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The Trophy


The Trophy


Miss Ida was old but not elderly. She shuffled her squat bulk heavily across the cracked linoleum, pressing her feet flat against the floor. She padded around the counter and between her kitchen and the eight tables that comprised her little establishment with the sure inevitability of habit. You heard her before you saw her. She covered the tables with red- and white-checkered tablecloths, laminated for easy cleaning; she created ambience by placing a single brown Budweiser bottle, one dusty plastic rose leaning drunkenly from its mouth, in the center of each table. Miss Ida thought it added class; so did I. The walls were bare, except for a flimsy unframed magazine picture of a grizzly bear fishing salmon out of a stream, thumbtacked to the wall. In the corner nearest the kitchen, this side of the counter, sat a dusty but twinkling Wurlitzer jukebox, well stocked and seldom silent. Every song was country. A creaking ceiling fan blended the heavy odors of fried pork chops, steaming collard greens, cigarette smoke and stale beer; it did everything but cool the air. Miss Ida’s face was perpetually bathed in sweat from toiling in the hellish heat of her kitchen. She was cook and server, delivering every meal, two at a time, one in each hand. It took two trips per table, out from the kitchen, along the counter, right turn to the tables, and back again. After the second run she always stood back, panting lightly, and gave her benediction, tailored to the customer. Ours was: “You boys enjoy.” Then back to the kitchen, and as she made the home turn around the long counter she would invariably shout over her shoulder, almost as an afterthought, “Save room for pie!”

Greg, one of three students I shared a house with, got lost on his way home from a friend’s one night and passed by Ida’s Place. He was hungry, so he stopped. The food was delicious and reasonably priced, he said; Miss Ida was a treasure. The next night the four of us drove out for dinner. It wasn’t far, about eight miles outside of Charlottesville on a little used two-lane road that connected one forgotten hamlet to another, but the cultural divide was wide. The building was immodestly ugly, a concrete pillbox hunkering in the middle of nowhere, a flat-roofed cinderblock shoebox with two windows, a door, and a faded sign nailed to a post near the road: Ida’s Place. There were three or four pickup trucks parked in front, regulars having dinner or a cold beer. All of Miss Ida’s customers were locals. They looked up and stared when we walked in. In 1973, young men with long hair, beards, and funny shaped glasses made out of wire were still a novelty in many pockets of rural America. We stood for a moment inside the door, but Miss Ida was on her way to greet us before we had time to feel uncomfortable. She welcomed us with simple grace, told us to pick a table, then reeled off an oral (the only) rendition of the menu: fried chicken or country steak or pork chops with three vegetables two biscuits and a tall glass of sweet iced tea, $[sign in to see URL]. It was a starving student’s dream. We ordered. We congratulated Greg. And the regulars stopped staring. Mostly.

The place was lively, and Miss Ida was everywhere at once, bringing food, fetching beers from the cooler behind the counter, clearing tables. It was tiring just watching her, but she was one of those people who had worked all their lives, and it’s all she knew. She seemed to love it. It’s a wonder she was so heavy with all that exercise, but fatback and real butter leave their marks. She kept a close eye on every table, and gave better service than any two waitresses could have done. She seemed to take to us, stopping to chat and refill our iced tea glasses whenever things slowed down a bit. We were having a great time, and the food was everything Greg had said it would be. Then someone went over and dropped a quarter into the jukebox, punched fateful number 8, and we heard, for the first time, the sorrowful tones of Jeanne Pruett’s “Satin Sheets.” From the first plaintive cries of that steel guitar, pining for unredeemable love, we knew that this was our theme song for Miss Ida’s. We played it every time we went, at least once, sometimes twice, sometimes more. We sang it loud, into the wind, as we drove home. How we loved that little country dive, and how we loved that song! Jeanne’s nasal refrain still brings back the taste of Miss Ida’s cooking, the rasping sound of her feet in those cheap slippers, the sluggish ceiling fan caked with dust:

Satin sheets to lie on,
Satin pillows to cry on…

Never once did we play anything else.

Ida’s Place became a place of comfort and Miss Ida became The Great Mother. She bestowed upon us not only nourishment, but unaffected, unconditional maternal love. She really liked us. She always told us how much she enjoyed talking to us, even when the place was full of her regular customers. We were “nice boys.” Others, she frowned, were not so nice. She complained one evening about the rowdies who came in on Saturday nights to get drunk and fight. She lifted the picture of the grizzly bear to show us a hole made by some fool’s fist. She said we were like the families that came in sometimes on Friday nights or Sundays after church, just to eat and visit. If she could only stop serving beer, she sighed, things might be better, but her little place wouldn’t survive on dinner plates alone. We listened, tried to make her laugh, and praised the chicken. She brightened. “Goodness!” she exclaimed, raising herself to the very limit of her five foot naught frame, “you boys don’t need to hear about my troubles! Who wants pie?”

We always wanted Miss Ida’s pie.

Summer shunted imperceptibly into fall. We visited Miss Ida’s almost every week, laughed and sipped iced tea and dropped quarters into the jukebox. We never thought of ourselves as any different from anyone else there. We ate the same food, we breathed the same air. And we all appreciated the bright refuge that Miss Ida provided in the disquieting darkness on that lonely stretch of highway. Until…

Until…

Of course there is an “until.” Otherwise, and it pains me somewhat to say it, this story would never have been written. Without it, Miss Ida, who is dust, would have survived languishing in a few forgotten hearts, and then perished forever. No one, not even me, would have thought to resurrect her. But I am doing it now. I am painting her in words, clumsily and not too precisely, but with just enough life to make her breathe again. And all because at this juncture in my story I come to the word…until…

Until one Friday evening in the early fall. The four of us were sitting at a table, waiting for our meals. We had been the only customers until three hunters in full camouflage came in right after we ordered. I assumed they had just been hunting. One of them carried a gun. They sat down at a table next to ours, behind me. We ignored them. They didn’t say much. Our mood fit the quiet atmosphere of the evening. Gary, to my left, flicked the rose in the beer bottle with his middle finger to see how many times he could make it spin. Ron got up to play “Satin Sheets” on the jukebox. Greg cleaned one fingernail with another on his other hand. Finally we heard Ida’s shuffle, waddling with that easy back and forth motion as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. We watched her grey head floating along the counter, barely clearing it. She carried a full plate in each hand, set them down, and went back for the others. When she returned she blessed the food—“You boys enjoy!”—and shuffled back to the kitchen. We waited. “Save room for pie!” Only then did we pick up our forks.

We began to eat. Nothing was said. Knives clicked on crockery, ice rattled in glasses: that was all. It was a quiet night at Ida’s Place. Even the three hunters behind me remained silent. I asked for the salt. We continued to eat. I loaded a forkful of pinto beans onto a sizable piece of fatback and was just getting ready to lift it to my mouth when Gary, without a word, gently rested his hand on my forearm. It was a strange thing to do. I stopped with my beans in mid air, and looked at him, puzzled; but then I saw his eyes. They were looking past me, focusing on something over my right shoulder. I turned my head, curiously, slowly, as far as it would go, and then I turned my neck, again as far as it would go, and finally had to pivot my hips in the chair another few degrees, to turn almost completely around. And then I saw what they all were staring at. It was pointed directly into my eyes, steady and humorless, inches from my face: the twin barrels of a binocular shotgun, long and smooth and black, the cold steel flecked with tiny moving lights from the ceiling fan above, the hammers cocked back in firing position.

The part of the brain that calmly assesses unexpected, potentially lethal situations registered the scene in minute detail long before I felt the shock. There were the two sullen black eyes, with their crusty, neglected interiors. There was the finger, with its split knuckle sprouting fine, orange hairs, curled tightly around the trigger. A stubbled, flabby cheek pressed and distorted itself against the stock. There was one eye, the far one, clinched; the other, the open one, taking aim. Further along the periphery of the image floated two blurred faces, slightly out of focus, one on each side of the Red one, both twisted in foolish, contorted grins. Everything else, caps coats and pants, was camouflage green. That is what I saw. I sensed Miss Ida behind the counter. No one was moving. I wasn’t even breathing.

The assessment completed, I put the gun, the finger, and the aiming eye together, and I knew what it meant. The picture had reached the part of my brain that did not merely assess, but comprehend. From there it was but a short neuronal pathway to that part which planned the response. It was ready to go before I even got there.

I sprang into action.

With an agility that surprised even myself I leaped into the air, graceful as a tendril, and performed a flawless aerial stunt: one and a half perfectly timed somersaults, executed as cleanly as any circus-trained trapeze artist, and carefully calculated to land me with both hands grasping the bottom rim of the right barrel. With a mighty effort I pulled hard and hoisted my torso into the black cavity. I jerked forward in short tight movements until I was able to ratchet up one knee, and then the other, and finally to stand. I was inside; but standing inside a cylinder was tricky. I braced my legs straight against the curved sides of the barrel, at angles, and similarly extended my arms on the upper sides. Thus balanced I became da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, perfectly proportioned and starlike, exposing the whole of my earthly body to a hail of buckshot that might come at any moment. I paused to reconnoiter.

 The light at my back lit the sooty sides of the tunnel. Exhaust from previous firings flaked off in my hands and crunched under my shoes. I squinted ahead. For a short distance the brightness diminished to gray, but further on the unforgiving darkness swallowed the weaker light with ease. I moved one foot forward, then a hand, then the other foot, then the other hand, and so picked my way down the barrel. With every precarious step the light turned more ghostly, and the impenetrable blackness moved closer. Soot and cinders and entire chunks of charcoal fell when my hands dislodged them. A fine dust rose from my feet. I pushed forward, concentrating on every movement. It was tough going, and it was surprisingly cool; but why wouldn’t it be? Heat would come with the blast.

I paused and looked ahead; I was surprised that there was nothing to see. I had outrun the light; ahead all was black. Hesitating, listening, weighing my options, I stood suspended between the dark and the light, wondering what I should do. I decided to took another series of steps, deeper into both the barrel and the darkness. I stopped again. The sounds I made as I scraped along, mere muffled echoes in that nearly soundless place, ceased. I toyed with the idea of shouting into the darkness, but suddenly I did not want to know what I may, or may not, hear back. The resolve that had propelled me into this precarious situation had abruptly vanished; my muscles went lax, my shoulders drooped, my head sagged. I doubted. My first grand thought had been to burst through that empty chamber and with one well articulated punch blind the bloodshot eye that held me in its sights. But I never counted on all this darkness. I couldn’t even see the eye. As fantastic as it seemed, I had not considered the possibility that there might be a shell, a real live killing load of buckshot, loaded into that chamber. If that were the case, there was no point continuing. It was futile.

So I stood, braced for the worst, and realized there were no answers to be had in that suffocating blackness. I had meant to ask him why, of the four of us at the table, he had pointed the gun at me. I had wanted to know why he had waited for me to turn and look him full in the eye before spreading that lax-lipped grin across his dull face. And I had wanted to know what primordial synaptic holdover had told him it was OK to do such a frightful, hateful thing in the first place. I could repel all the way down into his hindbrain, and I still would not understand. I could scramble down the barrel, crawl out the other end, brace one foot on the bridge of his nose and the other on the hammer, and demand answers. But it wouldn’t do any good. I had seen the darkness in his eye, and having seen it I knew I didn’t stand a chance. Evil would have been a different story. I believe I could have taken on evil. Evil, at least, has consciousness. But this I would never overcome.

I turned and looked behind me. The fortifying halo of light through which I had entered was now no more than a pinprick—but it was enough. I turned and worked my way calmly back to it. I was neither resigned nor defeated; the darkness neither pursued nor roared victorious. When I reached the opening I grabbed hold of the top of the barrel, and in one flawless, truly beautiful motion, executed a neat twist into my former position and swung cleanly back into my seat. Everything was as it had been. My friends sat motionless. “Satin Sheets” shrilled on the jukebox. The shotgun stared. I stared back.

Motion must follow motion. There is always a next frame. An eyelash falls and bounces on the floor. A muscle contracts along a rigid jaw. A finger, hairy-knuckled, roseate with wear, twitches. Ah. I knew from the beginning it would be the finger. Sitting half-twisted and paralyzed by the blind eyes of a dumb tool I realized I had been waiting for it all along. I saw the twitch: a miniscule but monstrous movement. And then I watched, fascinated but horrified, as time bent backward upon itself and the finger, as if beckoning me to come and see, come and see what I can do, tightened, and squeezed the trigger.

There are two types of infinity. One begins now, at this very moment, from which it flings itself endlessly in every direction, up and down and behind and before and after. The other ripples unceasingly between two points, or two sounds, or sometimes between a cause and an effect. It is caught there, endless. You can almost hold it in your hand. This was the infinity that was now presented to me. It was a gift. Time, trundling along as always, left the track and took me with it. The infinite space between the release of the hammer and the strike on the plate loomed before me with sudden and fantastic promise, an endless echo of timeless life. I saw it and recognized it and knew I could dwell in it…forever. I got up from the table, stretched, strolled outside, stood with my hands in my pockets, and gazed calmly at the starry sky. It was a clear and sensuously cool fall evening. I stood there for a very long time, breathing in, breathing out. A light zephyr played across my face. It seemed to whisper, without urgency, “Where to?” I looked far down the darkness of that empty road, first one direction and then the other. Either way led straight back to where I was standing, so I just started walking, slow and casual, one way or the other. What does it matter? The world was my beginning and my destination. I had everywhere to go and nowhere to go, and I had all the time in the world to do it. I tipped an imaginary hat at the moon, and never looked back. Which would have been the same as looking forward.

In that wondrous expanse of time I had miraculously been granted a life I would never have otherwise known. Without the constraints of time I walked everywhere, and along the way I met everyone and did everything. I enjoyed searing romances with gifted and gloriously endowed young ladies that ended in great fondness for both of us. I shoveled coal in a tramp steamer that projected the sights of the world through a grimy porthole onto a screen in my mind. I read Finnegan’s Wake in one sitting, discovering whole layers of meaning heretofore missed by prodigiously qualified scholars. My hands molded clay for financially strapped museums, which benefitted greatly by my patronage and the fame I brought them. I prepared sumptuous dinners without killing one living thing and consumed them alone or with the poor and the homeless squatting in castles. I turned shotguns into table lamps, pretzel-shaped hood ornaments, telescopes. I cavorted in fields with children until we collapsed onto our backs in laughter, pointing at the apparitions in the clouds, some of them real. I saved many a damsel in distress from fiery dragons, but always let the poor creatures escape unharmed. From high atop sacred mountains I called upon all peoples to burn their sacred books and abolish all superstition and pledge on their lives to simply treat others as they would wish to be treated. I fathered myriad babies and raised them to be good and decent human beings, teaching them to hate no one and to always be ready to help another in need. I traded my fame for a Dolby Imax movie theater and streamed every movie ever made, from Andalusian Dog and before to Amarcord and after, ordering in food, seldom changing seats, welcoming friends and strangers, and eating popcorn by the metric ton. I helped millions of underprivileged children do their homework. I dug fresh water wells for thousands of African villages. I rested on roadsides with itinerant bums who always shared what little they had with me. I exposed crooked politicians and blood-sucking evangelists to the universal sense of justice until they cried for mercy; mercy from justice! I counted the stars in the desert, the leaves in the forest, the teardrops from the crying eyes of all the sweet babies in the world. I did all of these things and many, many more. I walked, and I lived, and my oh my, I supped on the marrow of Life and returned it a thousand-fold to all my fellow creatures, great or small, sentient or eternal.

And when all the roads had been travelled, and all the waters crossed, I found myself one sweet evening strolling down a lonesome country road. I took a breath; I knew the air. I stopped. Up ahead was a light, and a darkened mound holding the light, and I understood that even the infinite must come to an end. I walked on, and with every step a tune, clear and high and familiar, twined itself out into the cool autumn air and beckoned me home:

Satin sheets to cry on,
Satin pillows to cry on…

I walked up to the sagging screen door and pushed my way through. I was as if I had never left. There sat my friends, frozen in place, eyes glued to the three camouflaged hunters, one of whom was aiming a shotgun at an empty chair. Miss Ida was behind the counter. The wobbling ceiling fan alternated shadows that slipped across faces, along the tables, up the backs of chairs, and down the barrel of the gun. Sighing, I walked over to the tableau and took my rightful place in it. I sat down in my chair, half-twisted my body, and looked aghast into the eyes of the gun. At that very instant the hammer completed its fall, and with a metallic clack struck the empty chamber. It was louder than I had imagined it would be, loud enough to suppress any echoes it may have produced. It did not reverberate; it startled, and it signaled both a beginning and an end.

The man, the hunter, the buffoon, raised the barrel and let the stock fall to the floor with a hollow thud. He let out a high-pitched whinny of a laugh, and his sidekicks snorted and guffawed in unison. For a brief moment the three faces swirled in and out of my field of vision, leering and gap-toothed, as I was buffeted by the shock waves of the blast. I could feel a sickly, concocted grin on my face as I turned back to my still steaming plate. How long had it been since this colossal idiot had cocked the hammer of his weapon and pointed it at me? Four seconds? Five? My friends and I looked at each other. Their eyes were wide, their faces blanched. The hee-hawing continued. Jeanne Pruett wailed on her satin pillows.

But before I was fully turned back in my seat I heard the sound of the cavalry, the thundering hooves and bugle blasts of every Western I had ever watched on our old black and white Magnavox. Miss Ida’s slippers smacked the floor hard and fast, pounding the linoleum like pistons as she raced around the counter and charged the hunters’ table. For a moment I thought she was going to snatch them by their throats and dive headlong through the floor to the gates of Hades itself. But she stopped short, fierce eyed and full of wrath, and started smacking heads in a burst of fury, smacking them hard, backhand and forehand, first one and then another in lightning fast succession, striking with her open hands, muscular from decades of kneading dough and carrying overloaded plates of victuals, never missing once, landing blows so fast it sounded like rain beating on the gravel outside. The men tried to keep laughing, to preserve manhood not one of them possessed in the first place, but one started to howl, and then all three were hollering and begging for her to stop. Ida, however, was riled. She screamed, she grunted , she knocked them out of their chairs, and when she had them all on their feet or down on their knees she smacked and kicked them to the door, driving them like recalcitrant, frightened sheep, out of the restaurant for good and for ever, never to come back while she drew breath on this earth, amen. She stood heaving in the doorway as they picked themselves up off the gravel and climbed into their pick up. They laughed and catcalled from the safety of their refuge. Miss Ida took a step. The truck skidded around in a half-circle and popped a wheelie that sprayed Miss Ida’s walls and windows with stones as they drove off. The engine declined into the night; the hoots faded with it. Ida stood watching, then turned and came back in to her place, Ida’s Place. When she looked at me her eyes softened. She walked straight over and put her arm across my shoulder. “Damned fools,” she muttered, breathing heavy. “You won’t see them in here ever again.” I laughed. You sure gave ‘em what for, Miss Ida! Boy they didn’t stand a chance, Miss Ida! They were hurtin’ for certain, Miss Ida! She grinned with modest pride. “I’ve done worse in my day,” she said. We all had a good laugh. I laughed the loudest. “Now you’d better start eating before it gets cold.” The food, miraculously, was still deliciously warm. Miss Ida shuffled back around the counter, dragging her feet, but for the first time we could remember she forgot to tell us to save room for pie.

The last strains of “Satin Sheets” dissolved into the air. We talked about the incident, then about other things. We even laughed. But for the rest of the night I caught one friend, then another, darting discreet glances into the dead spot in my eyes. And the whole time I was wondering: is that the spot where the barrel hit its target? And if it is, where is that which it has killed?

Soon after that night the Board of Health told Ida she couldn’t keep her place open unless she made the men’s bathroom accessible from the inside. The ladies room, as I’m sure Ida felt was fitting, was behind the counter, near the kitchen, but we had to go out the front door and make our way around to the side of the building to the door marked “Men.” It had been that way for many years, but either someone turned her in, or some overzealous inspector was looking for a raise. No matter; without the money to fix it, Ida’s was finished. She was getting pretty old, anyway. The night before they closed her down we all went out for one last meal, one last visit, and one last spin of “Satin Sheets”. Ida gave us each one of the Budweiser bottles with the plastic rose inside. “As a keepsake,” she smiled, sadly. She hugged us goodbye, one by one, called us “her boys” one last time, and stood in the road waving to us as we rolled on home from the place we had come to love.

A couple of weeks later Ida called and said she had an idea. Since the restaurant was gone, we could come over to her house instead. It would be like old times: she’d cook and serve, we’d eat and pay. Everybody was enthusiastic. Except me.

I never saw Ida again, nor did I ever have reason to drive the old restaurant. It has been many years since I last saw it. Miss Ida has long since departed this coil. But every so often, late at night, I would think about that evening, and what had really happened to me there. It was easy to laugh it off, like we did that night, but I knew it was still with me. Once in a great while, as I was drifting off to sleep, the twin eyes of that hellish shotgun would appear out of the darkness and stare right down into my soul. I would invariably start awake, rattled, but by degrees I would fall back into slumber, there to relive it all again: Greg’s hand on my arm; my trek down the barrel; walking the world doing deeds; Miss Ida manhandling the hunters. It was always the same unanswered question: no longer why, but what had become of me when that hammer fell and blew the dead spot into my eyes? I didn’t dwell on it, but in my dreams I knew a part of me was missing. I carried on with my life, but every so often I had the dream, which always ended with Greg driving us home one last time, Miss Ida fading into the distance, and the steady hum of tires on asphalt lulling me, with soft finality, into deep, dreamless sleep.

And then one night the dream changed. I was alone in the car; Miss Ida was waving; I was driving; I was in control. I braked slowly and made a wide U-turn; I was going back. But even from a distance I could see that Miss Ida was no longer standing in the road, as she had been doing moments before. A dilapidated, hand-painted sign, hanging crookedly in the motionless night air, appeared briefly in my headlights. The words it once bore were illegible. I pulled onto the empty sheet of loose gravel and parked. I clicked on the high beams, which cast a harsh light on everything they touched, and sat for a moment, taking in the broken windows, the random stubborn shards sharp as razors still hanging tight to the casing, the door boarded but sagging, the pock holes like craters from bullets fired by drunken country boys in speeding pick ups. The whitewash was completely gone. Against the slightly lighter sky I could see peeling tar paper rising in elegant curls from the flat roof. Nothing moved.

I left the headlights on but turned off the ignition. Dead silence massed like cotton in my ears. I listened: was that a jukebox playing? Did someone say something about pie? No; there was nothing. I got out of the car. The lights created brilliant shapes, thick shadows, crisp lines. I looked inside. The place was a mess. Leaves from past autumns, broken bottles, cigarette butts and paper trash littered the floor, remnants of squatters and drunks hiding from the rain, or the law. Tables, chairs, crockery and cutlery were all gone. The long counter still divided the room, but to no purpose. Wires like curled fingers hung corpselike from a hole in the ceiling where the fan used to be. It was a derelict, desecrated, eerie scene. I was surprised to find that memories did not fill it with laughter, or apparitions of Miss Ida, or the smell of home cooled food. It was just an old decayed blemish languishing by the side of the road. There was nothing here for me. I started to turn away.

But as I did something on the far wall caught my eye. It was outside the direct beam of light from the car, but I knew immediately what it was. Something in my dream, a gentle presentiment, urged me closer. I walked over to the second window for a better view. And there I was.

Sternum and shoulders and head held high, stunned glass eyes fixed on some nearby object, I hung stuffed and mounted directly above the empty white square of wall where once had stood the old juke box that swallowed so many of our precious quarters. The hunter had bagged a trophy that night, but now it was mine. I had found it, and it belonged to me. My dream self looked long and hard at the trophy on that wall, and I decided it looked just fine where it was. For all I knew, it would disappear the moment I was out of sight. Then my dream self decided there was no reason to ever dream about Miss Ida’s again. And I haven’t.

So I backed away from the window, kicked a rusty beer can into the weeds, and walked on down the road, leaving the car behind. After all, it was only a part of the dream.

As I walked, I got a sudden urge to sing.

Satin sheets to cry on,
Satin pillows to cry on…

I sang so loud I woke myself up.

Oct/21/2014, 12:01 pm Link to this post Send Email to Lost Bonner   Send PM to Lost Bonner Blog
 
Christine98 Profile
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Re: The Trophy


Welcome L.B.! I enjoyed your story thoroughly.

Here's hoping for more,

Chris
Oct/21/2014, 1:51 pm Link to this post Send Email to Christine98   Send PM to Christine98
 
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Thanks, Chris. If any critiques come to mind, I'd be very glad to hear them. Thanks for taking the time to read. --LB
Oct/21/2014, 2:34 pm Link to this post Send Email to Lost Bonner   Send PM to Lost Bonner Blog
 
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Ah, I didn't know if you were looking for critique. I may have one or two niggling [sign in to see URL] minor. Promise to re-read and post them tomorrow.

best,

Chris
Oct/21/2014, 3:33 pm Link to this post Send Email to Christine98   Send PM to Christine98
 
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hi L.B.

Sorry it took a day longer to return to your story. I thought I'd find some over-written places, but on second read I can't say that I did.

The paragraph that begins, "So I stood, braced for the [sign in to see URL] had meant to ask why..." does strike me as telly and a bit tedious but that's about all I could find with which to take issue.

The description of infinite time between two points is fine, I think, and a challenging concept to capture. The last dream image in which the narrator discovers the trophy of himself strikes me as important--but I'm not sure I understand it. Something to puzzle over.

Thanks for the story L.B. Just some comments to use or lose. I hope to read more of you.

best,

Chris
Oct/23/2014, 1:06 pm Link to this post Send Email to Christine98   Send PM to Christine98
 
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Thanks, Chris. I appreciate your comments. I'm still puzzling over that last dream myself.

I think the story definitely needs a couple more editing passes to get rid of some of the "fat" -- your first instinct was right, I think, but then I find it interesting that you changed your mind on a second reading!

I take it by "telly" you mean hackneyed, like a predictable television show? I haven't heard the word used that way before.

Again, gracias.
Oct/23/2014, 4:45 pm Link to this post Send Email to Lost Bonner   Send PM to Lost Bonner Blog
 
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Oh no, not hackneyed. Just 'telly' as in telling me stuff rather than working it into the story. But what do I know? I'll probably change my mind again tomorrow.

I enjoy your writing, L.B. I honestly hope to see more of it.

best,

Chris

Oct/23/2014, 8:38 pm Link to this post Send Email to Christine98   Send PM to Christine98
 
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Have spent a better part of the evening on your story. Will post comments tomorrow.

Tere
Nov/1/2014, 9:04 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: The Trophy


Okay, Bonner. Ready to take on your story. This goes against everything I think I've learned about what makes for effective, affecting prose style. Maybe I'm wrong but my guess is that a submissions editor would read the first paragraph and go no further. Not sure what the purpose is of the opening paragraph, and maybe I'm missing something. Story proper begins with the second it seems to me. Story itself, the story line, is superlative, top notch. Sense of all the characters palpable. Miss Ida stands over me. The young turks sitting next to me. The rednecks all right there behind me. Story line and characterization both salient, strong points. Paragraph beginning with, "In that wonderous expanse of time..." is an unexpected finial, architecturally speaking, topping the story. And the narrator's reckoning years later about "the dead spot" that has kept in him since touches my philosophical nerve in the way Melville, Camus, and James M. Cain always have. If nothing else, arriving at that existential reckoning rewards this reader.

I don't know. Maybe I'm wrong but, in matters of style, I've always kept to something Cocteau said, something I read when a young man. "To cultivate one's thought - to learn to shape and handle it - is to cultivate one's style. Looked at from any other point of view, style merely makes for obscurity and acts as a drag." The charge I would bring against the piece is the stylistic drag on narrative line involving not a few unfortunate word choices that, to my brain, amount to an applique. That said, and on the other hand, if you intend to bring across how a young man might verbalize his world experiences I can see going this way. It has about it that young man self-consciousness.

This is a hell of a story, one I could wish I had written. Read it last night. This afternoon story sticks with me. On first reading it was the word choices that caused the involuntary cringe. Second reading, maybe not so much. And, coming back to my hypothetical submissions editor, were I to get beyond paragraph one I would get taken in. Sure can see that night scene.

Thanks for posting this.

Tere
Nov/2/2014, 2:29 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: The Trophy


Tere, I knew I could count on you! My take on your critique: Great story, lousy writing. I would have to agree. Well, I think some of the writing is good, but it needs to be cleansed of the dross. I made the mistake of putting this out for comments when I knew it wasn't ready. My apologies, especially to V. Nabokov, who warned against sharing writing before it is fully cooked. "It is," he said, "like passing around samples of one's sputum.”

Good to hear at least from those whose opinions I respect that the story does have a certain power.

I am learning that, even with 61 years of life experiences behind me, I still have mighty writing dues to pay. I have not written any serious prose for decades. Always been more of a poet. So your psychological insight that the story is written by "a young man" is spot on. In my development as a writer, I am still that young man. I can only hope that by hard work and tenacity I can make up for lost years, and gain some benefits from age and experience.

Again, many thanks for taking the time to read and comment. At some point I might ask you to delete this draft so that I can replace it with one i feel better about. For the moment, however, it serves as a good lesson.

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Nov/3/2014, 11:11 am Link to this post Send Email to Lost Bonner   Send PM to Lost Bonner Blog
 
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Re: The Trophy


Very good, Bonner. I should love to be able to track story's development. Let me know when and if you want current version deleted for another. A seriously good story.

Tere
Nov/3/2014, 8:43 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: The Trophy


wow! what a story! loved every word! mesmerizing!
Mar/16/2015, 1:59 am Link to this post Send Email to queenfisher   Send PM to queenfisher Blog
 


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