Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Cheerful Spectator

In 800 words, introduce to yourself a narrator intimate to a story but outside it as well. Don't make her omniscient or even close to that, although she can guess expertly at the problems she is observing--she can even be wrenched by the emotional logjams she is witness to. Henry James chose this sort of narrator often--a family acquaintance or distant relative who happens to be friendly with a number of the central characters in a larger story than he could command.
(from prompt #11 in The 3 AM Epiphany)

Read my response:

Phone it in
"Phone it in" by thunderchild5

I granted myself the role of keeper of her stories, her real live LiveJournal. As if some day, her biographer or E! True Hollywood Story producers would come to me and ask me to tell them everything I knew, and I would have a responsibility to be accurate and in-depth. I stored facts about her, mentally recorded conversations, noted pauses and inflections and generalities. Like, she often uses the word “great.” That’s a thing about her, a thing she does that I know about. “Great, we’ll go to the store, get great amounts of beer, tonight is gonna be great. I can’t believe how great it is that you’re helping, you’re so great.” Not so much as that, unless she isn’t watching herself—sometimes she’ll get caught up in her thoughts and forget to space them apart. But generally, she’s well-spoken; excitable, but well-spoken. An enunciator.

She would call me, late at night, and she would make a proclamation. “I hate people,” she would say. Or, “There is no reason to ever eat cereal.”

I would respond, usually by laughing, agreeing, or requesting further information: “Why do you say that?” or “Where did that come from?!”

The conversations would go on into early morning, and I would act like a blind man’s cane, nodding along while her thoughts wandered and her voice kept pace, using my “mmhmms” and “uhhuhs” to keep her thoughts steady.

She grew up in the environments of retro novels or Lifetime TV movies. No suburban mom, soccer practice, curfews; there were years in hotels as home, in tough urban settings, some time on a farm. At birth, she was the youngest of four boys in a nuclear family; when she was six, she had a step-mom and a step-dad and two step-sisters and one step-brother. When she was twelve, she was an aunt twice. Names took the longest for me to track and place in context—Jake is her oldest brother, the one she lived with for a year in a bad part of Chicago, and Jacob is her step-brother, who is only three months younger than she is, but who once told her that all the girls in his family, that she was now a part of, had to take orders from the boys or else the devil would come in the night and take away a finger for every time she disobeyed.

“After ten times, the devil would turn my blood to fire ants and they’d eat me up from the inside out,” she said. “He was always thinking about food and punishment.”

“He’s the model now, isn’t he? That’s oddly appropriate.”


“Oh, that’s right, I meant...”

“My nephew is a model. He’s great with food and his body image. He’s really not that fucked up even though his dad is a huge tool and his mom left.”

“His dad…”

“When I was eight my brother Joey got his girlfriend pregnant and he didn’t tell anyone in our family until I was ten and the kid showed up at my step-sister Caroline’s wedding. Joey hadn’t even talked to anyone besides Jake for years and totally acted like he didn’t know me until I started getting into rock music and Jake gave me Joey’s girlfriend’s Alanis Morrisette CD, which was great, and then Joey acted like he’d been a huge influence in my life. Which he kind of had been, because I wanted to be like him until I realized what a dick he is. His girlfriend was cool until she started to get religious and took a vow of celibacy and joined a convent in Greece. So thanks to her I got the Alanis Morrisette CD before anyone in my class and Jeron got really great bone structure.”

Sometimes, my incredulous “do tell!” reactions, my blankness, would annoy her. Suddenly cynical, she’d grow reticent, and leave me to back-pedal. “Well, sure. My family is just so boring, you know, I mean…” But then, other times, she was very aware of the effect she had on me, and would get caught up in the excitement of telling a story that struck me as unbelievable. She wouldn’t have to exaggerate, and she’d tell me as if we were two conspirators, marveling at the oddity of an unearthed memory.

“Can you believe that the last time I spoke to my mom, she thought I was pregnant? She wasn’t even concerned, just wanted to see if I knew who the father was, because when her step-daughter was pregnant, they’d had a really embarrassing baby shower with the wrong guy’s parents. So great. Did I tell you about my step-sister’s super trashy family? How when we were kids and we went to her grandma’s for Christmas, in, no joke, Laughlin, all the grown-ups were smoking inside and so us kids snuck some too? Oh my God, one of those kids, so my step-cousin, I think, is on Rock of Love or something.”

I worry sometimes about my role as her keeper of stories. She knew the value of some, but some she tossed off and out like unwanted crust. “That’s where all the vitamins are,” my mom used to tell me, when I’d tell her I didn’t like sandwich edges. Sometimes I worry I won’t know where to start, and sometimes I worry I’ll never be asked. Sometimes I wonder what good it does to store up other people’s stories.

1 comment:

  1. Super difficult prompts i must say. But you do an excellent job. Keep writing and I will keep reading.


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