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COCOONED • by J.A. Matthews

Standing in the camphorous light of the station, the glowing things of civilization all around her, a single silkworm rappels delicately from the ticket kiosk. This flash of nature, incongruous, disquiets the woman. She waits for the attendant to stamp her passport while her companion comments on the irrationality of the fascist government, predictably referencing Kafka to convey the nightmarish and bizarre nature of the bureaucratic delays in acquiring his Visa.  A young student of Germans and Jews, supporting himself on grant money and dressed warmly in drab sidewalk grays, beset by his ideas and his passion, he announces, “They are an immoral gaggle of sleazy, lying, undemocratic and dangerous, ulterior motive-driven despots.”

Slipping her passport into her bag, she softly asserts that things are not often that black and white, but he censures her with a frown and continues as if uninterrupted on his vision of a society run by feckless whims and inconsistencies.  She nods at his aged citations (Weishaupt, Riefenstahl, Guernica) to keep the peace, but quickly tires of his voice.  He will not let it go, though, keeping on and on, hard, until they have reached the platform.  He seems far from understanding anything.  She feels that that is at least something they have in common.  Still, maybe that is where she wants to be, in his doubtless quadrant, shouting the truth onto its knees.  She knows intimately, however, the many ways in which the truth can shred the resolve of even the most hardened revolutionary.  Embroiled in his emotions and roused by her ambivalence, he persists, his voice rising above the commuting clamor. “You think you’re above this, don’t you? That they won’t see you so long as you remain submissive?” Rather than respond, she watches the end of the platform, the throng of arms, legs and feet wavering in the shimmering heat of the locomotive.  She hunches her shoulders slightly, inward and down. Just enough I am not here, she hopes.  “You’re wrong,” he continues as if she’d contradicted him.  “You’re sleeping soundly under a thick quilt of lies, insulated by your oppression.  Eventually you will wake up.  The only question that remains is whether you will continue to submit to the tyranny?”

Through the steam, march four men, purposeful in stride and stature.  One carries a revolver in his right hand.  His face three shades too pink, his eyes shine in a way that makes a clutched pistol a worrying thing.  Following her gave, her companion turns and his words wind down into a long sigh, the air ruffling the hair above her ear.  “Well, I hope now you will at least appreciate what I’ve been saying.  This is Truth.  Hiding your head beneath your wing of acquiescence won’t change that.”  She creeps silently toward the train, slipping into the crowd like a specter. The crowd constricts around her; her presence dim now, she barely hears the scuffle and traded remarks. She does not look back as he calls out to her, “Wake up, damn you! This is Truth!”


J.A. Matthews hopes to be considered a writer someday. Until that day comes, she amuses herself (and pays her mortgage) by practicing law in Boston, Massachusetts and writing a story when her muse allows.

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COCOONED • by J.A. Matthews, 2.6 out of 5 based on 38 ratings
Posted on July 28, 2009 in Literary, Stories
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  • http://www.whitehouseit.com whbs

    very useful for google learners

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Do people really rabbit on like this?

    I felt that by making the young man so ridiculously opinionated, the main protagonist (a martyr of silence) came across as smug and equally opinionated.

  • GMoney

    Would have preferred to hear at least a bit of dialogue from her, rather than just read her thoughts.

    The last paragraph was very good, although contained two typos : “Following her gave/gaze” and “specter/spectre”.

  • Oscar Windsor-Smith

    This piece has so much atmosphere and several wonderfully expressive sentences, e.g.,: Through the steam, march four men, purposeful in stride and stature. One carries a revolver in his right hand. His face three shades too pink, his eyes shine in a way that makes a clutched pistol a worrying thing.

    What a shame then to ruin it with that clumsy first sentence, which makes the silkworm the subject. One more read-through before publishing would also have avoided the typo giving us ‘gave’ where presumably ‘gaze’ should be?

    So much atmosphere…

    :) scar

  • Oscar Windsor-Smith

    Okay, so – as often with me – although I picked up Kafka, I missed the direct ‘bug’ reference (to Metamorphosis) but that first sentence still doesn’t work for me. So much atmosphere, though.

    :) scar

  • http://teenangel.netfirms.com Jim Hartley

    Huh? This one doesn’t seem to go anywhere. The silkworm (and presumably the title derived from the silkworm) seem kind of irrelevant to the rest of the piece.

    Yeah, this is another one where some will celebrate the beautiful prose and the the atmosphere, and others (like me) will echo the old TV commercial “Where’s the story?” It might make a good scene in a much longer work, but it just doesn’t seem to stand on its own.

  • http://jfjuzwik.blogspot.com Joyce

    Okay. Lots of good images and flowery language. Forgive me though. What exactly is this about?

  • J.C. Towler

    “his eyes shine in a way that makes a clutched pistol a worrying thing”

    Tremendous line. Like Oscar, I loved it.

    I thought this was a chilly, Orwellian sort of tale that falls a little short. Not bad, and as noted the atmosphere is great, but lacking in certain areas that would make this a more complete. One of the bigger question marks for me was the relationship between the guy and the girl. “Her compainion” is about all we get, which doesn’t say a lot. Her main reaction to him is one of mild annoyance as he rambles on, and when he’s caught up by the secret police there’s nary a hint of her emotion. Is she relieved? Sad? Angered? Dunno.

    Best,

    –John

  • Rob

    - The author could’ve used this to immerse the reader into a colorful scene of nazi Germany or some other occupied country during the 30′s or 40′s. She could’ve used it to allow the rebel to make some worthwhile points applicable to modern society. Rather than that, it seemed as though the speaker is a cliché revolutionary and the listener something of a numb sounding-board.
    - He is bouncing melodrama off her ‘blank wall’ for us to read, but not really saying much. The whole thing leaves such gaping holes that it just makes the reader wonder, what’s going on?
    - I think the author had an interesting idea and her prose flow logically, but she needs to put some flesh upon the emotional bones of this piece and pump some blood into her main characters.

  • http://www.cocktailfiction.workpress.com Cathryn Grant

    Beautiful language, including the silkworm image. I agree the silkworm as subject in the first sentence is awkward. A paragraph break after that line might work to clarify.

    The companion is cliched and I would like to see some nuance in his views and behavior.

    Still, very nice mood and sense of things not said.

  • Margie

    Sad! The “truth” he saw became his reality. :~(

  • bb

    I have to say that I have absolutely NO IDEA what this story is about.
    I feel like I got tied up in knots and knots of sometimes beautiful language, but mostly it was all tangled up and there was so MUCH hair everywhere and I had no idea where the head was in relationship to the rest of the body.
    I need a comb and some body to this hairdo.

  • Jenny Richards

    With all due respect, the flaws in this piece are exemplary. I mean you could use them as examples in a creative writing class.

    Ms Matthews is trying a little too hard here, and I mean no harm, but this really isn’t the usual standard from EDF. This is purple prose, but it commits the worst sin (I mean that light-heartedly) by being both purple and inaccurate.

    Why use phrases we won’t understand? Writing is about communicating.

    Why ‘Camphorous’? Why not smokey? Or misty? Steamy? Gloomy even?

    What’s ‘rapelling’? Descending? Abseiling?

    Why use complex notions when simple ones would do?

    Is the companion really ‘beset’ by ideas?

    What’s a ‘commuting clamor’? Is this not a clumsy collusion of conflicting clauses, aligned for their alliterative abilities alone? A clamor cannot commute.

    Why ‘disquiets’? Shouldn’t that be a proper verb?

    Isn’t an ‘attendant’ one who waits? Like a waiter? The clue is in the name. Are passport officials in totalitarian states truly ‘attendant’?

    And do they issue Visas? Surely a ‘Visa’, being a proper name as denoted by the leading capital, is something associated with card payment systems? When applying to visit a foreign country, wouldn’t you be better off asking for a visa (without capitalisation)?

    So the flaws go on. Sentence by over-written sentence.

    But there are other flaws too.

    Silkworms don’t live in the wild, and certainly not in Northern Europe. I find it unimaginable that anyone would have found grants to study Germans and Jews during the period when this is supposedly set. Anthropology was then still an infant subject and social anthropology of that sort was unheard of. Anti-semitism was rife, not just in Germany, you didn’t need to study to know that.

    Perhaps most importantly, the truth, far from ‘shredding the resolve of the most hardened revolutionary’ has barely any impact on the revolutionary-minded. Revolutionary fervour is born from an intense emotional response, sublimated and rationalised. ‘Truth’ becomes a relative notion, subjected to ideology.

    In all, “Cocooned” is well-intentioned, but over-written re-work of a worn-out cliché; the railway platform separation. The author has no emotional , linguistic or actual involvement in these events and the result is accordingly false.

  • Sharon

    …and then what happened?

  • Jen

    I’m sorry, I didn’t get this. Maybe a reread will help? Nice imagery, but I just didn’t understand.

  • Casey

    I loved this….thought it was absolutely beautifully written…but I have to agree with #9 (Rob) above. This piece has the potential for something great, but it definitely needs to be longer than flash fiction. Hooking the reader (maybe not with the silkworm, but definitely the scene as a whole) and keeping the reader wanting more is what a good writer does….both of which was achieved here. Leaving us frustrated with a poor ending, though, isn’t. That said, the author needs to take this piece and keep going….turn it into a short story, a novella, a novel…..because it’s beautiful and full of life, and doesn’t deserve a 1000-word death……

  • Debra

    Well done. I understand showing how people survived using both the cooperative and revolutionary methods.

    The “high vocabulary” was a bit excessive for me. Trying too hard to sound literary, often makes the reader pause, wishing they had a dictionary. I would’ve preferred common language.

    I agree that some dialog from the girl would’ve made the story more entertaining, but other than that and the excess language, this remains a pretty good commentary.

  • jennifer walmsley

    I took it to be set in the Nazi era. The language was beautiful but too overdone.

    There is a good sense of place, but I was unable to imagine see her face, feel her real emotions.

    With some editing, this story could be a good one and even extended to a longer version as MC’s character is aching to be revealed.

  • alex schiff

    I thought it was quiet clever to make “him” right in the end. Or perhaps he is bring pursued for some other reason. Escaped from a phyc-ward where he was hospitalized for paranoia. Contrary to some of the other comments above, I totally related to the woman’s silence. Someone so entrenched in their believe cannot be reasoned with and even if her silence was out of self preservation there is a logic to her not trying to convince “him” of her point of view. Until the gunmen showed up at the end I imagined “him” as a 20 something man caught up in some need for purpose and she a older woman who sees the folly of his youth. I was surprised by the end. I was also reminded, by his fervor and the somewhat European atmosphere, a bit of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. My only critical comment that is the author is burdened ;) by an amazing vocabulary and shouldn’t try to use it all in one story.

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