Here is this week's installment of First Page Friday.
by Jenny Proctor
Henry Jacobson watched his seven year old son throw rocks into the still water of the Little Tennessee River. He was only a few yards away, close enough for Henry to hear his voice, or reach him in a mere moment should he step any closer to the water. Still, Henry couldn’t shake the feeling that his son was somehow far away, slowly, quietly slipping beyond his reach.
Henry turned and looked down the asphalt path that wound through the densely green foliage next to the river. It was a beautiful summer day, warm, but with enough of a breeze to keep the heat at bay. For a Sunday afternoon, Rose Creek’s Greenway Park was relatively quiet. Henry saw an older couple walking a small, yappy dog that hopped energetically between them, and a family riding their bikes further down the path. Otherwise, he and his son were alone.
“AJ,” Henry called. “Do you want to go back over to the playground? I could push you on the swing.”
AJ scrunched his face in consideration. “Naw, I don’t really feel like swinging.”
“What about your bike?” Henry asked. “I could walk beside you while you ride, catch you if you come close to falling.”
AJ turned and looked at him, a look of disbelief on his face. “Dad, it’s been ages since I fell off my bike. I’ve been practicing with Mom. I can go really fast by myself.”
Henry winced, ashamed to have missed such a milestone in his son’s life. “That’s great, AJ,” he said. “Can I see you ride since you’ve gotten so good?”
“I don’t really feel like riding my bike either,” AJ kicked at a clump of grass at his feet. “Can we just go home? I’m hungry and I think Grandma has pie.”
Henry glanced at his watch. It was just after 4—a full two hours earlier than AJ’s mom expected him home. He sighed and watched as AJ tossed one final rock into the river. Close to the size of the boy’s fist, the rock made a noisy splash when it hit the water.
Ms. Shreditor's Comments
I’ve often taken samples to task for not getting under way fast enough, for ruminating on the wrong details at the wrong time. This sample is a bit different. It doesn’t sucker-punch you with a cheap dramatic thrill to get your attention (not that there’s anything wrong with that tactic, which can be effective). It takes a quiet approach. It draws the reader in slowly. The hook isn’t in a meaty piece of dialogue or dramatic event; it’s in the emotional distance between Henry and his son.
What’s most poignant about this piece isn’t what happens, but what doesn’t happen. AJ refuses Henry’s offer to push him on the swing and guide him on his bicycle. He makes it clear that he’s more interested in being with his mother and grandmother. These cues and others alert us to Henry’s limited role in his son’s life, and the fact that AJ’s mom expects him home at a certain time signals a possible divorce/joint custody situation. There’s a real sense of estrangement here.
There’s not much to pick apart in terms of grammar and syntax here. This excerpt is exceptionally clean. I’d replace “densely” green foliage with “dense.” I would also mention AJ’s name sooner (perhaps after “seven-year-old son” in the first sentence); it’s a bit confusing when Henry calls out a name we haven’t yet heard.
I’m not sure what else to say, because this piece is in good shape. Of course, we don’t yet know where the story is headed, but we do wonder. How has Henry ended up here, on the outskirts of his own son’s life? Will the central storyline be an attempt to spend more time with AJ? To reconcile with his wife? To work through past events that led him to this point? We have no choice but to read on if we want to find out, and that’s what a first page should do: propel the reader forward.
Thank you to everyone for participating. See you next week!