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  #1  
Unread 02-06-2019, 01:44 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Default M.o.r.

Madman in the middle of the road

Hunched over the gorilla arms of his crutches, he digs in, sets himself against the traffic, staring it down, blank eyes distorted by thick glasses. He is overweight and overdressed for the summer heat in shell suit and anorak, a sack of man-made fibres planted in the middle of this narrow one-way street, his puffy face, a mask of stubborn vacuity.

Why are the crazed so often drawn to crutches, to superfluous bandages, to the memorabilia of physical disability, I wonder, watching the first car approach. When it slows, he lifts his left crutch, swings it out and across his body, points to the side-road. Not even a hint of a grunt of explanation to accompany his demand – King Canute, silently diverting the tide.

Long seconds pass in standoff before the driver opts, as we so often do, for the minor detour that’s almost always preferable to a major scene with a madman.

When I return from the supermarket, the man is gone.

It’s then that I see the yellow bus, a Big Lemon bus that runs on used vegetable oil, standing a hundred feet or more beyond the junction. It has stopped outside the laundrette, but there is no bus stop there. A flap at the rear is hinged open, and the driver pokes around inside among the greasy flywheels of the chip-fat engine. Hazard lights blink faintly in the bright sun.

A car is reversing away from the bus that has blocked the road outside the laundrette. A small van arrives, tries to push forwards, falters, then yields. Together they shuffle backwards, find the side road and turn off.

More cars are coming. I step into the middle of the road, face down the traffic.
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Last edited by Matt Q; 02-06-2019 at 01:54 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 02-07-2019, 02:35 PM
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Felicity Teague Felicity Teague is offline
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Hi Matt,

M.o.r. = middle of the road?

I'm still making sense of this, but I like it so far. Crutches and bandages... this is familiar territory. Would you describe your target audience as persons who consider themselves to be sane? I get a sort of moral from the story, as though the N is showing that a person considering him- or herself to be sane might come to resemble a madman in the right circumstances. But I don't know whether I'm reading it properly, as I'm running out of brain again. I'm intrigued enough to want to return, if you'd like me to :-)

Best wishes,
Fliss
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  #3  
Unread 02-07-2019, 05:26 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Hey Fliss,

Thanks for reading this. Yes "M.o.r" should have been "M.O.R" for "middle of the road" (as in pedestrian!), but for some reason the capitals disappeared when I posted it. Anyhow, it's the thread title, not the title of the piece, so not a bit deal I guess.

I'll hold off on saying what I intended with the piece for now to see how other read it, but please do come back when your heads less fuzzy if you fancy it.

best,

Matt
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  #4  
Unread 02-08-2019, 08:43 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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Where this ends feels like the beginning of the rest of the story -- is this a preface of sorts to a short story you're writing (and one I’d like to read)? The style is reminiscent of the observational one I remember in Ionesco’s writing. Also Raymond Chandler. And also not so unlike your signature style/voice in your poetry. I think it is nicely stylized.

This is quite satisfying for the Canute reference alone. Him and his ilk/time fascinated me growing up. (I also loved stories of the Vikings.) I don’t know quite how I was introduced to Canute back then (a movie? A comic book? A history lesson?) I seem to remember learning about him from the nuns in elementary school (having gone through 10 years of catholic education). That culture and time period have always felt close to me. I was in awe of Leif Erikson when I was young. At one point I remember suggesting to my wife that we name our unborn son Leif. Vetoed. I settled for a dog named Ivan. Anyway…. The image of the crutched man in the middle of the road waving at traffic as being Canute-like struck a well of memory of mine so thanks for that.

I like the sounds and imagery of this sentence:

Why are the crazed so often drawn to crutches, to superfluous bandages, to the memorabilia of physical disability

I like the one-sentence paragraph:

When I return from the supermarket, the man is gone.

Also like the present tense of it.


I’ll come back later I hope.
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Last edited by Jim Moonan; 02-08-2019 at 11:00 AM.
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Unread 02-08-2019, 11:30 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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I also like this because it floods me with another memory. About a time one summer in rural, impoverished upstate New York while I was chaperoning a group of teens on a community service/retreat. We were there to help renovate a large barn and barnyard for a group of families who raised livestock and lived in poverty. The barn was dilapidated, leeky and mostly rotted wood. It sat alongside a rural highway and one day towards the end of the trip we worked well into the night hoping to get done what was left to get done before heading back to Boston.

When we finished we started walking along the (deserted) highway towards the retreat house we were staying in. The sky was clear, moonless and dusted with starlight. Someone suggested we lay down and look up for awhile so that’s what we did. In the middle of the road. About a dozen of us. For like ten minutes. It felt like hours. No cars. Not a sound. It was a brilliant experience.

My daughter was with me and she wrote her college entrance essay about it and titled it, “Lying Down in the Middle of the Road”.
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Unread 02-08-2019, 01:52 PM
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Felicity Teague Felicity Teague is offline
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You're welcome, Matt :-)

I was checking, not correcting, 'M.o.r.' because this is the first time I've come across the abbreviation. So I googled and ended up at Urban Dictionary, where I learned a few other things too.

The head's slightly less fuzzy, but I'm running out of time. So here are some more mini-musings. While reading earlier, I started thinking along the lines of a split personality. Perhaps the N is both 'he' and 'I'. I'm not sure why, but I have a sense of the 'I' stepping outside the self to observe 'he'. Perhaps it's because I haven't worked out where the N is, within the scene. Alternatively, the N's on a trip and seeing things through clouded lenses, so to speak. Anything within the scene could be something else. These meanderings aside, I can be certain that I like the combination of 'shell suit and anorak'. I have more thoughts, but now I must entertain <(:-)

Best wishes,
Fliss
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  #7  
Unread 02-09-2019, 10:09 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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Back again (I don't know if I'm perseverating or obsessing or just giving in to reruns of previous thoughts : )

Reading again I'm reminded of the only critical thought I had the first time around: that there is not enough digging/detail in the scene as I think would be best. It feels like the imagery is more appropriate to a poem, leaving the reader with a minimum of information but a maximum of understanding. That's good, but in prose it happens more brick-by-brick, I think. I'm thinking a more thorough, Chekov-like examination that reveals the intangible; what can't ordinarily be seen in the character/situation being described.

Of course, my assumption is this is an opening to a longer story. There's more to come, which would make this crit moot.
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  #8  
Unread 02-16-2019, 01:55 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Fliss and Jim, thanks for your comments.

I can see that this isn't quite coming across as I want it to. I'm wondering what I can do about this.

The "moral" here is that the N attributes craziness/madness to the man he sees because he doesn't see the context for what the man is doing (and after all, having glasses and crutches doesn't make you crazy). However, what the man is doing is both rational and useful. He's directing the traffic away from the broken-down bus.

But it's only on the N's way back from shopping that he notices the broken-down bus and the difficulties its causing as car approach and then reverse away from it. And so he steps into the road to help out too, making exactly the same decision as the "crazy" person did.

So, I'm wondering if there are aspects of the the scene that I've just described that aren't coming across in the writing. For example, is it unclear that the bus is already there when the man is directing traffic?

Jim, this isn't intended to the prelude to anything. It was intended to stand alone. And yes, it did start out as poem. I tried to write it and it seemed too prosey, so I thought I'd try to write it as prose piece.

Thanks again both,

Matt
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  #9  
Unread Yesterday, 02:15 PM
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Felicity Teague Felicity Teague is offline
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Hi Matt,

You're welcome :-)

Interestingly (perhaps), I do understand the moral as you express it; I think I'm just coming at the piece from a different perspective.

It's possible that my alternative approach flows from my inability to relate to the N; essentially, the N lost me at 'the crazed'. But a lot of readers who aren't lost at that point would be able to interpret the piece as you intended, I think. It's just a shame this part of the board isn't as popular as other sections :-)

Best wishes,
Fliss
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  #10  
Unread Yesterday, 03:42 PM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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Interesting moral.
I've always remembered a short story I read about a young father that entered a crowded subway car with his two young children, not more than 4-5 years old. They sat down next to an elderly man who then watched the children's unruly behavior and the father's seeming indifference to the disruption they were causing on the train and the disrespectfulness of the children and the father. He thought to himself, "The apple never falls far from the tree."

The old man began to make assumptions about the father's lack of parenting and his blatant inconsideration for the others on the train. He attributed it to the general decline in civilization that the young generation represented. Why would the father be so oblivious to the situation as to allow his children to carry on like they were?

At one point one of the children inadvertently knocked the elderly man's hat off. The father, seeing it happen, mustered up a weak apology. A minute more went by and the father turned to the elderly man and, with tears in his eyes, told him they had just come from the city hospital where his wife had been hospitalized in her final stage of cancer. The father had been at the hospital night and day for a week after the decision had been made to take her off life support systems (breathing tubes, feeding tubes, etc.). and was returning home after spending her last hours with her. He had taken the children with him that day but at the last minute couldn't bear to have them witness their mother's death and decided last-minute to shield them. They had spent the day in the hospital play area under the kind supervision of hospital child-life specialists while the father stood vigil in his wife's hospital room. He hadn't told them yet of her death, wanting instead to get them safely home first before breaking the news. He again said he was sorry for the disruptive behavior of the children, but that he just couldn't muster the will or energy to corral them in.

After he had told the man his story he sat there slumped, quietly crying. The elderly man was overcome with compassion and grief in hearing the father's tragedy and the fact that he still had to go home and tell his children that their mother had died. He, too, began to cry, and they comforted each other with their own crying and embraced for a good long time.
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