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.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

When The End Is Near

(Note: As per previous post, if possible please print the story to read. I firmly believe that literature is not meant to be read on-screen. Also, this is little more than a rough draft. Please feel free--indeed, I encourage you to--criticize or otherwise disparage this piece of work.)

When The End Is Near

By John Jalsevac


With the relish of a born country boy raised in the big city, contrary to what he was dimly aware were his deepest yearnings, Davie leaned back against the gunnel of the aluminum rowboat and smoothly swung over the release on the fishing reel. It fell into place with a distinctive click. Long ago the boy had learned to associate that sound with infrequent communes with the dawn and the dusk, precious sunrises and sunsets, and a silence of soul and mind so tenuous that he dared not think on it lest he break its spell. So he didn’t think on it; he enjoyed it.

The quiet, purposeful click of the reel releasing the tension of the line fell like a stray raindrop plopping itself on the bottom of the aluminum rowboat; it might have been a mechanical sound, but it was nothing like the industrial din of the big city. It was as much a natural sound as the crisp swish of a canoe oar slicing through the northern water.

Lightly pressing the line to the rod with the index finger of the same hand that had pulled the release, he fluidly swung the rod back over his right shoulder, and with a flick of the wrist sent the bass lure whizzing over the dark, shimmering water. It broke the surface with a quiet plunk. No other sound broke the heavy stillness but for his quiet breathing; after two months of harassment the frantic swarms of mosquitoes had disappeared into nothingness as quickly as they had arrived from nothingness. The motions and the pleasures of fishing were like those of breathing to Davie, except better. A quick half spin on the handle and the release fell back into place with another click that was quickly lost in the thick fog that further deepened the heavy and expectant darkness of the early morning hour. Nothing at all was visible but for a few feet of unmoving water around the sides of the boat, and at first Davie had had to strain to pick out the tackle box and net and chain lying on the floor of the boat. But now his eyes were accustomed to the dimness. He gave the rod a series of swift tugs, then reeled in a little ways; then repeated the same motion again.

A small perch broke the surface a few feet away and concentric rings expanded across the surface of the small lake, like visible sound waves.

“I can’t remember much these days. Can’t much say if any of the things I think about really happened. And the thing is, that there just isn’t anyone left now who can tell me if they did. There’s nobody left at all.”

Pops gazed across from the stern of the small row boat at the outline of his grandson who reclined with a cushion against the fore gunnel. The curly-haired boy looked younger and fresher and happier than he ever remembered feeling when he was the same age. Wearing a sleeveless t-shirt, his thick, sun-burnt arms gave some idea of the power of his body, and a defiant, knowing confidence swimming barely beneath the surface of his eyes, apparent even in the darkness, gave some sense of the power of his mind. Warily extending his memory, stretching it out into the hazy past, Pops couldn’t recall ever having the confidence that his grandson demonstrated.

But then, when he was the same age the old man had already fought the devil with nothing more than a rifle, a bayonet, and a few hand grenades. That’s exactly the sort of thing that’ll shave a few years off of a man’s boyhood, he thought.

The old man leaned the rod against the edge of the boat, half sitting on the butt; that way the rod wouldn’t flip overboard if he got a bite; his line trolled lazily in the water behind as the boat floated almost imperceptibly with the slow current through the thick soup. He sighed. He was too old and too tired to keep casting and reeling and casting and reeling; his line was baited with a fresh, squirming leech and a red and white bobber lolled peaceably in the water fifteen feet off, a vague stab of crimson through the black and gray of the water and the heavy ceiling of mist that whirled in slow and graceful circles overhead; he always had more success with fresh bait anyway. His body ached; he slowly repositioned the cushion he sat on, painfully crossing his right leg over his left with a grunt.

“Ah Davie,” he said abstractly, his voice low and quiet and thoughtful so as not to disturb the heavy silence, but so as to meld into it, to become a part of it. A click, then a swish, the hiss of fishing line, and then a quiet splash as Davie cast deep into the mist.

“We used to have such a family Davie, like you wouldn’t believe. This was before you were even born. The times we had...We used to have huge family reunions with hundreds of people. And now I can’t remember half of them, not even half; they’re all gone this way or that; a lot of them are dead now I suppose. I don’t know what happened, but it’s all gone now. I can’t remember so much about those days now. I try hard to remember some of these things, to think back, and sometimes I don’t even know if they happened, or if they’re just a pipe dream. And there isn’t anyone left now who can tell me if they really did happen.”

Pops felt like talking. But a part of him couldn’t believe that he was talking to his grandson. Since when, he asked himself, had this grandson of his, this child, grown such that he could understand?; when had he gained enough experience and wisdom to understand the thoughts and reminisces of his elderly grandfather, who had seen the world several times over, and whose life spanned over four times the number of years? When had a bridge been built between the two which could be crossed without fear of its disappearing or breaking?

But the last two days of fishing and sitting for long and peaceful hours on the sprawling veranda of the Northern cottage the family owned, doing nothing more than watching the cool breeze laughing through the massive swaying pines that made the cottage seem a mere island of civilization in an endless wilderness of lakes and hills and cliffs, and smoking, and sometimes reading, and sometimes talking had caused the old man to begrudgingly accept that his grandson was knowledgeable, and even wise; sometimes he feared that the boy might be wiser than he himself was, and that thought caused him confusion.

Over the last week Pops had been thoroughly puzzled to see his grandson wake up early each morning, sometimes before sunrise, or when the first virginal rays had only begun to transform the Northern sky into a deep, rich tapestry of sea-blue. Wrapping himself in a blanket David would sit down by the shore on a rock, or at the edge of the dock, with his feet trailing in the water, a black, still silhouette stark against the giant silver mirror of the water, staring out over the lake as though, in some sense, he understood it. What did he think about during those early hours of solitude; what did a boy his age have to think about so deeply? At first Pops thought it must be a girl, a blonde beauty whose face haunted the boy in the early morning, as the faces and the rippling laughter of the untouched and unconquered beauties from his own youth had unexpectedly begun to haunt his dreams in the last few years; but now he wasn’t so sure. Something about the boy forbade simple lovesickness. So, if not a girl, what did the boy think about? Before Pops had even had a chance to accept his manhood he had wrestled with the devil with nothing more than a gun, a bayonet, and a few hand grenades; he sure had a lot to think about when he was that age. But what about this boy, who had never left the cradle and the comfort of his own mother’s arms and his own home?

But perhaps, he thought wearily, the boy had fought with the devil with his particular array of weapons. And perhaps, just perhaps the boy hadn’t lost the battle, as he had.

Pops felt like talking.

“What is it you can’t remember Pops? The war?” asked Davie. He leaned forward a little, his ruddy sunburnt face genuinely interested. Long, dark locks of hair fell around his eager eyes. He wanted to hear about the war; that’s why he asked the question like that.

No one had listened for a long time. The boy listened. He asked questions.

“About most everything. Can’t remember anything really. It’s all a fog now.”

“Where’d you fight Pops?”

“All over the place. They just kept you moving the whole time. Half the time I didn’t know where the hell I was. It was all a blur, even then Davie.

“They first shipped me over to Belgium,” he continued slowly, addressing the shifting and oppressive cloud that had squatted over the whole lake, swallowing his voice. He took a cigarette from his pocket and lit it with a practiced, but trembling hand. The match flared out in the gloom, casting deep, flickering shadows on the old man’s drawn and pale face and on the bottom of the boat. It hissed when he flicked it into the water. “That’s where I started fighting. Moved around a lot after that; don’t remember half the places I was. Don’t remember most of the guys I was with either. When I was first sent over I had a few buddies; but after that you just can’t keep ‘em for long. One day they’re there, and the next they’re gone. You want a cigarette?”

Davie shook his head no.

“You know, “ said Pops, “I quit these damned things for twenty years. I only started back about five years ago; twenty years and I never lost the taste for ‘em. I craved a smoke every day for twenty years, and after a time you can’t but wonder what’s the point of not having one. I couldn’t seem to answer that question, so I started back.”

Pops slowly reeled in his line, checked that the leech was still firmly hooked. It was. He ponderously cast about fifteen feet behind the boat and settled the rod in between his knees. He wore an old red truckers cap, with the bill as straight and rigid as when it came out of the factory.

“I remember I had one buddy” he continued, “Johnny something or other. I don’t have any idea what ever happened to him; but still I’ll always remember him. He was a little crazy; that’s why I remember him I guess. There was one day we were walking along, God knows where; I think it was in France. Well, the Germans, you know, they used to set booby traps everywhere. You had to keep a close eye for them. Me and Johnny were walking along—I think it was near a farmhouse—and there was a wire along the ground. We couldn’t see what it was attached to. And Johnny, he was going to pull it. Well, I called him a son of a…puppy—I called him something worse than that—but he woulda pulled it, he really would’ve if I hadn’tve socked him one. That damned wire would’ve been attached to a bomb and we both would’ve been blown to pieces. He was crazy like that.

“And there was another fellow I remember. A young kid; he was scared as hell the whole time I knew him. A rocket took his head clean off. I’ve never been able to figure out why it didn’t blow up right then and there. But instead it just plum took his head off as if that’s what the blasted thing was made for, as though that were it’s only purpose.”

He exhaled a cloud of thin cigarette smoke that swirled up about his head. Davie loved his grandfather, mostly, he thought, because his grandfather had the most genial smile of anyone he knew. He didn’t know anything about his grandfather, or at least very little, and most of Pops’ kids couldn’t stand him or grandma, including David’s own father. Going by their example David would have thought the old man wasn’t worth exchanging words with, and for years growing up he hadn’t. It wasn’t out of malice; it just hadn’t ever occurred to him that maybe his grandfather had something to say. But Davie had learned much in the last few years and informed by the optimism of youth he just couldn’t believe that a man with a smile that ignited his eyes into dancing crystals, that erased all sense of age from his creased and leathered face, could be as bad as that.

The boy had decided that he wanted to know his grandfather before he died. And he knew now that with every passing day his grandfather was getting closer and closer to that great and final battle which every man must lose. Out here, drifting in the rowboat, floating in the midst of this gentle and hazy dream of water softly lapping the side of the boat, and the silence of the early morning breeze through the ghostly pines, and the luminescence of the new born light diffusing through the drifting fog, Davie felt drawn to the gentle old man who had suffered more than Davie could understand. He listened carefully to each word and tried to imprint it on his memory; he thought that perhaps when the old man died he might be able to give him a fitting eulogy, while his own kids couldn’t because of old and unforgiven bitternesses. For most of his life the boy had believed his grandfather to be a very simple man, without a whole lot to say about much of anything; but now he had the suspicion that something deep within the elderly and broken soldier was causing him pain and Davie wanted to find it out. And further, he felt that the old man wanted to be found out.

“I don’t like to remember these things Davie. I don’t like to remember them in some ways; and yet, sometimes I still try to remember. I don’t know why I try to remember. War does things to a man Davie. That’s why I threw away my gun when it was all over. As soon as the war was over, I threw it overboard the boat that was taking me home. I was afraid that if somebody said something to me, I’d blast ‘em to hell. I hated that gun.”

“Did you ever kill anyone Pops?” As a child Davie was told that his grandfather had been a foot soldier in the great war. But the idea that those firm, calloused hands, accustomed to the heavy manual labour by which honest work he had fed his family for decades, had ever been used to spill human blood wasn’t reconcilable in his mind; even if all they ever did was pull a trigger and let a flying bullet do the worst part, it was still too much. In his dreams David had often seen his grandfather running in flat open battlefields with thousands of other soldiers running along beside him and hundreds of rumbling tanks; always running, and running, just running, never shooting. As a child there had never once been an enemy in David’s visions of the war, and his grandfather never even once pulled the trigger on the rifle he carried in the dreams. But since then David had seen the movies, and he knew in his heart that his grandfather had to be a killer; if he wasn’t he wouldn’t still be alive.

“I don’t know Davie. I don’t ever like to think about it. I had a machine gun, just like everybody else. I pointed it and I fired just like everybody else; and maybe I killed somebody, and maybe I didn’t. I don’t like to think about it. Some of those boys I fought with, they were real murderers you know. They might have been fighting on the right side, but it didn’t matter. Together we might have fought for what was right, but individually…”

“They enjoyed killing?”

“Yes. That’s right. That’s exactly it. They enjoyed it; they wanted more of it; they got a thrill out of it. But as for me…I’ve never really been able to handle going to the Legion with all the other guys. I’ve never wanted to tell those war stories—I killed such and such, and so many, and all that—and I’ve never ever liked listening to them either; I really can’t stand listening to the stories the ol’ boys tells. It’s nothing to be proud of, what we did. We did what we had to do, but as soon as you start enjoying it, you’re little better than a common murderer. It’s a terrible thing…what we did…

“There was one time Davie…” He paused and looked out over the water; the cigarette dangled between his fingers, the red tip smouldering into gray ash. “I was behind the lines. I was shell-shocked. I was pretty screwed up, and I hadn’t fought for a few days; nothing in the world could have made me voluntarily go back to the frontlines. Anyway, I guess they wanted to get me back into feeling like a soldier. I think that was the idea. The commanding officer told me to get on a lorry that was going out there; I was heading to the front, he told me, to pick up paper. To pick up paper. Hell, Davie, I sure as hell wasn’t gonna go. There was no way. But the sergeant major, he got two guys, Canadian soldiers, to point their guns at me. Imagine that, your own boys pointing their guns at you. I still see that every day. Every day Davie. And every time I see it I get madder ‘n hell.

“Sometimes I’m pretty confused about these things…” He fell into a brooding silence.

There it was. The boy caught sight of the gleam of the piece of shrapnel that remained lodged in the old man’s heart. He quietly reeled in, jerking the rod now and again; the line silently spun onto the spool and cool water dripped on Davie’s fingertips. A blue-green minnow shot into sight, sliding gracefully just beneath the surface of the water, slender and swift; Davie gave one last jerk and the minnow leap through the air and then dangled miraculously a foot off the water, dripping. Metal hooks protruded through the belly and a piece of green muddy seaweed clung to it. Leaning out Davie grasped the line, glistening like a sunrise spider web in his hand and guided the minnow-lure into the boat. Carefully he unclipped the snap and slid the lure off. Leaning down he rummaged about in the tackle box and selected a floating lure, threading it onto the snap. A light wind floated in from the South. The fog was mostly dispersed and the shore was visible now. To the east, against a black silhouetted hill of waving pines, the sky turned imperceptibly lighter, a deep, mournful sea blue, with no hint of the harsh light that would soon break across the horizon.

“Let’s try a new spot Pops. The fish here are too smart for us. That or we’ve caught them all already.”

“Caught them all? We haven’t gotten a damned bite all morning.”

“I guess it’s just not our day.”

“Nothing doing. We’re too early. The fish aren’t even jumping yet. Give it ten minutes and they’ll be biting like they haven’t eaten in years.”

“We ought to get one of those new-fangled fish finders they sell these days.”

“And take all the fun out of it?”

The boy stuck the hook through one of the loops on his rod, then reeled in until it was firmly fastened. Leaning the rod against the bench he gently stood up; the boat swayed. For a moment he just stood and breathed deeply. The air was perfumed with the heavy sent of pine. A light smell of smoke mingled delicately with the thousand other earthy smells that quietly assaulted the senses. David loved this place.

“It’s one heck of a morning Pops.” The boy felt so alive he thought he would burst.

“Sure is. Now get rowing before I take the oars and show you how it’s done. We got fish to catch. Your mom wants something to fry for breakfast. No man wants to disappoint his mom.”

“Sure thing Pops.”

He seated himself on the middle bench and grasped the oar handles in his palms, curling his fingers tightly around the rough wood. As he lifted the oars from inside the boat into the water, they gave a loud groan and a splash; Davie leaned back, pulling his shoulder blades together. Aware of and reveling in the power of the muscles of his broad back, he pulled hard on the oars and the boat picked up speed. He quickly fell into a rhythm—leaning far forward and then pulling back—and the heavy aluminum row boat shot across the lake on the tips of the tiny waves, cutting a clean path. Sweat formed on his brow and he felt the newborn heat of the morning sun on his neck. With every passing minute the light grew more and more intense.

“How about we try the swamps Pops?” He said in between breaths.

“Sounds good Davie.”

Pops was right. Fishing was in the old man’s blood; Davie was only pretending for a few days. Maybe a few months of this kind of life and it’d seep into his bloodstream too, until his veins and arteries themselves whispered the secrets of the wind and the moon and the stars to him. All around the boat fish were breaking the surface in search of their morning meal, gliding out from cool underwater refuges; water-spiders leapt across the glittering surface, their little splashes like raindrops falling all across the lake. A huge dragonfly silently hovered over Davie’s head and inspected the metal craft; satisfied he floated off as silently as he had come.

“I’m a confused man, Davie…” Pops said as the boat glided in towards the bulrushes that grew at the western end of the small lake. A great blue heron took a few nervous steps back and flapped his massive wings, before settling back into his tedious contemplation of the water that swirled about his feet.

A year ago Pops had been forced to see a psychiatrist.

At first he swore he wouldn’t have anything to do with it. Davie knew this because he had heard his aunt talking about it. “I ain’t seein no shrink,” he had protested with the stubbornness of the eldest generation who believes that anything invented after they’re born doesn’t apply. “I don’t care how much I’ll get from him. I ain’t seein’ no shrink.”

But he did care how much he got from him. He had to because he had just finished scraping the bottom of his pocket and there wasn’t anything left to scrape; and all his family and his kids were just as poor as he was. So he went. He hated it, or so he told everyone. He told everyone that he hated the probing, personal questions asked him by the kindly faced, bespeckled shrink. Who did he think he was anyway? But the truth was that it was the first time he had talked in years, the first time the important questions had been asked of him in decades. And a man’s gotta talk every now and then. The toughest man in the world needs to talk every now and then, to tell someone what’s on his mind. Apparently Pops had a lot on his mind because he talked, for hours. And the shrink listened—because it was his job, Pops reminded himself; but even so, the shrink was good at his job, and Pops believed he cared about what he talking about. That was all it took; that’s all he needed. So he talked.

“You’ve got war trauma,” said the psychiatrist after the required number of sessions. “You’ve had it ever since the war. There’s no doubt in my mind I can recommend you be put on pension. I’d be glad to do that for you.”

War trauma. Well, that’s what it was then. When the young psychiatrist said it, it sounded right. It felt nice to give it a new name. Before then it had always had a different name: fear.

Anyway, the pension was nice. Though it wasn’t nearly as much as he knew he deserved. He should have been wealthy…after all that he’d been through. He felt that God owed it to him. That’s why he gambled.

“God won’t let me win the lottery,” Pops said, slowly and painfully pulling his arm back, lifting over the release on the reel, and lobbing the bobber and line ten feet from where the bulrushes grew. “but he’ll let me suffer. I just keep on suffering, and I don’t know why, and I get pretty angry about it sometimes.

“Do you know what a V-2 is Davie?”

“Sure Pops. It was the rocket that the Germans used near the end of the war. Could’ve tipped the scales if they’d gotten it sooner.”

“Well, there was one day I was lying there with a few of the guys, and one of the damned things lands right next to me. They were huge Davie. If you could hear them coming you were alright, because it meant the rocket was still firing and it’d fly right by you; but if you couldn’t hear ‘em, you were screwed. One of ‘em landed right next to me in the muck, and it didn’t go off. It could’ve killed fifteen of us right there. It just stuck right there, half buried in the mud.

“All I can think is that God must’ve had a plan for me. Otherwise…I once walked away after ten of my buddies got torn to bits by another rocket, right there in front of my eyes…

“He must’ve had a plan…but instead all I do is suffer, and suffer…and I can’t make any sense of it at all…”

“Pops,” said David quietly, “Pops, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.”

The old man was staring with all his might at the red and white bobber; it was ducking up and down wildly as somewhere below the surface a fish nibbled away at the leech. And then it disappeared altogether, as the fish, caught in the frenzy of pain and fear of being caught tried to free himself from the hook that pierced his mouth. But Pops didn’t yank the line as he ought to have, didn’t react at all, didn’t even see, didn’t feel the tension on the rod, didn’t move a muscle. A glittering tear squeezed out from his reddened eyes, and then coursed a twisting path down the wrinkled and leathered face of the old man.

“I’m so confused…” he whispered.

“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you Pops,” Davie earnestly repeated, scared; scared to see his grandfather cry, and scared to hear an eighty year old man admit confusion, admit failure…admit despair.

And still his grandfather didn’t say anything.

David thought that he understood.

“I’m sorry, Davie” Pops seemed to say. “I’m sorry that you too will spend your life searching for what cannot be found, as I have. I’m sorry that I caused you that pain by pointlessly defying the thousands of bullets and bombs with my name on them. I’m sorry that some great, cosmic accident spared me, while so many others died. So many children were never born, never conceived, because their fathers did not live to love their mothers; those children were the fortunate majority, who never had to wrestle with the as devil I have wrestled for over eighty years, who never had to know the exhaustion, the soulless tiredness that dogs me as I trod towards the inevitable grave that will open its yawning mouth to me before I ever know why.”

David’s impulse was to embrace his grandfather, but did not know how. Instead he swung over the release on rod that had sat limply in his hand, forgotten; it fell into place with a gentle click, and with a gentle swish he carefully cast into the bulrushes.

“I’m sorry Davie,” Pops said as they dragged the boat onto the shore later and unloaded their gear. “I talk too much.”

“No Pops,” said David. “You don’t talk enough.”


10 Comments:

Blogger Ibid said...

Good story John. I liked it.

3:10 PM  
Blogger I am soft sift in an hourglass said...

There are so many good elements to this story; it was a little hard fitting the different pieces together the first time reading it, but everything fell into place the second time. The part that I loved, that hit me the hardest, was when Pops was describing going to the front to "pick up paper." It was very powerful; there was the perfect combination of emotional tension and stark understatement, and it let you enter into the pain and confusion that Pops felt about the episode. Good work with that. I also thought that the paragraph describing Pops reaction to the shrink was well-crafted; it provided alot of necessary development and insight into his character, in a way that was direct yet full of implications. When I first read through it and got to that part, I found myself wishing that it had come earlier in the story. I think that including that earlier, having that explanation for his disjointed need to talk would make his character stronger and more believable from the beginning and provide a stronger direction for the story.

The other part that I really struck me was of the image towards the end of the caught fish that Pops is unaware of. That image, and the tone that it provided to conclusion, were simply beautiful. It expressed it all, clearly and concisely. I loved the sentence about the tear, too. Great paragraph altogether. :)

Suggestions.

I found myself becoming impatient a couple of times when dialogue was interrupted with a long description; it made the pace of the story come to a halt. While the descriptions are very good in themselves, at times they went on for too long; sometimes there was a too much strung into a sentence. You're in love with words, :), and I would be the first one to assure you that you wield them well, but sometimes the phrases were piled on very thickly, making them distracting and giving them an extraneous feel. The dialogue and the situations can stand on their own and speak; and I think it would be a better story, in terms of tone, pace, and style, if they did. I personally think that fiction is more effective when not everything is spelled out. Feel free to argue with me on that.

For a long time, I felt like the fishing descriptions/imagery was disconnected from the story; I couldn't figure out what the purpose of it was (besides giving a detailed sense of setting) until the "piece of shrapnel" paragraph, and then it fit in with the idea that Davie is "fishing" his grandfather and providing him with a calm, secure demeanor and setting that allows Pops to express what he desperately needs to say - ? Maybe I'm just dense about it. Please enlighten me.

From the first paragraph, it seemed like the story was moving in the direction of showing the contrast between country and city life; Davie returns to this idea several times (often at times when you would expect him to be reacting, internally or externally, about what Pops just said), and I wasn't quite sure what the purpose of it was. It popped up at rather odd times and seemed disconnected until maybe the very end. Is it to show his confidence and vibrancy, that he can listen to his Pop's woes, offer support, and yet still be secure and disconnected enough to be aware of nature his strong back muscles? :) I felt like Davie was underdeveloped in general; you got a sense of him from the narrative descriptions, but I wanted to know what he was thinking more, what his reactions were, and I felt like his dialogue with Pops could have been enriched, to make the story more realistic and to give you a better sense of why Davie wants his Pops to talk. I felt left in the dark about him. He seemed rather dead. As his grandfather is painfully and slowly spilling his guts, Davie seems to be in another world at times, absorbed in nature and "feeling so alive he thought he would burst." Although it makes a necessary contrast to Pops' perspective, it makes Davie sporadically seem cold, rather self-centered and borderline callous. I felt like I didn't know who Davie really was until the last few paragraphs, when some description was given of his emotions.

I liked the repition of "Pops felt like talking" in the first few pages. Very effective.

The first sentence of the story confused me. It still confuses me. I still don't know what that second part of that sentence is saying.

And just as a picky punctuation note, you're supposed to put a comma before you address a person by name, John. See example. :) And as a consistency thing: the narrator switches between "Davie" and "David" at times.

That's my rambling, honest take on the story. It would be great if you argued back and explained your motivations for some of the elements in the story. Out of curiousity, did you ever write more of the "Notes from the Underground" (?) story that you read to some of us last semester? Those two pages of story have stuck with me and I want to find out what happens to the Prophet. At any event. Hope this is the kind of criticism you wanted, and please, do argue back, for the sake of me correcting any oversights or flaws in the practice of my analytical skills. Have a splendid night.

Adrienne

11:24 PM  
Blogger The Dude said...

Wow. Adrienne, that's incredible. Evidently that English degree of yours did you some good. That's the best and most honest commentary and criticism that I have ever heard anybody ever give about a piece of my writing. You've concretely pointed out some of the flaws in the story that I vaguely felt were there, but couldn't quite put my finger on. When I get around to working on a good draft you can bet that I'll be keeping your suggestions firmly in mind. I can't thank you enough for taking the time to think it through as deeply as that.

Now, responding generally to some of the things that you pointed out. Much of my intention for the character of Davie was as a juxtaposition to Pops; I wanted him to be completely alive, and well, and loving every breath that he took, and looking forward to the future, and reveling in the past.

As to having Davie dialogue back more, I'm relatively sure that I don't want that. Because Pops is an old man who, as I say, "wants to talk", and he is on the road to senility, and he is desperate, and unused to meaningful conversation, and needs nothing to prod him to keep talking. He's lost in his own world, and perhaps that's what I need to make clearer, that he isn't really talking TO Davie, per se, he's just...talking.

However, perhaps the means of remedying that would be to make David's inner thoughts clearer. And I will consider how to best do that.

It's funny, however, that you should say that the part about the psychiatrist should have come sooner, because initially I wrote it into the first two pages, and then I thought it came too soon, and cut and pasted it to the end. But, I certainly may move it closer to the beginning.

As for the descriptions. You're probably right. I have a habit of using too many words. I'll see what I can do about it. For some reason I just kept feeling like I wasn't capturing the scene like I saw it in my head, and as a consequence kept adding more and more to make it fuller, instead of simply making the descriptions I had more poignantly effective. I'll see what I can do. It's tough.

And the fishing setting was merely the necessary peaceful setting wherein Pops could feel vulnerable enough to empty himself. There is also a good deal of deeper symbolism and the sort that can be drawn out of it, (ie. the scene with Pops and the fish) but the fundamental idea I was striving for was peace.

Again, thanks Adrienne. I'll work on tightening up the story. Your advice has been invaluable.

And no, I haven't taken that other story any further. I've been writing a few other things; but I know that I really ought to continue it. I've got about a half dozen other ideas swimming through my head right now, and I'm trying to figure out which one to write next.

P.S. Hopefully I'll see something from you soon?

9:47 AM  
Blogger I am soft sift in an hourglass said...

See, John, this is why you must stop bashing the English department. Even though it tends to ignore the fact that students possess creativity of their own that extends beyond writing term papers and following Kate Turabian's dictates, it can provide some useful support. O:) And if more students demanded creative writing classes and spoke to the right teachers about their concerns and tics, fixes would happen. It's already in the process of happening. But that's a separate rant....

Thank you for your comments and the enlightenment that accompanied them. It was my pleasure to critique the story; I thrive off of that kind of thing. I don't have anything myself. I've been revisiting old scribbles now that the job search is over and I have time, but nothing is finished yet; it's all just "starts." In the meantime, could I post that story I wrote last semester? Not that many people were at the meeting when it was presented, so it wouldn't really be a repeat.

By the way, how do you become a "Contributer" to this blog? There isn't a clue anywhere. Must we send stuff to you to have it posted? 'Splain please.

Adrienne

11:25 PM  
Blogger Learning to be Alone said...

I can't really add anything to Adreinne's critique. Wow. I actually printed out the story to read it (but I don't kow how much more I can do that, it's my grandmother's ink I'm using up). I found, as I was reading, that I had a really hard time getting into the story at the beginning. I couldn't tell where it was going, for one thing, and I had a hard time seeing the "surroundings," not so much the physical surroundings, but the mental, emotional, spiritual surroundings. I think "Pops" should've been mentioned or noticed sooner, before all the descriptions of fishing. And I agree with Adrienne, the mention of Pops' war trauma needs to come a lot sooner, it'd make the whole idea of the story clearer. Otherwise, aside from a few grammatical things (which Adrienne pointed out) it seemed like a good story; definitely a good idea for one. As you can see, I am not an English major, or any other kind of major at the moment. Boy, do I still feel like a freshman. Hope this helps at all. And may I second Adrienne's last question: how does one become a contributer? I don't know anything about blogs at all, actually. Help!

Mary Beth

11:03 PM  
Blogger Learning to be Alone said...

Also, I forgot to mention this last night... your character, David, has two names that are used without rhyme or reason. I couldn't tell if you meant the two names to be symbolic or not, but it was a little discombobulating, trying to make the switch between "David" and "Davie" all the time. Was there a reason for the two names?

Mary Beth

11:48 AM  
Blogger The Dude said...

Davie is merely the colloquilism for David. I meant for the name Davie to be used in speech and David to be used by the narrator, but I don't believe I paid as close attention to it as I ought to have. I'll change it around.

As to becoming a contributor, as the administrator I need to invite you to become one, which I will do today.

12:59 PM  
Blogger I am soft sift in an hourglass said...

Just a heads up: if you invited me today, I never received the e-mail. If not, take your time. :)

Adrienne

10:25 PM  
Blogger I am soft sift in an hourglass said...

P.S. I have a rant. Why aren't more people commenting? Or at least reacting? I counted 17 people on the Cross and Quill email list. The whole point of being in this club is to write and comment. Quite a few of us have proven that we can write (the on-going story, and the story of the most literary guy on campus). Three commented on John's story. We had a scattering of comments for the on-going story. PARTICIPATE! Break the Christendom trend....

the friendly graduate

10:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some people have jobs and little time to comment. (-; I'm trying to participate!! Really.

-a member

11:06 AM  

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