Friday, August 14, 2009

Aim (Part 2 of 2)

She burned herself on the handle of the teakettle. Her mistake. She shouldn't have let the handle fall into the heat.

She poured fast, but the burn still set in. She pressed her palm against her stomach and let the pain fade.

He didn't speak. He hadn't spoken since he stomped his feet at the door and brushed the dust from his clothes. She glanced at him across the table, but his eyes hid behind thick eyebrows, downcast. He contemplated his hands. Or the olive wood pocked from three generations of meals.

The ceramic lid of the honey jar clanked. A thick ribbon of orange folded into the steamy cup.

A splash of milk. Almost too little to taste.

Milk soured his stomach.

She set the cardamom tea near his hands and took away the empty cup. She changed her mind. She didn't want any for herself.

"Will you sit with me?" he said, voice quiet. Not the usual ice. Not the usual deception and walls of the insurgency.

She blinked.

No explanation. Just the ghost of something in his voice.

Her fingers worked into the fabric of her dress. Nervous.

She sat.

"Will you have some tea?" he said.

She looked into eyes now meeting hers. Unaccustomed, she quickly gazed down.

Maybe he--


She flinched at the sound like a hollow slap.

Someone slashed a knife pain across her shoulder and hurled water in her face.

Her hand snapped to the pain, and she choked out a cry.

Why did he throw the tea at her?

Why did he throw the cup?

But the room floated in pink mist, and the tea didn't scald her. The liquid felt felt warm. Like a thick, salty bath. Red snaked down the fabric of her dress.

Terrified of his rage, her eyes shot up.

But she didn't recognize the thing she sat with.

It clenched its left hand on the table next to spilled tea. Its right hand perched on a leg, as if to lean and speak.

A pulse of red sprayed up the walls from a chin and a jaw. Nothing more.

As his body tension eased, the hands slipped from the leg, slipped from the table top, and her husband melted down and took his repose on the floor.

She opened her mouth, but the scream came from far away.

Beyond the ragged hole in the wall where the bullet continued on.

Somewhere in the bustling street beyond.

(Go back Part 1.)


lena said...

That kept me in tension from the very beginning, even more than the first part. Made me reread the first part though, and it sounded differently to me this time.
Truly enjoyed reading it.

Aniket Thakkar said...

You switched the writing style from first part to the next. It worked really well in giving different voices for different POVs.

I loved the little actions described here that made the scene come to life, "Her fingers worked into the fabric of her dress."

Having used the sniper rifle I've seen bullets cleanly passing through tree trunks so I have no trouble believing that the bullet continued on past the wall.

Absolutely Loved it.

Karen said...

Jason, I think your writing gets better and better with each piece. That is not to say that it hasn't always been good, but this particular installment holds me tightly with the details and the mood, and as Aniket and Lena both mentioned, the changed point of view from Part I is perfectly rendered.

This is a great conclusion to a riveting story.

Catherine Vibert said...

I can imagine some husband and wife in a rural part of Iraq or Afghanistan having this happen to them, and it would be so completely devastating. Three generations of olivewood. Cardomom tea, that kind of detail is heartbreaking. I love the way you didn't put judgment or detail really, other than use of the word 'insurgency' which might give the reader bias as to whether this person deserved their fate. You personalized this particular situation extremely well with no bias implied. Excellent.

the walking man said...

I was somewhat disappointed in not knowing the why, then I re-read

"Terrified of his rage, her eyes shot up."

and I figured that was reason enough.

As others have said, wonderful job in the building of the tension. The only question that lingers is why did he ask her to sit what was going through his mind as the bullet blew it from his brain.

PhilipH said...

Great part two! Tight and tense. I saw the scene as clear as day.

Excellent piece of writing.

Sarah Hina said...

The shift in pov was like a lurch. Such a huge distance covered, that the sniper could never reach. Nor would he want to. She was simply "the wife." And in the way.

I love how you wrapped this personal drama within the impersonal. How her fear was like a shaky entity, darting and bobbing around this man, whilst the shooter's sightline was also zeroing in. And how heartbreaking, and with such ache, you render the execution of her brief, flaring hope, in addition to her husband.

The collateral damage makes me wonder about the life we didn't see. So many layers, Jason. And all perfectly executed.

Hoodie said...

Holy Crap, Jason.

That sucked me in like nothing else I've read in a long time.

Breath-takingly horrific.



Anonymous said...

Lena, thank you for the feedback! I've been wanting to write this piece for a long time.

Aniket, I wanted to capture the "reality" of such a moment. What really happens. Not all the pomp and manufactured meaning of many war/combat stories.

Karen, I think it has quite a bit to do with the subject matter. And that's an intriguing thing to contemplate. Intense action has a natural draw for the reader, I think. Maybe I should be moving my storytelling more in that direction and less towards complex interpersonal conflicts.

Catvibe, you totally nailed my intent. My storytelling statement. I wanted a raw, non-judgmental view of something that plays out time and time again each day. I find it mystifying that one video, one picture, can change the tide of history with public outcry, but just because we can see a horror. Knowing about a horror doesn't seem to be enough. This was my attempt to feel what it might be like. And to ask, is this really a valid way to solve any conflict? Is Sunni vs. Shiite, Muslim vs. Christian, one nation vs. another really so important?

Walking Man, it's supposed to be a raw slice of modern war. The why is no deeper than the "why" for all of the killings in these wars. I could have also focused on a roadside bomb, or a reprisal attack. This man didn't even know he died. As for the interaction between husband and wife, what must it be like to live with an active soldier in the midst of a conflict? In that culture? His hardness eased at the last moment, for whatever reason. Maybe a deadly fatigue. But it's too late.

PhilipH, clear as day...that's a wonderful compliment! I love hearing reading experiences like that!! I want people to forget they are reading.

Sarah, you really nailed the tense, fearful, hopeful interaction here. Catvibe really placed it well in a world context, and you placed it just as sharply in a personal context. I was thinking about the life of women in such a situation. The persistence of tenderness even in that environment, even if it's hardly enough.

Hoodie, that is seriously high praise! Thank you, my friend. Truly. :)

Margaret said...

Brilliant writing Jason. It kept me on the edge of my chair all the way through!
You brought the small details across in a excellent way.

Bebo said...

I can only repeat what others have said - loved the impersonal Part I and the slice-of-life Part II - perfectly meshed. Wonderful immediacy in the writing. I could feel the banked tension in the sniper holding his target, and the palpable fear in the wife, her hesitancy & hope & shock.


Rachel Green said...

Excellent piece, and the fact it was over a simple tea ceremony was delightful

Anonymous said...

Margaret, thanks, my friend. :)

Bebo, thank you for the feedback! You captured the essence of each precisely.

Leatherdykeuk, much appreciated!

Vesper said...

Jason, I have to use the adjectives that the other commenters have used before me. Yes, it is brilliant. A masterpiece, indeed.

Aparajita said...

"I want people to forget they are reading." That's what you said. Well, I did indeed forget I was reading. It was so absorbing that I didn't even realise I was holding my breath until I finished it! The change of perspective in Part II was rather nice- but I guess you've heard that before. A great story, and thank you for such a wonderful read.
By the way, I happen to be a professional proofreader, so maybe that's why I really couldn't help noticing that there are a few mistakes. May I point out that "it's" is a short form of "it is" or "it has" and when you have to indicate possession of the pronoun "it", you should use "its" without the apostrophe?

Anonymous said...

Vesper, thank you for saying so nevertheless. :)

Aparajita, thank you for the feedback and praise! And I'm notorious for needing a proofreader. No matter how many times I look at things, mistakes seem to sneak through.