Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Stranger on Earth (fiction excerpt)

Writer's Note: The plan for the novel A Stranger on Earth, a work in progress, is to have the work divided into two sections or books, with book one made of four parts, the first of which is the chapter "What She Thought," taking place in the summer, and about a woman named Sarah, an impoverished but gifted woman, and her work in a university, and the relationships with a professor and young scholar-musician that develop. The other sections in book one would take place in different seasons and would focus on related characters, and book two would return to Sarah and be mostly her meditation.

An excerpt from "What She Thought" in A Stranger on Earth:

Sarah was surprised to find that she woke up feeling disoriented, with pains in her joints; and when she tried to wash and felt faint, she considered seeing a doctor. She had an appointed with her new job counselor and did not want to miss that—she would have to provide documentation for why she was absent and the whole drama of the matter wasn’t worth it. The job search center was crowded. Sarah cringed. She did not want to see many people. Something in her shut down—she saw a few young, attractive people, and in another environment she might have been curious, but here she cut off eye contact and did not greet anyone. She did not want to have a conversation about her disappointments or hopes. She did not want to be vulnerable (obviously she was vulnerable—but why act it out?).

Sarah was glad to have only spent two hours at the center. She left the building, unsure of what to do—go home, walk around, do something amusing. She saw a television van on the corner, and a reporter and camera man near it. She looked around. Had something happened? She did not see protesting students or workers. What could it be? She wondered for a moment, but wasn’t interested enough to ask. Sarah heard two girls beside her talking about wanting to stop for something to eat. She heard two young men in front of her talking about international relations—one criticized Israel’s bombing of Lebanon, and the other said he didn’t think Israel would still exist as a country in twenty years, as it was antagonizing too many of its neighbors and no longer had any moral justification for its existence. Sarah walked beyond the television van, slowly, and toward the subway. How did she feel? As if she might still be weak. Was she suffering from bad nutrition, a lack of rest? Stress? It could be anything. Everything.

When Sarah finally went to the hospital days later, she was told that a lot of New Yorkers had the aches she was complaining. It seemed to Sarah like a strange thing for a doctor to say, but Sarah imagined it must be true—but then in any populous city, certain generalities could be made. The doctor gave Sarah painkillers and suggested a follow-up appointment with the hospital’s pain clinic. Sarah wondered if she wouldn’t have been better taking a couple of aspirins. She had spent a couple of hours in the emergency waiting room before seeing the doctor. It was only a little better than when she had made an appointment in the past. The appointment had to be made three months in advance. If she had been seriously ill, she might have died: but that’s the way things were with the city-sponsored medical insurance given to the indigent. Then, she wasted most of a morning, just waiting, waiting, waiting, before briefly being seen by a doctor. What they seemed to want was to keep you going back for appointments to milk the insurance. If you happened to improve your health, that was nice but not a priority. Sarah left the hospital slightly amused by how many ways there were to define poor—indigent, impoverished, needy, disadvantaged, deprived, underprivileged, less fortunate. There were some pretty ways of describing an ugly thing.

(c) DG