Title: Heart Attack
Subtext: Seeing red.
Date: 26 Oct 15 (Monday in the PM)
Time: Less than a minute
Replies: 12
Revisions: 11
Publicity: Superfeed

Pain shooting left arm. Shooting left arm pain. Left pain shooting arm. Four words echoed in my head.

My wife said, “Have a drink, Bibi. Just have a drink.”

Everything I’d learned about love, I learned it from Greene. He saved my marriage three times. But this was too close to fiction and I didn’t like how it ended.

“I don’t think it was dinner. It’s something else.”

I lost the fix in my left leg and fell toward her dresser. My cheek hit the edge and my arm swept the little apothecary’s chest of perfumes onto the floor. The broken stench doubled the pain and amplified the ringing. Starkness crept into my vision – red and white pixelation.

It saddened me. My only thought was that she didn’t rush in. She didn’t rush like I’d have wanted her to.


Elk » Authorship
Elk » 7:16 AM 05 Nov 15
Elk » 10:19 PM 27 Oct 15
Elk » 10:16 PM 27 Oct 15
Elk » 10:16 PM 27 Oct 15
Elk » 10:39 AM 27 Oct 15
Elk » 10:35 AM 27 Oct 15
Elk » 9:54 PM 26 Oct 15
Elk » 3:46 PM 26 Oct 15
Elk » 3:45 PM 26 Oct 15

The Thread (12)

 Author's voice in grey. 

  1. I love how focused this piece is, @elk. It’s two beats, really: the heart attack then the narrator’s physical reaction to the attack. Each beat is sharp, and the way those four great lines of dialogue act as a transition between the two is clever and effective. I also like how the dialogue is rhythmically paired.

    The narrator hitting the dresser is great, too. It’s the perfume that makes the scene. It locks the reader into one sense, which gives the moment an overwhelming immediacy.

    If I were to offer any suggestions, I’d say look at ways to speed up the writing. Make a strength even stronger. For instance, I like how the heart attack is expressed as “four words.” It makes the narrator’s experience both abstract and real. But it’s eight words as written, not four. The attack would read faster and perhaps more powerfully if those sentences were limited to combinations of four words: pain shooting left arm.

    I also think the wife’s dialogue doesn’t need to be introduced with “sympathetically, but habitually.” Her words are so crisp and evocative that the reader understands her perfectly.

    Finally, there are some language things. “Four words echoed inside my skull” reads faster and cleaner. So does removing “it” from the third paragraph’s first sentence. “Cheek” instead of “cheek bone.”

    I’m also not sure what the last line of the fifth paragraph means. It definitely diverts the reader, though. The same thing happens in the last paragraph’s second sentence. I really love that paragraph, but “at the gate of devil or divine” lessens its impact. If I’m reading the moment correctly, the tone should be matter-of-fact and tinged with fatalism rather than poetic.

    Boy, that’s a great last thought, though.

    (Also: I’m still trying to learn how to write comments for the site — what people are looking for, what they aren’t looking for, what’s helpful, etc. So any feedback to my feedback would be warmly welcomed.)

  2. I agree about the perfume, @mako. It’s sensory. It’s vivid. I think this piece could exist in two brilliantly coupled lines the likes of, “a pain in my left arm, shooting down,” and “my wife said ‘have a drink.'” And something about the perfume, of course. There’s the heart of it anyway.

  3. Mako – perfect reply. It’s like you’re in my head. I wanted to do combinations of the four words, that’s how this piece originated in my mind. I didn’t think it would stand up, but I’ll give it a shot.

    I also struggled with how to convey habitual sympathy. If you think it doesn’t need to be said then, again, I’ll try to let the ending speak for itself.

    About “it” – see the notable thread for Breno & Cauê. I occasionally like to place words a reader may have to trip over, to stop the flow, to cause pause. I believe deeply in flow. But I also believe in pause.

    On cheek bone, I want the reader to be sure they feel this is going to be a cut, not a bruise.

    I’ll update the “starkness crept in” line to be clearer – it’s about vision, and of course the wife creeps up, she doesn’t rush. This is the moment of starkness for the narrator, both in his vision and his marriage.

    On poetics – check the revisions. I added that “devil or divine” line after the fact. I just felt like the paragraph (and the piece) was too plain. Maybe I’m wrong? What do you think?

  4. @elk

    Nice revisions!

    As I’m sure is obvious from the pieces I’ve published here, I value simplicity in my writing. Simple language, complex ideas: that’s my motto. That’s why I suggested removing the “devil or divine” clause. There’s a meaty, complex thought in that paragraph, and my instinct is to simplify the language to allow that thought all the room it needs. That said, as with anything any of us suggest, it all depends on how you want the piece to be and feel.

    (I’ve decided to split my response into separate comments. More to come.)

  5. I’m not sure that last line of the fifth paragraph is any clearer. I think it’s because you’re trying to make that one sentence do too much. There’s no obvious connection between the way the heart attack is affecting the narrator’s vision and the way his wife approaches him. You might be better off separating those two things — or perhaps eliminating the vision part altogether.

  6. Speaking of clarity, I’m not sure I understand the last line of the third paragraph. Maybe it’s a tense issue with “ended?” I guess I always don’t quite understand how that sentence relates to the first two in the paragraph.

  7. That makes sense about “cheek bone.” Still, even with “cheek bone,” I read it as a bump rather than a cut. I’d be curious whether that’s clear to other readers.

  8. I checked out the comment thread on Breno & Cauê, and it’s a fascinating discussion. I wish I’d been around for it! Mostly because flow is of uncommon interest to me, too. I think about it too much, really.

    For instance, I don’t think flow and pause are two different things, and I don’t think pause and stop are equivalent. Pauses are a part of flow; they’re like rests in music. And neither pauses nor rests stop the flow of the pieces that contain them. If your language is causing the reader to pause, that’s fine. You’re establishing flow. If your language is causing the reader to stop, however, that’s usually bad. That means you’re taking the reader out of the piece, and there are very, very few good reasons to remove a reader from “the dream” (as John Gardner described it).

    I’d go so far as to say a writer’s number-one job is to keep the reader in the dream.

    To my ear, the “it” in the first sentence of paragraph two reads as awkward, which removes me very slightly from the piece. If that “it” weren’t there or if there were a comma after “love,” I’d pause at the unusual construction, but I wouldn’t jump out of the flow.

    (I want to say that, really, I don’t think that “it” is a big deal in the context of this piece. However, since it seems to be part of a larger conversation, I decided to expand my thoughts.)

  9. Finally, what if there were no commas in the first four sentences? This is, after all, the one time that we’re inside the narrator’s actual experience. Heart attacks seem too panicked for commas.

  10. Good stuff, Mako. Your usual depth of analysis — always appreciated. Changes coming. I’ll take another half of what you’re saying into account. That makes it 75% now, as I took a half the first time around, too.

  11. For what it’s worth, I’m responding really, really positively to your revisions, @elk. I love how beautifully tense and fractured the piece is. It feels like an attack. I especially like the juxtaposition of physical damage (second-to-last paragraph) with emotional damage (last paragraph). It’s elegant and powerful.

    “Red and white pixelation” — well, you definitely found that image. The whole piece is pixelated in a way, and making that pixelation an explicit quality of the heart attack is resonant. I love it.

    How do you feel about the changes you made?

    (One last suggestion: you might think about adding “I said” to the narrator’s dialogue. Since the wife is the previous speaker, it’s not immediately clear that the narrator is talking there.)

  12. I’m pleased. Always it’s perfect in the mind and imperfect on the page, but I’m generally pleased.

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