Randomly selected literary magazine number 8.15 is Breadcrumbs Mag, the most recent prose item being “Breadcrumb 398” by Olivia Mardwig. It’s flash, doesn’t say whether it’s fiction or not, but for present concerns a nonfiction counts as fiction.
It nearly came back to me on my morning walk, the novel in which the narrator witnesses the drowning death of an older brother. No wait, it was the mother, almost certainly a novel, recent, maybe the one by the Welsh woman who got on the map with an earlier novel that had “girl” in the title, suicide by drowning, the mother parks the car and just walks into the water with the kid still in the car, the kid then being sent off to live with an aunt, turns out the kid can see dead people. Maybe that’s not the one.
In any event, the great tragedy of his life being a terrible event that befalls not oneself but someone else, a tragedy that one watches from a safe distance without being able to do anything about it: isn’t this where the reader or viewer of tragic fiction is situated? I felt this loss personally, although I couldn’t tell you why. To induce in the audience a vicarious empathic identification with the character: isn’t that the storyteller’s dream?
Back then I was still too young to have a tragedy like that to share with Bill. Maybe that’s what tragedies are for: to have something interesting to share with acquaintances, something to write about in fictional narratives. In lives of relative privilege are losses deemed more meaningful than gains because they’re more rare? Then again, the old hippie’s tragedy wasn’t properly his own; it was his brother’s tragedy, carrying him down to the bottom of the sea, leaving the brother to spin his own vicarious version from the seashore, a story that might make him a more compelling character.
He said that if I were a real writer, I would write my story down. Now I’m picturing this old hippie at the Budapest hostel being the author’s writing teacher. Last night I had a dream, chronic rather than dramatic in its unfolding, that transported my dream self back in time into two vicariously experienced tragic intervals, separated in real historic time by decades but conflated in mimetic dreamtime into nightmarish overlap. I’d probably qualify as an old hippie, by provenance if not by practice and despite my closely cropped balding hair, but I wouldn’t dream of writing a fiction about my dream. Maybe I don’t qualify as a real writer.
Some days I think I might actually do it. Me too. But what if she already did? Could she have displaced her own tragedy onto the fictional character of an aging hippie randomly encountered at the Budapest hostel? Fiction writers have been known to play those sorts of tricks without going full-on autofictional, distancing yourself from yourself, vicariously identifying with yourself.