7.11.2006

Imitation Is The Sincerest Form Of Flattery; Or, A Short Story For You To Read

And speaking of Flannery O'Connor, here is my humble imitation. I got a picture of a scene in my head on Monday night, and thought, "Wow, that would make a great short story." So I sat down at my computer and hammered out a story between 1:30 and 3 am. And so here it is, presented for your reading pleasure (if that's your reaction). I must warn you, however, that it is in the style of Flannery O'Connor, so be prepared. Also make sure you read it at least twice: the first time just to get the story, then, in light of the full story and especially the ending, read it again to pick up things you may have missed or which didn't make sense before. I want to get lots of feedback, so be kind and obliging and provide it. Thanks!

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Breaking A Fall

“YOU CAN’T STOP ME!!” she screamed. “I’ll do it! I’ll—” Her voice cracked. As she looked down at the growing crowd, gathering like a mob to an execution, her eyes widened with terror, but her face remained resolute. She pressed herself more stiffly to the wall next to the fifth floor window out of which she had climbed. Her left hand, as if absent-mindedly, reached up to find something to grab onto but found nothing, and was left pawing aimlessly at the wall.

The office building’s front door flew open and hit the wall with a bang that Mary thought might shatter its seemingly delicate glass. Out of the door rushed Thomas, late to the scene, as he worked in a small cubicle toward the back of the ground floor. He worked next to the girl who was now high above them. They had gone through training together and struck up a friendship quickly. Everyone in the department knew they were good friends. Both were young and ambitious but shy, and preferred each other’s company to the general sociability of a crowd at office Christmas parties and like events. Mary was not as close to them as they were to each other, but had come from the same training class and often talked with them during their lunch breaks. She felt sorry for them; their excellence in their work and their friendship made them the target of cruel barbs from jealous peers, often in the form of insinuations about the nature of their relationship, which were always vehemently denounced.

Thomas stopped abruptly underneath the girl, about ten feet from the wall. His eyes looked shallow and pale and brimmed with unshed tears as they fixed their gaze upward. “No!” he shouted. “What are you doing? Why—”

“I’ll jump! Don’t think I won’t! You can’t stop me, Thomas!” the girl cried. Mary thought she detected a slight glistening in the girl’s eyes as well, but at that distance it was difficult to be sure. “This is my choice and you can’t stop me! None of you can stop me!” She began a sweeping gesture with her arm to include all of the onlookers, but it unsteadied her and she pulled it back quickly, crouching down a little. “I’ll do it! I will!”

“No!” Thomas’ voice cracked and hit a high note midword. “Don’t do it! What–”

She interrupted him sarcastically. “So this is the point where you tell me what all I have to live for, right? How many people care about me, and how much you love me?” There was a slight murmuring snicker from the crowd, but she seemed not to hear. “I don’t give a damn about anything, about any of you, you can all go to hell for all I care!”

The tears now flowed freely down his face, though his expression remained constant. “Why would you do this?”

Her face even at that distance now radiated scorn. “And I guess you’ll bring religion into this now too? Tell me I should get right with God, or Jesus or something?”

He looked almost angry for a moment. “I’ve never believed in God, and neither have you!”

“Well, now’s a hell of a time to start,” snickered someone at Mary’s elbow. She took her eyes from the scene long enough to give him a withering stare, and contemplated accenting it with a slap, but was rearrested by the collective gasp of the crowd as the girl took a step forward on the ledge.

“You’re damn right I’ve never believed in God!” she yelled defiantly. “I still don’t believe that there is a God! But I’m about to find out!” Suddenly, as if it had simply appeared out of the cloudless sky, a white bird flew by and passed directly in front of her. She became disoriented and tilted dangerously out of balance. As the bird alighted on a windowsill and turned innocently to watch what it had done, the girl placed an unsteady foot on air, and clawing madly and screaming she fell.

The crowd seemed to suck all the air from the scene, and their eyes widened as they watched transfixedly. But Mary, for some reason she could never explain afterward, was watching Thomas. She saw his eyes, which had been blurred with tears, suddenly focus intently on the girl. Simultaneously she felt that their expression deepened, somehow, and narrowed as his pupils contracted. He paused for a moment, with a calculating gaze, then sprang forward quickly though his face seemed calm. He stopped with his arms outstretched as the girl crashed into him and they crumpled to the ground.

The crowd closed around them immediately but Mary pushed and shoved her way through. When she reached them she had to cover her mouth to keep from retching, but she could not turn away. Thomas’ body was twisted and broken, and blood oozed from his side where a crushed rib had punctured the skin. His legs were crossed unnaturally beneath him. His shoulders and arms protruded at odd angles from his torso; but they were both wrapped around the girl. She lay on top of him, looking like a child asleep in her father’s arms. Her forehead was sprinkled with blood, but as Mary could see no wounds on her she assumed the blood must have been Thomas’. Her eyes were closed, and she looked more contented than Mary had ever seen her.

Mary slowly became aware of the noise of the crowd around her. Everyone was murmuring in hushed tones as if they were standing in a sacred place. “Stupid kid,” muttered the man whom Mary had heard earlier. “Had to go and get himself killed too.” She turned, and as she did so she saw the bird that had flown in the girl’s face leave its perch and fly away. Someone else said, “He never did tell her how much she had worth living for.”

“That wasn’t what she needed,” said Mary as she walked away.

11 comments:

Darth_Harbison said...

Dude . . . that was awesome . . .

That totally rocked. I read it twice, and there's still a few things I don't get (I'll have to read it again when I'm not falling asleep in the chair), but it's really cool. I'll probably comment again then with my observations on a few things . . .

Narisilme said...

At first, I thought your title read, "Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flannery," and I thought that to be quite witty.

I'm excited to see how this summer is such a time of inspiration!

I had to read the last two full paragraphs at least 4 times to get what you had packed in there--not simply symbols but syntax. Don't you love the richness of language?!!

Idhrendur said...

I like it a lot. There doesn't seem to be much I missed or didn't get in the first read (which of course is making me wonder if a bunch of stuff has gone over my head). Though rereads are nice because I'm really enjoying your prose.

Me gusta mucho.

Darth_Harbison said...

Okay, just read it again, so here we go. I'm just going to note some random observations I made throughout the story:
- The name of the girl is deliberately left out. (Indication, perhaps, that the girl is not a specific person, but could be anyone?)
- One of the three major wounds described on Thomas is a gash in his side. (Christ had a gash in his side at the cross.)
- The girl looked "like a child in her father's arms." (Heavenly father, blah blah blah.)
- Probably the most obvious one, the bird was white.
- The crowd is a lot meaner than one would think a crowd would be at a suicide. (Representing the crowd at the cross, perhaps?)

And finally:
- I was trying to think of if there was any specific reason for the name "Thomas," and I think I figured it out. If I'm right . . . I find it amusing that your obsession with The Matrix runs so deep.

DAD said...

AJ,
Great job. See my e-mail and attachment for extended comments.

DAD

Leah said...

Hey there.

I am Leah, a friend if Stephen's. He made me a copy of your demo, and I am really enjoying it! You have a lot of talent.

Interesting story, by the way. You seem like a very creative person. :)

Anonymous said...

Suprise! And u thought i never checked my e-mail. Really enjoyed the story. Flannery loved to use the grotesque to expose human nature.I thought your story was similiar in that respect. Also a lot of her stuff ends with a cryptic final line so, well done. I'll try and check in more but you know I'm technically challanged. Oh, and don't even try to correct my spelling and send this back.
t in co

Warrior of Zion said...

wow.





(more of a speechless wow) I'd rather comment and talk about it in person. But i wanted you to know that i read it and your blog. :)

bellevoce said...

Well, first off, I have never read any of your inspiration's work, therefore I do not believe that I will have the same interpretation.

What an interesting piece! I love your choice of words such as "pawing" and "retching." I also enjoy how you almost personify Thomas' eyes through refering to his eyes with personal pronouns. In addition, your exclusion of "her" name reminds me of the novel Rebecca, by Susan Hill.

What captures my attention the most is the line, "That wasn't what she needed." During her time on the ledge, on the forefront of her mind she desired to bound off and end the life she suffered through. But in the recesses of her subconcious, she could not let herself do so. Her nature fought against letting herself die. The natural instincts cut in and cause her reactions to cling to anything that is around her. Only when an outside force acts around her separately does she carry out her "desired" wish, albeit not from her own will.

Thomas gave his life for her. He suffered in his death so that she could find happiness in her own. He loved her in a greater manner than eros love, but in true agape love.

My interpretation? Predestination.
As predestination holds, no matter how hard we try on our own, we cannot save ourselves by accepting Christ without God's divine intervention. As my Reformed Perspectives teacher put it, "You can't save yourself if you are already dead at the bottom of the ocean." The bird is God's act of throwing her over the edge. (Now let me clarify this statement.) In the New Testament there are numerous passages that use the analogy of dying to ourselves or of being crucified with Christ. The main character is dying to the world around her; for that world "wasn't what she needed." This is where Thomas comes into play. He represents Christ who also died, but for us. Christ died so that when we leave this life, we leave it in the joy of our salvation and hope in the love of the Lord. Christ died a gruesome death so that we may die in his arms in love.

Even though we hold different views on this topic, I love your story and its (possible) analogy (I could be completely incorrect in my interpretation).

An excellent linguistic sketch!

A+ for AJ!

Sincerely,
Marge

bellevoce said...

And may I add, you should read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. Read it to figure out the motives for his actions. What makes the main character tick?

Tin IN said...

AJ--
Nice piece, man. I gave it to a friend of mine that teaches English Literature and Composition at Ball State University and is an O'Connor expert. She made three comments:

1) "Could Mary's personality be a bit further developed? Especially in light of her name (it is an O'Connor imitation after all!). It seems to me she could be portrayed as a stronger presence. Maternal? Astute observations of universal realities? Keep her aloof, though, that's a great touch!"

2) "O'Connor's characters are typically somewhat to very grotesque. Could Thomas and the girl be described in more concrete terms? There is a hint of nerdiness, but only a hint.... Maybe his pocket protector could spew red and black ink at Mary or some other sort of concrete visual? O'Connor's religious symbolism is usually pretty obvious (as it is here--good job), but I think with more descriptive elements the story would be stronger (both in its own right and as an O'Connor imitation).

3) "Thanks for sharing! I do love a good story, gruesome or not." :)

I thought her comments were complimentary and constructive. Write on, dude.