© 2021 - All rights reserved
Short story originally submitted to a writers workshop, the fourth such submission.
Which isn’t exactly true but it is from a contractual perspective which in and of itself connotes pressure, and of course I’ll tell the thing because I imagine that’s why you’re holding these pages to begin with. Nevertheless, when I tell you (write type process you) that this story is only about me I imagine you’ll put it down. I don’t fight alligators in Johnny Weissmuller films nor pursue any Questing Beasts; there is no real graphic-dismemberment-of-parts-unmentionable in this story nor is there much of that sex stuff–
“Which is itself telling,” Amaryice said. I slapped her silly and continued in mid-sentence.
but that’s not because those things have not been experienced by my person (one has and the other hasn’t–you guess) but because the story does not call for those. I mean, form follows content, you see.
“Inapplicable,” Amaryice pronounced with the cerebral disdain of my nastiest graduate professor.
But the rule itself is solid, and if you would stop interrupting we might get to the damn thing in the first place. It isn’t what I meant. What I mean is that to include sensational elements for their own sake is contrary to the point of Story4.
“Which is why every time you tell it your audience falls asleep.”
I gave her a saucer of milk.
Not true. The last time I told it in fact was to my kids. They seemed as attentive as ever. (To this I heard only the sound of lapping.) In fact, I told her, they ask me to tell it every time I see them. They visit about every month.
“Son of a bitch,” my daughter calls me. I thank her for coming. It isn’t because they blame me. It’s not that at all. They just don’t understand why I waited so long, I believe.
The lapping stopped. “Your daughter hates you and so do the rest.” She pawed pasteurized whiskers. “Tell it if you want. I’m taking a nap.”
She wasn’t fooling anyone. Amaryice’s sole function was to entertain me or, more precisely, to provide a foil for my narrative vehicle that would help suggest the various thematic and symbolic elements in Story4. She’d pay attention all right.
“You sorry asshole,” my son says. His wife stands meekly in the corner.
My children really do love me. And what the hell, I have their attention. What more could a father want?
But let me tell the story from the beginning so you’ll understand me better. And I don’t care what you may have read in the papers. The fact is that I was there, the reporters weren’t. They write stories to cater to the living, the lawful, and the important. I think I miss at least one of those categories. You decide.
Papa Dorphin started it.
”So when do you plan to get a real job?” he asks. “Christ, I pay for my daughter’s wedding, you could help pay for her groceries.” There’s a spurious logic there that particularly endears the man to me. I insist that what I do is real is real is real. So there. And I plan to make money at it real soon as soon as my agent, who has less interest in produce than product, if you understand me, pays attention. “Gibberish,” he points out rightly. I’m better on paper, I tell him.
Amaryice wasn’t asleep at all. I told you. “And that’s when you killed his daughter/your wife. The end,” she muttered after turning around three and a half times on the cot and settling in.
In our case, we can say that a Reader promises to read the work from beginning to end and the Author or Writer promises not to waste the Reader’s time. What counts, though, as a waste of time? Is it the failure to entertain? to offer practical knowledge? or something else? What expectation of a reader is violated when Amaryice apparently gives away the end of Story4? How, then, must a Reader choose what makes a story a waste of time?
This time I did more than smack her silly. I boxed her ears and tied a square knot in her tail to boot. But I was left in a dilemma that my ranting at her would not repair. You told them the climax of the story, idiot! Everyone knows the climax happens at the end. You can’t put it at the beginning. Now no one will want to know what happened!
I perceived her nod imperceptibly and smile with button eyes. “Point and match. You should be getting used to it.” She worked to unbind her tail.
Actually, what she said? It might not have happened that way. In fact, I might have changed the version of the story. That’s what happens with myths, isn’t it? My wife? She’s alive I bet, and what happens to us is completely different. Wait and I might surprise you. The bars here? The guards? I’m just visiting. You know. I’m on the outside border of the Monopoly board. Looking in. It’s all explainable. Really. Just pay attention.
“The context belies that lie,” Amaryice said. “I’m just what you always wanted in your wife. I’m not going to let you get away with this nonsense. This story is a wash. Autobiography is never good fiction. You’re too close to it. People never act like they would in a good story. They’re boring. Case in point.” She winked at me. “And don’t try to elevate your derangement to mythic heights. Ask Papa Dorphin if your wife’s alive. You’re the self-made widower. In deep.”
I explained to her that she was, in point of fact, much worse than my wife ever was. Now I’m sure I believe it. Then, though, I only suspected Amaryice was a shade. That she had a cell key made me wonder. That and the fact that her whiskers too closely resembled my wife’s moustache.
But that may explain itself too. What Amaryice doesn’t understand is that here there is no context. You don’t really know where I am. I like that. The same is true of Story4. Watch. I’ll ask Papa Dorphin about his daughter.
“What about your daughter?” I scream defensively.
Papa Dorphin pulls at his few remaining hairs. “I know you did it. I don’t know how yet. But I know. I might be old but I’m not completely obtuse. In fact, I might suggest that your motivation was simpler than you fashion it. You’ll never make a good book of it.”
That hurts, you know. I mean, gosh, if I can’t write something from that, . . .
And something’s wrong about my context theory here. He shouldn’t have said that, I think. Listen to me. I’ll tell you Story4. It begins with Papa Dorphin. His daughter loved me. I loved her too, I guess. I mean, don’t think I’m completely cold but she was okay-in-the-looks-department and reasonably bright and thought about pursuing various careers and hadn’t a clue as to what made good writing. That of course is Papa Dorphin’s fault. He was one of those sixties parents, the ones who let their kids choose their own thing. As long as it didn’t belong to Establadamia. I think they used The Strawberry Statement to replace Dr. Spock. But he rued it, didn’t he? I blamed him from the start, for messing up his daughter, I mean. And I couldn’t really hold her ineptitude against her, could I? So I married her in December `76.
“Uh-oh. We’re having time problems now. How old are your kids? Twenty-seven and twenty-five, right?”
I reminded Amaryice that the parallel between her life and my wife’s could soon become complete. She shut up.
“Autobiography is never good fiction. You’re too close to it.”
By January `77 I know there is a problem. I hand her the manuscript to Story4. She stares at it.
She begins to shake.
“What’s wrong, dear?” I ask sweetly. I am a charmer.
“I don’t know, honey, it’s. . . . I don’t know. Different. Interesting. No, good. Yes, really. Very good. I–“
She knows how much I admire her ability at getting straight to it. At finding specifics. At shredding my life with merciless love. I gently remind her of this.
“Yes.” She is still shaking. “I don’t know about this character, though.” She points at the page. I am across the room.
I ask her which one. Gently. I am a patient husband.
“Anus,” she pronounces.
I smile understandingly and suggest the alternate pronunciation of `Uh-nee-as.’
“Yes, him,” she agrees vaguely. “Why does he . . . (she searches for a question to ask) why does he leave his father? Is it because he wants the woman across the lake?”
I explain to her that Aeneas leaves him because he dies.
“Oh. Okay. You know, these weird stories just aren’t my thing, I guess. You know, it has to be like, you know, real to me.”
What’s weird about it, I ask. I guess I’ll try to be patient some more. Things click in my head and I become very frightened. I mean, it occurs to me that she may not know the name.
“This stuff with strange visits and strange names and strange things happening. Nobody can read this stuff, honey, honestly. I liked your story about the zoning proposal better. I mean,” she continues as she sees me begin to glower, “this is good too. Really good. Very. But I guess I just like real stories.”
I tell her that the story she liked so well was a letter to the newspaper editor. I think about how it would have been nice for me to dedicate my first novel to her. You know, with acknowledgements for the faithful and dedicated editing without which this book wouldn’t have been etcetera. I think of the impossible feats Aeneas performed and resign myself to my task. Do you know who Aeneas is? I ask.
Dido? A centaur? Thor? Notung? Merlin? Buddha? Christ?
“Are you asking me if I’m religious? You know my family stopped attending church in `66, dear.”
“So why did you do it, Dad?” my son asks in steady undertones.
When he was very small I read him Story4. I thought he’d like it. You know, none of this crap that Papa Dorphin did to his daughter. She’s his daughter, you know, and I think I’d rather refer to her that way. But my son loved the story. I could tell. He cooed and rattled and made a congratulatory mess in the crib.
Amaryice yawned. “God, when we throw your plot line off, you lose complete control, don’t you? At least make some effort to keep this thing chronologically consistent. If you’re going to flashback, flashback. I suppose I’ve ruined any foreshadowing possibilities, but that was all in an effort to see you finish this thing by page two. Now you’ve spent the last two pages rationalizing for your ego rather than giving any appreciation for your reader. Do you honestly expect them to care? Where is the character development? Where is the suspense? Define a conflict! And while you’re at it, choose a verb tense, any verb tense. Look.” And Amaryice scratched her claws along the cinder block and formed a pattern I had known since fourth grade:
“I started you off at c, the climax of your little story. Notice that, by way of area or volume, whether you write in two dimensions or three (in your case, I fancy only two), you should have less than 20% of your plot left to cover. Since most of the denouement, e, was suggested by page one anyway (rather sloppy on your part), I would have gathered that you had less than 10%. Just what is the problem here? Now you’re bouncing all over the place in a, b, and d, and everyone has stopped listening.”
I explained to her that I was merely attempting to reconstruct the pieces that led to you-know-what and perhaps it was the journey to epiphany that would make the story.
She spat unceremoniously. “Boo hiss. More romantic hogwash. I’ll bet you model yourself after this Aeneas character, too. Is that why you tried to pull in that mythic stuff earlier? May I remind you that Aeneas is more fiction than fable? More fraud than fancy? Virgil copied him. He’s a rip-off of Odysseus. The Romans raped the mythology as much as they did the people. Is this your idea of a model?”
I certainly did know all of that. I did. But, I explained, I was more interested in the uses to which the hero had been put. His relationship with Dido, his connections in Chaucer’s works, etcetera. Those connections, I continued, are both telling and significant. They are thematic and more, allegorical. This stuff is deep.
“Now you’re just throwing out terms.” Amaryice licked herself. “If you want to impress me, if you want your work to stand on its own grounds, be so kind as to defend it sensibly instead of playing the nebulous oracle role. It certainly doesn’t fit a two-bit killer.”
Was Perseus a two-bit killer when he killed Acrisius? Was Odysseus a killer for slaying his house guests? Was Achilles condemned for defeating Hector?
Amaryice stretched. “Please note:
- Acrisius’ death was accidental. That of your spouse was hardly so;
- Odysseus’ house guests were suitors of Penelope, his wife. Your spouse was faithful always, and frankly was wooed by no man but you;
- Achilles was aided by Athena, a matter of revenge and destiny. There is no support for revenge and if you were called by a god, then you wouldn’t be here, would you? The gods have spoken and they are the law.”
“I’m going to come here every month for the rest of your days and remind you of what you did, you bastard,” my daughter says to me.
I am somehow pleased to hear it. I ask her if that will make her feel better.
My own father would read to me when I was a child. I would pay attention. Most of the stories were the ones we all were told as children: Grimm’s tales, Paradise Lost, The Nibelungenlied, Joyce’s Ulysses, you know. I remember the first time he told me Story4.
“Appeals, pathos, sentiment,” Amaryice labeled.
I got a card from an old high school girlfriend of mine. She’s just published her fifth novel, a medieval romance, probably with some Renaissance tart with a torn bodice on the cover. She’s having the hors d’oeuvre party thing with autographed advance copies. I send her a note of congrats and say I’ll come. I remember that I had sent her Story4 five years ago. About the time the Christmas cards stopped coming.
Other reviews of my work have been encouraging.
“Thanks for sending.” Apalachee Quarterly.
“Thank you for your interest. Magazines such as ours depend for their survival on subscriptions. We encourage you to subscribe. . . .” Northwest Review.
“It was a close vote. We found some trouble in plotting. You may wish to try Scholastic Scope or Ranger Rick.” The MacGuffin.
In 2011 Katrhryn Hume argued that contemporary fiction, especially American fiction, is aggressive to readers, that it deprives them of both entertainment and instruction. However, Hume claimed that the reward for readers came specifically from the absence of these expectations, that the disruption of expectation or the inclusion of readers in this textual relationship made for a different sort of satisfaction. To what extent is “Story4” aggressive? What impact does this have on its meaning?
- Hume’s book Aggressive Fictions: Reading the Contemporary American Novel, on Scribd
- Review of Hume by Brigit Daewes
The last magazine had appealed to me because of its obviously sincere interest in seeing me publish.
My children pay attention to me. They sit at the table now, a silly wired glass between us, and look in at me. They’re on the border of that Monopoly board, not me, I admit, but I’ve always suspected there’s a sound gaming strategy to my position. I mark time here.
“Nope. Too obscure. Too obtuse. It’s what Papa Dorphin wasn’t, you’ll remember. This poor effort to pull things together is pathetic. If you’re looking for Epiphany, check the next cell block where she does business.” Amaryice was a good critic, but as unversed in modern theory as Papa Dorphin’s daughter. I reminded her.
“The acts of the critic and of the writer are separate animals, pardon the A "deflection of expectation," where words, situation, or pe... More,” she purred.
It’s a matter of meaning, I began. The more freeplay you allow between the words, the more the story constructs itself at a level beyond that of plot and character–
“Oh, Lord, here he goes again with words and language and subject and object and linguistics and rhetoric and signs and Plato and all the nonsense that hides what a story is all about. Look, it’s just like the jazz musician. If you can’t cut it, man, just lay out, okay? But don’t feed your readers any more of this `words is not words’ stuff. It’s all a front to make yourself the epic author who no one understands. What value is there in that? Your wife was right. You can’t write.”
She never said that. She said I was good.
“Are you now defending the only critic who ever liked your stuff, the one you murdered?”
It’s not like that. Clearly not. The reader’s function is to discover the meaning within the text, I countered, and not to suppose that there is none. If he she can’t, then there is something wrong with the reader, especially true if the writer knows what he is doing.
“The fact is that you are left with two possibilities:
- Your wife was right and your work was good and you killed her for it; or
- Your wife was wrong and your work was lousy and you killed her for it.”
Take your pick.” Amaryice’s button eyes glinted in wild abandon.
I read Story4 to my great-grandchildren yesterday. They said that’s nice really granddad and would you tell us the story of the tiger that chewed your left arm off? I told them that yes I would. Only it wasn’t a tiger that did that, not really. It was a copy of one maybe.
Yes, right, granddad, but tell about the part where the blood spatters on the blades of grass and you have to use your own arm to beat the beast away. Tell us about the pain you felt in the fingers that weren’t there and how they still pretend to tap on a keyboard when you look at the hand you keep in a hermetically-sealed jar by your bed. Tell us. We’ll listen better to that one. Really really.
I tell them. I tell them about the steamy jungle affairs and the thing in the garage and the feline stalker and the cereal killer and the copy-cat cultist. I tell them.
- - - - –
The author would like to dedicate this work to his wife without whom it would not have been etcetera. . . .