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Author Topic: The Crime  (Read 1476 times)

Joel

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The Crime
« on: May 06, 2005, 11:55:30 am »

The coffee had long since gone cold.  She should have finished it before it was wasted.  Another small crime to add to the weight of guilt on her shoulders.  Every sip of coffee or tea, every bite of food, was stolen from the mouth of a nice retired lady who couldn’t no way afford it.

The sun had been up for quite a while; she didn’t know how long.  The kids would be waking up soon, and Ellen needed to get out of her chair.  But she just didn’t have the energy.

She shook her head.  She couldn’t let herself sink down like this.  She had to take care of the kids.  She had to stir herself, get the kids breakfast, look for a job, look for a place to live.  She couldn’t settle down to depending on Aunt Mary’s charity; look how well that worked last time.  She had so much to do.  But she had so little strength.  If she slipped out of this chair, she would sink right into the earth.  She weighed a million pounds, and the weight was crushing.

She had done so badly at everything.  If she had been a better wife to Toby he would have stayed home more.  He would have been happier to be home, he wouldn’t have left her.  If she had been a better mother to her babies she would have found a way to keep a roof over the heads and food in their mouths, and then the state people wouldn’t have come.  If she’d been a better person she’d have taken the time to get herself together, make some money and show the state people that she could take care of her kids now.  If, if, if, if.  Instead she’d taken the simple way; stolen the kids and ran.  And now everything was so messed up there was no going back.  There was no hope.

The screen door from the house squeaked quietly as somebody came out on the porch.  Angie must be up.  It was the end of her quiet time; Ellen had to rouse herself to get breakfast together.

A small hand closed on her shoulder.  “You okay, honey?” Aunt Mary’s voice asked.

She glanced to the side and forced a smile.  “I’m fine, Aunt Mary.  Thanks.”

“If you don’t mind my saying, you don’t look fine.”

Ellen fought back tears.  She would not add her self-pity to the burden she’d already dumped on this poor woman.

“I’m so sorry, Aunt Mary.  I’ve made such a mess of everything.  I should never have brought it all to your door.”

“Don’t you worry about that.  I like having you guys around.”

Sure she does.  Who wouldn’t like having a felon show up at her door?  Ellen hung her head.  “I’ve been trying to put it all together, trying to figure out where it all started.  Y’know, every step of the way, before it all fell apart, I thought I was doing the right thing, the thing I was supposed to do.  I don’t know what I did to make it all fall down like this.  And then, when everything started flying away from me, I just never knew what I was supposed to do.  I know I should have found full-time work right away.  But I don’t really know how to do anything.  And how can I do that and take care of the kids, too?  I couldn’t just leave them alone.  I got what work I could, but it wasn’t enough.  It wasn’t enough.”

She clenched her jaw hard.  She had to shut up, and she would not cry.  Not in front of this overburdened old woman.
But it was so big inside her, she couldn’t keep it all in.  “How was it a crime, just not having enough?”

When Aunt Mary spoke behind her, her voice was angry.  Oh, God, Ellen thought, I’ve offended her.  But her words were strange.

“That wasn’t the crime, Ellen.  And you didn’t commit it.  The crime was in the people who think they own everybody else, who think they’re the only ones who get to make all the decisions for anybody who falls under their power, which is pretty much everybody.  And the crime was in all the people who like being under that power, and who’ll fight to make sure everybody else stays under it, too.”

“Huh?”

“You moved in with this friend of yours, this Brenda, right?  And she agreed to take you in?  Did she say anything about calling people to take your kids away from you?  Did she discuss that with you beforehand?”

Ellen didn’t like to think about Brenda.  “No.”  She was shocked at how hard, how brittle her voice sounded.

“Of course she didn’t.  But there it was.  Why do you think she did that?”

Because it was the right thing to do.  “I don’t know.  I guess she was worried about the kids.”

“She wasn’t worried about shit.”

The sound of this unexpected obscenity erupting from Aunt Mary’s proper mouth jerked Ellen’s head around.

“She wasn’t worried about the kids, and she wasn’t worried about you.  If she worried about anything, it was about how the whole thing looked.  She wanted to make sure that everybody, especially the people from the state, knew just what a proper citizen she was.”  Aunt Mary spat the word like a curse.  “She wanted to kiss the hand that fleeces her, and you gave her the chance.  You couldn’t have known that.”

Aunt Mary moved around to the front of Ellen’s chair.  “You want to talk about mistakes you made?  I can only see one, Sweetheart.  And you made it many years ago.  You believed everything you were told.  Be a good student, and your teachers will like you.  Be a good wife and mother, and your husband will take care of you.  Be a good citizen, and you never have to fear the law.

“But now you’ve learned, and not too late, that it isn’t so.  You’ve learned what most people never learn, Ellen.  That the people who watch over the flock aren’t the shepherds.  They’re the wolves.  And the best hope you’ve got, as long as you remain one of the flock, is that you look enough like all the other sheep that the wolves won’t notice you.  As soon as that stops being true, you’re in danger.  The only choice anybody’s got, other than to stand still and be gobbled up, is to either blend back in with the other sheep, or leave the flock.”

“And I’ll tell you one other thing you might not want to hear, and then we’ll go in and get breakfast ready together.  If it’d been me, instead of you, I wouldn’t have left your ‘friend’ Brenda stranded beside the road.  I’d have left her bleeding on her own floor.”
« Last Edit: May 06, 2005, 12:19:16 pm by John DeWitt »
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debeez

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The Crime
« Reply #1 on: May 06, 2005, 12:10:02 pm »

Quote
If it’d been me, instead of you, I wouldn’t have left your ‘friend’ Brenda stranded beside the road. I’d have left her bleeding on her own floor.”

John!  She's a QUAKER!!!!

But wait, didn't she marry a Quaker?  Okay, that makes sense.  I like the idea of little ole Aunt Mary having the spunk and commonsense to say something like that.

You've done very well with Ellen.  

As much as I hate to admit it, there was a time when I thought very similar to how she did.  I think it must be how many women are raised.  Grow up, get married, be a good mommy and wife.  My mother is still like that.  I remember thinking that I had failed in my first marriage, that I had been the bad person.  It took several years and an attempt at suicide for me to figure out the truth of who I really was.  And a couple more to pull myself out of the hole my ex-husband had so kindly dug for me.  

And I can still remember the shock on his face the first time I snapped back at him when he was telling me that "if it wasn't for you leaving I'd be in a house right now".  Yeah, asshole, riding on my back you would be.  It seems such perfect justice that he is still in the same miserable shop space, still misses regular showers and meals, and still cries and whines about the unfairness of his life...while I have moved on to such a better life.

Make her strong, John, 'cause you've got me emotionally invested now.  We all have such a enormous capacity for strength inside of us.  We only have to be good enough to ourselves, just believe in ourselves, and it just floods out.
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Scarmiglione'

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The Crime
« Reply #2 on: May 06, 2005, 01:48:13 pm »

That was a difficult piece.  I like that it's short and concise, and it works for the audience (us).


Not criticism, just an idea...

If the ultimate audience is one of "them", i.e., the "Ellens" of the world, adjusting Aunt Mary's dialogue far away from the commonly recognized libertarian parlance might be a good idea.  Country-fy it for comfort.  Couching the philosophy as "good old day" common sense is a common propaganda tactic for getting foreign ideas to be accepted by the audience.

Quote
“That wasn’t the crime, Ellen. And you didn’t commit it. The crime was in the people who think they own everybody else, who think they’re the only ones who get to make all the decisions for anybody who falls under their power, which is pretty much everybody. And the crime was in all the people who like being under that power, and who’ll fight to make sure everybody else stays under it, too.”

^- is what I read.



Country-fied is what my mind's ear heard in parallel.

"It weren't no crime Ellie.  You didn't do nothin wrong.  It's those folks that are too scared to do things themselves.  They see you taking care of your own and they got no excuse to not take care of theirs.  Most people are lazy, and they don't like fessing up to it.  They'll make you pay for doin' what's right and natural.  They call it 'law' and 'civilization' and all them fancy words.  But it's all just lawyer-talk for sticking your nose where it don't belong.  That's the crime, Ellie.  People got it so easy they don't mind their own anymore."


Again, I think it's fine the way it is for a libertarian-friendly audience.  Country/simple may not work for the character you've drawn.  (I know she's not Southern, but when I get folksy that's how it comes out.)  Just along the recent conversations about preaching I thought to throw an alternative out there.

 
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We've built a world safe for fools, and are overrun by them.
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