Original Short Fiction: "The Graveyard Whistler's New Find, 'The Irony of the Bones'"
Palentologists Were We
The characters in this story are fictional and resemblance to any person living or dead is unintentional.
The Graveyard Whistler Offers Some Explanatory Remarks
The Graveyard Whistler has found a new story, this time the irony is more complex than merely verbal. The Whistler seems to be questioning his choice of vocation as literary sleuth, but he seems captivated by the strange tales he finds. It will be an ongoing mystery whether the Whistler will continue with literature or whether he will give up and become a lawyer.
Hey, hey! It's been a while since I've posted. The last one on "Literary History and the Art of Irony" brought me a ton of complaints from all the brothers and sisters who enjoy a beautiful, harmonious relationship and deeply resent that I would reveal a set of siblings who scratched at each other like cats in a clothes dryer. My only response is that hey, the subject is irony, the sibs just provided the example.
As I rethink my journey into the literary life, I am finding it discouraging that so many people can't tell the difference between biography and fiction. What I mean is, a writer creating fiction does not always reveal only what is in his/her heart and mind: that's why it's called "fiction." The writer of fiction makes up stuff. If a writer were limited to writing only what s/he felt and thought, there would be no murder mysteries because only murderers have the knowledge of what it feels like to kill and what thoughts are engendered by that deplorable act.
So as I think though my dilemma, I take comfort in knowing that I will probably never become a creative writer: I write no poetry, no short stories, no plays, no novels. I just writer about what poets, fiction writers, playwrights, and novelist have already written. As I have said, I am especially interested in irony as a literary form and that's why I wrote about the dysfunctional sibling relationship because the piece I had found had dealt with irony.
The following piece that I found, not on the Internet, but in an ancient, dusty tome at the New Chesterfield Library in Cabot Cove, Maine, features a wacky sea captain and her crew of the Blarney Barnacle, a strange seafaring vessel that ranged up and down the East coast from Maine to Georgia, sometime after the Civil War in the 1870s. It's a long and complicated tale but I have excerpted a spot that I found particularly interesting. It was quite a hassle having to type out text, made me very appreciative of "cut and paste" function on modern word processors.
Without further ado, I present to you warts and all—meaning I have not corrected spelling or grammar errors unless they interfered too much with meaning:
The Irony of the Bones
The seas was strictly calm that night, Elizabeth Wayneright ran off from her blackhearted husband. She hid under the technical tarp on the starboard side and was not detected until we's way down the coast nearing on Massachusetts. Cap'n Jane Pickwick, who as you now know, ran a tight ship-shape shippe—actually we wasn't a shippe, we more a oversize tub but big enough to hold a crew of 9 and sometimes we'd take on passengers who need to travel down the coast.
We started out as usual, Capt. Janey, as we with affection called her, making her rounds, and her first mate, Lt. Maxine Stauttlemeyer, was checking out supplies then ran around the tub, as we with affection called our shippe. Everything in order we start her moving on down the coast. We's almost to Massachusetts Bay when a storm busted through, starting to bluster us about something awful. It wasn't near so bad as it sounded, we's all used to it and knew we'd be through it in an hour. But the stowaway, Elizabeth wayneright musta thought we's headed to perdition. She came busting out flailing her arms around screaming and yelling, "Oh, God! Oh, God! We're going to die! We're going to die! What have I done? What have I done?" First mate Maxy, as we with affection called her, arrived on the scene, grabbed Lizzy, as we later came to call her with affection, and got her settled own. She brought Lizzy to Capt. Janey who asked Lizzy all manner of interrogatories, maybe taking hours on into the night.
Capt. put Lizzy in a cabin that had a cot, gave her some tea, and told her that breakfast was at 600 hours. We can only guess if Lizzy slept but next morning as we's sailing the tub around Mass Bay, we stopped, spread out breakfast and then Lizzy told us her story.
Elizabeth Wayneright was a wife and mother, citizen from a little fishing village about a mile north of Cabot Cove, Maine. She wrote stories for newspapers and magazines. She wrote stuff she just made up, not news reports or journalist-like stuff. She said she was doing pretty good, making a few extra bucks to help out the family. She had a husband who worked as a lumberjack and blacksmith, depending on what was busy at any given time. They had one son, who was now grown, married, and living in Augusta, where he did some copyediting work for the state. She said she worked as a waitress in the local pub while her son was growing up, and that's how she got the idea to write made-up stories, listening to and talking to all the different types of folk who'd blow into town.
She said she'd been writing her stories for about ten years, sending them off to as far away as California. Said her stories had been published in the same magazine that published biggies like Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain. We's all really impressed, we hadn't heard of her, but we did know the man Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain.
Going on with her story, she said everything was fine, her money helped so that when her husband couldn't get enough work, they didn't ever have to fall into debt or go begging on the streets. Then during a long stretch of workless days, her husband started rifling through the stories she had written. At first, she was glad to see that he was taking an interest, something he had never done before. She felts a little concerned however because he'd read and then the rest of day not say anything. Then he'd read some more and seemed to get kind mean toward her.
This went on for a week or so, and then he came busting into their bedroom where she sat writing, and he was shaking a magazine at her, and began to call her all sort of bad woman names, like bitch, whore, trollop. She asked him what he's taking about and he said it was all there in black and white. She hated him, she had bedded every stranger who came into town, and now she was planning to kill him. It was all there in black and white, he kept saying.
She tried to explain to him that those were stories she made up, she said she got ideas for those stories from listening to folks who frequented the pub where she used to waitress. She told him she never wrote any stories about him, herself or anyone else she knew. They were all just fiction, stories she had made up.
He was having none of it. He stated ripping the pages out of the magazine, and throwing them at her. She tried again to reason with him, but again he had the goods on her it was all there in black and white. He kept this rant up for several days, and then one night as Lizzy was cooking supper, he blasted though the door into the kitchen brandishing a knife. Whore! Trollop! What you think of this. I'll teach you to make a fool out of Roger Blassing Wayneright. He struck at her, leaving deep wound in her left arm. Lizzy held up her arm and sure enough a deep wound she said she wrapped up and then packed a little bag, and while Roger was sacked out after supper, she ran from their home and here she was.
We all sat, amazed, by this tale this poor woman was telling. We all said we'd think of how we could help her. She said she knew this tub went down the coast but didn't know how far. We told her it goes down to Savannah, Georgia. She asked if she could stay with us until then. We said we's glad to help anyway we could.
After pulling the tub into Savannah, Lizzy clutching her little bag left the shippe, and we never heard from her again. We kept on sailing the Blarney Barnacle up and down the coast. Then about thirty years after we'd encountered Lizzy, we all stepped out of our tub near Cabot Cove and went into the little diner where we planned to get a much needed, nearly home-cooked meal.
The place was buzzing with a strange report that was spreading through the little village. Near the old Wayneright place, some pigs has had been plugging into the dirt and unearthed a bunch of bones. The local sheriff had sent the bones off to the capital for testing. But what grabbed us was the rumors that was buzzing about.
Some people was saying those bones was Roger Blassing Wayneright and that Elizabeth Wayneright had murdered her husband about three decade ago. They was sure it was her that done the nasty deed because one night she went missing and soon after it was discovered that Roger was also missing. But then other folks saw it different, they said it was Elizabeth's bones and that Roger had done his wife in. Both stories were floating around and we couldn't tell which side was right, except for the fact that we'd carried Elizabeth Wayneright down to Savannah. We heard her story, but maybe she left out something?
We had a meeting on the tub and tossed around the notion of telling the local authorities about seeing Elizabeth all those years ago. We voted that we should tell and so next day, we fetched ourselves to the sheriff's office and laid out our tale. He shocked us though and said that Elizabeth Wayneright had come back to Cabot Cove and she and Roger had patched things up and had been living pretty much a quiet life for at least the past twenty year or so.
So we asked him why the two sides of a story about those bones: some thinking Lizzy killed Roger, and some thinking Roger killed Lizzy. He said, that's just what people in that town do. There was a third group of folks who knew that both Waynerights had moved to Augusta to be near their grandchildren. A friend of Elizabeth, fellow writer lady of Cabot Cove who wrote under the name of Janice Baines Longstreet, had keep that third group in the know about Elizabeth. So the sheriff could say for sure that those bones belonged to neither Wayneright. And to cap it off, he had funeral notices for both Roger and Elizabeth from when they lived and then died in Augusta.
We asked him why there could be three different version of the Wayneright story floating around this little village when at least two upstanding citizens knew the real skinny. He just said, people gonna believe what they wanna believe. Don't matter who says what. Once they choose up a side they just won't see the other side, no matter the evidence.
Capt. Janey then put out the question we's all wondering about. How did Elizabeth ever convince her husband that her stories were just stuff she made up. He cut her arm thinking she was going to kill him because of her stories. The sheriff said that writer lady had a book that tried to answer that question. But he said he thought because it was a novel, it might have fudged the details a bit.
What he knew was that Elizabeth came back because she wanted to keep writing her stories and making money. Roger had been down on his luck for quite a while, and had to depend on their son to even keep their home, and so when Elizabeth showed up, he knew he'd either have to accept her and her money or eventually sink to the poor house. He knew their son who had a growing family couldn't continue to support him. The sheriff said, it's simple, money talks, and Roger finally accepted the fact that if stories about adultery and murder could make money that was better then no money.
We left again down the coast before the report about the bones came back, but we knew that once it did, no matter what the report said, those two sides would continue their rumors, and the third side, the one that knew the truth would just be so much whistling in the wind.
The Graveyard Whistler's Final Remark on Dramatic/Situational Irony
I asked a friend of mine to proofread this piece and he asked me what is ironic about the bones. Well, at first the reader thinks they must be Roger's because they know Elizabeth had traveled with the Barnacle crew after running away from him. Then it shifts to the possibility it could be Elizabeth's because they learn that she went back to Roger.
But then they finally know that the bones are not Roger or Elizabeth, and they never find whose they are. It's a complex of dramatic and situational irony instead of simple verbal irony because the irony is based on situation not just words and the audience does become aware of information that the people in the story will never know.
a.k.a "The Graveyard Whistler"
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes