Small Cuts (9) James

To find links to all parts of the story, please visit the Small Cuts page. Here is James again:

I hated these golf outings. Not that I hated golf —I actually thought it was kind of Zen to follow the ball over the terrain of the course— but I hated having to make small talk and show the appropriate balance of humble gratitude and ambitious hunger to the partners who sponsored the excursion. I had asked Elaine to join me. All the spouses were invited. She had declined and I didn’t press her. I couldn’t blame her for not wanting to waste 5 hours of her day listening to the false bonhomie of young lawyers eager to impress their bosses. I couldn’t remember the last time Elaine and I had golfed together. Had it been two years, maybe three? Was this one more thing she had gone along with just to please me when our relationship was new?

Sleep eluded me. I listened to the sounds of Elaine not being able to sleep either. She tossed and turned, sighed heavily, rearranged her pillow, got up for water and then a second time for the bathroom. At some point, I must have drifted off because a rumble of thunder startled me awake. I’d been dreaming, but the vision dissipated immediately when I opened my eyes. Nevertheless, it left me with an overwhelming sense of dread. When the storm abated, dark finally gave way to grey scale, and I abandoned further hope of slumber and threw off the covers. After a shower and shave, I quietly relocated to the kitchen for coffee. Elaine never stirred.

After three strong cups of coffee for fortification, I loaded my clubs into the car and went back upstairs to let her know I was leaving. I touched her bare shoulder and she opened an eye.

“Hey. What are you up to today?” I asked her.

She rubbed her eyes, looking as tired and drawn as I felt. “I don’t know. Get in a workout, maybe. I feel fat after that dinner last night.”

“Yeah. Let’s keep it light tonight. Salads or something,” I replied.

She murmured something under her breath and burrowed under the covers again. I asked, “You want me to pick something up on the way home?”

“Sure, whatever.”

“Ok. I…” I paused. “I’ll see you tonight.” I kissed her cheek and backed out of the room.

I didn’t know how to fix this. I didn’t know what ‘this’ was exactly. I never took Oliver’s flirting with Elaine seriously until recently. Until I saw how she had begun to bask in his attention. Maybe that was my fault. If Elaine wasn’t getting what she needed from me, she would look for it elsewhere. The trouble was, I wasn’t getting what I needed either, but I didn’t know how to tell her that without sounding like I was casting the blame. I didn’t want to lose Elaine. I wanted the Elaine I had married, though. The woman who shared all my interests had been replaced by a woman I barely knew.

As I backed out of the garage, I caught a glimpse of myself in the rearview mirror. Had I misled Elaine? Had she married a different man from the one who stared back at me now? Or had she known and hoped somehow that I would change? That was surely a recipe for disaster. I paused at the end of the driveway to let a car pass and wondered if there was any way for Elaine to be happy with me. The road ahead was neither smooth nor straight.

Illustration my own.

The Lurking Dread

At the heart of every story lies a universal theme: good versus evil. The way it manifests may vary greatly, but it will be present in its many forms across all genres of fiction. To achieve the happy ending, our heroes must conquer the evil. In the tragedy, it is the evil that does the conquering. Even in humorous writing, there will be some sort of obstacle to overcome (evil) despite the comedy playing out on the pages. And because it is even present in such ‘happy’ stories, we call it conflict instead of good versus evil.

This ability to conceive the idea of evil –of suffering– is unique to human beings. Cattle, for example, don’t think ahead of time about what they will encounter upon entering the slaughterhouse. Everyone, every single one of us that has ever lived has experienced suffering and evil.  Why then, are we drawn to it in our books, music and art? Because let’s be honest, we are drawn to it. Even when there isn’t a positive outcome vis-a-vis the hero vanquishing the villain, the happily-ever-after romance, the underdog team winning the game at the buzzer. Think Greek tragedy, Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath.

In music, an entire genre –The Blues– arose from the experience of African American slaves in the Deep South.

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History of the Blues: rubber city review

Some of the greatest individual works of art as well as whole artistic movements are heavy with dread: Hieronymus Bosch, for example; Georgio de Chirico, Edward Munch, and Kay Sage are others.

For the writer, composer or artist, their art itself can be a coping mechanism. The especially gifted will tell you they are compelled to create. Without this release of creativity, they would go mad. Some ‘go mad’ anyway –the inability to manage the melancholy, the internal (or external/physical suffering) then leads to self destruction– while others are able to harness the dread and put it back in its cage when they’ve made use of it.

When we the observer, are drawn to this outlet for pain, on some level we recognize the dread lurking within. “That,” we say, “is how I feel.” “This happened to me.” “I am hurting, confused, scared, angry, desperate, lonely too.” Whatever the medium, we see in it, a mirror of our own experience. So because conflict and suffering IS the common experience of all mankind, artistic expression of that experience resonates strongly with every one of us. Art isn’t always pretty, but it is successful if it makes you feel something.

Thick As a Brick

I’ve been reading What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Raymond Carver’s collection of short stories. One of the characteristics of his writing is the lack of action. Many of them are just glimpses into the lives of his characters. Maybe even just one scene. This piece of short fiction is inspired by Carver’s style of writing.

Thick As a Brick

Wesley hoisted his suitcase into the trunk of his old Chevy Malibu. His disapproving parents watched glumly from the sagging front porch of their clapboard house. 

“It’s not too late to change your mind, son,” his father said. “Don’t be fool, will ya?”

“I’m not changing my mind,” Wesley stated, slamming the trunk lid closed. He sighed heavily and walked over to stare up at them on the top step. “I can’t let an opportunity like this one pass me by.”

“Fancy scholarship ain’t gonna pay for everything,” his mother muttered under her breath.

Wesley sighed again and looked at the ground. “Ma, I have a part time job lined up. I’ll be fine.”

“Sure and then ya be workin’ so hard ya won’t get no studyin’ done. Then what?” she snapped. “Ya lose that money and you’ll be back here on the farm anyways.” She spat on the ground. “Waste a time, ya ask me.”

“Ma, my job is at the chem lab. It’ll actually help with my studies. You’re worrying for nothing.”

“Leave him be, Sarah. Ain’t no use talkin’ to a fool,” his father chimed in. “He got some illusions of grander. Think he’s too good for his kin.”

“Delusions of grandeur,” Wesley mumbled.

“Don’t you mock me, boy,” his father said, wagging a finger at him. “I’m gonna remind ya of this very day when it all goes to hell.”

“Pa, it’s not going to hell. I’ve worked hard, I’ve studied harder, I’ve got a right to pursue my dreams. I’m not asking you for a thing, except to give me your blessing,” Wesley pleaded.

“Well, ya ain’t gettin’ my blessing on this nonsense,” his mother said, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “But… I’ll give ya this.” She gestured over her shoulder. “This’ll always be your home. You come on home if you come to your senses.”

This was probably the most he could hope for, Wesley realized. He nodded. “All right. Thanks, Ma.”

He went up the steps and gave each of his parents a hug, then turned back to the car. With a final wave, he drove down the old dirt track that led out to the main road. His parents watched till he was out of sight. Wesley’s father said, “Seems to me for a smart boy, our Wesley is thick as a brick.”