Tuesday, July 10, 2007

New Beginning 313

My eyes follow the pattern of squares in the waiting room floor: two gray, two beige, one white. Next line: three beige, two white, one gray. Repeat: two gray, two beige, one white…
A loud “squaaawk” distracts me. “It’s okay, Daisy,” coos the lady sitting in a corner chair. She gently pats the wire cage on her lap. The bird inside, head cocked at an angle, glares in response, then ruffles her all-white feathers.

Pop leans over to me and whispers, “What kind of bird is that?”

“Cockatoo,” I mumble. All the crying has sapped my energy, even for small talk.

I stare at a poster on the opposite wall, “Guide to Purebred Dogs.” Underneath it, hangs a rack of magazines: “Dog Fancy,” “Cat Fancy,” and “Healthy Pet.” An aquarium with a gerbil curled up in the corner sits on a low table. A card taped to the glass says: “Hi, I’m Zoro! Adopt me!” Across the room, another card hangs from the receptionist’s computer monitor: “Doctor will be with you in a minute. Sit. Stay.” It’s cute, but I don’t smile. We’ve been waiting way longer than a minute. I check my watch. Exactly sixty-four minutes longer. My knee bounces up and down at high speed.

At last, the receptionist calls my name. I get up and head for the examination room; Pop follows a little way behind, his arthritis slowing him down. “Cockatoo, eh?” he says.

The doctor welcomes us in with his professional smile: warm, soothing, yet solemn. This isn’t a happy occasion. “Sorry to keep you waiting,” he says. I smile back and shrug. Pop’s eyes are starting to tear again. “Okay. Let’s get him on the table.”

We don’t discuss -- we all know the decision’s made. Now, it’s not if, not when: just do it. Pop’s gaze wanders around the room; he doesn’t want to watch.

“This won’t take long, don’t worry.” The doctor shaves a leg and locates a vein. My heart beats faster. Is this really the right thing to do? Memories of when I was younger flood in; of long walks and endless games of ball and swimming in the pond.

The needle goes in. Outside the room, another squawk. “What kind of bird is that?” Pop asks as his eyes slowly close and his body goes soft.

“A cockatoo,” I say. I might get one, now that the house is mine.

Opening: Anonymous.....Continuation: ril


Bernita said...

Real tension.
I can't comment further because I hate injured/dead pet stories.

Chris Eldin said...

The beginning is awesome. I agree with Bernita. The tension is there.
Is the whole story written in present tense? I'm in awe of people who can write present tense well.

none said...

Picky comment of the week: if the narrator's train of thought is broken by the bird's squawk, then it should end in an em-dash not an ellipse.

I've been in this situation too often to want to read about it, but this is well written, imo.

Bonnie said...

I don't mean to be harsh about a story based only on a snippet, or belittle the situation of having to put down a beloved pet, but it's not very interesting from a story point of view. Sad, yes, and you convey that emotion very well. But there's no story that I can see. They put the pet down. Then what? They go home and cry? And then life goes on?

Again, I don't mean to belittle the situation. But it just doesn't work for me.

writtenwyrdd said...

I agree, this seems like the wrong point to start the story. The piece is well written, though.

Anonymous said...

I agree this opening is well written.

My only observation is: where is the MC's pet? Normally, if you're waiting for the vet for more than an hour and are not in an exam room, you are either 1) holding your animal in the waiting room or 2) waiting to hear how your animal is doing after having previously left it at the vet, in which case, most owners go to the kennels where the animal is and wait there. If the animal has been taken away and is in surgery or is being treated, and the owner has been requested to wait elsewhere, then the "waiting far longer than a minute" comment doesn't seem to ring so true because they've obviously already been seen by the vet.

This is just a quibble, though, from a former vet tech -- who has handed out far too many tissues to far too many people, and seen far too many animals die -- and certainly won't bother most readers.

Bonnie, we don't yet know if the animal was maybe struck by a car and they are waiting to see if it will live, or if they are indeed there to see the animal put down. Maybe this is the trigger episode that decides the MC that s/he will become a vet in later life. Or maybe the animal lives, but as an invalid and they must learn to care for it. Too little here to really pass judgement, imo.

Bonnie said...

Phoenix, I agree it could be a lot of things, but I don't see any of it here, just a lot of sorrow going nowhere.

Anonymous said...

From the author:

Thanks for all the good comments. Here are some answers to your questions:

This is a flash-forward to the end of the book. This and the last couple of chapters are the only ones in present tense. The rest of the ms goes back to tell what happened up till now.

Phoenix has it right. They're waiting for news from the vet on the condition of the dog. (No animal gets put to sleep and it's a happy ending.)

As for whether this is the right place to start the story, I don't know for sure, but the goal was to hook people (kids) to want to read more.

If you're interested in what the larger story is about, check out Facelift 414.

Chris Eldin said...

I want to read this.
If you need an extra pair of eyes, I'd be happy to read your ms!

Anonymous said...

Well, author, now I'm a wee bit confused. In the query, it sounded like there was a lot of suspense about whether Nilla would even get the dog. Opening with this scene sort of kills that suspense.

Bookending a story can be a great conceit, but if the story follows the query and shows Nilla cajoling her parents and practicing with a neighbor dog, then this beginning scene feels like a spoiler.

I thought it might be the opening of that facelift, but because the MC already HAS a dog, I decided, nah, couldn't be.

Maybe try the story with and without this opening, and see what feels right in the end.

Anonymous said...


Good advice. Maybe a more linear approach (ie starting with ch.2) would be better.

Just so you know, though, ch.1 is not a spoiler, just a fake spoiler, if there is such a thing. In other words,nowhere does it say that this dog is hers...


writtenwyrdd said...

Author, are you saying you are going to jerk the readers around with an "I fooled you!" moment? I wouldn't do that, it loses you readers. YOu need to make them feel as smart as the characters, if not smarter. The change-up only works in short stories. But I could be wrong...

Anonymous said...

Obviously I don't know where this is going to go or how it is handled, but I have to say that I thoroughly hate the "using/abusing an animal to get a cheap emotional response" device. You might want to consider starting the story somewhere else.

McKoala said...

I thought this was a great start; OK not the most exciting scene in the world, but in this case the words are so well chosen and set the scene so well that I'd happily read on.

I'm realising that if the writing snags me, then I'm happy to wait and see what happens, because I trust the writer and I'm simply enjoying the act of reading the words. On the other hand, for me a dull start and dull writing is a killer combination, and not in a good way.

I thought the continuation was fab!

Anonymous said...

If the gerbil on the coffee table belongs to the vet office, it wouldn't be in an aquarium because they can build up ammonia and then the gerbil will get sick and could die.

Also, the vet office would not keep a gerbil in a waiting room either, because it would be scared by the dogs and cats coming in.

If it belongs to a client, then why did they carry in the whole aquarium instead of putting the gerbil in a box?

(Incredibly nit-picky, I know, but I'm a Vet and it's nagging at me)

Anonymous said...

Dear anonymous vet -

Thanks for the comments on the detail. The scene described here is lifted straight from a real vet practice. The only difference is the gerbil was on a high counter, not a coffee table. I'll try and make adjustments, where possible, for better accuracy.


Anonymous said...

Well, forgive me for asking...but this is where the story left off on the initial page I read:

The needle goes in. Outside the room, another squawk. “What kind of bird is that?” Pop asks as his eyes slowly close and his body goes soft.

“A cockatoo,” I say. I might get one, now that the house is mine.

I thought they killed Pop who must have been the owner of the house. No one else was mentioned.

Where did I miss something?

And if they were really putting down a beloved pet, where is the pet in the description? The implications are that it is a dog, but hey I also thought Pop was the recipient of the needle. More clarity might be needed. Just my take of course.


Evil Editor said...

More clarity is needed in your understanding of the New Beginnings. The part in blue was written by a new author, trying to give the story an amusing twist. The continuation author took advantage of the fact that the opening author didn't mention the animal to imply that it was the grandfather being put to sleep. Visit Evil Editor's Openings (link in sidebar) for a thorough explanation.