This year on RJ's Autism Blog Hop the theme is senses. Thanks Rj (or should I blame Janet, her harried assistant) 'cos every time I think about writing this post I get this song on repeat in my head. (Not that I'm complaining, I loved this song back in the day. And how can I still remember all the words to a song that is over thirty years old and I doubt that I've heard more than a handful of times in the last decade?)
Senses working overtime.
Unfortunately, this isn't always the case in writing. It's not unusual (no more earworms, thank you!) for authors to rely on sight more than anything. A mediocre writer will tell us what their characters see and maybe the sound they hear. They'll often tell you what the MCs taste and smell like to each other but not mention those senses in any other context. A good author will immerse you in not only the sights and sounds of a scene but the smells and tastes, all without you realising it. Touch is slightly harder to slip by unnoticed but it shouldn't be ignored as we touch a myriad of different things all the time and each will feel slightly different depending on the conditions and our own personal quirks. (I have trouble touching some types of cloth. They give me a 'nails on a blackboard' sensation.)
Let's try for a senses laden excerpt from my contemporary novel 'Theory Unproven'. Thank whichever deity you follow that this isn't smell-o-vision as this excerpt may contain elephant poo!
Tying a knot at the back of his head, Eric fastened the bandana over his nose and let the triangle of brightly coloured material fall to cover his mouth. Hopefully it would keep out the worst of the smell, although he doubted it would stop it completely. Not that he minded too much, there was nothing like the healthy aroma of elephant dung to clear the sinuses. Although it might get a little oppressive in the enclosed space of the barn where he was working.
Snapping on his rubber gloves, Eric pulled the tray across the workbench toward him. The level of concentration required for searching animal excrement to locate the seed of any food the animals had eaten was practically zero, and it gave Eric plenty of time to replay the events of the previous night. And not just the enjoyable parts.
Eric thought it was cute the way Tyaan appeared to be more concerned for Eric’s safety than his own. To be honest, though, Eric wasn’t worried; he had little contact with anyone from the town, and as far as the locals went, his work was reliant on no one but Tyaan and Akibo.
While he’d been musing on Tyaan’s initial justifications for not starting anything between them, he’d accumulated a small mound of seeds. Many of them still had crumbs of dried dung clinging to them, but that was fine; after all, it was the way they would germinate in nature.
Eric was going to plant the seeds. He hoped the seeds would give him an indication what the elephants on the reserve were eating and if plant life was spread across the research station by the elephant’s faeces. There were certain parts of The Foundation’s land that the elephants didn’t seem to travel to because they were too inaccessible or the elephants considered them to be dangerous, areas like Tyaan’s landing clearing.
He had no idea what each seed was, but there was the possibility that they could grow into something good and worthwhile. A sappy thought struck him, making his stomach flip, and he was thankful that he was alone because he doubted the bandana would be sufficient to hide the soppy look he suspected was plastered across his face. The comparison between the seeds he was about to cover in a mixture of scrubland earth and elephant dung to nurture and grow, and the first kernel of a relationship that Tyaan had finally allowed them to acknowledge was too real to ignore.
If he gave Tyaan enough warmth, encouragement and sunshine, would their relationship grow into something good and worthwhile? Eric rather hoped that it would, but he was more than a little biased. There was a chance he was just a little bit in love with the rugged pilot and the chivalrous way he had of trying to keep Eric safe from harm. Not that Eric needed protection, but the fact that the thought was there… well, the idea left Eric all soft and melty, like a chocolate bar on the windowsill. Or one of those swooning heroines in his gran’s romance novels, all pale heaving breasts and palpitations.
Tyaan had certainly given him palpitations on several occasions the previous evening, but the rapid beat of his heart had nothing to do with either of them being a heroine. Far from it. Male anatomy had been involved on all levels. And lustily put to good, hard use.
But if he had to be the one in their relationship that instigated conversations about feelings and concerns, then he could do that. Tyaan might have opened up in recent weeks, but he was taciturn either by nature or years of self-imposed silence, and words were never going to come easy to him. Apart from when he was whispering them like nonsense into Eric’s skin.
Tyaan had been right about one thing, Masamba was lazy and Eric shouldn’t allow his own unease around the man to stop him from dealing with the matter. The handyman should have been at work hours ago, and while Eric had been pleased Masamba hadn’t turned up earlier to spook Tyaan, he did have a list of jobs that needed doing today. Market day always seemed to be the day he turned up later than normal. Eric assumed it was because Masamba knew Sethunya wasn’t there to provide him with breakfast.
The noises of the scrub life outside the open barn door, which normally drifted over Eric in a gentle murmur, intensified to a level where Eric started to notice the individual sounds.
Maybe that was Masamba now. An arrival at an unusual time would often get the animals chattering and crashing about more than normal, especially the family of rock hyrax Eric had discovered a couple of weeks ago on the rocky outcrop behind the barn. Any disturbance would get the large gerbil-like creatures twittering and whistling excitedly for ages before they returned to worshipping the sun while stretched out on the rocks they called home.
Not willing to be hurried or wanting to lose that chilled-out state of euphoria Tyaan had left him in, Eric finished planting the last of the seeds he had dug out of the elephant dung. He even washed his hands in the old ceramic sink in the corner with caustic soup and hot water he’d brought in from the kitchen. Who knew what manner of bacteria lived in the dung? Actually, Eric did, and that was half the problem. Finally finished, he made his way to the open doorway of the barn and steeled himself for an uncomfortable altercation. If it was Masamba arriving late, he would need to be reprimanded this time.
Nope, there was no sign of a rickety push bike alongside the barn where Eric kept the truck, nor was there any movement along any of the dirt tracks leading to the homestead. Although, there was an elephant lumbering up the slope toward the house. Eric looked closer. Not just any elephant. Jack. Eric scanned the thick bush that Jack had just emerged from, expecting Ianto to appear at any moment. Nothing. He stepped clear of the barn door and into the open to scan the nearby watering hole. No Ianto. That was strange; the two of them were normally inseparable.
Jack changed direction, as if suddenly noticing Eric’s location, and headed straight for him. He kept coming, close enough for Eric to hear the huff and snort of each laboured breath. If he didn’t know better, he’d say Jack had been running a marathon. The elephant stopped just inside Eric’s personal space and nudged him with the bony dome of his head.
“What’s up, boy?” Eric patted the offered head. “Where’s Ianto? You two had a row and you need some comfort, eh?”
Jack nudged him again, more firmly this time, actually managing to move Eric a couple of inches and leaving scuff marks in the dusty ground.
“Hey, calm down. You’re a big lad, you need to be gentle.” Lifting up the large flap of skin, Eric leaned forward. With a smirk, he whispered into the elephant’s ear. “I could have said that to Tyaan last night, but I didn’t need to. I felt like he was worshipping me.”
If there was a little catch in his voice when he admitted that feeling out loud, it didn’t really matter; Jack wasn’t likely to tell anyone. Letting the ear fall back into place, Eric reached out to scratch at the thick skin between Jack’s ears. Something thick and black wedged under his fingernails. “Jeez, you need a wash. It’s not like you guys not to be clean; Ianto’s always grooming you. Where is your boyfriend anyway? Is he as dirty as you are?”
Eric picked the black matter out from under his fingernails and then rubbed his fingers over Jack’s skin. He raised them to his nose and sniffed. “Smells like oil. Where have you two been playing?”
Working with elephants in their natural habitat has always been Eric Phillips dream. Getting what he’s always desired introduces him to Tyaan Bouwer, the bush pilot that flies in his supplies, and Eric discovers the allure of South Africa goes beyond the wildlife and the scenery.
But in an area where bushveld prejudices and hatred bleed across the borders, realising their love will be a hard fought battle. Keeping hold of it might just kill them.