Friday, February 4, 2011

Funerals, Polish Hymns, and Back to Charlotte's Nexus

Yesterday was a sad day, a funeral day, a day of hymns sung in Polish. One of Michael's aunts, a twin, lay inside a pewter colored casket on whose convex lid a crucifix and a Book of Gospels balanced. Direct relatives filled six wide pews on either side. The pallbearers, Michael among them, wore pink carnations instead of golden angel pins.

Hymns in Polish, I have decided, are ten times sadder than hymns in English. For me, they dredge up all the historical sorrow from central Europe.

I am back to working on the story of Charlotte, the Polish girl killed at Auschwitz. It's fiction that I've not worked on since 2008, largely because I felt I didn't have the right thing yet to say. It is a delicate matter that must be expressed carefully because it is a story of revenge. I'd split the story off from a longer work, The Davidian Odyssey (TDO), about human experiments and cloning. And I did this because I felt TDO lacks the solemnity and grace of Charlotte's Nexus (CN). While there is horror in TDO, it is not the same kind that appears if CN. Moreover, CN has deeper, more significant implications about life, about the afterlife, and about why some incredibly cruel people seemed to escape justice for so long after WWII. Justice came. Just not in a traditionally recognizable form.

One flash piece (really more like a tiny excerpt), called "The Doctor Dreams," appears in American Soma and was part of an issue of JMWW in 2007. I also read more of the story at the 5:10 Reading Series in Baltimore in August 2008, where it met with praise. In fact, one person eagerly asked what publisher had picked it up because they wanted to watch for its release. Still another person in the audience said that it would make a good movie. I hope someday that it will. But first, I have to get it right and then find it a home. This could take awhile.

I've sent excerpts from Charlotte's Nexus for publication elsewhere, but geneally, I've not had very good results. One editor seemed appalled, I suppose because I sent the death scene. And in her fairly frosty email, she said it was definitely not for them. And so I left it for while, this story that needs to be told carefully. Understand, this is not a girl without power.

Here, have a slice of the story:
"At their next meeting, a nurse delivered the child to the doctor’s office, where he appeared to be poring over books. Music issued from a phonograph, which he asked the nurse to crank before leaving. What played was something the girl did not recognize, something scratched but sweet and repetitive. It was like no music she’d heard before. She looked around the room, careful not to move her head too dramatically. She flinched when she saw what protruded from one wall: four sets of eyes, yellowed, shrunken. They had been speared by pins. She took a step backward, pulled into herself. The doctor followed her gaze to see what it was she was responding to.

Tush. These are specimens, he said, moving a hand as if to wave them away. These are things I look at for my work. Come now, sit, he said, patting the arm rest of a wooden chair beside his desk.

He paused for a moment, considering her. Now, I want to know where it is that you get this beautiful hair. You look like a German, a real German girl. A milk maid’s daughter. And I can’t explain it.

He continued regarding her and then reached over and took her small chin between his thumb and forefinger, pulling her face up towards the light, so he could examine it more carefully. And these eyes! So clear and blue. He let her face go and she looked down into her lap, twisting her small hands in the fabric of her pinny.

He sat back in his chair, which issued a long creak, and tapped his index finger against his lips in time with the music. I wonder, he said. Were your parents actually Germans?

She did not answer, but she looked up at him. She had stopped moving her hands and was as still as a rabbit caught in open space.

From one drawer of his desk, the doctor pulled a small, glass-lidded compote of wrapped chocolates. Here now, he said, pushing the dish towards her.

At first, she only looked at them.

Go on, he said, pointing to them with a flick of his index finger. They won’t bite you if you take one.

He watched her take a chocolate, put it into her mouth with an almost guilty expression. So, little duckling. I know you can speak. Can you tell me, what did you mother look like? Your father? What was your last name?

Charlotte looked at him. He mouth was full of chocolate now. She hesitated, chewing. She looked at the floor in front of her, swallowed. Two giant tears suddenly came down both cheeks at the same time, one more slowly than the other. She looked back at him, shaking her head.

The doctor banged shut a book that lay on his desk. He put the candy away and slammed the desk drawer, rattling the compote and the glass in the picture frames above his desk. Family name! What is your family name? Everyone has a family name!

“I don’t know it!” she howled. Even she was shocked by the force and decibel of the noise that had come out. It was louder than anything she could remember ever having said or done.
He looked at her and then got up, gently taking her small head in one palm and pushing her face against his abdomen. He continued to stand, looking towards the door as he felt her tears saturate the fabric of his shirt. Shhh…shhh, he said, stroking her hair mechanically, it’s all right.

From his pocket, he pulled a piece of hard candy and dropped it into her lap. She stopped crying to look at it.

Before she was sent back to the block, a nurse took her blood: seven little glass vials of it."
                                               -- from my novella, Charlotte's Nexus

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