Lockdown: the purity of story
Lockdown is a novel built on a foundation of six short stories that were published between 2001 (“Paleta Man”) and 2008 (“The House.”) Some of them appear almost unchanged in the novel, while others were divided, transmuted, changed in stress and mood. Two stories disappeared almost entirely, with mere vestiges in character.
What I found fascinating, from a purely craft point of view, was how immediately the stories insisted on changing. The instant I put them together, they began to push towards a new balance. In part that’s because a short story is entirely different from a novel: tight, simple, with one plot point and an aftertaste in the mind. But when these chapters were merged, even four out of my original six, the purity of the individual stories evolved, becoming an interrelated community of tales—which, indeed, is what the book is about.
Some of it was fairly basic: I had too many names starting with B, so Bradley became Nick, and Bonita changed to Olivia. Some of it reflects the needs of building drama, since a short story’s climax may not fit the needs of the overall narrative: hence a dog doesn’t die, and a son becomes a daughter.
But some things are set in stone—or rather, by stone:
6:58 am, Career Day
Linda McDonald looked at the mirror in disgust. Why on earth had she thought this was a good week for a new hairstyle? Her exercise in self-loathing was interrupted by an English drawl from the next room. “Have you ever considered how odd it is that the word career as a noun refers to the methodical choices of a person’s professional life, while as a verb it means to veer wildly out of control?”
“Thanks, Gordon, that’s just what I need to hear on this particular morning.” Linda bent over the bathroom drawer, crossly flinging around the contents as if a choice of eye shadow might improve matters. When she straightened again, he had moved with his usual disconcerting silence and was standing right behind her. His arms reached out, and Linda caught back her immediate impulse to pull away, exclaiming You’re all sweaty-we don’t have time-oh my blouse! Beyond that initial twitch, she did not resist. Gordon was rarely demonstrative (he was English, after all) but he had a way of knowing when nothing but physical communication would do.
In any event, exclamations over clean blouses—and, below that, the mistrust of touch that she had worked so hard to kill and bury deep—belonged to the surface Linda, the woman she should have been, and still looked like.
Besides which, she’d idiotically put on the white blouse with the dangerously loose button. If Gordon hadn’t forced her to look at herself, she might have raised her arms in the assembly and . . . Smiling for the first time that morning, Linda closed her eyes and leaned back against this man who was her husband. He tucked his unshaven face into the soft skin under her ear, and she stood, breathing in his smells: male sweat, shoe polish, fresh coffee. The odd suggestion of hut-smoke that always seemed to cling to his person. All the pheromones that were Gordon. Her thoughts ceased to throw themselves against the cage of her mind as she leaned, and breathed. After a while, she let her eyes come open, gazing at their two-headed reflection in the mirror. His irises today were more gold than green.
His voice rumbled in her ear. “You will do just fine. Your talk is perfect.”
“They’ll be too busy gawking at my hair to notice what I’m saying.”
“You look lovely.”
“I look scalped.”
His stubble made a sound against the blouse fabric as he shook his head. “No, I’ve seen scalped people. You look nothing like them.”
She frowned at the crinkles beside his eyes, then noticed that the expression made her look a lot older than fifty-three. “Four years since you showed up on my doorstep, and I still can’t always tell when you’re joking.”
His face relaxed fully into a smile, his arms fell away. “May I shower now?”
“Make it quick, if you’re going with me.” She shoved in the drawer, gave a last glare at the too-modern haircut, then ducked out before his T-shirt came off and his back came into view. Her fingertips might find that intricate ritual of scars bizarrely compelling, but her eyes saw only the slow pull of a stone blade through flesh.