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The Little Drummer Girl

by Elinor

Inspired by the life of Karen Carpenter and her love of the drums.


Karen heard The End of the World on the radio at least once every other day the year they moved. The first time, they’d all been in the living room late one night after dinner. It was March and still cold in New Haven. Richard was in the midst of a conversation with their Mother and Father about all of the musical opportunities he’d have in Los Angeles. She, invisible, read Seventeen a few feet away. They’d had the radio on, but no one was really listening. Two days before, they’d been informed of the move. “Just think,” Richard said to her later, “it’s warm and sunny there all the time.” Still, Karen did not want to go. She liked New Haven. She had a life in New Haven.

The song that had been on the radio before “And now, Miss Skeeter Davis,” said the radio host.

A soft female voice began to sing.

Why does the sun go on shining?

Why does the sea rush to shore?

Don’t they know, it’s the end of the world,

‘cause you don’t love me anymore.

A nice song, but Karen didn’t pay much attention. She continued reading the magazine, her mind in a million directions. There was an article about summer fashions, and the model was impossibly beautiful. Her figure was perfect, her clothes flawless, and looking at her made Karen feel uncomfortable in her own skin. She didn’t understand why some people got to be attractive, and she was stuck with her with her crooked smile, flat hair and plump face.

That night, she laid in bed and cried.


She heard it a few more times after that, but the first time she really listened, they were driving cross country, somewhere in Nebraska. Dusk. A half hour before, they’d resolved to stop for dinner at a the nearest place they saw, but there was scarcely anything out on the roads. Karen examined her brother, sitting beside her in the back seat, dozing off. He was seventeen, already so sure of himself. She wanted to be more like him. She often listened to him play the piano, and wished she could be as good at something.

Their mother turned on the radio, and it came on, mid verse.

I wake up in the morning and I wonder

Why everything’s the same as it was

Karen had never been in love. She had only just turned thirteen, after all, but something inside of her stirred. The emotion in the singer’s voice was consuming, and Karen felt everything that she did.

As the song ended, they pulled up at a Friendly’s. Karen wasn’t as hungry as she thought she’d be, and only ate half her burger.


Once they settled into their new house in Downey, everything more or less became routine. The End of the World played many more times on the radio that year, and whenever it did, Karen was always transported. She’d begun singing it to herself too. Once, she was in her bedroom, and her mother called to her from the hallway. “Karen?”

“What?” she responded, annoyed that she’d been interrupted.

“Is that you?”

“Yes.” Her mother didn’t say anything further, and she didn’t think much of it.

That summer, Karen spent a lot of time on their front lawn with a few neighbor boys. That afternoon, they were playing baseball. Running for the ball, Karen tripped, falling flat on her face. She was all right, but her jeans were stained with grass. She didn’t know her mother was watching.

She told the other boys that it was getting late, that they’d best go home, and ushered Karen inside. Once she changed into clean clothes and her mother had put her jeans in the wash, she was free for an hour until dinner. The sound of the piano in the basement called to her.

Richard didn’t notice her come in right away. Finally, she loudly announced her presence with a “hi”. He turned. “What are you doing?” she asked.

“I dunno,” he responded. “Just practicing.”

They were surrounded by a massive record collection. There was everything from the classical musicians their parents loved to Bobby Vee and their new favorites, The Beatles. “Let’s listen to The Beatles,” she said. “Please please please.”

Richard smiled tiredly. He put on their record, and they listened to it and just talked. What called her most about the album wasn’t Paul’s vocals or George’s guitar riffs, but Ringo’s drumming. She tapped along with her hands as it played, but nonetheless kept this feeling to herself.


The next year, she started high school. At registration she was informed that she could avoid gym class if she joined the band. She started as a percussionist, but spent every practice eying her friend Frankie and his drum. Eventually, they’d convinced the director to let them switch.

From then on, everything was the drums.


It took awhile to convince Richard to let her play. All of this time, he’d continued his daily practice in their basement. He’d become quite good himself, but as he’d reflect on later, there was something missing. Something he’d find in his own home.

Ever since she started playing the drums in band, she brought her drumsticks home and played them and the tables and the furniture. She listened to The Beatles records over and over, trying to copy Ringo’s drumming. Within months she’d taught herself complicated rhythms and beats. When her parents told her to stop, she begged them to buy her a drum kit. They said no, it was too expensive. So she continued when they weren’t looking. Because it took her to another place. One where she didn’t think about any of her problems. One where she actually felt like she had something to contribute to the world. One where she was just as good, if not better, than Richard.

And then one day, she came home from school, and her parents, smiling, told her that they had a surprise for her in the basement.“What is it?” Karen asked.

“Just follow us,” they said.

She screamed when she saw the drum kit sitting there. Not only was it a drum kit, it was a Ludwig drum kit. The same kind Ringo played. Richard sat at the piano, smiling as he watched the scene unfold.

“How did you ever…”

“Enjoy,” said her father. She hugged her parents both tightly. Though they rarely, if ever, showed any kind of emotion, seeing their daughter so happy, they couldn’t help but smile. She leapt to the drum kit, in awe, and couldn’t help but touch it. She was actually sitting behind a Ludwig drum kit.

They turned to both their children. “Don’t be too loud,” they said before ascending the stairs.

“Should we play?” Richard asked.

Karen nodded, her whole body shaking with excitement.

Of late, their favorite song had been The Night Has A Thousand Eyes. So when Richard played the first few keys, she followed.

In that moment, something happened. They weren’t quite in sync. Richard’s vocals were shaky. Karen was still overwhelmed and missed a few beats. But there was something there. They stopped after a few beats, and started over. They exchanged a smile. Something about this felt so right. They’d created something. Something that would take them to a place they never dreamed they could go.

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126 Reviews

Points: 144
Reviews: 126

Sat May 18, 2019 6:59 am
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papillote wrote a review...

Hi, Elinor. I really enjoyed this short story and could totally relate to Karen being sad about moving away to Los Angeles, about her feelings for her parents and brother, and her joy at finding something she had a gift for. I, however, to an extent, agree with Toboldlygo, you could do much more with this story.

I liked the brother-sister dynamics here. I felt that the way you portray the parents is a little hasty and incomplete. I know three things about them:
- they’re undemonstrative people;
- they love music; and
- despite appearances, they care very much for their children.
I feel that I should know a little more. Is it a matter of era? Is it because they’re of a time when children were meant to be seen not heard? Are they just standoffish? Is it a New Haven thing? I feel that you could, in a few sentences, give me a better understanding of them and that, in turn, I would get a better feel for that time period.

The shift from singing to drumming is pretty abrupt too. Maybe it’s in part because, while we understand that Karen loves the drum because you’re pretty direct about it, you don’t make us feel that love. We imagine that little girl drumming on every available surface and it makes us smile, but we’re not really in her head when she does that. We don’t know what she thinks, what she gets out of it, how it makes her feel, how she perceives it.

There are a few grammatical and punctuation mistakes you could easily correct using the spell-checker functionality of your word processor. A couple of examples:
- “A half hour before, they’d resolved to stop for dinner at a the nearest place they saw”.
- ““Please please please.”” -> ““Please, please, please.””
- Also, don’t forget that there is no coma before a “but” if the subject of both propositions is the same.

Grammar matters. The metaphor I like is a very nice Summer day and mosquitos: too many grammatical errors really ruin what could be a very good story. They’re distracting, annoying.
There is something you could try thinking about too. It’s not a grammatical matter, it’s one of “voice”. Stories are written, but you should never forget that they’re meant to be told aloud. It’s a good idea to read your stories aloud. When you take a breath, put in punctuation. When you take a longer pause, change of paragraph – for suspense, for pacing…It’s instinctive.

So, here is the take-away:
- It’s a very cute, enjoyable story. Good Job.
- Use the spell-checker, your readers will thank you.
- Trust your instincts to pace the story.

Papillote out. See ya.

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155 Reviews

Points: 11208
Reviews: 155

Wed May 15, 2019 11:19 pm
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Toboldlygo wrote a review...

Hey there! Toboldlygo here for a review!

My first impression is that this is a cute little story. It's a nice little story about a young girl moving and then learning the drums. She's upset over moving, and she doesn't want to leave her home, but she does and she learns to settle in and make friends and find her thing, which is drumming. It's enjoyable and it's cute and it's a nice read.

However, beyond that, there isn't much depth to the story or the character. I realize it's based on a real person's life so there's a limit to what it can have based on research, but overall, it seems very lacking. The biggest challenge she faces are very small. Even in a story following the life of a real person, there is often more of a pressing challenge than what is presented here. Even if she had a relatively quiet life, giving more insight into how she felt about the little things that brought her down would make her more relatable. For example, her mom gets so upset over her playing baseball, but why? This event is mentioned briefly with almost no connection to any other event, and we don't know what about her playing with the guys is so upsetting to her mother.

Was her brother having the opportunity to play music the only reason her family moved? Were they a musical family? And if so, why was there discouragement for Karen to play the drums? Money is a fair reason not to get her a drum set, but wouldn't a music family have been more encouraging of their daughter's instrument choice?

I think the end is nice, but it doesn't leave much. Of course, we all know, or can look up, that Karen Carpenter went on to be a musician with her brother. But the story just stops with some nice glimpse into the future, and it doesn't really close the story. It leaves the reader thinking, "that's nice, now what?" It would be more enjoyable to be able to see how they make it work, how they get their ideas, how they write their music.

Overall, this is a very pleasant story. I think the biggest critiques I have are to make the character more relatable to the reader. Particularly because she is a real person, we want to know about her. Reading auto- or biographies of Karen Carpenter can help make a more realistic, relatable character, and would probably help add some great detail to your story. Anything based on a real person is hard to write because there's such a fine line between putting your thoughts into the character's mind and not allowing the person herself to speak, but I think in this case you can still put some more into the character that would be appropriate to herself as a person.

Happy Writing!


I would be a terrible novel protagonist.
— mellifera