Author Topic: Song For The Dead  (Read 316 times)

Offline jersey7152002

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 4
  • Karma: 0
Song For The Dead
« on: March 02, 2022, 12:44:56 PM »
One boy's suicide ripples in time for those left behind.

X

Declan

Before your brother Mason killed himself, literally maybe two hours before, he’d pulled you aside and whispered to you that, as you got older, you had to make a choice between the good and the bad, the right and the wrong, the light and the dark. He was, in that moment, terribly serious, in a way that he wasn’t normally terribly serious (shaggy black-haired scrub, cigarette fingers and guitar string callouses), and you weren’t able to really put two and two together, but you didn’t mind it, didn’t think much and he transitioned rather quickly into showing you a song he’d been working on, something called “Song For The Dead,” real easy chords and soft lyrics, and then a few hours later they dragged his splintered body out of the Navesink River, his jump from the bridge in Highlands serving as his final little goodbye, final little transmission, and you’d spent the entire time since wondering what he meant by those final turns of events, that song, that message.
   “Will I ever see you again?”
   You whisper this to the headstone the day they bury him.
And so you’ve been trying to tell the story about your dead brother for a month—you’ve scribbled lines in Word docs and started probably a dozen different versions of the same story about his life, like if you could sketch him into words and pages and shorthand, you could keep him alive forever. That’s what we do with the dead right? We just tell their stories from now until the end of time, scratching the wound and eventually rubbing the scar. And maybe if you told his story enough you’d start to get some answers to those questions that usually accompany young death, especially self-inflicted death:
Why?
So this story starts at XC practice.
Coach Taylor says he doesn’t believe in recovery—every run, long or short, ends in an all-out blitz to find the guy with the biggest balls and recovery runs are something that the “other guys from other teams do,” boys from squads in other counties in other sections who you’re supposed to pummel into the ground come November, guys that, per Taylor, represent an endless slog of pussies, faggots, dipsh**s, cocksuckers, weak-ass fruit-of-the-looms who deserve, nay have earned, nothing more than you and your compadres’ pummeling come All-Groups in November. Recovery? Who’s got f**king time for that?
The shorthand is as follows: you’re supposed to do recovery runs after hard workouts or long runs that kick the sh** out of you, left you sitting in your car in as much A/C as possible, swilling half-Gatorade, half-water jugs and swallowing salt tablets and trying not to puke. The focus of recovery is doing just that—pace goes out the window and you’re meant to end the thing feeling better than you started and hopefully by the next day, ready to tackle another bigger meaner run or a workout or a tempo or a progression. It’s pretty simple—honestly out of a week where you run 6 or 7 times, 3 or 4 of those runs should be easy-peasy.
So you ask Taylor when the next easy run is just cause you know the answer and you just want to poke the bear (literally in some sense, he’s f**king huge), because you’re used to the catchphrases and the clichés and in the last few weeks, they’re something of a comfort, since Mason died, since your brother went away forever.
“What do you say coach? Easy run tomorrow?”
“Go f**k yourself Connell. Easy? Easy’s for swinging cocks on prom night. Easy? f**k you.”
“Thanks Coach.” You raise the middle finger with some level of pride.
You hate Coach Taylor, but maybe you don’t, you’re not sure, you’re not really sure about anything. He’s irascible and ugly and absolutely vile and yet he has, for years and years and years, produced this endless sequence of talented runners out of the dumb little school you go to. Coach Taylor barks weird bullsh** at the team—“Barrio can do 100 push-ups in a minute” (Barrio is the 9:08 kid from Trenton Catholic and also there is no way in Hell that he can do that).
The rest of the guys on the squad coddle you and ask you questions about your brother and tell you that it’s going to be alright and offer up all the other usual suspects of half-hearted condolences, a hollow mimicry of grief from teenagers who don’t know any better. On the other hand, Taylor just gives you a nod and tells you it’s a 60 minute buildup and that if you’re ending in anything other than 5:15 pace that your dick must be as small as his grandson’s and honestly it’s actually refreshing not to be faked out with limp condolences. Taylor’s 5 foot 7 and a direct descendant of MGD, institutionalized racism, a weird loyalty to liberal politics, hot dogs, Lean Cuisine lunches, and The Bronx. He’s a walking set of contradictions.
   “You want to win this year or what? You’re good enough to win. Rest of those guys—they need you and Chase. Without you two,” he points to the group and shouts audibly, “f**king useless.” They all nod and look away. It’s all par for the course.
   “Useless, Declan. You hear?”
   “Declan.”
   “I hear,” I mutter.
   “Good.”
   You’re the #1 returner on the team and your boy Chase is #2. Chase has worked his ass off since he was a freshman and he’s got dreams of the Ivy League, or at least he has the half-baked dreams of his parents. You just run because you’re good at it, something you’ve known since the day you remember Dad dragging you out to the trails in Holmdel Park and timing your 5K and looking down at his watch to make sure it wasn’t broken. You’re not sure if you’ve enjoyed it since he left, and you always come back to that day in Holmdel with your Dad anytime you think about quitting, a thought that isn’t as infrequent as you’d like. You come from the storied Monmouth County tradition of dead or absentee (Wall Street baby!) dads.
   So you go out pretty easy and Chase stays with you for 10 or 15 minutes and you get bored so you pick up the pace, bit by bit, until Chase’s breathing is getting ragged and he tells you to slow down but you ignore him and 20 minutes in you just drop his f**king ass and go. You’re cruising, sun beating down on tan skin and sweat flying off of you and even though sometimes you hate running, the thrill of dropping somebody and just f**king flying—indescribable. Most of the time you feel like you could smoke him but you never do just cause he’s Chase and you’ve been tight since forever.
   45 minutes later, 10 minutes after you’ve finished with the last mile in 5:07, as you’re sprawled out on the asphalt with your legs splayed out, your hamstrings knotted and your ankle gently pulsing in pain, Chase comes up to you and punches you in the arm just hard enough to let you know he’s not f**king around.
   “Don’t f**king leave me like that, dude.”
   “Felt good, sorry.”
   “Well don’t f**king bail on me like that, leave me with them,” he says quietly, pointing to the rest of the guys, whose breathing is effortless enough that you know they shortchanged the pace. Sometimes he talks like he’s that dude who falls in love with Mena Suvari in American Pie—you forget the guy’s name.
   If the team has any chance at winning states, you’ll need Chase, but on that run you just wanted to hurt in some way that was different from the hurt of the last few weeks. You stretch on the black tar asphalt outside of Thompson Park and you watch the rest of the guys banter about trying to get blown at some Manasquan party that you had to skip because your Mom was cleaning out your brother’s stuff from the attic and couldn’t do it herself without breaking.
   Before you go, Taylor pulls you aside.
   “How are you doing?” he says.
   “I’m fine,” you reply.
“Are you okay?”
   “It’s fine,” you repeat.
   “You taking care of your Mom?” Taylor asks.
“Sure.”
Chase watches the conversation from afar.
It’s August on the Jersey Shore. Everything is quiet and closed down and peaceful and melancholy, that slow dread of winter shuffling its way into the sticky sap of melted cotton candy and sweaty Corona bottles.
Your brother has been dead for two weeks.

Offline Tallis

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 94
  • Karma: 10
Re: Song For The Dead
« Reply #1 on: March 02, 2022, 04:11:49 PM »

Hi Jersey,

This is beautiful writing, and that's something I rarely say.  Your assurance is remarkable, so I go right along with techniques (like the second person narrative) that usually feel obtrusive.  And I feel immediately confident that you will handle the subject of suicide in a thoughtful, non-cliched way in subsequent chapters.

Comments below, for what they're worth.  But seriously:  this is very, very good.  Bravo.


Before your brother Mason killed himself, literally maybe two hours before, he’d pulled you aside and whispered to you that, as you got older, you had to make a choice between the good and the bad, the right and the wrong, the light and the dark. He was, in that moment, terribly serious, in a way that he wasn’t normally terribly serious [I sometimes like this kind of repetition, but not here, perhaps because of the two adverbs back to back] (shaggy black-haired scrub, cigarette fingers and guitar string callouses), and you weren’t able to really put two and two together, but you didn’t mind it, didn’t think much and he transitioned rather quickly into showing you a song he’d been working on, something called “Song For The Dead,” real easy chords and soft lyrics, and then a few hours later they dragged his splintered body out of the Navesink River, his jump from the bridge in Highlands serving as his final little goodbye, final little transmission, [I misread this initially as "transgression" and kind of liked that] and you’d spent the entire time since wondering what he meant by those final turns of events, that song, that message.

A very strong first paragraph... you have that elusive X factor, a sense of rhythm and balance that makes these long sentences possible, and sweeps the reader along with gathering feeling.

   “Will I ever see you again?”
   You whisper this to the headstone the day they bury him.
And so you’ve been trying to tell the story about your dead brother for a month—you’ve scribbled lines in Word docs [a quibble:  scribbling, for me, involves a pen, not a keyboard, so "Word doc" tripped me up] and started probably a dozen different versions [versions are different by definition] of the same story about his life, like if you could sketch him into words and pages and shorthand, you could keep him alive forever. That’s what we do with the dead right? We just tell their stories from now until the end of time, scratching the wound and eventually rubbing the scar. [consider maybe:  "rubbing and rubbing until the wound becomes a scar."] And maybe if you told his story enough you’d start to get some answers to those questions that usually accompany young death, especially self-inflicted death:
Why?
So this story starts at XC practice.
Coach Taylor says he doesn’t believe in recovery—every run, long or short, ends in an all-out blitz to find the guy with the biggest balls and recovery runs are something that the “other guys from other teams do,” boys from squads in other counties in other sections who you’re supposed to pummel into the ground come November, guys that, per Taylor, represent an endless slog of pussies, faggots, dipsh**s, cocksuckers, weak-ass fruit-of-the-looms who deserve, nay have earned, nothing more than you and your compadres’ pummeling come All-Groups in November. Recovery? Who’s got f**king time for that?

It could be just me... but the tone of this reads more like football (the American kind) than cross country.  All that focus on ginning up antipathy toward the opponent is common with contact sports, but the runners I know invest most of their mental energy in pushing their own bodies.  So it rings a tiny bit false for me.  Then again, there are lots of different coaching styles.

The shorthand is as follows: you’re supposed to do recovery runs after hard workouts or long runs that kick the sh** out of you, left you sitting in your car in as much A/C as possible, swilling half-Gatorade, half-water jugs and swallowing salt tablets and trying not to puke. The focus of recovery is doing just that—pace goes out the window and you’re meant to end the thing feeling better than you started and hopefully by the next day, ready to tackle another bigger meaner run or a workout or a tempo or a progression. It’s pretty simple—honestly out of a week where you run 6 or 7 times, 3 or 4 of those runs should be easy-peasy.

Slightly confused by the intro to this paragraph:  you started the previous one by saying that Coach Taylor doesn't believe in recovery runs at all, then begin this one with "shorthand" that seems to suggest they do play a useful role.  I think we need a tiny hint that in this paragraph, the narrator is asserting his/her own authority, Coach Taylor be damned, and explaining their benefit to us.

So you ask Taylor when the next easy run is just cause you know the answer and you just want to poke the bear (literally in some sense, he’s f**king huge), because you’re used to the catchphrases and the clichés and in the last few weeks, they’re something of a comfort, since Mason died, since your brother went away forever.
“What do you say coach? Easy run tomorrow?”
“Go f**k yourself Connell. Easy? Easy’s for swinging cocks on prom night. Easy? f**k you.”
“Thanks Coach.” You raise the middle finger with some level of pride.
You hate Coach Taylor, but maybe you don’t, you’re not sure, you’re not really sure about anything. He’s irascible and ugly and absolutely vile and yet he has, for years and years and years, produced this endless sequence of talented runners out of the dumb little school you go to. Coach Taylor barks weird bullsh** at the team—“Barrio can do 100 push-ups in a minute” (Barrio is the 9:08 kid from Trenton Catholic and also there is no way in Hell that he can do that). [Again, your rhythm is great throughout all of this.]

The rest of the guys on the squad coddle you and ask you questions about your brother and tell you that it’s going to be alright and offer up all the other usual suspects of [this didn't quite work for me, and honestly I think the sentence is better without it] half-hearted condolences, a hollow mimicry of grief from teenagers who don’t know any better. [Oh lord, so true.]  On the other hand, Taylor just gives you a nod and tells you it’s a 60 minute buildup and that if you’re ending in anything other than 5:15 pace that your dick must be as small as his grandson’s and honestly it’s actually refreshing not to be faked out with limp condolences. Taylor’s 5 foot 7 and a direct descendant of MGD, institutionalized racism, a weird loyalty to liberal politics, hot dogs, Lean Cuisine lunches, and The Bronx. He’s a walking set of contradictions.  [That list made me stumble;  I can't quite see how someone can be descended from institutionalized racism and a hot dog.  Do you mean that he's basically a weird mix of all those things?  I'd use some mixing analogy, rather than the familial one.  Also, when I googled MGD all I got was "Meibomian gland dysfunction" so I still don't know who that is.]

   “You want to win this year or what? You’re good enough to win. Rest of those guys—they need you and Chase. Without you two,” he points to the group and shouts audibly, “f**king useless.” They all nod and look away. It’s all par for the course.
   “Useless, Declan. You hear?[If the next paragraph is still Coach Taylor speaking, then omit this close-quote.  It threw me a bit.]
   “Declan.”
   “I hear,” I mutter.
   “Good.”
   You’re the #1 returner on the team and your boy Chase is #2. Chase has worked his ass off since he was a freshman and he’s got dreams of the Ivy League, or at least he has the half-baked dreams of his parents. You just run because you’re good at it, something you’ve known since the day you remember Dad dragging you out to the trails in Holmdel Park and timing your 5K and looking down at his watch to make sure it wasn’t broken. You’re not sure if you’ve enjoyed it since he left, and you always come back to that day in Holmdel with your Dad anytime you think about quitting, a thought that isn’t as infrequent as you’d like. You come from the storied Monmouth County tradition of dead or absentee (Wall Street baby!) dads.

This is all great -- truths delivered in a genuine voice.

   So you go out pretty easy and Chase stays with you for 10 or 15 minutes and you get bored so you pick up the pace, bit by bit, until Chase’s breathing is getting ragged and he tells you to slow down but you ignore him and 20 minutes in you just drop his f**king ass and go. You’re cruising, sun beating down on tan skin and sweat flying off of you and even though sometimes you hate running, the thrill of dropping somebody and just f**king flying—indescribable. Most of the time you feel like you could smoke him but you never do just cause he’s Chase and you’ve been tight since forever.
   45 minutes later, 10 minutes after you’ve finished with the last mile in 5:07, as you’re sprawled out on the asphalt with your legs splayed out, your hamstrings knotted and your ankle gently pulsing in pain, Chase comes up to you and punches you in the arm just hard enough to let you know he’s not f**king around.
   “Don’t f**king leave me like that, dude.”
   “Felt good, sorry.”
   “Well don’t f**king bail on me like that, leave me with them,” he says quietly, pointing to the rest of the guys, whose breathing is effortless enough that you know they shortchanged the pace. [Do you mean short-changed the course, as in cut some corners?  I don't quite get how they can short-change the pace.  Maybe this is a XC specific term that needs a tiny bit more context.]    Sometimes he talks like he’s that dude who falls in love with Mena Suvari in American Pie—you forget the guy’s name.
   If the team has any chance at winning states, you’ll need Chase, but on that run you just wanted to hurt in some way that was different from the hurt of the last few weeks. You stretch on the black tar asphalt outside of Thompson Park and you watch the rest of the guys banter about trying to get blown at some Manasquan party that you had to skip because your Mom was cleaning out your brother’s stuff from the attic and couldn’t do it herself without breaking.
   Before you go, Taylor pulls you aside.
   “How are you doing?” he says.
   “I’m fine,” you reply.
“Are you okay?”
   “It’s fine,” you repeat.
   “You taking care of your Mom?” Taylor asks.
“Sure.”   

This is really fine dialogue.  In the Hemingway kind of way, simple words carrying so much weight by what's not being said.

Chase watches the conversation from afar.
It’s August on the Jersey Shore. Everything is quiet and closed down and peaceful and melancholy, that slow dread of winter shuffling its way into the sticky sap of melted cotton candy and sweaty Corona bottles.  [I've lived in those parts, and no one I knew started dreading winter that early.  If anything, the concept feels like a welcome contrast to the heat & humidity.]

Your brother has been dead for two weeks.

Hope some of this is helpful.  If this book doesn't get snapped up quickly, I'll be very surprised.


Offline gushags16

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 165
  • Karma: 27
Re: Song For The Dead
« Reply #2 on: March 03, 2022, 12:23:27 PM »
It's fantastic. Like Tallis said, this feels ready right now. Tons of beautiful details and a very consistent voice. Really enjoyed it. Good luck with it.

Offline jersey7152002

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 4
  • Karma: 0
Re: Song For The Dead
« Reply #3 on: March 07, 2022, 08:05:59 AM »
Thank you! I really appreciate the comments from both of you.