Contributed by Daryl Murphy and Kit Peterson
When I was a kid in the turbulent ’50s and ’60s, the fiction and poems
I read presented a world where people maintained (or found) a strong
moral compass despite the sometimes insane behavior around them.
Harper Lee’s Scout, Jem, and Boo Radley. Tormented John in James
Baldwin’s Go Tell It On the Mountain. I knew people like them walking
my streets, needed to write about them, so I earned my MFA from the
Iowa Writer’s Workshop. After twenty-plus years as a teaching
vagabond, moving from state to state to teach the craft of writing, I’m currently settled in Chicago and focused on actually finishing a short fiction collection and a novel. My story “Philly” was the 2010 Briar Cliff Review Fiction winner and a Pushcart Prize nominee. “Fledgling” was a 2013 finalist for the Bellingham Review’s Tobias Wolff Fiction Award, and “Blue Notes” was a 2013 finalist for Southwest Review’s David Nathan Meyerson Fiction Prize.
What is the color of one’s skin when the hueless and ghostly shape of emptiness lies beneath it?
Daryl Murphy’s award-winning short story “As Clear As Water” is one of scars that will not heal even if the skin itself has not been physically marred. Dr. Louise Banks is left with the choice of seeing a lover from the past who has been diagnosed with lung cancer. She instantly remembers Abe Connor, the white pre-law student, and a romance born from social activism and broken by society’s prevailing judgment of interracial couples. Within the walls of old pain she not only recedes into the past of her people, but her own tormented womanhood as well as a powerful love lost. It is her father’s look cast down upon Abe and her as they walk down the street, and people stare. It is her weakness for Abe, “the lingering brush of his hands on her body,” when “she should have stayed loyal, choosing a man black and strong…”
Through Daryl’s powerful present-tense narration, we receive glimpses of Louise’s family’s arduous past in Mississippi, as she “relives stories told in her father’s deep rumble,” as if they are happening for the first time. Daryl’s characters are internally wounded—on the surface their stories coincide with so many others who were and still are subject to the racial prejudices of the 20th and 21st centuries. But it is their personal narratives that make these wounds something more than merely exemplary of a time period or one particular cultural theme. Through revelation, these characters tell us something that feels privileged and honest—something that lies beneath their armor and color. They are strong, fervid, and vivid, but eventually we feel their emptiness and their fragility, as Daryl paints us people “as clear as water,” and “as vacant as steam.”
Please visit Gemini Magazine website to read Daryl Murphy’s “As Clear As Water”