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Tense Changes

In the annals of rewriting, something as simple as changing the tense can make a huge difference. This post is an initial rewrite of a vignette with the rewritten rewrite. The big difference is the tense. Please let me know in the comments which you prefer.

1 – Rewrite

Acrid smoke assaulted my nose. I coughed, clambered off the bed in the dark, pushed my feet into too big slippers, my arms into a tattered robe. Clasping a ragged bear with no eyes, I walked to the door where the switch had first turned me on and out into the chill night.
People stood watching as smoke poured from the side of the house. With flashing lights and screeching sirens, giant red trucks pulled up. Men in yellow suits and big black boots sprayed water onto the house. I stood amid there legs.
The woman kept a strong hold on the hand of a little boy. Other children gathered around her. A man came out the back door pulling a girl by the hand, “Can you believe it! Eve locked herself in the bathroom. Quelle stupide!” He jerked her arm with a sharp tug that undulated through her shoulder. The girl whimpered, pushed aside long, dark hair, and rubbed her eye with a fist.
The man and woman counted the children around them, repeating their names.
The fire out, I left the forest of legs and returned to the house. The woman, standing in the light of the door, looked down at me as I walked in behind the girl who had locked herself in. Her eyes widened, “Oh!”

2 – Rewritten Rewrite

An acrid smell assaults my nose. I cough, clamber off the bed in the dark, push my feet into too big slippers, my arms into a tattered robe. Clasping a ragged bear with no eyes, I walk to the door where I first turned on and out into the chill night.
People stand watching. Smoke pours from the side of the house. Red trucks flashing lights and screeching sirens pull up. Big, yellow suited men wearing big black boots attack the house with axes, shower water on it.
Through the legs fire watchers’ legs, I see the woman tightly holding the hand of a little boy. Other children gather round her. A man comes out the back door pulling a tall girl by the hand.
“Can you believe it! Eve locked herself in the bathroom. Quelle stupide!”
He jerks her arm. The girl whimpers, pushes aside long, dark hair, rubs her eye with a fist.
The man and woman count the children around them, repeating their names.
The last of the smoke drifts away. I leave the forest of legs, return to the house. The woman, is standing in the light of the door, looks down at me as I follow behind the tall girl. Her eyes widen, “Oh!”

The Gingerbread Man

“Run, run, as fast as you can,” I read softly. “You can’t catch me! I’m the Gingerbread Man!” (1) Salty tears spilled down my cheeks blurring the words. I hugged the book to my chest and began to sing quietly to my Friend, “Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.”

“What’s wrong?” Mrs. Runcie asked.

My heart leaped, Maybe I could tell her.

“Why don’t you try this one?” She held out The Golden Book ABC’s.

“That’s a baby book,” I said sniffing in the trickle from my nose.

“What about Goodnight Moon?” she asked.

“The pictures are pretty but there’s no story.”

She looked intently at me, “No story?”

“I like books that have a story,” I said in a small, high voice.

“Will you read the story to me?” she asked.

“I ran away from an old woman. I ran away from an old man. I ran away from a cow, and I can run away from you! I can!” (2)

“Try this,” she handed me another book.

“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.” (3)

With a puzzled smile she said, “You can read.”

(1)  The Gingerbread Man,

(2) ibid.

(3) Madeline, Ludwig Bemelman, New York : Simon and Schuster, 1939.

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Children’s Missal

From the doorway, I watched the woman sitting on her bed. She removed items from a round, red velvet box. I moved closer, saw lying next to her a small, cream coloured book with gold edged pages.

“What’s this?” I asked stroking the picture of the cup on the smooth cover.

“A children’s missal. My father gave it to me.”

I opened it. A man raised a cup and a small, white round above his head. I was suddenly very still inside. The woman gently took the book from my hands and returned it to the box.

“Go play, now,” she said.

At the door, I stopped and looked back at the red velvet box.

The door ajar, I sat inside the closet of the room I shared. A door closed. The woman walk down the stairs. After the sound of her steps died away, I tip toed into her room. The red, velvet box was no longer on her bed.

Her closet? I asked my Friend and opened the door.

The box sat on a shelf above my head. I climbed the lower shelves and lifted it down. The missal lay nestled between yellowing envelopes, photographs, and ticket stubs. I took it back to the room I shared and slowly read each page, drank in each picture.

On the page with the man holding the cup and the small, white round, I read: “Look, the priest is holding up Jesus so you can see him.” Something pulled at my heart. My chest heaved. “Cluh! Cluh! Cluh!” coughed out my throat. The well of tears gushed over. When the waters receded, I pushed the missal as far under my mattress as I could.

“Oh! You’re Here.” – Final Rewrite

I have reached the final rewrite stage. From time-to-time, I’ll post excerpts.


The light switch snapped me on as I stood in darkness. The cool air penetrated my pajamas and robe, chilled my slippered feet. I clasped an old, ragged bear with no eyes. People stood watching as smoke poured from the side of the house. With flashing lights and screeching sirens, giant red trucks pulled up. Men in yellow suits and big black boots sprayed water onto the house.

The woman held the hand of a little boy.

A man came out the back door holding a girl’s hand, “Can you believe it! Eve locked herself in the bathroom. Quelle stupide!”

The man and woman called names. Children responded, “I’m here.”

After the fire was out, I reentered the house. The woman looked down at me, “Oh!” her eyes widened. “You’re here.”

He Kissed My Neck! – Assignment 4

He kissed my neck!“Did you get Jason’s number?” Linda asked.

I shook my head.

“It’s because he’s short, isn’t it?” she insisted.

“No,” I shook my head again. “I just don’t like him.”

“Because he’s short,” Linda said.

“Because I don’t like him,” I responded before turning to the mirror to freshen my lipstick.

“Why don’t you just admit it. He’s short and you don’t like him,” Linda said.

“He kissed my neck!” I shrieked, my voice becoming shriller as the sentence ended.

“So?” Linda asked. “It’s New Year’s Eve. People kiss.”

My hands flew up, splayed out, twitching to ward off the images that rushed towards my interior vision.

Margaret giggled, “You look like a baby given solid food for the first time. Your face is all puckered!”

I glared at her, “He kissed my neck! I hate having my neck touched.”

“What about Cade?” Linda asked. “You lived with him. He must have kissed your neck.”

I flinched. Margaret giggled again. “I’d push him away,” I said.

“You wouldn’t let your boyfriend kiss your neck?”

“No.” My breathing was ragged, wheezy. My shoulders hunched closer to my ears protecting my neck from lips and tongues and fingers. “I hate it!”

“The iron-faced woman,” Sinead said.

“Whaa–?” I asked. I closed my eyes, tried to ease the furrows in my forehead.

“She choked you,” Sinead said.

“How…?” I asked

“You didn’t like your dress so your mother had her change it. It had a sailor collar and when she pulled the tie…”

My splayed hands twitched, unsuccessfully warding heavy, muscular hands that clutched and pulled the bright red cotton tie. I shook my head to clear it away. A tear flew from one eye. My lips curled.

“I forgot I’d told you,” I sniffed.

Margaret handed me a tissue.

“How old were you?” Linda asked.

“Three? Four?”

“More than twenty years ago? You can’t still be bothered by that.”

“Some things don’t get better,” Sinead told her.


Assignment: What losses or absences do you or do we continue to sense from things that are no longer present? In words or images, compose a piece that explores the “phantom limbs” of a trauma or traumas.

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All Along You Were Trusting Me – Assignment 3


Rage. That was the worst thing. Seeing Grandpère murdered was brutal but the rage that flooded my soul was worse. Ditto Ti Eduardo’s murder. And being raped. And Marmar’s and Papa’s murders. And the neglect and abuse by the minister and his family. And all the abandonment. None of that compares to the rage.

I have so much rage. Rage against myself, I tried to commit suicide so many times. Rage against others, I tried to kill the minister.

He survived only because Charles was inept. Had I been old enough to get drugs, he would have died. But all I could do was use my voice and words to convince Charles to kill his father. When he stirred the contents of the capsules into the milk, I assumed it was a lethal dose. What does a nine year-old know? I was so full of arrogant rage, I would make the horror end.

And all along You were trusting me. Me!

All along You were trusting me to bring my heart with it’s huge load of arrogant rage to You and let You heal me. I deserved to be zapped out of existence. I’m dangerous. Look at the way I treated that security guard. He said I called him ‘a leech, a lowlife, and a non-entity.’ I didn’t call him any of those things but I made him feel that way. He crossed the line and I crushed him.

I ought to have loved him. You love me so much. I ought to have loved him even though he was being a jerk.

When Jesus is in our handsNow You have me praying for the soldiers who murdered Grandpère and Ti Eduardo. Last week, I wanted them dead. Today, I pray but I’m not trustworthy. The arrogant child who wanted the minister dead, who wanted the soldiers and whoever murdered Marmar and Papa to die still lives within me. She’s old enough to know murder is wrong but there are other ways to annihilate people. (Remember Cade?) On some future tomorrow, I will probably try to annihilate someone else. And You will still be trusting me.

You take immense risks. That’s the way You are. This is part of Your plan. This is You putting Yourself in my hands letting me choose whether to crucify You or be crucified beside You. I hate pain!

(This does make beautiful, horrible sense. You get us to love the unlovable by using what You’ve given us. You use the curiosity that has helped me survive in this crazy world. And You make me indebted to murderers and abusers because praying for them leads me to love them in ways I would never imagine.)

You shouldn’t trust me.

Please. I may not be curious about whether an enemy will see me in their children’s eyes. I may go on fuming about some slight and not attend to You showing me how I was rude and annihilating. I’m not worthy of Your trust. The ugliness in my soul is the same ugliness in the world; I so want to make the world in my image. And I only want the salvation of those who cross the line when You hold my feet to the fire. You are not safe in my hands.


The assignment is to write about something that is both beautiful and horrifying, sustaining and devastating.

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White Mary Janes – A Rupture In History, Assignment 1

White Mary Janes“Where are you taking Marmar?” Grandpère laughs up at me. His hands at my waist hold me above his head. My white Mary Janes scissor kick the air.

“Shopping,” I crow.

“What will you buy me?”

“I don’t know-oh-oh,” I warble a song of syllables.

Heavy boots clomp along the hallway floor. Grandpère swings me to the floor near the bookcase. He steps behind his desk. The study door opens. Two khaki uniformed men enter. One wears a rigid cap, the other a soft cap with a bill. Marmar’s hand clasps mine.

“Sir,” the man in the rigid cap moves his lips. My ears hear a humming buzz. The air pulses against my skin.

“It need not be this way,” Grandpère’s voice echoes through the buzz.

Grandpère stretches out an arm towards Marmar. His hand motions, Back! Marmar’s hand clasps my shoulder.

The man in the rigid cap raises the corner of his lips. It is almost a smile. His lips move again. The humming buzz returns, the air pulses. The man in soft cap removes a gun from the holster at his side.

A loud, flat crack rends the humming buzz.

Grandpère slams against the wall behind his desk. He slides to the floor. Red blood bubbles from the front of his pale blue shirt.

One white Mary Jane steps toward Grandpère. Marmar pulls me back.

Three flat cracks sound in the hallway.

The man in the rigid cap moves his lips again. Marmar clasps my hand. Blood saturates Grandpère’s shirt.

“Walk,” she says.

I glance up at her. My white Mary Janes step in tandem beside her. Ti Eduardo lies in the hallway. Red blood plasters his dark hair to his head. I reach for him.

“Walk,” Marmar repeats.

I glance up at her again. My white Mary Janes tread the tile floor. The soldiers close us in the cool sitting room. Marmar sits amidst the red flowers of an upholstered chair. Her hands on my shoulder, she rests her head on mine. Loud sobs rend the humming buzz, undulate her back. Dark hair slips its pins, hides her face. Her tears strike my white Mary Janes.


Constraint: Use present indicative to express the immediacy of memory. Keep sentences simple. Avoid use of the conjunction “and.”

Lose – Five Minute Friday

We cannot lose ChristWe have so much to lose. We lose it everyday. It’s heartbreaking. Terrifying. We long for safe spaces. There are none. Life that is not what we believe it ought to be. We anthropomorphize animals and share funny memes. Then a real alligator kills a toddler. We make cool places to hang out with friends who are just like us. Then someone who ought to be a friend, someone who has made many visits rains death into our joyous safety. We make safe worlds for ourselves but the unsafe breaches our walls. It creates havoc. Summons terror. Fills us with horror.  It’s infuriating. It’s unfair. It must be stopped. But we can’t stop it.Our safe spaces are not safe.

There is one safe space. Christ.

But Christ’s safety doesn’t preclude havoc or terror or horror. Christ sets our paths amidst the scariness. He summons us to walk on the heaving waters. He leads us to Gethsemane where we beg for the cup to pass but it does not.

“If any man would come after me,
let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever would save his life will lose it;
and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.
For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world
and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23-25)


On Friday (and occasionally Saturday if Friday is filled with an excess of other activities),100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then post the results over at Kate Motaung’s blog, Heading Home. She provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We don’t edit or concern ourselves with whether our writing is flawless or worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

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S is for Songs

From childhood, I’ve made up and sung little songs to myself for comfort, cheer, and to try to find ways to express the inexpressible. Here are a few of them for which I’ve not yet found a place:

When I hold Your Hand
Where are You?
Where are You?
Though I’ve tried my best, I can’t stand alone
I need Your love to still the fear inside of me
There’s no terror I can’t face
When I hold Your hand

Am I blind?
Am I blind?
Am I in Your arms? Are You really here?
And if it’s dark only cause I’ve closed my eyes to You
You’ll restore my sight again
When I hold Your hand

I’ll make it through the night
Through the angry raging storm
When I hold Your hand
And though my dreams may be a long time coming true
I can see the rising sun
When I hold Your hand

s is for songsSuddenly
I’m the one who always sees light hiding inside the darkest rain
I’m the one who can always find joy waiting inside the deepest pain
I’m the one people travel to hope hope
A journey they have never made in vain
But suddenly, the sky has gone all grey
I don’t want to be here any more
Suddenly, the stars have all gone dim
The sun won’t shine like it did before

Can it be that I’ve taken on the world?
That the earth’s weight is on my head?
I’d heard love makes the sun shine brighter still
Makes stormy seas grow calm instead
But I guess those were only pretty words
That lured me into crushing waves of dread
And suddenly, the sky has gone all grey
I don’t want to be here any more
(2nd voice) Hold tight there is a ship upon it’s way to you
Suddenly, the stars have all gone dim
(2nd voice) You’ll be alright
The sun won’t shine like it did before
(2nd voice) Hold tight you’ve got the courage to wait out the dawn
The sun won’t shine like it did before
(2nd voice) The sun will soon shine

These last two songs are comic rhyme. I’ve written other songs about the mice the exterminator rang, getting frozen dinner for my birthday, and many other subjects. At one time, I sang indexing, programming, and coding to the tunes of the arias I was learning. (Made the day more interesting.)

My Favourite Foods (to the tune of My Favourite Things)
Baked potatoes and scrambleded eggs
Knockwurst and noodles and fried chicken legs
Pizza, spaghetti, and cold salmon mousse
These are a few of my favourite foods
When I’m hungry and I’m starving and my stomach growls
I simply cook one of my favourite foods and then stuff it in my mouth

Oh You’re Now A Whole Year Older*
Oh you’re now a whole year older, yes indeed!
Oh you’re now a whole year older, yes indeed!
Oh you’re now a whole year older, there’s a hump upon your shoulder
Yes you’re now a whole year older, yes indeed!

Better do your celebrating, oh yes do
Better do your celebrating, oh yes do
Better do your celebrating, by next year you will be ailing
Better do your celebrating, oh yes do

Better hope you get a walker, yes you should
Better hope you get a walker, yes you should
Better hope you get a walker, fore your knees begin to totter
Better hope you get a walker, yes you should

*A co-worker about to be 27 complained that she was getting old. I warned her not to tell me such thing and told her of previous songs. She continued to complain. This song came to me complete while I was in the shower the next morning.

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M is for Maybe

“I’ve been thinking that maybe…” I said.

“Yes?” Dr. Vogwall prompted.

“Well, the woman,” I began. My head tilted forward, my eyes strained as if I searched for something.  “When she was alive, things got done.”

“What sort of things?” he asked.

“The bills were paid. There was food in the cupboards. We weren’t allowed to eat it,” I emitted a snorting laugh. “But it was there. Whenever the cupboards were open, even on Saturday morning before they went shopping, there was food.

“The kids had school clothes and coats. Even my hand-me-downs were clean, pressed, and mended. And the housekeeper came every week day; I was never kept out of school to take care of the younger kids.”

“And after she died?”

“Chaos,” pain seized my face. I pushed it away. “The power was cut off several times because he didn’t pay the bill. We nearly lost the house when he didn’t pay the mortgage. The cupboards were empty until I was caught stealing. He went through housekeeper after housekeeper. Just chaos.”

“Maybe he didn’t have enough money,” Dr. Vogwall suggested.

“He had enough before she died,” I replied shaking my head. “She never worked.”

“You think the woman kept things stable?”

“Maybe,” I said. “Maybe she made sure things were done. Maybe, just by being there, she made life better for us.”

“So what does that mean to you today?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I answered. My forehead furrowed, “Maybe she took better care of us than I’ve thought. Maybe she mitigated his craziness somewhat.”

I pushed my hair away from my forehead and pulled up my sleeves, “She should have taken me to the police. That was a serious failure: you can’t just keep a child. I don’t know if he prevented her but she found ways around him — like with the ballet lessons. But maybe, just maybe, even with her own craziness, she did her best to give us a normal life.”

Dr. Vogwall nodded, “Maybe she did.”

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