Fathers

I’m really impressed with Cyn Kitchen’s Every Earth is Fit for Burial,” another finalist for the Million Writers Award, this one published in Menda City Review. I’ve been noticing recently that I’ve tended to go on a fair bit about the things in stories that aren’t working for me, and have had less to say about what is working for me. It’s hard to know what to write about “Every Earth is Fit for Burial,” because every part of it works for me so well.

This is a story about a family, particularly focused on the father, and I like the way Kitchen weaves in details that reveal the kind of man he is (abusive) without resorting to cliche:

The main thing is he can’t run. Mama said he used to be quick and wiry when he played football in high school. These days he only runs when he absolutely has to and then it’s a clumsy skip-hop that makes me want to giggle at the wrong time – say if he’s trying to run down Mama when she’s driving off in the middle of an argument. Mama says if she could have practiced being married to him for twenty-four hours, she would have found something else to do with her life.

The narrator is the daughter, Sophia Jean, and the meandering of paragraphs like this give a clear sense of her chatty, childish voice and tendency to repeat bits of information overheard from adults, while also revealing key details about the family that Kitchen is writing about.

Most of the narrative thread follows how Sophia’s father starts going to church after having a spiritual experience in the midst of the storm, and what she and her mother hope will happen:

Daddy laid there, his hands shaking. I started to cry. Never in a million years did I think this day would come. Sure, I’d prayed for it, but I’m not sure I believed it would really happen. Right then I began to wonder about the future. About tomorrow and the day after that, but I wondered more about next month and next year. I wondered if Daddy would change into somebody like Lola Sullivan’s Daddy, who always had butterscotch candy in his pocket that he handed out with a hug to whoever wanted one – even if they stunk and nobody else wanted to be near them. Or, maybe God had a call on Daddy’s life, and we’d have to buy a touring bus because we discovered we could all sing like the Happy Goodmans, and that Daddy could preach and people would get saved, and we’d wear nice clothes, and people would tell us what a blessing we were in their lives. Away from the spotlight, with just the three of us traveling to the next city, I could imagine sitting next to Daddy with a map unfolded in my lap. He would stay off the main drag choosing two-lane country roads for our route because the scenery was more interesting. We would stop to eat at roadside diners, and he would call me his little sidekick. I was excited about whatever was going to change in Daddy and whatever was going to change in our lives. I was ready for us to be a family, and this was the perfect beginning.

Of course, the conversion doesn’t stick in the way Sophia or her mother hoped at all. Kitchen, to her credit, resist ending with some dramatic scene that proves that the father is a bastard. Instead, the final scene is lovely and subtle. Sophia’s father gives up on church, but Sophia, unlike her mother, doesn’t think this means he has given up on God. In a special treat, he takes her for a ride in his truck, and they end up visiting the cemetery where her lost leg is buried.

In a masterful touch, the scene echoes a story of town history that Kitchen introduced at the beginning. That bit of information, about a child saint with a lost arm, had seemed like a throwaway paragraph to me at first–some random bit of scene-setting. Instead, it turns out to be a clue to the true spiritual thread running through the story. The bluster and drama about church and baptism and tent revivals turns out to be a distraction from the true beating heart of divine revelation.

I love the subtlety of this story’s final lines. I love that Kitchen portrays the father as the difficult, angry man he is, and yet also perfectly conveys the love, admiration, worship, and worry that Sophia has for her Daddy.

As I’ve said before, a story that works at developing its own specificity takes me back to similar incidents in my own life, which I remember with their own specificity. In my case, the special car trip with Dad was to buy chocolate soda at some rural convenience store in the backwoods of Oahu. The trip to the cemetery was to visit the grave of his own father, not of his buried leg. But I remember the moments of solemnity that gave being alone with Dad a sense of heightened importance. These memories sit beneath my reading of the story, giving it greater depth and greater meaning for me.

There’s not much time left to choose which story to vote for–the deadline is June 17.

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One response to “Fathers

  1. Pingback: Million Writers Award Winners Announced « Words, Words, Words

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