Title: Gang Aft Agley
Subtext: Everything in its right place.
Date: 28 Aug 16 (Sunday in the PM)
Time: 4 minutes
Replies: 25
Revisions: 6
Publicity: Workshop

It was all thought up in the car on the way home.

It was like all late-night, car-ride fantasies, concocted far out of reach from the action center of the brain and diametrically opposed to the laws of nature composing reality in any given place. Maybe the flaw to the design he imagined was in its colorful detail, so elaborate it would make a cross between a Klimt and a Pollock look like a Rothko, but not quite like a Klein, one of the monochrome ones — Blue Epoch, actually.

He watched the traffic light ahead turn from go-green to slow-yellow. At red, he stared into the light above, getting in mind the deep and warm glow of his rose quartz lamp at home. Once there, that would create the correct mood to his evening’s wind-down, which he anticipated would lock everything together in place from that point forward, forever. “Isn’t that what we are all looking for-” he thought to himself, dreaming under the radiant stoplight, “one everyday thing like a face cloth, a lamp, a mug of tea, or a bedside photograph, which set in its right place sets everything in its right place?”

To him, the plan was paint-by-number, including every hue along the spectrum. It would go like this: “First, organize a few items inside the car under the overhead lamp, taking in the things you’re going to need to unwind once you get inside. Last, do a guided visualization while lying down, beginning with the photograph of a green field under a setting sun in a stormy sky. Every step in-between — from wetting your face to sipping the last trace of tea, wine, or a mix of both — will have its own tone, changing so gradually from one to the next it will be impossible to say where one ends and the next begins. “This is how to live.” So he planned.

On the way up to his house, he noticed the trash cans still on the sidewalk. Before going in, he lugged them up the driveway one by one to their station behind the house, throwing the first one into place, fighting with the second and third one to fit in properly. He cleared his throat, ready to resume course. Feeling strange, he leaped back in shock at the possum staring him down two feet ahead. “Two feet is too close for you,” he thought. He clapped his hands at the tree-dwelling, Australasian marsupial playing dead near the lawnmower he realized he needed to take in too, but the possum was good at its game. He carefully backed up, stepping on a child’s toy (he’d have to explain that later), which, in breaking, must have aroused the famed faker in front of him into a zombielike waltz, dragged itself, along with that hideous grasping tail, behind the woodshed. Sighing, he continued into the house.

Along the way to the kitchen to mull some wine, he organized the shoes in the hallway and fixed-up the disordered blinds, messing far too long with those blinds. Before long, he found himself cleaning dishes, wiping down counters, the stove-top and even the overhead range. He straightened up a few things in what he called “the everything drawer,” fixed the magnets on the fridge over the birthday cards in a completely new order before having to put them all back in what was well-enough alone, turned around and took a proud breath over his finished work in there before encountering the other inhabitants of the house, some of which may or may not have had elaborate plans of their own for him.

I’ll spare you the remaining and very colorful details of this picture because you know them well in your own way. No one of us is alone in our vanity for foresight. However, there was a moment of reprieve from the buffeting of reality’s waves upon this ordinary holder-on’s back, front and both sides — a moment during which everything seemed in its right place after all.

Hunched over the bathtub arguing with an excessive number of shampoo containers, he spotted a tiny ant struggling to stay out of the nearly, but not completely dry drain. Suddenly, the two of them stopped and shared their grasp upon some cosmic fabric covering the best, worst and not-at-all laid schemes of ants and men. His eyes closed, and its antennae eased. The muscles of his back and the hooked claws of its legs simultaneously un-tensing over the immeasurable, elegant cloth they now lost themselves in, they shared a thought. Next time, “No all the time,” they affirmed to themselves,  “we will make our plan the canvas, not the picture upon it.”

If there were an opposite power to the power of bending objects to one’s will, they had found it. This, just before the door swung open forcefully into his ass, jolting him into the shower curtain, which displaced all the bottles he arranged on the side of the tub. “Honey,” a pleasant voice said, “you left the light on in your car.”


Horse » Authorship
Elk » 5:53 PM 28 Aug 16
Horse » 5:13 PM 28 Aug 16
Horse » 5:04 PM 28 Aug 16

The Thread (25)

 Author's voice in grey. 

  1. Love the subtext and how it plays out as a refrain in the story. There were moments when I wanted to suggest changes, but then stopped myself and let you write. Doing that showed me in the end that you grace humor with this piece. However, check my edits. I tried to keep them to typos, but there’s nothing small enough to completely stave off the need for discretion and judgment. Good use of the word argue. Finally, I believe the most valuable thing I’ve added to humanity and life, matter and being, broadly, is helping to advance communication with animals. And that’s how Rooster Land came to be.

  2. Thanks. I’ve always wanted advice I could follow.

    I think this piece needs a bit more action, a little less narration. Revisions ahead.

  3. I want a less self-centered narrator. I think you come out of this piece feeling too much about how the narrator is trying to tell a story, and not enough about the character himself. I do like an omniscient narrator with some personality, but not so much that it detracts from the story. At least not for this one.

  4. And what a tremendous cliché this piece is.

  5. I too like the subtext, especially how it plays out at the end.

    Great colors at the beginning, though I thought you could use a little yellow ochre and van dyke brown.

    The opossum is a North American marsupial and isn’t Austalasian at all. Possums are their South American cousins (there are possums in Australia too, but they are more distant cousins). That most marsupials are still primarily found in Australia is due likely to the relative lack of placental mammal invasion, but at some point marsupials were a more dominant mammalian form.

    In fact, googly-eyed scientists tell us that marsupials evolved in South America first and then went to Australia. How do you like that?

    Confusingly, many people call opossums possums. I’m not sure if any of this matters.

    Anyway, I got a very 236 vibe from this one overall, which was enjoyable.

  6. It definitely matters — this piece doesn’t even pretend to tinker with reality. It needs to be corrected or it’s erroneous. That’s not always the case — take Todds, for example. But this ain’t no Todd. This is all that reality you point to in three little digits.

  7. Right. It does. Though have you considered the piece might be set in Austalasia?

  8. Horse, I think you’re in cliché territory but somehow pull this one through more or less unscathed. I’d consider dropping the ant bit, though. That felt a bit contrived.

  9. That’s weird. It all leads up to the ant bit. It’s what makes the read worth it. Is anything on that topic contrived, or just the way Horse wrote it up, or is it just out of place here?

  10. I think it works as contrived (the idea – the moment of recognition between two unlike beings) only in the context that the character does something wrong, leaving the light on in the car. But it’s still contrived. I suppose it’s integral to the structure, but only as something to be undercut at the end.

    But I thought it was taking the idea too far in going out into a quasi-spiritual realm.

  11. To clarify, I don’t think the story ends up being about everything in its right place. It’s mocking that idea.

    Is that what you’re getting, Elk?

  12. I do like the undercut, however I believe the spiritual realm isn’t quasi but rather real. I’m biased on the topic, as noted in my first reply, but while trying to remain objective still think it’s real and the very reason for the piece’s existence. What else would be said in its place to make this a piece worth reading? The rest of it is all a red carpet to that moment, finished with the undercutting flash of light.

  13. That the narrator is interrupted so comically at the end seems to me an indication of satire, leading me to believe in the quasi nature of the spiritual moment with the ant. Horse may have confirmed this with his mention of the piece as clichéd. I’m not sure what his intentions were in writing but my takeaway is that “everything in its right place” is a crock. Though cynical, I think that’s a message worth the read.

  14. Interesting that you see the flash as a positive sign. I can see that as well. But combined with the narrator’s being knocked into the tub at such a moment seems to me anything but serious, and in that sense actually spiritual.

    This isn’t to say it’s not a serious idea.

  15. To further clarify where we’re seeing different stories, I think it all leads up to the last paragraph, where the narrator has the red carpet pulled out from under him.

    That is literally what it’s all leading up to. Why else would it end so comically?

  16. I just see a dude with rituals, the moment he lives for, and the reality he lives in.

    The public embarrassment doesn’t detract any from his private enlightenment. Aren’t all enlightenments as personal as this one? E = mc2 was probably framed by a diaper change on one side and a flat tire on the other.

  17. True. But I think you’re ignoring the ending as a point of emphasis. Horse put it there for a reason: the lasting image of everything in its wrong place.

    I suppose there’s the possibility of a truly spiritual moment, but then I’d question the meaning of the last paragraph.

    Suppose we could defer to Horse.

  18. Time for @horse to weigh in.

  19. And here it comes: It’s a both/and, I think. For a moment, he taps into the “everything is connected” realm, where if anything is in its right place, then everything is. I meant to say that the fabric of that realm is always there, regardless of how out of synch with it we feel things are. That in fact, the feeling they aren’t is just a disconnectedness from it that comes from trying to have too much control. So when all the bottles fall out of place, man in the tub, curtain down, ant down the drain, things are still in their right place at the deepest level. The comedy (if there can be comedy in a cliché that is so unaware of itself as a cliché, though I’m thinking of fixing that) is in our relating to an individual who thinks he can, or has to put things in their right place. Though he never states that he doesn’t feel that they are in their place, and though the narrator never shares his feeling on it either, we simply project our own feelings of helplessness onto him. After all, in the story, things can’t be in the wrong place. There isn’t one.

    The distance of the narrator should help to show that the entire thing is its right place, the failure to get everything right included.

    I see me a little Chevy Chase, National Lampoon’s.

    @bear — You seem to take the character for the narrator. If that’s the case, it’s a failure of the writing. It might come through that way because it would simply be better like that.

  20. I’m not sure it’s safe to interpret your own tiny, made-up world in a way like I have — in a way that tries to show the perfect logic in it all. Sounds like a no-life-guards-on-duty situation.

    I should also go back and re-read the piece alluded to in the title and text. Maybe there’s a more apt line from Burns’ poem. I should consider something along the lines of Gang Aft Agley Seemingly, Seemingly, To the Untrained Eye, To the Careless Observer. Pending a Burns re-read.

  21. @rabbit — You’re a Burnsian, no?

  22. Interesting. Seems apparent after explanation, but all that stuff wasn’t coming through on my first read.

  23. I read it as a third person limited pov without much interference from the narrator. No more so than from other third person limited narrators. I was simply going by the order you put things in and probably to some degree my own sense of things. As was Elk. That’s a good thing.

    And I did get some sense of everything in its right place even when it’s not. I read it as a satire but that doesn’t disavow the story or world of all sincerity – it reduces and concentrates it to a single moment of, in this case, humility. The ant scene to me was the culmination of the contrived spirituality, which is actually rendered meaningful when the character ends up in the tub.

    Take Voltaire’s Candide and Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited and that’s my read.

  24. @horse — A Burnsian? How dare you, sir!

  25. Moved out of flux.

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