Isolation

Tonight I read D. Thomas Minton’s “Two Drawers Down From the Butcher’s Block” in Postcards From… The story paints a good picture of isolation, particularly of the religious variety:

Others lived on the shelves above the butcher block. Stanislaw did not know them, because he could not climb up there. But he heard them sometimes, voices too faint to understand, and saw them as fleeting shadows of light. One day, he became convinced that they spoke Hebrew and he longed from then on to join them.

The story is about a character named Stanislaw, the only Jew in an afterlife that takes place in a kitchen, and where Father Kerrigan and his flock seem to be in control. I’ve spent the last five years somewhere between Christianity and Judaism (I’m very slowly converting to Judaism, which is my husband’s tradition), and I can relate to the isolation the story describes. When I don’t quite fit in among a group of people who take their own traditions for granted, it’s tempting to make little compromises:

He remembered the night he had asked his wife to put the children in Sunday School so they could make friends and play with the neighborhood children. She had tsked loudly and refused with a slice of her finger. She would not force her children to sing praise to another Almighty, even if it made their lives easier. “Life is not meant to be easy, Stanislaw,” she had said.

But ultimately, Stanislaw can’t compromise away his identity, and so the loneliness continues. There’s a comment at the end of the story that says:

Not sure about this one. The writing is good, but I got bored half way through. The trouble with this kind of story is that you know all there is to know from the start.

I can’t dispute that the commenter got bored, but I think he or she may have missed the point. I knew at the beginning that Stanislaw was isolated, but I think the story does a beautiful job of building up the nature of that isolation, and showing how Stanislaw’s situation in the afterlife is really just a culmination of an isolation that started in life, going back to when he was quite young.

Incidentally, I’m hoping Postcards From… is still publishing. There have been no new posts since May, so I’m a bit concerned, but the site has a premise that I would like to see continue (very short stories, categorized as fantasy, science fiction, or horror).

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