DARK SIDE UP
Commentary by Naeem Ashraf
There is a famous quote: “Never wish for something, because you might get it.” Here “get it” implies ‘getting it in the neck.’ Every female whether beautiful or otherwise longs for a dream-prince who would stand by her in every thick and thin. Sometimes she finds a caring, respecting and adorable partner while at others she ‘gets it in the neck.’
The story of Myrtle, the maid in OLD MAID is somewhat resembles the latter preposition. Old Maid is a beautifully written and well worded short story contained in the short story book: DARK SIDE UP penned by Anne Henderson. The story of Myrtle is painful, touching and thought provoking because it amply manifests the delicate feelings, emotions and sentiments of a girl who unfortunately lacks in generally perceived sense of beauty and sex appeal. After concerted efforts, she succeeds to make a little place in the heart of a well-built stout young man who proves to be dunked and womanizer of the sort. Anne has very carefully selected the words to knit the story in a very delicate manner. I cannot resist to reproduce three passages from this short, crisp yet engaging short story:
“… She (Myrtle the maid) had a secret dream. She hoped for rescue someday by a handsome lover, a virile and a dashing man who would admire her for her education and would appreciate her for one passion in life, her Wedgwood china. With every delicate piece she collected, she dreamed of having her own gracious home, cooking of elegant repasts for her husband, the gleaming china reflecting the light from the candles on their dining table. Often she would open her boxes of dishes, unpack a snowy white dinner plate and caress its smooth shiny surface like the body of a lover. And then, one summer he appeared…”
“…She had never been touched by a man, literally, not so much as hand scalp or a hug. If her ugliness did not repel men he, her over eagerness did…
“… Myrtle, that skinny bitch! I spent three nights and three days with her, ate all her food and drunk up all her old man’s booze. I give her exactly what she wanted, by God, she was after me all summer. Then the old bag of bones says she thinks we should get married. When I just laugh at her, she starts crying and grabbing me. I go to leave and she just throws herself in front of the door and won’t let me go. Some crazy brat, eh! So I see these boxes sitting there and they are full of goddamn china. So I start throwing it at her and she goes nuts. You should have seen her! I broke every goddamn one!”
The story GEORGIE GINGER is another ‘dark side up’ story, as the name of the book suggests. The story revolves around the love of a mother for the son. This love is undoubtedly a blind emotion. It cannot be measured with scales and standards of sanity, wisdom or common sense. Less than two paged story, fully explains the agony of a mother whose one and only son dies. Let us look at what his mother does after her son expires:
“…I got him cremated and brought his ashes home in a nice velvet Crown Royal bag. I put that bag in a shoe box in that bottom drawer and you know what? All the ashes of my grown boy don’t fill but half of that drawer. When you are in you nineties and your friends are all dead and no body hardly visits, it’s lonely. So my precious Georgie sleeping there beside me in his baby bed where he started out, it’s kind of a comfort…” The stories like SWEETHEART depicts animal psychology and human relations and their sufferings.
Hundred and thirty four paged, DARK SIDE UP contains eleven short stories and two essays: ‘Tip’ and ‘Hospital Nurse’. I would rather prefer to call these articles ‘the memoirs of a nurse’ because these precious articles are much more than just the essays. These are success stories that pertain to the sacred profession of nursing. A doctor diagnosis and prescribes to save a life but the nurse actually administers and implements doctor’s plan of cure. I would rather go a step further to say, ‘a nurse in a way mothers a patient.’ She has to be more tolerant than even the mother who at times scolds and yells at her children. Most of the time a nurse come across quite indifferent, misbehaved and unpredictable patients to test her nursing. Let see how Anne portrays it in her essay, TIP:
“…On the Friday she was discharged, and as was the custom, I wheeled her to the lobby to await her son’s arrival. It was a raw February day and the lobby was awash in puddles of melting snow and full of people awaiting pickup. Suddenly Mrs. Z’s usually grim face lit up and she waved at the car under the portico. I prepared to wheel her forward to the exit door. Suddenly she opened her purse, took out a handful of change and flung it on the lobby floor, yelling at me: “This is your tip, go and get it!” She rose up out of her wheelchair, made for the door and let herself out into the waiting arms of her son. I had to get down on my knees and crawl in the cold slush among the legs of the public, picking up all the coins so that no one would slip on them in the wet, a total of seventeen pennies. As people stared down at me, I fought to choke back tears of humiliation and anger. My immaculate apron filthy and soaked, my cap crumpled and askew, my knees black and my pride crushed, I awkwardly got to my feet with those wet pennies in my hand and hurried back to the ward…”
I am a fiction translator. I have translated over a hundred short stories from Urdu to English. I might have read over a thousand Urdu and English short stories since a decade. If I have to describe Dark Side Up in few words, it is an amazing piece of fiction. A very few writers keep the ‘dark side up’ all the time. They have a mixed blend of dark and bright sides in their stories to keep their product attractive and charming. Being her first short story book Anne has left for readers of all genders and ages so much to think, reflect and mend the attitudes towards other humans. I suggest her to publish this book and keep writing. I wish Anne Henderson all the best in her creative journey.
25 December 2019