A Story by Kees Kapteyn

After hours of driving, we finally pass into Paradox, New York, so saith the sign announcing at the roadside. Nathan, my older brother looks up from his PSP and laughs at it, still not used to the name. Mum laughs too, just because she thinks it’s funny and wants to share the joke with Nathan and me.  Dad just drives on ignoring us, frowning into middle space while we have our moment of ridicule.  When we chose the campground we were going to, I heard the word “paradox” and had to ask what it meant.  I’d heard the word before, and I thought it was a strange name for a town.  Nathan laughed at me though he didn’t know what the word meant either.  ”Pauline, it means two things that are together that don’t really belong together.” said Daddy.  Nathan said he thought it meant something from another dimension, as if he expected there to be aliens living under the lake or something.  I gave him a stinky look to make him feel stupid but he never noticed it.  Paradox Lake would be our vacation, where we’d go camping and canoeing and fishing.  I wasn’t too keen on it at first, but driving here I started to like the scenery and could imagine myself swimming out to the islands I saw out in the middle of those beautiful lakes surrounded by tree covered mountains.  I was beginning to like Paradox, so while Nathan and Mum are laughing, I’m celebrating. 


Daddy drives quietly while Mum looks back every thirty seconds to talk with us, like she was nervous that she would turn around once and find us gone.  Daddy’s quiet is never really quiet though.  He never looks like he’s quiet on the inside.  He always has that intense look in his face, like he was looking for something between the car and the horizon, like he was getting frustrated with not finding it.  Mum is always the opposite, always super cheery, always wanting us to be happy, giving us what we want even before we know we want it.  Daddy wants us to be happy too, but only in that he gets irritated when we’re not.  I wish Mum would pay some attention to Daddy instead of looking after us all the time.  Every time I get into a zen, imagining myself swimming to one of the islands, or running alongside the car as a deer, she interrupts with some announcement or question,  Besides, Daddy looks like he is in a bad mood and needs that cheer more than we do.


We get to the campsite late in the day and both Nathan and I are excited, we want to see it all, the beach, the canoes, the woods, everything we can think of, but Mum and Dad just want to unpack and set up the tents.  We help set them up then have our supper.  The sun is already going down, on account of our arriving so late, looking pretty but redfaced behind the trees.  Daddy bosses the charcoal barbeque to cook our wieners and Mum sets up the perfect picnic table and makes us our dogs the way we want them.  Daddy has to make his own and this makes me feel bad for him. Mum does this alot to him and I know he hates it.  It makes me feel sad for Daddy.  Mum rarely ever talks to Daddy, nor does Daddy talk to her.  They never kiss or hug; though Mum is always kissing and hugging us.  Mum is a great mom. She does everything for us, but I still wish she would love Daddy the way she should.  She should love him just because he’s her husband.  He deserves it.  He works hard for it.  I love him like a daughter should because he’s my father.  That’s the way it should be.  I don’t have any other reason to need to love him and nothing is going to change that.  With daylight fading and the orange campfire glowing ever brighter, I watch him make his hot dog quietly.  He sits with us, eating it with his strong jaw chewing in huge manly movements.  There are the beginnings of a beard on his jaw and he looks hot and sweaty.  There are bags under his eyes that make him look tired and beat.  I love my father for the way he takes care of himself, for his strength that shows to me in those same masculine movements, but it makes me sad to see him so tired and quiet.  After supper, I go over and sit on Daddy’s lap and nuzzle my head under his chin so I can listen to the thrum of the big planet-sized heart inside his chest.  He wraps his arms around me and I can feel him sigh with relief.  He knows I love him.  We stay like this for a few minutes, then he kisses the top of my head and tells me it’s time for bed.  I whine a little bit and I feel his jaw tighten as his arms loosen around me. Mum swoops in to herd me off to bed, but I don’t want to even though I’m tired.  Nathan is already asleep in the tent, snoring, which amazes me and annoys me at the same time, but I am glad I don’t have to talk to him at all. Mum whispers to me her sweet nothings and leaves the lamp on for me after she gives me a big kiss and a hug.  I roll over and hold my unicorn doll and am asleep before I even know it.


I wake up later and it’s dark. Someone had come in the middle of the night and turned off the lamp and

left me in darkness.  My brother is not even snoring anymore, though I hear a new sound that makes me suddenly feel cold in the sweat of my sleeping bag.  It’s a hiss, like a snake it seems.  It sounds angry and urgent.  Followed right after it is a growl like a bear, also angry but seeming to be frustrated.  After freezing still for a few seconds, I come to recognize the sounds as my parents’ voices. There is a violent rustling from their tent that starts and ends suddenly, then silence.  I lay perfectly still, my heart racing, waiting and listening for something more.  There is nothing more. I fall asleep waiting, to dream of snakes and bears.


I wake up for good when the sun is up, though I know it must be early because it’s still quiet outside the tent.  Nathan snores away in total stupidity while daylight filters in, bright and welcome.  I slide out of my steamy sleeping bag and open the tent to feel the cool air flow in.  Outside, I notice to my surprise how close we are to the beach and I stand there looking at it, trying to take it all in even though my bladder needs to pee.  The air seems huge outside with the wide view of the lake bowled in by the mountains.  I realize how very small I am surrounded by such massiveness. Out on the water in the middle of that expanse, I see a lone canoe with a man in it, paddling along.  I watch him for a while, then notice that it’s my father.  He’s not too close but I can see his face and the way his body looks.  He looks happy.  He looks young too.  I’ve never seen him in a canoe before but he looks as if he had always been there, almost like he belongs there.  I wish I could be out there with him, feeling the breeze on my face like he does, listening to the water flowing around him.  He seems so oblivious to the world yet so in tune with it, I wonder if he’s really there; almost as if he’s really a ghost out of some past that was left behind.  He starts to paddle away from me to the deeper core of the lake, hitting his stride with strong, sure strokes.  Suddenly I feel so much love for him that I want to cry and call out to him though I know he can’t hear me.  My father.  There’s nothing I can do but watch him float away, my only consolation being that he will come back before too long.  I decide to wait for him so when he gets back to land, I can hold him and keep him where he is and let him know that he is loved.


© 2009 Kees Kapteyn

Author's Note

Kees Kapteyn
Very fresh writing, please critique however you see fit

My Review

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I liked the title of this story, it’s sharp and interesting. Your opening line isn’t the most captivating of starters, but immediately we can see a strong, professional writing style. I think that’s what drew me in. Your flow is excellent, especially as you avoid the overuse of “I” despite using first person. It’s something many find difficult, including myself, but your structure is well varied. While your first paragraph seems great so far, there are a few aspects you should definitely adjust.

First, when the father’s dialogue begins—“Pauline, it means two things...”—you should have it on a new line. That is, unless it’s a flashback (as at present, the father was just ignoring them) in which case you should use “had explained” or “had said” rather than “said Daddy”. In addition, the grammar of the dialogue tag is incorrect. You should make it: “...that are together that don’t really belong together[,]” instead. The following reference to Nathan could be in a new paragraph if not the dialogue, as it’s a different character. Either way, the current blocks are quite large and make your smooth, enjoyable story appear heavier.

“I wasn’t too keen on it at first, but [upon] driving here, I started to like the scenery and could imagine myself swimming out to the islands [/I saw out] in the middle of those beautiful lakes[,] surrounded by tree[-]covered mountains.” This is quite a long sentence in comparison to the rest, yet it’s still paratactic. I suggest removing “I saw out” as it does clog up the flow (read it aloud) and include the comma, to allow a more complex structure. Aside from this small change, this line gives Pauline a wonderful light—she’s accepting, not stuck in her ways, and she has a great eye for aesthetic appreciation. Along with the writing voice you’re using, plus her interesting views and relationship with her family, this character is really likeable.

This is random, but I just realised you say “Mum”. Another English style writer—hey! Unless you’re which case, hey! Anyway, the reason I noticed is because sometimes “Daddy” is written as “Dad”, and you want to ensure you keep the name the same throughout. It may only be in once (“[Daddy] just drives on ignoring us...”) but I’ll point it out if I see it again! How old is this girl, if she refers to her father as Daddy?

There’s a lot of telling going on here. Personally, I have no problem with it. I like hearing what the character thinks and reading about how it plays out later, but some readers will pick you up on how Pauline shouldn’t just tell us everything. Perhaps you could change some of the details about the father getting irritated if they’re unhappy, or the part about the mother constantly being cheery and asking questions, to dialogue. Let us read about it happening, rather than Pauline telling us it’s happening. But if you feel what you have now is more appropriate, stick with it; I personally like it. What you should change, however, is: “...interrupts with some announcement or question[.] Besides, Daddy looks like he is...” You had a cheeky comma in there.

“We get to the campsite late in the day and both Nathan and I are excited[.] [W]e want to see it all[;] the beach, the canoes, the woods...”
“The sun is already going down [-] on account of our arriving so late [-] [and is] looking pretty...”
“Mum is a great [mum].”

Wow. I was amazed by the description of the father, and how beautifully detailed the action of sitting in his lap was. My favourite line without a doubt is “ I can listen to the thrum of the big planet-sized heart inside his chest” but all of it is incredible. This is some amazing writing here, kudos for this. The entire paragraph portrays a wonderful, realistic scene that entirely captivated me. I loved it.

“Someone had come in the middle of the night and turned off the lamp and [left me in darkness].” This was accidentally put on a new line, so just take a look and close the gap. In the paragraph following this one, which opens “I wake up for good...” you’ve changed from a varied structure and have commenced an overuse of “I”. It’s not a big deal, it just makes the writing sound repetitive—though depending on the age of this girl, it’s probably more realistic. Just ensure the entire piece sounds like the same. If you revise this paragraph, try to reduce the use of “I” as it does seem to start many of the sentences here. However, aside from the flow clogging up a little more at the start, the ending is just beautiful. Pauline is a really deep, sincere, interesting character who I really like. You’ve written her so well without evening telling us anything about her person. We simply know she loves, admires and respects her father. It’s a touching story that holds far more meaning than meets the eye.

I really enjoyed Paradox, and I hope this helped!
Merry writing!

Posted 12 Years Ago

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1 Review
Added on August 21, 2009
Last Updated on August 21, 2009


Kees Kapteyn
Kees Kapteyn

Ottawa, Canada

Resides in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Self-published his zine 'rhododendron' and two chapbooks: 'grubstreet' and 'coffee salt.' Has been published in,, Novella, Corv.. more..

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