Our assignment for this month’s Writers’ Workshop was to write a short story, based on the lyrics of a song, using the words of the song as our title, and the lyrics as the plot.
I found this quite a difficult task. The first song I chose, Abba’s Slipping Through My Fingers about children growing up too fast turned out to be too twee and cheesy when written as a story. So I flicked through my iPod, looking for good songwriters.
My finger stopped at Elton John and I listened to this track from the album American Songbook, one of his less well known songs, but one of his most powerful: American Triangle.
Music: Elton John Lyrics: Bernie Taupin
Seen him playing in his backyard
Young boy just starting out
So much history in this landscape
So much confusion, so much doubt
Been there drinking on that front porch
Angry kids, mean and dumb
Looks like a painting, that blue skyline
God hates fags where we come from
‘Western skies’ don’t make it right
‘Home of the brave’ don’t make no sense
I’ve seen a scarecrow wrapped in wire
Left to die on a high ridge fence
It’s a cold, cold wind
It’s a cold, cold wind
It’s a cold wind blowing, Wyoming
See two coyotes run down a deer
Hate what we don’t understand
You pioneers give us your children
But it’s your blood that stains their hands
Somewhere that road forks up ahead
To ignorance and innocence
Three lives drift on different winds
Two lives ruined, one life spent
It’s a cold, cold wind
It’s a cold, cold wind
It’s a cold wind blowing, blowing, Wyoming
I wrote the story based on the lyrics but it was not until I had finished this morning’s reading that I realised the significance of the song. One of the American participants of the Workshop asked if the song was based on the murder of a gay man in Wyoming some years ago. It was indeed, as Elton explains here.
The Matthew Shepard Foundation was founded by Dennis and Judy Shepard in memory of their 21 year old son, Matthew, who was murdered in an anti-gay hate crime in Wyoming in October 1998. The foundation aims are:
To educate and enlighten others on the importance of diversity, understanding, compassion, acceptance and respect. Everyone must participate in developing solutions to problems that are rooted in ignorance and hatred.
Here is my story.
He sat on the porch, a cold beer in his hands, dusty cowboy boots on his feet. He stared out at the farm, knowing that things would never again be the same. He was going to ruin it. He had to. He had no choice. This lie of a life was intolerable.
His thoughts drifted to his childhood, his father teaching him to ride. The first time he slept under the stars in the backyard, the smell of an open fire as his father heated water for foul tasting coffee. His childhood innocence was gone and all that was left was the dread of this moment
‘Kade. Supper is ready!’
He stood, took one last look at the scene of his childhood and went in to face his parents.
His mother took of her apron and hung it on the back of the door. He helped carry the warm dishes to the dining room. He could hear his father washing his hands in the kitchen, heard his mother laugh. He hated that he was going to hurt them.
‘For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen‘
‘Kade. How was your day?’, his father asked.
‘Fine, Dad. And your’s?’, he replied automatically not listening to the response. His father droned on about cattle and fences while Kade nodded distractedly.
‘Kade, you look troubled. Is everything ok with college?’ his mother offered him the platter of chicken and studied him. ‘You have hardly eaten a bite’.
‘Mum. Dad’, he put down his fork and took a deep breath. ‘I’m gay’.
His father let out a hollow shout of laughter, ‘Always the joker, our Kade. As if a son of mine would be gay’.
Kade looked his father in the eye. He could see desperation, sadness, fear. Not surprise.
‘It’s not a joke, Dad. I’m gay. I’m fed up hiding it, pretending to be something I’m not. It’s not me. It’s what everyone wants me to be’.
His mother was strangely calm, ‘What about Abby? I thought that you and she were serious?’
‘She was the one who made me face myself. She’s a friend, the best of friends but she’s never been more. If it weren’t for her, I would not be telling you’.
With a crash, his father stood, the chair falling to the ground behind him. ‘NO’, he shouted. ‘My son is not a.. a… ‘
‘Say it, Dad. Say it’, Kade stood and faced his father.
‘A faggot’, his father spat out. ‘That is what they will call you
‘I don’t care, Dad. I am gay. I can’t change my feelings. It’s the way I am. Do you think I would choose this? Don’t you think that I have tried not to be gay?’.
His mother was weeping silently now, but she stood between her men, her eyes steely and narrow.
‘I don’t ever want to hear that word in my house again.’
‘It is what others will call him, no matter what you say. Do you think you can protect him from that? He has to know what he is facing’, he turned to face his son, his voice lowering, ‘You know what people here think of .. of homosexuals. Can you stand to see your old friends turn away? To have to endure the whispers, the jokes?’
‘Are you worried about my feelings, or your own?’ Kade asked harshly.
‘Both. What do you think I will hear when I go into the hardware store. Or to Harry’s Bar to watch the ballgame? Not to mention what the pastor will say on Sunday. He thinks that if we pray hard enough, gays can be saved’.
‘Well, good luck with that. He had better start praying then, cause it may take him a couple of centuries. Dad. Do you really believe that it’s a sin? Do you? You taught me to be tolerant, to be open-minded. You even let me go to study at college, when everyone else in my class was staying home to help on the farms, or take over the hardware store. I’ve never fit in here, you know that’.
Torn, the rancher looked to his wife.
He’s my son. Our son’, she looked at her husband, ‘Do you remember when he was born? You promised to love and care for him always. He is your son. No matter who he loves’.
Her eyes were dry now, but Kade could still see the tracks of her tears. He touched her shoulder hesitantly, and she drew him into a fierce hug. Inhaling the scent of her, soap, cookies and her favourite perfume, he felt safe.
As she comforted him, he felt his father’s hand on his shoulder. ‘I am sorry, Kade. I need time to think this through’.
The screen door shut behind his father. He listened to the squeak of the porch swing.
The meal forgotten, Kade and his mother talked and talked. Finally, Kade plucked two beers from the fridge, went out onto the porch and handed one to his father. His father’s eyes were red and slightly swollen.
‘Well, Kade’, his father began, ‘What do you think about the Broncos’ chances this year? They are up against the Patriots next week, going to be a tough game’.
The dark night settled around the two men on the porch as the cicadas began their concert.