Critique Group – Beautiful

I think it depends on which draft you’re working on.

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Beautiful (Part 1) – by Myah

It had always been this way.

Every day, I dragged myself out of bed, shrouded my face with a veil, and trudged out of the dingy house to the serenade of my Keeper’s hissing threats.  As the first morning light diffused the air, I walked through the dirty, winding alleyways, my bare feet splashing through the puddles of muddy water and the rotting refuse that clogged the drains.  I made my way to where the ramshackle shacks gave way to more refined-looking homes and estates.  I pushed through the crowds of shrill-voiced vegetable sellers and swarthy gypsy peddlers swarming in the city courtyard, took my place under an archway, took a deep breath – and sang.

The peddlers, coffee-stall owners, wealthy women dripping with furs and jewelry, and street beggars, and comfortable people driving past in carriages all stopped to listen to my clear, sweet alto, even for just a few moments.  By the time darkness was falling, the pavement beneath my feet was scattered with coins.  As the store owners closed their shops, I bent down to pick the pieces of money out of the mud, and turned to leave.

Every night, before I entered the maze of alleyways that lead to my dwelling place, I lingered by the gas-lit homes that fringed the plaza.  I crouched in dark corners to catch a glance through curtained windows at children sprawled on the carpeted floor of comfortable, homey living rooms – complete with padded armchairs, knick-knack cluttered fireplaces, and rosewood desks.  I pressed my nose to the clear glass of shop windows, gazing at the brightly-lit rooms, the velvet-lined shelves, and the diamond bracelets and wristwatches that glistened from their soft red cases.  I wandered in the streets, my eyes clinging to the silhouettes of fathers kissing their children goodnight.

And then I turned to trudge down the trash-clogged alleyways alone, drawing my ragged dress father up on my thin shoulders, listening to the wind whistle through the empty houses.  Going back into the life I lived.

And I wondered what it was like to be loved.  To be safe.  To know you had value.

I wondered how many bruises my Keeper would give me in exchange for my handful of coins, and hoped his blows would not be fueled by intoxication that night.

For all I knew, my life could never change.  Until that one autumn day – when it did change.

I woke up that morning, earlier than usual.  From the other room, smothered, heavy breathing rose and fell.  My Keeper was still asleep.  I rolled over on my broken, dingy mattress and stared at the grey light filtering through the closed, grimy shutters.  My eyes wandered over the peeling paint on the walls and the cracked washstand in the corner.  Absentmindedly, I reached up with my hands to finger the thin material that shrouded my face.

I could never remove it unless my Keeper gave consent.  If someone dropped enough coins into his hard palm, he would give the word, and I would walk to the window, open the shutters, unwind the veil from my face, and for a few moments let them gaze at the incredible beauty painted there.

Yesterday, someone had paid.

I had never even seen my own reflection.  My beauty did not belong to me – nothing belonged to me.  If my Keeper wished to harness my voice for his gain, I sang.  If someone wanted to see my face, I let them.  I was nothing but an object to fill their sordid desires.  As far as I was concerned, I had no value but the coins that came from my voice and my face.

I buried my face in the musty pillow, trying to press down the leering, taunting accusations that hailed my brain.  Trying to forget.

The door to my bedroom creaked open.  I scrunched myself close to the mattress, dreading his presence.  A light appeared in the doorway, casting strange patterns on the wall.  Staggering footsteps approached my bed, and a gnarled, heavy hand shook my shoulder.

“Get up.”   My Keeper’s voice was drunken with sleep and his words were slurred and heavy.

I dragged myself up and sat on the edge of the bed.  He tangled his hand in the matted hair that hung down my back.  I shrank from his touch, but dared not pull away.

He picked up his stump of candle and turned to the door.  “Make yourself presentable.”

I pushed myself up, swaying unsteadily on my feet.  I grabbed the windowsill and rested my forehead against the wall to steady my rocking vision.  The spots that danced before my eyes slowly cleared.  Splashing cold water on my face, I ripped an old towel down from its hook and scrubbed it over my skin.  I reached back and ran my fingers through my tangled hair.  I pulled a thin, white dress off a hanger and slipped it over my head.  The folds fell to my ankles and mercifully hid the bruises and sores that discolored my legs.

I bound back my long, dark hair with a strip of leather and dropped my near-transparent veil over my face.  Walking through the doorway, I muttered a farewell to my Keeper, who sat hunched over the dying fire – a fierce, beak-nosed profile against the struggling flames.

I stepped out into the cold, grey, morning air.



Categories: Critique Group

5 replies

  1. Awesome descriptions. You really created a world with you words.
    The bleak longing you created with the singer longingly looking in the windows was great. It made you feel her hopelessness.

    Few things. “Pulling her dress father up…”

    “I buried my face in the musty pillow…” In that sentence you talk about leery, taunting accusations in her head but speak of no such accusations. We only see her perception of herself because of the accusations. Perhaps show us the accusations with dialogue.

    Why was she swaying and dizzy?

    With the farewell, was she telling her Keeper bye for the day while she goes to sing or because the person who saw her face the day before bought her? Unclear.

    Otherwise, intriguing story so far. Loved the ‘took a deep breath and sang’ part.
    Keep up the good work I want to read more.

  2. You have some beautiful writing here, lots of great descriptions. Well done!

    I noticed some of what Stephanie mentioned, so I won’t repeat them.

    “As the first morning light diffused the air”

    Did it diffuse the air or the darkness?

    “I made my way to where the ramshackle shacks gave way”

    Use of “way” twice felt clumsy.

    “took my place under an archway, took a deep breath – and sang.”

    Two uses of “took.” And what was “my place”? Did she sit on something?

    “and street beggars, and comfortable people”

    Two “ands.” I would take out the first one.

    “By the time darkness was falling, the pavement beneath my feet was scattered with coins.”

    Did she leave the coins collecting there all day? Was there a risk of theft?

    “To know you had value.”

    I think “I” would be better than “you” here.

    “My eyes wandered over the peeling paint on the walls”

    Her eyes did that? Maybe “my gaze wandered”?

    “I reached up with my hands to finger the thin material that shrouded my face.”

    Did she actually finger it? “To finger” indicates a purpose, not that she actually did it.

    “gaze at the incredible beauty painted there.”

    Is this high opinion of her face really what you want to convey? It doesn’t seem so, since she had never seen her own reflection. She could know that her singing was sweet, but how could she evaluate her own beauty?

    Maybe “gaze at what some called incredible beauty.”

    “Splashing cold water on my face, I ripped an old towel down”

    Maybe “After splashing cold water …” would be better.

    I agree that her actions at the end of this are unclear. How does she know what to do? No one has told her what’s going on.

    You are an excellent writer. Keep up the great work.

  3. Wow. This is probably one of the best entries I’ve seen so far!! Don’t have any advice other than what Mr. Davis already said.

    Great job!!!

  4. “Beautiful” like your writing! I love this. I need to read this story. You have that way of choosing words so carefully that every few seconds I just have to stop and think, “Yes. That is perfect.” Keep writing and never let this gift go! It was given to you for a reason!

  5. Awesome job on this. Your descriptions are really vivid and you have an excellent style. Keep up the good work, if you ever should pursue writing as a career later on, I can’t imagine why you would have trouble getting published.


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