A WRITER'S WIT
In baiting a mouse trap with cheese, always leave room for the mouse.
Saki (H. H. Munro)
Born December 18, 1870
Handling with Care
While everyone was outside, I opened the front door to find my grandmother sitting in her wheelchair. She’d broken her hip the month before and was still recovering. I noticed that she’d thrown up grape juice on the floor and ran out to tell my mother. I remember my mother saying, “Good, now maybe she’ll talk to me.” I intuited that Grandma was not talking for a good reason and stayed outside to play. When my mother entered the house and began to shriek, I came in after her, and she screamed for me to get out. An ambulance was sent for, and it took my grandmother away. My mind was so innocent that it hadn’t picked up the real cues, that the dark fluid on the floor wasn’t juice but blood, and that my grandmother had cut her wrist with what Grandpa called a buzz saw. Years later I was told that my grandmother had suffered her entire life from depression, was in and out of its grasp for long periods of time. And that day certainly hadn’t helped.
Tilde’s story is actually told from her point of view. The little boy in the narrative is only a footnote, a grand nephew who happens to walk in and discover the carnage. Still to this day I can’t recall what I saw. My mind was indeed protecting me from what really happened, and I’m grateful. In spite of her problems, my grandmother was an intelligent and loving person until the day she died at ninety-three, and that is the way I prefer to remember her. Tilde is someone entirely different.
And I must confess that skeleton of the narrative is sort of a “found” one. At some point in my thirties, I was going through family mementos my mother wanted me to look at, and I came across my grandmother’s writing, in which she related a time in the 1940s. To say that it was a journal would not be right. She’d merely written out about eight pages on a stationery tablet about what happened when she was given a sedating shot the day her brother-in-law had died. Yes, I used many of her words verbatim, building my narrative around her written account, my memory of her accident later in life, and an imagined session with a psychiatrist. My grandfather once lamented that people were saying she’d attempted to kill herself, but he insisted she’d been trying to move the electric skill saw and cut herself accidentally. I’ll never know the “truth,” and I don’t think I wish to. “Handy to Some” is my oldest published story, a tribute to the strong woman inherent in my grandmother’s body, and it first appeared in Southwestern Oklahoma State University’s Westview in 1985. I’d almost completed my MA, and again, I’d falsely thought that from that point forward I would place stories any time I sent them out. It would be another twenty years before another journal accepted a story of mine.
Click here to buy a copy of My Long-Playing Records and Other Stories, where it is available at Amazon.
NEXT TIME: New Yorker Fiction 2014
NEXT THURSDAY: MLPR, “Blight”
CATCH UP WITH EARLIER POSTS OF BEHIND THE BOOK:
11/13/14 — Introduction to My Long-Playing Records
11/20/14 — "My Long-Playing Records" — The Story
11/27/14 — "A Certain Kind of Mischief"
12/04/14 — "Ghost Riders"
12/11/14 — "The Best Mud"