Recently, I’ve been working on a new short story that was a gift from my muse the day I saw a homeless man on a scooter crossing the road. I was driving to an appointment, but I couldn’t get him out of my mind. Much like other short stories I’ve written that came to me after seeing someone and wondering about their life before that moment in time, I wanted to know all that about this man.
When thoughts and ideas started swirling around in my head, I took advantage of the next red light to open my phone and started dictating it all to an email. I do a lot of writing that way when I can no longer look at the computer screen without my eye hurting, and I love the fact that the technology is there to allow me to do that.
The other day I decided to make some kind of graphic with the story title, and this is what I came up with. Keep in mind that I create with words more than images. 🙂 I also spent a lot of time trying to find an image of an older homeless man on a scooter to no avail.
Here’s an excerpt of the story pretty much in first draft, so there may be some typos. Those kinds of errors get fixed when the story is finished.
I didn’t intend to spend my golden years riding around town on an old, broken-down scooter that barely held me up. My belongings tied in a black plastic bag behind me. My knees so tired and tight that I can barely scoot along the ground. I’ve spent 79 years on this good earth. Not making me what I’d call old, but certainly not young. My father lived until he was close to 100, so how many more years of this misery do I have left?
It would be great to live another fifteen or twenty – if those years could be spent in some place warm in the winter and cool in the summer. And dry. We can’t forget how important it is to stay dry when living on the streets. I learned the importance of dry feet in Nam, where we fought the wet conditions as much as we fought the Gooks.
Okay, okay. I know that’s not the politically correct way to reference the enemy we encountered in those jungles. But those men, and sometimes women – yeah, women – weren’t so politically correct when they attacked us. They screamed all kinds of nasty shit meant to scare and demoralize us. They weren’t so politically correct when they yelled Dinky Dau. For all you folks that don’t know Vietnamese, that means crazy. They called us crazy, weak motherfuckers and threatened to cut off body parts and stuff our mouths with them. Then make a small hole in a vein, not an artery, and watch our lifeblood slowly seep out of us.
I the result of that when I came across what was left of a Marine when we liberated a POW camp.
It wasn’t pretty.
Lost my lunch, and breakfast, and maybe what was left in my gut from supper the night before.
After we bagged the Marine and sent what was left of him home to a grieving wife or mother, I didn’t eat a solid meal for another whole day.
So, other than learning how to avoid have your feet rot off your body, I didn’t have a pleasant experience in the jungle.
Now the Review
The Boy in the Field by Margot Livesey
BOOK BLURB: A New York Times Notable Book of the Year | An O Magazine Best Book of the Year
One September afternoon in 1999, teenagers Matthew, Zoe, and Duncan Lang are walking home from school when they discover a boy lying in a field, bloody and unconscious. Thanks to their intervention, the boy’s life is saved. In the aftermath, all three siblings are irrevocably changed.
Matthew, the oldest, becomes obsessed with tracking down the assailant, secretly searching the local town with the victim’s brother. Zoe wanders the streets of Oxford, looking at men, and one of them, a visiting American graduate student, looks back. Duncan, the youngest, who has seldom thought about being adopted, suddenly decides he wants to find his birth mother. Overshadowing all three is the awareness that something is amiss in their parents’ marriage. Over the course of the autumn, as each of the siblings confronts the complications and contradictions of their approaching adulthood, they find themselves at once drawn together and driven apart.
I listened to the audio version of this book, narrated by Imogen Church, and really enjoyed the story and presentation. Ms. Church is a wonderful narrator, keeping voices for all the characters distinct, so I was never lost as to who was speaking in a scene.
The story is centered on Karel, the boy in the field who has been stabbed. Three siblings, Zoe, Mathew, and Duncan find the boy, ultimately saving his life, and their lives are changed because of it. Somehow being that close to someone who almost dies has a profound effect on the siblings and prompts them to step out of the ordinary and known – to dare. For Matthew that means actively investigating to try to find out who stabbed Karel. Zoe decides to explore a relationship with a man. Duncan, who is adopted, sets out to find his first mother.
So much of the story takes place beneath what characters say to each other, and all through the listening I felt that undercurrent of tension. Do I dare say what I really feel? Do I dare reveal a horrible truth?
That tension kept me engaged in the story until the end. An end I anticipated, yet didn’t want to come. I could have listened to a story about these people, written with such care and skill, for months.
Margot Livesey is a New York Times bestselling author. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, Vogue, and the Atlantic, and she is the recipient of grants from both the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. The House on Fortune Street won the 2009 L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award. Born in Scotland, Livesey currently lives in the Boston area and is a professor of fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
Imogen Church, an Earphones Award-winning narrator, trained as an actress at the Drama Centre London, under Christopher Fettes, Yat Malmgren, and Reuven Adiv. Since graduating, she has worked extensively in theater, film, commercials, and comedy sketch work, and she also works regularly as a voice artist. As a screenwriter, her first screenplay won the 2009 award for Best Feature Screenplay at the Reel Women Film Festival in Los Angeles.
That’s all from me for today. Have you read, or listened to, a story worth mentioning here? It’s always fun to see what other folks are reading and enjoying, so let me know in a comment.