Monday 30 June 2008

Fiction I

From time to time, as a group, we will attempt a little writing assignment, pursuing a short piece of fiction with some parameters. As I am the least talented writer in the group, as well as the least invested in my fiction forays, I am less subject to feelings of embarrassment or shame by public airing of this literary laundry. Thus, below appears a short story I wrote as one of these assignments, which in this case was to write a very short piece in the spirit of Anton Chekhov.

The Glass Eye
by Raymond Mar

Gligorov only had one eye. A childhood accident had taken the other and for years he wore a black felt patch. In his early adulthood, however, he acquired a glass eye that very nearly approximated the remaining one. At a glance, it was difficult to tell that anything in his features was amiss. After a moment, though, one would rapidly notice that his right eye never really moved much—staring as it did, blankly forward—and that its hue was a little lighter, less intense, than the left. Gligorov had mastered identifying the exact moment of realization in a new acquaintance, and would almost always give an exaggerated wink with the offending organ, causing the person to flinch involuntarily. This was typically followed by gross embarassment and a flustered apology from the victim. The talent gave Gligorov great pleasure.

To his friends, having one eye made Gligorov particularly easy to read. When moody and introspective, his left would get very dark and unblinking; when joyful, it sparkled and shone. Plus, it was always easy to see what he was looking at. Today, Gligorov’s eye was darting to and fro, flicking from my face to the mirror behind the bar we sat at, and back. It was clear that something was bothering him. After finishing a rather boring account of one of my patients, I took a sip of my beer and waited for him to speak.

“Do you mind if I tell you a story?” he asked.

“Not at all, please do,” I replied.

“I was at a party two nights ago,” he began.

I nodded.

“A very nice party with many people I had never met before. It was to celebrate the opening of our new opera house. Everyone was decked out in their most resplendent gala clothes. My tuxedo, which doesn’t see very much use these days, came out of the closet, was pressed, and remarkably, still fit me well. After all of the speeches and toasts, people began to wander the halls, admiring the new building. I did the same, sipping my champagne, chatting briefly on occasion with the few people I knew there, as well as a few that I didn’t.”

The corners of his mouth tugged upwards for a moment, in a slight and unconscious gesture. I drank my beer quietly.

“At one point in the night I found myself alone in one of the private boxes, along the East wing of the theatre. The view from there was quite beautiful, and I paused to steal a moment of quiet appreciation. Just as I was about to turn and leave, the velvet curtains behind me rustled and a young woman entered. She was not particularly pretty, I must say. Her eyebrows were dark, and she had a serious look about her. Almost in contrast, her dress was made of a gorgeous golden fabric, with a tight-fitting bodice from which her rather broad shoulders emerged. We smiled at one another, and exchanged pleasantries. Nothing extraordinary. I left the booth and walked back down to the lobby for another glass of champagne. Something, however, nagged at me about the whole exchange, although there was nothing that I could put my finger on directly. There was almost a rudeness about her, although when I played our meeting through in my mind there was no evidence of anything like that. She had been perfectly polite. She had smiled. She had even made a witty comment. Everything went as it usually does when one encounters a young woman at these sorts of events. Then, just as I had secured a fresh flute of champagne, it hit me.” His one eye narrowed and darkened.

“She hadn’t noticed my eye at all. It’s usually the young women who react the most to my particular deformity,” he smirked, “but this woman had been completely oblivious. And for some reason that I can’t explain, the fact really irked me.” He took a mouthful of his beer and swallowed.

“So I carefully sought her out again, slowly roaming the rooms looking for another opportunity to speak with her. One came, eventually, and once again I struck up a conversation with her. I was intent on continuing our dialogue until the point when she noticed my eye.” His right winked almost automatically. “But the moment never came. We must have talked for almost 10 minutes, to the point where the conversation became a little strained, but still there was no reaction from this woman. No indication that she recognized my glass eye at all.” He shook his head slowly. “I left that evening feeling strangely perturbed. And still, two days later, it bothers me.” He finished the last of his beer and turning his head toward the bar, gazed at the mirror and half-filled bottles. I waited, sensing that there was still more to be said.

“The youth today,” he said, turning back to me, “don’t seem to notice anything.” There was a hint of lingering annoyance in his voice.

I nodded agreeably, but felt he had missed the point of his troubling encounter completely.


Keith Oatley said...

I have been thinking about your story "The Glass Eye," Raymond. It started going round in my mind. It is very Chekhovian, with its switch of perspective at the end, and it includes Chekhov's interest in the use of a narrator in short stories as a way both of offering social commentary and of hinting at the question of how we come to know ourselves. I wondered: what if you were to change a pronoun in your last sentence so that as well as Gligorov not understanding his encounter, the narrator also would not understand it. So the altered version would read: "I nodded agreeably, but felt I had missed the point of his troubling encounter completely." The story is already nicely ambiguous, and provokes the thought in the reader of how Gligorov can be engaged by his encounter but not quite realize why it is significant. I don't think the change would lose this, but it might increase the story's ambiguity even more by including the question of why the narrator is telling the story. I am not sure this is a good idea. It is just a thought.

Raymond A. Mar said...

I am glad that you enjoyed the story, and that is has stayed with you to some extent. To tell the truth, I’m not sure whether I’d go so far to call it a story myself, let alone a Chekovian one. You suggestion is an intriguing one. I suppose my reasoning in using “he” was to emphasize that Gligorov continued to misunderstand the root of his feelings after this encounter, as a counterpoint to Gligorov’s final assertion on the lack of perspicacity in the youth. My concern in changing this to “I,” is that a lazy reader might then ignore Gligorov’s own confusion and accept his explanation at face value. But you are right, if it could be properly conveyed that neither the narrator, nor Gligorov, quite understand the significance of this event, the story would be much improved. It is worth thinking about how this might best be achieved.

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