Every so often (weekly at the moment), I’ll be writing a commentary about a story from EMPTY ROOMS LONELY COUNTRIES. I’ll tackle the stories in the order they appear in the book. Given the nature of this exercise, I cannot guarantee that I won’t spoil specific details from the story. So you may want to return to the commentaries here when you’ve finished reading the book. If I don’t address an aspect of the story you were interested in, by all means leave a question at the end of this post and I’ll do my best to answer it.
“THE FIFTH OCEAN”
This story took place in June of 1999 in Daytona Beach. By this point, I had taken a job as a pharmacy auditor and I was a few weeks away from moving to New Jersey. Spryte had already moved out. In many ways, the wedding of Dave and Carolyn Burchett was the last hooray for all of us as a gang. Spryte would be married in a few months. Mr. Murray would be off to get his PhD. Dr Patel, who is absent from this story, was not talking to any of us for reasons I’m still unclear about.
This is becoming another one of those stories I don’t like the more times I re-read it. I find the language to be stilted and I’m not confident I managed to properly convey what I was shooting for. The title of the story comes from the simple fact that I spent way too much time over the course of the weekend trying to figure out the name of the fifth ocean. I knew there were five oceans, but my brain could only provide me with four names. Surprisingly, no one else could name five oceans either.
It’s Southern, by the way.
In many ways, this story is the beginning of the more mythological and magical approach my writing would take on for the next few years:
I stop swimming when I can’t feel the ground beneath me and then I give up. A wave folds itself out of the water, breaks and crashes in my face. The beast swallows me and I free all of my muscles; salt water pushes into my nostrils. I spin indolently, opening my eyes to green darkness, searching only for the lights inside of me. I feel banished from reality, like Lilith from the Garden, and I wonder for a moment what it must have been like to be her; so inertly defiant and unwilling to submit herself to the Order.
I think of all the things I have seen in the past forty-eight hours and wonder if it might have been a dream. I can no longer distinguish the difference between the lives I lead with my eyes closed and the life I lead with them open.
Another sign of my impending psychosis?
Another quick thought: When I am eighty, will I be able to differentiate all of my personalities?
A thousand words flash inside of me and they all begin to split and split again, letters scrambling for causality, then slowly they all begin to converge into one word, and then this word burns itself into the back of my eyelids.
Lilith was on my mind because I was in the process of writing “Coming Back”, a horror story dealing with the Lilith myth. And I’m certain the last paragraph was circling another short story (can’t remember the title) about the Furies that I would have recently finished at the time. The appearance of Pandora would be the first of many appearances in my stories for the next few years. It’s fun to see how my ideas at the time bled into anything I would have been working on.
This story marks the only appearance of Katherine and Soul Brother Washington, both of whom were wonderful people.
In retrospect, knowing more about weddings and etiquette these days, I can see that I was a piss poor best man. I was a little too self-absorbed to be efficient and organized to anyone, let alone the groom. Despite that, it was a lovely wedding for a wonderful couple.
Not much else I can say about this one.