Monday, April 16, 2018

Sorrow in Medford

Few understand, and even fewer believe, that tragedy can strike a fictional world without the author, the creator of that world, even knowing about it. 
Ain't no sunshine . . . 
Some scholars -- Fred Papzschkack comes to mind -- argue that a "real world" tragedy's aftershocks or side effects can also bleed into a fictional world precipitating an epidemic of free-floating anxiety and insidious, asymptomatic bouts of depression.

Scholars in the fictional world, of course, are baffled by this phenomenon and have tried in vain to invite scholars from the "real world" to join the annual Multi-Universe Interactive and Permeation Mental Health symposium they hold every fictional July.

This mysterious malaise was clearly present when we reunited with convicted but now free abductor Howard Desseray and Tally Dolcet, the woman we assume will be his life partner for at least a little longer. 
Life is disappointing . . .

They were cloaked in what could not quite be accurately described as Sorrow's Shroud, falling just short of that poetic and alliterative epithet due to their respective hearts' continued beating, broken or not.

Perhaps there was a death in the family or maybe the small community of Medford had lost some of its beloved children in an accident or a fire, or flu, or food poisoning. We'll never know.

In cases such as these, the natives of this imagined world cannot be blamed for throwing their hands up and crying out, "I no longer believe in an intervening, omniscient narrator, whether she's speaking in the first-, second- or third-person point of view! Stop fretting over your diverse syntax and cornball humor and save us!"
. . . isn't it?

Whatever the cause, Howard and Tally were somber, picking listlessly as their dinner chilled on paper plates, a tasty fare of spaghetti with meatballs, those delicious spheres composed of the ground flesh of slaughtered steers, and, patiently waiting on the kitchen counter, a dessert involving marshmallows and sprinkles.

The reader may benefit from knowing Tally had just finished reading Anton Chekhov's "Gooseberries," while Howard had recently closed the covers of Selma Hedgworth's latest self-help bestseller, Just Walk Away: A Guide to Truncating a Garrulous Neighbor's Infinitely Discursive Oral Epic.

But not having read either of these masterpieces will not dilute the rich themes simmering in the following fare:

"Howard, do you think it's appropriate to be happy when so many people are suffering?"

"Before I answer, Tally, I gotta tell you I don't like the word 'appropriate' unless the last syllable is accented. It's a weeny, euphemistic, evasive, wrung-out ragged dishcloth of a word. No offense, of course, O soothing zephyr of my warm being."

"Jesus, Howard.'

"Sorry."

"Here's an example from just a week ago: I was in my doctor's waiting room preparing for him to take a look at my clavicle, and someone told a hilarious joke having to do with a rabbit in a convent, so we're all laughing like crazy, except for this one 40-something woman, who just sat there staring.

"Instead of laughing with us, she began to frown, and I could see her eyes grow watery, then the tears started to fall. She said nothing until our laughter died down, then, looking straight ahead as if we were not there, she said, 'How can you be in the same world as I and still laugh? This is no world for jocularity.'"

"Dang, Tally, that must've been awkward. But you can't beat yourself up about it, as they used to say. It's not like you knew, in fact, you still don't know why she said that."

Tally blotted spaghetti sauce from her lips and got up to get the dessert which, now that we think about it, included pecans as well as the marshmallows and sprinkles.

"That's part of the problem, Howard. We go on with our lives while others suffer in silence. We don't, we can't think about them. We have to keep them anonymous, keep them living in a world other than ours, figuratively speaking, I guess."

"To keep from feeling their pain or letting them bring us down, is what I think you're saying, nuther words. Am I right?"

"Not really."

"Oh. Crap. Sorry." 

Here, Howard began to ponder what Selma Hedgworth would do to cut short this gloomy and complex (for him) conversation, but he hoped like hell Tally couldn't tell that's what he was pondering.

"No, Howard, I'm saying if we think about them and allow them to become real, we become aware that, in a way, we're next, or could be next. So we mentally insist they remain obscure and anonymous. That 'Coexist' bumper sticker I keep seeing -- I guess that's what it's about. 

"While we bask in our abundance and privilege and good fortune and sing praises to our Creator, others suffer in ways more horrible than we can imagine and mutter prayers --  or imprecations -- about fair play and would it kill ya to spread some of that jubilation our way."

It was right about this time Howard noticed the pecans tasted a little stale, sort of musty, acrid, you might say, must've been left uncovered in a warehouse in Alabama. After a muffled pecan-tinged burp, he said, "Tally, have you lost all hope for happiness? Do you see no consolations coming toward you on the railroad of life?"

"I have to believe that somehow there's room for gladness or a gentle contentment, some of it born from gratitude, others from imagining a worthwhile goal and diligently pursuing it. You know, I was just reading about a guy who only wanted a piece of property to farm on, to grow gooseberries he could munch on while sitting on his front porch at the end of a day of labor.

"And he reached that goal and I think it made him happy, even if the gooseberries really weren't all that good. You know what they say, Howard: 'Tend your garden. Care. Do good. Be kind.' Nothing else matters."

Moments later, while Howard flossed the bitter pecan remains from between his teeth, he meditated on what his beloved Tally had said. "Really," he said, "Tally is my happiness and she has been from the day I abducted her. But I should also have a goal like that Russian guy she was reading about, something more than just some event I could chekhov my bucket list."

And it came to him like an epiphany. He knew what he wanted. He could picture it. 

He disposed of his floss in an appropriate manner, and walked toward his computer, striding with the purposeful strides of a man of purpose, a man who knows what he wants and is willing to hop through the hoops of hell to have it.

His massive fingers tapped the keyboard with the agility of Fred Astaire in his prime as he Googled "how much sun do marshmallows need and should i start them from seeds."
Ripe marshmallows, ready for harvest