a diary entry of the concrete

15 August

So in today’s class I realized that at last I had something to thank my father for. To teach us the difference between the abstract and concrete, the lecturer wrote these random abstract words on the board and told us to explain them using concrete examples. No problem. My father had taught me to always think in the concrete. Suffering was the flesh-smothered crunch of a bone. Isolation was an empty chair by an occupied hospital bed. Fear was the drowning gasp of the whip through the air across my back…. Nothing new for me.
And then, as if he’d read the thoughts that had stopped up in my frozen hand (when the lecturer’d asked me to read my ideas aloud, I’d whispered the age-old excuse of the Muse having left me), the next example was: ‘The powerful brute of a man picked up his whip. He angrily hit the defenceless boy across his shoulders. He was always abusing and victimizing him.’

“What’s wrong with this example?”, the lecturer had asked. Everything, I’d wanted to say, almost putting up my hand unthinkingly. What about the subtle finesse, the pure enjoyment that the bastard delighted in that’d been left out? What about the fact that the boy was the man’s child, a mere 10 years old and being punished for throwing the man’s alcohol down the drain? And no mention of the uncontrollable tears that had come stubbornly to the boy’s eyes, eyes that he’d kept squeezed closed, teeth clenched tight, everything shutting the pain inside so that the monster wouldn’t see, but of course it saw and this fuelled its strokes? But I kept quiet again, and let the class answer that it was too much in the abstract. And they had been correct. How did the description capture that incomprehensible nausea that followed the sting of the fifth, the sixth, the seventh cut? What about the slice of cold air that hit the skin a split-second explosion before pain screamed within me? And the whip’s weepingly familiar roughness from its previous incarnation as our back garden swing?

So now, our homework is to go and change that three-sentence lie into something more real, something more true to life. “Wow, that’s going to be so challenging”, the others complained. But for me, I’d just need to change it into a typical scene from my childhood. Isn’t that ironic? It would probably kill the bastard to know that his actions were in fact helping me now. But I sat there, pretending to agree with them, even as the ghostly warmth of remembered blood spread its way through the back of my shirt…

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~ by translating for peas on October 24, 2009.

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