In this draft I’m also aware of some of the format constraints I’ve created for myself. The book, as I have written it, has a form of framing set up by the opening chapter, with the character speaking in first person –this has now lead to me writing all the flashback scenes in first person. The trouble with this currently, is the tense, I keep flipping between wanting to write all the flashbacks in present tense –which sounds better– or wanting to write them in past tense –which makes more sense in terms of reported experience. Present or past, flip-flip? I’m aware of the need for consistency, but at some point I will need to draw a line under it and stop re-writing.
This is a tiny flashback scene that appears very early in the book, which I have just updated to past tense, but as I write the subsequent flashbacks – concerning Melanie’s experiences at school– I’m beginning to wonder if it would be better as present tense after all.
“Outside the big sash windows the wind shook red and yellow leaves from the trees, toying with its prizes as they fell, inside within the white painted room, with it's lofty ceiling and chipped edged desk, everything had a clean look to it, not sparkling-clean like the kitchens in adverts, but the worn-clean of things that get scrubbed almost daily. A hint of antiseptic tantalised my nostrils. I’d been here, or somewhere like it before, but those recollections were less clear. It probably wasn’t long after my third birthday.
Other than the desk and the wooden chairs the only other items in the room were a wheeled stainless steel cabinet against one wall and a high examination table-bed. The sort I’d often been lifted onto as the different doctors made clicking noises with their tongues or breathed loudly through their noses, checking me over –just a little test, it might feel a tiny touch cold, this won’t hurt a bit.
Maman would tell me ‘I’m a very patient patient’, which always made me giggle. Sometimes, if I’d been extra good, one of the doctors gave me a sweet in a wrapper or a lollypop, sometimes.
The room was on the second floor of a grand old Edwardian building that must, at some point in it’s long history, have been turned over from luxury mansion to austere health service clinic; with its high ceilings and wide halls that made ghosts of every footstep on our way up via a once grand staircase, lost beneath stratified gloss paint and linoleum.
I dandled my legs beneath the adult sized chair, attempting to pay attention. My parents either side, a comforting mass of texture and warmth. Daddy holding my hand, giving it an absentminded squeeze now and then. Maman elegant and straight backed. They were talking about me; grown-ups did that a lot. They listened with serious expressions, nodding occasionally at the specialist's turgid medical parlance. In my imagination each word became a long hairy caterpillar crawling about the neat desktop. He talked about some sugary treatments from America, I wondered where he kept them, perhaps the desk drawer, or in the metal cabinet.
Maman leant forward, her mascara painted eyelashes looking dramatically long from my low viewpoint, and interrupted him. Her tone suggesting she'd had enough of his caterpillar words. She wants me to be happy, she says. Then asks if it can’t wait until I’m older, old enough to understand what could happen, old enough to make my own choices.
The doctor tells them, that the choice is theirs, I’m bright and otherwise healthy, my quality of life shouldn’t decline. He stood and walked over to the shiny metal cabinet. I craned my neck to see as he opened the doors and pulled a folded paper object from a stack on one of the shelves, shaking it open with a flick as he brought it over to me. I glimpsed a pair of holes cut into the front as he lifted it and, not ungently, slid it over my head, using a word unfamiliar to my three year old hearing, a word I understood as something like ‘prophecy’, though the actual word was most likely prosthetic, or even prophylactic; neither of which is technically correct, but ‘prophecy’ was what I remember hearing as my head was enveloped by that first bag.”