The Hero of Canton
There are a couple of stories in There Is No Rest focusing around a theme of history and how history is interpreted, reinterpreted, misinterpreted. The Hives and An Open Letter to Canton Village both have an element of revisionist history in them. In both, the narrator intends to revise the assumed historical notions of others. In The Hives, the attempt is more grandiose, while An Open Letter to Canton Village is pretty tame.
The name of the city itself, Canton, is — of course — a reference to the altogether too quickly cancelled television series Firefly and the hero of Canton, the man they call Jayne, who finds himself back in town. The history told about him is quite a bit different than the story he tells, the difference between the two being quite absurd and hilarious. Songs are sung in honor of this swindling mercenary. He then uses that history to his own and his crewmates’ advantage in their current predicament, only to have his life saved, after things go sour, by a real hero.
An Open Letter to Canton Village is a story about a village whose members misinterpret the suicide of an individual who once lived there. They condemn him for doing so, for killing himself. It’s quite a judgmental community. Of course the community doesn’t know this one little piece of history which the narrator does. It is a vital link if we are to understand who that person really was and what his motives were.
One of the reasons I wrote this story was specifically because a friend of mine some ages ago told me of his stepdaughter’s father. Her biological father killed himself and in fact she was the individual who found him hanging. I recall my friend, in telling this history, calling him a coward. Maybe he was. But who was I to say? I remember thinking this over quite intensely that day. I remember it vividly.
I have had two friends who have killed themselves. One was more of an acquaintance through University. I got to know her well enough to like who she was and be in her company. The other was a distant friend of mine whom I met on occasion. Both of these individuals committed suicide for what are to me reasons unknown. Were they cowards? I don’t know why they did what they did really, but I have no intentions of judging them. They had their reasons for doing something so drastic. The portrayal of history is always skewed. There is always some piece of information we can’t know. It prevents us from really getting at a person’s true motives. But what if we had a window into that knowledge?
In this way, I wanted to explore that idea.
The Real Canton Village
Canton Village (which isn’t its actual name) is based on quite a few elements of the real world. Some portion of the story is based on a conversation about a distant relative’s village which, to some extent had a high rate of cancer. I remember talking about this and it became some sort of speculation in my mind as to why that would happen. Maybe there was some sort of pollution in the water. I don’t know. Either way, I developed the story around that idea, though it is mostly fiction.
Martha cooked those potatoes he brought, made the salad, and then I threw on some steaks. When we served up our plates, he didn’t take any potatoes, though he grew more than his share on his lot. I recall asking him once when he refused them on a second occasion why he grew them at all if he didn’t eat them. Well! He said, “how you gonna know if it’s a good summer ‘er not out havin’ a good tato season?”
The quote above is based on a genuine and humorous comment from an individual from that same village. I thought it was a wonderful quote and that it was also a pure motive for growing potatoes. And so I wanted to include that in the story.
I should mention that the individual who kills himself in the story is also based on a conversation from that village. A man really did do such a thing.
In some ways this is a tribute to my two friends, a particular biological father (called coward) and this unknown man, all of whom had fallen on hard times and felt they had no way out but suicide. It is also a piece exploring human motive, as well as people’s judgemental rush to invent a convenient history where there is none, or where there is only a partial view.