Crown of Thorns
by Douglas Glover
When Tobin was eight, he fell in love with his babysitter Aganetha, the awkward one with the large, damp eyes, floppy, uncontrollable bosoms and a soot-coloured hair-wing she kept pulled down over her face to hide her acne. One night, waking up to pee, Tobin spied Aganetha and his father embracing in the rose arbour at the back gate. Aganetha’s sweatshirt was rucked up at her throat, her bra askew, one breast dislodged and bright as a second moon. The scene was enveloped in silence, lit by a real moon hanging over the garden like a Japanese lantern or a breast. Dormant, dither, delft, dreadful, death and dalliance—d-words from his book droned through Tobin’s head. Seeing the breast flattened against his father’s hand, Aganetha’s pale flesh bulging like putty between the rough, muscular fingers, Tobin thought, She must be cold. Then his mother was standing just behind him, in his bedroom by the back window, her fingernails chill talons digging into his shoulder. He thought, he made a connection, never to be obliterated from memory, My mother’s hand on my shoulder is just like my father’s hand on Aganetha’s breast. He wet his pajamas right down to the floor.
Aganetha disappeared from Tobin’s life. He thought of her as a kite, but the string had snapped and she was floating away from him. His parents never mentioned her. He thought, She is the only person I ever loved. She is my beginning and my end. His mother, if anything, seemed warmer, more attentive, toward his father, but in an anxious, frenzied, hysterical manner which he later described to his therapist as a theatre of martyrdom. See, she seemed to say, I am the perfect one for you because I will bear anything, tolerate every betrayal and vice. To Tobin, his father seemed ineffably distant, cruel, cold, powerful and perverse. Both his parents were so involved in their private drama that they had no emotion to spare for Tobin. He thought, he told the therapist, he was having a happy childhood.
Read the rest of the story here: Crown of Thorns – The Brooklyn Rail.
Made me wet my pants.
!!! Alarm! 🙂
Covertly reading here at the office, sounding like an almost-dead hyena, ensuring the barrage of sustained, muffled laughter exits through my nose. Amazing story, DG!
🙂 Thanks, Martin. The best applause.
Amazing. Love the voice. Love the images. And what names!
LOL at Lynne’s comment above. Great story, Doug. I was reading as fast as I could, but I almost felt as if I couldn’t keep up with it, that the story was galloping ahead.
Thanks, Cynthia. You know me. I write on speed. 🙂
Thanks, dg. What I especially like is seeing the two stories together. The contrast in times, the different worlds, has set off a chain reaction of questions that may not stop. The question I’m working on tonight is why I feel more at home in the first story (“A Flame”) than the second.
And “A Flame” will be coming out in a collection soon so I can read the rest?
“A Flame, a Burst of Light” is out in The New Quarterly, which is a print magazine. The story collection is called Savage Love and is just now being sent around by my agent (along with a novel). One offer so far apparently.
The two texts do make quite a contrast in tone, sentence structure, etc. Both first person. In “Flame” the narrator is an observer/participant whereas in “Crown of Thorns” Tobin’s mind is the scene of battle. In one story the war is on the outside and in the other the war is on the inside.
It seems to me most of your stories set in contemporary times are interior, or at least focus on small, individual spheres of a few characters’ lives? If so, I wonder if it is a problem, or at least a condition, the modern world poses, such as it is: it is impossible to take this world on, or there isn’t one.
But I somehow find the stories set in the past modern.
Riotous! Love the reverberating echo of its structure.
I haven’t read the other story yet but I just finished Crown of Thorns. It is brilliant. I noticed what you said about humor not being a lack of seriousness and that is so true, thanks for pointing that out. I loved this story because of its emotional complexity, it was quite sad in some ways without being depressing. I like it best when you use first-person (like Elle) but it wouldn’t have worked here.
I have always been amazed at DG’s ability to cover absurd amounts of narrative time with such little actual text. But everything you do get is powerful and humorous (as was mentioned, not humorous at the expense of seriousness; almost the type of humor that makes you wonder why it’s causing you to grin) This reminds me of “A Guide to Animal Behaviour,” though it’s much different.