Monday, December 29, 2014
Compassion: A Short Fiction Story
This one blew all of us away. This student, Kika, doesn't usually write in fiction and we were immediately pulled into the world she describes - the snow, the insect, the mug, the window.
The ambiguity she addresses was universal in so many student writings that week. Compassion: we want it to be easy and clean. But it isn't.
Compassion. It was the guiding force in her life - or at least, she liked to think so.
As she watched the bundled humans toddle past in their heavy boots and scarves, Clementine noticed an insect crawling up the window pane. It had a long, narrow body and bowed legs, with delicate wings in four sections. It was a pale green color, at odds with the weather, and it used its antennae to gently tap the glass, as it it, too, wanted to be out in the snow, moving through that fresh glittering white. Where had it come from? Clementine was overcome with tenderness at its unlikely presence, its fragility, its ghostly vernal beauty. She looked at the glass again; such a thin pane, old enough that cool drafts seeped from it, causing her to clutch the mug of tea more tightly. It had been a bad idea to put cold cream in the tea. In December it was always best to heat the cream, so both vessel and drink stayed hotter longer. A warm kind of company, almost like holding hands with someone you love.
It had been years since she held hands with someone she loved. She had ended her marriage after the children had grown, with gentle assurances to her husband that it was in both of their best interests; and both of them had taken up with younger lovers, who brought, in her husband’s case, happiness for a short time before he had his heart attack; and in her case, an even shorter time before Elliot had been killed in a car accident. Had she done the right thing? Was it worth it, setting them both free at the eleventh hour, when she knew her husband would never have chosen it? Breaking up their household?
Her parents’ household had been broken up, too; her mother had become one of her brother’s best allies, even organizing the wedding that Jed and Ted had finally had; a private affair in the back yard, in spring, under cherry blossoms that drifted, veil-like, past their faces. But her father had never spoken to Jed again, eventually leaving her mother, moving into a small apartment over the newspaper offices until he died. Was this compassionate, wondered Clementine, to share a truth that unleashed a flow of refuge-like parental love and acceptance on the one hand, but which bolted and barred another source of parental love forever?
The insect had twisted around so that its examination was now on the curtains: the old, worn fabric, thinner than a child’s summer dress, insubstantial. It was a naked window, really. A token of separation, one that kept Clementine on one side of the cold and snow - Clementine and the insect - and which kept everyone else outside, experiencing the cold. For Clementine this distance was tiny, she thought, but for the insect it was the Berlin Wall. And suddenly she felt angry. She felt in her heart all of the frozen questions without answers - had she done the right thing? Was it best? Was it good enough? - glittering sharply, a thousand tiny swords, or throwing spheres, or snowflakes. Unfinished, uncertain: cold places in her heart where the past had numbed over, where a thin curtain protected her shabbily from doubt and regret. She thought of the wedding, again: that gentle washed out green of young leaves, so like the insect’s wings, which were now fluttering gently against its transparent barrier.
Would it even live if it were to break through? Was it too delicate? wouldn’t it freeze to death, or be unable to bear the weight of flakes sifting down? As Clementine wondered these things she felt the rage inside her well up, pent, hot and unreleased. She knew that she had two choices: she could cry, and the hot tears would clean her out. Or she could break the window, she could face the numbness head on, step out into its dazzling, common territory unbundled, with a fragile and temporary and tiny familiar at her side. She looked into the mug of tea: lukewarm, almost empty, the cream slightly congealed. And, carefully scooping the crawling creature onto a sleeve, she took stock now of the glass, placed her aim, and hurled the mug. She gasped at the satisfying and frigid shatter.