West Of The Moon

West of the Moon is the unofficial, temporary meeting ground for the members of Christendom's Guild of the Cross and the Quill. Sadly West of the Moon won't be in our future permanent web URL because a number of other selfish people already registered all permutations of the URL years ago without even consulting me. For that they shall pay.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Mahler's Ninth

Mahler's Ninth
by Jennifer P.

Posted by Shadows and Dust on behalf of Jenn.

He sat alone in the tiny, darkened garret, alone save an ancient, dusty trunk. An old trunk and so very many memories. The clasps were rusted and stiff, but he managed to crack the lid, after some effort, then sat motionless, afraid to open it any farther. He was loath to disturb something within, something which he would rather lay still and undisturbed as it had for so many years. Secrets? Perhaps. The trunk rested, still and silent, though he watched it steadily as if were a live thing. Finally, he opened it and the air became charged with a thousand specters of things long past, dead and buried long ago.

There was a moment’s pause, then he began tearing through the items in the trunk, tossing them right and left, or into the small brazier that sat as his feet—a futile means to stave off the bitter cold which enveloped him and the little room. Dissatisfied with life, with death, and with everything. He tore through letters, dried flowers from a long-forgotten party, concert programs, souvenirs…vestiges of his life before all had gone bitterly wrong. Nothing would remain! That life was gone, and he determinedly burned everything that brought back those times.

Suddenly, in the midst of his rampage upon the past, a photograph caught his eye. He paused, and picked it up by the cracked and faded edge. Now, new memories came flooding back, of someone he had long ago forgotten. Cherished beyond words, she had been, now lost forever. He sat with the photograph in his limp fingers, allowing the images and feelings from the past wash over him. He remembered her dancing, gracefully floating across the floor, so very like the cloud the poets spoke of. He remembered her smiling at him, sweetly yet sad. There had always been that wall between them, a part of him he was never able to communicate to her, and it was his music. There was a place she never saw into, a small wedge in his mind that eventually drove them apart. However, that was all later. There was a time when that didn’t matter. A time when they sat and talked, or simply sat and listened, to his playing, to her singing. He drifted slowly among pictures of her folding her hands in her lap when he began a lecture, or of her stamping her little foot in frustration with his oddities and habits.

Of course, those were the good times, he though. His inability to communicate, her inability to understand were more than could be overcome. He pictured her one last time, saddened but angry, standing in the doorway. Then, she was gone. He slammed the lid of the of the trunk shut with vehemence, tossing the photograph into the fire and watching the edges curl up agonizingly, tortured. He stared, broodingly, into the flame, then began throwing the remaining items after it in rapid succession. There was nothing left to remember. There was nothing left to do. He stood and left, leaving the room dark, and colder than it had been before.


Blogger Learning to be Alone said...

Jenn, the girl in the story sounds like you. Was that intentional? I like the story, but I'm a little confused on one point: is the girl supposed to be the main "thing" that this man wants to get out of his life and memory? Or is she just one of the many details of a past he'd rather forget? As the story begins, it seems that he is trying to rid himself of many, many things, but then all of a sudden you hone in on one particular, so it becomes difficult to tell where the story is supposed to be leading from that point. I found that this caused my concept of the whole story to be kind of hazy because I couldn't tell where I should put my focus.

Also, you need to edit your commas. (I say this as a fellow lover of commas who has been told countless times to diminish my usage of them in my writings). They tend to make things look disjointed, causing the reading to be choppy and hard to follow.

After the man picks up the photo of the girl, you describe "New memories flooding back.." I found the idea of "new memories" distracting. The word "new" completely contradicts the notion of time and age toward which your opening seemed to be building.

Finally, maybe you could describe how a girl dances like a "cloud." It might be an image with which I alone am unfamiliar, but it struck me as being rather funny, which detracts from the more melancholy tone of the work as a whole.

Hope you were able to understand all this! And I hope it helps.

Mary Beth

5:10 PM  
Blogger The Dude said...

Well now, let's see. If I can gather together this exhausted and fragmented mind of mine perhaps I shall say something of worth.

First off, I have to commend you for your self-control, and I'm being quite serious. On a few occasions in the past I have tried to write truly 'short' stories as an exercise in pure story telling, to pack as much into as little as possible, to grab the reader by the scruff of their neck, stare them in the eyes, and then throw them down quite exhausted with the whole ordeal. But I always get distracted and go chasing off after some butterfly or another, and the story usually ends up at no less than 4,000 words. You have demonstrated the true restraint of a short story writer.

Of course, that's not to say that the story is perfect, because it's not. Which is to be expected, though I do say that it is a truly fascinating exercise and a good read.

However, there was something throughout, I think, which left the character just short of compelling. I think that something might have been a few incongruities. For instance, in my humble opinion, a man who has been madly in love with a woman, and who is consumed by the heat of the impassioned and dark nostalgia within which he has plunged, would not forget the woman he loved, as you say he has. Rather, I am more inclined to think (if you don't mind a little bit of a stretched bout of speculation on my part) that the sense of that beautiful creature of his past would have lent a sweet poison to the whole experience of purging his memories, from the very beginning. I truly do believe that she ought to have appeared in one form or another, nearer the beginning, even if only reflected in his general mood.

Unfortunately it is very difficult to give criticism for a story of this length, because of course the whole point was to keep the length down to the least possible, which precludes any backstory or in-depth presentation of his character. However, at the risk of preaching what I'm quite sure I can't practice, I'm inclined to feel that a little more in the way of the deatils of his motivation (other than "dissatisfied with life, with death, and with everything") even if only a quick, single sentence, might have given the character breath.

Ah, there it is. Here's how I shall sum it all up. I felt that the character ended up as more of an idea than as a man. Of course, it is incredibly difficult to make a character breathe and live within the space of 500 words. However, I do believe that there is a way. And it is probably the presentation of just a few precise, personal details by which details the immagination may fill out the entire caricature which is being presented.

On the more nit-picky side of things, I think Mary-Beth is correct with her criticism of the 'cloud' image. There was something deeply not right about it; it was quite incongruous. The image that you as a narrator present is of course only a reflection of the image that is in the protagonist's mind, and it seems that in his current state he would have been thinking of something darker, more sensuous.

Oh, right, and it's also difficult to conceive of how his music wouldn't speak to her, if she herself was such a singer that he could listen to her with pleasure. That indicates that she must have an understanding and appreciation of music. Perhaps it would be better not to have her as a singer. Unless of course he was a post-modernist composer, writing 12-tonal music, while she was a Bach or Chopin lover...that would make sense. Am I rambling now? I think so.

I suppose that seems like a lot of criticism. But it's not supposed to be. It always looks like more than it really is. Really it's a very good write, and I'm very happy that you sent it to me, and I hope you send me something new soon.

Cheerio and God bless!

8:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Listen to just the Third movement of Mahler's Ninth Symphony, then come back and read this again. Let me know if anything clicks, or if you're just more convinced than ever that I'm a lunatic.

As to your other judgements, yea, verily, I, being who I am, yes, indeed, love commas. To work...

--zee authoress

9:11 AM  
Blogger The Dude said...

Never said you were a lunatic. But now I have find a copy of that symphony.

Have you read the essay "Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony" by Lewis Thomas? Interesting, and not a little disturbing. An interesting depiction of the Cold War mentality.

10:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I have. He was a little down, but if you've ever spent time listening to the symphony, you might understand. More than one listening in a year's time is most likely unhealthy. (-:

However, the first time I listened to that third movement of the Ninth, the picture I wrote for you all just jumped out at me, so I wrote it down. It's very pretty, and my introduction to it was at a 'private' dress rehearsal where four of us musicology nerds were the only audience. Very, very enjoyable.

--still zee authoress

1:17 PM  

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