I’ve decided to go where few have gone, and time will tell if I’m a fool for the effort.
I’m going to post on my blog site and website the novel I’m currently working on. I’ll post one chapter at a time, every week or ten days.
I’ll be glad to hear your comments. Since what you’ll be seeing is an early draft, I’ll be less interested in grammar or spelling issues and more interested in whether the story flow is good, whether any character is acting out of character and whether the story ‘works’ (do you like the characters? is the story pulling you along?)
Also, I would welcome historical input. This part of the story is set in the 40s and 50s, too early for most of us, but if you see a reference which you know is wrong, I’d like to know.
I’m trying to build my readership base so, if you like it, please share the links with your friends.
I hope you enjoy.
AND OTHER AFFLICTIONS
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF
WILLIAM NATHAN MCCASKILL
A Novel by Chris Sherrill
Copyright 2012 by Chris Sherrill
This began as a school project which I put off until the last minute. I didn’t know anyone whose life was interesting enough for an oral history, and who wants to sit and pretend to be interested as someone tells boring stories about his or her life. I mean, please, I have a life, too. The teacher said that everyone has a story worth telling and worth hearing, but my family is just so ordinary. My mom, like her mom, is a physician and my dad is an engineer, and that’s sort of interesting but, really, it’s not remarkable. Mom said my grandmother had done some interesting things, but Grandma wouldn’t tell her story.“Go talk to Pops,” is all she would say.
“Aw, man, I hate that nursing home. It’s depressing.”
“How do you think it makes Pops feel? Sorry. I didn’t mean to put you on a guilt trip. Go see your granddad. He’s had some interesting experiences, if he’ll talk about them.”
“Yeah, right. If he’s had such an interesting life, why haven’t I heard any of the stories before?”
“Well, honey, I think maybe he’s seen more than his portion of pain, and sadness.”
“I don’t want to make him sad. Why don’t you tell me the stories?”
She wasn’t about to fall for that.
“Why don’t you go see your grandfather? I don’t know if he’ll tell you about his life, but he might. If nothing else, your visit will brighten his day.”
“Watch your mouth, young lady.”
The place smells bad; that’s the worst part for me. They try to keep it clean; they’re all the time mopping the floors and scrubbing the walls, but they can’t get rid of the odor of failing human faculties.He’s sitting very still in a wheelchair by a window, looking out. Is he looking out at a world that is spinning on without him? Depressing thought. He doesn’t hear me until I’m right behind him.
He turns and looks at me, his eyes turning warm and soft, but he seems a little lost and he scratches his head.
“Natalie. What a wonderful surprise. How’s my baby girl?”
He calls me ‘baby girl’ even though I’m fifteen. It doesn’t bother me, though, because he still calls my mom ‘baby girl’, too. His head scratching has disturbed the order of his wispy hair and I smooth it. He looks past me.
“Did your grandmother come with you?”
“She said to tell you she’d be by a little later.”
His sets aside the momentary disappointment, smiles up at me and holds out a gnarled, scarred hand that shakes slightly. I take it. The skin is dry and rough but the grip is firm. I wonder if the hands might be a metaphor for the man: scared and rough on the outside, strong and steady on the inside.
I love my grandfather. I do. I think I need to say that. When I was a little girl, before his health began to go downhill, he would take me up and hold me on his lap and ‘nibble my neck’. That’s what he called it. I would laugh and struggle to get away from that wonderful/terrible tickle and when he let me go, I’d come back for more. I love him and he loves me. That’s why it hurts to see him so frail and vulnerable. I smooth his hair again and kiss him on the top of his head. It smells like soap.
“Can you visit for a minute, or are you on your way somewhere?” he asks.
I think he doesn’t want to sound too hopeful.
“No, Pops. I came to visit you.”
He won’t let go of my hand so I have to sit close to him. His body is frail, his hands shake, but his eyes are clear.
“To what do I owe the honor of your visit?” he asks.
His mind is as clear as his eyes; he knows I didn’t just happen by.
“We’re doing a project in school,” I admit, “an oral, family history. Grandma said you have some interesting stories to tell, if I can persuade you to tell them.”
His eyes pull away. He lets go of my hand, putting his hand in his lap. He turns his head to look out the window. My interest is suddenly whetted.
“I don’t have any interesting stories, baby girl,” he says.
But there’s a sudden tingle in me and I know that’s not true.
“Sure you do, Pops.”
I try not to sound too eager. He turns his head and studies me and his eyes seem to slice right through me. It’s something I’ve never seen in him, and I get the overwhelming sense that he was once a man to be reckoned with. It’s so strong that I have to look away.
“What would be gained, baby girl?”
His words are soft, but there’s a challenge, and maybe a warning, in his tone.
“This is a different world than the one I grew up in. That world is better left in the memory. I don’t know that there’s anything to be gained by rehashing the past.”
“If we don’t learn from history, we’re doomed to repeat it.”
I scored a point. I can see it in his eyes. Then he shakes his head and looks out the window and I think I’ve lost him.
“I think about the past,” he says to the window. “I guess that’s what people do who have no future. We spend the early years of our lives learning how to bend and shape the world to meet some immediate need. We spend the next fifty years doing just that, bending and shaping, manipulating the world and other people to benefit ourselves while trying to avoid being manipulated by others for their benefit. People get hurt along the way. Some of it is accidental, some is purposeful.”
He turns and looks at me.
“You’ve noticed how many old men there are in church.”
I nod. He looks out the window again.
“They were in church as children, mostly absent in their middle years, but in their later years they go back. We can’t undo what we’ve done, so we spend the last years of our lives trying to make sense of it all, searching for forgiveness, hoping for redemption.”
His words are so heartfelt that my heart suddenly aches for him.
He turns on me those piercing eyes then seems to realize the intensity and blinks it back.
“It seems that all I can remember anymore is the sadness. I guess I caused my share. I think about it, but I don’t know if I want to talk about it.”
“Weren’t there any happy times, Pops? I know you and Grandma were happy.”
“Your grandmother makes my heart sing, but we had a hard row to hoe before we could finally be together.”
“Tell me about that, Pops. That sounds so romantic. Tell me about it.”
He looks out the window then looks at his hands.
“I’ll tell you my story, Natalie. You won’t like some of what you hear, and I’m too old to try to sanitize the past. Even if you hear the stories and don’t like the man I was, I hope you can still find forgiveness for your grandfather. I’ll be leaving this world with burdens enough, baby girl, and I’ll not knowingly add another.”
I reach out and take his scarred hand. It’s not about a school project anymore.
“Maybe…,” my voice is so thin, “Maybe the forgiveness you need is your own.”