Randy, I got it. You are telling the story or reminiscence to yourself. If your goal is to write a memoir or a personal essay, so be it and appropriate; however, it is a very rare story that does not have dialogue to advance it. It was Poe who argued in his essays on short story writing that everything that appears extraneous to the aim of the story must be jettisoned; that a story has to have a bullseye as its end. That is why if you read the House of Usher it will fall apart if your remove any paragraph. The writer’s goal is to be a lapidary which is brutally hard because it requires concision; my stories are faulted sometimes because I leave so much out; and that is why poetry itself is the most perfect form if in the hands of the great poet. In short stories the cliched rule is that less is more, but how to determine that is the artist’s holy grail. consequently I try to come up with a terrifi first sentence and then a terrific ending sentence — and sometimes when the gods are good to me, I compose both those sentences before the story is written — see “I am rectum” in the Tetralogy and the last word is “Amen.” Enough. Hope you get my story and respond to it.
Daily Archives: December 2, 2008
Author Matt Freese, whose short story YOU THINK SO appears below, suggested that I post the story and make some comments about it. I usually don’t criticize other people’s work and decline because I don’t feel comfortable doing it. I think Matt is a good writer and his short story is well written. As I told him, his short story could be a play. I have only a few suggestions.
I think the characters could be developed so that they sound less like the author and less like each other. People don’t talk in complete sentences and, at least in English, use almost all contractions. I’m not sure how to make them sound more Austrian or German; however, that might help make the piece sound less like a lecture. Both characters sound intellectually equal. Was that what Matt intended?
I’m not sure if any of this is helpful. I do know the story is an important reminder of something none of us should ever forget. For that I’m thankful and glad Matt shared it. And because of its importance I share it with all of you.
YOU THINK SO
“I am afraid you can’t have that.”
“And why not? Isn’t it for sale?
“Yes. It is for sale.
“So why can’t I buy it?”
“Nothing in this store can be bought by you or others like you, Jew.”
“I have never heard such nonsense.”
“It is against the Reich law to sell you anything. You should leave now.”
“I won’t leave just now.” Konrad stood his ground.
“If you refuse, I’ll call the polizei and you’ll be removed.”
“And what have I done to be denied service.”
The salesman couldn’t believe his ears. “You mean you are so blind and out of touch that you are also deaf and dumb to the world around you.”
“Perhaps I am. However, I see your point. . .I am Konrad Pincus,” and with that he stretched his hand over the counter to shake the clerk’s hand. He did not proffer his.
“I see you won’t even do that. May I ask you a question before I go?”
“Of course. I am a civil person. But leave you must, sir.”
The salesman was feeling that it was true about Jews. If pushed to the wall for execution, they would inquire about the rifle and how many rounds it contained or ask the riflemen if they had feelings or concerns about their task. Always questions. Jews were living embarrassments. They refused to die properly, like Prussians. And now the clerk was feeling this intrusiveness, especially when he was not the goat.
“Do you agree with the law that forbids me from making a purchase here?”
“I do wholeheartedly.”
“And why is that?”
Here the clerk had the opening to express his own feelings about the issues. “You are the cause of much misery for us. An unclean suit needs to be cleaned and pressed. If we keep you away and apart, we will not be infected. You are an infectious people.”
Struggling to comprehend why he was so despised, in this little jewelry store with no customers about, perhaps he could speak to a fellow German about his animus for Jewry.
“But I am not a poison. The Pincuses have lived here since the 18th century.”
“You are indeed, Pincus, a toxin that needs to be eradicated.”
“Such harsh words. And what has made me so deadly to you and others?”
“Your malignant presence.”
The clerk sensed he was engaged in a discussion with a Jew and he did not want any of it. He’d rather have him leave. The longer he engaged the Jew he ran the risk of being outwitted by his not inconsiderable intelligence, and he found that annoying and threatening, the very thing he had been cautioned about within his own family and friends. The Jew is flypaper.
Konrad was taken aback by such directness. “But I am innocent.”
The response was quick and savage. “Don’t play ‘innocent’ with me? You are guilty – guilty forever.”
“Of not going away, of fouling our country with your presence.”
“What am I accused of?”
Riled with the Jew’s denial of his crimes and his feigned naivete, the clerk fumed. “Everything. Dammit, everything. Why must I give the perpetrator details of his abominations? Why don’t you know? Why do you play word games with me? Why do you assault me with your wiles and cleverness? How come you need me to help you, supposedly, to come to a realization about yourself and all Jews? You play bad cards with me. And I truly hate you for that.”
Konrad was appalled at the rage but he contained himself. Better to answer a question or an answer, with another question, for that was what he learned in cheder. He stood his ground while it reeked all about him with venom.
“I require an explanation.”
“Jewish gall. None will be given – ever. The victim gives the Jew reasons for his victimization. Never. Now please leave. I am beside myself with you and your Jewishness.”
“This is so irrational.”
The clerk could not completely wipe the Jew oils off his hands and mind. “Yes and no. Simply, it is what is. Accept that, Jew.”
“You have decided then.”
Rolling his eyes upward, in a kind of ecstatic swoon, the clerk erupted. “Oh yes. Oh yes. Oh yes. We decided centuries ago. You never saw it coming, you only saw developments. Only now are conditions such that we may now act upon our secret convictions. It is all out in the open and I revel in the hate for you.”
“So Konrad Pincus will be shunned and hounded and banned.”
“And grouped and herded and driven out like the sheep you are.”
Konrad looked into the showcase so burdened by the loathing he had put into him.
And the clerk went on. “All that, perhaps, much more than that. A reckoning, Jew, is upon us all.”
“Why am I part of this equation?”
“You have always been a stranger in our midst, And you must know something about people, you must realize that people cannot abide differences – or the other. Look how much time you have taken to decide what kind of lighter you want – sterling silver, 14k gold – rose gold and all that.”
Here the clerk caught himself being drawn into the wisdom of this foreigner in his midst, the questioning, the relentless questioning, the whys and more whys and more whys and he was feeling at his wit’s end.
“But I am one of you – I speak German as well as you, eat the same food, laugh at the same jokes.”
“You are only ice, thin as that. You are not part of what is beneath the ice.”
“It is all just frozen water,”
“Oh, no. Deeper and thicker ice is below and we will never allow you there.”
“You are changing me into not only a stranger but a thing.”
“An object, sir. You are an object to me much as this cigarette lighter you wish to buy. And I am indifferent to it and to you.”
Konrad went forward. Dimly he caught sight of the horizon.
“I am a person.”
“You think you are. You are deluded. You are no longer a person to me and to Germany. You are an it.”
The clerk found it releasing to express such sentiments which had dwelled beneath the surface, and then he tried to deny or to stifle the idea that a Jew had aided him in his expressivity. He felt tricked.
“How do you come to such a conclusion? Tell me, sir, as I need to know.”
“Well, it is not hard. It is much like slipping on a glove, not too difficult at that. I simply concluded, for my own purposes, to remove you from my eyes and mind as a human being. You become a thing and we can do many things to that thing.”
“Need I fill in the obvious details. Why do you need to know when it is simpler to just accept?”
“I come from a people who prize knowing; however, perhaps I should accept a judgment I cannot repeal. Apparently, I don’t exist in your eyes – probably never did, although I do exist, sir, and that gnaws at you, doesn’t it?”
The clerk nodded. “Partially correct. Once you no longer exist in our eyes, in our Germany, in fact, your own sense of existence will be moot. We don’t care about you or what you think or what you are, for you are forever a thing.”
“Does a thing have any rights for you?”
“A thing is inanimate. We do things with it; we use it; we turn it about or we change it – or we get rid of it.”
“So I am no longer a person, but a thing, a stick of wood.”
“If you quickly accept this idea, your fate may have a measure of some dignity to it. Do not accept it – and we really don’t care what you decide – and your fate is sealed in any case.”
Nauseated by what he was hearing and the manner in which it was given, savagely, cruelly, dispassionately at times, indifferent and chilling. Konrad continued his questioning with the hope that in the future he could arm himself against such toxicity.
“I have nothing to say. I suppose you prefer that from a Jew – obeisance. I hear your conclusions and I can’t alter them. We are powerless now. I am a victim of your thoughts and that is a longer life sentence than if I spent years in a jail.”
“And perceptions, sir.”
“And perceptions. . .Is there no other way out?”
“There has never been a way out for Jews. All the centuries have brought us to this. He died on the cross for us and you crucified him. Mind you, for I have personally thought long and hard about this. It is not the crucifixion that tears at me. It is Jewish arrogance to assassinate a god. You tear Jesus from his heavenly throne and nail him to a cross. The gall! The gall!”
“That ancient untruth. You mean we killed your savior.”
“Yes. You masterminded his death. And we have spent a millennium trying to make him free of Judaism. We have expunged all traces of that from him. Alas, he was born a Jew.”
“He was a rabbi.”
“Stop that ridiculous Jew habit of teaching. He was the first Christian.”
“He was a Jew.”
“Until he rose.”
“We are brethren.”
“That can never be.”
“He lived the life of a Jew – he was circumcised, read the torah.”
“All true. Yet he was evolving, ridding himself of your Jewish customs and codes.”
“You need an excuse to persecute us.”
“And what is wrong with that? It is sufficient reason. Why must I be as rational as your kind? What has it gotten you?”
Konrad concluded. “So we become a thing and are rejected and hounded because we killed your god.”
“I can think of no worse thing that to have crucified god.”
“I can – to crucify a people.”
“Things cannot feel.”
“I do feel – very much so.”
“I know that. I also know that I will not dwell on that for too long or give it consideration. Exactly what you want, Jew. Right? I’d rather dispel that notion from my mind and in so doing this, you will become such a thing to my eyes that I will strip you of everything that makes you human. I know what I am about. I know the process fully well that will lead me step by step to your destruction. You are now a stranger to me – buying a lighter – and you are a thing as well. Given this, I can deal with you as I wish. As a Jew you are no more. You are an ‘it’.”
Konrad saw the future. “I must run from you. You are mad. I am not safe.”
“So you see, at last.”
“I do. Some may not, but I do see what little future I may have here.”
“Time grows short.”
“I feel that as well. As your “thing,” I feel that profoundly.”
The clerk whispered again, “Time grows short.”
“I am dead already. I am dead in your eyes. I am dead inside you. And I feel death between us. You reek of death-giving.”
“And so finally, we must be done with you. After you kill a closet moth, you must remove it to the dustbin. You must be removed for you are dead already. How we remove you is only a choice of techniques, a kind of industry. We will devise a way that is efficient for there are so many of you.”
“The dead have no say, I imagine, in how they are disposed of.”
“So true, the ages have spoken on that.”
“The Jews will go nowhere, for there is no exit, but remain here and be dealt with in due time.”
“We will come for you, no doubt. It has been a long time in coming. And I must admit it befuddles us somewhat that at the moment we can expunge you we have to consider the ways and means. Such is life, incompletes. Isn’t that oddly amusing? You would think it could all be done in one fell swoop.”
“Like Isaac, we will go with you hand in hand to the altar.”
“And this time no angel of god will stay Abraham’s hand.”
“It was only a solemn test of his conviction.”
“More than that, sir.”
“What do you mean?”
“In that story is the history of your race.”
Konrad had heard for years all the rabbinical exegeses of this allegory . What could this numb man offer?”
“I am at a loss.”
“A Jew without words is a goy? Your cruel god –not ours, mind you, for ours is beneficent and loving – was a demanding one and your people are a demanding lot. You are a severe people. When you are gone, we will be less hard on ourselves. In a way we sacrifice you, go beyond your god’s silly and severe tests. We finish the job.”
“There was a way up, and there was a way down for Isaac that day. For the Jew all our feelings are involved with the way up.”
“And for us, it ends with your burnt sacrifice.”
Konrad prepared to leave, and the clerk sensed that. “I choose to be Isaac, holding my father’s hand, consoling him for the task at hand, knowing full well his intent and yet – and yet! –giving trust to my father as fear engulfs him. In that feeling, sir, I can deal with your evil.”
“You think so,” the clerk said.
As Konrad left the store, he knew the clerk was right.