Sunday, July 17, 2011

Entry #50

Shadows On Concrete
by Peter Dudley


All that remained were shadows on concrete. An atomic flashbulb caught a mother kissing her infant. It burned a snapshot onto the concrete wall behind them even as their bodies vaporized.

A thousand miles away, a “lucky bullet” from an M1 Garand found its way through a hundred leaves and into the breast pocket of a soldier squatting for a piss behind a bush. It pierced a letter lovingly scripted in blue ink, a crisp snapshot of a pregnant woman, and the soldier’s heart.

Half a century later, a man stands on a ledge overlooking a pit as wide as a city block and as deep as the sorrow lodged inside him. Concrete, asbestos, steel, and glass. Twisted, melted, crumbled to dust. Somewhere under the grinding treads of the backhoes lie the pulverized bones of his granddaughter and her unborn son.

Ten thousand times he has asked forgiveness. His only reply is hollow silence. He turns to the board labeled “Missing” and again gently touches the snapshot of a young, pregnant woman. Her golden hair is eternally swirled by a gentle breeze.

He has kept the M1 rifle all these years, in a locked trunk in his attic. A single bullet clatters against his old dog tags in his breast pocket.

He turns to shuffle off to the bus stop, the crisp January chill churning aches in his old knees. The cold sun spreads his shadow across the concrete, even as he fades away into the winter afternoon.

45 comments:

Catvibe said...

Excellent writing. Very evocative imagery and, as so many in this contest are, quite dystopian. It's also a brain teaser, and I'm still not sure I understand the man's role in what happened despite three careful reads but I'm dense that way. I'll be following the comments closely on this one Pete, hoping my curiosity will be resolved in someone else's reading.

pegjet said...

This is careful, beautiful writing. I felt the ache. Like Catvibe, I read this several times and am still not quite sure what happened. But, I want to. You held me as a reader.

Aerin said...

ATOMIC FLASHBULB? Are you KIDDING me, Pete? Who gave you permission to sculpt words? Who bloody allowed you to enter??

Sheesh.

Stephen Parrish said...

Superb imagery, absolutely superb.

Wendy said...

Powerfully done!

Catrina said...

Excellent atmospheric piece. What goes around comes around.

Well done.

SzélsőFa said...

a strong vignette - even though i am confused about the mathematics...(if this man had a granddaughter, who was pregnant, she was the lady in the photo with the golden hair, and it was 50 years ago, now, this man must be at least 100 years old...) but i must be reading it wrong :(
anyway, i did love it, to all bits, it's only the numbers that got me confused...

Aniket said...

I guess the lucky bullet wasn't as lucky for him after all. As even after 50 yrs, he's filled with sorrow and keeps returning to the site he lost his granddaughter. SzélsőFa is very good at maths though. :)

But this still has your touch. Its perfect in its structure and wordplay. You sure have mastered the craft of writing.

bluesugarpoet said...

Brilliant as always, Peter. :) I love the layers of snapshots you've created. ~jana

Precie said...

As I said on your blog, I'm amazed at how much layering and depth you fit into 250 words. Taking us from WWII to post 9/11 carrying guilt and loss and the deeper awareness that these losses echo through history...stunning.

j a zobair said...

Wonderful. Your second para is genius.

Aimee Laine said...

Great imagery with those 'shadows'. Loved that. :)

Peter Dudley said...

Thank you all! Sounds like I was trying a little too hard with the parallels while not separating them enough. I will not (yet) explain what I was trying to do here except to say that Precie totally got it.

Cat, thank you! Not intended to be a brain teaser, so I'm sorry I didn't make it clear for you! I'll take the evocative imagery, though.

pegjet, thank you for reading it several times and trying so hard. 250 words is a tight space, but I really appreciate that you think the writing was careful and beautiful.

Aerin, that's just, like, your opinion, man.

Steve, thank you for reading, and for the repetition of "superb"!

Wendy, powerful is a word I'll always appreciate. thank you!

catrina, thank you! What goes around comes around, indeed.

SzélsőFa, thank you! Does it help if I say they are two different photos, from two different eras?

Aniket, seriously? "Mastered the craft of writing?" You have mastered the art of flattery. :-)

Jana, thank you! When you say brilliant, I believe it. I know the kind of thing you've had to deal with in classes. :-)

Precie, thank you for commenting in both places. I really appreciate your comments. And I still think "stunning" applies to your entry.

j a zobair, thanks! Genius is another one of those words I don't mind hearing.

Aimee Laine, Thank you! I have to credit Jason for inspiring the imagery.

Joni said...

This is just stellar. The delicate recurrence of themes, the stunning turn of phrase. Masterful. His guilt and remorse are still lingering with me.

SzélsőFa said...

sure it does, errm, it has to!
i will re-read again!

Loren Eaton said...

It pierced a letter lovingly scripted in blue ink, a crisp snapshot of a pregnant woman, and the soldier’s heart.

This is a near perfect sentence. I love it.

Peter Dudley said...

Joni, thank you! Even after reading 40 entries, yours is still one of my top three. Hard to pick which is #1 though, and 59 more to come!

SzélsőFa, LOL. Don't strain yourself. After it's all over, I might explain for those who care. :-)

Loren, thank you. Yours is another in my top three.

Aniket said...

I agree, that I "try" to be nice as much as I can, but I didn't mean it as flattery. I can't remember a contest where you weren't placed as a winner or at least honorable mention. And each time, you earn it fair.

Someday, I look forward to critiquing and helping others get better, like you do. But for that, I have to get better first. Someday.

Peter Dudley said...

Aniket, I disagree. First, you know plenty already to offer critique as well as praise. Second, I find that critiquing always improves my own skill. I owe a lot to the people who have willingly allowed me to comment on their writing. It's allowed me to look deeper into the writing, find things I like and things I might do differently. It's also helped me learn to take critique. So don't hold back.

BTW, anyone who wants to give an honest critique but not post it to this comments page, feel free to visit my personal blog at cornerkick.blogspot.com and leave the comment there, or email me at dudleypj@gmail.com. Thank you!

Aniket said...

If I make it to the forties club this year, I'll be sure to make an effort in the area. Plus, I mostly hang out with people who write better than me (you know who they are) so I rarely get an opportunity to critique, but yes, I'd had a lot of help improving from Jason and Sarah over mails. (And Joaquin for the art of poetry) They proof read many stories and gave pointers. All that made me aware of my strengths and weaknesses. (I'm good with dialogue. My usage of verbs, sucks.)

I can't put in words how much a good critique helps you. So, thank you, for helping me and others out over the years. I'll try harder to pass on what I've learnt. :)

Catvibe said...

I CARE!

Jodi MacArthur said...

It seems to me this man had seen many years of war and had lost his granddaughter, considered suicide, but decided to live on in the shadows of his memories. Very human and very noble snapshot.

C Sonberg Larson said...

Very powerful. Each vignette is so well crafted, freezing that moment in time, then sending us off to the next. Very profound, very thought provoking. Keeps you thinking for a while after. and all of this was done in 250 words. Wow.

SzélsőFa said...

thanks :)

fairyhedgehog said...

I'm not sure I entirely understood the events underpinning this but it was still a powerful piece. I liked the way at the end his shadow doesn't remain, but fades away.

Dottie (Tink's Place) said...

Expertly written Peter! Great imagery! I was wondering since he must have killed the soldier, was it meant to be? Why?

Dottie :)

Old Kitty said...

So so so so sad!!

What can I say - it's a heart-wrenching story, thank you! Take care
x

Jade L Blackwater said...

You handle this history and character with great care and respect, very poetic.

Lisa Gail Green said...

The camera was shocking and original. It really yanked me in. Then you layered on emotion. Nice.

Sarah Hina said...

Stunning description, Peter. This is the kind of ghost story I love.

Peter Dudley said...

Cat, both Jodi MacArthur and Sarah Hina also leave hints. But I'm holding off until all the entries are in, for sure, and maybe until after the voting. Yeah, after the voting. I think it's important the piece be judged as a complete, without author's notes to clarify or embellish.

Jodi, thank you, especially for using the word "snapshot" in your comment to describe my "flash" fiction. :-)

C Sonberg Larson (may I call you C?), thank you! Biggest compliment for me is when someone thinks "this must be more than 250 words." There are several others like that in the contest, and I love them all.

Hedgie, thank you! It's the story of my life. People don't entirely understand what I say, but they still feel it's powerful. :-)

Dottie, not so much meant to be. Not a "fate" message at all. But I totally agree with your question. It's definitely a "Why?" piece.

Kitty, heart-wrenching is not something I enjoy doing as a rule, but I'll take that as a compliment. Thank you!

Jade L. Blackwater, thank you! Care and respect are always important, and I am deeply flattered by your use of "poetic."

Lisa Gail Green, thank you for the very kind words!

Sarah, if I can stun you with my writing, it is a good day indeed. A rare and memorable day. Thank you!

JaneyV said...

OK - this is my take on it: The first paragraph refers to Hiroshima or Nagasaki. It's there to mark the end of the war - the violence of it, the ruthlessness of it, the death of the innocents.

Over in Europe an American serviceman, with a fluke shot kills a man who was no threat to him. He is consumed with guilt for taking this man away from his young pregnant wife. He keeps a bullet and his dogtags with him always to remind him of what he had done.

As he looks into the crater left after the twin towers came down his guilt is compounded by the loss of his pregnant granddaughter. Does he feel it is a punishment for his sin? The shadows on the concrete bring us back to the opening paragraph and once again remind us of the emptiness left by such heinous acts of violence and war and their toll on the innocents.

So do I win????

Peter - it's quite simply brilliant (and I'm not being kind). There is so very much her to digest and it stays with you. Like others have said, I read it many times and each time revealed another nuance.

You are good, mate. Damn good.

Peter Dudley said...

Well, if it isn't an appearance by Calamity herself. And yes, dear, you win the prize. You flatter me too much. But I'll take it. Printing it out in 52 point font right now, to be mounted on foamcore and taped to the ceiling above my bed so it's there when I wake up.

Margaret said...

This is so powerful, so much said in 250 words. And thanks to Janey's comment I can understand it completely.

Excellent writing. It's a story that, after reading, isn't forgotten - It lingers with you. I'm certain you're one of the winners, Peter.

Mikki said...

Beautifully written; masterfully crafted. The entire piece read like a snap shot. I could see it unwind in my mind's eye, just as I could feel the emotions explode from the page's soul. Fantastic work.

Thank you for sharing!

Brigid said...

A powerful piece, evocative and written almost in a cinematic style.

Richard Levangie said...

Pete: I love the jagged line moving from each act of violence to lives that were destroyed. But we, as readers, need a few handholds to get our bearings. I understood the sentiments easily, but I needed Precie's insight to be certain I was standing in the right place.

A few deft edits, and you're good to go.

Michael Morse said...

I got swept away with the imagery and the rest kind of fell into place, not quite certain what was going through the writers mind but able to create emotion evoked from the words, so a major success from my point of view.

Aidan Fritz said...

Beautiful writing and clever story. One of my favorite aspects about this is the way sheer bad luck plays in the soldier shot through the leaves.

Sandra Cormier said...

I almost thought - hoped - that a bullet was stopped by a photograph in a pocket, and that the soldier lived on. That his life was extended only to be painfully reminded that senseless death still happens, so many years later.

You sucked me in, Pete, as usual. I bow to you.

susan ellis said...

You're a popular guy, Peter! Loved the story. I "got it" first time through. I loved the layers, the pain of war/terrorism from both sides.
The story felt natural and I didn't even have to look up a word in the dictionary (which I have for a few of these stories.) Thanks for sharing!

Catvibe said...

Sarah's comment has enlightened me. ;-)

Chris Allinotte said...

I loved the imagery here, as much as it left me feeling melancholy.

I "got" that the second pregnant woman was not the first, but a strong reminder of the child and woman left behind by his actions. Amazed that so much can be fit into so few words.

The bullet in the pocket was an excellent detail, too.

jason evans said...

Very intense images, and the weight of sorrow is fierce. You had excellent pacing and sentence structure. Solidly written.

Peter Dudley said...

Back from the wilds of Montana and the wilds of a Corporate Citizenship conference, I can now read the rest of the comments. A big thank-you to everyone who took the time to read my story. I am honored and flattered by the comments, even the ones who so politely and gently said, "WTF is this about?"

(For the record, I like it when people tell me I didn't quite connect the dots fully. I point it out with others' entries, and I am glad to hear it when I'm the culprit.)

Margaret: Thank you so much for your kind but unprophetic words! I deeply appreciate them.

Mikki: wow, that might be the most poetic comment I've read in the contest. Thank you!

Brigid: hmm, cinematic style. Not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing... :-)

Richard: Shoulda run it by you first, mate. Then I'd have ironed out the wrinkles and have had a contender. (At first I thought you wrote, "... a few daft edits" and I was going to say that ya, I already did those.)

Michael: "major success" is high praise. Sorry I didn't make the narrative as clear as I intended!

Aidan: beautiful and clever are words I like very much. Yes, so much of war is just bad luck. Bad timing, wrong place...

Sandra: No such luck. Bullets don't stop for photographs; I'm too pragmatic for that kind of fantasy. Also, you never have to bow for me, unless you've just completed a recital of some sort and it's your curtain call.

Susan: Thank you for reading! I am astonished that you ever have to look up anything in the dictionary. But aw shucks, me? In the popular crowd? Gawrsh.

Cat: Sarah's comments have a way of doing that, eh? :-)

Chris: Thank you!

Jason: Thanks for running another spectacular contest. I wish I'd had time to read all the entries, but work and family and travel have interfered. And will, I am sad to say, for three more weeks.

Once again, thank-you to everyone who's come by entry #50 and worked hard enough to leave a comment. I deeply appreciate the donation of your time.