I have set myself a challenge this week to revisit some of my older fiction pieces and tighten them. Some of you may have realised I have a tendency towards verbosity, I can quite happily use five words where two will do. Honing the ability to cull these superfluous words is a skill I need to develop.
Some of the shorts that appear on my blog were written almost a year ago and they were published with the disclaimer that they were raw, unedited first drafts. This doesn’t stop me reading them and cringing inwardly at the degree of unedited words I have set forth into the world, I should probably be more concerned about that.
The first piece I tightened was the very first story I published over on Wattpad. When I read it now with fresh eyes I can see many of the new writer mistakes that I’ve worked hard to iron out over the past year. In tightening the piece I have also changed it considerably which I think was inevitable. The story is still the same, in fact, it’s not really a story in the sense that the main character has a mission to fulfil, it’s just a scene, a snapshot, pulled together in response to a prompt.
The tightened piece is published below. If you would like to compare it to the original you will find it here.
I’d love to know what you think, can it be tightened more? Does any piece of the text not sit right with you? Let me know what you think, I am ready to absorb your knowledge.
The Habits of The Invisible Masses
Clara must have the day off, she would have reserved my table at lunchtime without a thought and this would never have happened. This waitress isn’t Clara and now a besotted couple are enjoying lunch in my window. If the new girl noticed my despair she didn’t comment. She barely disguised her nonchalance at my refusal to sit elsewhere, but her amused eyes flick my way repeatedly as I wait for the couple to finish their meal and vacate my table.
When I finally take possession, warm sunshine hugs me through the window and I sink into the chair with utter contentment to read the menu I know by rote, a ritual performed daily before I place the order for my regular meal. New girl won’t know about this either.
The street outside my window is crowded with jostling lunchtimers, the glass a welcome barrier against their body odours and muffled iPods. Elvis Presley is playing softly over the speakers and I hum along, eyes closed, absorbing the blissful solitude of my private bubble of sunshine. I have grown accustomed to the once abrasive noise of the radio and the jarring chatter of diners around me. In my darker days I would have sought asylum but this familiar bustle has now become my sanctuary.
The customers in Sammy’s are loyal. Familiar faces eat their favourite meals and return often. When new faces appear, I notice and wonder about their stories. The man at the corner table dines frequently but not daily. He, like me, eats alone at the same table every time. He sits bolt upright in a dark shirt and similar coloured jeans, wringing his napkin between his hands. He uses it to wipe the dewy sheen from his forehead before discarding it for a fresh one and I wonder, not for the first time, if he’s testing himself. He looks uncomfortable, like he’d rather be anywhere else. His meal always goes unfinished before he pays and leaves the cafe in a hurry. Today I wait for his food to arrive, almost as impatiently as I wait for my own, to see what he’s ordered and whether he’ll eat it with a spoon, he always eats with a spoon.
New girl brings my coffee, I thank her as she moves away, cloth in hand to wipe down a recently vacated table. I breath deep of the burnished vapours lapping my face. The smell transports me to my childhood, the mysterious drink I was denied by my mother. The disappointment of the hot, bitter liquid when once I stole a sip. The years of almost liking it while I learned to appreciate the taste. The constant companionship of the hot mug on days when I couldn’t leave the house. The sun disappears behind a cloud, the instant drop in temperature snaps me back to now, a reminder that soon I’ll have to re-enter the crowded street and be swept along to my office in the current of people.
The man receives his lunch, he’s ordered lasagne and sure enough, he’s eating it with a spoon. I wonder if he knows I am watching him and feel a stab of sorrow for his discomfort. He must be aware that his ritual attracts attention yet he is compelled to do it anyway. I am struck by his bravery and feel an odd sense of pride on his behalf, smiling to myself.
My food arrives and as my plate is lowered to the table I see the man glance up, I am no longer watching him but I know which way he’s looking. As the waitress walks away, I pick up my spoon, and tuck into my pasta salad with the silent acknowledgment to the man that he’s not alone.