An unwelcome visitor

It’s time for another fiction post. My latest assignment was to write a scene with two characters who are in some kind of conflict with each other. Here you go. Feedback appreciated!

____

Janet answered the door wearing pajamas and a grimace, the TV remote in hand. “Hello, Neil,” she muttered through an unconvincing smile. “What can I do for you?”

Neil held Sandy’s leash in one hand and a plastic bag full of her droppings in the other. As usual, he seemed unsure, as though worried that the space he occupied was reserved for someone else. In pressed khakis and a short-sleeve dress shirt, he looked to Janet as though his mother still dressed him. To quell the pang of guilt following this thought, she pushed her smile a bit nearer to her ears.

“Hi, Janet. How are you?”

I’m in my pajamas, tired as hell, grateful that the doorbell didn’t wake the baby, and counting the seconds until you leave. “Fine, thanks. Greg’s out of town, and luckily I got the baby to sleep before midnight for a change, so I was just about to settle into a bowl of ice cream and my couch,” she said. Please take the hint.

“Sounds great. Sandy and I were out for a walk and thought we’d visit.” Big smile.

“It’s a nice night for a walk,” Janet said, rubbing her puffy eyes and shifting her weight from one slippered foot to the other.

“Yeah,” Neil said, still smiling his dopey smile.

He obviously wanted to come in, but entertaining anyone, let alone Neil, was the last thing Janet wanted right now. After the briefest internal battle in history, the magnetic pull of her couch overpowered her sense of social obligation. Committed to getting rid of him, Janet replied to his hopeful smile with silence and another half-hearted smile.

“Ok, well you have a good night then,” Neil said.

Janet smiled wide, a genuine one this time. “Thanks, Neil. You too,” she said, closing the door and locking it.

***

While Janet sank into her couch, Neil continued his search for company. His well-kept shoes cleared the cracks in the sidewalk, even though his mother’s back was well beyond threat of injury.

Before she passed, his mother had made Neil promise to make some friends, and he knew that she was right. Living alone in his mother’s house—his house, now—was a lonely business. Everyone in the neighborhood was polite, but that was as far as things went. As he walked now, he puzzled over what he ought to do differently. He was as friendly as he knew how to be, but no one appeared interested. It seemed a lost cause.

That thought stopped him short on the sidewalk. Ma would have scolded him for brooding. God helps those who help themselves, she’d have said.

Looking up, Neil noticed lights in the living room window at Megan and Bill’s house. Maybe they would welcome a visit. Maybe little Anna would like to pet Sandy. “Come on, girl. Put on your happy face.”

With each step up their front walk, he felt a bit better. Reaching for the doorbell, he was almost certain that this time would be different.

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20 Responses to An unwelcome visitor

  1. This is great, Dory. I like the shift of perspective between the two characters. Poor Neil. Loneliness sucks.

    More, more!

    Lisa

  2. lesliehobson says:

    I love this. The line “as though worried that the space he occupied was reserved for someone else” totally gives us a full picture of who this man is. And I also love the sideways reference to cracks/mother’s back. good job.

  3. I love that he tries to make friends by bringing his doggie and a baggie of doodie. Nicely done!

  4. gojulesgo says:

    These posts are such a tease!! No comments except – more please! 🙂 I seriously want to know what happens to Neil. And Janet. I feel like I know them already, which is a true testament to your mad writin’ skillz.

  5. I found your story very interesting. I like your writing style and the way you wrote this from the two characters’ points of view.

    Since you asked for feedback, I’ll mention some things I missed: a little upfront understanding of Janet’s or her family’s history with Neil – at first I didn’t realize she was married, so I wondered if Neil was a boyfriend she didn’t expect to call on her out of the blue. Then I wondered if he was a clueless friend of her husband’s.

    During the part that focused on Neil, I wondered how he came to be so socially awkward. If it was insufficient parenting or if he had a specific condition, you could let us know subtly within the amount of words you used by choosing thoughts for him that make it a little clearer to someone like me who finds the subject fascinating and is looking for more to discover.

    Because he had tried in the past to figure out how to be friendlier and how he could do things differently, I deduced that he probably didn’t have an autism spectrum disorder, but his determination to keep doing the same thing over and over again with the belief that things would be different, makes me want to know more about him than just this aspect. I’m left knowing enough to feel sorry for him, and not much else.

    Let me know if this is or isn’t the sort of feedback you’re looking for. I know it’s the kind of feedback I crave for my own work. I think it helps to know what works for a reader and what doesn’t, especially when we think we’ve put all the clues on the page.

    • This is exactly the kind of thoughtful constructive criticism I need. Thanks so much!

      • You’re very welcome.

        After reading Muff’s comment, I just want to say that what I know about autism mainly concerns Aspergers and things I’ve learned about Temple Grandin. For me, one of the most stimulating as well as irritating aspects of writing is the amount of time I spend researching what I think I know so I can write about it better.

      • Yes. To be honest, the character is based loosely on someone I used to know, and I didn’t really think through whether he was autistic or just socially inept. Now I realize that I need to. 🙂

    • Muff says:

      Funny, I DID get the impression that he was on the autism spectrum. I was trying to imagine what his face doing – where was he looking, were his eyes shifting, was there awkward chuckling? Was the dread to see him Janet’s not liking him, or just in-opportune timing? The fact that he shook himself off and returned to a stalker/n boundries guy made me think of him in his own world a bit. I practically felt bad for the dog!

      The segue to his mother’s imprint on Neil was a bit obscure for me at the time of reading it, but it did in retrospect create a child-like innocense about him and hence his child-like social awkwardness. Could be a complete reach too!

      Keep going…

  6. Awesome! Maybe you could venture to expand your use of vocab? Encore, s’il vous plaît! 😀

  7. You build tension well and constantly throughout the story. But if she answered the door wearing PJs and slippers he should not have asked to come in. I don’t know…would YOU open the door at night if you were home alone and in your PJs?

    Neither of them used good judgement!

    Ronnie

    • I think I might answer the door if I were desperate for a sleeping baby to stay asleep and wanted to avoid another doorbell ring! But you make a good point. If she didn’t want to talk to anyone, she shouldn’t have gone to the door. Thanks for the feedback!

  8. good gravy… I’m going to have to stop reading these teasers because they just make me want to request that you finish the story and deliver it to my doorstep!

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