Bailey Johnson 2016 + 19

 

The Girls

The girl sat alone. Left to her own devices, she had nothing to do. Her friends were off playing games. Her family was on a road trip without her. Her boyfriend was off making out with someone else. The girl had nothing and no-one. Her thoughts bounced around her mind, nothing making sense or having any point. These were simple thoughts, such as “What time is it?” “What’s going on?” or “What am I doing?”. These thoughts rattled around the girls mind. Though she knew they were not safe. Shadows lurked around corners, people nearby. Small noises would sound every so often, a rock skipping across the concrete, a voice far away, a foldable chair squeaking. The girl clung to these sounds, the only things keeping her sane. She was sure she had been sitting there for a few days. The zip-ties cut into her wrists. She had given up her struggle. Small scraps of food were slid along the floor from time to time, only enough to keep her alive. Water dripped from the ceiling, close enough that she could get it in her mouth, hydrating her fatigued body. The girl could only see the illuminated circle 10 meters around her. She thought she could hear someone talking to her. But a voice no-one could hear. A voice in her head. A voice that pulsed through her veins. A voice that kept her heart beating, her blood flowing. The voice whispered sweet nothings. Small compliments. “You are beautiful.” “You are very unique” or even “Your mind is powerful.” The girl regarded these whispers as fictitious. They simply could not be true. They simply could not be real. They simply could not be said. The girl was hearing new things, from new voices. They said strange things. They got stranger each time. It escalated from “Who are you?” and “Why are you here?” to “Tell me where you are.” And “I’ll be there soon.” None of the strings of words connected to each other. Each different from the last, each separated from the next. Each just as horrifying and confronting. The scars disappeared and the gashes healed. New ones would appear the next day. On her arms, legs, even on her feet. Once, she woke up in the middle of her sleep, a blade piecing the tender skin of her palm. When she awoke again, the zip ties cut off from her wrists. They were back again after her next rest. On her ankles too. Each slumber brought a new change. Some small, some big. Some deep, some shallow. They all left marks. They all changed the girl. Until she no longer heard voices. She no longer could hear herself thinking. She could no longer feel her body. Until she no longer could see the light.

Way Back When 

 

Sirens roared, engines snarled and crowds of people yipped and yapped like little pups begging to get in to their house. Railways snaked through the concrete-jungle, slithering between the towering trees of tinted glass and metal trunks. Roads filled with zooming insect-like cars seem to stretch from every bounds of the universe into this devastating chaos. Clouds of colourful clothing moved through the city, sometimes completely cutting off roads or blocking the doors to buildings and markets. In this place so large and so extraordinary, no one would ever notice the gentle pair of pale green eyes, looking over and examining this city with a soft sadness. These eyes, so deep and thoughtful, sat three stories up from the paved concrete. Behind these soft eyes, a man, as old as old could be, sunk into his wooden chair and leaned his tired head on his bony knuckles. His clothes seemed as old as him, resembling that of a country-farmer. And that he was. Or had been.

 

The apartment of this retired farmer is one that is unique as well as brilliant. Decorated as close as possible to the ranch that the man had grown up in. The walls covered with curved wooden-planks, occasionally decorated with simple oil-paintings of a great Aussie sun and cattle herded by men upon horseback. The balcony, where the man with his thoughtful eyes sat now, is no different to the veranda that he had known when his father was a country-farmer, and when he himself had taken up his old man's role. The man rested his aching neck on the splintered wood of his beloved chair and slowly closed his eyes. But when he did, he didn’t see darkness. For what he saw were memories of the life before the city. What the great outback had been before the skyscrapers were built. Back when he was happy. When he was free to roam around and take care of the land he loved. Slowly, as he sunk into his daydream, the sky began to wipe away the buildings, and the snaking railways and concrete roads were replaced with bright red sand. A burning ball of incredible orange came from above, giving its light to the fields as the clouds of people turned into herds of cattle…

 

Our old, sad farmer is now who he was long ago. Back when you could see the horizon from every angle, and the only shadows were those produce by hey-stacks, fences, and the silhouettes of your loved ones. This farmer, now as young and as energised as a well-fed sheepdog, saw himself scaling the rickety water-tower with courage that came from the stupidity of youth. He heard his brothers cheering him on, as well as his mother screaming at him to come down. But as he reached the top, he looked over at the farmland and saw his father herding cattle upon the back of his trusty horse. And the young farmer smiled.

 

Many more memories this country-farmer had, but his next was when he was much older, when he was the owner of the farm. For now, it was him herding the cattle. Him making his own legacy as a farmer. And as the brilliant sun set on the red landscape, the farmer and his eyes now soft but happy, smiled.

 

And that was all the farmer remembered. And was the last the farmer saw. For he had renewed-happiness in his gentle eyes. And that was all he needed. The old farmer never saw the city again. Never moved from his beloved chair. But happy again he had been…

                 

Walking through that path of trees

Walking through that path of trees,

Un-disturbed, in twos and threes,

Going, waiting,

For someone to reach out a hand

So you may reach the Promised Land

They can smell the flowers,

Feel the wind against their cheeks

They still have hope

They haven't given up

They will march on

Heads up,

Eyes alight,

They will not get a fright

Nothing will tear them apart

These friendships, dear to heart

Never be broken,

Nor betrayed,

Not before the last one has been slayed

They will stick by each other

Till the end

 But their fate,

 They can't comprehend

 Walking through that path of trees

 Un-disturbed,

In twos and threes

Love Spite

Kiss my neck and whisper my name,

Tell me the things to keep me sane.

His love is fleeting,

Mine to proclaim.

He tells me he loves me,

But it’s just a desperate plea.

How can I reply?

If I just want to get by?

For without him,

I would not be here today.

He asks me to stay.

But our love is a precise ballet,

One I cannot dance.

For this is my last chance,

I take another glance,

And walk away.

Something Empty

You left something behind,

A hole in my soul.

But I’ll take care of it,

Make sure it’s pure.

I’ll keep you in mind,

Keep you close to my heart,

Never forgotten,

As present as cotton.

Remind me when you get back,

To return it to you,

So I can be whole again,

And stop pushing through.

The Forest

The girl wandered through her home. The shrubs brushing her shoulders, leaves tangling her hair. Small animals and critters ran across her feet. She shuffled with a limp. A small twitch in her hand. Her fingers ran over the flower stem she held, the soft petals falling off one by one. Her tattered, torn, yellowed dress got caught in the wind. The wind brushed the girl’s legs, reminding her of the rabbits that once ran past her, tickling her. She savoured the memory of the animals that once worshipped her, years ago. The girl dragged her feet through the dirt, marking her path so she could find her way back. Sticks and rocks cut up the girls feet as she walked, leaving drops of blood sinking into the soft earth beneath her. As the sun sank over the horizon, the girl began to tire. She found a nice tree and sat at its roots as the picked of the last petal of the flower. The girl closed her eyes and began to imagine another world. Somewhere with fairness and love. She thought about what it would look like. She imagined tall buildings, with magnificent views, and roads that took you to beautiful places. She imagined schools, filled with laughing, smiling children, just like her. She imagined people. Nice people, people who would be her friends and family. A smile crossed the girl’s face as she pondered what it might be like. To live somewhere that she mattered, some place she could call her own.

“What a wonderful place that would be.” the girl whispered to herself as she fell asleep under her tree.

Who's Your Girl?

Earl Ober was young and in love. He was just like any other young man on the block, except that Doreen Stevens loved him. None other than the Doreen Stevens was in love with the young Earl Ober.

It was two weeks until the homecoming dance and everyone had dates. Except Doreen. Everyone knew she would go with him. The two had been dating for half a year and there had only been one cause of disagreement. When Doreen had flirted with a young man at the college bar.

Earl and his friends had taken a trip to the college two hours west in the spring. They had invited their girls along with them and had borrowed the car that belonged to Earl’s father. Together in the Volkswagen were Earl and Doreen, Dean and Sherrie, Joshua and Claire, and Andy and Nicole. The young men would be attending business school in the fall, and they had decided to show the girls what it was going to be like. They had booked four rooms at the closest hotel for two nights. It was on the first night that the incident occurred. Earl, Dean, Joshua and Andy had been invited to dinner by the college freshmen who had attended their high school the previous year. Leaving the girls to themselves at the hotel, the young men had cleaned up and locked the doors behind them. They had told the girls they would return by 9pm. The girls sat in Doreen’s room as the sunlight faded from behind the curtains. They ran out of things to say. The girls had nothing to bond them, apart the friendship shared between the boys, and conversation became sparse.

It was Thursday night. The group had spent the morning travelling, then the afternoon looking about the town. The men had noted that there were only three worthwhile sources of entertainment: the athletics club, the cinema and the bar on campus.

Left on their own, the girls sprawled themselves across the double bed in Doreen’s room. Discussion had turned to the future.

“I’m not sure I want children,” Doreen said.

“I’m certain that I do,” Claire said.

Doreen sighed. “I know that Earl wants them. I heard him saying it just the other day in Clarke’s class.”

“How can you not be sure? Doesn’t everyone want children?” Sherrie said.

The conversation was interrupted by static from the radio.

“Wouldn’t you get that fixed, already?” Nicole said.

“I’ve tried! I don’t know how Earl did it last time,” Doreen replied.

“Well then get him to come fix it again! And this time, for good!” Nicole said.

Doreen found the switch and turned the radio off.

The girls decided to leave the hotel. The room was left unlocked so they could return later. They reviewed their options. The athletics club was out of the question, and they had been promised dinner and a movie for the second night, so they couldn’t visit the cinema. They found themselves wandering onto the college campus and into the artificial light of the bar. An empty table at the end of the way had accommodated them.

A cluster of young men crowded around the counter and cheered as they watched a sports game. Going on an hour, four of the young men approached the girls. They carried flasks of liquid and pushed them across the table, towards the girls.

“No, thank you. I have a boyfriend,” Claire said.

“It’s just a drink darl, doesn’t mean nothing.”

The men had surrounded the table. One put a hand on Doreen’s shoulder.

“What about you? Any boyfriend to claim?” He said.

The man’s breath made the hair on Doreen’s neck stand on end. She leaned her ear away from his mouth and he followed her. He shifted his hand. Her blouse moved off her shoulder slightly. The man pulled back at the collective intake of breath from the other girls.

“She does.” Sherrie said.

The man straightened and moved off with the others, returning to the bar…

 

Doreen didn’t know what she had been expecting, although she had to admit that since returning from the college trip, she had noticed the tension rising in Earl. She hadn’t planned to see him today but she didn’t refuse when he insisted on coming over. She sat on the couch under the window as the growl of the car engine died out. She stood by the door and opened it when she heard the rapping of his knuckles on the other side. She offered her cheek as Earl stepped inside and he placed a kiss on it while lightly touching her waist. He sat down on the couch and she sat next to him. The leather of his jacket whined as he turned towards her and slid his hands into his pockets.

“Is everything okay?” Doreen said.

“I just wanted to see you.” Earl said.

He looked up at her and cursed at the light shining in his eyes.

“Jesus, Doreen. Would you close that? The light’s blinding me, I can’t even see you.” He said.

She yanked the curtain across the rod, plunging the room into darkness.

“Well I still can’t see you, now.” He said.

“Sorry.” She said, making her way across the room to the lights. She flicked the switch and the room slowly filled with a dull yellow.

She sat back down to face him. A moment of silence passed.

“Now I’m going to say some things and I want you to listen until I’m done, okay?” He said.

Doreen gave a small nod.

“Well… I… uh…” Earl stumbled for words.

“Well, do you remember when we went to the college last month?” He said.

Doreen remained silent, waiting for him to continue.

“Well do you, dammit?” Earl said.

“Yes, I do.” Doreen said, with a start.

“Well good… and do you remember how you girls were approached by those jokers at the bar?” He said.

Doreen nodded again.

“Well, I guess I’ve been thinking.” He said, “And I don’t like how it felt for other blokes to be hitting on you. You’re my girl and people need to know that.”

He pulled something out of his pocket and held it between his hands.

“So I got this. So people know.” He said.

He moved his hands to hold out the little box. He opened it to reveal a thin gold band with a white gemstone.

“Here.” He said.

Earl took Doreen’s hand and slid the ring onto her finger. His fingertips brushed the gold band…

 

Doreen had woken throughout the night, unaccustomed to the unfamiliar motel room bed. As sunlight was beginning to climb around the corners of the curtain, Earl roused and sat up in the bed.

“Did I wake you?”

Doreen had draped Earl’s suit from the night before over a hanger and hung it in the closet.

“No. It wasn’t you.” Earl said.

Earl stood and moved towards Doreen. He reached past her and pulled a shirt from the closet, throwing it over his head and down his chest. He sat on the edge of the bed facing the wall. The cotton stretched across his back and Doreen stood watching his body rise and fall with each breath.

“I heard you girls went out to the bar on the last night.” He said.

“We had run out of things to do so the others decided to go out. It was too awful a thought to stay here all alone.” Doreen said.

Earl paused. “I suppose that means you can go out and flirt with other men then.”

“It wasn’t like that.” She said.

“I suppose it wasn’t.” He said.

“Really. They were just young men keen to welcome everyone. I couldn’t be rude.” She said.

Earl considered the fact. Doreen was young and enticing, and the other girls would’ve been fair game to any less aware man. Earl was an understanding man, after all.

“Still. You’re my girl,” he said. “I don’t like to hear that I can’t leave you for one night without you making a fool of me.”

Doreen remained silent from a distance.

“I couldn’t do anything. I didn’t expect it. I’m sorry. I just made a mistake.” Doreen said.

She had made a mistake. Earl was a forgiving man. Moreover, it would be worse to return home without a girlfriend.

Doreen moved over to stand in front of Earl. He looked up at her, then wrapped his arms around her body and pulled her closer.

“I love you,” she said.

 

Earl Ober was young and in love. Doreen Stevens was his girl and he was proud to call her that. She was beautiful and there was nothing to stop him from making her his wife one day.

 

 

Reflective commentary:

I chose to write the young love of Doreen and Earl from ‘They’re Not Your Husband’ by Raymond Carver because I wanted to explore how Doreen may have unintentionally fallen into her marriage with Earl. I decided early on in the process that I wanted to use my piece to highlight how their relationship could have started from something very pure and warm, only to deteriorate to something cold and abusive. I saw an opportunity to do this through investigating Doreen’s reaction to Earl’s proposal, as well as touching on various doubts and fears within the relationship and when these started to occur to Doreen. I specifically chose to write about Doreen’s ‘incident’ at the college bar as it provided a solid foundation for where Earl’s possessive nature, as seen in Carver’s short story, came from. This is also why I titled the piece ‘Who’s your girl’ as it not only suggests that the women belong to the men but because it also places significant importance on the role that women and men take on in a relationship. This title is also in reference to the title of ‘They’re Not Your Husband’. I also chose to omit the question mark from the title to imply that Earl may not actually want a reply, as he fears that the answer may suggest he is a lesser man.

‘They’re Not Your Husband’ evoked a very strong reaction in me as a reader, so naturally I was interested in using my piece to explain how the short story came about. I had wanted to analyse how Carver’s themes of status and expectations could influence the outcome of my piece. I included these themes in my piece through time jumps to highlight the shift in relationship dynamics. The jumps emphasise how Doreen is quite independent towards the beginning, shown through how she chose to eliminate the problem of the static radio by turning it off rather than contacting Earl, but ends up very passive and yielding to Earl at the end, as indicated by her lack of assertion during the proposal scene despite how she is unenthusiastic for the marriage. Specifically, I tried to emphasise the power that the men held over the women by removing the female characters’ autonomy and making their circumstances a product of other’s actions; for example, describing the girls as having “found themselves wandering onto the college campus” rather than independently pursuing the option of the bar.

I also used the symbol of light throughout my story. I used light to indicate Doreen’s feelings towards the situation, by personifying sunlight and referencing whether the light was ‘artificial’ or not. I described how the sunlight was ‘beginning to climb around the corners of the curtain’ to indicate the ease Doreen felt before ‘Earl roused and sat up in the bed’, and I used this to also suggest that Earl might be starting to influence Doreen to become a more anxious person.

I briefly included the theme of alcoholism and control. The scene where I most explored the balance of power between men and women, the bar scene, I had the men bring ‘flasks of liquid’ and ‘push them’ across the table towards the girls to prompt the reader to consider who holds the status within the scene. I found that I had to carefully design the scene and phrase it certain ways in order to maintain tension without allowing one of the two groups to dictate the other. This is an example of when I had to sacrifice some of Carver’s elements in order to pursue my own.

I also referenced Carver’s ‘They’re Not Your Husband’, the short story that inspired my piece, by having Earl refer to the young men as ‘jokers’. This occurs in the original Carver story when the businessmen comment that ‘some jokers like their quim fat’ and later when Doreen’s co-worker asks her ‘Who is this joker?’ after Earl has ‘made a fool of’ himself by trying to show off Doreen to other customers at her workplace. I also used this reference to momentarily consider the character development that occurs both throughout the text and outside of it. I specifically discovered the possibility that Earl becomes exactly what he criticised others of when he was a young man.

Overall, I attempted to emulate Carver’s tone, though it was somewhat unsuccessful. I also found it difficult to balance exhibiting Earl as good person in his youth while still hinting at the possessive monster he later becomes. I tried to use time jumps to communicate the character development clearly, however, I found that this made it difficult to maintain flow and easy comprehension for the reader. Ultimately, I decided to retain the time jumps in order to imitate Carver’s format and to make the piece less linear and therefore more interesting for the reader. I also chose to write from a third person omniscient perspective, similar to Carver.