So, a while ago on the RAA Rus was talking about something called 'jushulai' and @Blackbird expressed interest in it. The other day I decided to write a dinner scene, mostly because I wanted to explore Fregemepai cuisine and find out what another food was that I mentioned elsewhere in my novel, 'meshoth'. It also presented an opportunity to actually show Rus's relationship with his father and step-family. All said and done, I also ended up getting rare glimpses into Rus's childhood, the dinner devolved into a train wreck, and there was literally one line actually regarding jushulai.
There's a tiny bit of conlang; mostly family titles (father, little brother, big brother), so if you have any questions, feel free to ask. As a side note, this is all pre-war, but Kathapai is within a ring of people who know that a legit war might actually be on the horizon, so his anger is kind of justified.
Okay. It's a long scene and I've already been rambling, so I will stop speaking now and present it. Critique is welcome if you like :)
Warm aromas of bitter meshoth and sweet kuger hit Rus like a wave as he stepped into the narrow door of the apartment.
“Kathapai!” Nik yelled, closing the door behind Rus. “We’re here!”
“I can’t believe he already started cooking,” Rus said.
Nik rolled his eyes. “Don’t be whiny.”
“Resan!” Kathapai called, coming around the corner from the kitchen. He hugged Nik first, chastising him about visiting more often. Then, unexpectedly, he pulled Rus into a hug. “You need to start writing me more,” he said in a soft voice.
Rus hesitated before putting his arms around his father.
“It’so good to see you!” a woman said excitedly.
Kathapai let go of Rus and beamed at his wife. The baby-- what did they name the baby? shit-- buried her head into her mother’s shoulder. “Have you met Lori yet?” Kathapai asked, gently pulling the two year old from his wife.
Lori. That’s right. “Yeah, I did,” Rus said dryly, looking at the girl. Her hair was ultra white, the same as everyone else (except her mother, naturally), and her skin was light, but it looked more human.
There was pink in her cheeks.
“Why don’t you come in? You can set your things in your room,” Kathapai said, gesturing back in the direction of what was now the guest room. “Dinner’s almost ready.”
Rus watched him leave with the baby, starting a conversation with his wife.
Nik put his arm around Rus’s shoulders. “C’mon.”
“I hate her.”
Nik was quiet a moment. “I know. C’mon.”
Rus dropped his duffel bag next to the heap that was Nik’s bags. Outside, Kathapai was setting the table. Kathapai got that a few weeks before he remarried. A lot of things in the apartment had changed since he got married. What was the point of getting married if you had to change everything for the other person?
Rus sat in a chair, grabbing one of the sauce bowls filled with thick kuger and a piece of meshoth to dip.
Lori climbed into the chair next to Rus’s and held out her hand. “Can I have one?”
Rus studied her. She was just a baby. Reluctantly, he handed the piece of meshoth to the baby, then grabbed another one for himself.
“No!” Kathapai’s wife walked around the table to snatch the meshoth from her child. “She can’t eat until everyone is sitting down,” she explained distractedly, picking the baby up and carrying her into the kitchen.
The meshoth was overcooked.
Nik dropped into the seat that the baby had been in, breaking off a piece of meshoth and dipping it in the kuger. “I’m probably got a job at the University of Hong Kong.”
“Ooh! When do you start?”
“I’m flying over after the wedding, I think. We planned it so that we can honeymoon in Shanghai and maybe see the pai over there, and I’ll be talking with the head of the department around then.” Nik was bouncing with excitement.
“That’s awesome.” Rus grinned. Watching Kathapai and his wife, he said, “Kathapai is trying to convince me to go to law school again.”
Nik frowned. “He told me that you were going to.”
Rus wrinkled up his nose. “Hell no.”
Nik laughed. “He’s gonna be really upset. He’s convinced that you’re applying to schools right now.”
“No. I’m probably reenlisting. I don’t really want to go back to somewhere like Zhongmen again, because I was really homesick a lot, but I don’t want to go to grad school, either, so.” Rus shrugged. “I was talking to Poe, and he said that I have to get a Master’s or else I can’t work there again. I forget why now.”
Nik leaned over to hug him. “I’m sorry.”
Rus laid his head on Nik’s, putting his arms around him. “Thrishipai cushoth wreath mathrishipai.” I love you.
“Mine, too, hoshipai.”
They stayed like this for several seconds before Rus said, “Kathapai’s wife smells weird.”
Nik pulled away and looked at Rus. Realizing he was completely serious, he started laughing. “You’re so mean.”
“Does she speak Thypolay?”
“Nah. But I think she knows a little Nisurgi.”
Lori ran up between the chairs.
“You want one?”
Rus dipped a bite-sized piece of meshoth in the kuger and gave it to her. The baby shoved it in her mouth.
Kathapai sat down, calling for Lori to come to him. He looked at Rus. “How was the trip?”
Rus shrugged. “Uneventful.”
Now came Kathapai’s wife, sitting next to Kathapai. She frowned at Lori. “What’s on your face? Did she get on the table?”
“She just had a bite,” Nik said, standing up and ladling the stew into his brightly painted bowl. He held out his hand for Rus’s and filled it high before handing it back.
Rus broke off a large piece of meshoth and crumbled it into the stew, then dumped about half of the kuger into the bowl before stirring it together. He took a bite-- the bitterness of the meshoth was nearly undetectable, but the meshoth itself made the stew crunchy. The tangy, sourness of the soup was balanced by the sugary kuger. The stew was nice and thick.
“Did you put jushulai in?” Rus asked after another couple of bites.
“I did,” said Kathapai, watching him.
“Ah, I knew it!” It was overcooked, so that it didn’t quite melt in his mouth, but it was still juicy, and the natural gaminess remained. “This almost forgives the fact you cooked everything without me.”
“Almost. Not really fully.” Rus looked at Nik. “When’s the wedding? I’m the caterer, right?”
Nik shook his head. “No one likes your food.”
“I’m wounded!” Rus cried. “I make excellent food.”
“You put things with things that shouldn’t be put together.”
“Ohhh. I see now.” Rus shook his head, trying to remain serious, but he couldn’t stop grinning, however ridiculous a smile looked on him. “You know what? I’ve been to culinary school. You just don’t have well defined tastebuds.”
Nik rolled his eyes. “You took one class so that you didn’t have to take that lit class. It doesn’t count.”
“No, I took that watercolor class so I didn’t have to take that lit class. That class was really stupid though. I almost regret taking that class, but at least I didn’t have to actually read anything for the duration of the class.”
“I know.” Nik’s voice carried an air of annoyance.
Rus looked at Nik. “What?”
“I’m not listening to your story about Umbridge again.”
Rus sighed. “I wasn’t going to talk about Umbridge. I was going to talk about h--”
“It always comes back to Umbridge. Kathapai will attest.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever told Kathapai about the watercolor class.” Rus frowned. No, he definitely hadn’t, because he took it freshman year, or maybe the summer between freshman and sophomore.
“What!?” Nik leaned back. “Why not!?”
Rus shrugged. “It didn’t come up? Are you eating your food?”
“How about you finish your food first, you vulture?”
Rus stuck out his tongue. He’d already eaten half. “You know that Hisharish Nith is making another show? It’s about, I think it’s a period piece, about during the Cleansing of… ‘23? It sounds really good. They’re starting the filming in the fall, I think they said.”
“That sounds good,” Nik murmured.
“Making or starring in?” asked Kathapai’s wife.
Rus stared at her. “What?”
She shifted in her seat. “Well, I was just wondering if you meant that she was an actress or a producer?”
“No, she’s both. Not a producer, though. She’s only a director. But she does both.”
Rus stirred his stew around in the bowl. It was a pretty color, sort of a soft orange. What was something everyone was interested in? since, apparently, Kathapai’s wife didn’t know who Hisharish Nith was. Probably that shouldn’t be surprising, given she was a wholeblood, but he had to have talked about her at least once in her presence. In fact, the whole reason he’d agreed to visit her in the hospital when she had the baby was because Nik promised to buy the whole Painting the Stars series. Which… hadn’t turned up yet, actually. Wait a second.
“I started working with the UN again,” said Kathapai, saving the day. “Well, the Fleet, more like, but where I’m working, there’s not much of a difference.”
“Why? I thought you liked the private firm.” Nik dumped his almost-finished stew into Rus’s bowl.
“Your daughter is making a painting,” Rus said, watching the baby spatter stew all over the table in a state of mild disgust. His appetite was gone.
Kathapai ignored him. “I’m not stopping working at the private firm. I’ve got a couple of active cases. Once I finish them, I’ll be full time with the Fleet, but still offer advising to my partners.”
Kathapai’s wife sighed. “The only problem is that he’ll probably have to move up to New York, or at least live there part time.”
Why didn’t they just get an apartment in New York? It wasn’t like Lori was in school. Not that it would matter if she was or not before Kathapai decided they should move. Then again, he was different with the baby… “You could always just do a lot of vemos, I guess,” Rus suggested. “Then you don’t have to leave the comfort of your personal office.”
Kathapai shook his head. “That wouldn’t be very professional.”
“It was sarcasm,” Nik said, frowning at Rus.
Actually, it wasn’t. “Anyway, wholebloods are pretty sketchy on the professionalism thing.” At least Lori had finally stopped it with the stew. It was pretty amazing that she hadn’t gotten slapped.
Kathapai nodded. “That may be so, but in international circumstances, they try their best.”
Rus shrugged, pushing his food around. “I guess.”
“Did I say something wrong?” Kathapai asked.
By expression alone, it was obvious that Nik shared in Rus’s confusion. “What?”
“You became upset.”
Why do you care? “I’m not… upset? I’m just tired. That’s all. You didn’t say anything wrong.” Per se. I don’t see why you don’t just move up to New York with your new family. He didn’t know what to say to make the silence end.
“So, are you going to go to a school here?” Kathapai’s wife asked, smiling.
Rus shook his head. “Probably not.”
Kathapai physically deflated. “No?”
Nik scowled at him. “Shephyrus Joshi Nu--”
Rus kicked his nothempai under the table. “I’m just… not really interested enough in anything to sit in a box for hours on end for the sake of a career that I probably won’t want once I start doing it because it’ll turn out to be boring or also make me stuck in a box for hours on end.”
“Then what will you do?” Kathapai’s voice was low.
Kathapai slammed his hand on the table. “I will not allow you to reenlist.”
“I’m not fifteen. If I want to do something, I don’t need your permission to do it.”
Kathapai stood up so quickly his chair fell over. But he was too short to reach Rus. Instead he growled in Thypolay, “I ought to beat you, talking to me like that.”
Rus barely kept his voice neutral, responding in Thypolay. “Whatever.”
“Just because you are an adult does not mean that you get to do or say whatever you like!”
Oh God he was going to be murdered in his sleep tonight now Kathapai was mixing it with Nisurgi.
“After everything I’ve done for you and you treat me disrespectfully--!”
“And what have you done for me, Kathapai?”
“Shephyrus,” Nik hissed.
“Shut up!” Rus screamed, getting to his feet. Nik was the golden child. He wasn’t really allowed to have a say.
Kathapai’s fury made him look a foot taller. “Who raised you, boy? You will apologize to me this instant and you will apologize to your brother and you will start acting like an adult!”
Rus forced himself to sit and looked hard at the table. Kathapai definitely hadn’t raised him.
“Look at me!” Kathapai shouted.
Rus looked up. If it weren’t for a table and a wife and a daughter, he’d probably be close to dead right now.
“How dare you?”
“What? Have an opinion that disagrees with yours? That’s not how it works.”
“Come here.” Kathapai’s voice was low and steely.
Rus remained firmly seated, eyes back on the table. Oh God he needed to stop. His tombstone was going to read, Annoying son that deserved this fate.
“Nithreth,” said Kathapai’s wife.
Kathapai looked at her. “This boy needs--”
“This boy is twenty-four and this entire conversation could’ve been solved with a simple, ‘Lose the attitude’. Let’s finish eating.”
Kathapai was silent for a long time. Then he sighed. “Fine.” He picked up his chair and sat down again. He looked at Rus. “I apologize for losing my temper.”
Rus didn’t look at him. Of course he would sit down for his wife. He wouldn’t intentionally do anything to make her angry.
“I don’t understand why you’re even fighting,” his wife said.
Probably in the morning he would suddenly be okay that Rus wasn’t going to grad school, because his wife wasn’t upset and didn’t even understand what the reason was to be upset because humans were staunch believers that a person needed to Follow Their Dreams!
Nik put a hand on his shoulder. Rus shrugged it away.
“I think that maybe you just need to take a minute to calm down,” his wife continued.
“Why are you so thomshith, Shephyrus?” Kathapai’s voice was returning to its normal highness.
“I’m not.” He was being immature, and he needed to stop feeding his anger.
“What!?” Rus snapped; looked at him. He couldn’t see clearly. He was terrified that he might start crying in front of Kathapai and Kathapai’s new family. So he stood up. “I’m going for a walk.”
New work! As always thanks for sharing! Here are some of my thoughts:
I love the intimacy you created here; I know there's conflict and resentment but it really has a familiar warm atmosphere underneath through Rus and Nik, tensions and all.
Considering it's a dinner scene, the original food sounds really intriguing but speaking as someone who enjoys food, I think you could add a little more detail about it without giving away too much - like if the dish is warming, or when he thinks about it being overcooked, he could remember what it's supposed to taste like, or if he has some memory of it, to give us an idea?
Similarly when you bring up other original material - like the languages referred to, for example - I think it's always nice to have more clues about this since the reader doesn't know anything about them. For example, maybe following up "I think she knows a little Nisurgi" with why he thinks so, like he's heard her sing in a rough-sounding or sweet-sounding language, or understand a flowery poem or something? Just some little clue to give that language/culture more colour or interest. There's quite a lot of original terms here so it would be nice to give them a bit more padding, though of course I know you're taking this scene out of its context!
I think one of the most solid things about your passage here is Rus and Nik, they have a really strong, believable relationship with the teasing, name calling and underlying support and understanding. Really meaty characters!
Also Lori is kind of adorable.
@Sian YAY! I was definitely hoping that Rus & Nik's relationship would show through clearly, if nothing else did. In the novel, I probably know their relationship the best.
Thank you for the comments, especially on the food! I'm really bad with description in general, but the two I'm the worst at are smell and taste, so I created a species with better-than-humans smell and taste... O_O I will keep those pointers in mind next time I'm writing something with food.
I was definitely struggling on how to pad it, because I didn't necessarily want to throw this on everyone here without context out of everything I could've given out of context (this is probably the heaviest I'll get with original content in one scene), but I also wasn't sure how to give better context without dragging the scene, especially because this is Rus's home environment, so he wouldn't necessarily be stopping to think about the why or how behind some of it.
Lori is based somewhat on my sister. My sister (also two) has a habit of taking food she's supposed to be eating and squashing it all over the table and when you tell her to stop, she just looks at you with a really smug expression and then keeps doing it. She was actually doing what Lori was with stew this afternoon, but with peanut butter. :P
Thank you for the feedback! ^_^
I'm a little groggy on allergy meds today, so I'm gonna be brief on my feedback so that it makes sense. I'm prone to weird rambles when I'm groggy. :P
I really like your dialogue You're really good at showing the characters' personalities just by what they say and how they say it. This is particularly true for the wife who, knowing nothing about her, I could clearly picture as someone making the best possible effort to fit into conversations and defuse conflicts.
And I feel for Rus, his whole situation, I was actually quite angry for him there at the end.
That said, I was constantly confused with all the terms and, like Sian mentioned, I couldn't quite picture much of what the food was like; or even the room they were in. Which, I have my own troubles with description, so I understand. :)
@Blackbird Ah, the description. I was editing it and I was like, "How do I fit in a description of the room?" :P I have this problem where I can see it PERFECTLY in my head but I have no idea how to put that into words.
Thanks for the feedback! ^_^
Jumping in with thoughts and feedback as well!
First off, thank you for sharing this. I love getting insights into new worlds, new characters, and well... reading in general ;)
@Sian covered a few thoughts that I was going to say, but I add that I see the wife differently than she does. Maybe because it's being told from Rus' point of view, but I am heavily suspicious of her, especially as she is not the same species. This is not to say that she's a horrible person, but I get the feeling that she came into this family in a way that rubbed Rus wrong.
I assume that Kathapai means father... and if that is the case, there is such an emotional disconnect between Rus, and this new family. Rus and Nik have a much stronger and intimate relationship than Kathapai, Wife, and Lori who would be his sister if I understood the terms correctly. At no point does Rus even hint to having any connection at all emotionally with Wife and Lori.
@Blackbird covered the topic of description, but I think you may be underestimating your ability to do subtly. For example, the use of New York, Hong Kong, brightly coloured bowls. My first thought was that this apartment had cement like walls, but as you went on and on, I started to get a sense of rooms being smaller, a bit more cluttered. Homely, but still not quite comfortable homey. Almost as if the colours selected for the walls, furniture, bowls, table, clothing, made Rus even more agitated. Plus, the speed at which Lori was in and out of the scene for food, and Wife was in to quickly catch her, made me believe the place was a lot smaller than I first thought.
Those are my thoughts for you! :D
@Josey Thanks for the feedback! ^_^ When I was first getting into writing the scene, I considered using Kathapai's wife's actual name (Miley) but decided that would probably be to personal.
I'm really glad everyone picked up on the relationships easily, given that that was the entire point of the passage! ^_^ In the novel, you don't actually get to see them very much; it's mostly just random thoughts from Rus whenever the mention of family comes up. Together I think they paint the picture presented here, but this summarizes it more quickly and actually lets you see (albeit through a very unreliable perspective) where some of the other characters are coming from.
The changes are in bold; for example, I tried describing the apartment some more:
Rus dropped his duffel bag next to the heap that was Nik’s bags. Outside, Kathapai was setting the table. Kathapai got that a few weeks before he remarried and decided the best place to stick it was the narrow space between the wall and island. A lot of things in the apartment had changed since he got married-- there were new picture slides around the house, and of the old ones, many of the pictures were changed. The living room was cluttered with new furniture. Even the kitchen was different. The appliances were all new, even though the ones that had been there when they moved in were still working perfectly fine.
And for the food I tried my hand at some more description:
The meshoth was overcooked. Only the edges were browned, but the faint burnt taste flowed throughout the brittle piece.
Rus broke off a large piece of meshoth and crumbled it into the stew, then dumped about half of the kuger into the bowl before stirring it together. He took a bite-- the bitterness of the meshoth was nearly undetectable, but the meshoth gave the stew a crunch none of the other ingredients could give it. The tangy, sourness of it was balanced by the sugary kuger. The stew was nice and thick. It warmed him up; reminded him of cooking in the kitchen with gylothapai^ when he was a child.
^gylothapai is another term for a parent, but not the mother. It's sort of complicated and not all worked out, so I'm not going into it. For the time being, consider it a 3rd gender.
So glad we were able to help and the changes really add texture and flavour - for lack of a better term ;)
@typical_demigod For me anyway, your changes are exactly what I was trying to articulate before, it really helps to ground the scene and build up the imagery for the reader! I think it's coming along really great so far, and your enjoyment of building this world really shines through!