Genealogy, Part 1.

Gonzlaught @flickr

November 13, 1937

It was cold out but fair that night as Arthur Jasper Heflin walked along Franklin Pike. Middle Tennessee wasn’t as suburban as it is now, a place of shopping malls and celebrity sightings at the Outback Steakhouse by the Cool Springs Galleria. It was quiet once you left the pools of light by roadhouses like The Lousy Duck. Then you were under the canopy of stars and in the country of night, where the November trees were dead claws rising from graves, the green that would come in March seeming a century away.

Heflin went by Jasper. He was a laborer and farmhand by occupation, married to a lively woman named Mamie Johnson.

At some point during his walk, headlights appeared. They swayed a bit as they came down the long, gentle hill toward him. He bowed his head to keep the glare out of his eyes. He tried to step a little further toward the fence running between the highway and farmland. But something was wrong. The car wasn’t quite on the road. The driver was perhaps sleepy or drunk.

Jasper was a little drunk himself. He decided not to worry about it. A man couldn’t go through life afraid of everything. There was not enough whiskey in the world to ease that kind of fear.

Jasper thought of his occasional boss, a man they called the Bull o’ the Woods. It was an ironic name if you saw the man at a distance. He was slender and not even 5’10”. But he had the presence of a 7-footer with shoulders wide enough to haul a calf. That was a fella who wasn’t afraid of much, thought Jasper.

He looked up. The headlights of the oncoming car grew until they swallowed him.

November 14, 1937

The litany of injuries was gruesome:

  1. Compound comminuted fracture of the right frontal bone & extensive injury to the brain (his skull had virtually exploded on the right side)
  2. Fracture of both bones of both lower legs
  3. Secondary shock — due to loss of blood

They formed a list of what a good 1930s American sedan of modest size could do to the human body in the wrong hands.

The wrong hands that night, according to a report in the Nashville Banner, belonged to Frank Allen of North First Street. The shattered body belonged to the former Arthur Jasper Heflin.

Heflin’s wife Mamie, that lively girl, was alone in the world.

But she still had her job. A crisp $3 a week, cooking and cleaning for Ms. Bertha, whose nerves were constantly shot. At least in part due to her marriage to Jasper’s off-again, on-again boss, The Bull o’ the Woods, Harry Brent Dalton.

Mamie knew that Harry–my great grandfather–would take good care of her.


Note

The preceding is the first installment in a work of fiction based closely on real events. Some names have been changed to protect me from the wrath of elderly, distant relatives. 

While many dates will be accurate and events will be described as they were recorded in various legal and personal documents as well as aging memories, I elected to fashion the connecting tissues myself to lend structure to the narrative. 

Sources: Nashville Banner and The Tennessean via newspapers.com; a variety of archived Tennessee state civil records found via ancestry.com. 

On Midnight in the Month of June, On Fiction

At some point I decided this was my main blogging space. This is recent. What happened was I found myself dissatisfied with a return to Tumblr and casting about for a space that would by name and content give me the most latitude to blog what I wanted–personal stuff, true crime, history, weirdness, you name it.

I realized that space was sitting here all along, I’d already established it, and I’d been ignoring it since September of last year because–no lie–I forgot the elaborately complicated password I made to sign in to WordPress.

I know how dumb this is, don’t give me shit about it.

Anyway, I feel like one feature of my decision to focus on this space as my only blog, the place where I’ll put everything (I plan to eventually get a standalone URL, too) should be me giving myself permission to just randomly blog my inner monologue. At least once in a while. Ello is a good space for that too (shut up, it is. I like Ello), but today I’ll say it here.

I’ve been writing poetry and fiction for longer than I’ve been writing nonfiction or journalism. As my paid work has entirely been in blogging/journalism/nonfiction, that’s easy for even me to forget.

And regarding fiction, I’ve developed a concern: what if I’m geared toward short fiction? WHAT IF I’M A SHORT STORY WRITER?

This may sound silly, but it’s a legit concern if you ever want to sell your fiction to anyone.

I mean, I don’t think the short story is dead (I swear I’ve read musings contemplating this very thing in the last few years) but I do think that unless you’re George Saunders (whom I love, and keep your contrary opinion to yourself), short fiction is not the thing that punches a writer’s ticket these days. Everyone wants to be–thinks they are–a novelist.

And hey, I am fairly sure I have a novel in me. But not yet. When I write fiction these days, it’s always short.

Is this a function of having a ferocious case of ADHD? A limited set of functional, fictional, interesting ideas? I don’t know. At least partly, re: ADHD. I don’t think so, re: limited ideas. But I do think this maybe true, for me.

What I also think is that in general, the short story isn’t appreciated these days for its fundamental power, its ability to grab even the most random reader and draw them into an imaginary world.

Many of the stories that hit me hard at an early age were short fiction. One example that always comes quickly to mind when I’m thinking about this stuff: Ray Bradbury’s amazing “At Midnight, in the Month of June.”

I first read the Bradbury story in a collection of horror fiction when I was 12, and it blew me the fuck away. Passages like this:

She stood against the door in the dark. If moonlight could have struck in upon her, she would have shimmered like a small pool of water on a windy night. He felt the fine sapphire jewels come out upon her face, and her face all glittering with brine.

Or this:

He remembered that sometimes when he played hide-and-seek they did not find him at all; he would not let them find him. He said not a word, he stayed so long in the apple tree that he was a white-fleshed apple; he lingered so long in the chestnut tree that he had the hardness and the brown brightness of the autumn nut. And God, how powerful to be undiscovered, how immense it made you, until your arms were branching, growing out in all directions, pulled by the stars and the tidal moon until your secretness enclosed the town and mothered it with your compassion and tolerance. You could do anything in the shadows, anything. If you chose to do it, you could do it. How powerful to sit above the sidewalk and see people pass under, never aware you were there and watching, and might put out an arm to brush their noses with the five-legged spider of your hand and brush their thinking minds with terror.

… Were to me the quintessence of great scene painting. Everything about this story sang of the blue-lit and silent watches of the night, of silence, of madness. I had been that secret boy high in the tree, hiding as the summer night blued then darkened to indigo, studded with stars. Bradbury was painting a portrait of wrath and murder, yet I was reading it and immersed in and sympathetic to the memories and mind of the killer. No matter how psycho crime blog readers once assumed I might be, that’s not me. Yet Bradbury put me there.

That’s magic. And the story is what, maybe 10 pages long?

God. Damn. To me, Bradbury becomes a wizard in those few pages. He invokes the scents, the taste, the light, and the howling vacuum in the soul of his essentially psychopathic protagonist.

So maybe I’m a short story writer, when we’re talking made-up stuff. Maybe that’s my general bent.

If so? If I can get even one story out there one day that in a mere 2000 words does what Ray Bradbury did for me reading his cold poetry of murder for another reader?

Well, fuck yeah. Good enough. Let’s go.