Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday Fiction Fix: "Children"

I arrived at a neighborhood bar last night when game five of the Red Sox-Rays series was 7-0 Tampa in the seventh inning. After half a beer, my friend Mark showed up, and proceeded to talk. A lot. It didn't bother me, but he must've sensed that it did, because he said, "I know this is an important game. Sorry for talking so much." I told him not to worry, that I wasn't really all that interested, and said, "This game's over anyway." What occurred in the final third of that ball game surprised me -- and likely 100% of all viewers -- beyond belief, Boston of course winning with a walk-off J.D. Drew RBI in the bottom of the ninth. I suppose my sentiment was something of a mix between the largely veteran, defending champions that the Red Sox are, and the Ezra Pound "Make it new" that describes the Rays, and their organization's approach to baseball.

Maybe that's a stretch, but fuck it. It works in that today, that series sits at a 3-2 Tampa lead, and we're ready to talk about, if only briefly, Richard Ford and his short story called "Children." Ford hails from Mississipi, and got his M.F.A. in creative writing from U.C.-Irvine in 1970. He spent considerable time writing sports, then moved to the novel form, with periodic dabbles in short fiction. He won a Pulitzer in 1995 for his novel Independence Day. "Children," however comes from his collection of short stories entitled Rock Springs. The stories in this 1987 publication focus largely on the American West, and have somewhat of a barren, dysfunctional motif running through them in terms of the characters and their various situations. His writing is crisp, honest, and open, much like the land in which the stories take place.

"Children" is a story about two young boys that live near the Canadian border, and for circumstantial reasons, have the ability to frequently skip school. On one such afternoon, they do just that.

"I make this a point only because I have thought possibly it was the place iteself, as much as the time in our lives or our characters, that took part in the small things that happened and made them memorable."

The two boys are instructed to make their way to a motel, where they soon discover the interesting twist that lies ahead in their day.

"Don't cause me any fucking trouble, or I'll break you up," one daunting character says to a less timid one.

Later, several characters pass the time and make conversation, attempting to avoid a lingering sense of awkwardness.

"It is a nice atmosphere, though," one says. "I like to be oriented to the light."

"You can't see light with those glasses," says the other..."Why don't you take (them) off?...I don't see why you have to have them on."

Momentarily, they reminisce about an earlier figure, one responsible for them being where they are.

"(He's) not so terrible...You certainly wouldn't think he'd sit in the dark in the middle of the night and pray in a motel. But he does. He's nice, really. He's pretty big, too."

One guy finds himself reconizing a potenial surprise.

"Uh-oh, now. Uh-oh...Here, now. Here he is...This is the big whitefish."

The story vividly details the contrast between youth and age, as the narrator concludes, "I know that now, thought I didn't know it then.

We were simply young."

Richard Ford continues to publish original work, and occasionally edits collections of American short stories. Rock Springs can be purchased here.