Unagidon, other than occassionally reading them, I have no experience with this style of writing. Keep that in mind!
I enjoyed reading it! My dd, at 14 went to Japan and HAD to go to the bath house as part of the trip. (cultural thing) She wasn't as horrified as I would have been! It was fun to read your description.
THis sentence..."Many Americans might find the idea of paying good money to sit in a large tub full of naked men rather odd, but in Japan I can assure you that it is a perfectly normal practice." I would make 'american MEN might find...". As a woman, I would find it, uh, interesting! Maybe frightening!
"You can buy a bar of soap and a washcloth/towel of course, but if you don’t, you will find that many people in the bathing area have soap and towels that they are not using, so you can simply use theirs. In fact, using a stranger’s towel and soap in a Japanese bathhouse is the fastest way I know to get to know people very quickly." I'd include something at the end, like 'get to know people very quickly, though not pleasantly'. Not that exactly, but to point the way.
'Find a nice unoccupied spot next to two unused taps. You will need two - one to wash with and one to hang your underwear on. Take off your underwear and hang it on one tap, then wet yourself down with the other tap and begin scrubbing.' I'd shorten this paragragh. You mention the two taps, twice. I'd go for leaving the 2nd sentence out altogether.
"Once you are under the water, you will find yourself in a world that you have never experienced before. Don’t be alarmed. The pain will subside presently as your body adjusts naturally to the 140-degree temperatures." I would imagine you would SEE things you wouldn't otherwise be privy to, also. Can you tactfully describe the, uh, scenery?
"Some of the men luxuriating in the Ofuro may have folded their washcloths into small squares and placed them on the top of their heads. No one knows why they do this." I think you should venture a humorous guess.
The Japanese don't really have a longer intestine, do they? If this was humor, I missed it.
I think it could use a few more punchlines. A few more spots of humor. Diving under water to inspect the tatoos could easily be 'punched' up. (In fact, I would think you might GET punched)
It was interesting to read about another cultures customs in a tongue in cheek way. Let us know if it gets published!
Ok, so here's Chapter 1. I'm open to any ideas, including more sensory detail, etc, though I'm mostly happy with it for now. Mostly I'm posting it this week because A) you'll all get a sense of where I'm coming from, and B)whaat I've written this week needs a lot more work! I may post TWICE this week, as I need help with the romantic stuff.
Don't be afraid to rip into it! The goal is for it to be clear, fascinating and to get it published. Not to make me feel good!
A new thought came to Lisa Clark as she studied the tiny infant lying in her aching arms. Her stomach twisted and trickles of sweat ran from her underarms as the thought drummed repeatedly through her head.What if she doesn’t come back?
She remembered how tenderly the too-young mother had kissed her infant’s fingers before darting from the aisle. Had she run straight for the exit?
It had been a long week. The weather had turned unseasonably hot and muggy for spring, she’d gotten a flat tire in rush hour traffic, and Mr. Harker, her boss, had been in a nasty mood. The newest employee in the offices of a fashion accessory wholesaler, Lisa soon discovered why there had been an opening. Mr. Harker took his bad moods out on his most recent hiree. She hated the job, hated her boss and loathed the very idea of going in each morning.What am I going to do about this baby?
Awkwardly pushing her hair out of her eyes with her wrist, she began circling the store, just as her thoughts circled in her head.How long should I wait before I call someone?
The thought of alerting the authorities made her feel nauseous.
She could try and to call her parent’s or Julie, her best friend, for advice. Her mother would say to call the police, to let the proper authorities handle the problem. As an adoptive parent, her mother believed that CPS could right the wrongs and protect the innocent children. After all, CPS had brought them Lisa, and their son, Tim.
Lisa’s own experiences as a foster child had left her feeling less convinced.
She trusted her mother’s judgment on most things, but her mother hadn’t shared those lonely years with her and had never understood her need to ‘dwell’ on them. Julie did.
What would Julie do? Having met in a foster home when they were 10, they had shared the horror of having no family to call their own. She thought back to the two of them sharing a room at Mrs. Jenner’s, of Julie crying herself to sleep because she so missed her neglectful, drug-addicted mother. Of her own pain at knowing that as bad as Julie had it, she at least had a mother to miss.
She called her friend’s home number, this wasn’t something to discuss with someone who was fighting rush-hour traffic! When Julie didn’t answer she hung up, unable to think of how to word a message.
“This is not the evening I had planned,” she grumbled aloud to the quiet baby. “My arm is about to drop off! Five minutes. That’s what your mother said. Five minutes! And here we are, walking till my feet blister, an hour and a half later!”
The baby squirmed on her arm and Lisa changed her tone, crooning the rest of her irritation as if it were soothing words. “All I wanted was a book. Some hot pirate romance. Salt spray, crashing waves, helpless maiden.” She sighed. “So, I found a real helpless maiden, didn’t I? Know any pirates, kiddo? It’s Friday night and I don’t have a date.”
Her deep discussion with the baby earned her an odd look from a slim businesswoman, as she walked past.
“Great, now I’m talking to myself.” Another squirm, a mewling cry. “No, you’re right, I’m talking to you.” In a quieter voice she continued, “Gettin’ hungry? Let’s go eat. You’ll love the menu here.”
“Excuse me?” said the woman behind the lunch counter.
“Oh, ah, nothing. I just wanted to order.” She refrained from talking to the baby until she was handed her dinner; a B.L.T., chips and iced tea. Balancing the tray in one hand and the baby in the other, diaper bag slung over her shoulder and her still unpaid for book tucked under her arm, she barely managed to maneuver the four feet to the first table without dropping anything. Sliding awkwardly into the attached plastic seat, she muttered, “Boy, oh boy, do I have a few things to say to your mother when she gets back.”
Pushing her own dinner to the side, and popping the only full bottle of formula in the diaper bag into the waiting, tiny mouth, she began speaking in that sing-song way people sometimes use on babies.
“I could be an axe murderer, or one of those whackos who sells babies on the Internet. Yes, I could.” At this, the baby stopped sucking and stared at her wide-eyed for a moment. Then, apparently deciding that she was neither, began to suckle again.
“What’s your name? Where did your mother go?” she whispered. Huge blue eyes stared trustingly up at her, but the babe offered no information
It hadn’t occurred to her to ask the mother for her name, or even the baby’s name, so she couldn’t very well page her. She had a vision of herself calling the police, the young mother returning, apologetic and frightened, having some plausible excuse for her absence.
Balancing the babe against her shoulder, she gently burped her. Rubbing her cheek against the downy head, she noticed that instead of the usual sweet aroma babies gave off, this baby smelled of old urine, spit-up baby formula and the hot, sharp smell of a baby who has cried a long time. She cradled the infant again in her left arm as she tried to eat with her right.
Glancing down at the cover of the paperback she’d picked out, she studied the half-naked young woman who was tied to the mast, long hair falling in a wild mass to her waist. An incredibly handsome pirate, despite a rather sinister-looking eye-patch, held a cutlass above her. His own hair fell thickly past his broad shoulders, and a neat beard covered the lower half of his face. Just two hours ago she’d thought it was the perfect book; an innocent young woman who stows-away, a commanding-yet-understanding and incredibly sexy pirate, plenty of passion, adventure and romance.
In fact, just a few hours ago, she’d been so caught up in the story she might have finished the first chapter right there in the store. But the piercing screams being emitted from a tiny infant a few aisles away, had made it impossible for her to concentrate. She doubted there had been many crying babies on ships.
Especially pirate ships.
When the infants screams became louder, rounded the end of the aisle, and hit a new peak in the area of the movie magazines, just at the other end of the short row of paperbacks, Lisa peeked over the top of the pirate book. Bouncing a tiny, but very vocal baby irritably in her arms, was a girl of maybe 15 or 16, wearing a tiny black t-shirt that had “Naughty Girl” across the front of it in glitter. Her muddy brown hair hung lank and greasy.
“Oh, please, shut up!” the girl had muttered under her breath. She’d been trying to push a shopping cart with one hand and jiggle the baby with the other but now gave up and set the howling, red-faced infant down on a thin receiving blanket on the bottom of the metal cart. As the tiny body came in contact with the hard surface, the screaming reached a new level of intensity.
The girl began digging through a faded diaper bag perched on the seat of the cart.Let her find that baby a pacifier
, Lisa had thought, or a bottle
, but was dismayed as instead the girl rooted around and pulled out a package of chewing gum, nonchalantly unwrapped a piece and folded it into her mouth.
By now, she could feel the baby’s screams in the pit of her stomach. She’d always had a soft spot for the babies in the foster homes she’d been in. Not only were they helpless and motherless, but they were almost always happy to snuggle in her arms while she crooned and rocked them. They were never too busy. She had passed many lonely rainy afternoons, rocking first one baby, and then another, singing them lullabies she made up on the spot and playing “This Little Piggy Went to Market”. The sound of a baby crying, any baby, had always twisted her gut, made her feel sick.
Grabbing the young woman by the shoulders and shaking her was her first thought, but, she doubted that doing so would quiet the baby. Maybe she could play up on the girl’s maternal pride, for despite her age, the baby obviously belonged to her.
Pitching her voice above the screams, she yelled, “Is it a boy or a girl?”
The girl’s head snapped up, surprised that she wasn’t alone.
“A girl,” she yelled back. She bent over the cart and patted the wailing infant gently on the belly, studying her as if she were a science experiment that was going horribly wrong, but made no move to provide comfort.
“She cries like this a lot.” She looked up, making eye contact for the first time and Lisa noticed the nearly purple depressions beneath her eyes. “I don’t know,” she shook her head. “I feed her, change her, walk her. She just screams. Sometimes, I just can’t take it anymore,” her voice quavered, “then I put her down for a minute, ya know? And just chill.”
The baby was red and sweating from exertion, her little face screwed up in an expression of infant rage. Her breathing was coming in quick gasps and sobs and she sounded as if she were going hoarse. A few people slowed as they went by the aisle, peering in their direction as if they were expecting to see some poor infant being murdered.
She had never before been so desperate to make a noise stop.
“Could I hold her?” she yelled.
Now the young mother was surprised. Her look said ‘why would anyone want to?’ but after a second’s hesitation, she nodded. Lisa reached down into the shopping cart, easing her right hand under the baby’s head, cringing as she felt the hard metal of the cart against the back of her fingers through the thin, discolored blanket.
Remembering a colicky baby in one of the homes she’d lived in, she recalled a trick the harried foster mother had shown her. Very gently she laid the baby, still screaming her near-hoarse cry, face-down over her left arm, with her head resting by her elbow and one thigh securely held in her left hand. With her right hand, she carefully stroked the tiny back and at the same time, she paced a few steps in each direction.
The effect was the same as if the baby had come with an on-off switch, and she had turned it off.
Well, almost silence. Little huffs and sobs still wracked the small, damp body. A man in the next aisle muttered, “Thank God
!” loud enough for the two women to hear, and a woman was heard shushing him.
The young mother stared, open-mouthed, as Lisa paced left and right across the aisle with the now quiet babe.
“Wow! She really likes you! She always cries this time of day, no matter what I do.” The young girl stood still for a minute, watching warily. “Look, I know I’m asking a lot, but I really need to run to the bathroom and there’s no way to hold her there, and she’ll start crying again, anyway. Could you hold her for just five minutes, please?”
Lisa found that quieting the baby had left her feeling rather all-powerful and benevolent. Poor girl, she thought. Too young to be on her own with a baby, she looked like she needed nothing so much as a hot bath and a long nap. A few minutes wouldn’t hurt anything.
“Go on,” she waved a carefully manicured hand in the direction of the ladies’ room. “Take your time. I can read a little more of my book while we wait.”
"I just want to grab a few things on my way back.” She was already backing away, down the aisle, away from both of them. “Not five minutes!”
Coming back toward them, the girl reached over, grasped a tiny hand and gave it a kiss before turning a relieved smile on Lisa.
“Back in a few,” the girl sang as she ran from the aisle.
Retrieving her book from the shelf, Lisa tried to open it with the fingers of her right hand. It took a few minutes to get to the right page and she’d grumbled as she’d dropped the book once. She’d never noticed that it took two hands to read a book before. So much for passing the time.
When she finally managed to finish the first chapter, with much fumbling and muttering, she glanced up to see if the girl was back yet, then started on the second one. Finishing the second chapter, she walked to the end of the aisle and peer and looked around.
She had said ‘take your time’ and the girl had mentioned picking up a few things, but she had left her cart here. How much could she carry?
Pacing slowly up and down the book and magazine aisle with the baby a dead weight on her arm, she debated going to look for the baby’s mother, but was afraid she’d come back looking for her child, and that they’d miss each other. After another few minutes, she decided to risk it, tucked the book she’d been reading under her arm, swung the diaper bag over her right shoulder, and turned the corner out of the book aisle and onto the larger one that ran the width of the store.
Looking carefully in each direction, she made a quick loop of the store, peering up each aisle as she did.
Surely, she thought, as she came to each new aisle, the girl will be in this row agonizing over which brand of shampoo to buy, or what kind of cookies to get. Maybe she just got distracted by a rack of CDs or a new video game. When she got back to “Books and Magazines”, she turned around and did the whole thing over and over, round and round unable to think of anything else to do.
Twenty or twenty-five minutes had passed, and she was irritated at being so taken advantage of. What was that girl doing? Having dinner? Her arm felt as if it were going to fall off and her shoulder ached. She was mentally berating herself for getting into such a mess, when she felt her left arm grow very warm, and then very cool.Great
, she thought. Was it good luck if a baby peed on you? Or was that just when a bird pooped on your car?
“Well,” she muttered to the child, “at least I’m wearing short sleeves.”
Where to change the baby? She couldn’t just lie her on the thin cotton blanket, as her mother had. Heading for the changing area in the Ladies’ room, it struck her that she hadn’t looked there for the mother. She raced to the bathroom, half convinced that she’d find the girl passed out in one of the stalls, or simply taking her time applying make-up. When she threw open the door, she scared a small boy washing his hands at the sink with his mother. The bathroom was empty except for them.
Feeling like a thief, she dug into the diaper bag, and pulled out the only disposable diaper and a somewhat cleaner, though obviously second-hand, sleeper. She hated to risk waking the child, but hated the feeling of being peed on even more.
As soon as she shifted the baby onto the changing table, the little body arched and a small whimpering sound escaped her, but then she quieted.
It had been some time since she had changed a baby. The tape on the diaper stuck to her thumbnail and pulled off a big chunk of her nail polish. The baby watched her intently the entire time, her blue eyes large and owlish, one fist stuffed in her mouth.
There was a small travel-size package of wipes in the diaper bag and she used 3 or 4 of them, giving the baby a mini-bath. The creases of the baby’s arms and legs and neck had baby powder and sweat caked in them, and her tiny bottom was an angry pink. Since the stained and spit-up-on blue sleeper the child was wearing was wet through, she slipped the remaining outfit onto the now-quiet baby.
“All dry, Baby-face.” She looked down at her own dark green blouse, with the extra dark spot just above the waist. “At least one of us is. Now I see your mother’s point about using the Ladies’ Room,” she whispered. “There really is no where to put you down. I should have skipped that cup of coffee before I left work.”
Holding the baby on the table with one hand, she rifled uneasily through the diaper bag, looking for anything that would give her a clue; a wallet, checkbook, an envelope with a return address, a bill with a name on it. It had seemed wrong to search the girls’ bag before, but now she was panicking. All she found were gum wrappers, the bottle she’d just fed the baby, and the travel size package of baby wipes. The zippered part of the bag, where you might put papers, money, an I.D. or checkbook contained only two sticks of gum and a sanitary pad.
Running a critical eye over the baby, she noticed her belly button was totally healed, and she could hold her own head up, but it was wobbly. She doubted the infant was more than a month or six weeks old. Scooping the baby up she threw the thin, stained receiving blanket over her shoulder to protect her clothing from further mishaps and gathered up the useless diaper bag.
In college she’d taken only business and computer courses and wondered now if a course or two in Early Childhood Ed wouldn’t have been a good choice. Even her time management courses weren’t doing her any good at the moment!
Not that those courses did me much good job-wise, she thought wryly. Her job wasn’t what she’d dreamed of when she’d been going to school. The dreams hadn’t included a boss, just an interesting job and an excellent paycheck.
A voice came over the store speakers, interrupting her thoughts, announcing that the store was closing in ten minutes and asking that everyone bring their purchases to the front of the store, then switched back to The Beatles singing ‘Hey, Jude’.
(Possibly, this would be the end of 'chapter 1'. Not sure)
Now what? Her heart dropped. She had to decide what to do. Panic set in as she trailed slowly up and down the aisles of the infants’ department. She held her cell phone in her trembling hand. Push 9-1-1! Just do it and get it over with!
She imagined what would happen if she did. The police would come, take her statement, ask lots of questions. They would take the baby, though at this hour on a Friday, they would take her to the hospital, where she would stay until a social worker from CPS could get out there on Monday. Then, the child would be placed in a foster home. She looked down a the baby again, and blue eyes looked trustingly back up. She remembered how lovingly the young mother had kissed her babe’s fingers, how she’d gently patted the screaming infant’s belly.
She’d had seemed incompetent maybe neglectful, but not abusive. Throwing this babe into the system wouldn’t give her mother the skills to take care of her.
What if I just wait till Monday? Keeps the baby from spending a weekend in the hospital; gives that poor girl a chance to change her mind, wise up. She was so young, too young and didn’t look like she had two nickels to rub together. CPS will put her through hell. Just for the weekend. If I find her, I’ll threaten to call CPS unless she takes some parenting classes. If I don’t, I can still call CPS.
Decision made, but heart pounding, she grabbed an abandoned shopping cart, struggled to push it with one hand while snuggling the baby with the other. Putting a can of formula in the cart, she remembered how much the puppies at one of her foster homes had eaten, and put two more in beside it, then picked out two baby bottles with silly designs on them, a dozen small disposable diapers, and a super-size container of baby wipes.
Going quickly through a bin marked ‘clearance’, she found a soft, thick, baby size quilt, on sale for $6.00 because it was nearly summer and no one was buying heavy, warm things, put it in the bottom of the cart and laid the baby on top. Then, she simply stood and stretched her throbbing arms above her head for a minute. Leaving the department, she noticed the clearance rack had some cute one-piece outfits hanging on it and decided to spring for one of those, too.
Anxious about whether or not this was a good idea, and where else she might look for the baby’s mother, she was taken off guard when the cashier at the check-out exclaimed, “Ooooh, what a pretty baby. How old is she?”
She looked down at the infant, dressed now in the pink sleeper, her dark brown fringe of hair falling on her forehead, her eyes large and owlish, and smiled. And stalled.
Even a babysitter would know the age of the baby she was caring for.
“One month,” she blurted, hoping she was at least close.
“Wow, she’s small for a month, huh? How much does she weigh? My nephew is six weeks old and he’s much bigger.”
“Well, babies are all so different, aren’t they,” she answered, distractedly, while thinking, how much does she weigh?! Having carried the baby all over the store for hours, she was glad she wasn’t any heavier! Her arm would ache for days as it was. “They grow so fast! What’s your nephew’s name?”
The clerk rambled on and on. The woman wouldn’t be asking any more questions; she was too busy talking about her nephew.
Surely, she thought, paying the woman at the check out the astounding sum of $72, the baby’s mother would be back tomorrow, contrite, concerned and grateful. She’d bring the baby back to the store first thing in the morning, and wait for the mother to return! Creeping through the alarm system at the door, she half-expected the alarm to alert the clerks that she was kidnapping a child.