it away and waggled her finger at her friend. ‘I think you have enough for the day, young lady. How about sprucing up and I’ll take you out for an early meal.’

Sitting over a generous steak sandwich at the local tavern, the two friends enjoyed the silence until they'd consumed the last few chips.
‘Thanks, Sue. It's probably soaked up some of the scotch.' Belinda fiddled with an unused dessertspoon. 'It’s true though. What I said before. I really do feel like I‘ve achieved nothing.’
‘What about two lovely kids, a wonderful home and despite what you say about him, a great husband,’ said Sue.
‘Yeah, that’s fine and I’m really proud of all that. But what about me. Maybe it's time I did something for me. You know, just for me. Am I going to spend the next twenty years like the last few?' She dropped the serviette on her dirty plate and said softly. 'I don’t think I can.’
Sue's stomach felt knotted. ‘What can I do?'
'Don't really know. But … thanks for listening, Sues.'
'You know I'll help if I can.'
'I'm just a misery guts at the moment. I'll figure it out.' Belinda shrugged. 'Grant will be home in two days.'
Sue smiled. 'Well, there you go. You'll feel better when he's home.'
Pulling her credit card from her purse, Belinda said, 'Don't know about that. He's part of the problem.'
'Really!' said Sue. 'Surely you aren’t thinking of leaving him.’
‘No way! Nothing that drastic. I still love him. We're fine. We're not sex-starved teenagers, but we do okay.' Belinda closed her eyes and tasted the residual barbecue sauce. Opening her eyes, she said again, 'We're fine. You know, despite my recent rantings, I wouldn't swap him. Sometimes he's just an unappreciative lump that expects too much of me.' She shrugged. 'I’m going to make a list for a start. Think about long lost dreams and all that stuff,’ Belinda chuckled.


Competition: The Pen Factor 2016, Round 1

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Read Reviews

Review 1:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • The grammar, typography, sentence structure and punctuation would benefit from a further round of editing to avoid distracting from the quality of the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • The protagonist didn’t always respond believably against the backdrop of the story. Ask yourself if people would really answer to a situation in that way. Think about whether the characters’ voices could be more convincing for their age, background, gender, time period, genre, gender and ethnicity. Dialogue should be natural and consistent throughout the story.
Characterization
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Main character
  • Your protagonist exhibited a unique voice and had original characteristics. Their actions and dialogue were convincing!
Character conflict
  • The reader’s experience of the story is heightened when the characters’ goals, conflicts and purpose are clear. Perhaps giving this aspect of the story further attention could be worthwhile.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a difficult balancing act. Are you sure all the material is relevant to the plot, setting and atmosphere? Make sure each sentence makes sense to the reader, and each paragraph moves their experience forward.
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. The first page should introduce some intrigue, something that causes the reader to turn the page. Think about the conflict and tension in your story. How effectively has it been introduced?
Technique and tight writing
  • When writing is tight, economical and each word has purpose, it enables the plot to unravel clearly. Try and make each individual word count.
Point of view
  • The story successfully solicited the reader’s empathy through the clever use of the narrator's point of view. You show great deftness in handling point of view.
Style and originality
  • Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose is tricky. As writers, we face the daunting task of making sure we are not being predictable. Can you find a way to give the content and characters more of a unique edge? Perhaps say something boldly, something fresh or show an unorthodox approach to a topic?
Atmosphere and description
  • A writer’s ability to create mood and atmosphere through evocative description is vital to the reader’s experience. It’s a real skill to craft out how the characters react to the setting and atmosphere and perhaps your story could go further in its description. The reader wants to experience the same sensory and poignant journey as the characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
Opening line and hook
  • Great books, nowadays, start with a powerful opening and compelling hook in order to keep the reader engaged. Have you baited the reader enough?
General comments from your fellow writer 1:
I really like the book.

Review 2:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
Main character
  • Your protagonist exhibited a unique voice and had original characteristics. Their actions and dialogue were convincing!
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals, conflicts and purpose were clearly introduced and I wanted to find out more about them.
Style and originality
  • I loved your fresh approach. Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose requires both skill and practice.
Opening line and hook
  • Your strong opening and compelling hook was a promise of wonderful things to come!
General comments from your fellow writer 2:
You had me chuckling a few paragraphs in! Delightful sprinkling of humor throughout. I'd love to know what she is going to do with this globe-trotting husband of hers. One thing to watch - passive voice cropped up here and there. The sections that made use of active voice were far more effective. This snippet shows real promise of a good story to come. Well done!

Review 3:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
Characterization
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Main character
  • Your protagonist exhibited a unique voice and had original characteristics. Their actions and dialogue were convincing!
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals, conflicts and purpose were clearly introduced and I wanted to find out more about them.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a challenging balancing act. The story had a clear and coherent progression with a structured plot.
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. Your story makes compelling reading.
Technique and tight writing
  • The writing was tight and economical and each word had purpose. This enabled the plot to unravel clearly. Your writing exhibits technical proficiency.
Point of view
  • The story successfully solicited the reader’s empathy through the clever use of the narrator's point of view. You show great deftness in handling point of view.
Style and originality
  • I loved your fresh approach. Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose requires both skill and practice.
Atmosphere and description
  • Your story was a feast for the senses. The atmosphere wrapped itself around me and transported me onto the page alongside your characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
Opening line and hook
  • Your strong opening and compelling hook was a promise of wonderful things to come!
General comments from your fellow writer 3:
I am hooked! Kudos, you drew me in and I lived your story. I feel for Grant when he gets home! Well done!