I (Victoria Candland) edited this manuscript via track changes. This manuscript is written by a friend in my English 320R Writing for Children and Adolescents class with Carol Lynch Williams. It is a fiction story set in 1830s Pennsylvania and is written in verse. I spent a substantial amount of time working with this friend on her manuscript over the course of three months. This manuscript is her most recent revision along with my edits and comments.
If I Breathe Kat I am damned. The truth tramples my skull. It raises hairs along my neck. I don’t want God to damn me— I don’t want Him to let me damn myself. But that first week of April, 1835, my sister left us.
That night, I find her on the floor of the barn. I go to milk Bessie, humming to myself. Für Elise, by Beethoven. The notes slide between my tongue and teeth. And I trip over Maggie’s body. In the dark, she draws the light from my lantern in slivers. She curls in the dirt and straw, a knife between her fingers. Sharp edge inward toward her palm. Thin red lines on her pale skin. Her forearm, her shoulder. The lines aren’t part of her dress— she isn't wearing a dress. Dirt and blood stain her chemise. Liquid pools in the folds between her thighs and belly. Maggie? I don't understand, can't understand the colors that clash in front of me. She doesn't move. I pry the knife from her fingers. She turns her face into the hollow of my shoulder. I catch her tears and blood with my dress. But the blood doesn’t stop. I grab bandages from the storage area.
Comment [ML1]: Think about putting this after the part about going to milk Bessie and the notes sliding. The change would make the language and the scene more abrupt and would display the shock Kat feels.
Comment [ML2]: I think slivers would have the most affect when set alone. I put the “in” on the previous line. Deleted: in Comment [ML3]: How big is the knife?
Comment [ML4]: I’m confused as to where she stabbed herself. Did she slit her wrists? Did she stab herself multiple times in multiple places? I would make this clearer.
She sits there with that look in her eyes—crystalized, as if everything liquid and alive had grown old and forgotten. I hold her to me. I feel its motionlessness, stillness like she hides her soul.
Comment [ML5]: :Lovely language and idea. Deleted: been
I sit for hours, rocking her and making promises. I won't leave you, I won't leave you, I say. And she rocks too. My knees cramp and my dress catches both our tears, her blood. But she never speaks. In Maggie’s silence, the earth whispers through the trees, the moon orders the stars to spin. I watch through the window as their combinations change the night — my perspective shifting with the hours, minutes, seconds. Breathing in, breathing out. Pa find us, and he says what I am afraid to say. “Crazy child, trying to kill herself . . . Like she needed more scars.” And he walks back out.
Comment [ML6]: Is this referring to her body or to her eyes? Comment [ML7]: This is a repeated image. You say this at the beginning of the page. I would think of a new, unique image to put here.
Comment [ML8]: Beautiful.
Comment [ML9]: You have wonderful sense of place in this scene, but I’m missing the emotion. Was Kat crying at all? What did it feel like when she found Maggie covered in blood? Is she more or less apathetic because this has happened before?
Margaret doesn't raise her head.
Now, I watch, three weeks before Maggie’s birthday. She won’t wear the dress I bought for her as a present. It is wrapped in brown paper and tied with a string. Hidden beneath our bed. Instead, she will be in the Pennsylvania Hospital: the asylum. There are two parts of the hospital, Pa explains. Normals on top and abnormals on bottom. Pa doesn’t see Maggie leave. He stays in the barn. I watch the wagon roll away. I stand on the front porch and wave my handkerchief. But only when I think she might glance back at me. I try to smile.
Comment [ML10]: She waves her handkerchief or smiles when she thinks Maggie is looking back at her?
3 She doesn’t look at me. She hunches her shoulders and plays with the frayed edges of her bandages. (I can’t see them well because of her dress). They cover red lines — the lies — the reasons Pa abandoned her. The reasons I am abandoning her. Pa should have found Maggie. Pa should have held Maggie, when her cries were slow and silent as suffocation. But it was me. So I let Pa make arrangements. I could have tried to change his mind, or begged him to let Maggie stay. With Ma gone, it is just the three of us. But I didn't stop him from sending an express letter to Philadelphia. I didn’t stop him from asking Pastor Larson if his son Joshua could take her in, with the rectory’s mission errands. And even though we (my Pa and I) are her family, it is Joshua who drives the wagon taking my sister away. And I do nothing. I do nothing, and I am damned. Maggie
Comment [ML11]: Is there a reason why she does nothing? Is this foreshadowing for things to come? There must be a reason why she does nothing—it’s her sister’s life we’re talking about so there must be a reason. Ponder about that and think about what her reason may be.
In a moment, it would have been over. In that moment, I could feel new pain pushing pain away. What are you doing, she asked me. What are you doing? No answers. No words. I am done with letters, carved in air. She holds me close, just touching. Silent. Sister. Silent.
Comment [ML12]: Amazing language.
He said, Leave She said, No I said, Forgive me. Always. I will always fight for you.
I watch the floor of the wagon sway when little sister says goodbye. Not her face, (sixteen sunshine Scandinavian child) I just see the holes between the floor boards of the wagon. Here, the sun can't catch me to burn me. I am wrapped in fabric chains — bandages — Kat's legacy. My own legacy is buried, healing like it was never meant to.
Comment [ML13]: This is wonderfully poetic, but I’m not sure what she’s talking about. Is the ambiguity intentional? Will you explain later on. If not, explain it right here.
5 My life setting, in God years.
Comment [ML14]: Maggie’s voice is so distinct and her poetry is first rate. I love it!
Kat Pastor Larson agrees to a closed-casket funeral. But before Pa goes to ask for absolution, he speaks to me. He holds his hat in one hand. He massages the brim, working the fabric back into shape. “Kat, I'm headed over to the Larsons. Shouldn't be gone long.”
“What for?” I mix eggs for breakfast. “It isn’t Sunday.” “No.” He scratches his beard. A beard shot through with grey. “I have a question for the pastor.” “Your Bible doesn't have the answers for you?” I nod toward the family Bible, lying dusty on a shelf. Pa hasn’t read since Ma died. It was more her book than his. She taught us to pray. Pa only understands punishment, which comes from a different God than Ma's. “I want to hold a funeral for your sister,” he says. I dump the eggs into the pan, so hard they threaten to slap over the sides. “She's not dead.” The heat from the stove makes sweat run in my eyes. I dash at it with my sleeve. “A funeral doesn't make sense,” I say. “Kat.” “What, Pa? She isn't dead.” “She is to us.” “What do you mean? She's dead to us?” Transparent body, bloodless skin. White shroud. I shudder. I want to paint color on the image. “Kat, she's in the hospital now. She isn’t alone anymore—
Deleted: the eggs
Comment [ML15]: This is a great image, but it seems out of place. Let us see more of Kat’s emotions here. Wouldn’t she be angry that her dad is saying Maggie’s dead to her? I think she would feel anger rather than repulsion. If she isn’t angry, than describe more of the emotion that she feels. Deleted: –
6 she has doctors and nurses, and she's not coming back. Not ever.” I take my apron off and fold it over a chair. The strings brush the ground. I pull my hair back from my face, twisting it with my finger. Knotting the strands. “Ever? I thought she would heal. Come home.” I turn my back on Pa. I hear the door scrape open. A pause. “Don't you ever want to get married? Have children? She can't come back. Maggie is sick. If people found out. . . They'd despise you too. No one would marry you— not if their children would be like Maggie.” I don’t care. Phantom babies, curled in my arms. A phantom man’s kiss. Or Maggie (her face, our memories). Her reality. “You can't kill her.” How can Pa grow the River Styx between Maggie and me, when the water has never reached her ankles? "No,” Pa said. “Maggie killed herself.” And all my air drops out as Pa leaves. I scrape pieces of egg off the pan, and I know that the package of salt in the cupboard won’t resurrect these brown, flat chunks back into breakfast.
Comment [ML16]: Wonderful addition! I love the River Styx part, it shows that Kat is well-read. Comment [ML17]: Avoid unnecessary attribution in dialogue. Deleted: Kat, Deleted: ft Comment [ML18]: Engage more of the sense in this scene. What do the burning eggs smell like?
Pa doesn't come back until afternoon. It shouldn't take him so long, and I hope Pastor Larsen talks sense into him—there in the church with its square, hard benches, and the pastor talking about Religion and Blessings and the Word. Pastor Larsen won’t agree to bury a girl who is still alive, and I imagine the whole thing while I clean out the chicken coop and do the mending. When Pa rides in, the horse smells of salt and sweat, and Pa isn't smiling.
7 "Funeral's tomorrow," he says. Maggie If Kat had seen the reasons before I left, but Kat didn't see it all. She didn't see the packets of letters Pa kept on the top shelf, right next to the sugar. Dry and warm, the papers light between my fingers. She didn't see the letter, the letter from Dr. McFarland. He wrote: Melancholia. Hopeless Insanity. She didn't see the letter from The Pennsylvania Hospital. They wrote: We will receive Margaret Scott. They needed: The Certificate of Dr. McFarland They didn't need: A trial. A witness. The truth.
From Pennsville to Philadelphia I swing back and forth, like a pendulum â€” against the nurse, against the driver, toward the horses, toward the seat, inside the wagon.
Comment [ML19]: I love that you are building up a secret. It makes me want to continue reading.
8 Dips between the boards mark bruises — one hundred acres of rocking. The asylum stands open like a crow, two towers flap like wings, promising to engulf me. Are you ready, Margaret? Someone asks, pulling me down. Never—I don't answer aloud,
Comment [ML20]: I’m confused what type of wagon she is in. How does she swing towards the horses and the against the driver and such? I would define the wagon a little clearer. Comment [ML21]: I’m not sure if “open” and “crow” go together. I love the image of the crow, so perhaps maybe you can say “dark” or “foreboding” or “black” or something to that effect.
Deleted: just in my head. ¶
Parallel to eighth street, The double doors mouth open, and I am inside. The nurses look over me, check their notes. Melancholia. The word from Pa’s letters. Word of knives and tears and memories that shatter when I touch them and then I tread on shards. Melancholia and I build monuments of shadows —
Melancholia is such a pretty word. Such an ugly thing.
An interview, for the Admission Book
Comment [ML22]: Lovely. Question: Does she believe she has melancholia? It sounds like she feels that she is at the asylum by mistake. Is that really how she feels? I would entertain that question and answer it throughout the story.
What is your name? Margaret How old are you? Seventeen What was the age of your first attack? Seventeen. What was the cause? ... Don't you trust me, Margaret? The doctor across the desk appeals to me. His eyes plead obedience and his fingers tap impatience. Contradictions. How can I trust this test, when I am doomed to fail?
Item by item, I am
Comment [ML23]: Nice addition.
10 stripped. Exposed. Vulnerable. Each item catalogued. My soul is a list.
When it is over, when they are done with their lists and their questions, the nurse and I go down to the women's quarters. I run my fingers along the stoneâ€” and the stone has strange ridges where my fingernails scrape. The air dances away, behind us, out towards the sun we are leaving behind us, and I learn that it is here in the basement and shadows that they've built our cells.
Comment [ML24]: Does it smell bad? Iâ€™m sure it would smell damp and musty and repulsive.
11 Kat We fill the coffin with river rock. Early in the morning, before the light can illuminate the trees, we are ankle deep in water, reaching for eroded stone. The water numbs my toes and draws wrinkles in my skin. I try to find stones in interesting patterns, threaded through with blue and silver, or shaped like birds. Beautiful like Maggie—stones that would take the place of Maggie in the coffin. As each stone nestles in the corner of the wagon bed, I run my fingers along their surfaces. All the rocks Pa grabs are jagged along the edges, with shapes devoid of color. It doesn't take long before we have enough. Maggie's body lightens every day, and her ghost would be a handful of rocks. "We'd better get back. They're coming to help soon," Pa says. They refers to the Larsens. They arrive after we finished filling the coffin. Pa shovels the rocks in, using the edge of the shovel to distribute them. I slip a small volume of poetry into the casket, before Pa pounds the nails in.
Formatted: Font: Italic
Comment [ML25]: What volume? I think it would be interesting if it was by William Blake, whom Kat later reads at the funeral.
Melissa Jacobs arrives soon after the Larsens. She could meet us at the church, but I am glad she came. "How are you?" she asks. She reaches for my hand. Melissa. Blonde hair, braided neatly, and a simple cotton dress and bonnet. My friend since we were five—always laughing, always smiling. I used to laugh like her. I want to remember how, but the sounds will not come out. My voice is clipped, fallen like baby birds who never flew. I shake my head. "Hurting." My hurt is a truth—the expected truth. A truth in a knickknack drawer of fears. My fear that someone will open the coffin. My fear that someone won’t— those are unexpected fears.
Comment [ML26]: How long ago did she stop laughing like that? Deleted: Deleted: Comment [ML27]: I’m loving the motif of birds—you repeat that image with the crows at the asylum. I would continue this image throughout the story; it could be an interesting and meaningful addition. Deleted: , Deleted: m
Melissa wraps her arms around me. "It gets easier, you know,” she says. And I say, “That's what they say. But thank you.” Our exchange is a ritual, just beginning. I’ll make this exchange of words again. With others at the funeral. Today. "Come on. I think it's time," Melissa says. Caleb and Joshua Larsen, brothers, bring the coffin out. They bend low under the weight, sweat trickling off their brows. I worry that we put too much rock in, but then I see the tears mixing with the sweat on Caleb's face. Both made of salt water. Caleb is younger than his brother. Fifteen, fourteen. I don’t know. He used to watch my sister—a kid with a wish. Now, Caleb can't take his eyes off his feet. Joshua is stoic. His step doesn't falter, even when Caleb's stumble almost brings rocks crashing down around their feet. He meets my gaze, and I look away first. I hope he has kept our secret. I feel that he blames me. Like I blame Pa.
Pastor Larson says, his shoes crunching the grass above Maggie’s box, that “Maggie is with God, and Hell waits for the rest of us.” I am aware. I am aware that this is about more than Maggie — this funeral is another reason for a sermon. Pastor Larson's words burn through my ears, words like kindle, fire, flame, wrath. In the five minutes he speaks, he flings intensity toward us.
Comment [ML28]: Give us more sense of place at the funeral. I didn’t know that we had transitioned from the river to the funeral ground. Is it by the church? Is it cold outside? What does the earth smell like? What does it sound like? Comment [ML29]: Keep the spelling consistent. Is it with an “e” or with an “o”?
Anger bubbles in my throat. It bubbles like that Hell Pastor Larsen keeps talking about. But I don't speak. No one does. Pastor Larson's words has people looking at their feet. People kneading their hands together. Melissa, standing so I can feel her body heat, doesn’t seem to breathe.
Comment [ML30]: Why is she angry that the Pastor is saying that Maggie is in heaven? I don’t understand the motive behind her anger.
A breeze tingles my arm. I pull my shawl tighter around me. I don't own a black shawl, and the yellow fabric wars with my emotions. Without the cold, I’d abandon it completely.
After Pastor Larson spoke, Pa steps forward. He sweeps his hat off his head. He holds it by the brim between his hands. Behind him, the land goes on and on. Only his body blocks an uninterrupted picture of the horizon. "I don't know what to say," Pa says. “Pastor Larson spoke of God in his Heaven, and the promises of the Bible. All the big things, the things we know. But Maggie was my oldest daughter and just like her ma. Same smile. Same looks. Same choices."
Comment [ML31]: Are there a lot of trees or is it plains? Is it flat or mountainous?
Deleted: , Deleted: s
I bite the inside of my cheek, trying to remember Ma or her faded miniature on our mantle—a palm-size painting of a slender, dark-haired woman. Heart-shaped face, almond eyes. Pa wipes at the tear that forms in his eye. "The sickness came too soon, dragging you away from us without a chance to say goodbye. I love you, baby girl. I hope you like heaven, and you find your ma there."
My turn. “I love Maggie," I say. Love is too short and broad a word—it catches everything and nothing in its net.
Comment [ML32]: Great characterization. I can see her.
14 I shake my head. I twist the end of my braid around my finger. And blink. "She is my sister. I want to read one of her favorite poems, by William Blake." I pull a small notebook out of my pocket. I had copied down the poem this morning, because the book was now in the coffin. "Here it is.”
Comment [ML33]: Like I mentioned you should do before!
O Rose, thou art sick: The invisible worm, That flies in the night In the howling storm, Has found out thy bed Of crimson joy; And his dark secret love Does thy life destroy.
Comment [ML34]: This poem is perfect for this story. What a find!
The April air feels heavy and thick. It presses down on my lungs like it presses down on the coffin. Single words claw their way through my mouth. Empty sympathies catch in my teeth. Melissa stays near. She distracts strangers from touching me, from repeating the ritual of “all will be better.” I could break the ritual open. But how? Melissa distracts Ms. Wilson, the town gossiper, from feeding. When Melissa’s eyes stray toward me, I can't breathe the air to smile back. Caving beneath my feet, a six-foot hole spews a rusty, acrid smell. Bugs trail across the coffin. Their legs leave patterns in the dirt and flowers. A few more minutes, and the men will push the final dirt in. They will seal it up. Hide it forever. Pieces of conversation drift, snagging in my ears. I close my eyes and words fall out of their
Comment [ML35]: I want to know the reaction the people at the funeral have to Kat reading that poem. It seems like a weird poem for a girl to read at her sister’s funeral right? Maybe Kat can notice that many people are staring at her or saying odd things to her. Comment [ML36]: Great image. Comment [ML37]: How does she do this?
15 sentences: crazy—possessed—death—scars—strange—hope —
Comment [ML38]: I like that these is still hope.
. . . and a tap on my shoulder. I spin to find a body almost against my nose. I stumble backwards, toward the grave. "Joshua?" He doesn’t look at me. "Hi, Kat,” he said. "You were drifting." "How could you tell?" I sigh. I had drifted. I had drifted along sound. Along memories. And someone noticed. "Kat, you almost fell in the hole." He nods toward the grave. "Wouldn't want to bury an actual body, would we?" His eyebrow curves upwards, mocking me. “Quiet, Joshua." He hadn’t noticed. Nearby, crows caw. Their black beaks clap together. A few children chase the birds between the trees, flinging their small hands out behind them. Their laughter grates on my ears.
Comment [ML39]: Hadn’t noticed what?
"What was reading Blake about?" "It's one of Maggie's favorite poems, Josh.” She had scrawled on the page, offering a list of interpretations next to the verses: old age, love, insanity. Blake's poem is the obvious choice to read at her funeral. "You nearly told everyone that she is still alive, Kat. I thought the whole point of this was to make people believe she's dead?" I pull my shoulder blades together like wings. Preparing. "I wish you didn't know,” I say. “I didn’t ask to know.” "None of us did." I didn't ask to know my sister was crazy. But why didn't she talk to me? "What do you mean, Kat?” "Nothing, Josh. Forget I said anything." Forget I thought anything. Anything strange. “When you want to talk, I'll be here,” Joshua says. He leans over, rubs his hand along my arm.
Comment [ML40]: Love the bird motif.
16 Quick and light. Tingles race up my arm. "Why?” But as if he doesn’t hear, he turns and walks away, his boots sinking into the grass. A few steps from me, his body sags and rolls inward. Head ducks slightly, as if losing confidence. As if drained. Regret. I almost call him back — a desire to say something, anything, grows from his knowledge of the truth.
Comment [ML41]: Didn’t she already know that Joshua knew Maggie was still alive?
But Josh joins his brother, and Caleb smiles up at him. I can see their lips moving. I wonder what they are saying. I wonder what Caleb knows. Caleb and Josh. Casual and tired, leaning against the fence.
The wood fence wraps around our land. Clumps of grass twine upward toward the lower bars, pulling them down to rest against the ground. Pa would fix it, in the summer. Or fall. The trees grow outside their shapes, reaching for sun. At the edge of the clearing, Pa gathers men around him. Don Jackson, the miller. Henry Olsen, the saddle-maker. Patrick Hansen, the bookseller. All of them are old, growing bellies and wrinkles. Pa looks haggard next to them, but like them, he dangles a large cigar between his lips, and its smoke painting lazy clouds, hovers between them. I want to brush that smoke away. I want them to stamp the cigars out, to crush the rolls to bits of soot. Smoking is a strange way of grieving. "What did Joshua want?" Melissa asks, walking over to me. Her eyes squint to see in the growing dark.
Comment [ML42]: Is the funeral at their house? Or did everyone walk back to their house? I’m confused as to the location of everything.
Deleted: s Comment [ML43]: Maybe use a stronger, more intense verb here. “Brush” doesn’t establish the anger Kat feels.
"I don't know." The lie settles at the base of my stomach. I know what Josh wanted. He wants to be absolved. “What did the postmistress want?" I ask. "Oh, Mrs. Wilson is always full of gossip, about everyone and everything. Even a funeral makes her happy." Melissa's blonde hair swings as she shakes her head. A line appears between her eyebrows. "I'm sorry Mrs. Wilson is here. I shouldn't have spoken with her." I shrug my shoulders. No weight falls from the slope. "No. If you didn't listen, she would have found someone else." Another ear to wet with slippery words and half-imagined horrors— another ear to gulp the deluge and duplicate it over pie and lemonade.
Comment [ML44]: Repetition of “want.” Diversify your verbs a little here.
Comment [ML45]: But I thought Melissa was distracting Mrs. Wilson. Why would she feel sorry if she was doing Kat a favor?
Comment [ML46]: I love this!
Melissa puts her arm around my shoulder and squeezes. "Everyone knew how close you sisters were to each other. Mrs. Wilson's selfishness won't change that memory." Yes. But my own can. Maggie The workroom carries music on its back and needlework in its fingers. They let us out to work here, watching us with eyes that burn across the room. A strange sound and they are dragging that girl out. But we can sing and Marissa plays the piano. Her broken notes crack my ears, but the distance between sounds— like the clatter of mice in the walls—
Comment [ML47]: Mariss and Melissa are similar names. Is there a parallel between the two characters in Kat’s and Maggie’s lives? I would consider drawing this parallel between the two characters.
18 smooths my skull. I hear stocking feet tap in rhythm with the notes. My own feet. My nightdress clings to my skin, and sweat gathers on me.
But my hands are busy. Too busy sewing empty things. Things I can never use, can never give away. Marissa sits at the piano. Her fingers tap, tap, tap on the keys. I close my eyes as the music carries me beyond the dark— The nurses sit between us. Their eyes are closed too. But they don't look as if they hear the music— really hear it, like music was meant to be. Not Sophia, not Effie. They sleep. Sleep harder than I can. Their dreams are not stitched with veins of red or frozen between layers of river ice beneath a wooden bridge.
Comment [ML48]: Wouldn’t they be afraid that the girls would attack them or something if they slept? Are the girls tied to their chairs or something like that?
Comment [ML49]: Oooo, is this how Ma died? Love the foreshadowing.
Rumors come on padded feet, here in the workroom. They slip between our chairs and curl like kittens between our feet. Even if when I ignore them, they linger.
Comment [ML50]: I love this! What a unique way to talk about rumors.
Angel whispers rumors in my ear. Her breath is hot and sticky, and I move my chair away. But she follows me. Her hair hasn't been combed in days. Or maybe since this morning. There are leaves from her walk still clinging to the ends. I pull a leaf out for herâ€” a green spring leaf from the gardensâ€” but she keeps talking.
Angel tells me one story: Pawned his watch, Angel whispers. Pawned his watch, and ran away. Pawned his watch, and crossed the Delaware river.
Comment [ML51]: Great repetition. It really adds emphasis and a poetic quality to the dialogue. Deleted: e
What happened then? He came back for his clothes, she whispers.
Angel slips another story in my ear:
20 Nurse Sophia used to put her hair in curlers. (Angel liked the curlers, and wanted some). Every night, Sophia walked from one apartment to another, those curlers in her hair. Every night, she bumped against Marissa's bars. The rooms were dark. She couldn't see. One night, Marissa grabbed the curlers, and took out a chunk of Nurse's hair to keep. Nurse, I don't like how you do you hair, she said. Even in the dark, Sophia made no noise again.
Here, in the workroom, with the sun just sinking off the windowsill and our eyes diving close to see our needlework, Sophia stops our storytelling. Quiet, Sophia shouts. She turns her head, and I see the bald spot.
Comment [ML52]: Did she die? Why didnâ€™t she scream or anything? What happened to her?
21 And giggle. Kat Knock, knock, knock, and I drop the kettle. The tin clatters on the stove. Hot water spills on my finger, and I suck on it. “Hello,” I said, opening the door. Visitors have become less frequent in the week since the funeral, and I have adjusted to my nest of solitude, wrapped twigs of silences around my huddled limbs and watched the rain slide off the roof. Small bushes sagging by the porch stairs. Bowing to the ground. "Miss Scott? May I come in?” the man on the porch asks. I nod. But I don’t move. “Should I find Pa?” “That would be best,” he says. “Have some tea, while I get him,” I say. The scent of chamomile and mint floats out of the cracked mug. “And your name?” "Mr. Anderson,” he says. He pushes the chair back. The legs scrape against the floor. Mr. Anderson, superintendent of the school district where Maggie had just been hired before she was committed. I inhale my own tea, let the wrinkles in my stomach iron out.
Pa is in the barn mending a harness. His dark head bends. “Pa, Mr. Anderson is here,” I say. "Mr. Anderson?" Grease coats Pa’s hands, grease from several days, and he wipes them on his trousers.
Comment [ML53]: Creepy! You are building the idea that Maggie is actually insane. Is this your intention? If so, you’re doing a great job. I can see how Maggie’s mind is scattered and fragmented and deformed.
Comment [ML54]: Does she miss Maggie at all? Is she lonely? It seems like she likes the solitude.
Deleted: ” I say. “ Deleted: W Deleted: . Comment [ML55]: Does she pour him his tea or does he pour it himself?
Comment [ML56]: Love the shape these lines make. You do a great job of playing with line spacing and format.
22 “Yes,” I say. Pa drops the metal rivets in their basket. He places the saddle on its rack. The leather smell is stronger in the rain. I rub my hands along my arms, feeling the damp fabric cling to my skin. Pa looks at me. "Are you all right? You're shaking." Pa wraps his arm around my shoulder. "What's wrong?" I feel the pressure through my damp dress. A simple touch. Like before Ma died when hugs and kisses were for simple problems. “I’m well.” And I step from beneath his arm, sense it fall to the side. I pull my shawl tighter, feel the ropes of yarn concave my shoulders, like the drawstring of a knapsack.
Comment [ML57]: I think she should cherish this moment longer instead of moving herself away from her dad right away. I want to see some sort of positive interaction between them so it makes their relationship round and complex.
“Someone needs to retrieve Maggie’s belongings,” Mr. Anderson says. My knees to my chest, my head on my knees, my toes elevated on the bench. Showing. "Maggie didn't leave a mess."
Comment [ML58]: Showing what? Showing her undergarments? I’m confused as to what she’s showing.
Mr. Anderson’s boots knock dirt to the floor, as if I hadn’t swept. “A new teacher starts in a few days,” he said. Maggie kept her desk empty, a promise prevented. Books, slates, pencils. Supplies unused. "You found a new teacher,” I say. It isn’t a question. "Yes. We were lucky. Class needs to start again." Mr. Anderson takes another sip of his tea. "Your sister would have made a good teacher—I am sorry that she didn't get much of a chance."
Deleted: a Comment [ML59]: Did she get any chance? Did Maggie teach at all? It seems to me that she didn’t; that she attempted suicide right before school started. Is this correct?
23 "Kat will collect Margaret's things tomorrow," Pa says.
The schoolhouse— Eight Square School, Octagon school— south of Pennsville east of our farm, on Swamp Road.
And Swamp Road is a river. It isn't helping my dress. My boots are coated in mud. The laces are mashed together, indistinguishable. I try to move to the side. My foot catches on a trapped stick and I stumble.
Comment [ML60]: What does her dress look like? Paint the world of the 1830s for the reader—what was the fashion like at that time in Pennsylvania?
"Do you need some help there?" I glance up. Joshua Larsen sits on his horse just a few yards away. As I watch, he prods his mare closer. “Where are you going?" "The school." The schoolhouse. is down the hill in a glade, visible from the path. The trees lean close to the building as if for warmth. "Do you want a little help? The mud's making a fool out of you,” Joshua says. I don’t respond. He laughs, the sound glittering between the raindrops and brightening his face — an attractive face in laughter. “Do you want a little company?" Joshua asks. "It's another quarter of a mile, Joshua. Leave me and go.” I don’t want his laughter while I tear my heart with memories. But he doesn’t leave.
Comment [ML61]: Good image. You have such wonderful, concrete, unique images that make your writing so powerful. I feel like I want to eat the pages!
Comment [ML62]: Why is she so curt when he’s being so nice?
24 Joshua tells me he is out for a ride. I gesture around us. The wind rips more new spring leaves off the trees. A few get tangled in my hair and I pluck them out. Joshua climbs down from the horse, clutching the reins in his hand. I reach out and stroke the horse’s nose and cheek, just something to occupy my hands. Joshua seems un-inclined to speak, and my own voice dries in my throat. The path melts down the hill, closer to the schoolhouse. Our boots suck in mud, squelching in rhythm with the vanishing rain. As we walk, he sticks his free hand deep in his pocket and his hat sinks low over his eyes.
Comment [ML63]: Why wouldn’t she get on his horse with him to avoid the mud? It seems impractical that they both would walk in the mud when there’s a perfectly usable horse right there.
The wooden door of the schoolhouse pries my voice from my throat. “Josh, Maggie would have made a good teacher.” Their light eyes. Shy smiles. Broken chalk and messy slates and stars. Stars for correct solutions. I want to say more, but the words stumble on my lips, and I feel like Pa just whipped me for lying about the chocolate I stole in town when I was six. But I’m not lying—I don’t think— Joshua only nods, ties his horse to a post, opens the door of the school for me.
Comment [ML64]: How does the wooden door pry her voice? Maybe say the thought of Maggie being at the school or something like that. I’m missing the connection between the door and the voice. Comment [ML65]: I think there should be a better transition between this dialogue and the eyes. I had to read it over several times because I thought Kat was thinking of Joshua.
I slip inside the door. My eyes adjust to the dark—dark sliced by the faded light behind me. The benches are lined in rows, pencils scattered up and down. Dead flies curl on her desk. A slight breeze and a feeling of dampness enter behind me. I can see Margaret Scott scrawled on the blackboard, and the room smells of damp chalk. I pull her books out of the desk drawer. I tell Joshua which one I bought her for Christmas, holding it up. I can see a turned-down page—the farthest she read. I flip open the page and scan the lines, but I haven’t read these pages. Joshua wipes at Margaret's name on the blackboard. "Is everything about her?" he asks. "What?" "Is everything about Margaret? I know you're grieving. But is anything about you?" Me? My teeth saw small ridges in my tongue and cheeks. My life for the last few weeks is compressed into images—images of Maggie. And none of me. Even when I see my own hands, they are curled around her bandages.
Comment [ML66]: What is the book? Maybe it can have some significance just like the Blake poem did.
25 Bloody and warm. "How am I supposed to answer, Joshua?" I sigh. "What do you expect me to say?" I can't explain how Maggie and I are matched— how, without my sister, I feel like my childhood has been burned in the kitchen stove like a broken guitar. I can hear the distant notes playing as the flames chars the dark wood and consumes the strings. “Music,” I say.
Comment [ML67]: Wouldn’t he understand this strong connection since he has a little brother? I don’t understand why Joshua would be mad that Kat isn’t thinking of herself at a time like this. Comment [ML68]: Love this allusion to Kat’s guitar.
“Never mind,” he says. Joshua. He is tall, several inches taller than me, and his eyes are sharp. His shirt is damp with rain. I feel a tickle of something in my stomach.
“When do you return to Harvard?” I ask. I turn from Maggie’s desk, allow my hands to flutter to my hair and down again. The lull of the past minutes sulks in the air, complaining that I don’t want to talk about myself. Or talk about Maggie. But solitude has become too close a shadow. “Is it soon?” “I don’t return at all.” Joshua smiles. “I graduated. Surprised?" “I didn’t think you were old.” I smile, half-way. “Wait, I'm not — I'm nineteen.” “Well, I’m sixteen. So you are.” I don't mean that. As Joshua leans against the stone wall, he looks young. “Wait. . .” When he laughs and steps closer, I don’t let him finish the sentence. It seems too light, somehow. And then too dark. I can see the stubble dark on his chin. “What was college like?” I ask. “Your pa seemed proud.” I hate the wistful sound in my voice. “Pa should be—he enrolled me when I was fourteen.” “Fourteen?” Young, but possible.
Comment [ML69]: They don’t seem to like each other romantically. Or rather, Kat doesn’t seem to like Joshua. She told him she didn’t want him to come with her after all and she hasn’t really said anything nice to him so far in this story. Perhaps show more of Kat’s kindness toward Joshua. Comment [ML70]: We know what Maggie looks like, but we don’t really know what Kat looks like. Does she have dark hair and light skin like Maggie? Does she look like her Ma too?
Comment [ML71]: Yay! She’s flirting with him finally.
Comment [ML72]: How does she do this? Does she kiss him?
26 If driven. Pastor Larsen wanted Joshua to be a pastor, he told me. Harvard didn’t teach him that religion—religion without grey, without questions. “The next step is to enroll in the Virginia Theological Seminary,” Joshua says. An edge is in his voice. I see my education against that edge, knowing I will never have that hope. Would he make a good pastor? I don’t know.
Great improvement! I love the images you have including the bird motif and I especially love Maggie’s voice. Make sure to keep us grounded in every scene with concrete sense of place and make sure to engage all the senses. I want to see Kat be nicer to Joshua still and I want to see her have some sort of connection with her Pa. Right now Kat seems very distanced from everyone, which can be good if done deliberately. As the story progresses, I would like to see how Kat develops into letting people inside again. Is she finally able to talk more about herself? As to Maggie, I want to know if she thinks she is insane or not. Would an insane person ever admit she is insane, I don’t know, but what does Maggie think about her current mental state and being in a mental institution? Also, draw a parallel between Melissa and Marissa; I think that could be quite intriguing. This story has amazing potential!
Published on Apr 22, 2013