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Unread 12-04-2021, 07:05 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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Baffled


My mother's father died in 1922. He walked into the veneer mill on a winter morning to open up—he was a new foreman and proud of it—and stepped into a vat of slowly boiling water. Someone on the second shift had left the grate off. My mother and the mother before her said it was murder. Some bastard was jealous of his new promotion. I did not understand for years that logs have to be boiled to remove the bark that's used to make cheap veneer like the veneer inside the mobile home my mother was finally able to buy when she was nearly fifty-five. I'd escaped into history and poetry by then at the university in another town and was already used to central heat and pipes that didn't freeze every fall. She sat there alone in the new warmth most nights thinking of the calls she wanted to make to all the people who'd done her wrong. It was said he was a good man, her father. That he worked hard to care for his six kids. My mother was the youngest and couldn't remember his face but she could remember her mother's and how she snarled at her dead husband's children when she became a mistress to a married professor. My mother was in charge of the key when her mother was gone and some days she would leave it where it was easy to forget and tell the new children they had no home to enter. It was her house and her dead father's and they would need to find a new place to live. They believed her until they were past the age when they should and she'd have to walk the hills around the mill and would find them sitting and crying in one of the tiny dirt yards. You'd have thought the new kids, the ones my mother eventually learned to care for, product of the professor's sperm and her mother's bitterness, would have been the smart ones, but she was the smartest. This is what she hated most of all. “All the things I figured out,” she said, “and there's nothing to do about any of it.” I loved her when I was a child but when she died I hadn't loved her for years. She finally loved me by then, of course. A few days before she died she summed it up: “That's the type of shit that baffles me.”
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Unread 12-05-2021, 08:17 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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.
Wow! The rest of the Sphere doesn’t know what it’s missing by skipping over this board, right?

This’s really good, good, stuff, John. This deserves to be in the company of other short pieces you’ve written (both prose and poetry) about the family. It would be a fantastic collection to read in spoonfuls, like you’ve done here.

There is a part that felt like you were beginning to wobble in your narrative — This part:

My mother was in charge of the key when her mother was gone and some days she would leave it where it was easy to forget and tell the new children they had no home to enter. It was her house and her dead father's and they would need to find a new place to live. They believed her until they were past the age when they should and she'd have to walk the hills around the mill and would find them sitting and crying in one of the tiny dirt yards.

but as I continued things coalesced.

The opening is so powerful there is no way one could not read on. There’s also the danger that, with such a powerful opening, it might be hard to maintain the tension it creates at the outset. But this does, in a meandering way, retain my attention and I become engrossed in the trail of tragedy that the piece contains.

The ending is as powerful as the beginning.

.
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Unread 12-05-2021, 02:49 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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It’s really great, John. Reminds me of Raymond Carver.
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Unread 12-06-2021, 01:21 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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Thanks, Jim and Mark. I've happy it hits the spot.
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