Hidden by the staircase in the shadow of the door, Ashley observed the colourful shapes moving back and forth across the kitchen, her wet eyes unable to clearly make out the individuals’ facial expressions. One of them moved with great agitation; the other calmer, a careful follower. But the soothing voice of the second could not match the fury of the first. It continued until Ashley could stand it no longer.

“Please!” She stepped out of the relative safety of the shadow and faced the blurry figures, more tears welling up in her eyes as she fought to control them and failed. “I’ll cancel. Just…please,” she drew more breath as she felt a pinching sensation in her lungs, “stop fighting. Talk.”

The blurry figures abruptly halted. For a few seconds they shimmered silently under the kitchen lights, as if shocked into a stupor by Ashley’s sudden appearance. But the silence didn’t last.

“There’s nothing to talk about, Ashley,” the first spoke, his angry, masculine voice shattering the timid silence that had formed. “Your mother and I have talked a lot this evening, and it seems I’m all talked out.” 

“But Laurence, wait, Laurence,” the second quickly picked up as the first figure started to twist away. When Ashley’s mum’s voice came through again it was soothing, practiced. “Let’s just breathe…” A long silence followed, in which Ashley could hear the rattled breathing of her furious father, coupled with the rhythmic, soothing in-and-out of her mother.


“Good.” The smaller, lighter figure was now turning towards the front door, inviting Laurence to do the same. “How about a drive, and we talk in the car? Let’s leave Ashley to see her friends. We agreed she’d have this night.”

As they came in and out of focus, always retreating, their backs to her, Ashley fumbled to gather her thoughts. 

“Dad,” she managed to croak out, willing her vision to stop blurring, the blood to stop pounding so hard against her temples, “I can cancel the party. We can postpone it! If you’re tired or–”

“I’m fine, Ashley. I just don’t understand why-” Laurence started impassively then stopped abruptly. The second figure’s slender hand was on his arm, coaxing him to turn away.

“Mum,” she tried to appeal to the more reasonable of the two. “Please don’t fight. Just stay here and let’s all talk.” Ashley’s voice broke as she spoke, but the blurriness momentarily lifted as her mother touched her cheek, wiping away the full tears. 

Two big eyes focused on Ashley’s and for a fleeting moment a pleading gesture passed between the two women, one asking for no argument, the other asking for the same, but somehow the desires were directed towards two completely different outcomes. The calm voice murmured something along the lines of Shh, don’t cry, Ash, all will be well, or maybe she had imagined it.

As the two figures turned away once more, blocking Ashley out of the conversation, the blurriness set in again. Ashley heard the jingle of car keys as they were picked up from their usual place in the wooden bowl on the kitchen counter. The figures busied about for a few seconds, brushing past Ashley and back again, and finally they were gone, clicking the door behind them.

It was only when she heard the engine rev into motion that Ashley snapped out of her daze. The angry sounds had gone; the kitchen was empty. The flickering light of the ceiling lamps as a fly flew back and forth across the room shone onto the workbench, where a bunch of party snacks had already been laid out.

Perhaps it was better that way after all.  A change of environment might put a new perspective on the issue, whatever it was this time. Or were they all the same? Ashley pushed the negative thought away and approached a bowl of Doritos. She dipped one in a jar of salsa and savoured the satisfying taste. Perhaps her parents would drive out to a beach, talk there where the waves would soothe their worries and bring them back home cheery, full of air.

The shimmery image floated hopefully before Ashley’s eyes as she crunched on another chip. 

Or perhaps they wouldn’t. They were so tired, so frustrated with each other, Ashley could see it in their tight expressions, hear it in their strained voices. Perhaps there would not come a positive resolution, no matter how desperately Ashley wanted to believe it would.

Just as she was about to start on the carrots and humus, the doorbell rang. Darting a confused glance at the clock, wondering how her parents had settled the issue so quickly, Ashley opened the door. But it wasn’t her parents – of course, they would have used their own keys! A beaming face greeted her on the other end.

“Are you ready to set up?” The cheerful voice corresponded with the beaming smile and Ashley couldn’t stop her lips from opening out into a wide grin.

Her parents would sort it out, Ashley told herself. If not tonight, then tomorrow. Everything was always better the next morning, right? She let herself breathe and welcome in the fresh air of the evening. It enveloped her face and blew away the tension that had been creeping over her, suffocating her. 

She was allowed this night; they had said as much. One night to relax.


Hi Anna, You opened with a strong active paragraph which raised questions in the reader's mind. What is going on? Why is the observer crying? We then find out. She is watching her parents fight about her birthday party and she is deeply upset. You let us know, very subtly that this is not a first...that fighting parents is part of a regular occurrence. Then you resolve it using her mother's words. 

You also carefully control what is said so that there are no long speeches but just enough to tell us how each person in that room is is conciliatory, another fixed and dominant and the third an observer, desperately wanting things to be ok but powerless. We know each of the players in this scene well by the time we read the last line and you have the readers engaged.

Ashley is the protagonist and we want to know what happens to her so you've got us turning the pages. Ashley's father is the antagonist who creates the conflict that propels Ashley forward. Yes, she has her party but we know that is not the end of the conflict with her father. 

This chapter covers what is known as a call to adventure in Campbell's mythic structure. It is the moment when Ashley proceeds with her party despite her father's objections and from now on she is committed to following her own path, not her father's. 

The writing is also concise. There is no unnecesary word in this narrative. We experience the full range of emotions and we are on Ashley's side. We want her to win her quest.