Saturday, August 16, 2014

Ferguson Riots / After You, My Dear Alphonse

Mrs. Wilson was just taking the gingerbread out of the oven when she heard Johnny outside talking to someone.  “Johnny,” she called, “you’re late.  Come in and get your lunch.”   -Shirley Jackson

You can never tell me, that what we do doesn't matter.
Johnny came in after her, slowly, “Mother,” he said, “I brought Boyd home for lunch with me.” -Shirley Jackson

That the very notion of:  "Those that cannot do anything else...do this."
As she turned to show Boyd were to sit, she saw he was a Negro boy, smaller than Johnny but about the same age.  His arms were loaded with split kindling wood.  “Where’ll I put this stuff, Johnny?”  he asked.
Mrs. Wilson turned to Johnny.  “Johnny,” she said, “what did you make Boyd do?  What is that wood?”
“Dead Japanese,” Johnny said mildly.  “We stand them in the ground and run over them with tanks.”  -Shirley Jackson

And what is this... this thing we do?  Standing in front of a room full of young people with wild eyes staring at the wide world with absolute mistrust and forlorn.  What a daunting task!
“Johnny,” Mrs. Wilson said, “go on and eat your lunch.”
“Sure,” Johnny said.  He held out the dish of scrambled eggs to Boyd.  “After you, my dear Alphonse.”  -Shirley Jackson

Pouring out hearts.  Pushing for clarity... for meaning...for tolerance... for understanding.
“Boyd wants to grow up and be a big strong man so he can work hard,” Mrs. Wilson said.  “I’ll bet Boyd’s father eats stewed tomatoes.”
“My father eats anything he wants to,” Boyd said.
“So does mine,” Johnny said.  “Sometimes he doesn’t eat hardly anything.  He’s a little guy, though.  Wouldn’t hurt a flea.”
“Mine’s a little guy too,”  Boyd said.  -Shirley Jackson

Sometimes the best teaching is about prevention, about caution... in this one time in life before it's too late.
“I’ll bet he’s strong, though,” Mrs. Wilson said.  She hesitated.  “Does he… work?”
“Sure,” Johnny said.  “Boyd’s father works in a factory.”
“There, you see?  Mrs. Wilson said.  “And he certainly has to be strong to do that-  all that lifting and carrying at a factory.”
“Boyd’s father doesn’t have to,” Johnny said.  “He’s a foreman.”  -Shirley Jackson

And the world swallows you whole.
“What about all your other brothers and sisters?  I guess all of you want to make just as much of yourselves as you can.”
“There’s only me and Jean,” Boyd said.  “I don’t know yet what I want to be when I grow up.”
“We’re going to be tank drivers, Boyd and me,” Johnny said.”  -Shirley Jackson

Watching the Ferguson Riots... ruminating on abuses of power, crackdowns, military presence to preserve peace.
Mrs. Wilson took a deep breath.  “Boyd,” she said.  Both boys turned to her.  “Boyd, Johnny has some suits that are a little too small for him, and a winter coat.  It’s not new, of course, but there’s lot of wear in it still.  And I have a few dresses that your mother or sister could probably use.  Your mother can make them over into lots of things for all of you, and I’d be happy to give them to you…”  Her voice trailed off as she saw Boyd’s puzzled expression.
“But I have plenty of clothes, thank you.” He said.  “And I don’t think my mother knows how to sew very well, and anyway I guess we buy about everything we need…”  -Shirley Jackson

Maybe I'm a fool, an absolute fool...but I still believe in art, that stories can heal, help make sense, that sometimes the clearest most logical thing to do...is sit down in a quiet place... and read.
Mrs. Wilson lifted the plate of gingerbread off the table as Boyd was about to take another piece.  “There are many little boys like you, Boyd, who would be grateful for the clothes someone was kind enough to give them.”  -Shirley Jackson

I know the world burns around us... that people have zero patience, that rage simmers just beneath the surface in a continually bubbling modern cauldron.
“Is your mother still mad?”  Mrs. Wilson heard Boyd ask in a low voice.
“I don’t know,” Johnny said.  “She’s screwy sometimes.”
“So’s mine,” Boyd said.  He hesitated.
“After you, my dear Alphonse.”   -Shirley Jackson

That's why...sometimes, just having kids read a little Shirley Jackson... might make a difference.


*Shirley Jackson's My Dear Alphonse was first printed in The New Yorker magazine in 1943.

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