Friday, March 27, 2009

Metatextual Redemption

First: what follows is my March 28th contribution to STORYTELLERS UNPLUGGED. I have described the story about the lady in Princeton who found that bloodied purse a week or so ago. Some of you might want to read the essay, as the purse lady is only part of it. For those who just want general World Wide Wayneness, the first photo is of a building that seemjs to be four-dimensional. The second I took outside my window, it was two squads and I knew it would come out strange, or not at all. The third is of the flying girl, a billboard that was up for several years on a building near, I'm guessing, Harrison and where the el wavers from State to Wabash. The photo itself startled many a traveler while it was there. Well, that's it for up here, the actual post that means something is down there.

You all know my father was a Chicago cop for 31 years, and many of my anecdotes or actual instances of grief come from either him or his partners. A cop sees you on the worst day of your life. I write about these people to get an understanding of why things happen they way they do, or why PEOPLE let things happen the way they do. Back in 2005, I took Amtrak out to Princeton, in Illinois's Bible Belt, to visit Trey and LuAnn Barker, who run Green River Books. Trey is also a Bureau County sheriff's deputy. We drove past the wind turbines that Memorial Day weekend, and he pointed out a stretch of road to me, then a bit later, a wooded area. Like most wooded areas in Illinois, it looks as if the trees are skidding to a stop before the edge of the road. A teenage girl disappeared in 1977 and her skeleton was found in that crop of trees the following spring. On the morning the girl went missing, a woman was driving on the aforementioned road and saw a purse on the side of the road. It looked as if it had fresh red nail polish on it, but she did nothing about it. It was a time of no cell phones and the farm roads in Illinois stretch for miles. Plus, this woman had an appointment with her hairdresser. On the way back she found that the purse was gone. It was then that she called the police, wanting to know if the purse had been turned in, even arguing that she had "seen it first" as the police record shows. It's obvious that the purse belonged to the missing girl, the nail polish might have been blood, and it was the killer who came back for the purse. Rarely am I sickened by the actions of another. The people demonstrating in Oakland, mocking the death of four officers last Sunday? Watch the news here any night. Police are the devil incarnate.
Then came time to write a story for HELL IN THE HEARTLAND, an anthology by Annihilation Press, with each story set in Illinois. I wanted so bad to write a story about this woman, who still lives near Princeton. Hell, she's only about five years older than me. But I couldn't. I wasn't able to think of it as I would if the same thing had occured in Chicago. It was a purse at the side of the road. Was the woman wrong for not calling the cops or even the property owner? And yet there she is, living out her days, and I can't get her out of my head at times. I created a fictional story for the anthology, one about a man who tracks down a priest who abused him as a child. When he gets to the church in the small town, he finds that someone had already killed the priest. I define redemption in a funny way, I guess. I'm redeeming MYSELF, because I cannot speak for the victims. Homicide cops will say that they work for God, but all writers can do is remind readers that certain indignities occur. I want to write about the woman who wanted that purse in 1977, and if you want to know the truth, all of you, at times I find myself walking up to her porch and fighting the urge to kill her, just ask her, why? The hairdresser appointment was more important? Seriously? But then, as in my story about the priest (who reflects any of a dozen child rapists in the Chicago Archdiocese), I see myself walking up to purse lady's porch...and I find that someone else has already killed her, out of outrage or simply a petty, small town argument.


Charles Gramlich said...

The indignities of life stick with us forever.

James Robert Smith said...

Actually, her transgression was as petty as she is, and hardly worth the death penalty--or, rather, hardly worth selling your humanity to remove her weight from this mudball.

That partially destroyed office tower is amazing. I am constantly reminded of the impermanence and complete worthlessness of human construction. We treat these buildings we toss up with almost total disdain. What was that building made for? What commerce was done within it? Why is it now considered nothing but matter to be transformed into rubble? And where are its fellows? I'm sure there were other buildings around it, now gone to level fields.

Capcom said...

Sigh, for want of a nail a war was lost. For want of one person thinking with clarity and stopping to investigate, a life was lost.

What happened in Oakland? People wanting cops dead all the time is beyond the pale to me. They don't fare so well in NYC either. Or Wappingers Falls, for that matter (e.g. the Tawana Brawley case).

Capcom said...

BTW, excellent pix, especially the sky. The building reminds me of that old Scifi movie where some big giant block of an alien thing was tromping around the countryside like a tall building with stomping collumnar legs. Now I'm off to go figure out what the name of that movie was.

Rich said...

Hey Wayne,

I meant to write back to you the first time you wrote about that lady down in Princeton. I think there are a lot of such people around. They're sociopaths, I think, but they "obey" the law (or at least they don't get into trouble) so no one pays them much mind. If they're not certifiably sociopaths they just don't "get it." They're just empty of many of the feelings most of the rest of us have. And it's in that emptiness that evil things happen.

Don't think it's a rural thing. There were a number of neighbors in my old neighborhood who might have done the same thing. Hell, some of neighbors in my current building could be as emotionally clueless and/or have drawn the lines between "people who count" and "people who don't count" very exclusively. Either way, it's really disturbing. Reminds me a little, too, of Ray Bradbury's "The Crowd."