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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Swept away in the dazzling turquoise sea of guilt.

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You are a lazy human being with golden seaweed slithering up between your toes. Your breath is the threaded soft yellow light of upstate New York every evening at 8:12 when it weaves spider-web paths through the treetops. You are mediocre. Can you accept that? Yes, yes of course you can.When you were ten years old you used to cry yourself to sleep over tenuous arguments with family members. You used to sleep on the unswept hardwood floor of a little square bedroom on the second floor of your pallid triangular house with large glass windows which your grandfather used to pick fun about, pointing his long sycamore ash pipe in front of him like a cradled gun, twenty cents chiming around in the pocket of his maple-colored corduroy pants, his enormous stomach hanging over like dead weight, thick grey hair flowing like a rag, his old face pocketed and unattractive, eyes slit and sarcastic, always staring accusingly as he mumbled and groaned and acknowledged the extravagance of your house.


Late nights driving home from visits to your grandfather, your mother used to hold your shoulders and braid your hair with her small pale hands, the deep emerald green of her engagement ring occasionally swallowing up light and refracting it back like a magic dancing snake eye.She said your grandfather had remarried to a tall honey-brown-haired woman named Marla when she was four. Marla had already had four young children, and then proceeded to produce two more with her father, your grandfather. Your mother was constantly dismissed and neglected, except by her brother and one of her stepbrothers. When she was sixteen she moved in with her aunt who lived on a small farm with a red barn and pastures overgrown with tall olive grass and plum trees. They owned a handful of small ponies that were never well groomed, that had long tangled manes and thick hair and were always extremely loving and benevolent. Her father, your grandfather never forgave himself. He recognized quite clearly how absent he had been as a father and blamed her for his horrible guilt. It devoured him to look at her and it was explicitly evident that he favored his fair-skinned nieces and nephews with straw-colored hair like his second wife’s.

Your father was never there. His entire presence was a shadow. As he drove, as you sat with your back to your mother, as she ran her long fingers through your hair and down your back, as the loud empty quaking neon and white lights of signs and intersections drove down through the vitreous windows in sweeping tunnels of traveling painted color, your father was a figure from a dream that you’ve woken up from and remembered, but then you’ve walked downstairs and had a cup of coffee, and settling back into a chair, you’ve attempted to portray to someone only to find that you’ve forgotten the entire dream save a glimpse of your favorite scene, even though you can still feel it. It wasn’t lost on you, it’s only that in attempting to express it someone else, the significance and even the story has vanished.You’ve prayed to stained-glass Gods. You’ve knelt on the hard wooden church pews with your tie fastened tightly, with your skirt bundled up at your knees. Please, please understand that no one is attempting to undermine you. We’re all looking for salvation in our own way, and if I find it I’ll let you know.When you were twelve you wore toe-rings and tank-tops. You wanted breasts but you didn’t have them and you still used to sleep on your hardwood floor sometimes.Were you in pursuit of the ground? Did you crave the closeness of the Earth? You had allergies to dust, so was it simply to feel your nasal passages congest?I think it may have been for the change, or for the inconvenience of the floor, or perhaps for both. Sometimes you would chew on the ends of your blanket as your mind drifted from the social studies essay you had written previously that day on the effects European diseases immediately had on the Native Americans to a fictitious future of great recognition. Recognition. Recognition. Ravishing, fantastic, splendid, crowning, preeminent importance.Oh, and then you were truly recognized once in mid-September for that dazzling Impressionistic piece on mermaids you painted! Did you think that I’d forgotten? Your brother was so proud. I know he didn’t tell you he was, but he was. He was just more jealous than proud. Invidious and stolid, but proud.


When you were fifteen you filled your entire bedroom with flowers. You made a small trail to your bed and an even smaller one that branched off and led to your closet. The paths were barely wide enough for your feet which is quite worth mentioning considering how indisputably narrow your feet are.Your father came once in quietly that day to admire the garden floor and the dahlias dangling down from the windowsills but was struck immediately by a terrific allergy attack and was forced to retreat to his sanitized domain where he sat and read contemporary medical journals and kept an air filter ceaselessly buzzing at all times.He had neither smiled nor frowned which left you feeling embarrassed, humbled and acutely ashamed. Within 72 hours every flower had wilted. Your brother came in to show you the intrusive, amoeba-shaped purple bruise on his shin from his first active soccer tournament and commented vaguely negatively on the room’s projected atmosphere of a garden graveyard. Soon afterward your mother came treading in, smiling and vulnerable. Why did you always treat her like shit? Did you think that the remorse you showed subsequently would negate it? Screaming at her and then crying curled up in a ball in your closet. She always tried so hard for you, and you know that. It caused you so much pain to hurt her but you always did, as if you were incapable of reprimanding yourself. I still love you, despite this.You returned home the next afternoon to a room virtually replenished. It was a strange phase of life, to come home everyday to a manicured garden. Your mother hired your neighbor Roy’s son Jeremy to come everyday and tend meticulously to the flowers in your room. When Jeremy was sick sometime in late October she tended to them herself and when he had recuperated she had already decided to envelop his botanic responsibilities. It was very strange. It was almost painful for you to hold eyes with her over dinner, and you became completely detached from her. It was like, the more affection she showed to your flowers, the farther from her you strayed, the more painful it became to hold her eyes.


Sometimes you would still sleep on the floor, filling in the paths to the door and to the closet to create a small, empty impression on the ground, enclosing yourself with the plants. And your breath would become very strained and heavy and sometimes you would sob, drowning yourself in the memories of your grandfather’s house and being carried to the car late at night and driving home in darkness looking out the window at night and occasional signs, being lulled to sleep by your mother’s petite hands combing down through your hair and down your back. It’s a certain pain, detachment, defective and ghostly, like living in a shell, or rather, as a shell.It was a different sort of pain to see your father and struggle with interpretation. His lines in the play are constricted and detrimental. His eyes are dead cockroaches, and sometimes the legs kick out and you think your seeing life. You know he was beautiful once, and you know he can recite poetry and prescribe medicine, and you know that you love him, but you don’t know if you know him and actually you’re quite sure that you don’t. When you were seventeen you moved out. A friend of yours prostituted herself for drugs. A few stripped. You always worried about it, but never thought it would happen to you, and it didn’t. Some people are lucky. You are very lucky.When you were seventeen you looked up at your bedroom windows from the blossoming lilac bushes in the backyard and could only see flowers. The windows were like walls of flowers. You wondered if your mother would continue to maintain the garden after you were gone. She did. Frequently you thought of those nighttime drives when you were younger. You were never as close to her as you had been those nights again.You spent quite a lot of time with your friend Jack and eventually moved into his apartment in the less expensive section of Manchester. At nights you would sit together on the couch tracing each other’s love-lines and veins and eyelids and lips.

I wish humans were like novels, but they’re much more like paintings, and I’ve never quite been able to interpret paintings correctly. You loved Jack more than you’d ever loved another person, but you loved yourself more, and when he went to jail for heroin possession, you left. It doesn’t really matter where you disappeared to; it only matters that you disappeared. There was one time afterwards that you and your brother went driving up by Carthage and you passed a church called ‘House of Refuge’ and you thought of Jack and your mother and you told your brother to open his window and to scream what you screamed as you hit the farms and started to see people swallowed up in the green fields and to keep screaming it when the town came into sight and the small businesses and the crowds of people all together for midday outings, just to keep screaming it, and then you rolled down your window and screamed “I love everyone, including you!” and you both screamed it, laughing, and everyone heard and smiled lackadaisically.There was one farmer who was very far back, quite close to large green mountains in the distance, who turned towards us, and he was on my side, and he formed a roof with his hand above his eyes to shield the golden bleating sun that was erupting like fire across the pastures before him, and he didn’t smile, he just stared and followed my voice with his head, and I know he heard me for a fact and that he understood what I said which was that I would die for him and anyone, because he was important.I don’t know. I really don’t know if I will ever be happy with anyone other than myself.

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Old Comments

  • I would really love some feedback on this one, especially.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/04  at  10:49 PM
  • Too many words.  It was difficult for me to get through.  The second person narrows the audience an awful lot, and (maybe because I struggled through it) I couldn’t figure out the relationship between the first person and the second person.  I’m not a lazy human being.

    You use a lot of neat words and good imagery.

    I think you expect your brain to come up with good phrases a little too much, and when you get the feeling that maybe it isn’t doing the job so well, you “fix” it by using more words.

    All that is kind of first impression and I didn’t think it through much.  But the following rattled in my brain from the moment I read it until now:  I recognize you doing something I have done, and that is taxing the reader’s mind.  There are a few people who would really enjoy this: literary types who savor all those words, but it’s part of what makes it hard to read.  I’m writing about the paragraph in which you repeat the phrase “her father, your grandfather”.  It keeps suggesting that we’re about to get to know how the “I” is related to the “you” and that never comes, and then also, it introduces Marla, a bunch of kids, referred to as brother, step-brother, and Marla’s kids before and after the re-marriage.  Also, Marla’s hair is honey-brown-colored and straw-colored.  Easy enough upon re-reading to see they could be the same, but mentally taxing anyway.  This paragraph might be reflecting the style a bit.

    I once heard it mentioned that writing today has to cope with miniature-sized attention spans.  Writing a century ago was great when it was filled with lots of description because either you had to be there, receive one of those new-fangled “photograph” things, or get a good painting - or a lot of words that could paint the picture.  Nowadays, it’s on TV and in magazines, so people don’t bother interpreting all the description.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/13  at  08:30 PM
  • Some of this writing is absolutely drool-worthy, but not to put too fine a point on Dave’s point:  at the very least, the paragraphs are too long.  Anyone, including me, who sees a paragraph as long as half a page coming up is going to just STOP READING. 

    Which is what I did.  (Note that I have started a new paragraph.) I have no idea what happened after that second long paragraph in the story, because the first one was too long and I could see that I was half way through the second one and there seemed (scrolling down) to be nothing but long paragraphs, no dialogue, and no end in sight. 

    “What?” cried the writer.  “You didn’t even read it?”

    “I couldn’t,” she wailed.  “The paragraphs were too long.” 

    She thrust her hands into her pockets and strode away into the vermillion sunset or whatever. 

    In fact the writing is beautiful, as far as I could get.  Think about shorter paragraphs and some dialogue.  Dave is right, and reads with amazing fortitude.  One doesn’t want to wear one’s reader out.

    Posted by julianyway  on  10/19  at  02:10 AM
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