Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Farm on the Edge of Town

This town used to be a decent place to live before all the goddamn city-folk started bringing their snot-nosed little kids who think they can just run through anybody's fields they chose. I shoot them with a pellet gun, while they're trespassing, and suddenly I'm the asshole? That's how it goes then. Modern. Bah. Who needs it. I ain't never owned a computer in my whole damn life. I've got a newspaper subscription and tv. 's all I need.
I buried two wives in this town, and had a handful of ungrateful children between 'em. So I stay here. Ain't nobody got use for a seventy-year-old farmer these days, with their cellular phones and their goddamn nigger music. I remember a time when that old sheriff Linkwalter made sure none of those people stayed in town, 'cept for the barber. He was a good one. Knew his place.
My barn is damn near empty these days, 'cept for a couple of cats. Which is fine, they keep the rats outta the house. Mean bastards too. The old Tom's got himself one eye, like I do. Bet he lost it fighting too. I've seen him tangle with those raccoons that still think I've got some feed 'round here. He wins. I pull the stool up to the old dodge, and pop the hood so I can get a good look at it. I'm gonna get this damn car running before I die, I promise you that. It's about the only thing I got to look forward to these days. Can't farm no more, damn government. Ain't no grandkids around no more, too. Ingrates haven't been around since Gloria died. Ain't been the same.
I didn't hear the car pull up, it took the ingrate knocking on the barn door to get my attention. He's been here before. When I look up he gives a wave and starts jabbering, "Mr. Jensen! I've come back with another offer!"
"My offer still stands. I ain't selling."
"Mr. Jensen, I understand you're reluctance, but this is quite a deal. Besides, you have about, what, 200 acres here? You wouldn't have to sell all of it. We've decided to offer at 5% over estimated value. We won't take all of it, yet, but I'm sure we could work out another deal if you decide to sell the remainder."
"Two-hunnerd and six acres. And I ain't selling a single one."
"Mr. Jensen, it's very generous..."
"Stop right there," I cut his jabbering off as I grabbed my cane and walked over towards him. Suit. Kind of a disgusted look on his face. What a piece of shit. "How many goddamn times do I have to tell you or your boss I ain't selling my goddamn farm? Fifty? A hunnerd? I'll tell you every goddamn time the same thing: I ain't selling any part of my farm."
"I understand that you're reluctant, but..."
I jabbed my finger into his chest, "You don't understand shit. I ain't selling. You want to put up more of those goddamn 'subdivisions' filled with damn folk who've never worked with their hands, raising ingrates who'll never work with their hands. Makes sense, cuz you damn sure ain't never worked with your hands, making your goddamn six figures. This town used to be a decent place, full of decent, hard-working people. My grandpa carved this farm outta ten lousy acres, and my old man made it what it is today. And your boss showed me his plans, his big 'low-income' apartments or whatever. I know what that means. I'll be long dead in the ground before I let you give my land to a bunch of niggers and spics. So get the fuck out of here and if I ever see your ass here again, I'm gonna put some buckshot in it." He was trembling as he backed towards his fancy car.
"You can't fight progress forever, Mr. Jensen." I gave him a quick, good old one-finger salute as he drove down towards the road. I walked back to the dodge, and sat down. I grabbed a wrench, and went to work on the engine block.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


So, I jumped the gun here a bit.  I felt like the best way to introduce my current writing project was to introduce the primary character:  Jacob Matherby.  This isn't the start of a novel.  It's the start of a series of short stories involving a town that may or may not be based on the town I grew up, and currently live, in.  A small town.  And some of the people that live there.

I've always thought that small towns seem to attract the lonely or the desperate.  Or at least, the lonely and desperate are more pronounced, because they have fewer places to hide from the world.  Gossip is more readily available, and neighbors know more about each other.  Not always a bad thing, but sometimes it is.  Sins do not stay hidden, and before you know it, an private event can snowball.  Let's just say that I know a thing or two about that.  It's more difficult to find people to connect with, because their are fewer people, so when you stand out as different, the ostracism can be harsher.  This is a series about people who fall into those categories.

The idea isn't as old as some of the other ones I've had, but it's one of the most put-together and the one that was ready to go.  I've been writing single stories and such, but wanted to do something a little larger.  The idea comes primarily from two places: Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio series of short stories, and William Faulkner's work.  Anderson's stories take place in a fictional small town, and involve "grotesques," people who are lonely or isolated, unable, unwilling, or unwelcome.  Combine with Faulkner's penchant for odysseys through his fictional Alabama County, Yoknapatawpha County.  Many of his novels, such as The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, utilize multiple characters telling the same story, or parts of the same story, from their own unique perspectives.  Hopefully, you'll see the influences, but I want to try and move those ideas using my own voice, and create my own world.  Plus, the world has changed so much since either of those authors started writing.

I don't know how long I will write this series of stories, but I keep coming up with more and more ideas, more interconnected stories and "snapshots" of lesser characters and their own lives, giving more life to the town.  I know where the race is starting, but I don't know where I'm going to end up when I finish.  I know, I know, that sounded cliched and corny when I wrote it, but there's truth to that.

I'm pretty excited.  And thanks for reading.  I can definitely use any feedback anyone has to offer.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Jacob Matherby, Part II

The house was empty. I figured my grandmother had gone about her errands for the day, and there was no evidence that she was going to return anytime in the near future. A plate covered in plastic wrap sat in the refrigerator, but I decided to leave that until later. Instead, I reached past it, grabbed the remaining cans of cheap, domestic swill, and slowly descended the stairs into the basement. It was partially finished; discarded squares of carpeting and old furniture was scattered about, most surrounding a television up against the stairs. It was my sanctuary, of sorts. The one place where I could be left alone with my thoughts. I collapsed into the overstuffed recliner, a puff of dust rising, causing me to sneeze. I sat staring at the blank television in front of me.

"Jacob! JACOB!" I had just lit a cigarette and turned around to see my brother shove his hands into my chest, momentarily causing me to lose my balance.
"What," I said as I calmly exhaled the smoke, directly into Mike's face. He sneered back at me waving his hand in front of him. I could see his girlfriend standing behind him, looking distraught. She had never seen this side of him before. I had.
"He was my father too, asshole;" his voice started to break, somewhere between yelling and starting to cry. He dropped into a cruel hiss, staring at me "of all the times to pull the shit you pull, you chose today? You decide to honor our dad's memory by insulting me at his goddamn funeral? You're a piece of work. God, no wonder everyone hates you."
I smirked back at him, "everyone hates you. They hate you because you weren't here. You decided to run away, flee, but I stayed behind. I could have left, but I stayed behind because our father needed someone to be there for him. He needed me there, even before the illness. He didn't want to be alone. I didn't ever complain. But you come back here, waving your goddamn MBA in everyone's face, with your super-model girlfriend and your fancy fucking car. Because heaven-fucking-forbid that Michael Matherby show a little humility. Be an actual person, give a shit about something other than yourself and your possessions."
"What? Like you? And your selfish pursuit of your 'art?' You know he almost lost the house, right? Because you refused to get a real fucking job. After he let you live there for nothing? You were his greatest regret. A son who would amount to nothing."
In books and movies, the term used is that "everything goes red." No red. Fury. Chased to Scamander, caught, victorious, leavings only for the scavengers. The only thing I saw was his girlfriend dialing her phone frantically and his blood covering my knuckles. The crowd of friends and relatives standing in the church doorway. Father Donovan holding his hands over his mouth in horror. And the blood. Creeping across the wet sidewalk, pooling with the rainwater. I dared not look at him, look at what I had done. I almost didn't notice what was happening until I was tackled to the ground.

A loud knocking startled me from the recliner, and caused me to drop the still-unopened beer on the ground as it rolled towards the wall. My eyes adjusted to the dim light as I walked towards the basement door, and opened it. No one. The knocking came again from behind me. On glass. I opened to the basement curtain and saw a smiling familiar face. She motioned towards the front door and gave a slight shrug. I shook my head reluctantly as she knocked again and crocodile tears welled up in her big, blue eyes. I sighed, deeply, even though she couldn't hear me, and nodded solemnly. She disappeared from the view of the window. I stared up at the grey clouds that had obscured the sun, before turned towards the stairs.
When I opened the door, she almost hit me in the face with a book, her arms thrust out so sporadically in triumph: "I bought you this." I blinked rapidly, before placing my hand on the cover and easing it off to the side. Her smile faded when she saw my eyes; "Don't you like it?"
"I don't know what it is."
"It's a book."
"I see that. But you almost hit me in the face with it. What book?"
"Sorry. It's like an essay collection or something. About all sorts of stuff, from philosophy to society. I thought you might find it interesting." She looked towards the ground as I took the book from her and grabbed her hand.
"It's very thoughtful. Thank you, Beth."
She smiled up at me before lurching forward and wrapping her arms around my neck: "Can I come inside?" I barely had time to nod before she started dragging me up the stairs.
Before we entered my bedroom, I already had my shirt pulled halfway over my chest, her hands acting swiftly. I fell backwards onto the bed, my eyes staring up at her as she closed the door. The room darkened, the light barely reaching through the solid curtains. I felt Beth land on top of me, the feel of her breath against my face. The feeling of her staring at me through the darkness. The feel of the warmth of her skin against my hands, her shiver as goosebumps travel across as I caress. It's a fleeting comfort, but a comfort none the less. She's such a sweet girl; it'll hurt her, but it can't last forever.
I feel her shift in the bed next to me, and I open my eyes and adjust to the minimal light. I release a heavy sigh, which gives me away. She turns and stares at me, her eyes full of questions and comments, but she only asks one: "Were you sleeping?"
"Yes," I reply, "I have a lot on my mind today."
"It's ok. You can go back to sleep, I'll leave when I have to," she said softly, her voice saddened by the realization that she would eventually have to go. A minute passes as I stare up at the ceiling, the small cracks in the plaster showing through the paint, a spiderweb of thunderbolts crisscrossing the room my brother and I used to share. Beth grasps my hand in hers, and pulls it towards her breast, as I faintly feel her heart flutter. She thinks she loves me. She exhales as she kisses my cheek; "were you dreaming?"
"About what?"
My mind raced. A thousand images and ideas surged through my head, like the switch had been thrown and lightning began coursing through, from my mind to my fingertips. I clenched my hand tight in hers, reflexively, and she gave a sympathetic squeeze back. I thought of court, and every event that lead to this point. I knew where I was. The poet stood on the threshold, and gestured towards the entryway. Every instinct in me screamed for me to run, but I knew it was futile. I was drawn inward.
Beth caressed my face with her free hand and kissed me again; "Jacob? What were you dreaming about?"

Monday, January 16, 2012

Jacob Matherby, Part I

When the door slammed behind me, I felt the weight of a hundred eyes. There was no one I recognized facing the door, but I was sure that eventually, I would recognize one of them. I took a seat near the back, swiftly sliding into the hard bench. I heard a door open at the front, as the bailiff walked towards the front: "All rise for the honorable Catherine Silver."
I sat dazed, barely paying attention to the names being called. I recognized one person, an old nemesis from high school. The rest were foreign. I barely heard the bailiff bark, "Matherby, Jacob!" before I nodded off to sleep. I cautiously walked towards the front.
"Approach the bench, Mr. Matherby." I hesitantly moved towards the grey-haired woman sitting in front of me. "Your mother was Linda Matherby, correct?"
"Yes, your honor." It wasn't the first time someone recognized the name. Even here, amongst the dead and dying, this small town near-isolated from the outside world, they gossiped. The old farm men growled about new and business in the bar, while the old women did the same at the decrepit grocery store. Talking. Always talking. Standing in the waiting room of their visitations at the funeral home. I hated it. But, unfortunately, I had brought it upon myself. So I turned a deaf ear, and went about my business.
"So, disorderly conduct. Looks like this could have easily been assault, Mr. Matherby. I take it the other party refused to press charges? A Mr...Matherby?" The last part slipped from her mouth in a shocked half-gasp, before she regained her composure: "What is your relationship with this Michael Matherby?"
"He's my brother, your honor."
"I see. Mr. Matherby, I understand the stress that you must be under, but you need to get a hold of yourself here. It's a slippery slope you are on. I'm hesitant to uphold the citation. I think you need some help, Mr. Matherby. I will suspend the citation, if you complete four weeks of mandatory meetings with a court appointed counselor. Does that sound acceptable to you?"
I stood there in silence, thinking. Contemplating the outcome. It did not take long. I'd rather have a stranger listen to my problems than pay the cost of the citation. "Yes, ma'am."
"Good. The clerk will supply you with the information on your way out. And Mr. Matherby?"
"If I see you in my courtroom again, I will forget all those summers I spent with your mother and your grandmother as a little girl. Understood?"
"Yes, your honor."

It was an unusually cold July morning as I walked out of the municipal building towards the beat-up sedan that was my only major possession left in the world. I lazily traced the key marks down the door before unlocking it.
Crossing the churning, brown river at the only bridge, I slowed to let a number of children pass on their bikes. Their smiling faces glanced down the road, pausing across my windshield. I was jealous. They had yet to understand what came later, the recriminations and the regrets. But let them have their fun. Just riding across the cool breeze in the unusual morning. Down below, ducks splashed and quacked happily on the edge of the water. The disjointed sound of the grinding farm equipment caused them to startle and take off further down the river.
Across the culdesac, I could notice a lone figure standing on the big hill. The Old Man. He was hunched over, gripping his gnarled walking stick, staring at me as I got out of my car. I returned the favor, wondering to myself what he was doing up there, standing, like a hunched scarecrow. I pushed the door open, and he turned and disappeared over the crest of the hill.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Beginning

Pathos is the Greek word for "Suffering" or "Experience."

This is a long overdue blog project, one I've been talking about on and off for probably about 6 months or so.  I've been too lazy to continue it, or even start it.  But, I'm tired of being so lazy, and I'm deciding to push through.

This blog isn't for me to rant and rave.  I already have one for that.  This is for me to pursue that endeavor I have ambitions for above all else: writing.  Everything here will reflect the pursuit of that dream.  Yes, I will not be able to help myself from the occasional rant, I'm only human.  I love ranting.  But I will make it purposeful.

I use the term "pathos" based on what a creative writing professor once told me: she made the observation that in almost every piece of work I submitted as part of an assignment, something tragic happens or the course of the work is tragic in nature.  Even after her urging, when I tried to channel happiness, the end was result was a sort of "happy tragedy."  Pathos.  I push characterization above story, and the development of those characters rings through with the concept of pathos.  I don't necessarily wish to keep writing the same old thing, but the using the elements of my current style to find how I write.  How fully I can write.  Push forward through the barriers I have erected for myself.

So, I ask you to come with me.  I ask you to read what I write here, and tell me what you think.  If I'm shit, tell me.  I need criticism more than anything.