Saturday, March 20, 2010

Fiction as Remembrance

Often when I go back and read through my stories, it's like reading old journal entries. It's not as though I write autobiographical or even semi-autobiographical fiction, usually (though often mine is partially autobiographical); it's more that whatever I am thinking of or going through at a given time makes it into my stories at a sideways sort of angle, so that reading back through them is like a keyword outline of the thoughts behind it. Like a code only I can understand, and only I know exists.

As a more direct example than usually occurs, in the story "In Which Several Odd Things Happen" from the Ritual cycle, there is a character who contains my grandfather as I remember him from the few years before he died. He was in a nursing home in Mt. Horeb, and we would periodically go see him. He had lost his legs to diabetes, and had a stroke, both when I was fairly young; most of my memories of him are from after this time. In all of my memories he is a gruff, rough-hewn sort of man, and in all of my memories these things provide a thin veneer of causticity over the love and affection he contained for his family, especially his grandchildren. This is him:

Vic opened the door. The room smelled less of chemicals than the hallways did. Several plants lined the windowsill. An old man lay in bed, an old man who stopped just above the knees.

“So, you son of a bitch!” he said jovially. “Actually showed up for once?”

“Shut up,” Vic said. “Where's your damn wheelchair?”

“In the damn closet in a damn mess, like you left it last time,” said the old man.

“Ah,” Vic scoffed as he pulled the wheelchair from the closet. “This is a lot neater than I left it. You've been out since, you guilt-tripping old coot.”

The man shrugged. “Just get me out of this damn room. Who's your friend?”

“Joseph, meet Mr. Wilson. Wilson, this is Joseph.”

The man insisted on shaking Joseph's hand while Vic helped him into the wheelchair.

“You associate with this bastard?” Wilson said.

“Yep,” said Joseph, barely hiding his grin.

“Well, then, you deserve to.”

Or, rather, this is NOT my grandfather. Grandpa didn't swear that much, at least around me, and he was almost never this abrasive. But in the minimal description, in the preparations to go for a walk/ride, in the very speech patterns Wilson uses--in all of these things I find echoes of my grandfather, and I can use them like a rope to find my way back to the real man.

They wheeled him outside and the air was still both refreshing and damp. They took him down the nursing home's walk past some old-timers sitting on the benches lying about their youths and onto the neighborhood sidewalks where Vic had to steer around icy patches and wet patches and where the naked trees bowed over their paths and middle-aged men and women looked out of windows to see them and reflected, uncomfortably, on their own mortality. Wilson grinned. He looked at the trees and grinned to see them bow and he looked at the air and he grinned to see it wet and he looked at the boys and he grinned to see them young and he looked at the blue of the sky and he grinned to see it old far older than he was.

This IS my grandfather. Even in a wheelchair he had a sense of energy and a projection of personality that made anyone who looked at him realize he was alive, was animated, and I think that sense made them reflect on their own mortality, the fact that they would age and die, and perhaps wonder if they would be that alive when they were that old. And when we took him on walks, Grandpa would grin, seemingly at the whole world and everything in it. There was a sense of the foolishness of life, the pervasiveness of vanity, in that grin.

“Fog's comin' in," Wilson said. "You boys make sure you go out and enjoy it, hear?”

“What now?” said Vic.

“I said go out and enjoy the damn fog! Listen, ain't you ever...? Well, listen. Once I was out in fog that was so thick you couldn't see a damn half inch in front of your damn face. Listen. I saw a girl, prettier'n all hell. She had dark chestnut hair all curled an' bobbed, and red lips like a cupid's bow, and white teeth and a gorgeous smile. She wore a red dress and she cut through that fog better'n a spotlight. And she set me all... Well, I followed her, but she looked back and she laughed and she lost me in the fog. Wasn't hard to do, like I said. Well, they said she was Iris Jensen's visiting cousin but there was no way someone ugly as Iris had a cousin that pretty. I knew. I knew she was a Faerie, and she come out because fog's damn magical.”

This, again, is NOT my grandpa; and I have a fear that it is not Wilson either, but that's a topic for another day. It does have my grandpa's speech patterns again, the trailing off, the digressing, though again it is slightly more profane than he was wont to be. It is my grandfather if he had read Lord Dunsany, perhaps. But somehow it is this monologue as much as any other part of the story that connects me to him. I can hear him saying this, can almost feel his presence when I read it, especially aloud. But that is metaphysics. I understand almost as little of what I do when writing this stuff as anyone else; but somewhere in here there is magic, and somehow I do not think it is mine.


Rachel D said...

So we weren't supposed to read your last NaNo novel and go HMM I WONDER WHAT IS ON ETHAN'S MIND THIS MONTH

because this kind of happened.

Ethan said...

Lol. It always kind of happens. And the thing is, you can guess, and more than likely guess correctly; it's just that it won't necessarily be the thing it SEEMS like it is. (Though maybe it will be.)

Also, did I send you the latest one yet? I feel like the last one you read would have been the year before this past one.

Rachel D said...

No, you didn't! I have been patiently waiting but have heard nothing! My heart, Ethan, it breaks.

Ethan said...

I am so sorry, Rachel! I will send it soon. Hopefully. I'm a little afraid to now that I know you psychoanalyze my work--especially with this particular novel. Erm. :P

Rachel D said...

It's awriiiiiiiight, Ethan. I love you anyway.