Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Shooter's Legacy

This week has brought its share of unpleasant excitement, and it's no small thing in a town like Madison, where people know people in a tightly-knit kind of way. We have a friend who can generate family trees, along with temporary relationships and marriages, from generations past, and she's not a Madison native.  Even I, after living here a mere 10 years, know well how many of the townspeople are related to each other, who their kids are, and what their family history is.

But the discovery of an apparent 50-year grudge of one man against another stemming from an incident in high school is a real revelation, the stuff of fiction.  In news reports about the shooting of Norm Johnson by Carl Ericsson, the motive apparently comes from some incident lost to the memories of all but the shooter.  It reminds me a bit of Edgar Allan Poe's story, "The Cask of Amontillado," in which the narrator Montresor reports that he had borne a "thousand injuries" and so sets out to wall away Fortunato in the catacombs to die slowly in revenge for those unidentified injuries.  Poe's story identifies its narrator as the one carrying the grudge, the other not knowing what motive lies behind Montresor's actions.

In any case, the creative writer in me sees the possibilities in this small-town tragedy, dreaming as is my wont about the scene or scenes that may have played out repeatedly in the imagination or memory of the tortured soul.

I'm reminded though, that Poe had an idea of revenge that you'll see in movies and tv shows:  the act of revenge must be known about, that the person seeking revenge must inform their victim and have them know what's being done.  At the end of "Cask," the narrator, noting that it's been 50 years since he walled up Fortunato, still nurses a grudge, having never told his victim what was going on, so what he asks for at the end is perhaps not for Fortunato, but for his own conscience: "In pace requiscat!"  

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