Pillows of Sand and Pebbles

Pillows of Sand and Pebbles

A Story by YouoweYoupay

"You have two more minutes." he murmured


The familiar trail lined with oleander shrubs narrowed down as she descended downhill towards the sacred corner of the mansion gardens. Ananya paused before the drape of iris curtains. Her hand reached to part them, but her shoulders dropped with a sigh instead. The roles had once been reversed. A lifetime ago, she had been the one on the side of the water and he was standing behind the curtains, waiting for her approval to let him in. Her brother's silhouette was lost among those of the trees and the hamsa birds moving on the surface of the lake. It was only when he straightened the curve of his hunched back that she was able to identify his shade. 

"You came?" Vihaan said, the tension in his voice rising, "Ananya, go back. They'll patronize you if you-"

"I won't be discovered." she whispered loudly, "I want you to show me."

His sister's silhouette behind the pale purple curtains stood firm and tall with dignity, despite the worry and secrecy in the tone of her voice. She was in her right place, among the elites and the noble folk. This thought was enough to bring him back to his senses and quench the anger temporarily. The tranquility of the swans gliding on the mirror-like face of the water, the arms of vegetation and sweet bright flowers stretching above his head and around his shoulder, like a caress of a concerned friend, was enough to soothe the burning sensation on his back and the sting in his face. He raised his arms and slowly removed the white undershirt, sucking his breath as the cotton slightly grazed the torn skin. In a moment of frustration, his eyes were blurred by hot tears, making the swans on the lake and the water look like crystal figurines dancing in the light of day.  

"Vihaan, show me." she insisted weakly," I'm coming in."

"No." he dryly said, wiping his eyes with his fists,  "If you don't hurry back to the mansion, I'll tell the servants that you came."

Ananya withdrew the drape with one hand and the white birds flew away in a startle leaving the crowns of lotus slightly wobbly. Even with his head lowered, he could imagine the features of her face as she approached, the bracelet on her ankle beneath the bright skirt ringing softly.

She held his chin with her fingers and locked eyes with him. 
Her voice was remorseful and patient, "Who did this to you?" but the charcoals in her large, black eyes demanded an answer, "What did you say to provoke them this time?" her two fingers twitched and pressed against the edges of his face. 

Vihaan winced in pain, turning his face away from her grip. She cupped his cheeks in her hands more gently this time, her eyes squeezed and her face crumpled, her whole body quaking and sinking down to his level near the stone he was sitting on.
Vihaan had seen his condition in the reflection of the lake and he knew she was not hurt by the blackened eye or swollen lip. And although he could not see his own back in the reflection, the fire that burned across his spine painted the picture in his own mind quite colorfully. 

"Ananya, stop this nonsense, please." he held her hands as she sank down even further and lower from his stature, "You're only making this more difficult for me."

She shook her head as tears filled her eyes. Her mouth opened and closed. He raced her to the words. His tone mellowed down and his eyebrows furrowed sympathetically.

"You will be the wife of a man who will never let you go hungry or cold or needy in any aspect. How many people encounter the luck we have? You should be happy, Ananya."

"How? Tell me how?" she hastily said, licking her lips with a sniff, the river flowing along her cheeks, "How can a woman be happy with a man who makes her brother suffer? Tell me, Vihaan, because if you will be the dirt beneath their feet in exchange for this..." she said pulling on the fabric of her orange salwar laced with silver, her eyes were hollowed by the possibility, "Then," she paused to scan the flowering branches curled above his shoulder, "Then I want to leave this place. With you." 

"And leave where, Ananya?" his eyes hardened. He clicked his tongue and removed his hand from hers, "To sleep in the streets again? Do you miss the pillows of sand and pebbles and garbage? Do you think our father will rest in peace knowing you refused?" 

Ananya buried her face in the undershirt her brother held against his lap. He smoothed the braids of her hair. He listlessly watched a single white petal fall on her shimmering skirt that spilled on the grass in brilliant yellow and silver. He traced the tiny elephants on her bracelets and the floral patterns of mehndi on the back of her hands, the tiny gasps in between her sobs like a pinch of salt sprinkled on his humiliation. And the black soot inked beneath his fingernails in comparison to her clean, decorated hands, the smell of rose oil in her hair mixed with the smell of his sweat and blood only made him feel smaller.

"You have two more minutes." he murmured, "I need to finish feeding the birds that you scared away."

Ananya would receive many gifts the day that followed. But the most precious one anyone could give to her was unlearning, unknowing that her only brother would be deprived of sleep from the whiplash wounds on his back and from the sound of his dreams being crushed by the merriness of her wedding ceremony. 

The scaly, chipped skin of his fingers was caught in the locks of her hair. 

Vihaan remembered the hands of a child which had once been soiled with oil paint, as he stood in the shower of sunlight pouring from the window, the grin on his face showing all his once intact teeth, the easel by his side holding a canvas of nearly seven shades of green. Standing before the art piece in silence and a smile of awe was his younger sister, the black irises of her eyes a mirror for the blotches of pistachio, mulberry, olive and patrolium greens.

© 2019 YouoweYoupay

Author's Note

Constructive criticism! Ready, go!

Painting by: Judy Nunno
Link to artist's page: https://www.judynunno.com/large-multi-view/all/2161407-19-/Swan%20Lake.html

My Review

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Lots of love and emotions! I like that. Usually, like barleygirl mentioned in a review, I lose interest fast when there is more description then story. Also it switched from characters a lot which I don't normally do in the same section of a chapter. But this was nice, kept me reading till the end. and it actually--I don't know if those are your intentions--could make a very interesting start of a bigger story. You could really make a novel out of this plot, adding more characters and storylines. Well done!

Posted 9 Months Ago

Personally I loved this as is with no changes I found this perfect and beautiful and was hooked on the descriptions loved it so much well done your descriptions are superb !!

Posted 1 Year Ago

Hi Aysha

I see what you're trying to say and show here, but I have to agree with Margie and Jay (only to an extent!). The imagery is beautiful here, for it is your forte, and your works are always adorned with that charming beauty. The story here, though, is a bit stretched at some places and unevenly paced.
The bond between Vihaan and Ananya is strong, and that is quite beautifully depicted in this para:

"Ananya buried her face in the undershirt her brother held against his lap. He smoothed the braids of her hair. He listlessly watched a single white petal fall on her shimmering skirt that spilled on the grass in brilliant yellow and silver. He traced the tiny elephants on her bracelets and the floral patterns of mehndi on the back of her hands, the tiny gasps in between her sobs like a pinch of salt sprinkled on his humiliation. And the black soot inked beneath his fingernails in comparison to her clean, decorated hands, the smell of rose oil in her hair mixed with the smell of his sweat and blood only made him feel smaller."

But there are a few contextual issues, as Jay said. One thing that I also feel can help is to establish the circumstances sooner, and their enormity. Ananya is to be married into a life of luxury, but if you show the contrast between her past and would be life, that could highlight it better, and complement the story and this particular moment. And one thing I didn't understand is when and how were their roles reversed (first para). That seemed important to me. But that's just what I felt at the time. Maybe it's not really that important.

One thing I think you're really good at is expressing emotions and nature's beauty, quite often using the two to show each other better. :)

Posted 1 Year Ago

To tell the truth, I am an impatient reader & I don't go in for flowery passages of description. But in the case of your story, even tho it seems like about 50% description, which is quite a bit, compared to the little bit of forward action of your storyline . . . your writing is so visual & sensory & poetic, I actually did not mind all that description at all. I really enjoyed reading it. In fact, sometimes it felt like I was only barely plugging into the storyline & mostly just visualizing the surroundings you describe so eloquently. The first half of the story, it felt like forever between each little step that the story made in forward progress. Then in the last half, it felt like this pace quickened up a bit & this worked well to increase the sense of intensity of feeling between sister & brother. Your style of storytelling is different from what some might expect (JayG -- below -- seems critical) . . . but I would encourage you to stick to what you know . . . you are a strong writer & storyteller & your style is unique & easy to read & enjoy (((HUGS))) Fondly, Margie

Posted 1 Year Ago

A lot of this story—parts necessary to provide a reader with context, never made it to the page, I think, because as an external narrator, focused on what you visualize, what's obvious to you isn't mentioned.

Look at the opening not as the author, or the narrator, but as a reader taking what meaning the words suggest, based on the reader's background, not your intent.

• The familiar trail lined with oleander shrubs narrowed down as she descended downhill towards the sacred corner of the palace gardens.

Familiar? Familiar to whom? Wouldn't it make sense to place someone into the story before you talk about what you see happening? Might it not be nice for the reader to know where we are in time and space, so we have a clue of the culture this takes place in? If you did, the reader would have context for "sacred corner," which could be a place where certain important events too place, or where people worship some unknown deity.

And might it not be nice if we knew who the "she" is? As is, you're telling the reader what you visualize on the screen of a theater. But can those few words give the reader even a rudimentary mental picture, when it's truly said that a picture is worth a thousand words (four standard manuscript pages, and you provide twenty-one?

As presented, an unknown "she," in an unknown place, is walking or biking, or... on a trail of unknown width as it descends an unknown distance, for unknown reasons, at an unknown time of day and season, toward some sort of religious site.

In other words, you have words, but the reader lacks context to make them meaningful.

• Ananya paused before the drape of iris curtains.

Assuming she's the person mentioned in the previous line, why do I care that she paused? I can't see her dress, so I know nothing about her, her society, or her standing in it. I can't tell her mood or her mind-state, so I have no clue of why she hesiteted. But that hesitation is a visual detail that's irrelevant to the reader who can't see everything that goes with that.

In short, you, the narrator, someone with no emotion in their voice (because we can't hear it and have no way of knowing how you would like the words to be read) are talking about what YOU see happening in your mind, without giving the reader that picture.

But take that further: You can't make the reader see it wirh words, and if you could, the protagonist is ignoring the vast majority of it in any case. She's not watching and classifying the scenery, she's focused on what she hopes to accomplish in the immediate future.

So by talking about what you notice instead of what she does, she's not our avatar. Instead, she's an unknown who you're talking ABOUT in general terms, which makes this a chronicle of events, not a story.

• The roles had once been reversed.

Okay. last one, I promise. Burt this is critical. What roles? We donm't know where we are, who we are, what's going on, or her scene-goal. It makes perfect sense to you, who know who she (and everyone else) is and why she's there. You know the backstory of the characters and the kingdom. The reader? They have context for nothing. And you provide none because to you, it's so obvious.

I know this is nothing like what you hoped for when you asked me to take a look, but you're working hard, and since what I have to say is unrelated to talent or good/bad writing I thought you would want to know.

Here's the deal, and it's not your fault: At the moment you're using the writing skills you were given in school, as we all do till we learn why they can't be used. And the reason we can't is that the only writing skills we're given are nonfiction. Unfortunately, nonfiction's goal is to explain and inform, while fiction's is to entertain the reader by making them feel they're living the story. So no matter how hard you try; no matter your sincerity; no matter your effort, or purity of heart If you use nonfiction skills it-will-read-like-nonfiction. It has to.

The solution is simple enough. All professions are learned in addition to the set general skills we're given in school, so you need to add the skills of fiction-writing to those you already own. As an example, there's a vast difference between a scene on the screen and stage and one on the page. The objectives and elements of each kind of scene are very different. But if we're not aware of the elements that make up a scene, or how to introduce and manage them, how can we write one.

Is it a simple process to learn them? Sure. It's no harder than was learning nonfiction skills were. Is it easy, or quick? No. But you're learning the tricks of a profession. If it was easy and quick we'd all be famous writers. But still, if you are meant to be a writer, the learning is fun. And if not, you've learned something important about yourself. So, win/win.

The good news is that successful writers, publishing pros, and teachers like to write about what they do, so there are lots of books available on the subject. Time spent with them is time well spent.

My favorite? Dwight Swain's, Techniques of the Selling Writer. It's not an easy book, but it is the best I've found. It's an older book,and talks about your typewriter, but it's still the best. Another, almost as good, is Jack Bickham's, Scene and Structure.

And finally, Debra Dixon's, GMC: Goal Motivation & Conflict, while a bit more limited, is a warm easy read, and will give you the nuts and bolts issues of building scenes that sing to a reader.

So have at it. Take a bit of time to acquire a few of the tricks the pros take for granted. You'll like the results.

One thing that may help would be to dig around a bit among the writing articles in by blog. They're aimed at the hopeful writer, to give an overview of the issues involved.

But whatever you decide to do, hang in there, and keep on writing.

Jay Greenstein

Posted 1 Year Ago

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5 Reviews
Shelved in 2 Libraries
Added on May 10, 2019
Last Updated on May 11, 2019
Tags: story, brotherhood, siblings, love, wedding, poverty, dreams, orphans, writing, experiment



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