Saturday, July 2, 2011

Who remembers Malcolm Ashton

Notes on a work in progress

Who remembers Malcolm Ashton and Sonny Staples from The Backside of Nowhere? Probably very few people who read the book remember them. People who attended the reading of the screenplay are probably scratching their heads and saying "Malcolm who?" They were such minor characters. They were completely left out of the screenplay. But like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in "Hamlet" they're going to emerge as major characters in the sequel -- not that I would dare be so audacious as to compare my writing to Shakespeare or Stoppard.

In the flood scene early in Backside they are the two would-be crooks who loot the electronics store and are caught, humiliated and scared shitless by Pop Lawrence. (More head scratching; the flood scene wasn't in the screenplay either.)

Sonny never shows up again but Malcolm is mentioned in two paragraphs at the end. First in a scene leading up to the hurricane:

Inside the closed and boarded-up Piggly Wiggly store in Freedom, Malcolm Ashton hunkers down in the employee’s lounge with one other employee, Fred Dalton, his supervisor. They are armed with shotguns and are prepared to fend off looters. From their position inside they can hear the constant battering of wind and rain outside. Malcolm is cold. His hands are shaking. He keeps glancing Fred’s way, trying to ascertain if his boss can tell he’s scared. He wouldn’t want to be thought a coward. Fred has not noticed Malcolm’s nervousness but would not think badly of him if he did. And he would not believe it if someone told him that twenty-five years earlier Malcolm had been one of the young hoodlums who looted the town during a flood. After that, Malcolm had been caught holding up a 7-Eleven and spent five months in a juvenile detention center, and two years after that he had spent time in the penitentiary farm up north in Parchman for robbing a gas station and had gone through a twelve-step program for drug addiction. Finally clean and sober, he got a job as a stock boy at the Piggly Wiggly and married Bitsy Gardner and had three children, and has remained responsible and out of trouble ever since.

And then after the storm:

Like soldiers surveying a battlefield after the fighting’s done, as soldiers did back when wars were fought with handheld weapons, they survey all around from their slight height advantage. The Lawrence store still stands across the street. The awning has blown away and the front windows are shattered, but the building is mostly intact. They see figures slowly emerge from inside the store and head their way. There are four of them, a man, another man, and a couple holding on to each other. David thinks they look like movie zombies. 

“Look, there’s people,” Shelly says.

They understand that the Lawrence store would be the place survivors would naturally gravitate to. 

“That’s Raymond Jenkins,” Randy says.

Mary says, “And Mr. and Mrs. Short.”

From far to the north two more people trudge their way. Randy identifies them as Malcolm Ashton and Fred Dalton. The battlefield may not be littered with corpses, but the survivors are shell shocked.
They have lain Pop on the ground. 

As the others gather round, Malcolm says, “Is he dead?”

“Yep,” Randy answers.

“That’s a shame. He coulda kilt me once when he had a right to, but he let me go.”

The sequel, Return to Freedom, takes up where Backside ended. The town is rebuilt and Sonny and Malcolm and their families move into the new condos built by David Lawrence, along with another character, Beulah, who was also a minor character in Backside. Sonny has supposedly seen Jesus and changed his sinful ways. He's an itenerant preacher with a clueless wife and a thing for young girls. Malcolm and his wife are decent people, but their family is falling apart because they don't know how to cope with a shared tragedy. And Beaulah is just about to discover ... well, I don't want to give too much away.

I suspect I have another year's worth of work ahead before I can publish this one.

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