Category: Fiction

Another Lost Bergman Film

…In which the successful, independent heroine returns, book-worm young daughter in tow and for the first time in a decade or so after living for years in the city, to the provincial village of her youth, on account of a minor automobile accident on the highway not far from town.

Involuntarily towed to the nearest local garage, she is forced to wait for several days for parts to be delivered from Stockholm, and while she is hardly shocked at first to re-encounter the smallness and the pettiness of village life, she still finds that she has to gird herself to encounter the ghosts that she had once thought she had succeeded in leaving behind: the ascetic Calvinist pastor who had abused her, the first love she’d couldn’t bear saying goodbye to, the mother who hadn’t spoken to her ever since—and who had assumed that the all-too-public shaming that the heroine had brought down upon the good bourgeois family name (they’d been forced to abandon their nearly front-row pew in the local church over the scandal that the girl had caused!) was due to the looseness of her morals and not to the hypocrisy of the pastor who had raped and then banished her from the congregation.

Will the mother stoop to the mending of fences when confronted by the truth? Will the never-wed first love look past the sins that he still imagines are his beloved’s and not the irreproachable pastor’s, and find it in his heart to embrace both the heroine and her miraculously beautiful daughter (so swept away into a world of imagination, so like her mother when she was that age—but, in the eyes of society, completely illegitimate) as his own? Will the pastor, now long since retired and nearing death, admit of his sins, both to the heroine and to himself, and depart from this world with a clear conscience, and with the forgiveness that only she can provide? What was it, again, that Descartes said that Archimedes said about moving the whole wide world, if only he were given one firm place to stand, one fixed point, sufficient time and a long enough lever?

Ah, though the retrograde goddess shall ever requite her Pangloss, and though our heroine serves the tutelary spirits of a dawning, somewhat more emancipatory age, she nevertheless must re-learn a thing or two about time and distance as lived on a Lilliputian scale, and about the dangers posed to the solitary, questing, still-beating heart by the inhumane, ossified, scrupulous conventions of a fetid backwater that she once mistook for her true home. Thus, she soon learns that though old wounds can be re-opened, they are best swiftly cauterised and removed from the source of the infection: standing on the medieval bridge that spans the shallow, dilatory river that runs through the heart of the village, she has a vision that tells her she must surely depart without saying good-bye to anyone, the moment her car is repaired, lest she become her mother, and her daughter become her. Salvation lies only in moving on—and in remaining true to herself. For each of these three people are doomed to ultimately disappoint her in their incapacity to change or to grow, and the village itself will surely devour both her and her daughter if she gives way to nostalgia and decides to tarry here any longer. The heroine comes to flat on her back, staring up at her daughter, who tells her that she fainted, ‘just like the sisters in that Jane Austen book’. She smiles at her daughter, but mutters to herself: ‘Wake the hell up.’

Sure enough, in the closing scene of the film, as she is walking to visit an old classmate (whom she has been told is confined to her house by a mysterious, paralyzing illness), on a hunch she pops into the garage and finds that the parts for her car have arrived early, and that the young mechanic (himself proudly announcing that he has just been accepted into engineering at Uppsala University) has just finished installing them. She immediately seizes the opportunity to leave without even collecting her things from her mother’s house. As she prepares to drive away, she looks at her daughter (as always, absorbed in a book), and sees a flower whose face tracks the sun as surely as her roots lie in the rotten manure of the past, and tells herself that this girl is all that could ever possibly matter to her. She starts the car and drives away only after checking and re-checking that the daughter (who had been blithely travelling beside her in the film’s carefree opening scene) is buckled snugly and securely into the car’s back seat. The camera then shows the car speeding away from the village, which is miles away now in the distance, but in her rear-view mirror our heroine can only see the happy young girl sitting behind her, still reading.

Ask The Pessimist

[Misinspired by George Saunders’ “Ask the Optimist!“, which has also been turned into a puppet show [!!] that you can read about here and view here.]

Dear Dr. Pessimist,
Don’t you find pessimism “negative”?!
–Just Sayin! in Cincinnati

Dear Just,
Just think of me as helping you obey the first and second laws of thermodynamics. In the real world, not only is energy always conserved (as it can never be created or destroyed), but also: all natural systems (and hey check it out! you are one, too!) tend to go south as it were, towards maximum entropy, towards irreversible disorganization. Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold (you know the rest).

So as I see it, my job is to cancel you and your optimism out, so that nothing of you or of what you say remains, just a perfect, eternal nullity. No loss, no gain, nothing, nothing contained in nothing—just nothing, nothing at all.

Zilch, nada, nichts. Rien, niente, nanimo. Nothing.
–Just sayin!

*     *     *

Dear Dr. Pessimist,
Whenever I’m not distracted (which is not very often if I can possibly help it, and I always find Tumblr and its ilk quite useful in that regard) I sometimes catch my self almost admitting to myself (if not to others, since that would be social, not to mention career, suicide) that, yikes! I might, perhaps, be a pessimist too(?) But really: UGH! That’s a downer, verging on an outright bummer. Which is depressing, in-and-of-itself, if you think about it. Which I don’t like to, can you help? Help!
–Fretfully-On-The-Fence in Fresno

Dear Fenced-In,
Don’t fret, friend: it gets better, truly it does–by which I mean worse, of course! But I suspect that you already understand that, at some level. So pay no heed to the bleatings of what you call your “self”, and go on, get out there, get real, and get over it. And then get on with it: because it’s all you can do, and it won’t be for all that much longer, in the grand scheme of things.

*     *     *

Dear Dr. Pessimist,
Are you for real? How do you get through your day? [Continue reading “Ask the Pessimist” on my longform site!]



8-Track (a short story)

Their cleaning lady rarely needed to do much to the Living Room. The Tibbs were certainly not slobs like the Mullaneys across the street, with their five half-clothed kids always mucking about and a different beater in the driveway every month. Yet neither were they as deathly fastidious as the Dobbins next door (never a light on in the place and mausoleum dustcovers atop anything that didn’t threaten to move or to breathe). No, the Tibbs family definitely kept to the Middle Way; theirs was a relaxed, inviting house, but one in which everything had—and knew—its place. The kitchen was clean and tidy, the boys’ bedrooms less so. The roles allocated to the Den, the main-floor Family Room and the basement Rec Room were self-evident, easily understood by (and accommodating to) their numerous visitors. Most dinner or overnight guests would agree, if compelled to respond to an exit poll on the subject, that the furnishings were, in the main, both comfortable and practical, neither pretentious nor vulgar, and symbolic, perhaps, of a shared—if largely unspoken—intimacy.

Such, at any rate, is what young Gerald Tibbs, 23, would later remember hearing himself telling himself. And: that though he had never felt comfortable in the Living Room, it was not something to which he had ever given much thought. Still, he warily, unconsciously kept his distance. No one else save Fluffy (the family cat, a white car-accident-Manx) ever seemed to bother or to dare to go in there. There was a badly out of tune piano upon which Gerald’s younger brother Dougie had played a singalong “Stairway to Heaven” every day for six months, but that was a few years ago now. The room, as for many of the other brown, imperturbable houses on the Crescent, was inhabited chiefly by delicate, inherited antiques, forgotten-yet-essential wedding presents and corporate gifts, such as a wall clock that Smeltco, his dad’s company, had given out at one of those innumerable rah-rah sales conventions as a promotional item. The clock was hung directly over an expensive-looking settee that Gerald could never remember having sat in, and its face depicted a dredger, whose two gigantic shovels turned out to be the hour and minute hands. Numbers had been replaced by various kinds of mineral samples, each the size of a quarter, representative but not exhaustive of the multinational’s far-reaching resource sector activities. And as the hands of the clock moved around the dial, the time piece became a perpetual depiction of “Man’s unceasing re-creation of His world, through industry” —or so the ad in last month’s Mining News went.

Opposite the clock, near the entrance to the foyer, there was a seldom-trusted mahogany-veneer weather station. The hydrometer had never worked, and the blocked thermometer’s mercury had started giving split readings years and years ago, around about the time his father won a TV for his first of several National Sales Awards and the whole family got to watch the black-and-white coverage of the first moon landing in living colour. As for the barometer, whatever its accuracy, it still functioned, and it appeared to meteorologically-obsessed Gerald as he rushed past that the gadget’s mainspring had managed to shove the corroded brass needle (overnight it must have been) from “Fair” to “Change”.

Continue reading the full story on my longreads site!


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