by John Dermot Woods
Last summer, shortly after my companion and I had arrived in Baltimore, we attended a public trial of a man from Dundalk who was accused of killing his aging mother. The man, a dedicated member of the carpenters union and a well-respected foreman for many years, said that he shot his mother that winter afternoon because he felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. The jury was confused by this claim, as the carpenter, who many years ago was an all-city long-stick defenseman, had lived with his mother his whole adult life, providing for her and even driving her to the senior center every weekday. Character witnesses agreed that, until that winter afternoon, he was the paradigm of filial piety. He had shot her in the base of her skull with a Smith & Wesson .357 revolver, which had lain dormant for over ten years in a box of his deceased father’s cherished possessions. One neighbor said that he had seen the gun several years ago, but the carpenter assured him that the firing mechanism had been long disabled as neither he nor his father had any interest in shooting things.
There are 100 of these atrocities, and in each I've tried to flatten the voice. The voice is that of an observer (a particular character is suggested over the course of the collection) who doesn't know much. In "Guilt" I hoped to show how little the narrator (we) know, especially when we think we know a lot. We're comfortable with our usual channels of information (and the flat voice is meant to reflect those channels): mainstream journalism, friend's blogs, occasional conversations with colleagues and friends-in-the-know in particular fields. We don't focus much on the absence of our knowledge, which, obviously, overwhelms what we do know. I guess this piece just reminds me to be mindful of mystery. Just because a guy is helping a blind man cross the street doesn't mean he isn't a pedophile. Or just because a guy won't give up his subway seat for a pregnant lady, it doesn't mean he isn't working three jobs to raise two young children abandoned by his alcoholic sister.
John Dermot Woods is the author of the novel The Complete Collection of people, places & things. He has books forthcoming from Jaded Ibis, Publishing Genius (Awesome Machine), and DoubleCross presses. He writes stories and draws comics in Brooklyn, NY. He edits the arts quarterly Action,Yes and organizes the online reading series Apostrophe Cast. He is a professor in the English Department at Nassau Community College on Long Island. His website is johndermotwoods.com.