Happy Tuesday/Wednesday! Sorry for no post yesterday–had to deal with an old villain…an 100-year old tree that was finally brought down. I know that trees are good for the environment, but this one causing problems with the foundation and had to be removed. I apologized to both the tree and the resident squirrels. When it finally came down, I surprised to see it was mostly hollow. I’m honestly amazed it never came down with all of the heavy storms we’ve had over the years. We’re just lucky, I suppose.
Anyway, back to books!
I believe one of the most difficult feats of writing is to write a very good short story. To compress the breadth of a novel into a short story is not easy to do, and, yet, Raymond Carver makes the task seem effortless.
This blind man, an old friend of my wife’s, he was on his way to spend the night. His wife had died. So he was visiting the dead wife’s relatives in Connecticut. He called my wife from his in-laws’. Arrangements were made. He would come by train, a five-hour trip, and my wife would meet him at the station. She hadn’t seen him since she worked for him one summer in Seattle ten years ago. But she and the blind man had kept in touch. They made tapes and mailed them back and forth. I wasn’t enthusiastic about his visit. He was no one I knew. And his being blind bothered me. My idea of blindness came from the movies. In the movies, the blind moved slowly and never laughed. Sometimes they were led by seeing-eye dogs. A blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to.
I am sitting over coffee and cigarettes at my friend Rita’s and I am telling her about it.
Here is what I tell her.
It is a late slow Wednesday when Herb seats the fat man at my station.
This fat man is the fattest person I have ever seen, though he is neat-appearing and well dressed enough. Everything about him is big. But it is the fingers I remember best. When I stop at the table near his to see to the old couple, I first notice the fingers. They look three times the size of a normal person’s fingers—long, thick, creamy fingers.
Carlyle was in a spot. He’d been in a spot all summer, since early June when his wife had left him. But up until a little while ago, just a few days before he had to start meeting his classes at the high school, Carlyle hadn’t needed a sitter. He’d been the sitter. Every day and every night he’d attended to the children. Their mother, he told them, was away on a long trip.
4. Feathers, just for this paragraph
The baby stood in Olla’s lap, looking around the table at us. Olla had moved her hands down to its middle so that the baby could rock back and forth on its fat legs. Bar none, it was the ugliest baby I’d ever seen. It was so ugly I couldn’t say anything. No words would come out of my mouth. I don’t mean it was diseased or disfigured. Nothing like that. It was just ugly. It had a big red face, pop eyes, a broad forehead, and these big fat lips. It had no neck to speak of, and it had three or four fat chins. Its chins rolled right up under its ears, and its ears stuck out from its bald head. Fathung over its wrists. Its arms and fingers were fat. Even calling it ugly does it credit. The ugly baby made its noise and jumped up and down on its mother’s lap. Then it stopped jumping. It leaned forward and tried to reach its fat hand into Olla’s plate.
I’ve seen babies. When I was growing up, my two sisters had a total of six babies. I was around babies a lot when I was a kid. I’ve seen babies in stores and so on. But this baby beat anything. Fran stared at it, too. I guess she didn’t know what to say either.
Hope you’ll consider checking out Carver. Have a good week, folks!