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Outsider

by on October 25, 2010

She stands out in the crowd of teenagers under the late summer sun, her demure cotton dresses and hesitant gentleness odd against their casual obscenities and tight jeans. The books clutched to her chest press her crucifix painfully into her skin. In those initial weeks she retreats often into the oak-panelled solace of her room, its medieval stone walls muffling the loud beats of their music.

At first she was startled by the looming shadow outside her window, but after her first fright she leans out to examine the statue more closely, to lay a hand against the ugly not-quite-dog face which twists around to look in through the glass. Its eagle claws and monstrous bat-wings cannot entirely undermine its air of homely, canine protectiveness.

The stone face watches while over the weeks her nun-like solitude is slowly invaded: quiet young men and women study Bibles or class notes with her, linger to chat. Someone gives her chrysanthemums in a blaze of autumn bronze.

This particular young man has a more assured charm, and her responses to him are glowing and fluttered. They return to her room together on an evening when the gargoyle’s head is capped with a comical covering of snow.  Their low-voiced conversation gives way to tentative embraces, a drawn-out kiss.  When his hand moves, however, in a practiced motion down to her breast, she struggles free of his insistent mouth with a muffled protest. Their argument is brief and bitter; he bangs the door angrily behind him, leaving her in tears.

When his battered body is found in the snow, scored with great raking slashes, the medieval monster on its high perch has bloodied claws. It will never be suspected. But it will wear forever its slow, stone bewilderment as she weeps on her bed in exclusion and loss.

 

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6 Comments
  1. I loved the gentle exposition of the naive woman in the old-world university – especially the gentleness in ‘nun-like solitude is slowly invaded: quiet young men and …’

    I also liked the foreshadowing descriptions of the gargoyle – you really nailed the combination of dog-like loyalty and monstrous ferocity that seems intrinsic to gargoyle design.

    Great idea for a story, as I got to ‘They return to her room together..’ I knew suddenly exactly how the story had to go now in a very positive – ‘aha’ moment.

    That said I think it would have been better slightly more veiled, even without the ‘bloody claws’ I think your plot-line would have been clear.

    My other difficulty is the last line – I love the idea of the gargoyle unable to understand her grief (poor little doggie was just trying to help) and they do so often look bewildered – but I don’t really get ‘exclusion and loss’. Somehow I thought guilt would enter into it and I don’t really understand exclusion from what?

    Great story – I’ll never look at a gargoyle the same way.

  2. I’m glad you enjoyed the story, and you’re absolutely right – I came back to it a day or so after I’d posted it, and was irritated to realise that the bloody claws are completely unnecessary and overstated. Sigh. Shall definitely have to tinker with it. That sentence should read “When his battered body is found in the snow, scored with great raking slashes, the medieval monster on its high perch will never be suspected.” Far more elegant.

    The “exclusion and loss” thing is, yet again, over-compression because of the word limit – I really fought this one. I’m trying to nest various layers of “outsider” – the religious girl outside the usual student experience, the gargoyle outside her window and outside her experience. Gargoyles are religious icons and protect the pure from evil. If it’s going to insist on identifying sex as evil and protecting her from it, she’s therefore now excluded from sexual experience. Because she’s young and human, it’s never going to be clear-cut – sex is evil, but she rather cared about the guy and is rather intrigued about sex, and now she can’t go there.

    The guilt thing is interesting, though, I didn’t even think of guilt; I think I was seeing it as fairly normal teen experimentation slowed/delayed by her religious beliefs, but not outright condemned by them. Which is probably a failure in me, to project myself into a religious headspace as much as anything else – you’re quite right, unless she’s capable of a particularly clear-headed critical awareness of her own religion (which is actually what I think I was attributing to her) she would feel guilt as well as loss. But in some ways it’s a more interesting reaction than simple guilt, and I think I’ll have to tinker with it to make it clearer.

    God, I write really long responses to comments. Sorry. They’re the point where this whole exercise is most fascinating to me.

  3. cbraz permalink

    I thought this was beautiful, sad and poignant. It really captured my imagination. You describe the excluded girl, the romance and the gargoyle beautifully. I really liked the “exclusion and loss” bit and felt that I understood it. Guilt would be interesting to explore but I didn’t miss it in the text. I agree that the version without the blood-stained claws is subtler and works better, especially as so much of the piece is subtle (as in the books pressing the crucifix against her chest as an introduction of her religious beliefs).

    There are some phrases I particularly enjoyed, for example:
    “her demure cotton dresses and hesitant gentleness odd against their casual obscenities and tight jeans” describes her and the typical university crowd very well and effectively.

    “an evening when the gargoyle’s head is capped with a comical covering of snow” – I like the lightness introduced by the comical snow which makes what is about to happen so much more powerful and sad.

    I really like the first person tense. There is one sentence which doesn’t quite work for me: “At first she was startled by the looming shadow outside her window, but after her first fright she leans out to examine the statue more closely…”. The two firsts so close together jar slightly. Also, the past tense in the first part of the sentence jars with the return to present further on. I would have preferred to keep the whole lot in the present, as in “at first she is startled…” I think it would work with the tone of the piece.

  4. parfles permalink

    I’ve said this “in real world” but I absolutely love this story! It is possibly my favourite of yours, layered, beautifully told, just awesome. I know you want criticism, and maybe I can get behind that “no need for actual blood” thing, but… it is a very beautiful story, and I really really like its 3-fold interpretation of the theme – the gargoyle outside the window, the girl outside of society, and the narrator outside the story.

    Thank you very much for this!

  5. This story is okay, I guess. Quite good.
    Nah, just kidding: it’s brilliant!

    You definitely have the master stroke of the group, and provide a good target for the rest of us :).

    Beautifully subtle and layered, of course.
    The Doggoyle is very well painted.

    I agree that ditching the blood would be a slight improvement.
    Mind you, having said that, I like the splash of colour it (and “Someone gives her chrysanthemums in a blaze of autumn bronze.”) bring.
    I pictured the story in quite a muted palette in my head.

    Con crit?
    Um…
    Too long?
    😀
    (Not serious, btw)

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