Today, we’re kicking off a new series for our blog: Resurrect Your Darlings. Ever have to cut a part of a story that didn’t fit but you really loved? Or change a piece for the published version? Ever like some things about an earlier draft better than the final version? Resurrect Your Darlings will be giving writers the opportunity to share the excised parts and alternate endings they just can’t get rid of. First up is the first OZP author, Chad Simpson! Check out his resurrected darling below, then see what he has to say about it after!
three sections from Duplex
When I told my supervisor which apartment complex I lived in, he said, Oh, I know that place.
You used to live there? I asked.
He wrinkled his forehead at me, scoffed. No, he said. But I used to know a woman who lived in one of those, what, little duplexes, right? They still have the same arrangement over there?
I told him they did. Rows of little du- and triplexes.
They still have problems with sound? he asked. You know, they used to hang these thick shag carpets on the walls that separated the units.
Carpets? I asked, pretending idiot. Like for decoration?
He tilted his bald head to the side, wrinkled the skin on it again, and said, No, not for decoration. Jesus. They were hideous. Put ‘em up as a buffer. You could hear a pin drop next door, he said. Not to mention the other things your neighbor might be doing.
When he said this last part, he made a fist and pumped it, knuckles up, forward and then back again three times; each time he extended the fist, he clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth twice.
Today my neighbor’s phone is ringing, and I am reminded of that conversation I had with my supervisor while we both smoked cigarettes and scattered ashes on the sidewalk outside the guard shack we work in. Sometimes I hear the garbage disposal or her three-year-old wrecking-ball son, who screams and then collides with the wall behind my television. Then he screams again, and a few seconds later there is laughter, another thud from the other side of the wall.
My neighbors are Korean. They don’t speak English well. We are very cordial, though. A month ago, before I threw out a chair, I walked over to their front door and asked if they would like to have it. The woman was confused at first, but I pointed at a chair in her apartment and then to the one on the sidewalk in front of my place, and she accepted the blue rocker graciously. I carried it over, wiped my feet on her rug, and placed it down just inside the front door, where she gestured with her small hand.
The next week, she brought me over a fruit pizza. When I opened the door, she handed me the large glass plate and said, For you.
I smiled and began to say, You didn’t need to do that, when I caught myself, wondered whether this backward graciousness would translate, the way it does in America, to, Thank you. That is very kind of you.
So I said this instead. She smiled back at me and turned away quickly. Her husband stood on their front step, smoking a cigarette, and I kept the screen door open with my back, balanced the plate on one hand, and waved at him with the other. He waved back and exhaled a small cloud of blue smoke.
I’d thought, because it was made by a Korean woman, it would maybe be a more exotic fruit pizza, but it was just the same as an American one. And just as good. The crust was sweet and the top had sugary cream cheese smoothed over it and halved strawberries and slices of banana and kiwi, all arranged just so.
I have only spoken with my neighbors on those two occasions. Maybe it is because they are Korean that I want to speak with them more, hear what they have to say and how they say it. I have heard other Korean men and women at coffee shops, saying, I assume, Oh, this drink is very good. I love the peppermint syrup. Or I have heard a Korean man say to a Korean woman at the movie theatre, You wait in line for the popcorn while I get the tickets. I’ll meet you over there.
I listen occasionally at the wall that is not so thin anymore to hear whether she says to him, Turn the channel already. I hate this show. Or, Move your arm up some so I can rest my head against your chest.
But I hear no talking. Just the garbage disposal, their small son as he slams himself against the walls and his tiny gleeful screams.
So today, when her phone rings, I go again to the wall and listen carefully. I want to know what it sounds like when she picks the phone up off its cradle, holds it to her ear, and says, Hello.
* * *
On my way home the next morning, a new version of my dad comes to me. It’s his sixtieth birthday party. His hair’s gone gray and his neatly trimmed beard is full of salt. He is sitting in the same highchair Teddy sat in the day before, a small cone hat on his head held in place by a rubber band that runs under his chin. His feet dangle in the air, and his mouth is so full of cake he is unable to speak. We take pictures of him smearing frosting all over his face. Then he looks up, shocked that we are all there. He tries to say something, but my mom hushes him with baby talk and fills his mouth with red frosting.
I park my truck on the street and notice some signs tacked to the streetlights. There is a photograph of the dead kitten, alive and pawing at something invisible in the air, above which is written, WHEN YOU SEE ANYTHING ON THIS CAT, CALL PLEASE, followed by a phone number. I grab a flyer and take it inside with me.
* * *
My neighbor takes a cigarette out of her pocket and lights it. She doesn’t inhale. The smoke curls around her mouth in large clouds and she coughs, rolls down the window.
I take it you don’t smoke, I say.
No, she says. Smoke stinks. She drops the cigarette through the opened window and it sparks on the highway behind us.
On the two other occasions I’d seen my neighbor up close, I’d never noticed how young she looks. She couldn’t be older than twenty. Her skin is poreless. She looks so young I feel almost dirty having her alone in my truck.
Your friend said you fish? I ask.
Yeah, yeah, she said. I always fish. Very good. She starts to say something else but stops and stares instead out the window at the crooked rows of corn.
When we approach Kreggers’ place, the sun hovers over the stand of trees that hides his personal pond, and behind us, everything is going dark. This is it right up here, I say.
She squints in the direction of the trees and then at me. Her eyebrows rise, then knot up. She makes small waves with her hand and asks, Where is water?
Behind those trees, I say, pointing. It’s not very big. But he’s got it stocked with some nice bass.
Bass, huh? she says. Confident, almost smug.
We each carry a rod through a small opening in the trees. The light filtered through the branches makes the place glow the shade of orange that children draw sunsets in. Beneath the trees it’s cool and smells like the rich parts of the earth you never get to touch with your hands. I’ve spent a lot of time here since I left Ginny.
It’s beautiful, my neighbor says.
I know, I say. The water is just around the corner. It’s the perfect time to snag a few bass. They get hungry when the sun sets.
My neighbor says, Snag a few bass, and laughs.
We turn the corner, and Kreggers is out in the middle of the pond in his johnboat. He’s got a generator in the boat with him that’s large enough there’s almost no room left for him. He’s standing, waving an arm in the air.
What are you doing? I shout. We wanted to get in some fishing.
He looks down at the generator and fiddles with some knobs. He sticks a little rod into the water.
Electricity rips through the humid air and my neighbor stops walking. So do I.
Everything that was alive in the water begins to float to the surface. It ripples with the upturned bodies of small- and largemouth bass, snakes, catfish.
Fucking eels, he shouts.
What is he doing? my neighbor asks.
I tell her he’s shocking the lake.
Shocking, she says, like it’s a question.
Everything comes back to life and sinks beneath the water’s surface, but before they have time to make a swim for it, Kreggers recharges the pond with a stronger current. He spits into the water and it sizzles.
The fish rise up again. The orange light catches on the eels and crappy and bluegill and bass, and we wait for them to come back to life again, to sink back into the water, but they just hang there, slowly rolling into and against one another on the water’s black surface, shining in the near-dark like the tongues of a thousand unseen beasts.
* * * * *
I only took 1.5 creative writing classes as an undergraduate, but I had my heart set on going to graduate school to study fiction writing. One of my professors—a man whom I respect quite a bit—suggested I take a few years off before going to read and write on my own, so that’s what I did.
My first year out of undergrad, I worked a number of jobs: at a gas station and a pig processing plant; as a security guard. Then I did a year of AmeriCorps. Then I became a juvenile probation officer.
I did a lot of reading, a lot of writing. When I took the job as a juvenile probation officer, one of my bosses from AmeriCorps told me to take care of myself, because the job could take a toll on people. I let her know that I was hoping to do it for only two years. After the first year, I was going to apply to grad school, and if I got in anywhere, I’d be gone.
My first year as a probation officer, I worked second shift and had Tuesdays and Wednesdays off. Every morning, I rolled out of bed around ten and wrote for a few hours. On my days off, I would spend whole days at the library or the coffee shop, trying to get words on the page.
The problem was, for the previous two years, while I was writing a lot, I wasn’t actually writing stories. I wrote about 300 poems, and about three thousand pages of sentences, but no real fiction. So, that year, I tried to figure out how to put a story together, and one of the main pieces I worked on was “Duplex.”
Originally, I’d thought the first section of the story might stand alone as a flash or short-short. I think I even tried to submit it to a few places. As time went on, though, during those morning writing sessions, and at the library or the coffee shop, I started adding more sections to it, to see where things went.
While the story was still flawed—it lacked some needed exposition; there wasn’t much emotional logic to the events—I think I discovered while working on it some aspects of the fiction writer I would later become. I’m thinking of the piece’s voice, and its attention to images, even thematic concerns.
Eventually, I submitted the story as part of my application for grad school, and it helped to get me in somewhere. I even sent it out to a few magazines and received some very nice, if not quite deserved, rejections for it.
It’s hard for me to say that I “love” this story of mine—or these sections of it, even—but I appreciate what writing this story allowed me to discover about the writer I would one day become, and I very much like remembering that period of time in my life when I was always struggling and failing but somehow, for reasons I still can’t explain, remained devoted to putting words together in such a way that they might mean something to someone.