FAMILY VALUES

Mrs. Richardson had been yelling at the kid the fifth-grade girl who came around to our door begging money to pay the babysitter Mrs. Richardson yelled at the grandchild for three days, and spanked her then they were crying, in different parts of the building all the while, their phonograph repeated “the angels sing, glory […]

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE QUOTATIONS BLUR?

When someone speaks of an event while quoting someone else, how accurate is that quotation? How much is a recasting by the teller, perhaps years after the event being related?

In drafting my newest novel, as I turned to a first-person narrative by someone who never even met many of the characters she’s telling about, I realized that her quoting them was actually a filtering through her own voice. In other words, the precision of their voice was in question. Would it be right to put their input in quotations marks? Or eliminate the quotation marks and let the telling float in and out of some recollection?

I’ve opted for the latter. Will it work for the reader, though? We’ll see.

AWAY FOR THE HOLIDAYS

With Christmas break, they were soon pulled apart. Call me, write me, we’ll be back together in no time. In an unbearably long anticipation.

In the next-door apartment, a sadist beat the tar out of a wailing baby: “Louder, you miserable bastard, I want to hear it hurt!” Like dropping a cat down the sewer. In those days, you didn’t call the police or social workers.

Some things shift for the better. In Aunt Berthanna’s hallway, purple vase hoarded who knew what mementos.

Ah! Home! A refrigerator filled with plastic. The disordering of her “DORN!” or worse yet, “DORN LUCAS!” yelled up that stairwell had conditioned him to cringe even when someone cried out his surname “MACKENZIE! DORN MACKENZIE!” in a cranky mothers’ tone. If it’s so almighty important, let her come to him. She demanded he interrupt his schoolwork, the term papers and final exams due immediately on his return to campus, dash downstairs, listen to her complaint, then run to the basement for a can of string beans or to the attic for an empty hat box. He saw how she’d rather watch soap operas than her own life or chat away precious hours with self-defeating apologies, while ignoring answers square before herself. He and his contemporaries were determined not to become like their parents. Never!

Fortunately, there was mail, for this was a time when long-distance phoning was prohibitively expensive for anything but the shortest conversations. The kid and Pepper’s imaginations took flight, unhindered by vocal tone, twitches, or embarrassing pauses. Sometimes they even achieved acrobatics of phrasing and mental doodling normal speech foreclosed. Had they been able to keep our relationship at this epistolary level, all might have remained, well, nearly divine. Of course, most people require their saints to come with flesh attached. The kid missed his Pepper and her endless supply of kisses. Nothing was more real than that.

~*~

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