Horse and Rider Thrown into the Sea
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Near the junction a path crawls back into the bush. Mango, banana, padu, cocoa, cashew and lime trees there. A sweet dark tunnel of fruit bush, the air zooming with flies, mangos scattered out like soft yellow toads. Big birds and mongoose in the canopy. Side bubbles open after a while, pocket clearings in the trees with houses in them. That first one is Miz K’s house. That next one is Elroy’s house. That last one is my house. Then the path ends. The rest is deep bush.
Miz K kept alone there in her great age, baking her goods in the jungle, until she got that golden child, Lester. Who knows where she got him. One afternoon I see her towing this boy up my steps. The most beautiful toffee-skinned child I ever looked at. Big greedy wet lips, mossy black head, two chicken-wing arms. He could of fallen apart, you look at him hard enough. Nonetheless he was smiling some gauzy far-off smile. Most beautiful creature you could imagine. I knew right away it would give him trouble.
James Zwerneman was a Roberto Arellano Award winner in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University, and a recipient of the Henfield Prize at the M.F.A. program in fiction at the University of California, Irvine. He has lived in Israel, Spain, and the Caribbean, where he spent six years on the island of Grenada. He is currently living in Los Angeles, working on a novel and a collection of stories. This is his first published work of fiction.
Q&A by Hannah Tinti
- HT: Where did the idea for this story come from?
- JZ: I had written a few stories in a row that felt hollow to me, so I kind of leaned on my Grenada years, which are some of my favorite years. I wrote about 40 pages of sketches. When Wini emerged I liked her and felt happy to orbit the sketches around her.
- HT: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?
- JZ: Writing the ending. Endings are hard for me. I’m always afraid I’m going to betray the story somehow with a cheap ending.
- HT: The plot of this story seems to revolve around Lester and Jeremiah, but it is really more about the women who raise them, Miz K and especially Wini. What do you think keeps Wini going, through so much adversity?
- JZ: Wini is a strong woman on her own by now, but it would be a lot harder for her if she didn't have such a friend in Miz K, and a son she loves who imbues her life with a sense of purpose. I think she also draws a lot of hope from her religion.
- HT: Do you think there is a chance for Wini and Elroy? Or has she shut the door on him forever?
- JZ: A lot of that is up to Elroy, if he’s willing to give up what is “clinging” to him. He hasn’t done it so far. Wini knows who she is at this point and won't compromise on certain things, as she believes she did in the past.
- HT: The description of the wood ants is absolutely beautiful. Have you ever been swarmed like this? And what made you decide to use them in the final scene?
- JZ: A swarm of wood ants did burst into our house one night in Grenada when we were having company, much like in the story. I remember, after it was over, the guests helping to sweep the white wings off of the floor and the window sills and I think the blades of the ceiling fan. They just got everywhere.
- HT: How long did it take you to complete this story?
- JZ: It took one hard month for a readable draft and then I didn’t want to look at it for a while.
- HT: What are you working on now?
- JZ: A collection of stories and a novel about early humans trying to live together in a cave but not getting along very well with each other.
- HT: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
- JZ: To learn to relax and be comfortable not knowing where I’m going or what the story is about during the first draft, and to listen carefully at the edge of each sentence—from Ron Carlson at UCI.