This is a piece that I wrote during a writing workshop. During the workshop we were asked to create to characters who know each other or are related. We then had to write a conversation between these two characters in which they argue about a normal, every day thing, but are in fact arguing about a much bigger issue. I found this really helped me to think about dialogue and subplot. Here’s my piece from the workshop, it’s definitely an exercise I’ll be coming back to again soon!
(Bare in mind this was written quickly during a workshop and hasn’t been heavily redrafted since!)
I am folding one of the t-shirts that belong to my brother and feeling quite pleased with myself. The steam from the iron has made me flushed and I lay my palms flat against my face to try and cool myself down – I am always cold, it’s been that way since I was little.
Grandma comes in and looks over my work, I can see her trying not to roll her eyes. She disappears and I move on to the next t-shirt. She reappears with an airer, huffing and puffing with carrying the old wooden contraption – she refuses to buy the new, lighter, plastic ones. If it isn’t broke, why fix it?
She sets up the airer and starts unfolding all the clothes I’ve ironed so far, she places them carefully onto the airer, straightening the edges, eyeing slight crease. I can see her lips puckering with the effort of not commenting on my shoddy work.
After a bit she’s finished and steps towards me and the ironing board, hand outstretched; “come on pet, I’ll do the rest.”
I shuffle back a bit, holding the iron aloft so she can’t reach it without danger of burning herself, “I want to do it, grandma.”
“Yes, but it’ll take all day the way you’re doing it and the clothes need to be aired, dear.”
The dear is a last minute addition, meant to mollify me.
“I need to learn.”
This time she can’t stop herself from rolling her eyes. She tuts lightly, we are close to the real reason she doesn’t want me near the iron.
“No, its fine, pet. I can do it. I like ironing, Lord knows I’ve done plenty of it.”
“But you shouldn’t have to grandma, not for all of us. And anyway I need to…”
“No!” She cuts me off, “My house, my ironing.”
We stand for a moment, suspended in our argument. Grandma is wearing a knitted cardigan that must be too warm for the little, steam filled living room. She’s pulling herself up to her full, imposing height, but still barely reaches my chin.
I can see her counting to five in her head.
When I turned sixteen I insisted she stop doing this out loud, the old trick to get me or my little brother, Jack, to behave. She used to stand very still, count out loud from one to five and before she’d reached five we were always by her side, silent and still. Good as gold.
“But, you’re not as fast as me and there are still creases. Well, do the jeans and tea towels if you must but not your grandad’s shirts. He needs them neat for church.”
I sigh, “well can’t you just show me how you want them done, then I’ll know?”
She eyes me for a moment, trying to come up with an excuse without hurting my feelings, trying to put me off ironing – and housework in general – without making me upset.
Eventually, she raises her shoulders in an angry sigh and then moves to stand next to me, facing the ironing board. She plucks one of grandad’s all important shirts from the pile of freshly washed clothes and hands it to me.
“Show me, how do you begin?”
I can feel sweat breaking out on my brow, but not just from the steam rising from the iron. This is worse than any exam. I feel as though the secrets to the universe are being handed down and I’m not trying hard enough to reach the enlightenment of properly ironed shirts. I begin to place the first sleeve on the board and she tuts. I glance at her, then at the shirt.
I began to straighten out the creases and pick up the iron.
“No! This is no good. Look, just let me do the ironing. You can…hoover, or something.”
I close my eyes. This time I am the counting.
“There’s no need Jane, there really is no need.”