The Celebration of Sure Thing

From the street the Jenkins estate seems as quiet as usual. A uniformed groundsman, clippers in hand, tends to the hedges. The quietness is interrupted only by the snapping of his clippers and the soft song of birds in the trees. It is difficult to say what the groundsman is thinking of — perhaps of rich people and the seclusion they make for themselves.

Inside, along the wainscotted passages, a brief peal of laughter rings out, and, as sudden and brief as a flight of birds, the clinking of champagne flutes. This comes from the Main Dining Room, where most of the household stands around the old oak table, toasting life, the family’s thoroughbred, and Craig, their jockey. Craig leans over to Mary Jenkins and whispers something in her ear; she touches his arm and laughs again. In two months they will marry, with smiles just as large and white as now. In three years they will have divorced, but they’ll still dream of this day from time to time.

Across the estate’s paddock, beneath a looming acacia, are the stables. Sure Thing rests in her stall, but isn’t offered any celebration for her win. She chews from a bag of oats, mostly ignoring the boy Timmy Lagrange who shines her bay coat with a body brush. Timmy also doesn’t celebrate; I like to think that he’s imagining being old enough to race, perhaps on a horse as fine as Sure Thing. But maybe he’s only thinking of home, warm food, and a bed to rest in.

25 thoughts on “The Celebration of Sure Thing”

    1. Not a matter of opinion imo: An uniformed groundsperson. The point of the An/A distinction is to separate the vowel sounds when read out loud, it depends entirely on the leading vowel of the immediately following word.

      1. Ah, there I disagree. According to my clobbered-together-rule, I would definitely say “a uniformed whatever” since it it a long “ew” like university.

        Tiebreaker? English professional? :)

    2. I also disagree with elementalsystems. My reasons are the same as those of parfles: the a/an usage depends on the sound of the vowel. If it has a hard sound, like a consonant, then an ‘a’ should be used. The converse can be seen in using ‘an’ with ‘h’, when the sound is soft like a vowel.

  1. Lovely vignette which paints a very vivid picture of a summer’s celebration. The images are vivid and the picture is painted well.

    Like: the light touch of the narrator, resting briefly here and there, slightly omniscient (about the future) but speculative about people’s thoughts. Love the imagery and the language : “brief as a flight of birds” is lovely.

    Dislike: The addition of the first person in the last paragraph – it’s confusing as the narrator knows the future, so can’t be a character, then who is he? – it distracted me. I would have liked more reference to the theme, too. I don’t like the word “quietness”.

    A/an: I’m sure Docinatrix will have a more formal answer, but as far as I understand, the long “u” [“ew”] is not seen as a vowel and gets “a” – “a university”, “a uteris”, “a user”, and the short “u” [“uh”] is proper-vowel-like and gets “an” – “an understanding”, “an ulcer”, “an umbrella”.

    1. I have to agree with Parfles and cbraz, the “u” sound here actually functions more like a consonant (“yuniformed”) than a vowel, and therefore doesn’t need “an”. The obverse example is “an hour”, which is a consonant that acts like a vowel.

  2. Nice – always love the present tense thing. Agree with parfles about the light narrative tone. On reread I also agree with her about the first person in the last paragraph, although it didn’t jump out at me in my first read.

    I’d have left off the “Clippers in hand” phrase in the second sentence, as you mention the clippers in a (better, IMO) more active sense the very next sentence.

    Were you consciously shooting for a specifically South African setting (with the looming acacia tree?). If so, you could emphasise it by making the dining room table yellowwood or stinkwood, rather than oak.

    It’s definitely “a uniformed”.

    1. Thanks Neil. For the Acacia tree, I was just reaching for the name of a tree and not thinking much about it :-/ Acacia was the first one that came to mind! Maybe not the best.

  3. Really great piece. I was sucked in almost straight away and it held my attention throughout. Very evocative – I felt I had a real sense of the scene and the people.

    Little things: I’m not sure why, but the phrase ‘the Jenkins estate’ just jarred a little. Perhaps it was the name itself, or just that the phrase as a whole sounds a bit like it’s from an old-fashioned children’s story? I think ‘Main Dining Room’ shouldn’t be capitalised, as it’s a description, rather than a name. I also agree that the use of the narrator’s voice only once and right at the end is confusing.

    I definitely think it’s ‘a uniformed’ – just like ‘a union’. ‘An’ would sounds really odd. I like the idea of putting the word ‘uniformed’ in – I think that could actually replace the comment on what he might be thinking, which is maybe a little obvious – the uniform would be a more subtle way of conveying that.

    I particularly loved the phrase, “as sudden and brief as a flight of birds, the clinking of champagne flutes.” It’s a beautiful and original simile and really gave the feel of carefree wealth. Super piece, overall!

  4. I really enjoyed this and was completely sucked into the world – of endless summer and the ease of wealth. I found the theme alluded to throughout the piece and liked that: the horse’s name; the safety of wealth and tradition; the stable boy’s thoughts of home and bed. I also liked the usage of language, e.g. “rich people and the seclusion they make for themselves”; “with smiles just as large and white as now”.

    I didn’t like the repetition of ‘brief’ in the first sentence of the second paragraph. And I agree about the narrator’s voice at the end; although like Neil it didn’t bother me on my first read.

  5. You have an incredibly sure touch with realistic detail – this was beautifully atmospheric and well-observed, and the dispassionate descriptions give it a measured pace which really works. I had a bit of a problem, on first reading, with Timmy Lagrange, who seemed to be granted a disproportionate amount of description (and a full name when no-one else earns one, apart from Mary’s identification as a Jenkins). But on second reading I like the way his story is touched on and left with the sense that it ramifies beyond the boundaries of the story: he becomes a bit portentuous, your mind tends to go back and work at him.

    I agree with the comments about about the repetition of the clippers, and the unnecessary capitalisation of Main Dining Room – both jarred slightly.

    1. Thanks, Docinatrix :) I’ve got a habit of Capitalising Things Needlessly. I can’t remember how it started, but for the last few months I’ve wanted to capitalise almost every noun I write.

  6. Beautifully described; love the gentle steady pace. Love the descriptions in general and the capture of the scenes.

    I really like the first person in last paragraph; and the extra attention paid to the stable hand; and the significance it gently implies. For me this last paragraph makes the piece much more.
    There is something understated and very clever in how the narrator knows everything (even the future) about the wealthy but always declares uncertainty when discussing the groundsman, groom or horse.

    Other minor nats others have describe but I also had a problem with the length, info density and all the commas in the sentence starting “This comes from the Main Dining Room…”

    Also I thought only stallions were racehorses but I may well be wrong.

  7. Very nice! You have a real skill for sculpting a slice of world.
    Lovely piece of writing.

    I also had problems with the comma rush in the second paragraph. Doing the take-a-breath thing could turn your face blue! Ahem.
    The I-ing at the end didn’t quite work for me. I liked the more anonymous narrator.
    But both are minor niggles and I really enjoyed the story.
    :)

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