In The Dry by Breece D’J Pancake, 1978
The magic trick:
Keeping the past present on every page
Like nearly all the Breece D’J Pancake stories, “In The Dry” is haunted by the past. Everyone here is struggling to reconcile the past with the present, and, as a result, the future is looking pretty bleak.
The past shows itself very clearly through the plot, as the key to the story is an automobile accident years prior. But Pancake also does an excellent job of transitioning the narration back and forth between the present and past. We even get a repeated piece of remembered dialogue. It all very effectively casts a dark, tortured cloud of memory over the story.
And that’s quite a trick on Pancake’s part.
He sees the bridge coming, sees the hurt in it, and says aloud his name, says, “Ottie.” It is what he has been called, and he says again, “Ottie.” Passing the abutment, he glances up, and in the side mirror sees his face, battered, dirty; hears Bus’s voice from a far-off time, I’m going to show you something. He breathes long and tired, seems to puff out the years since Bus’s Chevy slammed that bridge, rolled, and Ottie crawled out. But somebody told it that way—he only recalls the hard heat of asphalt where he lay down. And sometimes, Ottie knows. Now and again, his nerves bang one another until he sees a fist, a fist gripping and twisting at once; then hot water runs down the back of his throat, he heaves. After comes the long wait—not a day or night, but both folding on each other until it is all just a time, a wait. Then there is no more memory, only years on the hustle with a semi truck—years roaring with pistons, rattling with roads, waiting to sift out one day. For one day, he comes back.
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