In those increasingly scarce and scattered moments when I can find the time and also muster the clarity to do what I love, and write, I’ve been committing homicide. I mean I’ve been writing the death scene of a principal characters of my novel. You see, the grandfather, whom the protagonist loves deeply, dies in his bed in a nursing home.
It has been extremely difficult to write, and not for the reason you might suppose: that it makes me want to cry, remembering my own grandparents. The hardest part of writing a scene like this isn’t seeing the screen through tear-blurred eyes, it’s simply telling the truth. It’s hard enough to tread such painfully common ground while making the story up, but being emotionally honest about fictitious death is a bitch. Your own experiences must inform, but not overwhelm, the work. You don’t want to be maudlin, because real death rarely is. But letting your prose fall flat, infected by indifference, is even worse.
Here are two little snippets of the current draft.
* * *
Some of the crows lift away, others fly in. They alight and are instantly still. Papa reaches out between the railings of the bed and grabs the sleeve of my jacket. It startles me. He hasn’t touched anyone in quite a while. It’s never been like him to touch, but his eyes are locked on my face, their blue lost in the flat gray light from the window.
“You better call the dogs. I can’t whistle for ‘em anymore.”
“They’re coming, Papa. I can hear them coming back.”
“Martin, you ain’t amounted to the man I hoped you would.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” The bracelet on his tiny wrist is blue plastic with a white tag I can’t read. It might say something important too.
* * *
I felt cheated and deprived. I have always thought the world should change dramatically when someone dies. The sun should rise draped in black bunting, casting the sky in deep purple for a day or two. Or angels lead a band of pipes and drums slowly through the orchard at a mournful march, while the bald canals run backwards, sending dark water back to its high and snowy source.
Death had no right to blithely change the structure of my life, as if a storm had torn the pilings out from beneath a flimsy dock. I was angry because this proved that what we know to be inevitable sometimes really does come true, and that my special family didn’t rate a break from it. We don’t have much, don’t ask for a lot from life or from God. So it just seems right to claim deferment now and then from death’s old harvesting machinery. And it angers me to think that Papa was cheated. He waited all those years for his better life to start and I don’t know if it ever did. Then he waited all that night, cold and alone, in (the) funeral home, to learn what acts of final kindness he had earned for all his work, and all his love for us. That is a kind of loneliness we never learn about in life.
* * *
So, what is the most difficult or daunting experience for you to right about? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.
I love the last two lines. No matter how many people are in the room, we all die alone. Painful reminder.
I’d say a funeral scene is a tough one. We imagine funerals and somehow they all look like TV shows and movies. So writing one without the usual trappings is hard. I usually have the character comment on how “usual” the funeral seems: the funeral director, minister, all having been here before, just another day on the job, right? But the suffering, they’re new today and some don’t know their lines and others are overacting. Something like that.
Good post. Thanks for sharing your work-in-progress with us.
“inflected by indifference” – love these words.
It’s not that I’m deliberately looking out for it, but I am always so aware of coming across such word packages unexpectedly in other people’s pieces of prose.
And I always think it’s like that because writers carrying around the imaginations that they do, must inadvertently let drop a poetic glimpse or two,
oblivious to how actually loaded their arms are with gems.
If they only knew….
Breathtaking writing! Wow!
A character who keeps making really bad choices is very daunting for me. Sounds silly to say it that way. Writing a character who’s circling the drain faster with each horrific life choice. I don’t want my characters to suffer, or be victims, or be idiots, but yet they do. It’s hard to go in every day and tell that story, explain the illogical reasoning, show the results of each choice. See the inevitable decline. Ouch.