#NaNoWriMo 2017: Day One

High Dependency

I am writing my second novel during the month of November, and publishing the first draft of the manuscript live, as part of National Novel Writing Month 2017. The working title of my novel is High Dependency.

You can read the rest of the manuscript as I write it and publish it chapter by chapter here: https://medium.com/high-dependency

Chapter One


The rhythmic sound of ropes slapping on metal masts increased and decreased in tempo with the speed of the wind, which gusted and whistled through the rigging of the yachts. Taut wires held the masts aloft and the air screamed as it was sliced by the silver cables. Twelve visiting yachts rafted up along the harbour wall, sheltering from the storm.

Two orange pinpricks of light were visible through the hatchway, looking into the cockpit of “Caroline” where her father sat above deck, smoking his pipe. As the embers in the pipe bowl burned ferociously, her father’s face was slightly aglow and his eyes shone brightly in the darkness. Pausing to exhale, plumes of white smoke were carried away by the wind, as he blew a jet from his mouth. He gazed into the far distance without focus, lost in his thoughts.

Her brother sat at the top of the steps that led up from below deck, through the hatchway and out into the cockpit of the yacht. He watched his father studiously, although he pretended not to; coyly glancing down lest he be caught staring. Playing with his hands, the boy acted out a make-believe scene— imagining that he was moving toy soldiers around on a battlefield, and miming the actions of the actors in his play.

Despite the strong wind, the scent of tobacco smoke wafted down into the saloon, where she was hanging suspended from the ceiling, kneeling in an open-topped bag for storing the sails when they were not in use. The dry sailcloth smelled of salt water and mildew. Diesel and engine oil were pungent in the air — the yacht’s engine always leaked a little of these liquids into the bilges, where it mixed with a puddle of seawater and condensation at the very bottom of the boat. These smells were incredibly familiar and comforting to her.

She clutched a pale yellow blanket to her face with the same hand that she sucked the thumb of. The blanket was knitted in a loosely-woven pattern with fine delicate wool that caressed her skin. A shiny silk material was stitched to one edge of the blanket, and she clutched this silky edge to her sensitive face as she sucked on her thumb — tickling her own cheeks and nose with the corner of the blanket that poked out of her clenched hand. The rest of the blanket was grubby and frayed at the other end, smelling slightly of curdled milk because the little girl could not bear to be parted from her “banky” for long enough to allow it to be washed and dried.

Her big round brilliant blue eyes watched everything calmly and attentively, taking in every minute detail of the scene laid before her, as she peeked over the edge of the sail bag. Aboard the yacht, she slept on top of the sails in a makeshift hammock, only big enough to accommodate a small child. Awake, she enjoyed her vantage point suspended above the floor, where she could watch the world, while safely cocooned amongst the sailcloth.

Woven wicker creaked under her weight as Arno tossed and turned in her bed. The bedding was damp, clammy and cold. The air was full of moisture. Wood smoke stung the back of her throat, although the fire had long since gone out and ceased to generate any heat.

Moonlight illuminated a lattice pattern of large triangles covered with clear plastic, heavy with droplets of condensation on the inside. Outside, a layer of milky grime obscured the view of anything except for the rain as it hit the geodesic dome roof. As a cloud dumped its contents onto Arno’s home, the plastic covering of the dome was like a taut drum skin, with each raindrop imparting considerable percussive force — a crescendo of white noise amplified by the structure.

Four cloth interior walls gave the bedroom some privacy. Thick black fabric was draped from a wooden frame, like curtains, which stopped anybody from seeing the occupants inside, while also trapping a little of the heat from the cast-iron stove which was in the very centre of Arno’s house. A shiny silver aluminium flue took the wood smoke through the dome roof, rising like a yacht’s mast; scraping the sky.

Outside, the chimney was secured to the ground with tensioned wires, to prevent it being toppled in high winds. Rising high above the dome roof, the hot smoke was carried away, preventing the delicate membrane from being melted or coated in soot. The geodesic dome design was incredibly strong for its weight and an aesthetically pleasing hemispherical shape. Created from white plastic plumbing pipe and covered with sheets of transparent plastic, the construction was more suitable as a greenhouse than a home, but the structure had been quick and easy to build and it had proven weatherproof.

The prevailing wind carried the raincloud away but continued to blow on the top of the chimney with a melodic tone. The supporting cables vibrated and the metal parts of the building hummed at a low unobtrusive frequency. The sound was soothing; calming.

Arno could feel her body tense up as the noise of a loose panel of her neighbour’s corrugated iron roof clanged and clunked. A panel had worked its way loose in during stronger wind some weeks ago and it had not been repaired yet; now flapping uselessly in the breeze.

To get up, get dressed, find ladders, tools and crawl around on somebody else’s wet roof in order to fix this noise, which randomly punctuated the otherwise peaceful night, was something that would only result in frayed tempers or injury. Arno was already at her wits end — she had raised the issue after many sleepless nights. Alas, the roofing panel had been left un-repaired.

Each time she attempted to calm herself and ignore the noise, trying to soothe herself back into her slumbers, the corrugated iron would suddenly be caught by the wind and flap noisily. The anticipation of the random moment when the quiet would be pierced by a clang, caused her to coil in tense anticipation of each irregular disturbance. She felt sick with stress.

Lying next to her on a wooden-framed bed, was Jan. Flat on his back with his mouth open, he was snoring noisily — his face was a picture of peace and tranquility. Jan had thick floppy brown hair, with a fringe that touched his eyebrows, and a short coarse beard of lighter brown, which covered most of his face. A slot of healthy sun-kissed flesh was framed in-between his fringe and beard, where his large green eyes peered out from under bushy eyebrows, when he wasn’t asleep. He looked young and sweet, with cute boyish good looks. The thought of waking him up when she was in such a tense and agitated bad mood, was not something she could bear to do.

Rehearsing the confrontation with her neighbour — Thom — in her head, Arno knew that she would come across as irritable and whiney, complaining about an intermittent noise which only seemed to bother her. The rest of the commune slept perfectly well until the cockerels started crowing. The autumn had caught the community a little off-guard, and now the priority was building enough outbuildings to preserve the harvested crop, animal feed and other perishable farm supples that would be damaged over the winter. There was the roof to finish on the big shed, before anybody could worry about a loose panel on one of their many makeshift homes, which had served them just about well enough since the spring.

Arno sensed that she was not popular in the commune. She had insisted on building a geodesic dome of her own design, when the rest of the community had built timber-framed houses, roofed with corrugated iron and clad with shiplap — they had all worked on each other’s houses and helped to refine and improve the design as they’d gone along. Arno could picture in her mind how her structure was going to be erected. She had a detailed list of accurate measurements, and she was able to build the lightweight skeletal plastic frame with no assistance.

Her neighbours had marvelled at the beauty of the the dome which arched above them when they stepped inside, with natural light pouring in. The minimalist futuristic structure jarred with the natural beauty around them. The dome was not in keeping with the eclectic mix of timber-framed buildings in the commune, but it was iconic. Arno’s dome symbolised one of the founding values of the the community: attempting to go their own way and set themselves apart from the world. Arno’s dome was very different from conventional homes.

Arno had grown up watching her father and brother sail the family yacht, but always felt that she had to stay out of the way. Her brother would be lashed by her father’s tongue, when he would pull the wrong rope or release the wrong cleat. She silently observed and rehearsed what she would do if she was ever given the opportunity to take the helm. As a child, she had soaked up an atmosphere that was tense and insecure — retrospectively, she could see that her father was not a confident skipper. Drills, procedures, order, preparation, planning, control: those were the things that kept sailors safe on rough seas. She was highly resilient and able to take affirmative action in a crisis. She was a born leader; a natural.

She had sailed extensively on her own. Having seen her brother’s eyes prick with tears when harshly reprimanded by her father, she became a gifted teacher and was loved by her crew — always patiently explaining things. Inspiring confidence, her beaming smile never faltered, even under extreme stress — she knew that the crew & passengers needed to take comfort from her courage. “Worse things happen at sea” she would joke when the engine wouldn’t start, or part of the rigging broke — her attitude had carried her through some hair-raising crises, when skippering yachts.

During the summer, a freak storm brought high winds and the hastily-erected structures of the commune had their first test. Many of her neighbours stood uselessly attempting to hold up their homes and fences with their hands, as the wind battered the buildings. Arno grabbed hammers, nails, battens and rope from the meticulously organised tool store and wood store — a place for everything and everything in its place — before directing those who were flapping and panicking, to repair and secure the flimsy shantytown, which was disintegrating. Her quick-thinking and her calm self-assured manner — keeping her head when all around her people were losing theirs — had cemented her position as a useful member of the community, but she did not integrate well during day-to-day life; she was aloof.

Jan was 9 years younger than her — the youngest adult in the commune. His boyish looks and wide-eyed innocent expression brought out protective instincts in most members of the community. His bouncy happy upbeat personality was puppy-like. He seemed to see nothing but good in the world. That she was sleeping with him was something that had caused some upset, although nobody could express what precisely disturbed them about the relationship, other than worries that she might be using the young man.

He fucked her with an intensity that she adored. He was not as innocent as people imagined, but she had told him exactly what she liked and he was eager to please her. His big calloused hands explored her breasts and gripped her; caressed her. His youthful muscles rippled and he noisily expressed his pleasure, as he moved his heavy frame on top of her; she climaxed easily with the urgency and intensity with which this beautiful young man desired her body — his arousal was fiercely erotic. They smiled and laughed; sweating and panting; hugging and squeezing each other. He would collapse with a grin of contentment, before dozing in blissful post-coital satisfaction. She felt a warm satisfying fulfilment, briefly. He was affectionate and he loved to cuddle and spoon. As he snoozed, she would worry that she was going to break the heart of the happy-go-lucky young man.

Her house had not proven to be a very successful experiment. Without proper ventilation, humidity and condensation were a big problem. A little smoke escaped from the wood-burning stove, and it hung in the air and impregnated every fabric. Because of the curved walls and fragility of the dome, nothing could be hung or propped against the outer structure — the interior was a much smaller space than the footprint of the building would suggest. Snuggling with her lover in a bed that was permanently damp was the only way to stay warm and feel comfortable. During the summer she had slept outside under the stars on dry nights, to enjoy fresher air and avoid the bubble of trapped heat. The dome would become unpleasantly hot only a few hours after sunrise.

The thin walls of the buildings offered little sound insulation — the commune was left in little doubt that the pair had an enviable sex life, even though passionate grunts, moans and rhythmic creaking of the bed, was mostly drowned out by the sound of rain beating down on the dome and corrugated iron roofs.

The sky was starting to turn bright blue and light was pouring through the domed ceiling. A lone cockerel began the dawn chorus and Arno needed no further invitation to get up and start the day. She was happy to stoke the fires in the communal cookhouse, fetch water and set it to boil in a big black cauldron that hung above the flames, and prepare a delicious breakfast for the commune. She would get into the good books of her neighbours, before she made a fuss about the loose roofing panel that had kept her awake so often.

The next chapter can be found here: https://medium.com/high-dependency