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Nemesis

by William H. Coles

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Nemesis  

M

ore than a year before his divorce, Fred Bean had a confrontational day at work and lost his job of twenty-two years.  He was born in Clinton, Iowa, and attended the University in Ames where he matriculated one year but due to low grades did not graduate.  He worked as an audiovisual technician for the Department of Business Administration at the University.  For meetings, he made slides for projectors and charts for easels, maintained equipment, adjusted microphones, and fiddled with controls on tape recorders.  He took photographs too, of visitors, students, and faculty . . . for publications, yearbooks, brochures, portraits, and Christmas cards.  He’d held his job through the tenure of three chairs of the department, and two governors of the State of Iowa. 

On the day of his career demise, he was audiovisual support for the annual national conference for businesswomen, a tradition for the department and a pride of the U.  The audience numbered more than three hundred.  The slide projector was midway down the center aisle and projected speakers’ slides onto a giant letdown screen at center stage.  A podium stood on stage left. 

Computer projection would soon be the established national norm but Fred still struggled with computer-based electronics and stubbornly held onto his area of expertise.  In truth, he feared loss of the considerable control slides gave him over faculty and guests’ presentations.  He fantasized his leadership role over his intellectual and hierarchical superiors, fantasy that gave him confidence to direct, ignore, and demean professors, distinguished guests, and students.

Eleanor Sampson, a national leader for women’s rights in the business community, mounted the stage, gripped the podium microphone, made extended introductory remarks, which Fred thought were boring and not well received, and called for her first slide. 

“Push the button,” Fred yelled out from his metal folding chair situated near the projector, loud enough to turn heads.

“I am,” Dr. Sampson yelled back into the microphone with considerable irritation.

Fred, tall and lanky, lumbered down the center aisle to the stage and mounted to the podium where he took the slide changer from the frowning Dr. Sampson, punched the right button that illuminated the state seal of Iowa on the screen with the state bird, the Eastern goldfinch; the state rock, the geode; the state tree, the oak, the state flower, the wild rose, and the state seal with its inspiring motto: “We will prize and we will maintain our rights and our liberties.”  As Fred regained his seat, Dr. Sampson, after suitable rote praise for the state of Iowa, activated her next slide and the image of the backside of a prize bull with a glimpse of considerable genital volume filled the screen.

“Those are not my slides,” Dr. Sampson now screamed into the microphone.  “I cannot proceed without my slides.”

Fred cut off the switch to the projector and ran to the back of the auditorium where slide carrousels were laid out on a table.   Each carrousel had a speaker’s name in black Magic Marker written on a tear off from a note book page that protruded from an empty-slide pocket.  Fred found Dr. Sampson’s slides right away, and began a sprint back to the projector tripping on the leg of the rear corner seat in the auditorium.  He fell, sprawled out, the carousel with Dr. Sampson’s slides propelled four rows before him  hitting the metallic back of an auditorium seat, and the loosely applied circular slide fastener flew off and all but three of the twenty-four slides fell to the concrete flooring.

The audience gasped with collective distress.  Fred righted himself and ran to pick up the carousel trampling many of the dispersed slides.  On his knees he fumbled to reinsert the unnumbered slides in the tray, but he had no idea of the order, and many were bent and distorted from his trampling on them.  Three slides were too severely damaged to even position.  He did the best he could and placed the carousel back on the projector.

“Try now,” he called weakly to Dr. Sampson.

A slide image loomed in front of the participants with a smudge that with only a little imagination could be thought of as dirt from the tread of his shoe.

“It’s not the right slide,” Dr. Sampson called out.

“Try the next,” Fred stuttered.

The next slide had wavy streaks and a linear tear.

“That’s wrong,” Dr. Sampson said.  She pressed the remote again.  A damaged slide jammed the projector.

“I will not proceed,” Dr. Sampson said. 

“Just try,” Fred pleaded.  “Describe the slides as you remember them.”

“Ridiculous,” Dr. Sampson said.  She scanned the audience.  “My sincere apologies to all of you who have traveled so far to receive so little.  Thank you.”  She left to stage right behind the side curtain without descending the steps and walking through the audience.

Twenty minutes later the chair of the department dismissed Fred and gave him three hours to clear out his few possessions from his office in the basement next to the boilers and the massive heat-duct fans. 

“You’re making a mistake,” Fred said to the chair before he left.  I’m indispensible, he thought.

“You’re a disaster,” the Chairman said.

“I built this department,” Fred said.  “You would not be seated in that chair if it were not for me.”

“I’ve dreamed for an opportunity to get rid of you,” the Chairman said.

“You are pea-brained dope,” Fred countered.

“Get out,” the Chairman said.

Fred demanded early retirement, threatening to sue, and received sixty-percent of his salary.  A pittance of what I’m worth, he thought.  He decided to wait until the right job offer came along, something with better pay and leadership potential.  He watched television during the day and formed opinions about politics and sports that he shared with his wife Veronica who worked as a bank teller at 1st National for more than twenty years and knew everyone in town.  Fred’s dismissal humiliated her.  “Get a job,” she said, irritated to have him perpetually at home. 

“I think I’ll start writing a syndicated column for the newspaper,” Fred said, emboldened by his recently acquired comprehension–through his intent study of TV extremist news–of how seriously deficient America had become. 

“You’re lazy,” Veronica said.

“Lazy people do not reach my levels of success,” Fred said.

Veronica left Fred a year later on a Thursday in the third week of February; she vowed never to see Fred again.  Fred’s self-absorption with the perceived injustice of his dismissal had made him even more difficult for her to tolerate.  She would face the rest of her life alone, and she felt, if not happy, at least with a sense of calm assurance of her own worth, without Fred’s acid-eroding assaults on her ideas and beliefs.

“You’re incompetent and arrogant.  A crumby combination.” she yelled at Fred.

She sat on the two-seater sofa in their living room of their two-story clapboard house marred by deteriorating flaking white paint and exposed wood discolored with age.  She was thin and had a nervous tick that shut her left eye making her right eye widen and exposing the white of the globe as if in unilateral fright.  “You’re a fucking idiot,” she added.  “Everything you touch turns to shit.”

“Oh, my.  Isn’t that shocking?” Fred mocked.

“You’re a jackass.”

“Don’t be your unreasonable self, Veronica.  It only demeans you.”

“A halfwit,” she said.

“Now it’s down to name calling, is it?” Fred said.

“It’s not a name, asshole.  I’m not addressing you.  I’m telling you reality about your pitiful self.  What everyone knows.  You are an incompetent, unemployed, self-absorbed nincompoop.  You’re the only human I know who has pride in his failures.  And I hate you.” 

In an instant Fred assessed the entire scene as some hormonally induced, paper-lantern feminine crisis not worthy of his attention.  She’d come around.  She always did.

But Veronica put her head in her hands and cried, sweat beading on her forehead.  She hated her loveless life in this loveless house with this loveless man.  She’d feel guilty to break the vows of marriage she sworn to in the name of God.  She was honest and religious, and always responsible.  But this was the end.  She refused to negotiate, went to Montana to live with her sister, and never returned to see Fred again, even during the divorce proceedings.

Months passed.  Fred hadn’t thought of starting another career since Veronica left and although always believing he had an army of friends, only a secretary from work came to visit; it was only once to sit for coffee, and she never returned.  Fred began talking out loud to himself and without Veronica to absorb the sound, his voice seemed to echo cave-like in the empty rooms of the house.  With insidious intensity he began to crave renewed human contact.  So he started going to church.  The First Presbyterian. 

How the services dragged on and on and he felt the constant urge to make a comment and disagree with the sermon sentiments.  He soon stopped Sunday church but attended Bible studies instead on Tuesday nights, purely on an exploratory basis, and met Minnie Carver, whose husband died mysteriously in a hotel room not his own on a gentleman’s getaway to Las Vegas.  Minnie inherited a fortune her husband had made from selling slightly used, and “lovingly cared for,” cars with innovative no-cash-down financing and aggressive repossession of highly qualified buyers who didn’t pay.  With no children, no in-laws living, and an estranged half-sister, Minnie wallowed in reserves that cried for excessive luxury.

Fred stood close to Minnie near the table that held a coffee urn next to plates with the cookies and cold pizza slices. 

“I was indeed sorry to hear about your husband’s passing,” Fred said, staring down on Minnie’s plump being.

She looked up.  “Did you know Harry?”

“Only by reputation,” Fred said.  A potbellied philanderer, he thought.

Minnie half filled her cup with coffee and then topped it off with three packages of creamer and two pours of sugar from a glass container with a pullout metal spout.

Fred stared at her wedding rings as she worked.  The diamonds glittered value worth a year of his salary when he was at the U.

“I’m so sorry, but I don’t think I know you,” Minnie said.  “Are you a church member?”

“I’m the Lenny Brice of the U,” Fred said.  “Fred Bean.  I’m a professor,” he lied, feeling the title justified with the time he had spent at that detestable institution.

“Oh my, that’s so intellectual.  Do you teach?”

“I can tell you have an exceptional insightful gift of perception.”  Fred smiled.  “I’m was in business and marketing.  More than twenty years.”

“Do you have a business?”

“I consult,” Fred said vaguely, avoiding any truth of his brief college time and subsequent audiovisual career.

“Harry was a good business man.  He started with nothing.  He sold dust pans door to door when we first got married.”

“How coincidental.  I sold vacuum cleaners for my start in the summer when I was in school,” Fred said basking in his assurance of the superiority of vacuum cleaners over dustpans.

“Everyone liked my Harry,” Minnie said.

“Do you have children?” Fred asked.

“I always wanted children,” she said.  She looked ready to cry.  

“I’m sorry then that you don’t have them.  Wanting them and all.”

“How does your wife feel?” Minnie asked.

He hesitated.  “We’re divorced.  I don’t think she ever thought about it much.”

“That’s strange.  I would think all women think about children.”

“She was a hawk among songbirds,” he said.  “A thorny weed among blooming pansies.”

Minnie took a deliberate sip of her coffee.  “That’s so poetic.  You must be lonely,” she said.  “I heard poets are always lonely.”

“Not in the least,” Fred responded instantly.  ”My horizons are unlimited.  My career has yet to peak.  And I have a Boston Whaler on the lake.  I can say without exaggeration, I am envied for my skills as a fisherman.”

“Fish?”

“Brim.  Bass.”

“I miss Harry,” she whispered to herself after a moment of reflection.

Fred refilled his coffee cup and followed Minnie when she went to retake her seat.  She said nothing as he sat next to her.  The social secretary introduced the speaker who owned a hardware store in Ames and had intimate experiences with God through his skydiving hobby. 

Fred felt he had not impressed Minnie.  But he sensed her need for companionship and saw . . . well, frankly . . . opportunity.  Believe in yourself! his mother had insisted throughout his life before she passed.  The echo of her words careened inside his head. 

After two more times of seeing Minnie at church, the attractive features of her round face settled in his memory–her only wrinkles were smile lines near her eyes and the corners of her mouth.  She is agreeable to almost everything, in such contrast to Veronica who agreed with almost nothing our entire marriage, he thought.  He took Minnie to a church social.  She wore a colorful print dress with red and green stylized flowers on a white background.  She had amazing dancing skills for her two hundred pounds, her lumpy legs moving with grace and agility.  She had a jade necklace that swung to and fro as she dipped for the oyster, dug for the clam—worth a few thousand at least.  He fondly thought she looked a little like an exquisite, brightly colored, porcelain teapot his mother had cherished throughout her adult life.  How proud he was of Minnie’s company, and he was careful to introduce her to former friends and faculty in his former department at the U.            

Within the month, Minnie was cooking dinners for Fred three times a week either at her place or his.  After another month, Fred spent all his waking time with Minnie.  She was the soul mate he’d never discovered–guileless, soft spoken, persistently striving to please.  Soon, Minnie quickly depended on Fred to guide her through life’s precarious widow-decisions, a dependence so unwavering he felt a true value in his abilities he always known he had. 

Fred enjoyed touching Minnie’s round form . . . soft, pliant, malleable.  One evening after dinner cleanup she came to sit next to him on the sofa.   He surfed the Net on his laptop with his feet up on the coffee table.  Minnie adjusted his arm with both hands carefully so she wouldn’t impede his surfing, and put her head on his shoulder.

He was reading about Plimlico, the pop star with the newly disclosed eating disorder.

“You like it here, don’t you?” Minnie asked him.

He thought she meant in Iowa.  “Of course,” he said.

“I mean in this house.  Here with me.”

He was on to the girl kidnapped, held captive in a basement room, and raped daily for ten years by her abductor. 

“Look,” Fred said holding the screen for Minnie to see the girl.  A pretty face but eyes of the living dead.  Minnie shivered at the pain the photo induced. 

“They ought to hang the guy,” Fred said. 

“That wouldn’t be Christian,” she said.

“Capital punishment is the only deterrent society has to prevent these horrible crimes.”

“Thou shall not kill,” Minnie whispered.

“Without a death penalty, America as we know it would sink into chaos.  Murderers and rapists without fear of justice attacking at will.”

Minnie released his arm and moved slightly away.  Fred continued surfing, “Look at this,” he said pointing to a picture of a legless soldier competing with artificial limbs in a marathon.

Minnie’s sobs startled Fred; she was no longer touching him, and for the first time he panicked at the thought of her soft skin might never be touched by him again.  He sat motionless for more than a moment.  Slowly he put down the laptop on the coffee table and shut the lid.

“It’s wrong to kill,” Minnie said.  “It’s against the will of the Lord.  And your thinking the death penalty is good will make you a lesser person in God’s eyes.”

That’s stupid, Fred wanted to say but he held back, still not moving or looking at her.  He knew not to correct her by an instinct he’d never experienced before.  In the silence, his need to comfort shocked him.  He’d never felt this way about anybody.

“You really think that?” he finally said.

“No human should every take the life of another,” she said decisively.

He quashed his desire to argue.  I love her, he thought.  He reached over and put his arms around her, moving close so his huge skeletal form enveloped her smaller round self.

“I’m so sorry,” she said.  “I didn’t mean to . . .”

“Shhh,” he said.  He kissed her closed damp eyelids, then her slightly parted lips.  Even with his new desire to please her, he carried pride in his restraint to set her straight about capital punishment.

She collapsed into his arms by turning on the sofa and bringing her legs up.  “Come live here with me,” she said.  “I can’t do without you.”  With her knees up, her dress slipped down exposing her round thighs spattered with faint fuzzy-hair stubble.

Fred flushed with this freshly reaped and previously unexperienced intimacy.  Wordless, through the tenderness of kisses, he let her know he would be hers forever.

Over a few months of concentrated effort, Fred convinced Minnie to start a new life together in Maine where she purchased an ocean-view cottage near Black Point that Fred had picked out from Influential Real Estate magazine.  He had been overwhelmed by her financial resources, and with his partial degree in business, he gladly offered his expertise in financial planning.  Without a frown, Minnie bought him his dream of a Morgan 55 Fast Commuter with maximum speed of 35 knots and 23 tons displacement that slept six and was fitted for ocean trips.  “A terrific investment for a great price,” he told her.  He bought yachting clothes in Boston and spent nights standing on the bridge looking out over the harbor.  Although Minnie was often lonely without the familiar surroundings of Iowa and descended into extended blue moods, they existed in new-found comfort with each other.  His only irritation was Minnie’s occasional mention of husband Harold but that stopped after Fred insisted she never say the name again.  After all, he reasoned, did he ever say Veronica’s name?  Ever?

Seven months later Minnie and Fred married in a private ceremony and departed on a round-the-world trip, first class, on Pristine Cruise Lines.  Minnie’s estranged half-sister, Pearl, whose husband spent time after a fraud scandal in a gambling casino where he worked as a floor manager, flew from Louisiana to the east coast to see them off.  Gold digger, Fred thought and he winced as Minnie embraced Pearl unaware that Pearl might be like a pig sniffing for truffles.

Fred and Minnie honeymooned with Minnie confined to the cabin suite after she took a tumble climbing on the vertical exterior ladder from the pool to the bridge, her flip flops still wet and slippery.  A leg bone broke in two places and gave so much pain Fred had to cancel the Monoco leg of the honeymoon six weeks before the end to take his ailing Minnie back home to Maine for health care.  While under treatment for the fracture complicated by osteoporosis, Minnie ran a low-grade fever from infection and further examination revealed a cancerous breast mass.  

Distraught, Fred denied the truth.  He sought second opinions while doctors scheduled chemo and radiation to start as soon as Minnie could be accommodated.  But the doctors irritated him . . . the greedy charlatans, most of them anyway, he thought. . . and you couldn’t tell the good from the bad.

When Minnie returned home between treatments, she turned sullen with her prognosis and took to watching videos alone of old movies—Laura, and Singing in the Rain.  

“What’s wrong, honey,” Fred asked.

“Leave me alone, Fred.  I want to be alone.”

“It’s not good for you.”

“Stop telling me what’s good for me.”

Minnie’s half sister Pearl called from Louisiana for a confidential discussion with Fred.  He resented Pearl’s continued interest in Minnie’s health and saw no sincerity in her curiosity.  Was Pearl trying to solicit a change in Minnie’s will without his knowledge? 

“Why’s Minnie so sullen?” Pearl asked.

“She’s not better,” Fred said. “I don’t think the new treatments are working.”

“It takes more time.  I’ve had friends . . .”

“We should see some improvement!”  Fred said.

“I’ve checked with Oschner in New Orleans.  They’re the best available.”

“All doctors are quacks.  I’ll find a better way.”  Fred seethed at Pearl’s intrusion.

“I’ll make arrangements.  Don’t do anything rash,” Pearl said with a new forced sympathetic tone to her voice.

“Don’t do anything.  I’ll get her the best,” Fred said.

“Love you guys,” Pearl said with cool distaste as she hung up.

Fred still saw no signs of progress in Minnie’s condition.  He was horrified.  For days he surfed the Internet for cancer cures–testimonials, scientific articles, clinic recommendations, experimental treatments–and he eventually came across an ancient remedy that used apricot pit reductions orally and subcutaneously; a remedy backed by tens of thousands of cures, the Internet ad said.  Patients stayed at a clinic in Mexico for a minimum of a month where a controlled diet provided Peruvian spring waters ingested during ten hours daily of sun exposure followed by sleep on a firm mattress packed with pulverized nutshells.  Daily group meditation gathered positive energy from all patients in cure at the moment.  Invariably, patients felt better during their cure–no nausea, no hair loss, less debilitating fatigue. 

“You’ve got to go,” he told Minnie.  “For me.”

“But my doctors . . .”

“They’re money grabbers, honey.  Expensive treatments.  And they give you a fifty-fifty chance.  In Mexico almost everyone is a cure.” 

“Well, why don’t they do it here?”

“This system is all profit, Minnie.  It’s expensive treatments looking for patients.  I’ve studied the business of healthcare.  It’s appalling.”  He paused.   “Put your trust in God’s natural way,” he said. 

“But the insurance . . .”

“We can afford it.  And it’ll cost less in the long run.  With the deductibles and limits, it’s way cheaper to do it right and just pay for it.  You’ll be well in no time.”

Minnie was not at all comfortable with anything that was happening to her and she prayed, asking Fred to kneel and join her.  She knew her professor loved her, and he had checked this treatment out.  He always seemed to know about everything. 

But then she had moments of doubts.  “Shouldn’t we check with Dr. Cranfield too?” she asked after meditation.

“He’s nice, honey.  But he’ll always be skeptical of someone else’s success.  Believe me.  You can listen to one of the patients on a toll-free line.”

“Those are actors.”

“No, they’re not.  They say so.  ‘I am a grateful patient, not an actor.'”

“Dr. Cranfield’s been so good to me.”  Tears ran down her face.

“He can’t promise a cure, can he?”

She put her head in her hands, her mind in confusion.  Fred brought water with ice from the kitchen.  

Finally she agreed, and within twenty-four hours, without beginning her radiation and taking only two sessions of her chemotherapy, they were on their way to Mexico.

The cure was beyond Fred’s wildest dream.

“Oh, it’s so expensive,” Minnie moaned.

“There is nothing expensive in regaining your health,” Fred said as he maneuvered her wheel chair to their couples massage session. 

“What’s that smell?” Minnie asked as the door to spa was opened by a barely five-foot overweight woman in a pale pink uniform. 

“It’s the oils honey,” Fred said, “Apricot, I think,” although he had no real idea.

“You’re so smart,” Minnie cooed.  They were pressed, pinched, and kneaded on side-by-side tbles close enough to see each other.

“It hurts,” Minnie said after an enthusiastic squeeze by the male masseuse on the back of her thigh.

“President Harry Truman said, ‘No pain, no gain,’ ” Fred said.

“He never had a massage,” Minnie said.

A month went by like a summer evening in a rocker on the back porch of a vacation cottage in Florida.  Minnie complained less–it seemed to Fred–and he loved the ministrations of the spa staff; he arranged for a second month of therapy.  

On the trip home, Minnie came down with flu symptoms and by the time they were home in Portland, she was coughing and sniveling.  She had a fever 102.  Her doctor made a house call and sent her to the hospital.  A complication!  A patch of pneumonia.

“I told you, never touch the inside of those back-of-seat pockets in airplanes,” Fred had said.

“I’m so sorry, honey.  I dropped my earring in there when I took it off to use the headset for the movie.”

That’s no excuse for carelessness Fred thought at the time but offered no sympathy, even to the woman he loved.

Antibiotics reduced the fever, but the cancer was worse the doctors said.  They recommended immediate transfer to the oncologists who advised internal treatment even though they were pessimistic about cures in the late stages and reluctant to pinpoint a prognosis.  Fred and Minnie discussed it together alone with the consultation-room door closed. 

“They don’t know what they’re doing,” Fred said.

“I don’t feel good,” Minnie said.

“Temporary.  You know how you recovered in Mexico.”

Minnie did not respond for many minutes, her eyes closed.  Fred watched.  Then Minnie’s eyes snapped open as if frightened by a bad dream.  “Tell the doctors I want to start the treatments.”

“Honey . . .”

“Do it Fred!”

“It’s not the way . . .” Fred began.

“And call a minister, I want to pray,” Minnie interrupted.

“Not the one you went to before Mexico.”

“Just call him, Fred.  And you to.  Go out and find God.  Ask him to save me.”

There is no God, Fred thought.  At least, no God that cares about folks like you and me.  But he loved his Minnie.  “Okay, Minnie.  I’ll get started right away.”

Having disdained God his entire life, Fred now felt hopeless.  He studied religions and reasoned the Catholics were the closest of all religions and sects to God.  They had statues and icons, and rituals that seemed to give them special incentives and favors.  He’d try the Catholics.

He went to the nearest parish church in a bucolic New England setting and with its own cemetery spattered with Mainers going back two centuries.  The priest was attentive and urged Fred to join the church.  “I don’t have time to join the church.  This is urgent.  I need to talk with God.”

“You must be a believer.”

“I am committed to Christ” he said.   He did not know what commitment would feel like, but he felt piety just saying it.  “Now teach me to pray,” He said.

The priest hesitated.  Fred insisted.  The priest started with “Hail Mary” and “The Lord’s Prayer.“

“I want to speak to God,” Fred said.

“You will know when you can.  Keep thinking of Him in your meditations.”

“And what about the ‘Virgin’?  Could she help?”

“I believe she is often sympathetic to those in stress.”

“Should I try them both?”

The priest shrugged.  “As you wish,” he said.

After weeks of prayer, Fred resented God’s failure to connect him.  The key to opening a conversation was never clear to Fred, although he sought the priest’s advice frequently and attended mass.  He thought communion might be the way to reach God but was denied access to the sacraments by the priest.  Fred’s intensified his praywer offerings..

Dear God.  Let me know if this gets to you.  My wife Minnie is dying of cancer.  She’s a sweet woman.  The best.  There is no reason for her to die.  Save her!  I know you can do it.  You’ve done it for so many others.  But do it now.  For me, please.  Your adoring servant.  Fred Bean

God doesn’t hear, or even listen, he thought.  But he kept trying.

Minnie lived three months and twelve days from her start of therapy that had, in the last month, turned palliative.  Before her weeks of unconsciousness, she had insisted she be buried in Iowa near her lifelong friends.  Fred arrived days before Minnie’s coffin.  The weather was good enough for a graveside ceremony.  More than a hundred mourners attended, each a thread in the carpet that had been Minnie’s life.

Minnie’s Iowa Presbyterian minister conducted the ceremony.  A portly pompous asshole in black.  Fred thought.  What has he ever done for Minnie?   The minister began: “We are gathered here, dear friends, in grief for our dearly departed.  A woman of fortitude, exceptional kindness . . .”

Fred could stand no more.  He stepped up from the front circle of friends and pushed the minister away from the head of the casket.  The minster fell on his face, his arms outstretched to break the impact.  He was helped to standing by those close by.  Fred had taken the minister’s place.  Fred addressed the mourners; grief fueled anger in his words.

“You’re all to blame.  Minnie dies.  Who cares?  Minnie cried out to doctors who failed her.”  Callus slimeballs, he thought.  “When she moved away from your idyllic little town, friends forgot her.”  Bloodsucking worms.  “And God scorned her.  Never heard her pleas after she dedicated her life to Him.  You’re all to blame.  Don’t wallow in self-righteousness.  Weep for your souls.  You killed the best woman in the world.”  His mouth was as dry as a river-bottom in a summer drought.  His heart burned with outrage, his soul punctured with grief.

The stunned crowd stayed silent.  “Have you no respect?”  Fred cried out.

“You’re insane,” a voice yelled from the rear of the crowd.  Two men, business associates of Minnie’s former husband, grabbed Fred by the arms and, assisted by others, dragged him toward the iron gate of the graveyard almost fifty yards away from Minnie’s casket.  The preacher recovered and began saying something to the crowd.  “Forgive . . . “

Fraud, Fred thought.

Alone, walking away from where Minnie was being lowered into eternity, a leadened silence of lonely isolation enveloped Fred and he wept uncontrollably.  I am a victim of survival.  Life is inevitable, beyond the clutch of human will.

 

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Story in Literary Fiction added 3 new photos.

This is about emotional arcs in fiction, which have not been clearly taught or emphasized in the over 100 creative writing classes I've attended. In fact, thinking about fluctuant emotions may not be worthwhile in fiction heavily dependent on plot. However, character-based fiction-quality can often be improved by awareness in creating emotional movement as an arc in the prose.

This is an example of an identifiable emotional arc in the featured story "Nemesis." The idea was not considered during the writing and storytelling. The story follows the Greek pattern of excessive and unjustified pride (hubris) resulting in a fall (nemesis), a rise (like a phoenix from the ashes) with another fall resulting again from hubris. David Riley illustrated this story, and his reading of the substance of the story came out as a series of emotional portraits, which displayed arc-like characteristics. I'd like to know if you think, as a writer and/or a reader, can consideration of emotional flux and change, consistent with intellectual enlightenment,make certian stories more meaningful and enjoyable? You can read the short story online (free) here:
http://storyinliteraryfiction.com/original-stories…

In the story, excessive pride leads to downfall in the story, then love revives the protagonist but at the end his hubris in insisting he knows the best treatments for cancer results in loss of the only valuable thing he ever cared about selflessly in his life? Classic story forms in a story contribute to the success of a story. Hubris and nemesis are Greek staples for stories that have lasted millennia. But consider examples of a story success with underlying classic structures like death and rebirth, the quest to make a better life, or slaying the dragon to save the world.

I believe the quality of forming a story is especially germane to contemporary fiction where modern authors are obsessed with telling their stories, stories about me and my life as fiction, usually in 1st person and remembered not imagined, and often ignoring the wonders of a great literary (of lasting value as an art form) fiction (imagined and created) story (a beginning, middle, and end and set in a series of interrelated scenes with strong characterization and dramatic plots). Does my disappointment in many modern "fiction" stories make sense to you?

One key to effectively embedding emotional progression in a story is avoiding abstraction in the prose (words like love, hate, anger) and showing emotional change through action. Was this achieved in "Nemesis"?

If you're interested in this infrequently discussed element of literary (maybe all) fiction, you might read the essay (free) "Emotional Complexity in Literary Fiction": http://storyinliteraryfiction.com/essays-on-writin…
Also take a look at the illuminating interview with Jim Shepard http://storyinliteraryfiction.com/interviews/…, which gives insight into identifying and incorporating emotion in writing fictional stories (also free).

And thanks for visiting Story in Literary Fiction on Facebook. You can find much more about writing and literature online at: http://www.storyinliteraryfiction.com/
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Posted 8 months ago

This is about emotional arcs in fiction, which have not been clearly taught or emphasized in the over 100 creative writing classes Ive attended.  In fact, thinking about fluctuant emotions may not be worthwhile in fiction heavily dependent on plot.   However, character-based fiction-quality can often be improved by awareness in creating emotional movement as an arc in the prose.

This is an example of an identifiable emotional arc in the featured story Nemesis.  The idea was not considered during the writing and storytelling. The story follows the Greek pattern of excessive and unjustified pride (hubris) resulting in a fall (nemesis), a rise (like a phoenix from the ashes) with another fall resulting again from hubris.  David Riley illustrated this story, and his reading of the substance of the story came out as a series of emotional portraits, which displayed arc-like characteristics.  Id like to know if you think, as a writer and/or a reader, can consideration of emotional flux and change, consistent with intellectual enlightenment,make certian stories more meaningful and  enjoyable?  You can read the short story online (free) here:
http://www.storyinliteraryfiction.com/original-stories-william-h-coles/nemesis/  

In the story, excessive pride leads to downfall in the story, then love revives the protagonist but at the end his hubris in insisting he knows the best treatments for cancer results in loss of the only valuable thing he ever cared about selflessly in his life?  Classic story forms in a story contribute to the success of a story.  Hubris and nemesis are Greek staples for stories that have lasted millennia.  But consider examples of a story success with underlying classic structures like death and rebirth, the quest to make a better life, or slaying the dragon to save the world. 

I believe the quality of forming a story is especially germane to contemporary fiction where modern authors are obsessed with telling their stories, stories about me and my life as fiction, usually in 1st person and remembered not imagined, and often ignoring the wonders of a great literary (of lasting value as an art form) fiction (imagined and created) story (a beginning, middle, and end and set in a series of interrelated scenes with strong characterization and dramatic plots).  Does my disappointment in many modern fiction stories make sense to you?  

One key to effectively embedding emotional progression in a story is avoiding abstraction in the prose (words like love, hate, anger) and showing emotional change through action.  Was this achieved in Nemesis?

If youre interested in this infrequently discussed element of literary (maybe all) fiction, you might read the essay (free) Emotional Complexity in Literary Fiction: http://www.storyinliteraryfiction.com/essays-on-writing/emotional-complexity-in-literary-fiction/ 
Also take a look at the illuminating interview with Jim Shepard http://www.storyinliteraryfiction.com/interviews/shepard-jim-interview/, which gives insight into identifying and incorporating emotion in writing fictional stories (also free). 

And thanks for visiting Story in Literary Fiction on Facebook.  You can find much more about writing and literature online at:  http://www.storyinliteraryfiction.com/

Joyce Notlookingforaboyfriend Smith, Anneleise Gutierrez and 23 others like this

Sabrina SlusserI havnt finished reading what you said. But it looks like you are making a valid point. I greatly enjoy your opinion in this aspect.

8 months ago

1 Reply

Joe AtkinsSame here. Read your post and still need to read the links, but yes I would agree that showing an emotional arc can be important in a story in so many ways---for example, by contrast as one character is changed by what happens to him or her, and another refuses to change and perhaps suffers the consequences. If there's a change, of course, show rather than tell.

8 months ago

1 Reply

Callie ParrishIn one aspect of my life I have too much pride and that is when I am making art. I am completely selfish in that endeavor and I've never understood why. My creation is a part of me and with that I do what I absolutely need to. But most importantly what I want to. Nothing matters more in the world than what I am creating! Absolutely nothing! And when it's finished a high is reached. Then I must rest. What is weird though is when I complete a work I don't like to look at it. I start on something else. It's as if I am ashamed and my art is never good enough. I dislike showing my art because people will tell me how moving or how great my art is when all I can feel is disgust... while at the same time when I am creating that work it's impossible to be more proud. Only when I am finished is when it turns to absolute drivel and useless. I cast it aside. But as much as I detest it I can't get rid of them. It's strange.

8 months ago

1 Reply

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