Fiction Section: Truth in Disguise
In the introduction to his novelEnder’s Game, Orson Scott Card asks, “Why else do we read fiction, anyway? Not to be impressed by somebody’s dazzling language—or at least I hope that’s not our reason. I think that most of us, anyway, read these stories that we know are not ‘true’ because we’re hungry for another kind of truth: The mythic truth about human nature in general, the particular truth about those life-communities that define our own identity, and the most specific truth of all: our own self-story. Fiction, because it is not about somebody who actually lived in the real world, always has the possibility of being about ourself.” Truth lies at the core of all good fiction. It is what lends credibility to the illusion of the fictional world and what helps us relate to a story: to recognize pieces of ourselves and the world as we know it within a tale. Fiction is not a lie; it is truth in disguise.
Card reminds us what is most important about a story. It doesn’t matter if writers use big words and fancy diction; if they take a cutting edge, abstract, conceptual approach to writing; or if they come off as intellectual, avant-garde, writerly. Characters matter. Setting matters. Plot matters. A well-crafted story has characters who feel like real people–who have quirks and flaws and hopes and fears–and who go on journeys, fight battles (literally or figuritively), overcome or succumb to obstacles, and make us love them. If you are in the business of fiction, don’t be a Writer. Be a Storyteller.
Thanks for visiting us here at Write from Wrong and letting us share our love of storytelling with you. We hope you enjoy this month’s issue, in which we bring you “Forward Movement” by Elizabeth Glass: a story of a man’s internal struggle between peace and addiction, crafted with an admirable attention to detail.
Gage walked out of the little blue house in Germantown and looked back at the windows covered in aluminum foil. It was cold out, and he felt the wind blow through his papery skin. It hurt his teeth, which he reached up and touched. A tooth fell off in his hand. He looked down at it; it was part of a cigarette that had been stuck in his mouth.
He ran his tongue across his teeth; he could feel that they were nubs. His lips were chapped. The taste in his mouth was awful. He wanted more than anything to go back into the house to rinse his mouth, but he didn’t. He knew he couldn’t leave again if he did.
He pulled his coat around him. It was so big it felt like a robe the way it wrapped around his body. He wondered whose coat he had left with, and was shocked to find that it actually was his leather coat. He remembered getting it; he had been so proud of having the perfect coat to go with his new motorcycle, which was where? He glanced around. It wasn’t there.
Gage reached into the pockets of his jacket. Maybe he had some money, could buy a Mountain Dew. He found a five dollar bill and a small glass pipe. He tucked the five dollars into his jeans pocket and stood in the walkway holding the pipe, wondering what to do. He hadn’t known it was there.
It was hard, but he took a step away from the house and managed to get all the way down the walkway to the sidewalk before Dorleen came to the door and looked out. He thought she would beg him back in, but was relieved when she didn’t. She just shut the door on him. He tossed the pipe toward the house where it landed in the grass, and wondered when she got so skinny and got all the scabs on her body. The thought of her sores made the ones that covered his body start to pull and itch.
What had the man at Sav-A-Lot had said that made him finally leave? Gage had been buying beer and a bunch of aluminum foil. The man said he had gotten clean and felt serene now—that Gage could, too. He said he could get his life together, get his job back. Good people would help him. He only had to leave and find them, just down the street. The main thing Gage recalled was the word serene and how good that word alone felt.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
He started and looked up. It was the woman from two doors down. He nodded. He was sleepy, walking slowly, and hadn’t noticed her standing there.
She hesitated. “I’ll be right back,” she told him, then walked into her house and shut the door. He heard her lock it. He wasn’t sure what he knew of her, but seemed somehow to know she was nice.
She came back out and handed him a big cup of water and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich wrapped in waxed paper. “Eat it slowly. Don’t forget what happened last time.”
He stared at her.
She looked at him kindly. “If you eat too much you’ll throw it up. Eat a little at a time, it’ll stay down.”
Gage nodded. He tensed at the thought of cold water in his mouth touching his teeth, but did it anyway. It was tepid, and felt great. He rinsed his mouth in it and spat into the street. Sores on his tongue and lips ached.
“Keep the cup. You’ll need it.”
He mumbled thanks, more grateful than he showed.
She stood with him as he took a tentative bite of his sandwich. It was good. He wasn’t sure when he ate last. The wind picked up and he pulled his coat back around him before taking another bite.
“Slow, just a few bites,” his neighbor said. “Then save it for later.”
“Okay,” Gage said, then put the sandwich in his jacket pocket. Reaching into his pocket made him think of the pipe up there in his yard. His former yard. He was jittery, and weighed feeling serene with going back to the house. He nodded at his neighbor and kept moving away from his house.
Ice. The nice man at the grocery store had said something about ice. He shivered at the thought of ice against his teeth, at ice cutting into his skin with the wind, but the man had spoken with warmth about how Gage could turn things around. He walked toward Shelby Street. At the corner he looked right toward Sav-A-Lot, thought about going to get some beer, of going back to the house. Dorleen would let him back in if he came with beer. Then he looked left. Icehouse. He could see it, the building that said Icehouse on it. That was it. It was serene there. He turned left and walked forward, toward Icehouse and serenity, keeping in the back of his mind that the pipe was always still in the yard.