…rather, Our discussion of the ending of “House of Refuge”..
We wrap up our conversation with the ending and particularly its use of a symbol or trope of water. I get to ask Mary what her goals were and she, so unlike workshop or submissions, is allowed to answer.
I know you’d love to see the story but we deliberately left it out of the discussion so it would not be “published” in this format.
Julie asks: The story uses the appearance of the water spots in the bedroom of the Captain’s wife. I felt each incident didn’t intensify the meaning for the reader. It also felt a strange symbol – water from tears, a mop bucket, a strange hint that it was urine or bodily fluids. If the captain loved the water and his wife did not, then how does it draw them together?
Mary Answers: That’s a good question. I’m not sure I’ve examined the water trope from that perspective before. Maybe because he loves the water so much it’s enough that he uses it to try to reach out to send a message to his wife? Or maybe because he’s drowned, water is the only tool he has by which to connect with her now. As I visualized it, with each visitation he gets closer and closer to her, ultimately ending up in the bed on the last night. And at the end, I hope the reader realizes that the water isn’t really from tears, mopping, etc, but from her husband’s presence. Those explanations were simply what the narrator chose to believe at the time so she wouldn’t have to face the extraordinarily painful loss of her husband.
Julie Asks: At the end, the captain’s wife explains to the reader, “I thought about the whole week of water, how each morning the puddle had been nearer to my bedside.” Is there a way through use of the symbol or revising the symbol, that the incidents should have created an understanding of meaning in the reader, instead of being told?
Mary Asks: Well, I don’t actually think we are told, per se. In that particular scene the narrator puts the preceding events together in her mind, but she doesn’t directly spell out what has happened other than to say, “He had been there after all.” My hope was to have the reader “put it all together” just moments before the narrator does, so that it is a surprise realization for us, followed by the opportunity to see the narrator’s consciousness unfolding, too.
Julie asks: What are your goals for this story?
Mary answers: My goals were to depict a little-known aspect of American history on the high seas, as seen through the eyes of a non-seafarer, and I wanted to play with a supernatural love story element—which was a first for me in a short story. The story also needed to “fit” into my collection and each of the other stories has an ocean connection and features a specific human relationship (marital, in this case). My original working title was “What the Sea Hath Bound Together” if that gives you some insight into my thinking…
Mary writes: Thanks for the chance to have this discussion, Julie, and for giving readers and writers a bit of transparency into the process of considering stories for publication. It’s an honor to participate.
–Watch for another maybe dialogue in another month or so… any volunteers? Thanks for reading, Julie