Monday, September 14, 2009

Walking Past, by Amy Sue Nathan

Jed hadn’t reached for Mabel in three years. She looked down when he slipped his hand through hers. Lucky she hadn’t looked to the right. She didn’t see the looped twine jumbled on the sidewalk. The haphazard display looked like the clearance tables she rummaged through at K-mart, but it would not have evoked the same thrill.

“Whatcha doing?” she said.

“Jes holdin yer hand zall.” Jed pushed off on his cane like he could make an imprint in the concrete.

“This big city smog has done clogged up your brain. Crazy fool, you haven’t held my hand since, well, I ain’t gonna argue witcha.”

“Can’t a husband hold his wife’s hand?”

“I guess. You sure you ok?”

Jed nodded and his Sunday hat shifted on his head. Elijah Parker was wrong. Nobody in New York laughed at his hat. Nobody pointed. Nobody here looked at you like they knew you or like they didn’t. Probably why somebody could sell goddamn nooses on the corner like the other folks were selling pretzels and hot dogs and T-shirts. How much would they charge for a noose anyway? He clamped his lips. The cost of a noose was more than anyone carried in their pocket—even in New York. Jed knew that anyone who’d whip out a buck or two or ten didn’t know what it was like to find your only daughter swinging by her neck from the tree in the backyard. He felt the hotel’s continental breakfast at the base of his throat. Maybe four doughnuts were too many, but they were free.

“Radio City is next on the list,” Mabel said.

“OK.”

“Wish we could be seein’ that Christmas show, y’know? Them Rockettes can really kick.”

“Uh huh.”

“What is wrong with you, Jed Samuels? Yer whole life you wanted to see New York City and here we are. It took years of savin’ and dreamin’ to get a week away from real life and now all yi got to say is Ok and Uh huh? Yesterday you couldn’t wait to see the Radio City Music Hall.”

“Guess I’m jes tired.”

Jed slowed his gait and jostled his cane as if to twirl it, but he replaced its rubber tip to the ground and kept moving. Mabel raised her shoulders to her ears, held them there, then returned them to their rightful place. She wiggled her fingers against the back of Jed’s hand, but he didn’t let go. She was glad their hands still fit together. Their arms lulled into a gentle swing, proving they were on vacation even though the look on Jed’s face said he was anywhere but right there that minute.

“Does yer leg hurt?” Jed shook his head. “Well, what’s on yer mind then?”

“Lorelei,” he said.

Mabel stopped. The moving crowd parted around them without a glance or a falter. She looked at Jed, who had the same face he did when he was twenty and thirty and fifty except now he had frowned for so long that his cheeks drooped without any effort.

“She woulda liked New York, that girl. Always wantin’ what she couldn’t have. Like me and those fancy dresses on the dummies in Macy’s window.But what on earth all of a sudden made you think about Lorelei, Jed? Did you see somebody that looked like her? Why didn’t you point her out to me? That happened to me once in Darby, and I liked it sorta, seein what our girl mighta looked like now.”

“Yeah something reminded me of her is all. Made me think.”

Mabel sniffled and blinked. They started walking again, in stride with one another and their new tribe of fellow pedestrians.

Jed’s palm was a little sweaty, but he squeezed his wife’s hand hard. She squeezed back. Then Mabel raised her other hand, dangling the bag with her “I Love New York” snow globe inside, and pointed straight ahead to the bright lights of new memories.

14 comments:

Vonna said...

My first tears of the week. Great characters.

Melanie Avila said...

Wow, this is so touching and so sad. I love how you've captured their familiarity with each other. I bet they didn't expect to be reminded of her on their vacation to New York.

My only pick is towards the end -- the paragraph starting with "She woulda liked New York..." made me think it was Jed speaking because of the paragraph break. I would suggest keeping that all one paragraph.

That's all. Well done. :)

Natasha Fondren said...

Oh! Love that take, Amy! Great how we learn so much about Lorelei's and Mabel's characters by Mabel comparing Lorelei to herself. Sort of kills two birds with one stone. :-)

Nice. Thanks! :-)

E. Flanigan said...

You had an interesting take on the prompt photo!

I'm sure the guy selling nooses never thought about how his own "gag" might affect the people who saw it. It reminds me of the things we all say/do that cause unintended pain for other people.

Melanie Avila said...

E Flanigan, that's an excellent point. And one far too few people remember.

LurkerMonkey said...

Amy,

Nice job! I liked the "completeness" of the scene—you gave enough detail to make it authentic, so I could picture the couple and their surroundings perfectly. And it's just so, so sad.

I had one question ... you switched partway through from Jed's to his wife's POV, right at the line about "Radio City is next on the list." I was curious why you did it? I just wrote a long comment about this, with thoughts on both sides of the fence, but then I deleted it and figured I'd just ask you ...

Amy Sue Nathan said...

Jon,
I'll tell you honestly that I have no idea why. :) Writing in third person is new for me so I experiment, struggle a bit and try to figure things out as I go along. I didn't even realize I'd done it.

Can you suggest a fix? I suppose it could be from both points of view, but that was not intentional. My goal was to have the piece from Jed's POV.

LurkerMonkey said...

Amy,

It wasn't meant as a criticism ...

Just as a rule, though, any sentence that describes the inner emotional world of any character is written from that character's POV. So, for example, this couplet is from her POV: "She was glad their hands still fit together. Their arms lulled into a gentle swing, proving they were on vacation even though the look on Jed’s face said he was anywhere but right there that minute." See? She's glad, but we only know it because we're in her head. And she's observing the expression on Jed's face, as opposed to us being in Jed's head.

BUT ... The reason I asked is because I wondered if you passed an opportunity to really drill down into Jed's thinking. After he sees the nooses, he thinks about his hat, the cost of nooses, and the doughnuts. He mentions his daughter, so we know it's the source of his pain. But then we are distanced from his internal pain because the piece switches to his wife's POV.

There is a certain tender beauty to this approach, which is why I didn't mean it as a criticism. She remains happy throughout the piece—because he's protecting her with his silence. It's a noble thing he does.

BUT ... some small part of me was sorry when it switched from Jed to his wife because I felt there was unfinished business with Jed. I wanted to know the rest of his story—I wanted to know WHY he choose to protect his wife, what was he afraid of that he shielded her from this traumatic memory trigger? Why did he bring up Lorelei?

Like I said, though, I thought it was also effective to show him from a distance, protecting her as she goes about her happy vacation. So my question (and these comments) wasn't meant to point out a problem, necessarily, as explore why the author (you) choose to tell this very moving, very poignant story in this way ...

Amy Sue Nathan said...

Thank you for the insight Jon. I hate saying it wasn't intentional, but it wasn't. I didn't have anyone read it before I posted it although I spent about two days working on it. I did want Jed to protect Mabel, I'd hoped it showed his deep and abiding love for her even though he hadn't held her hand in a long time.

Sharla said...

I absolutely loved the subtleness of Jed taking her hand to distract her so she wouldn't see the nooses. I love that it wasn't pulled way up to the surface and over-explained, but just left to the reader to see it.

Whole story gave me goosebumps, and it was wonderful. Great job!

LurkerMonkey said...

You wrote: " I'd hoped it showed his deep and abiding love for her" ... and it definitely did that!

Jude Hardin said...

Nice job, Amy. An imaginative use of the prompt, and I think you mostly captured the emotion you were going for here.

Just a few things:

Tricky business using strange phonetic spellings to illustrate dialect. It calls attention to itself and puts a strain on the reader, IMO. A little bit goes a long, long way. There are places where I feel like I’m reading Li’l Abner, and I don’t think that’s the effect you want.

The line The cost of a noose was more than anyone carried in their pocket—even in New York is so good, I think it deserves to be set apart rather than buried in that long paragraph.

I would ditch Maybe four doughnuts were too many, but they were free. The previous sentence ends the graf better, IMO.

But overall I liked this a lot. Great job!

Amy Sue Nathan said...

thank you everyone for your kind and thoughtful feedback - and for reading this story.

amy :)

Erica Orloff said...

I thought this was really beautiful. Set the scene so well.

E