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masontrc
April 6th, 2015, 05:27 AM
I am pleased to post my first story on writingforums.com. Here is my latest short story "My Great Grandfather and the Tasmanian Tiger." I look forward to reading and critiquing the work of others now that I am here.
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My Great Grandfather and the Tasmanian Tiger
by Tristan Mason

When our neighbor Mr. Walker passed away on a torrentially stormy night in early October, my mom remarked that she was glad “the old nigger was dead” and went to bed without another word. After the paramedics and police finished their reports and left the premises, I watched the old man’s house from my living room window for a few hours to see if any family members or loved ones would arrive to grieve or gather his belongings. Only his live-in nurse stayed to disassemble the hospice bed, turn off the lights and lock the door behind her. She stood in the driveway for a moment to gaze at the house one final time before driving off.

That night I lay awake in bed, remembering the stories people told me about Mr. Walker over the years. The kids on the block told tales of him owning a twelve gauge shotgun and shooting any stranger that stepped foot in his front yard. Some of the townspeople claimed that he was one of the last living American veterans of the Spanish Civil War and one of only a handful of African Americans to fight in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Others claimed he suffered from dementia and used to wander the town drinking liquor out of a brown paper bag. They also claimed he lied about being a veteran in order to earn people’s money and sympathy. My mother, however, wasn’t interested in Mr. Walker’s story and expected me not to be either.

“Would you stop staring at his house, Paul,” my mother said the next morning with a cup of black coffee in her hand. She walked over to the living room window and closed the blinds. “You have mid-term exams that you should be studying for.”

She took a seat on the couch next to me and slid a packet of cigarettes out of her pocketbook. Shaking her head slowly, my mother lit one and exhaled a massive cloud of gray smoke that lingered over me for a few moments before dissolving into my clothes, the carpet and the furniture around the room. Weekends home from college with my mother meant that the living room was a smoldering inferno in the morning and a flood of spilled liquid by nighttime. Despite the atmosphere, she still put on the facade of being a concerned parent.

“What do you care if I’m looking at his house? He was my neighbor too.”

“He was some neighbor all right. He was practically a hundred and was still a nasty old man.

Usually they’re docile and confused by that age.”

“Oh come on, grandpa was the same way and you didn’t call him a nasty old man.”

Stroking a strand of dingy blond hair from her eyes, she grunted and turned her attention to the blaring television. A commercial about feeding starving children made her shake her head and change the channel. We sat in silence for a few minutes while she changed the channels without a glimpse of what shows were airing.

“You didn’t know him, Paulie,” she finally replied, attempting to speak through coughing fit. “Believe
me when I say that there was nothing to know about him.”

“I think there was,” I said softly, avoiding eye contact with her. “Do you remember the giant red bird house he had in his yard? He used to care for and feed those birds like they were his kids.”

“That thing was an eyesore and those birds woke me up way too early in the morning with their god awful chirping. Besides, O.J. Simpson was a bird lover too. That didn’t mean he was a good person.”

“For someone you supposedly don’t care to know about, you seem to hate him an awful lot to compare him to O.J. Simpson. What do you even know about...?”

She disappeared into the kitchen before I could finish my question and slammed the door behind her, cursing as a glass of orange juice shattered on the floor. My mother wasn’t the only one to express disdain toward Mr. Walker’s death that day. When my Uncle Robert and cousin Jack stopped by for afternoon cocktails, they spoke of stereotypes more than actual stories about him.

“Nancy, there’s a girl about Paul’s age over there over right now. She’s moving boxes out of his house to her car. I didn’t think old man Walker had any family. I mean, any family who cared about him. You know how the men typically abandon their families when they’re dumb and young.”

My mother nodded and peered out the window with my uncle; both their arms were folded and upper lips stiff. She passed him a cigarette and offered one to Jack who shook his head, too busy attending to his phone in the furthest corner of the room. The girl wore a University of Massachusetts sweatshirt and wavy black hair that draped over both ends of the letters. The afternoon sun illuminated her smile and fair brown skin. She couldn’t help but open each box a little to peek inside before loading them into her trunk. Doing so seemed euphoric for her because she closed her eyes after she put them away as if she had just smelled a rose or tasted something sweet.

“Look at her,” my mother chided breathily. “She’s taking so many boxes with her. I bet most of them don’t even belong to her. I bet she’s just there to get as much free stuff as she can. I bet he didn’t even have a last will and testament.”

“Isn’t it funny, Nancy, how she probably didn’t even know she had a grandfather until yesterday, but as soon as he’s dead, she’s there to strip his house of its belongings. I never saw her over there to visit old man Walker once.”

With wheezing laughter, my Uncle Robert spilled his drink onto plaid, collared shirt and ripped denim jeans. He put an arm around her for balance and motioned for Jack to come over to the window and join them. While Jack was only sixteen, he always drank cocktails with them and cheap beer if my uncle brought any over. Listening to them laugh and ramble on in naive assumptions made me forget what state, or time period, I was supposed to be living in.

When the mindless drinking turned to mindless arguing and shouting about whether or not fishing should be considered a sport, I stepped outside and sat on my front porch with my philosophy book and some notes I had scribbled down in class, but couldn’t make sense of them. Even though the orange and yellow sky was fading, she was still there, standing in the driveway with one last cardboard box in her arms. She didn’t open it or smile at it. She didn’t even look at it. She just stared down the street as if she was hoping someone would take it for her.

“Do you need any help?” I shouted in her direction.

She slowly looked up and met my glance, smiled and shouted “no thank you” before stumbling and spilling the box’s contents onto the pavement. Several leather bound journals tumbled on top of one another. She groaned and knelt down to pick them up. Leaving my book and notes on the ground, I walked briskly across the street to help her pick them up.

“You didn’t have to do this. Thank you so much.”

“Oh, it’s no trouble at all. I know how much of a pain this kind of thing can be.”

“It’s...actually kind of nice.”

I blinked a few times. She nodded and handed me a journal, motioning for me to open it. I flipped the cover over and skimmed the first few pages to see dozens of black and white photographs glued to them and the most elegant cursive writing that filled the spaces around the images. The entries were dated from the 1920s to the late 1930s. From what I could see, they contained numerous accounts of Mr. Walker’s life before fighting in the war.

“These journals belonged to my great grandfather Emmett Walker. He was a Spanish Civil War veteran, but did most of his writing before the war. I’ve been reading these all day. I knew all about his war stories, but not about his life as a fisherman in Australia.”

“This is a really cool find. I hardly know anything about my grandparents, nevermind my great grandparents. My mom hardly tells me about them at…”

I stopped short of completing the sentence, but she looked at me as if it would be okay to finish because there wasn’t trace of judgement in her eyes. It had been so long since I spoke about my family with anyone that I almost forgot I made it a point to avoid those types of conversations. Brushing back my hair, I made eye contact with her, smiled and extended my hand, realizing that I hadn’t formally introduced myself.

“I’m Paul, by the way, Paul Rutz. I’m home this weekend to study for midterms, but I’m not really sure why.”

“Naomi and I’m pretty sure you know my last name,” she replied, interlocking fingers. “I’m here for the weekend too to pick up my grandfather’s things because I’m the closest family he has that lives nearby. Most of my family lives down in Delaware. I did too until a couple of years ago. I feel bad. If I knew that he lived only a couple of hours away in Connecticut, I would have stopped by to visit.”

“You shouldn’t think that way. I mean, you’re here now and it’s better than not being here at all.”

She shrugged and we picked up the remaining journals in silence, stopping every few moments to browse through one, read a handful of sentences and stare at the faded photographs. In one entry dated April of 1933, a 20-year-old Emmett Walker described seeing a Tasmanian tiger in the Hobart Zoo after a day of selling fish at the marketplace. The tiger, only about two feet in height and four feet in length, wore stripes on his lower back like a zebra and spent most of its day pacing back and forth in its enclosure. While most of visitors startled the creature and took numerous photographs of him, Emmett took a different approach .

“Hey, you should read this one.”

I handed the journal to her and she began to read, looking around to see if anyone else was standing behind her.

“‘The locals call him ‘Benjamin and said he is the last creature of his kind since the other thylacines were hunted to extinction over the past century. The zookeepers call this place a sanctuary for him, but the way he wanders his cage without a roar or flare in his eye like a tiger should makes me feel that he would rather be extinct than suffer here. The way the visitors stand there solely to pet or take a picture of him reminds me of how white folks would take my picture too when I was playing piano for them in the cabaret bar. Like Benjamin I was there to marvel at and nothing…’”

Naomi read the last few passages to herself of how Emmett imagined freedom for the tiger and read books about their once natural habitat in the eucalyptus forests of Australia, the grasslands of Tasmania and the wetlands of New Guinea. He thought about the tiger roaming loud and free in this space and even considered enlisting the help of his friend Sid to release the tiger at night when the zoo was closed. Once Emmett realized that his ideas were hollow, he decided to keep visiting him to feed him fish when the zookeepers weren’t looking.

“God that’s incredibly sad. It’s too bad your grandfather and his friend couldn’t free him.”

“I actually think it’s kind of beautiful. The tiger had no one else who really cared about him except for my grandfather. I mean, look at photograph of Benjamin with a fish perched in his mouth next to a sign that says ‘feeding is prohibited.’ It’s nice to know that someone in my family could be selfless when they wanted to be.”

“Yeah, it is beautiful.”

We kept reading until a peach sky and red clouds swallowed the world around us and my family in the gray house across the street could be heard yelling at a sports game with the smell of cigarettes and cheap whisky wafting through the air from an open window. Once we couldn’t take the smell anymore, we moved to the lawn chairs on the patio in his backyard, trying to read every entry we could uncover about the tiger. With every entry Emmett wrote about Benjamin, he discussed in more vivid detail his desire to free him.

“My grandfather writes about the way ‘society treats Negroes and animals as one in the same, but doesn’t have the intelligence to realize that most people are worse off than both.’ How many twenty-year-olds do you know who can write in such a thought-provoking manner? It’s a lost art.”

“How many people even think that way? God knows my mom can’t think deeper than the bottom of a so-called quality bottle of beer.”

“I know what you mean. I would love if my mom and dad thought about anything other than how much money the other one spends on worthless things or whose turn it is to give my brother some money for that associate’s degree he’s never going to finish. Maybe they wouldn’t fight so much. Maybe...I wouldn’t have moved out here to get away from them.”

“I bet he went to Australia because he wanted to get away from his family too.”

“I think his reasons were deeper than that. He lived in a different world than we do. Anyway, I promised my friend Christine that I would come over and help her with a fundraiser. It was really nice reading these journals with you, Paul, and I would love to do it again if you had some time tonight.”

“I would love to do that. I guess I’ll see you then.”

“I look forward to it.”

As Naomi walked back to her car and I made by way home, I thought about whether or not the world changed that much for the better when my mom and uncle dabbled in mindless stereotypes and denigrated people for differing from their limited world view. I thought back to the countless memories of them scoffing at Mr. Walker from afar because of the way he fed his birds or how they fabricated stories of him being the “town drunk” when he sat on his steps to have a glass of wine after sundown. My family’s beliefs about him were built on nothing more than fear and ignorance, but for some reason, I was still stubborn enough to attempt to alter their views.

When my mom, uncle, cousin and I gathered around the dining room table for a dinner of store bought fried chicken, they spoke in very few words other than “pass the salt” or “take it easy on the gravy.” My mom looked up at me from her plate a few times and bit her lip. Her mouth formed words that morphed into incoherent mumbles. Stirring her corn and squashing her potatoes with a rusted fork, she exchanged disapproving looks with Uncle Robert who was chewing with his mouth open so wide that bits of fried skin flailed in my direction. Jack played a game on his cell phone and ignored his food.

“I don’t get it,” I finally said, waiting until they put down their forks and met my glance. “I know you despise Mr. Walker for whatever reason, but why do you act like I killed someone in the family when I went over there to help his granddaughter move some boxes?”

“You might as well have,” Uncle Robert murmured, fidgeting with the right sleeve of his shirt. “And don’t you act like you were just helping move a few boxes. We saw you across the street reading those journals all afternoon. I bet you didn’t read the one about what he did to your Great Grandpa Sidney and your great grandmother.”

Involuntarily swallowing a mouthful of green beans, I looked to my mother and back at my uncle, wondering why I hadn’t made the connection before. Mr. Walker only referred to Sidney as “Sid” in his journal, never mentioning a last name. The man in the photographs resembled nothing of what I remembered about my great grandfather from visiting him in a nursing home. Unlike the man I knew, the Sidney Rutz in the journals had thick blond hair that he wore parted at the side and slicked back in the style that many men of his time did. He folded his arms in photographs, but always smiled with his tobacco stained teeth, except in the ones with Emmett. He appeared stern in those and preoccupied by a number of haunting thoughts.

“Your uncle is telling the truth, Paulie. He and your Grandpa Sidney worked on a fishing boat in Australia, as I’m sure you already know. When they came back to live in America again, your great grandfather met your great grandmother and they were set to marry, but Emmett Walker still hung around despite his better judgement. Well on the night before the wedding, he, he...tried to. I’m sorry. This is too much.”

“It’s okay, Nancy. He tried to do something to Grandma Judy, Paul. Let’s leave it at that. He’s lucky he left town that night or they would have hung him for certain. That old man had a lot of nerve moving back here all those years later.”

Uncle Robert leaned over to comfort my mother who was either crying or forcing herself to cry for dramatic effect. Jack lifted his head from his phone, only to continue playing his game a moment later. My mother often pulled the forced cry when she wanted to deliver a point or guilt trip someone into doing a favor for her. It had become difficult to distinguish the two over the years, so I stopped trying all together. Either way, I wondered how much of the story was the truth.

I waited most of the night on the porch for Naomi to come home from her friend’s house while my mom and uncle continued to gripe about Mr. Walker in the living room. The photograph of them standing by the cage remained fixated in my mind as I listened to the hum of passing cars. They looked too close to deceive one another, but stood too far apart for anyone to think they were anything more than strangers taking a picture for the local newspaper. Benjamin looked at my grandfather with sullen eyes and a lonely roar.

When Naomi returned around a quarter to midnight, she started to walk directly from the car to the front door, gripping a leather bound journal tightly in her hand. As I approached her driveway, she stopped as if she was almost hesitant to turn around. My footsteps, though loud, didn’t startle her, but her arms trembled. They trembled so greatly that the pages from the journal danced up and down inside the binding.

“My grandfather is Sidney Rutz.”

“I know. I brought one of the journals over to Christine’s house and saw the name.”

“Did you know about the…”

“If you’re talking about what happened the night before Sidney’s wedding, I’ve known about that all my life. My grandpa spent a year in prison for it. It nearly ruined our family. It followed him. I was just hoping it wouldn’t follow me too.”

I wanted to ask if her if the charges were true, but by the way she cast her eyes down at the wooden steps in the same manner that Emmett looked at the tiger in those photographs, I already knew the answer. My family placed their memory of what happened far in the past, but not for shame or embarrassment. They were able to live so well with what happened because it never happened to begin with. Naomi carried this burden with every trembling inch of her.

“I don’t want you to think I hate your great grandfather for what happened to mine. It happened to a lot of black men back then. It wasn’t his fault. My grandpa never hated Sidney either.”

“Did he ever write about it?”

“No. He stopped writing about a year before the wedding and didn’t resume until he was fighting in the war.”

“My grandpa should have said something. If he knew it was a lie, he should have done something. Your family didn’t deserve that. It’s just like a member of the Rutz family to move on like nothing was wrong and they were never at fault. I don’t understand how my grandpa could betray his friend that way.”

Naomi turned around and pulled me in close to her. Her trembling arm and the tension in my shoulders eased upon our embrace. I wiped a tear from her cheek, starting to apologize again until she pressed a finger to my lips.

“You have nothing to apologize for. We’re not responsible for the mistakes of our family and we shouldn’t judge them too harshly for it either. I hated my family for saying they accepted what happened, but moving away from my great grandfather before I was born. I hated them for making excuses not to visit. I even hated my grandfather at one point for ever getting into that situation. I wasted so much energy.”

I tried not to hate my great grandfather or family after our conversation ended and I said goodnight to her. Over the next few weeks, however, that task seemed next to impossible as I discovered more information. Newspaper articles about the trial indicated that evidence was circumstantial at best against Emmett Walker. The columnist couldn’t fathom why the jury would believe Judy Rutz, or her mother who supposedly found her, when they failed to recount the time or location the attempted rape took place. After he was released, Emmett felt he had no other option than to go war in an unknown land, only to return when society forgot about his supposed crime. Meanwhile, my great grandparents married happily and raised six kids.


I did not come home again until the semester ended and the campus closed for all non-international students. By then, my mom and uncle had long since forgotten about Mr. Walker and brought up an old box of my great grandfather’s memorabilia around the anniversary of his death. They tore through it like raccoons, dumping its contents all over the living room floor.

“Nancy, we could make a grand off these baseball cards if we sold them online. He’s got some unopened ones too.”

“How about these savings bonds?”

Instead of browsing through my great grandfather’s old photo albums, newspaper clippings or war medals, my uncle and mom rummaged through the contents of the box in order to try and make a quick buck. At the bottom of the box was a photograph of my great grandfather and grandmother outside of the Hobart Inn on their honeymoon. My grandfather smiled in a drunken daze and appeared as if he was about to stumble over her dress.

“I didn’t know Grandpa Sidney and Grandma Judy spent their honeymoon in Australia. He looks really...happy here.”

“Your great grandfather was something else,” Uncle Robert said, handing the picture to my mother.

“That was right after your Grandma Judy posted his bail and brought him back to the hotel. He went out on the town with some old friends and tried to free a tiger from the zoo.”

My mother laughed, placing the baseball cards on the floor next to the savings bonds. “You know, when the cops got him he said something along the lines of ‘if he couldn’t free his friend, he’d do the next best thing.’ Apparently, he said that over and over again that night. He never told us what he meant by that.”

I smiled and pulled a newspaper clipping of the incident out of the box. My mom and uncle confessed that they no idea why my great grandfather would keep an article about his arrest alongside his other keepsakes. They didn’t bother to notice the words he highlighted: “the authorities found Mr. Rutz and his friends running freely alongside the tiger before they tackled them and tranquilized the animal to move it back to its rightful cage.”

LeeC
April 6th, 2015, 02:42 PM
Welcome masontrc,

I'm pleased that you posted this piece. It's always a pleasure to too read something realistic and meaningful, especially when written as well as this.

In a culture of Robert's, Jack's, and Nancy's, it's heartwarming to see a silver lining in the Paul's and Naomi's. Additionally, your use of the Tasmanian Tiger as an entwining allegory is insightful on dual levels.

The only nit I noticed was in the following sentence.

It was really nice reading these journals with you, Paul and I would love to do it again if you had some time tonight.The comma after "you" makes for awkward reading. Maybe also adding a comma after "Paul," or a period and dropping the "and," would read better.

Please share some more of your writing,
LeeC

masontrc
April 6th, 2015, 02:52 PM
Thank you so much for your feedback. I found that adding the comma after Paul makes a big difference in terms of readability. I look forward to posting more soon!

Olly Buckle
April 6th, 2015, 04:25 PM
I am pleased to post my first story on writingforums.org.They are a different lot, we're .com. Welcome to the better forum :)


“That thing was an eye sore and those birds woke me All one word, 'an eyesore'

ramble on in naive assumptions made me forget what state or time period I was supposed to be living in. Comma before conjunctions like 'or' and 'but', in this case you could maybe use two :- ramble on in naive assumptions made me forget what state, or time period, I was supposed to be living in.

eloquent cursive writing that filled the spaces around the images. I am guessing you mean 'elegant', the words might be eloquent, not the writing.

there wasn’t trace of judgement in her eyes.there wasn’t a trace of judgement in her eyes.

Over the next few weeks, however, that task seemed next to impossible with the more information that I discovered. Awkward, try 'as I discovered more information'.

The columnist couldn’t fathom why the jury would believe Judy Rutz, or her mother who supposedly found her, when they failed to recount the time or location the attempted rape took place. While the court eventually declared a mistrial, Emmett felt he had no other option than to go war in an unknown land, only to return when society forgot about his supposed crime
'recount' recall? A mistrial is not consistent with his year in prison, "My grandpa spent a year in prison on remand for it " would fix it. 'Go war' go to war.

Good story, the punctuation is a bit haphazard in places, but I am no expert. There are some good threads on it in 'hints and tips' under writing discussion, Sam is knowledgeable and worth reading.

I would go through and take out a few 'qualifying' words, I feel things read better if they are more definite, for example :-“How many people in general can even think that way anymore? God knows my mom can’t even think deeper than the bottom of a so-called quality bottle of beer.” becomes “How many people even think that way? God knows my mom can’t think deeper than the bottom of a so-called quality bottle of beer.”
Maybe not quite so important in dialogue, but I expect you can see what I am getting at. The adage 'less is more' is usually correct.

See you around the forum no doubt.

masontrc
April 6th, 2015, 04:38 PM
Thank you for these useful tips! I will be sure to make the corrections and they are reflected in the draft above.

Kevin
April 8th, 2015, 03:54 AM
Tristan...
Interesting tale. A lot of elements: racism, family secrets, lies, guilt, betrayal... even some real history. The death of the old man and the unraveling of what really happened, works.
All right then, let's see if we can find anything wrong with it. Or maybe give some suggestions.

When our neighbor Mr. Walker passed away on a torrentially stormy night in early October, my mom remarked that she was glad “the old nigger was dead” and went to bed without another word. After the paramedics and police finished their reports and left the premises, I watched the old man’s house from my living room window for a few hours to see if any family members or loved ones would arrive to grieve or gather his belongings. Only his live-in nurse stayed to disassemble the hospice bed, turn off the lights and lock the door behind her. She stood in the driveway for a moment to gaze at the house one final time before driving off. -- I'm reading this from the perspective of 'continuity'. "Torrentially stormy night " is a definite image but I wondered at the actions of the nurse. Was she getting poured on, struggling under an umbrella, raincoat; loading a van..? Small thing, but I might add...just a little. It's actually otherwise pretty complete.

She stood in the driveway for a moment to gaze at the house one final time before driving off- Nice one. Says a lot in that one line..

That night I lay awake in bed, -- 'Later'?... just for sequentiality (that's a mouthful) , as it is already night when Mr. Walker died, so...

lied about being a veteran in order to earn people’s money and sympathy -- earn would suggest something other than 'donations'. Don't know how I'd say but I think you need to re-word it.

my mother said the next morning with a cup of black coffee -- 'black' seems like too much (lacks relevancy or something...)

Usually they’re docile and confused by that age.” --- 'docile?' What, Mom's a book-nerd? :) Sorry, it just sounds... unnatural. Unless she's being sarcastic. Is she? Hey, that might... Anyway, clue us in if she is.

Oh come on, grandpa was the same way -- Capitalize 'granpa', it becomes his title/name, proper noun or some such other; not a description, but descriptive...

Stroking a strand of dingy blond hair from her eyes,-- Tut, tut... one does not 'stroke from'. Precision. We must have the right word!

god-awful


...and slammed the door behind her, cursing as a glass of orange juice shattered on the floor--- just so we're clear, this glass of orange juice she got mad about was behind the slammed door? then, how did he see it? This is the kind of thing I try to go through and pick out of my own work. I struggle with it because the images in my head sometimes don't jive with what I know happened...

Uncle Robert and cousin Jack stopped by for afternoon cocktails, they spoke of stereotypes more than actual stories about him.--- 'to speak of stereotypes', hmmm...do tell... a chance here to say something insightful (and interesting). Tell us, please (or not; JASuggestion)

She slowly looked up and met my glance,--- precision, boy... to glance is not to gaze

Doing so seemed euphoric for her because she closed her eyes after she put them away as if she had just smelled a rose or tasted something sweet. -- this is a brilliant thought and very poetic, but... I think it needs to be restated. I think it's worth it, the work that is, to restate it.

This is really good:

How many people even think that way? God knows my mom can’t think deeper than the bottom of a so-called quality bottle of beer.”

“I know what you mean. I would love if my mom and dad thought about anything other than how much money the other one spends on worthless things or whose turn it is to give my brother some money for that associate’s degree he’s never going to finish. Maybe they wouldn’t fight so much. Maybe...I wouldn’t have moved out here to get away from them.”

“I bet he went to Australia because he wanted to get away from his family too.”

“I think his reasons were deeper than that. He lived in a different world than we do. Anyway, I promised my friend Christine that I would come over and help her with a fundraiser. It was really nice reading these journals with you, Paul, and I would love to do it again if you had some time tonight.”

“I would love to do that. I guess I’ll see you then.”

“I look forward to it.”

The dialog is fluid and natural. Well done.

Okay... I'm going to stop here. Hope any of this helps. Thank you for sharing, K

masontrc
April 14th, 2015, 02:37 PM
I cannot thank you enough. Your feedback is fantastic. Your corrections, especially in terms of word choice and showing vs. telling, make the overall direction of the story "flow" more smoothly.


Tristan...
Interesting tale. A lot of elements: racism, family secrets, lies, guilt, betrayal... even some real history. The death of the old man and the unraveling of what really happened, works.
All right then, let's see if we can find anything wrong with it. Or maybe give some suggestions.

When our neighbor Mr. Walker passed away on a torrentially stormy night in early October, my mom remarked that she was glad “the old nigger was dead” and went to bed without another word. After the paramedics and police finished their reports and left the premises, I watched the old man’s house from my living room window for a few hours to see if any family members or loved ones would arrive to grieve or gather his belongings. Only his live-in nurse stayed to disassemble the hospice bed, turn off the lights and lock the door behind her. She stood in the driveway for a moment to gaze at the house one final time before driving off. -- I'm reading this from the perspective of 'continuity'. "Torrentially stormy night " is a definite image but I wondered at the actions of the nurse. Was she getting poured on, struggling under an umbrella, raincoat; loading a van..? Small thing, but I might add...just a little. It's actually otherwise pretty complete.

She stood in the driveway for a moment to gaze at the house one final time before driving off- Nice one. Says a lot in that one line..

That night I lay awake in bed, -- 'Later'?... just for sequentiality (that's a mouthful) , as it is already night when Mr. Walker died, so...

lied about being a veteran in order to earn people’s money and sympathy -- earn would suggest something other than 'donations'. Don't know how I'd say but I think you need to re-word it.

my mother said the next morning with a cup of black coffee -- 'black' seems like too much (lacks relevancy or something...)

Usually they’re docile and confused by that age.” --- 'docile?' What, Mom's a book-nerd? :) Sorry, it just sounds... unnatural. Unless she's being sarcastic. Is she? Hey, that might... Anyway, clue us in if she is.

Oh come on, grandpa was the same way -- Capitalize 'granpa', it becomes his title/name, proper noun or some such other; not a description, but descriptive...

Stroking a strand of dingy blond hair from her eyes,-- Tut, tut... one does not 'stroke from'. Precision. We must have the right word!

god-awful


...and slammed the door behind her, cursing as a glass of orange juice shattered on the floor--- just so we're clear, this glass of orange juice she got mad about was behind the slammed door? then, how did he see it? This is the kind of thing I try to go through and pick out of my own work. I struggle with it because the images in my head sometimes don't jive with what I know happened...

Uncle Robert and cousin Jack stopped by for afternoon cocktails, they spoke of stereotypes more than actual stories about him.--- 'to speak of stereotypes', hmmm...do tell... a chance here to say something insightful (and interesting). Tell us, please (or not; JASuggestion)

She slowly looked up and met my glance,--- precision, boy... to glance is not to gaze

Doing so seemed euphoric for her because she closed her eyes after she put them away as if she had just smelled a rose or tasted something sweet. -- this is a brilliant thought and very poetic, but... I think it needs to be restated. I think it's worth it, the work that is, to restate it.

This is really good:

How many people even think that way? God knows my mom can’t think deeper than the bottom of a so-called quality bottle of beer.”

“I know what you mean. I would love if my mom and dad thought about anything other than how much money the other one spends on worthless things or whose turn it is to give my brother some money for that associate’s degree he’s never going to finish. Maybe they wouldn’t fight so much. Maybe...I wouldn’t have moved out here to get away from them.”

“I bet he went to Australia because he wanted to get away from his family too.”

“I think his reasons were deeper than that. He lived in a different world than we do. Anyway, I promised my friend Christine that I would come over and help her with a fundraiser. It was really nice reading these journals with you, Paul, and I would love to do it again if you had some time tonight.”

“I would love to do that. I guess I’ll see you then.”

“I look forward to it.”

The dialog is fluid and natural. Well done.

Okay... I'm going to stop here. Hope any of this helps. Thank you for sharing, K

musichal
April 18th, 2015, 06:42 PM
Now that's a well-written story, and I found that aspect quite impressive. However, what really makes this story worth the read is the simple fact that the writer actually has something to say. Yes, we can quibble about a comma or choice of word here or there, but when is that not true? Kudos, Tristan.