Sunday, June 28, 2015

Deal Me In, Week 26: "A Long Day's Dying" by William Eastlake

Have I ever mentioned that I love the synchronicity that occurs now and then with reading plans like Deal Me In? Yes? Well, this week reinforced that idea with a tale that takes place on the summer solstice, which occurred around the beginning of this week. The card this week was the 10 of spades, which took me to The Best American Short Stories 1964.

The summer solstice is the longest day of the year, and on this day a young man named Little Sant (his father is known as Big Sant) is out on his horse in a lonely New Mexico canyon. He tries to cross a low spot in the canyon but his horse refuses to cross. Little Sant gets off his horse and tries to coax his horse, and soon finds out why the horse refused: he's in a patch of quicksand and is trapped. The horse breaks free and makes his way to higher ground while Little Sant starts sinking, thus beginning his long day of dying. He's there for hours, in the hot New Mexico summer sun, and he thinks a million thoughts. He also begins to hallucinate, of course, and Eastlake does a fantastic job of using language and imagery to depict his hallucinations, which begin gradually -- so gradually that the reader is not quite sure where Little Sant crosses over from rational to irrational thought.

Meanwhile, Big Sant and an Indian named Rabbit Stockings (one of Little Sant's friends) have begun looking for Little Sant. Big Sant is convinced that his son traveled up into the mountains to gather up horses, but Rabbit Stockings is equally convinced that Little Sant went down into the canyon, and is drowning. Big Sant ridicules Rabbit Stockings's intuition, and in general the exchange between these two is actually a humorous part of what could otherwise be a depressing story:

But what happened to the boy? What happened to Little Sant? Probably his horse went lame. Don't ask Rabbit Stockings; Indians are alarmists. "You are, you know, Rabbit Stockings."

"What's that?"

"You want to make a big thing out of nothing. Does the peace pipe go from right to left or from left to right?"

"What's a peace pipe?"

"You see, you have gotten over many of your superstitions. Why don't you get over the rest?"

"If an Indian believes something it's called superstition; when a white man believes something it's called progress."

In the course of their conversation it comes out that Rabbit Stockings's guardian spirit is a snake, and not long after, up on the mountain they encounter a rattlesnake which spooks their horses. After this, Big Sant decides maybe they should check the canyon after all. When they get there, Little Sant is alive and out of the quicksand, due to a chance encounter with another snake which makes the reader go "Hmmmmmm...." -- not out of some unrealistic plot twist, but because of how the author skillfully ties the threads of the story together in the ending.

This was a highly entertaining and engrossing story, and I enjoyed it immensely.

The Deal Me In short story challenge is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

1 comment:

  1. I love the wonderful odd story you can find in a volume like the one you're reading. There have been so many great ones over the years (and years) that have faded into the back shelves of used bookstores. There's gold in them thar shelves.