Sunday, August 3, 2008

Do Something

Yet if asked she will say Jame's death was her 9/11.
"We all have our very own," she'll say. "Don't you agree?"

Kate Walbert's short story Do Something relates the story of Margaret, an older woman who still grieves the death of her son James. Throughout the story she is found wandering off with her camera to the military base in her community. She is often picked up by the soldiers on duty because of the posted laws: no trespassing and no pictures. Each time, her daughter Caroline questions her mother's motives and actions when she has to retrieve Margaret from the base.

"I am just trying to Do Something," Margaret says, though Caroline is busy looking for dinner inspiration, for anything other than pasta. "You don't care to understand. It's like everything. Conversation, for example, is now just approximations of opinions adopted from other opinions that were approximations of opinions, et cetera, et cetera. I'm just trying to be real when everything is an approximation."
But this is not true, exactly. Death is not an approximation. It is completely real; it is unchangeable, forever --- an approximation of nothing. Hadn't she seen it that first time she'd found the base, the barracks, the military galaxy? Where had she been going? She can't remember anymore.

Margaret's character seems to blur from activist to unstable person to protester to grieving mother. There is more to the imagery in this short story than I was able to understand. I did find the Contributor's Notes in the back of the collection to be helpful in this matter. The author used personal experiences in the story. She said, "Writing it felt like shaking my fist at something impossible to name any other way."

You are not responsible, she would say. It is shameful what we've done to you. We should all of us be ashamed.
"You are just like the rest of us," she says. "You are only trying to Do Something."
Does Margaret shout this or whisper? It no longer matters. She is suddenly tired and aware that she should go. She'll return home the way she came, driving back through ye olde et cetera to her rightful place beside Harry: Margaret Morrisey, mother to Caroline and the dead one, James.

Although not one of my favorite stories so far, Do Something was an interesting piece that blended modern day current events with a mother's grief and the need to do something about it.

"Do Something" by Kate Walbert (from Ploughshares) from The Best American Short Stories 2007 edited by Stephen King with Heidi Pitlor

No comments: