Inside ‘Quantum Physics,’ Part 7
We continue today with the story behind the story on the seventh piece of short fiction from my upcoming collection, Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure. To read previous installments, go here.
STAR OF THE NORTH
Backstory: This story, about a prison inmate waiting out a life sentence for a murder he’s never denied, was inspired by a specific event in my own life that didn’t happen. I can’t give all of the details without undermining the story a bit, so let me just say this: More than 20 years ago, on the precipice of a huge change in my life, I felt as though my family had been violated in a way that made me angrier than I’ve ever been in my life — so much that, had I been able to get my hands on the perpetrator, I might well have changed the trajectory of my future. So now, all these years later, I’m relieved that I never had a chance to act on that urge for retribution. The protagonist in this story, Ray Bingham, did have that opportunity. A lot of stories come to me this way; I think about an event from my own life, or the life of someone I know, and I play games where I extrapolate the path not taken.
Here’s an excerpt:
After lights-out, Ray kept his eyes open and chewed on the question of regret. To his recollection, Judge Mabry had been the first to ask about it, at the sentencing. The old jurist had spent much of the trial either polishing his glasses or idly spinning them by the temples. But at the final hearing, Mabry had pulled the glasses on and peered over them at Ray and asked if he wished to acknowledge the pain of Jeff’s family, if he had come to terms with the horrible thing he had done.
“Hell, no, I don’t regret a thing,” Ray had said. “Jeff deserved what he got, and I gave it to him. That’s about the size of it.”
“Young man,” Judge Mabry had answered, “you will find prison a cold and lonely place with that approach.”
In the intervening years, Ray had come to agree with Mabry about cold and lonely, but he didn’t figure it had anything to do with his attitude. That’s just the way prison was, for everyone.
Ray flopped over onto his left side, facing the wall, and doubled up his pillow.
I’ll never see a day outside this place, he thought. I know that now. But if the price of being free is remorse about something I’m glad I did, something I’d do a hundred times out of a hundred if given another chance at it, I’d rather stay here.
(Copyright © 2012 Craig Lancaster)
Trivia: One of Ray Bingham’s cherished memories is of a blue Mustang named Caroline he once bought at a car lot in Arvada, Colorado. I, too, bought a blue Mustang in Arvada. I never named her. She never deserved it.
Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure will be officially released on Dec. 6, 2011.