Odis Harding heard the knock on his door; he just wasn’t ready to go. He knew this would be the last time he would see his home.
“Dad? Can you open the door? Dad? Can you hear me?”
“I ain’t deaf,” he whispered, staring at the yawning, blackened fireplace. He thought of all the things he had fed to the flames in exchange for warmth over the years when the snows fell. His wife’s clothes, his daughter’s dolls, books, furniture. All eaten up, gone.
The door busted open with a loud pop. His son-in-law, Robert, fell into the empty room. He was thinner than Odis remembered him.
“Oh, Dad.” Sylvia removed her sweater and wrapped it around his shoulders. “Okay, let’s get you out of here. They’re going to take good care of you.”
Robert moved to help his wife. “When’s the last time you’ve eaten, Odis?” he yelled.
“I ain’t deaf,” he grumbled, grunting as the two lifted him from the floor. His legs threatened to give out.
“You’re lucky Sylvia has some pull, Odis. She got you a fine room all to yourself.”
They got him situated on the wagon, Sylvia climbing in beside him and pulling a hand-crocheted blanket over their legs.
Odis swiped at his eyes with the back of a trembling hand. He stared at his home, trying to burn every detail into his failing mind. Cracked cement steps, banister eaten by rust, windows repaired with plywood, the patterns of lost shingles. He knew within days, it would be an empty lot, existing only for him, until that too was eaten up.
Under the spell of the spring sunshine and the steady clip clop of hooves, Odis could almost remember what it used to be like. His body swayed, his mind wandered as he eyed the farms they passed; farms that used to be bustling neighborhoods full of kids playing in the streets, smells of fried catfish and barbeque, porches alive with card games and laughter deep into dusk.
“What was it like? I mean, we learned about it in school, of course, but what was it really like, for you and mom?”
Odis let himself focus on his daughter, his heart breaking. She would never know what it meant to grow up free. She had asked him a straightforward question though, so he would give her a straightforward answer.
“Nothing made sense that day, Sylvia. The stars could have fallen out of the sky and bounced on the street and we couldn’t have been more shocked. We sat there with our neighbors at the time, Vern and Poppy, listening to the President talk about how China had cashed in their chips and we couldn’t pay. How we made an agreement with them to repay our debt by letting them come in and restructure our economy. We just stared at each other. Poppy said maybe it was a joke. The dread in the pit of our stomachs told us it wasn’t.
“There was some excitement at first as Chinese business men toured the major cities in their silk suits. People were even naïve enough to think maybe they would help us get back on our feet as a nation. Then the bulldozers came and the wrecking balls and the communist uniforms. The changes were swift and brutal. Neighborhoods were leveled; people were relocated to central locations in the cities. Factories sprouted up and were populated with women and children. The men labored on new farms and orchards away from their families.”
“But, why were there riots? Didn’t people believe that America needed new factories? That the desolate and foreclosed neighborhoods would better be used as farm land? The Chinese gave us jobs at a time when there were none.”
Odis felt old rage stir like bees in his chest. He was too tired to embrace it. He laughed instead.
“So that’s what they teach you in school, huh? Jobs? You call workin’ sixty hours a week in a dirty factory just for a roof and enough food to survive a job? That’s slavery, Sylvia, that ain’t no employment.”
“We do get paychecks, Daddy…they just go to repay our debt. It’s not so bad, really.”
“Says the rat in the cage.” Odis shook his head and closed his eyes.
When he opened them again, they were stopped in front of an old prison that had been turned into a state hospital. He glanced at the Chinese guards walking toward them and then into his daughter’s eyes. He saw no spark, no hope and the pain was suddenly too much to bear.
“I’m sorry, sweet girl.”
Wrapping one arm around her, he breathed in the scent of her hair. His other hand moved to the pistol hidden in his waistband. The one loaded with two bullets he prayed to God he would have the strength to use.
A couple of small things: in some places, it is “Odis,” in a few, it is “Otis.” Also, it seems like it should be “Robert, fell into the room,” instead of “Robert, falling…”? Actually, there may only be two places where it was “Otis,” there toward the end. More to come…
Alright, thoughts: I could not have begged you for a better ending. Love, love, love that: sad to say (and perhaps I shouldn’t in public), but I can completely understand and empathize with his motivation, and think that even might be my own choice.
Love, love, love the topicality of this one, too: you build the setting well, in that we’re almost of the mind this is a story set in the PAST, only to be rudely awakened to it’s being our present. The correlation with the bygone is well done, though.
Anyway, this is a really good one. It moves well, as yours normally do, but I just am very appreciative of the theme. Too, it may be a little dark, but you kept it from being morbid. Really good reality check… one would almost want to see it as an article somewhere. Let’s hope it’s not where we’re really heading.
P.S. Who we stalking today, p.i.c.a.f. LOL!
Actually, I think I need to clarify my position, before what I’ve said comes out WAY the wrong way: I don’t mean the bullet for the daughter, in suggesting I admire a certain heroism in the ending, I just mean in regard to what road he was taking for himself. Here, of course, the inclusion of the daughter in the plan, I wouldn’t condone. Still, I love the ending. It’s a perfect gem of a piece.
Thanks for catching those before I officially posted 🙂 You know, I’m on the fence and leaning toward “falling” as far as how it sounds to me. Not grammatically correct though? Or just awkward?
Glad you liked it. Yes, it’s a dark road and I do feel sorry for our offspring. Hm, you have kind of taken the position of Odis. Interesting.
I’d have to say “not grammatically correct”: it’s a sentence fragment. The present participle here has the sentence acting as a dependent clause, but with you trying to use the former as an independent clause (if that makes sense–describing it as opposed to doing it is not my forte).
his son-in-law, Robert, falling into the empty room.
Even if we change the semicolon, it still can’t really function the way you’re wanting it to (as best I can tell, now) without a conjunction or preposition to bridge the gap. Maybe a second or third opinion will do you better justice. Even with something like that, it still seems like the verb form will have to be amended.
Of course, maybe I’m just loony in how I’m looking at it, who knows these days–anything is possible with me, I guess.
Wonderful job of winding this tale around from a seeming past to revealing its near future reality.
Okay I dont know how this made everybody else feel but … I’m sitting here with a skipping heart and tears forming on the tip of my eyelids. There’s like an anvil resting on my chest.
Our country has gone under more than just a couple of occupations. People have been enslaved by the Germans, the Italians, the Turkish … Our damn geographical position is such that we’ve met everyone’s desires for expansion. The west expanding to the east and the east expanding to the west … they all have to go through us.
Damn I’ve managed not to cry but I think I’m getting a headache only by trying to avoid it.
That’s a wonderfully woven story. It does feel (IMHO) like two separate parts, one setting the compassion the reader needs to experience towards the old man and the other, delivering the blow to the stomach.
I was about to cry before even reading anything about the Chinese. You depict such an old man that has nothing, yet used to have something. The deep depression of the declining human nature.
Okay I’ll stop now or else my comment will be as long as your post 🙂 I loved your story. I did need something shallow and funny and light-hearted to start my day with but even thought I feel like something really nasty has happened to someone I love, I wouldnt change it.
Thank you for stirring strong emotions. It was a very well done story!
I came back to give my vote on the issue of *falling* versus *fell* 🙂
I too have the feeling (like the writer) that what has now been called a *fragment sentence* serves a purpose; to depict a motion rather than to state a fact. Although in strict syntactic rules this may be considered wrong, fragments are invaluable to writers as they offer the means to convey an image of an action that would otherwise be a blunt statement of a fact.
Besides, it’s commonly accepted that “as long as you are clearly in control of the situation, this (ie. sentence fragment) is permissible, but the freedom to exercise this stylistic license depends on the circumstances. ”
Hope that helps 🙂
phlegyas- helps a lot, actually. I’m very fond of fragments and not using the word “and” between them, which some editors have questions but then left up to artistic license in the end. And thank you for connecting so well to this story…that is the best compliment in the world.
Oh such a bleak future in store for the old man who knew what the past had to offer before the country was sold to the highest bidder who actually had the money.
So sad to read about the loss of hope in the daughter’s eyes. Living without it is death indeed.
I went through various stages with this – at first it seemed like the old man was being picked up to be taken to a home (which he is of course, but I read it more in the slice-of-life way!). Then we get the wagon with the horse… what’s going on here..?
And then you wacked me around the head with the Chinese!!
This was a great piece of writing. I can’t really say anything original- just the past really being present/future and the twist. Great.
I love the irony of this piece – how you’ve turned American imperialism on its head to bring it too-close-to-home-for-comfort.
This one had a double twist, at least for me. Both of my grandpas have been put in homes in the past six months, so that’s where my mind went first. Then you hit us with the Chinese occupation, which is very chilling in how it went down. Then the ending with the gun. Another layer of chilling! All in all, from beginning to end, I found this to be an excellent tale, and even a roller-coaster ride of sorts. Well done!
I’ll simply start by saying “ditto” to all the previous comments … the reader continues to be surprised throughout the reading. One of my fav’s is the idea that there are now farms where there used to be neighborhoods … at first i thought i misread that and then came to understand it later. I, too, was crying b4 the chinese entered the picture. A very emotional piece that grabs you by the throat. Well done!
ps, on the “falling” issue … it’s definitely a fragment and after a semicolon you need a complete sentence. I use fragments occasionally also, but in combination w/ the semicolon i think it’s just a bit confusing.
Maybe consider: “The door burst open with a loud pop and Robert – his son-in-law – fell into the empty room.”
What the heck is all the drama about grammar? This isn’t technical writing. This is FICTION. Once a writer learns the rules they are allowed to break them when then want!
Nice piece. At first I felt like there was too much telling and not enough showing, but I changed my mind. What’s going on is that there is the story you are telling as a writer and the story the characters are telling. In your story you do a great job of showing and the “telling” that happens is all in-character so it’s fine because pace wise it still moves along. Plus the characters voices are so strong that when they do those mini-monologues it really shows who they are.
Every empire falls into ruin. It comes as a greater shock to those Empires that have never been previously bested. This is the tragedy of history and you capture it so well.
Have you started to do anything with Sahara’s Songs?
Great story, I love how it’s in the future, but telling of something going on now, sort of a chilling thought of what we are facing as a people. As always, you create a lot of emmotion (Sadness, anger, lunacy, and anxiety), which is why you are my favorite writer… thank you for the ride
I knew those damn Chinese were up to something. Originally I had suspected the Spanish Inquisition.
I also really like Scott’s comment. Once you know the rules, it’s OK to break them. For instance, I could have said it’s okay to break them if I wanted to. It’s my perogative.
I was really drawn into the emotion of this. Great story.
Thanks for the wake up call, Shannon. Vonnegut was right. Most Americans act like alcoholics in denial. The debt is just so staggering… Waking up and looking around is the first necessary step to recovery.
Ha. Very topical – kudos for all the tricks in this one, making us think we were in some past era when in fact it’s the near future.
Very Very nice. Gave me the goosebumps.
Loved the story, Shannon, especially the last bit when he inhales the scent of his daughter’s hair and calls her “sweet girl.” Your ideas are strong and passionate and rather scary.
(I suddenly feel the need to pay off my credit card.)
Well written as always. IMO sentence fragments are an important creative writing tool. I too was fooled, thinking it took place in the past until the end. For me it was depressing, scary, and compelling. Nice work.
Wow. I kept being surprised as I read as well. (Knew it wasn’t going to be a “normal” leaving for the rest home story when neighborhoods had been flattened to make FARMS, the very opposite of what happens right now.) The piece took me through many emotions, leaving me with slightly stunned mixed feelings in the end. (Perfect.)
“He knew within days, it would be an empty lot, existing only for him, until that too was eaten up.”
That sentence stood out to me. And then the alternate reality trail you had me follow. It creeped me out because any of it could very well happen. We never know. Great job.
This is what fiction should do. Open closed eyes. Loved it, and I hope we figure out how change course before we’re all in these shoes. Aside from that, it is a well told story! Thanks for writing this.
I wasn’t expecting that! The story has a feel of the old deep south to begin with so I was surprised when the chinese were mentioned – it’s an interesting story. You do a good job of keeping the reader in suspense. The ending is quite dark but powerful. Great story.
Nice surprise! I too thought ‘deep South’ at the first.
I was surprised by the turn this took, Shannon, like some others who left comments. Excellent, bleak opening. I also like David’s take. This reminds me of my first novel written when I was in high school and trying to imagine an alternate universe. I appreciate that you took this vision on.