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Owl and Banksia - Surreal

Eternity - Keith Hansen

Truman Capote - Miriam

The Kiss of Death - Source: Aris Gionis

Oruman Capote was just just eighteen years of age when he wrote 'Miriam' in the Southern Gothic Horror style of genre. This short story was first published in the June issue of Mademoiselle in 1945.  Capote disliked the dual reality of the character - the widow and the female child stalker with the same Christian name of Miriam. He considered the plot of his first example of creativity to be a "a good stunt, but nothing more" (Flinner, 2009).  Although his creative genius was acknowledged with the O. Henry Award for the best first published short story in 1946. Later on Capote's 'Miriam' would be included in 'A Tree of Night and Other Stories,' which were published in 1950 in hardback and paperback editions.  How best to describe this first part part of the title referring to the tree and night is quite surreal with just a hint of the weird.  A tree can be worm-eaten to the core with brittle leaves subject to the elements of "the human condition," my grandfather's favourite source for inspiration. The colour of night suggests the dark spaces of the character's psyches best hidden from the scrutiny of daylight.

Yes the author of this critical essay also owns a hardback copy 'A Tree of Night and Other Stories,' considered extremely precious because time has faded the amazing green turquoise shade of the outer cover.  This collection of  short stories had been placed on another's bookshelf and neglected for too may years until now.  The wearing of cotton gloves is crucial to ensure that the time-worn yellowed pages scented with vanilla will last my lifetime as the silent words on each page regain their inner voice. This genre of Southern Gothic Horror writing in 'Miriam,' will entrap your senses and make you fully aware that the prosaic day-to-day living can hold unforeseen dangers for the unwary.  The fear of the unknown and the known is just one of the themes as this example of Lovecraftian-style of horror throughout this particular story of 'Miriam.'  There is the unsettling reference to dual personalities' perhaps, the chilling face-to-face reality of the doppelganger or the INNER daemons of the mind and the night-walker within her dream-scape of nightmares.  Mrs. H.T. Miller spirals out of control into psychosis when this widow loses her grip on her sanity because of this harbinger of impeding death existing just outside of her peripheral vision.  The colour white is the seamless thread throughout this story as the omen of death - an Oriental and Western concept which will be fully explained within this essay. Therefore this kiss of death is the non-sexual fetish for this widow who is in denial of the chilling reality that very few escape the  deadly embrace of this daemon commonly referred to as the Angel of Death.

This is just a short story of how this flat character of the widow Mrs. H. T. Miller has lived alone for several years in a remodelled brown-stone in a flat but believable world.  The plot is set against the banal backdrop of the theatre and how one night there is the unwanted intrusion of the other younger Miriam who is the archetype of the creepy child in horror stories.  The older Miriam - a creature of habit who prepares meals for one by her own hand and the only vice is an occasional cigarette.  The yellow canary named Tommy appears to be the only solace for this widow isolated within her state of loneliness. On a whim she decides to view a film at the neighbourhood  theatre.  It is night-time and snowing so she wears the beaver coat to keep warm and the galoshes laced securely to ensure dry feet. Mrs. Miller would sometimes indulge in the ritual of buying a packet of peppermints at the drugstore so as to have sweets to eat during the film. The appearance of a silver-haired young girl wearing this old-fashioned plum-coloured velvet coat, with a gold chain around her neck. This solitary child was standing just inside the foyer of the theatre.  The child asks politely if Mrs. H. T. Miller would buy a ticket on her behalf and hands over a nickel in lieu of payment.  This widow is not thinking rationally when she offers one of her peppermints to this young girl, who is not in the company of an adult. The next foolhardy thing to do is to ask this  personal question of this unknown medium, "What's your name dear." (Capote, 1950).  The girl ponders as if in some curious way her identity is already known to the widow, and this is the catalyst for the split personalities of Miriam to come to the surface for this sixty-one-year-old.

For an entire week it snowed and covered  the widow's windows with the icy white fingers of Jack Frost.  The chilled CityScape seemed too hushed with neither sound or movement of feather or leaf.  On Sunday Mrs. H. T. Miller decided to scramble some eggs and heat tomato soup from a can.  At eleven o'clock in the evening everything in her life was going to turn macabre with sinister intent because of the ringing of her doorbell. ........ 

  to be continued

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This Island of Pan

(NB: not public domain)

The Coral Sea shimmered with the tropical heat in the late afternoon as I sailed into view of several islands.  My compass reading placed me fifty miles due east of Mackay, Queensland as I appeared to be drifting south. I decided to drop anchor in near one of the smaller islands deemed to be safe according to the charts. I lowered my dinghy into the turquoise-hued seawater and climbed down the ladder to start the outboard motor. I was glad to reach the shore because soon it would be nightfall with just the light of  the stars sparkling like bright jewels. I collected the bone-bleached driftwood to use as fuel. I watched as the flames licked at the foil-wrapped fish which was caught earlier in the day for my evening meal.  The flesh was succulent with just a hint of the lemon juice and the billy tea was just the right beverage to end the day on. I am lost in thought as the embers of the fire were dying and suddenly there was a movement in the scrub beyond the coconut grove. In this moment that seemed like eternity the eyes of what appeared to be in a goat's face stared into the depths of my soul.  I remember on hindsight the shape of white and tan goat-like creature.  Just as suddenly this apparition disappeared with an unworldly swiftness into the jungle leaving me with the sense of the uncanny.

I  just dismissed the incident as a figment of my imagination as I took out my farewell gift  an amazing vintage hand-carved pipe. I packed the briar of the pipe with dried tobacco leaves with such tender care. I strike a match to ignite the tobacco so I can experience the aroma of my first smoke a calming sensation for a man alone on an Island known to be overrun by wild goats.  I started to feel enmeshed within a reverie of times past about my life in Spain and Morocco.  There is the realization that I could almost touch the faces of long-lost friends in the darkness surrounding the blazing fire that I have refreshed with additional driftwood.  ... to be continued

This Island of Pan 
© Keith Hansen 2015 
All Rights Reserved

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