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A Pocketful of Posies - Chapter 3.2

by DarkPandemonium


A knot of anxiety pressed at Hildegarde's stomach, and her hands still ached from earlier – Mrs Humphreys had paddled her when she saw the gap in her portfolio, thrice on the palms, thrice on the knuckles.

“We’re posting the lot tomorrow,” she’d said, her face patchy with rage. “If you want to ruin your chances, that’s your lookout.”

It was her lookout.

Hildegarde’s sat up, the bedsprings creaking softly beneath her. Dante’s essay still sat on her bedside table, unfolded now and angled towards her. The paper – crisp, good quality, better than the stuff in their school notebooks – crackled as she lifted it. She got to her feet, felt her way towards the door and went downstairs.

In the kitchen, she lit a stub of candle – Grumps-Humps would belt her all over again if she caught her wasting electricity – and sat down at the table with Dante’s essay on her left and one of her notebooks on the right. She twiddled a pen, squinting over Dante’s copperplate. The candlelight was warm down her left hand. She read the essay again. And again.

She put her pen to the notebook. Interests. Hobbies. What was she good at? Backchat. Making trouble. Breaking into the attic. She didn’t think any of these things would endear her to degas. Then again, she didn’t have any clue what endeared degas in the first place.

A memory drifted back to her – Mr Loxley, calling her ‘sharp’. She liked the way that sounded. She leaned over her notepaper and wrote:

My name is Hildegarde and I am sharp.

She sat back in her chair again. Next to Dante’s flowing hand, her handwriting was a spidery scrawl. She ripped the sheet of notepaper away and tried again, printing more slowly.

I am Hildegarde and I will make a fantastic posie because I am sharp.

No, that sounded stupid. How about—

Hi, I’m Hildegarde and I’m sharp as a tack.

What even was a tack? She ripped the sheet out, balled it up and threw it. Heart thumping now, she lifted Dante’s statement and read through it again, her finger tracing the words as if she might find new meaning trapped between the lines. But there were no chinks in the armour, no gaps; the sentences fitted seamlessly, curling tight around each other and flowing together so stupidly, stupidly well—

And then her grip had tightened around the essay, her hands poised to wrench downwards, rip the whole stupid thing into bits. Hildegarde felt the urge pressing up through her, the same way it had at the lunch, when she’d almost asked Thelsadore where her posie was. Her knuckles were white.

“Hilde? What are you doing up?”

Hildegarde dropped the essay as if scalded. Louise stood in the kitchen doorway, hair hanging loose, her massive nightgown making her look like an overblown lily. She stepped towards the table, pulling the essay towards her with one finger.

“That’s been written up lovely. Is it your statement?”

“No,” Hildegarde said.

And then she burst into tears.

She hadn’t cried for years, not even when she tripped running down the stairs and cut her head on the shoe rack, and she seemed to have forgotten how to do it properly. She was gulping air, heaving up sobs, and the tears wouldn’t stop even when she pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes. Louise, she realised dimly, was talking to her.

“…don’t cry, no need to cry,” she was saying. “I’m not angry at you! Though of course- I mean, you should be in bed, and I don’t think Matron Salma would want you using up the candles – but never mind, obviously! Ignore that! What’s upsetting you?”

Explanations slid out of Hildegarde’s grip. The posie’s face flashed in her mind, melting into Thelsadore’s mask, then into the long, biting comments on her school report, then into Dante’s perfect handwriting, all of it crushing against her like a vice. She shook her head and cried harder.

“How about I- I’ll tell you a joke, shall I, see if I can cheer you up?” Louise said, a little desperately. “My brother told me good one the other day. It goes like...okay, so there’s a blonde lady in New York, and she goes to a bank and says…hang on, I can’t remember what she— she’s got a very expensive motorcar, and she wants to take out a loan. Then she…she takes out a loan and they keep the car and…it’s supposed to be a bit of a twist on those blonde jokes, and it basically ends up—oh, I’m lousy at this. It’s funny the way my brother says it. I’ll have to ring him up and get him to tell you.”

She fumbled in the breast pocket of her nightgown and found a flowery hankie, which she held out to Hildegarde the way you might offer food to a wild animal. Hildegarde took it, breathing in its soft peppermint smell. Within a minute or two, she felt calmer.

“So,” Louise said awkwardly. “What’s up? Is it about your statement?”

“Sort of,” Hildegarde mumbled. She flicked one of her balled-up attempts onto the floor. “Humphreys is sending them tomorrow and I’ve not done any of mine. Everything I write sounds stupid. I don’t know what to put.”

“Well, you can just write about your hobbies and your interests, can’t you?”

Why, though?” Hildegarde said, more aggressively than she intended. “I don’t get it. What’s it matter if I like watching birds or- or anything? What’s it got to do with being a posie?”

Louise nibbled her lip. “I don’t suppose you really need to get it, as long as you—”

“No,” Hildegarde said, and something flared in her – she had to ask this, had to find an answer. “I want to understand it. Because everyone here gets to be a posie, don’t they? When they’re old enough. But nobody even tells us what a posie’s supposed to do.

She wondered if this, perhaps, was the question that had been boiling in her since she’d seen that posie in the bathroom – or maybe longer still, though she’d always drowned it out with birds and bad behaviour and her own voice. She’d always been hurtling towards this fate. She’d watched the older children disappear from the House, swept north or south to be posies, and had known since toddlerhood that she would follow in their footsteps if she was good and lucky enough. But nobody had ever stopped to tell her what it would involve, outside of wearing nice clothes and hanging from a degas’ arm.

Louise was nibbling her lip again.

“I don’t know lots about it,” she said. “But you’ll act sort of like a personal assistant. Very…what’s the word? Attentive. You'll look after their needs, run little errands for them, stay at their side.”

Hildegarde thought of the degas they’d seen on their way to the school, holding out a gloved hand as their posie climbed from the motorcar. She thought of Thelsadore bowling down the street, arm entwined with Heidi’s.

“But that’d make posies like servants,” she said slowly. “And they don’t treat them like servants.”

“No, not really,” Louise said. She fiddled with the crucifix around her neck. “Degas do like to – to make pets of their posies, you could say. They’ll treat you lovely – all the clothes you’ll get, the food and the parties.” She swallowed. “They don’t got family, degas, not the way people have, so you’ll be the closest friend they’ve got. They’ll tell you all their secrets and trust you to keep them.”

Hildegarde leaned forwards on her hands. “I still don’t get why they need a human for that. Can’t degas be posies?”

“Not really,” Louise said, a bit too quickly. “Look, it’s sort of- degas aren’t human, you’ve got to remember. And though they’re clever as a cartload of monkeys and they’ve got all that magic at their fingertips, they’re not very good at understanding emotions. It’s hard for them to move in human circles, see, because they don’t always know how to act, or how other people will act.” Her voice lowered a notch. “That’s what a posie’s for, really. They need a human to tell them – to advise them on how to behave, because they’re not good at knowing on their own.”

Hildegarde was silent, trying to fit the information around everything else she knew. Thelsadore had seemed to know exactly how to behave, even though Heidi had been absent for most of the meal. But maybe she was practiced enough at conversation to not need her all the time. Maybe Heidi had already taught her everything she needed to know…

“Think of it like – like you and Dante, maybe,” Louise said. “You’re really very different, but you balance each other out, don’t you? That’s what a posie does for a degas. They help them be their best self.”

Hildegarde said nothing for a little while longer. It seemed to fit well enough, except…

“There’s something else I don’t get,” Hildegarde said, all in a rush. “When I- when we were at that meal a few weeks ago, I went into the bogs and I saw Thelsadore’s posie standing at the mirrors. She was sort of- she’d got all these boutique bags she’d got for Thelsadore, and she was getting ready and stuff, but she looked really blank, like she was half asleep or something. And then she just smiled really suddenly and didn’t let it drop.” Hildegarde clenched her fingers around the pen. “It was like she’d just pinned it on or something.”

Perhaps it was a trick of the dimming lamplight, but Hildegarde thought she saw Louise’s eyes flicker.

“Well, I think we all feel like that sometimes,” she said. “If she’d been shopping, she might’ve been tired and worn out, but – well, it was a lunch, wasn’t it? She had to be polite and look friendly. It’s the same for you, isn’t it? You probably went to that lunch feeling scared and sick, but you had to smile and curtsey because you’re a polite little girl.” Louise gave her a small smile. “We all have to do things we don’t feel in the mood for sometimes.”

Hildegarde considered, twiddling the pen. It was an answer, but it didn’t ease the itch at the back of her mind. 


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Fri Aug 10, 2018 11:10 pm
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Mea wrote a review...



Oh, Hildegarde. Poor, poor Hildegarde. I'm so glad Louise actually gave her some emotional support here. They've had way too little of it at the orphanage. And everything, the way she's trying to push it back and then bursts into tears, just works so well.

So... you know everything I said I was wondering about last chapter? You've neatly answered it in a way that works really well, particularly the parts about who becomes posies and if everyone in the orphanage winds up as a posie or not. Letting Hildegarde admit to and express the fear that comes from that kind of pressure... oh, my heart. :'(

I still sort of feel like the news about what the posies do for the degas is a bit anticlimatic, though actually, since Louise doesn't know all the details herself, and you still seed the bit about how blank the posie's face looked and how that's kind of unnatural, I'm still putting my money on the idea that there's a lot more going on than just what the public thinks. And prolonging the mystery that way works great - I feel I know enough to move on, but also still expect a shocking reveal later.

The jumbled-up twist on a blonde joke was great, even if we never got to hear the punchline. xD

My name is Hildegarde and I am sharp.

So I actually thought this was a pretty great start to her essay - it's snappy and begins with a statement she can now start to explore in depth (and now here I am reviewing her essay-writing skills lol). So at that point, I thought she'd gotten past the critical stage and now had a focus and could just keep writing. So then when she changed it to the other two, I was like "but those are way worse beginnings" and hadn't realized that you weren't about to show us her writing her whole essay with renewed purpose, but instead run into a brick wall. I think if you put the "worse" beginnings first, it'll help frame the scene better. Idk, I'm just looking for actual critique to give. xD I do really like that framing for the essay.

And I think I'll leave it at that! Gonna head over and review the next part once I reiterate again just how much I love this story. I'm still totally invested and the pacing has been great so far. :D




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Fri Aug 10, 2018 6:14 am
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Zoom wrote a review...



Hi DP,

It was her lookout.


I didn’t know what this meant either until I searched on google, which said the word is informal British (so am I lol). I’m guessing this language is more suitable for the era you are going for? If so then I don’t mind having to google for the sake of authenticity. The definition wasn’t even far off what I was expecting anyway so it’s not like I lost a heap of context here. Also Mrs Humphreys has been known to say quirky phrases etc so there’s bound to be some I don’t understand ^_^

Hildegarde’s sat up, the bedsprings creaking softly beneath her. Dante’s essay still sat on her bedside table, unfolded now and angled towards her. The paper – crisp, good quality, better than the stuff in their school notebooks – crackled as she lifted it. She got to her feet, felt her way towards the door and went downstairs.


Slight trims; these words are already implicit.

In the kitchen, she lit a stub of candle


I would maybe go for “she lit a candle stub” for flow purposes.

She didn’t think any of these things would endear her to degas. Then again, she didn’t have any clue what endeared degas in the first place.


Very interesting. Nice reminder that they don’t really know about degas much more than the readers do. Great way to spike intrigue.

And then her grip had tightened around the essay, her hands poised to wrench downwards, rip the whole stupid thing into bits. Hildegarde felt the urge pressing up through her, the same way it had at the lunch, when she’d almost asked Thelsadore where her posie was. Her knuckles were white.


Are you familiar with a concept called “call of the void”? Hildegarde reminds me of that so much.

“…don’t cry, no need to cry,” she was saying. “I’m not angry at you! Though of course- I mean, you should be in bed, and I don’t think Matron Salma would want you using up the candles – but never mind, obviously! Ignore that! What’s upsetting you?”


Louise <3

Within a minute or two, she felt calmer.

I don’t quite buy that 1.5 minutes passed in silence here, this felt a bit unnatural.

Thelsadore had seemed to know exactly how to behave, even though Heidi had been absent for most of the meal. But maybe she was practiced enough at conversation to not need her all the time. Maybe Heidi had already taught her everything she needed to know…


Ah, I was going to comment on this, glad this wasn’t by accident haha. You’ve finally answered some questions but now you’ve raised more. Pan giveth and Pan taketh away.

“Think of it like – like you and Dante, maybe,” Louise said. “You’re really very different, but you balance each other out, don’t you? That’s what a posie does for a degas. They help them be their best self.”


Omg could Hildegarde ever be a degas? Could Dante be her posie?!

***
Overall comments:

I really liked Louise. You did a great job showing her awkwardness and reluctance through her dialog. It made total sense for her to be the one to deliver this information because based on what I remember, Matron Salma and Mrs Grumps-Humps wouldn’t have been so forthcoming.

The moment Louise started explaining degas and posies I was drawn into the story to the point of not wanting to stop and make notes.

I didn’t realise that Hildegarde was this in the dark about posies, which throws into question why she is being so compliant in the first place, in the sense that she went to the interview and she clearly cares a great deal about writing a good statement. I just don’t understand why that is, if on the other hand she has all of these questions troubling her? Surely she was told something to cement that being a posie is a good thing, or that the alternative to being a posie is even worse. I’m really struggling with her motivations at this point. I feel like you’re forcing me to suspend my disbelief for too long.

I think, at some point, your story might benefit from us seeing Hildegarde’s and Dante’s first ever encounter / acknowledgement of a degas & posie. The kids in this world seem to be purposely sheltered from understanding anything about them, and you’ve alluded to “magic” being a part of this world, yet when they are at the orphanage or school, there is never any mention or element of fantasy besides the degas & posie relationship. I don’t understand if the fantasy elements of this story are limited to degas or not, and if degas have always been a thing in this world or if they are a recent development. If they are commonplace then it really makes me question how Hildegarde can be so in the dark, yet if they are a new occurrence then there is a “wtf these things exist?!” element that is missing here. That’s why I think it would be interesting to see the first encounter and learn how their understanding of degas was shaped from the get-go, so that I can believe why Hildegarde is so conflicted and indecisive in the present. I’m not sure if I’m explaining my thoughts properly. I’m just saying a slight bit of context wouldn’t diminish the intrigue you've built and would help me suspend my disbelief until the big reveal.

Good job as always. I can’t overstate enough how much I love this story.

-Zoom






Thanks! Yes, I am trying to figure out myself why Hildegarde has never asked these questions before, but I've always just thought that it was a mixture of her not really wanting to think about it and the whole issue being a massive elephant in the room for all of the kids. But I don't think that holds together, so I'll probably add something to these early chapters to suggest that Hildegarde and other kids HAVE asked before, but the matrons usually brush the questions off with an answer that doesn't tell them much. Even Louise has probably done that up until this point.

But this was a really useful review! Thanks so much! :D



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Fri Aug 10, 2018 12:41 am
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BiscuitsLeGuin wrote a review...



Heyo, probably only going to get one of these done tonight but let's see what happens!

Nit-picks and nice moments:

“We’re posting the lot tomorrow,” she’d said, her face patchy with rage. “If you want to ruin your chances, that’s your lookout.”

It was her lookout.

This is ironic given our conversation about language, but I have no idea what this phrase means.

Grumps-Humps would belt her all over again if she caught her wasting electricity

I love how this is so clearly Hildegarde's thoughts from the nickname that you don't even have to put it in italics.

My name is Hildegarde and I am sharp.

That is so cute! Okay, I may have to limit the number of Nice Moments I quote otherwise I'm going to relay the whole thing back at you xD

“So,” Louise said awkwardly. “What’s up? Is it about your statement?”

Ohhhh was Hildegarde like totally incoherent when she tried to explain a second ago?

“No, not really,” Louise said. She fiddled with the crucifix around her neck.

I really liked that you've remembered to give a side character a mannerism, in a first draft no less.

They don’t got family

I think if Louisa is going to have a dialect with grammatical conventions like this it should have shown up already by this point.

Hildegarde leaned forwards on her hands. “I still don’t get why they need a human for that. Can’t degas be posies?”

WOAHWOAHWOAH Okay this definitely comes under Nice Moment because it is integrated so ridiculously smoothly but like I just wanted to register my OHMYGODTHEYARENTHUMAN??? Also I should probably mention that one dega we met didn't *seem* particularly inhuman...

Overall:

Okay, literally the only criticism I have of this is that towards the end the fact that it's exposition does start to become fairly obvious, but even then it's so believable for Hildegarde's character (probably because there's so much context and build-up that I didn't realise it was coming) that I don't rrrrreally have a problem with it. I just thought you should know my honest reaction. I was craving these answers anyway, so I kind of ate them up.

And I think this is a really good amount of answers. I know you're worried about that so I think throwing in the fact that degas' aren't human was a really really good idea. And the way in which Louise explains it is also really good. The stop-start talking is very realistic - it's not like she's giving Hildegarde a lecture. I think I saw Blue mention Louise in her review so just basically I echo any and all gushing about Louise <3

Lastly, this was the exact right level of emotion I wanted in this scene. Hildegarde is in huge pain, but it was never blown up to be like the end of the world, even though maybe it is to her. The physical descriptions of Dante's essay added to it even more so that I could really put myself in this situation. Honestly, I loved it so so much.

Hope this helps,
Biscuits :)






I can breathe out now! I'm glad this is just enough answers to sate you. Hopefully in chapter 4 I can shed a bit more light on degas - I'm so surprised you didn't know they were human! It seemed so obvious to me as the writer, but looking back I can see how you'd make that mistake.

I get your point about it being obvious exposition, but I'm not sure how I'd go about naturalising it. Something to look at in redrafting.

Thanks ever so much!



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Thu Aug 09, 2018 7:44 pm
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Okay I have SUCH FEELINGS so bear with me because uhhhh well I probably don't have anything helpful to say. Just much Excitement.

Omg this is so endearing to see Hildegarde trying and failing to start her essay. I also love how Dante's words flow so well in his writing when in speech he has such a tough time <3 Like I just love the way we had their established characters but then in the face of this new development in their lives Dante is like blossoming and Hilde's experiencing this crippling doubt, and she has no clue how to deal with it because she's not at all used to it.

OH MY POOR DARLING CHILD DON'T CRY

LOUISE IS PRECIOUS OMG

ahhhhh cool getting to the heart of the issue, I like Hildegarde saying what's the point of this stupid essay if I don't even know what posies do. It's so perfectly in character in how simultaneously practical and obstinent it is, and it's a really good segue into learning more about degas and posies.

Omg when Louise is like "uhhh well posies sort of uhhhh help degas know how to behave around other humans," Hildegarde's probably literally thinking "so they definitely wouldn't want me because I clearly don't know how to behave."

Ughhhhhhh Louise probably wants to tell her/protect her but totally can't, so instead we're getting these somewhat botched, still mysterious answers which is like perfect balance of learning stuff and still not knowing everything teach me your ways






Thanks for this!!! Man, I didn't even think about Hildegarde being like 'they clearly won't want me because I can't behave', but that's a spot on reaction and I'll have to include it when I redraft.

I'm so glad everyone loves Louise. I'm sad she's not going to show up much more :/




History repeats itself. First as tragedy, second as farce.
— Karl Marx