Today we have another short story by Christian Fennell. His narrative tone is consistent with this first piece, ‘Under the Midnight Sun‘, but both stories are unique. The prose in ‘In a Big World’ is calm and surreal, the characters sad and deep, and the storyline mysterious and captivating.
In a Big World
A simple silhouette to a barren land and a dead crow’s nest hangs falling before the coming night, and you can see me. I know you can.
I close the door of an old pickup and watch it drive away, the sound of the tires on the gravel wanting the last of my resolve. But I won’t let it go. No. And I am coming.
The wind picks up and takes the nest and it drifts crazy-like above the road—so far now from that little bay of Bala, hands laid upon the water.
The nest breaks apart and flutters away, and I walk away, slow and unsure, beautifully broken and drifting—perfect really, for this movement: wandering and wondering, in a big world.
The wind pushing me on still, and now down a narrow path between tall trees born of the coming night’s broken light—most of wanting is always there, in the trees without leaves, in the wind: You can’t have everything. You can’t fix everything.
I stop and pick a small white spotted mushroom. I sniff it. I put my tongue to it. I give it back to the wet ferns, white trilliums and broken punky trees.
I walk up a small ditch back to the path—there’s an old woman dressed in black walking with her head held forward pushing a wooden cart filled with assorted possessions the other way on the other side of the path. A raven rides proud on point.
I watch her walk away with her heavy labored shuffle, one foot up with slow deliberation and put down again firm in front of the other. She scares me. She looks at me.
Go on then, whaddaya waitin for?
I walk again, the sun falling over the trees and I stop and turn to it and tilt my head to it, my eyes closed, and I stay like this, on this path to where? That postcard. Faded. Pinned to the wall at the back of the diner. I didn’t even know em. They’d left before I started.
Because you promised yourself you would.
I walk again, slow and uneasy, thinking about that skiff, and that bay, the water so calm and clear and running on forever beneath a faded blue sky, with no clouds, none at all, and it was beautiful and peaceful and filled with such loneliness.
The path comes to an end and I stop and look around. There’s a rocky craggy drop and beyond it, it is stunning.
I start down the slope, looking on, listening, and I coming.
There’s a breeze, and I walk to it, smiling, and reaching to it, and happy, the long soft grass brushing past me, the sun upon it, soft and warm like an evening’s summer breeze coming off that bay.
And I walk like this, in the endless valley meadow, until sometime later when I tire. I stretch back to the warm grass, looking up, and there are no clouds, in a faded blue sky. None at all.
I wake shaded by a big tree. A beautiful tree. Perfectly formed and reaching far above me.
I back away, and in my mind I am unsure of the tree, questioning the very thing before me. The existence of the tree. Such a beautiful tree. I look beyond it and there is something. I can’t make it out, it’s too far, the sun low and in my eyes and I begin to walk, looking back at the tree to see if it is really there. Still there. Such a thing as that.
I walk for a while, coming to a caravan-type trailer, wooden with trim painted in bright colors mostly faded and flaked away. The grass is up past the door, the wheels taken by the earth.
I look around. There is no one. It’s quiet. I approach the trailer, the long hitch perched on a block of cracked aged oak, and I sit and lean to it, looking at the low sun, bright upon the tall grass.
I have a friend.
I know, baby.
She lives in a tree.
I’m going to close my eyes.
Did you kiss me?
Yes, on your forehead.
On my forehead?
Yes, baby, on your forehead.
Good. I love you.
I know, baby. I love you too.
And then another voice comes: Hello.
There’s a man. I didn’t mean to – overhear them.
That’s all right. He pushes back his sweat-stained straw trilby and reaches into his pocket for his cigarettes.
Where’d you come from?
He looks over his shoulder, his white shirt, tucked in at the front, hangs loose at the back. I live here.
Yeah. He lights his cigarette and flips shut his lighter and nods towards the trailer.
I look back at the trailer and see the markings of faded painted letters—Circus.
He pulls a pint of whisky from his suit jacket and unscrews the top and holds it forward.
No, thank you. You were in the circus?
Yeah. He tips back the bottle.
There’s something about this man.
A clown. The sad one.
A sad clown?
Yeah, you know–with the makeup.
You’re a little girl?
I look back at the trailer.
And now another voice comes, yes, I’m a little girl, and this voice, it drifts just above the tall grass. I live in the tree.
With my friend?
No, I am your friend.
Oh. You’re a little girl?
Yes, I’m a little girl.
Am I little girl?
Yes, you’re a little girl too.
The sad clown places his foot on the hitch. So, you didn’t tell me, where are you from?
That doesn’t help much.
Bala. What was that?
Yes, Bala. It’s a little place on a bay. Are you gonna tell me or not?
He takes another sip of whisky and looks towards the trailer.
In the tree you don’t look little.
No, I’m not always little.
In my dreams I see you, and I climb you, and you hold me.
Yes, I know.
You keep me.
Can we play?
Yes. Come and play.
In the tree?
Yes. Come and play in the tree with me.
You won’t make me leave?
Is it warm?
Yes, it is. It’s warm. It’s nice.
It’s like we can hear her dream somehow? Is that it? Both sides of it?
He screws the lid on the bottle and puts it back in his suit jacket pocket and sits on the hitch. Either that or we are her dream. But then again, I wouldn’t know, would I? I was born here. Tell me about this place, Bala? Why’d you leave?
I don’t know.
He crosses his legs and lights another cigarette. You don’t know?
No. Well—there was a postcard.
Yeah, at the back of the diner where I worked. It was old and faded and sent by someone that left before I started. It was picture of a boat. By itself in a bay somewhere. On my break, I’d look at it and wish I was there. All the time, actually. I’d even touch it.
He takes a drag of his cigarette and tilts his head back and exhales. So you wanted to leave?
I guess so. I don’t know. Although, it was a beautiful place too and I loved it. So why would I ever want to leave that?
The sad clown drops his wrist over his crossed legs, his cigarette burning between his fingers.
Maybe I did want to leave. I don’t know. But my last night there, I can remember that. It was like a dream.
The sad clown takes another drag of his cigarette and looks at the trailer.
Baby, the lions are stuck.
Yes, baby, the lions. I need Kashka to pull the truck out.
Yes, baby, Kashka.
Yes, it is. It’s sunny.
It’s so warm.
Yes, it’s nice. You look beautiful.
Where are all the midgets?
Yes, baby, gone. In the mud.
In the mud?
There’s just the lions left?
Yes. And us.
Yes, baby. Everything else is in the mud.
No, not Kashka.
Look. The lions.
Yes, I can see them.
Yes, I can see them now too.
They’re running and playing. Like that time on the beach, do you remember? Just them. In the meadow now, and they look so happy.
Yes, baby, they are. They’re happy.
What about the truck?
It’s gone too. In the mud.
I can see the tree from here. I think I’ll go see if my friend wants to come out and play.
Yes. She might want to come for a ride on Kashka?
That’d be nice.
Yes it would be. What will you do?
Yes, baby, wait.
For the others?
Yes, for the others. They might come back.
Did you kiss me?
No, baby, you’re on Kashka.
Blow me a kiss.
There. Did you get it?
Yes, on my forehead.
Yes, baby, on your forehead.
I love you.
I know, baby. I love you too.
Where is this place?
The end of the world, of course.
Who are those people? And why am I here?
Perhaps to find me. Now tell me more about that night.
I was on my break and there was a warm breeze coming off the bay and it was such a beautiful clear night I walked down to the water’s edge. The moon was full and I wanted to hear the music.
There’s a big club at the other end of the bay and Louis Armstrong was playing.
Louis Armstrong. He searches his pockets for his pint of whisky. He pulls it out, unscrews the lid and takes a sip.
The bay was full, there were so many boats that night, all moored together under the moonlight, their varnished wood shining just above the water. Earlier, I watched them come in, the women in their long dresses and jewelry holding their high heels in one hand and their husband’s arm with the other, walking barefoot over the bows of the boats. And for some reason, I wanted to feel the water. I don’t know why. And so I knelt down and leaned forward and put my hands to it, both palms, and it made me feel so good, as if I were connected somehow to all of it, the warm breeze, the water, the boats gently swaying in the moonlight, all the happy people. And of course the music, that beautiful music that just seemed to cover us. To fold us all into one thing; into everything. And time could have stopped right there, for all I cared. I look again at the soft yellow light coming from the small trailer window. And I can feel it still, like it’ll be with me forever.
The sad clown butts his cigarette out againsit the side of the hitch and looks at the carevan.
You’re an old woman?
Yes, I’m an old woman.
Am I an old woman?
Yes, you’re an old woman too.
I’ve been riding this elephant.
Yes, I know.
I wanted to see if you wanted to come for a ride? I was going to ask you?
That would be nice.
Oh good, you’d like to come for a ride?
Where would you like to go?
It doesn’t matter.
What about the tree?
It’s with me.
Yes, the tree.
Do you like being a little girl, with a tree?
Riding an elephant?
Yes, riding an elephant.
The sad clown stands and holds his hand out and I stand and take it and together we walk into the meadow and stretch out in the tall grass looking up at the last of the day’s light, and there are no clouds, in a clear sky. None at all.
It’s early on a quiet day, the sun just up and we walk out from a townhouse. Down a wide set of stairs. We wait for the traffic to clear, a streetcar, and then I watch my beautiful little boy pull his hand from mine and run across the street towards a small park behind a green hedge and a black wrought iron fence, and I smile—most of wanting is always there, in the trees without leaves, in the wind: You can’t have everything. You can’t fix everything.
And I am coming. I am running. In the night.
The dark tone of the piece coupled with the almost dream-like imagery makes this piece memorable. Join us next week for another post!