Dave Northrup is a writer from Amsterdam, NY who resides in
Rochester, NY and is a member of Foothills Arts Friends.
The American novelist E. L. Doctorow once likened the
process of writing fiction to "driving at night in the fog."
"You can see," he noted, "only as far as your headlights. But
you can make the whole trip that way."
The narrative structure of this short excerpt from Maurice, a
work in progress, illustrates Doctorow's idea by following the
character"s thoughts as he struggles to navigate the last journey of
his life through the fog of illness and memory.
Maurice felt the weight on his chest growing heavy and
stretched his legs out beneath the sheet. The trick was to take
shallow breaths and roll a bit to one side to get an elbow under so
he could raise himself up against the headboard. But halfway up he
had to push hard and took a sudden gulp of air. The coughing burst
through his clenched teeth, the edges of his vision greyed and his
neck arched back upon the damp pillow. The retching of the lungs
came again and again in a prolonged diminution that ended with a
Sacandaga memory of small fish lying in the bottom of a boat
opening and closing their mouths. Maurice lay motionless on the
bed in the blue light of the winter morning awaiting Mirabella's
return from Castler's market.
Mornings were the hardest. The blackness of night seemed
always now to find its way down his throat. In fitful dreams he saw
hands forming hard fists that slowly clenched and unclenched in
his lungs. At first light the heaviness in his chest and the chill of
his night-sweat would wake him. He'd have to roll carefully onto
his side, hang his head over the edge of the mattress, and take short
breaths to stifle the cough that would bring fluid into the towel
held to his mouth. If he lay abed too long, well after the room
lightened, and Mirabella had set out for the market, the terrible
coughing could seize him. When it was over he'd lie on his back in
silence waiting for her to return to help him up.
Everyday she made that trip--to buy something or other he
might like to eat, although they both knew he'd lost interest in
eating sometime ago. It was her ritual of preparing for the enormity
that lay before them both. And he had tacitly agreed to it. Her lack
of eye contact when she peered around the corner of the bedroom
door, announcing, "Goin'down to Castler's for a bit," had become
the latest, and maybe last, tender mercy of their marriage.
The sun had brightened the bedroom making the yellows and
blues of the Vandeveer seascape hanging above the foot of his bed
glow in the mid-morning warmth. Maurice's spirits rose. He was
only forty-five now, not yet an old man, really. His strength might
return with the Spring.
In the front room the door latched clicked. Mirabella stood at
his bedside, gazing down on him. The bold eyes he remembered
from that summer day at Vandenbergh's were softened now, and
not just by the delicate crow's feet the years had begun to fashion.
Bending down, and placing her hands under his arms, she gently
raised him up to a sitting position, his shoulders high against the
"Did you sleep any?"
The timbre of the voice hadn't changed, and for an instant
Maurice took heart in the thought that not everything is diminished
by time and circumstance. But when his eyes sought hers, she
turned away to gaze out the bedroom window. No doubt something
in Fownes' mill yard across Liberty Street had captured her
"Not much," he ventured. "Trouble is I shoulda been more
careful in trying to sit up, an' the coughing started in again.
"Maurice felt stronger now, not needing to pause to catch his
breath, but he did, and then, turned away from her, gazing at the
Vandeveer painting, he offered,
"There was some blood."
Maurice heard the faint rustle of Mirabella bowing her head
before the window and knew she would not turn to face him. He
fell silent, understanding that he should not ask too much of her.