Just a quick note, this was written in response to a prompt, so there’s a reason it may seem a bit forced.
As the skyscrapers slowly gave way to rolling hills of green, I sighed and turned to my sister. Her face was filled with hope and excitement, in stark contrast to my expression of melancholy. We were leaving the only home that I’d ever known and I doubted that I would ever be able to forgive fate for forcing us to escape from the city.
I had lived in New York my whole life, and finally the price of living had risen to such astronomical levels that my family was forced to leave. We were moving to Colebrook, a tiny little town in the Middle of Nowhere, Connecticut. To say the least, I was not please with what destiny had thrown into our laps.
My sister, however, was ecstatic. Our entire childhood had been spent with her complaining about the lack of greenery in the City. For her, moving to Colebrook would be the best thing ever.
“Jenna! Do you think Mom will let us get a dog?” Our parents had gone ahead with the moving truck, leaving us to take the train to our new hometown. I shrugged at returned my gaze towards the scratched window. Some idiot had scratched his name into the window. The uneven lines distorted the view of the quaint, colonial towns that lined The Hudson.
“If we get a dog, we wouldn’t even have to walk it. We could just let it loose in the backyard. Do you think we’re gonna have a backyard?” I shrugged again. I couldn’t really bring myself to imagine what our house would look like and the thought of grass so close to me was disgusting. Let me put it this way, when I was around three years old, I was afraid of grass. Actually, terrified. My parents had taken me to a wedding (this was before my sister was born) and, in order to make sure I wouldn’t run away, had stood me on a manhole cover in the middle of the field where the reception was. I didn’t move for two hours. To say that I was not a fan of “nature’s carpet” would be a gross understatement.
“Come on, Jen. Can’t you at least be excited for me? I know that you don’t really like all this nature stuff, but I’m sure that this experience will be good for us.” She grabbed both my hands, wresting my attention away from the fascinating scenery. “Please just try to pretend to be happy? Mom and Dad are really beating themselves up about this. They feel super guilty. Just smile, for them.”
“I’m sorry, Liss, I just can’t.” I glanced out the window, desperate for a distraction from the awkwardness of this conversation. “Oh look! Cows! They look like Oreos!” I forced a laugh, hoping that my attempt would successfully sway my sisters attention. It did.
“Oh my gosh! No way!” Jenna smiled. “This is so different from home.”
“Yeah.” With that reminder, I went back to looking morosely out the window.
“Ten Mile River!” The conductor announced over the scratchy intercom.
“This is it. Next stop is us. You ready?” Jenna was practically jumping up and down in her seat.
I reverted to what seemed to be my new default response and shrugged. Standing up, I grabbed my backpack and jammed my earphones into my ears. “Let’s go.” With Liss tagging along behind me, I lead the way into the vestibule before then departing the train at our stop. I gave one last wistful look towards the MTA operated train and headed towards where our parents waited, resigned to my fate.
“As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it – whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, he is trash.”
― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mocking Bird
He had been sipping a cup of tea and chatting with his mother over the phone when the police officer pounded on the door. “The rapping of that fist is enough to wake the dead” He had told his mother. He ambled over to the door and was greeted by a warrant being shoved in his face.
“I’m here to search the premises for any items that could have served as the murder weapon in the murder of Janson James.”
His face had stilled at this. Janson James, politician extraordinaire, had been acquitted on all counts of the rape of Stephan Hardy’s mother. Stephan had wanted to kill him for a long time.
The bloodstained shirt had been placed in the dumpster outside his house and the knife had been washed and hidden among the other mundane kitchen knives. It had been the perfectly laid trap. Stephan Hardy had no chance.
“Please rise for his honour, Judge Ethan Barrows.” The bailiff announced as the corpulent, mustachioed man, swathed in the black garments of his office, entered the courtroom. As he did so, the entire courtroom, from the defendant to the prosecutor to the jury to the audience, stood. Barrows nodded to the bailiff before taking his seat. The gentlemen of the jury shifted uncomfortably in their seats, extremely aware of the high profile nature of the case.
The trial progressed as all trials do. A number of witnesses, expert or otherwise, were called to the stand by both the defense and the prosecution. First up was the doctor who had pronounced the victim dead.
“In your opinion, did it appear that the victim had defended himself?” The prosecutor inquired.
“Yes. He had a series of bruises along the side of his arms consistent with the repercussions of shielding one’s face from an onslaught of blows.”
“What was the cause of death?”
“Multiple stabs to the abdominal area, including seven to the heart.”
“And how many would you say that there were in total?”
“At least eighteen.”
“So,” The prosecutor began, turning to face the jury, “would you say that our killer had a grudge?”
“Objection!” The attorney for the defense rose from his seat. “Leading the witness.”
“Sustained.” Judge Barrows’ sonorous voice echoed through the silent and enraptured courtroom.
“Very well. He’s all your’s.” The prosecutor sat down and the other lawyer approached the doctor.
“Thank you. Now, Dr. Hamden, in your professional opinion, what position was the victim in when he was defending himself?”
“He was on his knees with his hands over him.”
“How much taller do you think the assailant must have been in order inflict this much damage on the victim?”
The doctor’s eyes flickered towards the prosecutor and then over to where the defendant sat. His mother sat behind him, her hands fiddling with a silver cross necklace that was in stark contrast to the darker hue of her skin. He took a deep breath and then exhaled.
“Dr. Hamden?” The defense attorney approached the witness’ stand. “Are you okay? Do you need to tell us something?” His calming tones betrayed nothing of his intense excitement. This could be it. If the doctor told the truth, Stephan Hardy would be allowed to go home a free man.
“I… I… The victim was approximately 5 foot 9 inches. The assailant would have to have been at least…” The doctor took another breath, still not clear on his allegiance. “He must have been at least six inches taller.”
The lawyer let out a quick sigh of relief. “Since Mr. Hardy is only three inches taller, is it conceivable that he is the murderer?”
“Objection!” The prosecutor stood suddenly, fearful that his case was about to slip through his fingers. “We have no way of knowing the height of Mr. Hardy.”
“On the contrary.” The defense rebutted. “We have the images from when Mr. Hardy was arrested and they read that he is exactly six feet tall.”
The judged gestured and a copy of the images was presented to him. Seeing that the images did in fact render Stephan Hardy innocent, he turned to the court secretary. She paused the clickity-clack of her fingers for a moment to catch his eye. He shot a glance towards the prosecutor and gave a slight incline of his head. The secretary did one of her own as well and paused for a moment to use some corrector fluid on her transcripts before continuing on.
“I think that your point has been made, Councilor. If you have finished questioning the witness then we can move on.” The judge interrupted the anticipatory breath that the lawyer was taking. Barrows surveyed the courtroom. His eyes danced over the prosecutor’s over eager smile and balding head and focused instead on the necklace that was still shimmering between the fingers of Ms. Hardy. Noticing the Judge’s cold eyes, she dropped the cross and he followed its descent between her breasts.
Tearing his eyes away, Barrows forced his focus back towards the case and its likely outcome. Even having a human moment with the defendant’s mother did not change the predetermined verdict. Everyone in the room knew that the trial was merely a formality. Stephan Hardy was going to jail regardless of whether or not he had done the crime. In this courtroom, it was guilty until proven innocent by the shade of your skin. If the judge were to be perfectly honest with himself, the setup had no need to be so elaborate. The kitchen knife was a nice touch, but the bloodstained shirt was all that was needed for a conviction. That and a questionable eyewitness.
Growing tired of the proceedings, Judge Barrows called a halt to them and sent the jury off to do their ceremonial duty. Merely a half hour later they returned and handed down the expected verdict.
Stephan Hardy’s face fell and his mother reached forward to grasp her son’s shoulder. It struck Barrows with a chilling pleasure to see the naiveté that had convinced the defendant that he would be found not guilty simply because he did not commit the crime.
In Ethan Barrows mind there was never any doubt. Whether or not Hardy had done the crime, he was still guilty by virtue of the colour of his skin and he was going to pay.
And so the trial ended. The judge was found the next day in Ms. Hardy’s bed with a bullet through his heart and her screaming rape. Dr. Hamden discovered medical textbooks make excellent weights when drowning oneself. And Stephen Hardy? He threw himself in front of a prison transport bus and is in the hospital recovering now. How much longer he’ll allow himself to last is unknown.
Once upon a time, there was a man. He spent his days working from dawn to dusk on his farm, harvesting cotton, planting grains and he loved his work.
One day, when he was out plowing his fields, he discovered an abandoned fledgling covered in ash and sitting in the remains of an extinguished fire. He stooped down and scooped the bird up, brushing off the ash as he did so. The little bird bobbed his reddish-purple head and nuzzled into his hand.
The farmer nurtured the bird, feeding him every day and caring for its wellbeing. In return, the bird remained with the man. They spent every waking moment with each other. The man told the bird his every secret and deepest desire and the bird listened.
They lived harmoniously for many many years and then many many more for the bird lent its longevity to the man. At long last the man passed on.
The bird mourned the loss of his lifelong companion, letting tears stream down his face. Filled with anger, the bird flew to the temple of the Sun God, Ra, to plead for the life of his friend. The God, being impressed with the beauty of the bird and his devotion to his human friend, considered the bird’s request. Ra decided that he would prefer the company of the bird and so told the bird that he would allow an exchange of life, the spirit of the bird for the spirit of the man. The bird agreed.
Realizing that the man had chosen to die and would not want to face life without the bird, the bird burst into flame but did not react. He took flight and as he approached the heavens, his feathers burned off, leaving a trail of ashes along the ground. Eventually, a single red plume on the bird’s head was left. Finally, that one plume dropped intact to an underlying field. That feather, too, burst into flame. As what remained of the once beautiful bird joined Ra above, a baby bird emerged from the pile of ashes that the feather had produced.
And a different farmer noticed the bird in the ashes and picked it up and cleaned it off. And the little bird nuzzled into the man’s hand. And the story began again.
“Use the commonplace
to escape the commonplace”
and the world is your’s.
The dust motes traipse and,
shimmering, salute the sun
as it slinks away.
Coats the world in pure colors
Leaving hope and joy
Each book a story
A new tale to open worlds
Fiction shows the truth
The sky outlines the
wings of birds as they glide through
the ceaseless ether.
With a single smile,
you can assuage any fears
and render all well.
He worked a nine-to-five job, had a wife, two kids and a golden retriever. His name was James. His wife was Anna and their children were Jane and Philip, Anna was enamoured with the idea of royalty.
Every morning he got up at 6:30, brushed his teeth and ambled downstairs to get some coffee. After a breakfast of two eggs sunny side up and three sausage links, he’d rise from the table and head upstairs to wake the kids before hopping in the shower.
At 8:00, he’d wait at the front door for Jane and Philip. Their school was on his way to work and as a favor to Anna, who was headed in the opposite direction, he dropped them off every day.
By 8:15, he was speeding off downtown, away from the school.
He clocked in at exactly 8:57
And was at his desk by 8:59, ready to start the day.
He had lunch at 12:30
And took a call from his wife at 2:35 concerning dinner plans.
At 5:01 he was in the elevator headed to the lobby
And at 5:30, he was in traffic, on his way home.
At 5:42, he turned down a new road to try and get home to his family faster.
At 5:44 he deduced that he was lost.
At 5:47 he decided that he wasn’t in the safest area of town.
And at 5:48, he passed through the path of a stray bullet.
At 6:00 pm sharp, he was declared dead on arrival.
the puddle builds.
and grows and grows,
until it settles and shimmers
reflecting the light in brilliant rainbows
that glisten across the surface of the liquid.
A single disturbance
echoes across the formerly flat plane.
A twitch of a toe, the jerk of an ankle effecting the surrounding fluid.
A drop rolls across the many facets and angles of the human body,
joining others to form a rivulet of fuel for the growing puddle,
filling it till it nearly pours over unseen edges.
A match is released.
A single ember with so much potential.
and falls and falls,
growing dim as it approaches the puddle
disguising the whoosh of power its flame will spark.
His screams are silenced,
by the power of the inferno
and the strength of his resolve.
He will not call out for help.
He will not bend to the pain.
Burning he runs.
Defying the darkness.
Refusing to fade
into the black.
The Great Gatsby is a book of transformations, namely the transformation that comes from a transition from living in the “Middle West” to the East. Although the story is set in New York City and her suburbs, as Nick says “this has been a story of the West.” In attempting to acclimate to their new home, each of the main characters adopts his or her own understanding of what seems to be a heightened version of the High Society attitudes of the New York elite.
The clearest example of transformation is that of James Gatz, farm boy, into Jay Gatsby, host of the best parties outside Manhattan. His transformation is planned from his childhood and is much less obscured than those of the other characters. In the schedule that Fitzgerald includes in the last few pages, young Gatsby, or Gatz as he was known back then, is seen as someone “bound to get ahead.” Gatz seems unconcerned with his lot in life, simply using it at as a rather low starting point for achieving his lofty aspirations. He did not come East hoping to do well. Instead, his confidence told him that he would and he went on to do so with a doggedness and a take-no-prisoners attitude. His list and his attitude as a child and young adult support his inherent belief that he will succeed. That being said, despite his best intentions, the lessons of Gatsby’s Gatz years stick with him, giving him depth and a moral compass that is less skewed than his friends’. When Daisy kills Myrtle, Gatsby has no qualms about taking the blame just as Tom has no qualms about turning Gatsby in. Perhaps his lingering love for Daisy allows him to maintain that one emotional connection with his past, regardless, he maintains some of his Midwestern morals such as true chivalry as opposed to the illusion of it.
Daisy, however, has changed as well. Living in the East has given her more freedom to portray her true self. Though she might have contemplated immoral behaviour out west, the surrounding morality of the Midwest forced her to curb her behaviour. Once she gets to New York, however, her messes get cleaned up for her, so she no longer needs to worry about the repercussions of some of the questionable decisions that she makes (such as having an affair). Tom, as well, exhibits some of these behaviours. His philosophy that his relationship with Myrtle Wilson is both normal and acceptable hints at a view that scandalous behaviour in the upper echelons of New York society is permissible as long as it does not cross an unspoken line. As long as he and Daisy are still together after the conclusion of the affair, society is satisfied.
Nick, by contrast, is not willing to forgo his morals. His lingering Midwestern ideals cry foul at the idea of widely known extramarital affairs. Nick claims that “though [he] was curious to see her, [he] had no desire to meet her.” Being a more recent emigrant to the East, he is less morphed by the questionable ideals of the East and New York’s fast paced lifestyle. He resists adopting the philosophies of the East, as does Gatsby to a certain extent, which leads to conflict with the East.
Nick claims, towards the end of the book, that the main characters are “all Westerners and perhaps [they] possessed some deficiency in common which made [them] subtly unadaptable to Eastern life.” Perhaps he is onto something. Each of the characters has to deal with internal conflict of living life fast and loose and staying true to their childhood morals. Some of the characters snap, such as Daisy and Gatsby and others move on to the next challenge after a brief recovery period.
1. I have updated the One Direction post. WordPress mobile wasn’t cooperating with me, so this must have been the fourth time I typed up that post. Oh well, c’est la vie.
2. I am going to be out of the country for the next few weeks. I promise to take a picture of a penguin for all of you!
Happy New Year!
First off, please don’t run away. I promise that this will be a serious post on the effectiveness of grief in stories. The other night I was reading a fanfic story that my friend had sent me about One Direction (she’s obsessed). She had promised me that I would be overwhelmed by the depth and emotion that this story contained. To say the least, I was skeptical. Regardless, being the good friend that I am, I read the story. Less than 24 hours later, I was sobbing in bed as I finished the story. Now a bit of backstory, as I mentioned before, my friend is obsessed with One Direction. I am not. In fact, I sort of despised them at first. As, ahem, a classically trained musician, I look down upon most pop music, and One Direction was never exempt from this judgement.
Regardless, being the good friend that I am, I decided to give it a try. As a former fanfic writer (a dark point in my life, I assure you) and a fanfic reader (let’s not talk about that particular guilty pleasure), I knew that fanfics are prone to grammatical mistakes galore and contrived plot lines. With that in mind I began the story. As I mentioned above, by the end of the story, I was sobbing. I wasn’t sobbing becauthe of the death of a character, I was crying because I could empathize with the grief that the survivors felt.
Empathy is one of those emotions that everyone can feel (I so hope that none of you are sociopaths) and as such, it is a particularly effective storytelling device. Because it is so subtle, the walls that many have erected around their hearts are shattered by the overwhelming sensation of empathy that then morphs into grief. Despite one’s best intentions, grief worms itself past that barrier and opens you up to so many other emotions. It may seem counter intuitive, but it all gets easier from there.
“I’m sorry, Julsie, but I can’t put you in that sort of danger!”
“Are you kidding me right now, Cy? You and I both know that I’m in danger no matter whom I’m with.” Juliana’s indignant glare captured Cyrus’ gaze and forced him to maintain eye contact. “There is something else, isn’t there.”
“No, I just don’t think that you’d be safe with me!” He tried to defend his decision.
“What is it? Is it because I’m never here? Is it because we’re just never together? I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry!” Juliana ripped her eyes from Cyrus’. She turned towards the corner of the room and wrapped her arms around herself. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what I did, but I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, Julsie. It wasn’t anything you did. This was doomed from the start.” Cyrus tried to comfort her.
“No it wasn’t, and you know it.” She sucked in a breath. “I refuse to let you deny everything that happened as fiction.” She spun on her heel and turned to exit. “Come and find me when you’ve come to your senses. I will be with James.”
Other Phoenix Excerpts: