I didn’t mean to be unkind…our last entry into our contest

(but clouds got in my way)     Horace pictured here sticks with his own kind, and squawks like an encryption. Literati! Not quite at the eleventh hour, but trailing the other entries, Eli Fang’s submission as the last of our finalists in our Wingnuts contest was nesting in my inbox this morning after a …

(but clouds got in my way)

 

 

Horace pictured here sticks with his own kind, and squawks like an encryption.

Literati!

Not quite at the eleventh hour, but trailing the other entries, Eli Fang’s submission as the last of our finalists in our Wingnuts contest was nesting in my inbox this morning after a brief flight.  A mystery…Eli’s story refers to Fire Mountain, which is a neighborhood a scant three miles from the Towers that still are–for the next five days at least–A Word with You Press.

Eli? Who are you?

You live so close to the hub of literary en-devour and yet we have not met?  Is Eli Fang a pseudonym? I hope you will come introduce yourself on Saturday at the Hacienda of Victor Villasenor at 4pm, where the winner of our contest will be announced at the Third Annual Editor-in-Chief Surprise Birthday Party and Wet T Shirt Contest. (pot luck, byob, live music–and maybe a chance for you to fly away with Horace…check your horacescope).  We are going to try to podcast the event, by the way, for our friends who live on other planets.  But if you are local, please join us.

Here is what Eli offers the coffers today:

The Unkindness

By Eli Fang

 

Fire Mountain overlooks the pacific ocean.  On top of this suburban hill I stand in the cemetery where my wife of forty years is being lowered into the ground in a casket.  Our gathering looks suitably mundane.  If it were a perfect scene it would be raining, but being coastal Southern California the weather has only granted a mildly morose sea layer overcast.  Although those around me are my family and friends, they seem alien, fake players, playing roles.  I wonder if each, like me, is thinking, I should look and behave like someone at a funeral.  I have a strange lightness in my feet that causes me guilt because surely I should be heavy and weighed down with my grief.  I’m noticing things with intense detail.  Across the green yonder of the cemetery a nebulous patch of blue billows into the gray sky, and from within it come ravens.  A flock, no, not flock, the term is . . . . unkindness – it’s an unkindness of ravens.  I almost smile at the aptness of the term, for I know these birds, these black-hearted ones come to visit me in my grief.

 

I was on a construction site discussing the project with the contractor.  It was a mountainous, rural community.  A few of his crew milled around performing various work tasks.  Against the treed hillside a drama of nature was being played out: A hawk had downed a raven and now stood above the injured, flapping, black, squawking mass.  Three other ravens, flying companions no doubt, had alighted a short distance away and were facing off the sleek predator.  They made short flapping runs toward the hawk and its prey, their brethren, but the hawk stood its ground rearing up, catching the wind on its wings, presenting its talons.

 

One of the construction crew decided he wasn’t going to stand by and watch the injustice.  He ran up the hillside waving his arms as he approached the hawk.  The three ravens scattered, and eventually the hawk took flight too, giving up its prey.

 

We resumed our talk believing the scene concluded.  A minute later the crew member returned from the hillside looking perplexed, and somewhat breathlessly told us, “I shooed off that hawk, you know, so it wouldn’t kill the raven, kinda thinking I’d help his buddies in setting him free.  But, when the injured raven took off, it was flying kinda cockeyed.  You could tell it was injured.  And then his buddies circled down and they took him down and just started ripping him apart.  You know, I don’t think they were trying to set him free, they were just fighting the hawk over food.”

 

So yes, I know you: the black-hearted ones.  Living moment to moment with no time for love or sentiment. If only I had wings I would fly up there and be one amongst you to spare myself the pain that love, sentiment, memories and other human weaknesses inflict.  If only I could be like you.  One moment living for no other reason but to play on the thrilling windy currents, the next moment to lustily satisfy hunger by feeding on whatever presents itself as a tasty morsel.  Sure, if others of my kind are around to play, to swoop and feign with, why not?  Take enjoyment from the experience of them, roost, keep warm and safe in numbers.  But should they present weakness, even a moment later from being my frolicking friend, then tasty morsel they become.  No moralizing, no sentiment, barely memories.  If only I could be like you instead of this weak human thing wracked with the self inflicted pain of sorrow.  If I were like you I would land on my dead wife’s coffin lid with a cushioned thud, and, after cocking a dark eye at the startled gathering, perhaps issuing a defiant caw, I’d rip the coffin lid asunder, pounce down onto her corpse and feed greedily, lustily, peeling flesh from the bone of her I roosted with so long, her I swooped and feigned with in our flight of life for 40 years.

 

Alas I don’t have your strength and being human conform to my kind’s weakness, suppressing my natural urge to scream my anguish into the sky, I respond to a condolence with a mealy, “Yes, she’ll be missed greatly,” and look over the shoulder of the enquirer at you, the unkindness, fading into the gray.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=Z3AuiVbXI9w

 

26 comments

  1. Parisianne Modert says:

    What I have to say only applies to this entry. My comments are not meant to reflect any suggestion as to the overall character of this author whom I have never met to my knowledge. In writing this review I think it necessary to disclose that the raven is my favorite bird. I respect and see the raven as one of my spirit guides.

    This written entry in my opinion is disappointing, because it breaks the phrase rule, lacks cadence, substitutes anguished violence for romance and is heartless in answer. I wish the judge(s) had closed their eyes, pushed out their finger(s) and picked someone else at random as a finalist. I found this entry repulsive, sickening and offensive.

    • Mac Eagan says:

      Have you never hurt so badly that the only thing you want is for the pain to stop? If not from loss, then from stress or anxiety, or from disappointment served up by one you had previously held in high esteem?

      Because that is what I take from this story. Forty years of marriage brought about an unequaled closeness and now there is an unfillable vacuum. I would suggest that Eli Fang’s protagonist (and I also have no knowledge of the author prior to this contest) would strongly oppose the sentiment, “‘It is better to have loved and lost…”

      I felt the theme of this entire piece was “it is better to have never loved at all.” I am not saying I agree with that point, or even that the author necessarily agrees, but there is an empathetic grasp of a pain so pronounced that a life without emotion would be preferable.

      As far as breaking any rules goes, the long-timers of this site will tell you I can be quite the stickler for technical accuracy. But I also believe that what is most important is writing that has a natural flow and conveys the author’s thoughts. The ideas are important; the words and punctuation are merely vehicles.

      And yet Eli Fang is not lacking in skill with the words. We are again graced with the presence of a writer who can take the prompt phrase and weave it into the fabric of the story, as opposed to just pinning it to the lapel.

      I do not know that this is the best story from the finalists (and I have not decided that it isn’t), but I do believe it belongs here with the other finalists.

      • Parisianne Modert says:

        Yes, I do know that pain having lost my life partner of 30 years who died in my arms having gone from 155 to less than 80 pounds in 8 months’ time. I cursed at God not her. The only being I wanted to harm was myself, so I could join her not desecrate her ashes, memory or burial within an urn. With that being said Mr. Mac Eagen, I would suggest that mourning is not romance. When Oliver loses his Jenny the romance is broken but not the love he has for the woman who called him, “Preppie”. “The Unkindness” to me suggest none of his tender memories for his lost love. Oliver does not resent her for leaving him, but humanly cries within that empty place left behind. The man in “The Unkindness” goes off to work with another man trying to save the raven not him. I adore Tennyson by the way, but the love he is writing about in “In Memorium A.H.H.” is not romantic in a lover’s sense. It is a love for a friend respected and lost. It is about mourning, but also a celebration of his friend, grand questions of life’s beauty, qualities and possibilities. Within it there are lost opportunities lost, but in a graceful fashion. “The Unkindness” to me is mere raging violence. True love is not revengeful nor a selfish, self-indulgent unkindness. I actually thought that your story in the preliminaries was the best one out of 40 some not his. So, I would have preferred to have read your romance story Mr. Mac Eagen both for content and style.

        • Mac Eagan says:

          Were there no romance there would be no mourning. It is because he still loves that he hurts so much.

          In all honesty, everything that we write as commentators is nothing more than an assumption of what we believe Eli Fang meant in the writing of the story. We bring pieces of ourselves into our interpretation of another’s words. We would all be surprised if Eli Fang posted a comment that the story was intended as an allegorical reference to the dangers of eating ice cream. I don’t actually see that in this story, and I imagine (hope?) no one else does, either. But the point I am trying to make is that until the author says, “This is the point I was trying to make, or feeling I wanted to evoke,” we don’t really know.

          Going back to the technical, I now see one area where perhaps different wording may have helped. You say the protagonist goes off to work and you contrast that with the actions of Oliver, who also grieves.

          But in “The Unkindness” ‘going off to work’ does not take place during the time of grief. A clearer transition may have helped. It is a backstory, a memory prompted by the sight of the ravens in flight. It explains why the man sees the ravens as uncaring, disloyal, even selfish. They have no sorry for their dead or even their wounded – they live only in the moment, focused solely on that which is necessary for physical survival.

          Once that backstory is established we are brought back to the present (again without a marked transition), to the overwhelming grief that the man cannot reconcile. Grief can produce a panorama of emotions; the man is profoundly sad and yet numb and at one point inexplicably feels, for lack of a better word, happy, describing a “strange lightness in my feet.” These emotions are not compatible, though, with the social expectation of how a grieving person should feel or at least appear to feel.

          I don’t believe that at any time in the story does the author or his character want to desecrate the body of his beloved. The description of the raven feeding “greedily, lustily, peeling flesh from the bone of her” is not an expression of what the man WANTS to do. It is what the man WOULD do IF he were a raven with no feelings. But he does have feelings.

          And although he wants to give voice to those emotions and cry out from the center of his heart (the way some cultures do) he instead capitulates to the social expectations of solemnity and softly, quietly acknowledges the consolatory remarks from his fellow mourners.

          • Parisianne Modert says:

            To me the difference in Gary’s story and this is in the trucker’s, Jake’s, voice and thoughts talking with his Ruby. He has sweet memories of her dancing outside during the first snow each year, she comes to him as a pink snowflake and later at the diner after he looks for her everywhere. That is a romance that is ongoing between the two lovers. It escapes the open grave that “Unkindness” never to me leaves. Yes, the construction worker mourns ,but not with sweet memories, not with speaking to her, but with angry and savage images. Without the interaction of man and deceased woman to me it is no longer as much a romance as violent symbolism. I guess I didn’t see the time spanse as being outside of the funeral time when she is getting buried. Otherwise, how could the ravens rip the coffin open and rip her to shreads? Powerful images does not equal romance to me. But you are right the author only knows what he intended. My mourning lasted in anguish for eight years until I recently got it under control. I aged 20 years body wise in that time. May be I am sick of grieving and want to live again so much that I can’t stomach another moment of it. Romance to me is life, hopeful and young spirited. My last point is that romance is not needed for mourning to happen and be profound. I mourned for years over my mother’s death as an example. People also mourn for friends who they are never romantic with. The character Oliver is like an Oreo cookie. He finds love with Jenny, loses her to cancer and is a dead soul of sorts until he finds love again in “Oliver’s Story” with Marcie. The lack of success of “Oliver’s Story” as a movie is found in the conflict of him clinging to his memories of Jenny which distracts from his new love of Marcie. The emotions are human, happen in relationship, but destroy romance not build it up.

          • Mac Eagan says:

            There is an absolute and easily definable difference in the two stories, as far as the reaction and voice of each of the protagonists. It could be no other way, not only because of coming from different writers but, more importantly, because each story has a different starting point.

            Jake’s story starts in 1982 – the last day he smiled. But the story is being told today, over twenty years after he lost his Ruby. He has had time to get through his grief, come to acceptance, and now focus on everything that Ruby meant to him.

            “The Unkindness” started only a few days ago, for it is taking place at a funeral. The man is likely still in shock and flooded with emotions. When he comes to acceptance, however long that takes, will he still be thinking in violent images? It is left for us, the readers, to decide but I for one think that some years from now, the man will walk into a diner somewhere near a construction site, sit next to a trucker, and they will strike up a conversation. And in that conversation the man and Jake will each share what made his loved one so special.

  2. Glclark says:

    Wow! Here’s what I’m taking from this story.

    First of all, technically and spiritually it is a masterpiece. It grips the reader in its talons and takes him/her along with the highs and lows of emotions and doesn’t let go. The writing is as smooth as glass and I flew high and fast with the Ravens on wings of perfectly placed and carefully selected words making sentences that were air currents lifting and then blowing the reader down. It is E.A. Poe dark and Richard Bach high…..and it’s everything else in between. I heard Richard Harris’ voice reading the story to me.
    But, do I agree with the theme? No, but who the hell cares what I believe. I’m an old fashioned romantic, as you all know from my writing, and I believe……… well, it doesn’t matter what I believe. But I do know one thing! This is an award winning story, beautifully told and written and I wish you, Eli, the best.

    • Parisianne Modert says:

      Sorry to disagree with you Mr. Clark, but I found the style to be a stop and go racking over broken glass, torn at coffin and ripped apart bodies. The cadance felt to me like the first time I tried to double clutch a truck’s transmission from first to second. Pesonally, I thought your story was by far the best of the finalists including mine.

    • Mac Eagan says:

      I agree with you 100%, Mr. Clark.
      And the description you gave in your comment? Wonderful. I had to double-check whose post it was – for a moment I thought I was reading Mike Stang at his impressionistic finest (that is a compliment to the both of you, just in case anyone was wondering).

    • Glclark says:

      I see no fight. I see passionate writers sharing feelings and ideas and that’s a good thing. What one looks for in a good story may be abhorred by others and that’s what gives us tons of good stuff for discussion – NOT fighting, just discussion.
      When I read a person’s comments, I always preface it with the words, “In my opinion….”and then I read their review/critique. That’s what makes this site so great. We share and discuss and disagree but we NEVER fight.

      • Parisianne Modert says:

        Hopefully my intent was respectful critique as well Mr. Clark, Mr. Mac Eagen, Mr. Fang and Mr. Editor in Chief Thorn. Please forgive me gentlemen if I offended, but I sometimes have been known to “Fight Like a Girl” – Ms. Emilie Autumn (violinist/singer/song writer/author/stage performer/lived half of her life within the confines of insane asylums with rats for pets while journaling). Gnaw on that one gentlemen.

        • Glclark says:

          I saw no offense – what I did see is a passionate writer who was just sharing her feelings with us. This site is unique in that we are all free to speak what we feel and that’s another reason it’s the best place I’ve found to be.

  3. by the way. I have narrowed down my decision to two stories. I will announce the winner at my surprise birthday party at the hacienda of Victor Villasenor this saturday at 7 pm california time.

  4. The controversy below actually proves that your story was effective in capturing the reader’s understanding of love and loss and forces them to question what they believe/fee;/know about it. Hurt is a melancholy truth where love is concerned, and you’ve written of it with magic, and ferocity, and sadness, which are all real aspects of love. Your entry deserves its place as a finalist, and comes from such a rarely well-displayed side of love. You displayed it and I am heartbroken and hungry as your protagonist seems to be. Very well done.

  5. 1948pdobbs says:

    This was a hard story for me to be objective about, having buried a husband of 63 years just six months ago. Everyone goes through the grief process differently. I was even asked directly at the funeral why I wasn’t crying. The person who asked it didn’t know that I had been crying for six months and nearly all night every night. In reading all of the comments it appears that there has been a confusion between how well the story was written and whether you agreed with the actions of the protagonist. This is the first time I can remember this happening, so that tells me the story was interesting enough to hold our attention and even touch a nerve that made us react. Having said that, as much as I can’t comprehend that kind of grief, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The story was told in such a way that I cannot deny we have a new, exceptionally good writer among us who should be welcomed.
    Blessings Eli, pd

  6. Diane Cresswell says:

    This is an intriguing story. Well written. I find it rather amazing in the responses to this story. I agree with Peggy. How we go through a grief process is our own experience. It also rests on how deep that grief goes. How this story is written shows a depth of grief that may not be in alignment with what society, family or friends seem to think on how we should respond to the aspect of death. There are so many components within the layers of this story. I found it interesting of the person’s thinking of a crow ripping apart the body was reminiscent of the sky burial that Buddhists can choose to do for their death. It is known that the soul no longer inhabits the body leaving behind the vessel that carried the soul through the current lifetime. The body is scared but once the soul has left – the sacredness of the body belongs to carrion who will distribute it in different places. Each culture has its own perspective on how to work with death. Western culture has an interesting system of belief (religious) and iconic ritual on the departure of a person and how it should be symbolized to the living. Our thoughts are not necessarily coherent at the death of a loved one…and thoughts can be quite morbid. This story captures that rather well. One does feel like an alien especially when death has made an appearance. Superb concept.

  7. Eli says:

    Thanks for all the feedback. Truly flattered to have the piece read/discussed so in depth, and to have some grit in the criticism – after all without grit nothing gets polished. I am local to Oceanside, but not sure I’ll be able to make it to this weekend’s birthday bash – though it sounds fun – have family coming into town . . . . but who knows, may sneak out on obligations for an hour or so . . .

  8. Parisianne Modert says:

    Final, hopefully tempered thought from the one who was in opposition to “The Unkindness”. I would like to see, Mr. Fang, this story set between the love story of the 40 year relationship giving the reader the beauty that was taken away which led to the anguish. I would like to read a closing with transformation out of that anguish to a place of memories that might be flashes of moments not yet told about those 40 years before “The Unkindness”. The love story to me is about the 40 year marriage, the healing, the reconciliation, the and the memories that were lacking in this short story version.

  9. Mike Casper says:

    Writing should always elicit reactions. Great writing should always elicit great reactions. Your story whipsawed me between admiration for describing the burial site, grief for the character’s loss and to the cold, ‘that’s the way it is in nature’ acceptance of a doomed raven’s plight. Then, suddenly, revulsion for cannibal hunger — finally to acceptance of reality and the stoic, scripted response of a beast among humans. A fine story indeed, one I could never write as I tend to stay on the sunny side; I don’t like to delve into the darker ways of life. You did, and well.

  10. Howard Miller says:

    Death is fucking cold, man. Mindless eater of all souls, whether they be charmed, desperate, lords and ladies, bottomed out dickheads…whatever; assholes the lot if you ask me. Just like me.
    Believing that life is supposed to be more than it is makes us all assholes. And death taunts us with it’s finality.
    I know that some lalala with the chant of how wonderful their life is. I just do not see anything wonderful about their lives….or mine
    When I look through these dark glasses,

    OK…now I am taking them off
    Much better.

    Another beer
    Another toke
    Its with great zeal
    When I joke
    Smiley face
    I can’t erase

  11. erm. Ouch. Great story! Be still my bleedin heart! Grief, loss, so much to do as human beings to stay on the spinning blue ball. I will send her a rose of light tonight in my meditations, and sign it from you.
    Good work.

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