Friday, March 28, 2008

Tunguska, Part 6, Final (fictionalized history)

(In 1908, the last major Earth impact from an asteroid or comet occurred in the unpopulated expanse of eastern Siberia. 830 square miles of boreal forests were leveled. In this latest fictionalized history series, we travel back to 1908 to experience the "Tunguska Event." Prior series: X-ray Martyrs and Westinghoused.)

Just joining us? Go back to Part 1.

Another Dreadful Dinner Party
Essex, England
The Night After Impact, July 1, 1908

The bumbling man's elbow rapped Winston's hand, and a slosh of red swirled from his wine glass onto his silk lapel.
In his other hand, the Chardonnay swayed.

The man turned half around. "Pardon me. So sorry."

He shuffled away after spilling gravy on the buffet table.

A waiter poked a napkin at Winston and dabbed the teardrop stain.

"Fine. Fine. Really," Winston said.

"I'm afraid that might not come out, Sir."


Winston set the glasses down and reached for a plate. Pearls of caviar glistened in a chilled chaffing dish.

He hesitated.

Looking down at his liver-spotted fingers, he reconsidered and set the plate aside for a second trip.

He found Mrs. Winston by the French doors.

"Would you like to sit on the patio?" she said.

"It would be quieter. This noise is making me ill."

"For me, it's the conversations."

Jewels on her bracelet flared as she opened the way. Outside, voices congregated at the railings and candlelit tables. A color in the western sky glowed like sunset.

"What time is it?" Winston said.

"The clock just chimed ten. I counted."

"Are you sure?"

"Oh yes," she said. "I prayed for the eleventh so we could go."

"It's awfully bright out tonight."

"I don't believe the clock was wrong," she said, looking upward.

Very few stars poked through the curtain of light.

Nearby a banker perused the evening paper. He was an old acquaintance. They were laughing with him earlier.

"May we join you?" Winston said.

"Please." The stout old man motioned to empty chairs. "Curious evening, isn't it?"

The orange feathered to deep blue high overhead.

"Is it the weather?" Mrs. Winston said.

"I don't know. I never seen weather like this."

More people filtered onto the patio from other doors. Words broke through excited conversations, and fingers pointed at what should be night.

"So much for my escape," the banker said, motioning to them.

"We had the same plan," Winston said.

"Each time, I swear I'll never come to another of these events. Yet, here I am."

At the edges of the field stone patio, people gathered. Two people became three, became four. Eyes glittered with the mysterious color.

"It's not often you can read your paper at night," the banker said.

"Maybe when we finish our wine, we'll call an end to the evening," Winston said.

Mrs. Winston stared at the sky. She seemed to drift somewhere over the black forest.

"Darling?" he said. "Do you agree? We shouldn't stay out very late."

"I don't know," she said. The deep wrinkles around her eyes converged on something far away. "Maybe we could have another glass of wine."

The banker turned the page. "You two have a healthy bedtime. I don't sleep well anymore. Haven't for years."

Mrs. Winston sipped, leaving crimson on her lips.

Her body curved. She eased lower in the chair.

Winston's fingers felt fluttery.

"Are you alright?" he said. "Elizabeth?"

The banker peered over his paper.

Winston watched her. "Lizzie?"

Excitement was building around them like a tide claiming more shoreline with each rolling wave.

Lizzie seemed lost in the long expanse of shadowy lawn.

"Is something out there?" Winston said.

She already swallowed the last from her glass.

"I think I'd like some more," she said.

The banker rattled the paper. He was getting fidgety. "I believe I've just about had my fill of the evening," he said. "I don't think our hosts would be terribly offended if I took my leave now."

"No, I think not," Winston said. "Have a safe trip home."

"You do the same."

The banker shuffled off.

Lizzie's glass touched Winston's hand before he turned back to the table.

"Are you sure you're feeling alright?" he said.

Someone laughed nearby.

She drew in some of the night air. Her grey hair flickered red again in the odd light.

He remembered a long ago ocean with moonlight on the foam. Her willowy dress. The feel of cold sand pressing through his toes.

He remembered the feel of her hand.

"Talk with me a while," she said.

She leaned in, intense, and passionate, and young.

"Talk with me a while about anything."

He took a long drink and laughed a low, forgotten laugh.

And under that rarest of skies, he did.

(For two days after the Tunguska event, fine dust brightened the night sky as far away as London. The resulting diffusion of light was reportedly bright enough to read by.)

Back to Part 5.


Ello - Ellen Oh said...

Oh this was an incredibly wonderful time period vignette. I really enjoyed it. And what a complete change in mood to the event from those of the other vignettes. Well done!

Chris Eldin said...

I've been waiting for this series to come back!
Love it! This and the Westinghouse series are very, very good.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Very nice. You did a good job of capturing the feel of Edwardian manners without using cliche stuffiness as a shortcut.

Aine said...

I particularly enjoy the title!

I like the story that you chose to tell while illustrating the Tunguska event. I felt the excitement building along with the party-goers. And the moment's significance for Winston and Lizzie is priceless. I look forward to moments like this in our later years.

Jaye Wells said...

I've really enjoyed each part of this series, Jason. You captured the time period so well here.

The Anti-Wife said...

I love this series, but think this is my favorite part so far. It really draws me into the event so far away.

Anonymous said...

Ello, thanks for not throwing tomatoes at me for taking so long to get this up. :) I suffered from a good deal of writer's block with this one. Glad I salvaged something!

Chris, like I said to Ello, this one was shaky to wrap up. I had an idea for the final part that just kept getting messed up. Thanks for still enjoying it!

BunnyGirl, that's so great to hear! I was trying to walk that line, to show a different culture without turning it into a cartoon.

Aine, we've been to a few of those dreadful events. ;) I liked weaving this moment. They remember an earlier, more passionate time, then relive it. I think they'll take some of it with them.

Jaye, thanks. :) For some bizarre reason, this one gave me fits. Maybe trying to dabble in the past and the relationship between men and women was a bigger challenge than I initially thought.

Anti-Wife, glad you could sit and have a drink with them. =)

anne said...

This is a beautiful, and beautifully expressed relationship.
For some reason, the banker doesn't seem to me as tight as the other characters - maybe quite literally because of the spaced out sentences... ;)
Also, i have to say i'm in awe of the research you must have put in and the way you've weaved it into your story.

WH said...

The concept, the imagery, the Edwardian manners--everything comes together here just right. Fantastic series, Jason!!!

SzélsőFa said...

What a tribute to women :)
I enjoyed the building up of the scene and the way it changes.

JaneyV said...

Jason - having just sat and read through the entire series I just wanted to say that I've been blown away.

I'd heard of the 'event' before and the climatic changes that were attributed to it. I think may have seen a documentary too but seeing it through all the eyes of different people, all with there own stories and worries and hardships, was a wonderful touch. Disparate lives sharing a comment cataclysmic event from the simplicity of the reindeer herders and fishermen to the pantomime of manners at the dinner party. I thought that the way you showed their humanity was both skillful and touching.

I'm glad I waited for kiddies to be in bed so I could have some quiet time to enjoy this. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Anne, thank you for the kind words. :) The "fictionalized history" pieces are fun for me. I like wondering what it was like to live through curious times and events. As for the banker, yeah, he got kind of cursory treatment. This part gave me such fits, I'm thankful it was enjoyable at all.

Billy, much appreciated! I normally shy away from period pieces. I don't have a good feel for realistic past culture.

Szelsofa, I thought about how those strangely lit nights must have carried a certain excitement with them.

Janey, I'm trying not to blush at your words, but failing. Thank you! I'm very happy that you went back to read the full series. I often wonder how they feel put together. It's a very different experience reading the sections days apart. I'm glad the whole story worked for you. :)

Vesper said...

Excellent, Jason!
Such a touching moment, full of emotion - a perfect ending...

Anonymous said...

Thanks Vesper. I liked ending on this note also.

Sarah Hina said...

Jason, I'm glad you saw this through. Such disparate voices illuminated this rare event, but you left us with the gorgeous glow, the blush of wine and youth. Thank you.

Lizzie's transformation was gradual, and believable. I loved how the sky claimed her, and how she, in turn, gently claimed her husband. Such warm and tender nostalgia...under that flame of red sky.

Fantastic series. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this!

Anonymous said...

Sarah, this one was a struggle, which makes completing it all the sweeter. You are right to think of this piece in terms of transformations. I had the essence of that in my mind, but getting it onto the page successfully against the backdrop of the party was proving difficult.

Thanks for being such a big fan of the Tunguska series. :)