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Mr. Adkins [RC: R3]

by PrincessInk


I swing my bat as a baseball swerves toward me.Thwack!It zooms back across the street as my brother and the other neighborhood boys cheer. “Great, sis!” my brother yells. “Best shot!”

But we hear a sound of cracking glass and that ruins everything.

“Run!” the oldest boy yells, and we charge across the street into the woods beyond.

“YOU RASCALS!” I hear a bellow from across the street. Definitely our neighbor, the irascible bachelor Mr. Adkins. “COME OVER HERE RIGHT NOW!”

Because everybody’s listening, we have no choice but to trudge over to Mr. Adkins. Right now, he is carrying a broom and trash bag. And he shouts so loudly everyone in the street can hear him as we hang our guilty heads: “Isn’t this the third time you’ve shattered my window?” He shakes a hand at the shards of glass scattered over the pavement.

“Yes, sir…” we mutter.

“Why can’t you behave?” Mr. Adkins paces up and down in front of us, glaring daggers. “Why do you have to break a window three times? Why haven’t your parents banned baseball?”

“Sorry.” My cheeks flush. I hadn’t intended to wreck the window. I mean, I’ve never done that before. “I’ll help you clean up.”

Mr. Adkins hands me the broom. “Youshattered it?”

I bent over and sweep the glass shards into the bag as Mr. Adkins shoves out some glass that has fallen inside his house. The boys awkwardly stick their hands in the pockets and kick some glass toward my broom so it’s easier for me to sweep. “I’m sorry,” I repeat, as I sweep the dark bag into a trash can.

He grunts, which I take for a yes. After I return the broom into his house, Mr. Adkins stiffly marches across the street to pay my mom a visit. The boys and I follow after him but we don’t go in.

Five minutes later, Mr. Adkins strides out of my house toward home, his gaze squarely set straight so that he can't look at us.

My mom stands in the doorway, her face quivering with fury and her hands on her hips. “Millie. Eddie. Come. Right. In.” She faces the rest of the children. “Go home.” They scurry away as Eddie and I step in.

“Do you how mortified I was when Mr. Adkins spoke to me? He probably thought you were the worst kids in the whole world! Especially you, Millie! I thought you were better than this! So baseball will be BANNED.”

Before either of us can protest about it, she continues, “Millie, you will be helping Mr. Adkins with his chores as compensation.”

“No!” I’m horrified. “He hates me!”

But she doesn’t understand at all. “He obviously does not; you made him angry. How can somebody hate a child like you?”

“I’m not a child. I’m going on eleven.”

Mom sighs. “Mr. Adkins has his own yard and you will help him garden it. And to help him with his storage too. I suggested that and he agreed. Look, Millie, he’s not that bad.”

* * *

The next day, I arrive at Mr. Adkins’s house wearing my oldest clothes and a sullen expression. I’m carrying a shovel and a very short hoe. I drop them and they clatter on the porch as I knock.

He opens the door.

“Good morning.” I keep my eyes on the floor.

“Hello.” Mr. Adkins's eyes slant toward my tools.

At least he isn’t irate like he was yesterday. Mr. Adkins leads me through a long hallway that soon reaches the back of the house. As he steps outside, Mr. Adkins smiles slightly, the first time I saw him smile. “This is my backyard.”

I look out. It’s small, like his house, and bright; though the trees hang over the grassy ground as if they’re guarding their own territories. Some flowers are nesting in the ground, but majority of the space is dominated by weeds, and then grasses. “What should I do?”

“You have a little hoe, so soften the soil. I’ll be weeding.” Mr. Adkins kneels down in the grass, his shirt sleeves rolled up to reveal gloves.

We work quietly, without speaking. Mr. Adkins yanks out some weeds and I soften the soil around it. Our rhythms match perfectly even we don’t look at each other directly. I keep stealing glances at Mr. Adkins. His shoulders have softened and the lines around his lips are no longer harsh.

I smile to myself. “Do you like to garden?”

He faces me, about to speak, but then something else catches his attention and he looks up. A blue butterfly flits in the air. Without any warning, Mr. Adkins rises up, even with a weed wedged in his glove. “Time to go.” His voice is abrupt.

“Good-bye." I stand up and tuck the tools under my arm.

Silence.

I swallow and walk out of his house. Who cares about him when he becomes plain crazy because of a butterfly?

* * *

For the next few days I help Mr. Adkins, an hour at a time. We occasionally engage in awkward conversation, usually no more than a question-and-answer session, but no butterfly ruins it. As April serenades in, the backyard overflows with flowers and it’s really beautiful to work in.

One morning, when I arrive at his house, he says, “Millie, you have to clean the storage. I’ll be pruning.” He hands me a familiar-looking broom and a bag.

Outside’s sunny. Why rob me of the pleasure of being outside? I can’t stop myself. “Why do I have to?”

“Isn’t this compensation for breaking a window?” Mr. Adkins shoots back. “It’s not like you’re coming to play.”

The words sting. I turn away from him and stare outside. The storage is near the backyard, so near I can feel the outside nature. The blueness outside is so tantalizing. I turn my back on him and enter the storage.

Every corner, every wall is packed high with boxes, but they aren’t too thick with dust. I thud the broom across the floor and throw dust into the bag. The broom gets heavier in my hand all the time.

I wander to the back of it. It’s hard to find a path there and even harder to sweep. I pick my way back to the door of the storage room, peek outside to see the backyard, and see Mr. Adkins picking up the stray branches. He tosses them aside and approaches the door. I run to the back of the storage room and as I whip around to grab the broom, I trip over something. A box spills its contents on the floor and I hastily try to pack it back in.

A small photograph of a young woman, her eyes sparkling with spunk, slides at my feet. I pick up the photo when Mr. Adkins steps inside. When he sees what I’m doing, he takes one step forward and jerks me up. “Why are you snooping?”

“I wasn’t!”

Mr. Adkins yanks the paper from my hand and it tears, one half in my hand, the other in his. We both gape at the two halves of the woman’s face.

What have you done?” His face is livid. “Why do you keep breaking things—windows, even photos?” His voice cracks.

“You tore it!” I blink back tears. “Stop accusing me for things I didn’t do!”

I smash the trash bag against the wall and storm down the hallway. I hear tentative footsteps. “Millie?”

I ignore Mr. Adkins and exit the house as fast as I can. Then I break into a sprint. I just run and run and run. My legs lead me into the woods nearby our neighborhood. I don’t care whether I get lost or not. No amount of moving was going to calm me down. Nothing. I finally stop when there’s a sharp stitch in my side and I sink down.

A stream lies at my knees, circling around a grove about five feet by five feet. I rise up and cross it as I peer down and see minnows swirling in it. The ground is scattered with thick grasses and as I bend down to breathe the earthy air, I forget everything. About Mr. Adkins. About the chores. About the photo. Even baseball.

“Millie.” I hear Mr. Adkins’ voice.

I whirl around to see him standing behind me. “What do you want?”

“I’m sorry.” He fidgets.

“For what?”

“I didn’t mean to shout.”

“Why the sudden change in attitude then?” I face away from him and cross my arms as I stare at a vine-wreathed rock firmly standing in the ground beyond.

Silence falls between us. A soft breeze curls my hair and ruffles Mr. Adkins’s clothes; weeping willows growing around the grove softly touch the water and cause ripples.

“I…just lost control. I’m really sorry.” He tries to grab my hand but I jerk it out of his grasp.

“Millie, I lost many friends because of this. Even my fiancé. I’ve been trying to keep myself cool. I’ve been trying. I’m really sorry.”

I turn around. “Your fiancé?” The pretty woman in the picture suddenly latches herself in my memory. “You mean…the woman in that photo?”

“Yes, my beau—Andrea— was spirited. And headstrong. She loved to garden too. And she was obsessed with butterflies.” Mr. Adkins starts talking about her, his voice wistful.

“And you didn’t marry?”

He flinches. “The day before the wedding, we—uh—quarreled.” His voice slowly drifts away. “I was so angry that I yelled at her to leave. And never come back.”

“What happened to her?”

Mr. Adkins flicks his gaze back and forth. “I—don’t know. She’s married to somebody else. Or single. Or dead. It’d have been different if we’d understood each other better.”

“You mean if you could forgive,” I say, slowly understanding.

“Neither of us could. I-I did forgive her, but it was too late. Too late to make up with her, to apologize. She was already gone.”

He takes a deep breath. “So Millie…I just want to let you know that I’m sorry. For everything. For being mean to you and your friends. Will you forgive me?”

I smile and grasp his hand. “I’m sorry for making a mess in your house. And this time, I really mean it.”

He smiles back. “But isn’t that what you get if you have somebody like you as your neighbor?”

A relaxed silence descends on us as we see each other for the person we’re meant to know. Minutes slide by. Finally, I ask the question that’s been bugging me for the past few minutes: “Do you think she forgave you yet?”

When I raise my head to look at Mr. Adkins, the blue butterfly we saw before is flitting right above him. He reaches out and it perches on the tip of his finger. His lips form a small smile and his eyes soften till I glimpse the young Mr. Adkins in them.

I breathe, “She has, hasn’t she?”

“For a long time…the butterfly helped me open my eyes to that,” he whispers, and as the butterfly flutters away from him, a profound sense of calm falls over us.

Questions:

1.Does Millie have a definable character arc here, instead of just Mr. Adkins?

2.Did I manage to slow down the resolution slightly?

3.Did I cut down too much here?


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Sat Apr 01, 2017 12:05 pm
Mea says...



Have an upvote!




PrincessInk says...


Thank you! :)



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Fri Mar 31, 2017 8:09 am
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Mea wrote a review...



Well this has been out of the Green Room for a while. Guess that teaches me to procrastinate my reviewing. :P

1. Yes. I really liked how it's just a simple character arc, as simple as actually being sorry for what she did when she got to know him. I still feel like a lot of the story's focus is on Mr. Adkins, but I also think that's perfectly fine story to tell. I do think you could emphasize her being sullen and angry at the beginning a little bit more.

2. Yes, you did. And while I might think that having Mr. Adkins apologize outright like that would be weird, I actually think it fits really well because Millie is so young. Kids don't pick up as easily on subtle apologies, and I don't know, I just feel like it's easier to apologize to a kid.

The last part, with Millie asking whether his ex-fiancé had forgiven him yet and him saying yes, didn't flow as well to me. To me, he has no way of knowing whether she's forgiven him or not, and I don't know, the last few paragraphs are just more choppy.

3. I don't think so. However, I do want to talk about the change in the first scene where she's working with Mr. Adkins. He's a lot nicer in that scene than in the previous drafts, not a lot like the grumpy man he's made out to be in the beginning.

I think to show the change more, you could go for the rule of three and have three unique scenes with her at his house. The first scene, he's kind of grumpy and Millie's hostile too, and they don't really get along but sort of start to at the end. Then you talk about how they spend more time with each other and show one brief scene of them getting along (scene 2). And then we have our third scene where everything falls apart.

And that's all I've got for this part!




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Wed Mar 29, 2017 5:08 am
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EternalRain wrote a review...



Hey Princess!

So I'm going to start off with a few things I wanted to mention and then I'll get to the questions!

So there have been multiple baseballs that hit Mr. Adkin's window and I think this was just the first time that Millie did so. Anyway, it seems like Millie is the only one to get punished? What happened to all the other kids? I feel like elaborating on that whole idea (window shattering three times) would be beneficial.

1. I would say yes, but I think what can be improved on Millie is a bit more about what she actually takes away from this experience, as well as maybe expanding on baseball? For example, expanding more on how baseball is a big part of her life, etc, etc, and then having her change over her course of time she spends with Mr. Adkins because she's learns a bit more about the world.

2. I think so. I noticed a lot of changes with the words and how they were arranged, and I actually think, in this case, it helped the story a lot (things Mr. Adkin said, for example).

3. I actually didn't notice too much of a difference when it came to length (I think you did a pretty good job eliminating what you needed to). I miss some things - I remember some imagery that was lovely - but I think this still works.

I think that's it!

~EternalRain




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Tue Mar 28, 2017 2:21 pm
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LeutnantSchweinehund wrote a review...



Alright, I'll answer your questions first and then give my own brief analysis of the piece.

a) I do not believe the character arc is strong enough. I struggled very much to relate with the main character, and instead found Mr. Adkins a much more realistic character. Millie is simply not quite human enough, I'd say. Her actions seem a bit unpredictable.

This is, however, mainly due to the fact that you're a very short story here. You can't hope to have an amazing character arc while telling a semi-complex story at the same time, unless you're a seasoned writer. I'd highly recommend trying out slightly longer stories. I find that around 3,000-5,000 words does the trick, at least for me.

b) I haven't read your previous works, but the resolution is a bit too fast. Mr. Adkins' attitude changes a tad too fast, I'd like to see a more subtle change. That, of course, requires a longer story, so it is linked with my advice above.

c) Perhaps. I'm not sure if it's too much, because very short stories certainly can work if done right, but I think you sacrificed the wrong things. In shorter works, every word matters so much more than before. You need to know what to take out and what to keep. That's just a matter of practice and personal style.

Now to my analysis!

Perhaps the greatest issue I personally had with your writing, contrary to much of the advice you may have received from more experienced writers than myself, is your sentence length. They're too short. When you add vivid imagery to your story, I believe that longer sentences work much better to set the mood. Short sentences are best used when tension builds/releases, long sentences for setup and imagery. Then again, I'm a Lovecraft fan, so longer sentences are just my personal preference.

The paragraph breaks seem very frequent. I attribute that to the fact that dialogue gets really messy without many individual lines, so no problem there. To compensate, try to fit, say, two lines into one paragraph, and don't break the prose itself more than is needed.

Other than that, the story is perfectly fine! Plot seems pretty solid to me, and it's an idea that could be refined with more work. Keep at it, and never forget to READ. Reading books in the genre you wish to focus on is key.

Good luck! You'll do well if you keep working. The same applies to all of us.

Note: Please don't get the impression that I'm somehow a superior writer. I'm hardly worthy of the title at all, to be honest. I do believe that I've seen mistakes in my own works, however, and therefore my advice should be mostly valid.




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Tue Mar 28, 2017 4:14 am
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Ferruccio1234567 wrote a review...



Questions:
Not really, it leaves a big blank in some circumstances, like who are the friends? What events have they caused? Things like that.
The resolution is still a bit rushed because there is no real climax or anything, other than that it's pretty good.
Well done though, you have done a good job.
Much better than last time!!!





The last of the human freedoms is to choose one's attitudes.
— Viktor Frankl