In the collection of short flash fiction, Down in the Ground, author Bruce Meyer brings both wit and philosophical curiosity to his musings on death. These stories are brief and sometimes startling. In other hands, the subject might be given a maudlin treatment but here, the tone is surprisingly restrained, and at times, ironic.
In the story, “In Place”, ducks, having escaped the guns of hunters, alight on the narrator’s pond only to become frozen in place. The narrator fights through fears born out of earlier near misses and losses. He acknowledges that much in life is beyond one’s control, but he attempts a rescue of the birds regardless.
“A duck’s life is about labouring to survive – fighting the odds, struggling with the world and what the world does to them, randomly, like a sudden phone call from the hospital or a north wind across a furrowed field dusted in a light snow that appeared safe in the darkness and, yet, tricked them, deceived them with its shallow resting place, its mask of safety.”
In some of the stories, death comes as a stranger, an interloper who can be bargained with or put off for a time. In others, death is an abrupt and mystifying disconnect. This is the case in “Consuelo” in which a man waits in a bus station, realizing that unusually there are no women waiting in the station with him.
“I waited ten, fifteen minutes or more because my bus wouldn’t be leaving for another hour in the middle of the night, and not a single woman appeared. There were only men, some of them old, some of them young, sitting, staring straight ahead, and empty-eyed as if they had all been struck dumb in disbelief. They didn’t speak amongst themselves. I couldn’t speak to them. I had nothing to say. And the kid from New York who kept asking someone on the other end of the cell phone call if they were there, repeated “Hello? Hello?? And slapped the phone in the palm of his hand several times as if it wasn’t working.”
The stories are often set in places where death and loss are intimately woven into communal narratives – mining families and slaughterhouses. Although broadly familiar, the experiences Meyer describes are painfully individual. Meyer’s writing is direct, often wry and sometimes heartbreaking. In “Bicycle Bell, a telegram boy for the Canadian Pacific delivers three telegrams to a woman, and sits with her in silence as her losses overwhelm her. Years later, he points toward a flower bed and tries to express his helplessness in the face of such unfathomable grief.
“Your grandfather planted roses there. Your uncle Jimmy and your Uncle Michael were prize-winning gardeners, too. I can still see them standing there, turning over the earth as if they were trying to find a shred of beauty in the muck, as if they were looking for the life they were certain that was down in the ground. All my life I’ve been looking for it, too, and never found it. I should have been better at what I did. I’ve never known what to say, never found the words to say it. I’ve been the shadow at the door.”
I recommend reading Down in the Ground one piece at a time, quietly and in singular moments where the wisdom in the stories, the light and the dark, has a real chance of reaching you.
Bruce Meyer is author or editor of 64 books of poetry, short fiction, flash fiction, non-fiction, and literary journalism, among them McLuhan?s Canary (2019) and A Feast of Brief Hopes (2018). He lives in Barrie, Ontario.
- Paperback : 200 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1771834889
- ISBN-13 : 978-1771834889
- Publisher : Guernica Editions; 1st edition (Oct. 1 2020)
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