Mariana in the South, John William Waterhouse
I’ve had in my short story files, this opening paragraph…
In a field of grass stands a shotgun house. Rust like dried blood spreads over its roof of rain-whitened tin. Hot humid southern Louisiana summers and frosted grass, pipe-breaking winters have aged its oak planks to a musty ash-gray, more of the substance of shadow than wood, as if the only thing holding the walls in place were air and memory. The grass is full of mustard weed and wild artichoke, field mice, snakes, and ant hills of gray dirt chewed into tiny balls. Here and there in the field, lumpy towers of snake holes rear, short stumps of dirt chewed and mounded by serpent jaws. Dragonflies flit about, their aeroplane wings sketch the air.
I wrote it years ago, and every now and then I pull it out and read it. In all this time, the voice has not given me the next paragraph. I would love to write the next paragraph, and the one after that, and so on, but it has never come. The paragraph stands, a gate in a wall, like the door into the Dwarves Hall locked with an Elvish riddle. This paragraph is the riddle. One day I’ll solve it, but for now, this gate too remains locked.
There’s this one too in my story file…
I like this dude, Ernest Hemingway. Another dead white man, but cool. Awright, I read his book. The Snows of Kilimanjaro And Other Stories. A Clean, Well-Lighted Place. These days any dude staying open late in a store or anything with bright lights and all by his lonesome is likely to catch a cap or two, and his cash register emptied of dead presidents. Anyway, where I am ain’t clean or well-lit or pleasant. A jail cell. Another kind of coffin. My choice is I’m breathin in this one. I ain’t the only homeboy here in the San Garibaldi Correctional Facility. Everyday I see plenty of familiar faces. Homeboys with bad timing who fit the description.
A different voice, but the paragraph remains as much a riddle as ever. I’m going to find the key, eventually.