Brave of You
“So, love, how was your day?” Sarah asked as Tom was cutting into his steak. He sighed, and his shoulders sagged.
“Not bad.” He then looked down at his plate and smiled slightly. “Oh yeah, Mum, I was walking with James, and we were walking over to the oval for footy training, and you know how I’ve told you about the tons of birds that are always on the footpath?”
“Well, for some reason, they weren’t there.”
“Oh, well… that’s odd, I guess?”
“Yeah, anyway, we didn’t really think about it, and we just kept walking. Then, out of nowhere, like twenty birds came and flew right at us, and one literally stole James’ sandwich directly from his hands. It was crazy.” Sarah laughed, as did Jess and Gregory.
“I assume neither of you were hurt, right?” asked Gregory.
“No, we were fatally wounded by birds,” Tom said. “I’m pretty sure my leg is still broken.”
Sarah looked at Tom disapprovingly. “Tom, don’t be sassy with your dad.”
Tom sighed, “Sorry dad.”
“It’s okay,” said Gregory, “it was actually pretty funny, to be fair.”
“Did anything else exciting happen?” Sarah then asked.
“Bloody hell, my sandwich!” James said.
“You’ll be fine! It’s only a sandwich.” Tom said while laughing.
“Hey, as far as you know, that sandwich was a family heirloom,” James said.
“The Thompson family sandwich has been handed down from father to son for nearly 1000 years,” said Tom, putting on an over-the-top British accent. “Cheese, tomato, lettuce, and margarine. The five founding ingredients that have brought the dynasty together. Cheese, representing the wealth and prosperity that the head of the family, Reginald Thompson, found on the Caribbean Islands. Tomato, representing the…”
“Stop, stop!” James said, struggling to get the words out. “I’m gonna get a stitch!”
James sighed, and the pair walked a little longer. They glanced at each other for a moment, and smiled slightly, before looking back at the way they were headed. Tom looked around. The concrete path they were walking on was surrounded by uncut grass. To the right of the path was a big brick wall, and windows placed at regular intervals. The windows revealed a few empty classrooms, with the chairs placed on top of the desks. To the left and down the hill, there was the oval, with one man standing on it, wearing a hat and a tracksuit. He was walking around the oval, placing cones in a rectangular shape. The pair then stopped walking and looked at each other. Tom glanced down at his hands and started to rub them together. He glanced back up at James. James had stuffed his hands into his jacket pockets. They looked directly into each other’s eyes for a moment. Tom leant to the left to look behind James. Through the grass, there was a little alcove, that was large enough to fit the two of them with a bit of room. There was also a pipe coming out of the wall, that curved downwards into the ground. James noticed Tom looking behind him and turned around to see the alcove as well.
“You know,” Tom said, “no one will see us if we go in there.” James grabbed Tom’s hand, and they ran through the grass, into the alcove together. Tom pushed James against the brick wall.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” whispered Tom.
James chuckled. “It’s okay.”
Tom leant in to kiss James. As his eyes closed, he felt James’ hands wrap around his waist. He started to forget about what time it was, and he stopped caring about footy training. All he could focus on was James.
“Well, hello there.”
Tom leapt backwards and looked to where the voice came from. Standing on the path, just behind the grass was Hector, with two of his friends standing behind him. “Who’s he then?”
“Well… he’s James. I’m surprised ya don’t know him, we’re in the same year level.”
“I meant who’s he to you, dipshit,” Hector said. “Is he your boyfriend?”
“I don’t know where you got that idea from,” said Tom. “We’re just good friends.”
“It sure looked like it when you had your tongue halfway down his throat. Are you a fag or something?”
“Nope, not me.”
“Sure. Well, then can you just come out here a minute?” Tom felt his heart start to pound.
“Well, you don’t have much choice anyway, we’ve got training in five.” Tom looked over at James. He was silent. His breath was heavy and shaky. His gaze was locked straight at the ground. Tom reluctantly took a step forward. “Come on,” said Hector, “we don’t have all day.” Tom took another step forward, and another, and another. He walked through the grass and stepped onto the concrete. Face to face with Hector.
Before he could react, Hector pulled his fist back and thrust it at Tom’s stomach. A flash of pain spread through Tom’s torso, and he felt the air escape his body. The force knocked him onto his back. He coughed and spluttered as his body instinctively tried to breathe in. He heard the sound of Hector’s voice saying something, but he couldn’t focus on it. His vision was blurry his hearing was foggy. His breathing was aggressive and uneven. He lifted his head up slightly and saw Hector and his friends walking away. One of them stopped walking and looked over his shoulder at Tom.
“Fucking hate fags,” he said. “Disgusting.” He paused for a second and then spat at Tom. It landed on the concrete, about halfway between Tom and himself. He then turned back around, and the group started walking once more.
Tom stayed laying down for a while longer. Just breathing. He couldn’t tell how long he was laying there, but eventually, he heard a rustling in the bushes. James rushed out of the alcove and knelt beside him.
“Holy shit, Tom!” James said. His cheeks were red, and his eyes were wet. “We need to go home.”
“Ugh… can’t…” Tom said. “My… ugh… my parents would… would kill me.”
“What? Tom, that’s stupid!”
“No, I’ll… I’ll tell you what’s… stupid. Taking me away… from my fucking training… just so you can… ugh… fucking kiss me.”
“Tom, stop! I’m gonna get you up.” James said. He grabbed Tom’s arm and started to put his arm underneath Tom’s back.
“No, don’t touch me!” Tom said as he swatted away James’ arms. He started to push himself into a sitting position. “Look, I’ve got footy training to go to.”
“Tom.” James looked shocked. Tom sighed and started to stand up slowly.
“I’ll… I’ll see you later dude,” Tom said, before walking off in the direction of the oval.
Tom’s smile faded slightly. “Um…” He swallowed. “No, that was about it.”
“Alright, well, fair enough,” Sarah said. “How about you Jess?”
“Um, well… I got a gold star and a chocolate today!” said Jess.
“Well done!” Gregory said. “What was it for?”
“Well, I… um…” Jess took a deep breath. “I was playing with Rachel’s Lego at lunch, and she went to go to the toilet, and I kept playing with them, but I accidentally dropped one in the heater.”
“Wait, how do you drop Lego in the heater?” Tom asked. “Isn’t it on the wall?”
“You mean the grate on the floor, don’t you honey?” Gregory said. “The metal thing?”
“Yeah, that,” Jess said. “Anyway, I felt really bad and when Rachel came back and I didn’t tell her but she started crying and Ms Wilson was asking who did it and I decided to tell everyone and I said I’m sorry and Ms Wilson said my honesty was brave and I deserved a Freddo and a gold star.”
“Well, Ms Wilson is right,” Sarah said. “That was very brave of you. It’s always better to tell the truth. It might be hard, but it will always be better than holding on to whatever bad feelings you have.” Jess smiled, and the family continued to eat.
Tom noticed his phone buzzing in his pocket and took it out. His screen read 1 new message – James. He sighed, and then put it down. He continued to eat. It buzzed once again. He picked it up again, and his screen read 2 new messages – James.
“Tom, could you turn that on silent please?” Gregory asked. Tom looked up.
“With pleasure,” he said. Gregory looked a little confused but quickly went back to eating his steak.
Tom ate his final piece of steak and put his cutlery down on his plate. Everyone else in the family had been talking more than he had, so Tom had to sit there while they ate their food. He looked down at his plate. He felt his face go slightly hot, and he tried as hard as he could to stop thinking about it. He was annoyed at James. He promised it would be secret. He promised no one would know. He promised they would be careful. Careful my ass, he thought. James was so pushy, so clingy. He pressured him to kiss him. He didn’t have a choice. He didn’t even give him time to come out; he was so desperate to be his boyfriend.
“Honey, are you okay?” Sarah asked. Tom realised he was on the verge of tears. He tried to look up at Sarah, but he couldn’t hold her gaze.
“I’m fine,” he said. “I’m going to go to bed anyway.” He stood up quickly, grabbed his phone from the table, and stormed upstairs into his room. Tom felt the tears start to fall down his face. He slammed his bedroom door shut behind him and flung himself and his phone onto his bed. He sobbed into his pillow. He hated himself, he hated the world, he hated everything. He shoved his face as far into his pillow as possible. He wanted to hide from the world. He wanted to fall asleep and never wake up. The world was against him. No one cared. No one.
He sobbed for a while until he felt like he couldn’t cry anymore. He pulled his face away from the now wet pillow and sat up on his bed. He looked over to where he had thrown his phone. He reached over to pick it up and turned it on. 2 new messages – James. He tapped on the notification and unlocked his phone. He began to read.
Hey babe, I hope you’re okay. I’m not really sure where to start so, I guess I’ll just say what I have to say. I think you need to come out, to your family at least. I know it’s scary, I was petrified when I had to come out to my parents. Even though I had no reason to believe they were against people like us, I still wasn’t sure. It’s natural to want to protect yourself, but I think the only way this situation gets better is if you tell them. Hector is a fucking asshole, obviously, and you need to tell your parents about him. It’s been awful seeing you in pain for so many months because of him, and I don’t want this to continue. Now that he knows you’re gay, and that we’re together, it’ll only get worse. I know it’s hard, but I promise you, your parents love you unconditionally. When I met them, they were so kind and sweet, and they really care about you. Just, please, don’t let Hector ruin your life. I love you so much.
The next message read, also, if you’re out, you can come to pride parades with me! Queer people are the coolest, trust me.
Tom turned off his phone and put it in his pocket. He shoved his head into his hands, and took a deep breath, in, and out. As he was sitting there, Tom heard a knock at the door.
“Honey?” Sarah’s muffled voice came from outside the room.
“What’s up mum?” Tom asked. The door swung open, and Sarah peeked her head into the room.
“Are you okay?” Sarah asked. “You seemed really upset at dinner.”
“Just… can you sit down? I’ve got something I need to tell you.”
“Okay.” Sarah sat down.
“Um… I’m… I’m getting bullied at school.”
“What?!” Sarah looked shocked. “Who? Why are they bullying you? Why hasn’t anyone…”
“Because I’m gay.” As the words came out of Tom’s mouth, Sarah’s look relaxed into one of care, and attentiveness. “I’ve known I’m gay for… about eight months now. And I’m in a relationship with James.” Sarah reached out to hold Tom’s hand, and there was a moment of silence.
“Okay,” Sarah said. “Well, this is new for me, so it might take me a little bit of time to get used to it. But I want you to know that myself, and dad, love you so, so much, and we will no matter who you like, or who you are, or anything like that. Being gay is nothing to be ashamed of, and you shouldn’t have to deal with anyone giving you a hard time for it, okay? We love you so much.” There was another moment of silence.
“Thanks, mum,” Tom said. “Can I have a hug?”
“Can I have a hug?” Sarah said. “What sort of question is that? Of course!” Sarah reached over with both of her arms and wrapped them around Tom. They embraced tightly for a little while. “Oh, hang on, stay here for a second. I’ve got something for you.” Sarah let go of Tom and stood up. She walked out of the room and was gone for about a minute. Tom remained on his bed, smiling. He felt a lot better.
Eventually, Sarah walked back into the room, with her hands behind her back. “Here,” she said, revealing the Freddo she was holding in her hand. “Unfortunately, I didn’t have a gold star.”
“I love you so much,” Sarah said, as she sat down again. “We’ll get through this together, okay?”
Brave of You – Reflective Commentary
I titled my story ‘Brave of You’. I did this to reflect Carver’s common technique of naming a story after a line of dialogue, such as ‘Why Don’t You Dance?’, and ‘So Much Water, So Close to Home’. I picked ‘Brave of You’ particularly because of how it represented the story rather well, the story itself being about courage, and being brave, no matter how big or small the moment may be. The story takes place in current-day Melbourne and follows a teenage boy named Tom who is struggling to deal with his sexuality, and more specifically, the way people will treat him because of it.
I noticed that a lot of Carver’s stories focused on one or two particular aspects of social connection between humans, such as jealousy and romance in ‘Neighbours’, and pain and empathy in ‘Why Don’t You Dance?’. I decided that I wanted to make a story about honesty, a value that I have found throughout my life to be crucial to one’s overall health. I also wanted to write about something that I have experienced in my life, so I decided to write about sexuality and identity. While I’m fortunate to live in a very accepting area, and have never been assaulted for my sexuality, I have experienced quite a bit of homophobia, and I thought that writing about something I knew would make my story stronger.
I wanted to get across the message that honesty is the best thing for everyone in nearly every situation, and, even if you are scared about something, and you think that people won’t like you for who you are or what you have done, there will always be those who love you unconditionally, and accepting and moving on from those mistakes will help you greatly.
Instead of writing a minimalist story, I wanted to write a story, and then try to adjust the style in order to make it minimalist. I attempted this by cutting a lot of the fat from my sentences, such as adverbs, verbs that represent speaking other than said or asked, and also reducing the description of places or people to ones that were necessary for the story to be understood. Like Carver, I tried to keep the mood relatively flat and neutral. However, the tone shifted a lot throughout the story. I attempted to use subtle body language and specific words in order to imply the tone that a character is speaking with. “[Tom] sighed, and his shoulders sagged. “Not bad.” He then looked down at his plate and smiled slightly.” I tried to use the Freddo and the gold star to represent the reward and feeling of elation that truth can provide. I used it as the reward that Jess got at primary school, and then called back to it when Sarah was comforting Tom.
I found it relatively easy to mimic Raymond Carver’s style, as I often struggle with describing things in great detail, and the minimalist style gave me the freedom to write with relative brevity and allowed me to focus on writing a story that was paced well. I thought that my plot and message were rather clear and well explained. I also thought that the minimalist style fitted me rather well, and enhanced my creative expression and writing ability. I thought that I struggled with writing strong symbolism that wasn’t extremely obvious and tacked on. I also thought that I could’ve focussed a little less on dialogue.