Young Writers Society

Home » Literary works » Short Story » Realistic


Ms. Dix

by AShrinkingViolet

Ms. Dix is by no means a ‘pretty’ woman. Her nose is large and curved like a beck. Her eyes are dark, ever-searching. Her face is serious, stern with the discipline of a solider in battle. Looking at photos of her, you can sense her somber disposition. In real life, when sitting in front of a crackling hearth on a cold January day in Cambridge, you wouldn’t be wrong.

Unlike most women, Dix has not softened in her old age. Her dark hair is streaked with white and the jowls around her mouth are prominent. We sat there, listening to the hearth crinkle for a few minutes. A little Negro girl in tattered clothes rushes into the room and sets down an old colonial tea tray.

“Fascinating aren’t they?” Dorothea caught my glance, “Always wondered what went on in their heads…”

“Is she your slave?”

A hard look answered my question, “Tawny is my servant. I’ve never felt strongly for or against the Negros, though I never approved of Lincoln’s attitude. If you treat ‘em any different, they may start to think we owe them something.”

I pour a spoonful of sugar into my tea and take a sip. It’s still bitter.

“Dorothea, can I call you that?”

“Ms. Dix is fine.”

I wither a little and pretend to dust off my black skirts, “Ms. Dix, what an incredible woman you are. Bringing to light the injustices of the asylums, helping both sides during the Civil War…” I hover my fingers over my typewriter.

“I noticed when you walked in, Ms. Hall, that you were wearing black. What for?”

“I think I should ask the questions.”

“I think you should answer or you won’t get anything from me.”

I swallow hard, “My parents died recently.”

At this, her face softened a bit, “Oh, dearie, I’m so sorry.”

“Ms. Dix, tell me about your work.”

A much younger Ms. Dix waltzed through England’s asylums with the same look of determination as those part of the revolution.

“Are you sure about this, miss?”

Dix looked at the man in charge of the almshouse. His face was red as a tomato. Sweat beaded on his forehead and his suit was drenched beneath his arms.

She smiled, “I’ve seen enough to damn this entire façade. Sparing me one more horrific cage won’t save your reputation.”

He grimaced. He could push her down the concrete stairs. He could have her locked into a cell with the other idiots, where she’d see nothing but other’s torture till her brain was mush. No one would know then.

But instead, he unlocked the door that kept the stairwell hidden. He kept his homicidal wishes to himself.

No one would believe her. She’s a woman for crying out loud! Who would believe her word over his? He figured she’d be so frightened by the sights of the madmen and women that she’d turn on her heels and run off. But she’d remained straight-faced during the whole tour. She’d asked uncomfortable questions about meals, water, and sanitation. She’d asked about the bruises and scratches, and the mutilated mouths and genitals of numerous inmates.

When he’d explained that they’d done it themselves, the removing teeth and stripping them naked was for their own good, Dix gave him a look so cold, he’d begin to sweat. He followed her down the staircase to the Legislator.

“Be careful, Ms. Dix, he often forgets where he is and will attack if he is provoked.”

He struggled to keep up with her. She carried her simple skirt, showing off wool stockings and went down the stairs two at a time. It was though she waited her entire life to see this deranged pauper.

She found him on his cot, eyes staring into the empty void of dark ceiling. The air was thick was excrement, urine, and a musk that suggested there had been no windows to let in fresh air. His toilet was three buckets, one for urine, one for feces and the other held a translucent green liquid. This was to be his bathwater. A plate with mere scraps of moldy bread and rancid cheese was placed by his cot. The man was naked and if Dix had really wanted to, she could count his ribs and every knob on his spine. He turned his head to her.

He whispered lightly as the wind, “Maryann…Maryann is that you?”

“That’s how you made the state of New Jersey sit aside money for the insane.”

Dix nodded and sipped her tea as my fingers flew over the keys. She was silent as she watched me, like a hawk over an injured rabbit. She was intrigued. I was a woman, writing for a newspaper. This was not the sort of thing that happened, but there I was. In that frigid room with this frigid woman, writing about her devotion to the needy. I might’ve compared her to a nun if her hatred of Catholicism ever ebbed away. She knew I was done when I removed my fingers from the keys and into my lap. I was almost ashamed I’d let her see me print.

This was not a woman’s place.

“I suppose you’re leaving now? Very well, we’ll finish this tomorrow. Tawny, give Ms. Hall her coat.”

Tawny appeared and held my coat. I had to bend down to slip into it. As I walked to the door, Dorothea smiled.

“Remember this, well behaved women rarely make history.”

Note: You are not logged in, but you can still leave a comment or review. Before it shows up, a moderator will need to approve your comment (this is only a safeguard against spambots). Leave your email if you would like to be notified when your message is approved.

Is this a review?



User avatar
557 Reviews

Points: 1994
Reviews: 557

Sun Jan 08, 2017 1:28 am
erilea wrote a review...

Hey, AShrinkingViolet! Lupa here for a review! :D Let's jump in...

1) "Her nose is large and curved like a beck." I assume you meant "beak?" :P

2) "I wither a little and pretend to dust off my black skirts, “Ms. Dix, what an incredible woman you are." After "skirts," there should be a period, not a comma.

3) At some points it gets confusing to the reader. I don't understand where the flashback begins and ends. If you would put it into italics or put something like ---, it would be clear.

4) You did well with your idea, but I feel like you could have developed it more. You show a lot about Mrs. Dix through your flashback, and that's great, but besides that last line all she has for dialogue are frosty one-liners. Give the reader something more to work with.

Overall, I didn't have much to critique because it was a pretty good piece. Keep writing and improving on YWS!


User avatar
471 Reviews

Points: 125
Reviews: 471

Tue Oct 04, 2016 5:40 pm
Lightsong wrote a review...

Hey, I'm here to review. I've been looking for a short story to pick, and this political one looks like a good way to start. It's 1:16 AM, so pardon me if I don't make sense at some parts.

Right! I like everything politic. In here, it is presented in the form of racial representation. I reach that conclusion when I read the end of the second paragraph. However! Since you've specified that the girl who brings in drink is a Negro one, I hope you can describe whether Ms. Dix is white or not, because from the main character's first question, there's a hierarchy between people based on skin colour.

“Is she your slave?”

This leads me to guessing the foundation of it is due to white supremacy, where people who are not white subjected to being slave. But! I don't know if Ms. Dix is actually a white woman, which is why there's uncertainty lingering around to my guess. You need to make everything the sooner you can so that we can totally capture the theme you're trying to bring into the spotlight.

Sorry for the over-focus on that detail. Moving on!

A hard look answered my question, “Tawny is my servant. I’ve never felt strongly for or against the Negros, though I never approved of Lincoln’s attitude. If you treat ‘em any different, they may start to think we owe them something.”

This right here solidifies Ms Dix's character and her stance in the matter in which Negros are concerned. I like her character already, and I'm thinking what's wrong with the main character for asking her such an insensitive question. I postpone my judgement on that main character though, because there's a such it originates from a sense innocent curiosity.

But instead, he unlocked the door that kept the stairwell hidden. He kept his homicidal wishes to himself.

Alright, so this is where the issue of perspective occurs. Since you're using 'I', it's a first point of view, and since it's told from Ms Hall's, I doubt it very much that she knows the man 'kept his homicidal wishes to himself'. It's either she has the tendency to use her impression on him to create what's in his mind, or we're slipping PoV here to third person omniscient, in which you're free to reveal other character's thought although it's something your main character would never know since it's not revealed by said man.

Alright, so what I got from this is that Ms Dix has a tour around the asylum, and Ms Hall is there to interview her. That kind of conclusion takes a bit of thinking perhaps for two reasons, one being that I'm slow, or two being that it isn't established that way as soon as it should be. When you've established what is actually happening (or has happened), you can move on to focus on the meat of your story - what is this story is actually about?

To be honest, I can't pick out the focus of this story. From one moment you touch on the subject of Negro people, to madmen and madwomen, to Ms Dix's issue with Catholicism, and to the rhetoric statement at the end about proper lady not making history (which is very powerful on its own because it allows us to ponder on it, and it's a very good thought-provoking issue). So yeah, focus on one theme and expand on it. Given the length of your short story, one theme is enough to make it a solid prose.

At the end, I still pretty much enjoy this. There's no unnecessary long explanation about what is wrong and right. You've shown the state the people in the asylum are in, and the minimalism approach you've made in the story's execution makes it easier to understand what's being talked about. It's a relatable story too, mentioning issues that are still continuing until now. I applaud you for your sensitivity of those. Hopefully, your next story will continue the social criticism that you've shown nicely! Keep up the good job! :D

User avatar
485 Reviews

Points: 21027
Reviews: 485

Mon Apr 11, 2016 9:08 pm
Elijah wrote a review...

The plot is interesting!
You use the vocabulary and put the right words on the right places well!
I think you have the talent.It could be felt you have your own way of writing.I hope you can be more detailed for the future and let us know more about your main character and for everything else.
For the firts time I am seeing someone to start with the looks of hteir own main character but something new everyday!
It is well written so It is totally okay.You describe very well and make it even more interesting.

Go on!

User avatar
11 Reviews

Points: 1082
Reviews: 11

Sun Apr 03, 2016 3:58 am
HavenBuzz wrote a review...

Hello fellow human!

This is amazing! You definitely have talent for writing realistic fiction stories. I am usually not a huge fan of realistic fiction stories (as I prefer reading fantasy/fiction/dystopian stories) but there are always a few who really catch my eye. Lets just say that this one is being added to that list.

I really like how you immediately explained a little about Ms. Dix. She is a very interesting character who makes me want to learn more about her. However I do not like how it seems like Ms.Dix kind of over shadows the main character in a way. I mean we learn next to nothing about the main character before and after we basically learn half of all there is to know about who Ms.Dix is and her story.

However, I do really like the mention of not just the main problem/story of the plot, but also the mention of other problem of the set time frame. Such as slavery, Woman's rights and the civil war. It really helps to immerse you in the story.

I guess that is it, I can't say anything else.

So thank you for writing this piece, I really enjoyed it and I hope to read more of your pieces.

*Keep Writing*

User avatar
26 Reviews

Points: 138
Reviews: 26

Sun Apr 03, 2016 3:39 am
restlessheart14 wrote a review...

Hey really interesting piece here, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Ms. Dix is a very interesting character isn't she? I was left still curious about her wanting to know more. Your ability to create a character is amazing, well done! Your grammar throughout the piece was very good but i would be careful about comma splices when using so many. I have few other criticisms starting in the first paragraph there are two misspelled words though I don't believe you meant to misspell them considering the rest of the piece... anyway haha they were "Beak" and "Soldier". Also with the sentence, "The air was thick was excrement, urine, and a... " correct me if I am mistaken, but I think you might have meant "The air was thick WITH...". Next the sentence when you say, "Dix gave him a look so cold, he’d begin to sweat", begin should be either began or begun depending on your helping verb. The last thing I have to say criticism-wise is that I was a little confused when you began the interview because you jumped straight to a story without really telling the reader that that is what happened. Overall great job though! I look forward to reading more from you in the future! ~Keep writing~

I'm also not sure why but even though I normally wear cool tones I have a feeling red would have been my color in the 1860s.
— Elinor