This is a behind the scenes story about Lydia, one of my tropical fish in ‘The Dictionary of Departures’. This will start to give you a taster of who she is before you meet her. Writing mini stories revealing life snippets is an exercise I’ve been playing about with to get to know my characters. If you’re a writer, does this process work for you?
Like the main character Gina, you probably won’t like her, until you see where she is coming from and also where she has been.
Here is one example of what led Lydia to become who she is…
Screaming without Noise – a back story for Lydia
I heard the screaming outside from the bathroom. It was really clear as the window was open. A sound that cracked the air, not human. I fell down the stairs, a pain on my side that I wouldn’t feel until much later. I opened the door and his body was swinging from side to side, blood on the pavement, some splashed on the wall of the house, on the car. Jimmy’s strong shoulders hunched over, set wide. The tips of his teeth showed, but the rest sunk into white fur. The white fur was still moving, in and out, trying to get enough air in to survive this. He was screaming without noise now, all the fear in his eyes instead pleading for help, seeing me and seeing some hope. But then they flashed past too fast, when his body was thrown from side to side again.
I grabbed the nearest thing I could and threw it at Jimmy. He just looked at the splattered Yellow Pages, all broken pages on the floor next to him. A second later they were dotted with blood.
‘Please, please, let him go.’ I could still see something like life in the white ball despite the lines of blood from the neck down to the legs, pouring faster. It didn’t look real – like Halloween blood or raspberry sauce. Maybe this wasn’t real. I would wake up. The eyes were closing now, falling silent.
And then he dropped Oscar at my feet and sat back on his hind legs, waiting for a treat. I clenched my fists up, watched Jimmy’s stupid, slobbering face as he licked the blood off his lips. It looked like he was smiling.
He lost interest and stood panting and smiling as I tried to lift Oscar, wanted to bring him in and clean him up, but the broken bits of him were leaking out everywhere. His eyes were closed and everything about him stopped, his body warm but he was gone. It felt like the street was just the three of us. When people hear trouble around here they stay inside. Mum came out then. I could tell she felt bad as she thought it was just kids arguing again, me shouting at them to break it up. She got angry at me for doing that but I could never just leave a fight.
Then a whistle from the field and Jimmy was gone. I knew that whistle. Jay brings Jimmy out as part of our gang and lets him hang his thick jaws around the swing poles. ‘training him up’ He lifts him up, makes him lock those lips and teeth over the poles and then leaves him dangling. The grunting and the growling and his look of pain gets hard to listen to and then finally Jay lets him down.
Mum disappeared and then came back and picked Oscar up in our checked tea towels and moved back in without looking at me. I sat down on the step. She came back out for a second and I took the bucket of water and rough brush.
‘Those horrible bastards…’ she was muttering to herself but she looked at me. We wouldn’t talk about it yet but we both knew who it was. A brick through the window, a firework through your door for calling the police at least. So we didn’t call them.
I put the bucket down and traced the marks on the ground with my finger. I noticed the claws then. There were three of them spread out at different scratches, clutching across the pavement. I put my face on the concrete slabs between the claws and scratched along until it felt like my skin was being pulled off and I imagined the claws sticking into my forehead, my cheeks, my chin. I wanted to feel it, a panic so big that I would scratch my nails deep into the ground trying to get away from it, a fear so massive that it would take little parts of me with it.
All around the annoying sounds of kids playing together, shouting in the distance continued and when I entered the house, the shouty sounds were replaced by the noise of ground being shovelled to make a hole in the little bit of earth we had in the back garden. It was so gentle. Mum lifted Oscar in the box with the blood in just as gentle a way, like the cardboard was made of the same easy break material as the ornaments Nanna left us, one with her in it, like a pile of black dust. I opened it once and felt this once, warm woman, dry on my fingers. By accident I breathed some in and felt it choke down my throat. For days I thought I was walking around with Nanna’s arm regrown from the black dust in my stomach, but the pokey outerdness was probably just my worries.
Death smelt like metal and mud today. Oscar hanging in the jaws, limp, like a toy. The image stayed in my head like the start of a DVD when you don’t press play and the intro just keeps rolling and rolling.
After we’d buried Oscar I went upstairs.
I looked out the window and could see the round buildings trying to pinch the clouds right out in town. Jay was on the field, waiting. There was a screaming in my head in the quiet bedroom, building up louder. I knew and he knew what was coming, except he didn’t this time. I was going to recreate enough fear so that he would need to grip the ground until parts of him fell off.