Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Smile of Accomplishment (Jennifer Butts)


Night descends upon the city. The moon rises higher and higher as if trying to get a better look upon the city's inhabitants. As night creeps on, there are still people out and about. Men sneaking behind their wives' backs, even some women sleeping around being unfaithful to their husbands. None of this is new to the moon, for she has risen night after night. She has seen many a betrayal, and often the fights that ensue. She has seen mothers tending their children, who can't sleep because of nightmares. The moon is rising, watching over her domain. Nothing seems out of place; everything is as it should be. But then something catches her eye. It is a mother, wandering about her kitchen, seeming to fret over her children.

Intrigued, the moon focuses on this one house. The woman inside has prepared a pitcher of milk and a plate of food for her children. Nothing particularly strange, until the bottle of sleeping pills is seen beside the pitcher. The woman has a handful of them, debating whether or not to put them in the milk. Drawing closer, the woman can be heard muttering to herself, arguing with herself about what should be done with her children.

"Should I take them with me?" the woman says. "I deserve death, it is all I want from my life now. I simply want to be released of the burden that has become my existence. But my children? They are young, with many years ahead. Perhaps they will find joy in a world where I found only sadness. But will they? Without a mother, will they be able to grow up and function in society? Perhaps it would be better if I just ended it for them tonight. It wouldn't be difficult, just give them sleeping pills in their milk, and when they have fallen asleep, keep them by the oven, letting them breathe the gas that will claim their mother's life. No! I can't. I will leave that up to my children. I cannot kill them. Taking my own life is one thing, taking my children's lives is murder. I will leave them the milk and food, and I will depart this world hoping that my children find more joy than I ever did."

The moon watches overhead. She watches the woman carefully set out the milk and plate of food for her children. Watches as the woman reenters the kitchen, placing a towel at the base of the door, taking great care to seal the crack as tightly as possible. The moon watches as she places her head inside, the smile of accomplishment on her face as she breathes deeply. She keeps sucking in the poisonous gas. Slowly but surely, soon the breathing is slow and calm. Her back rising ever so slowly and gently. All too soon, the breathing stops. The moon continues on her way now. Nothing more to see. The woman's family will find her, and bury her in the ground. This is nothing new to the moon, for she has seen much death. She has been watching over people since the beginning of their existence, suicide is nothing new.


Jennifer wrote this short piece in response to an essay question on a test:

Using the title “The Smile of Accomplishment,” rewrite Sylvia Plath’s poem “Edge” as a short story.

For your story, you should NOT create your own story, but simply rewrite Plath’s poem in story form. You may add details, of course, but they must be plausible within the parameters of the original poem and what you know about Plath’s life and death. NOTE: I am not looking at your creative writing ability here. I am looking at how you can extrapolate the future outcome of a character’s life based on textual clues offered in her current reality.


Interestingly, before setting pen to her exam booklet, Jennifer jotted down some notes on the poem Edge:

Lines 1-4:

Write from first person p.o.v.(I).

Smiles as she places her head in the oven, awaiting death to claim her, ending the misery.

Lines 5-8

Walked through life for 30 years. At 10, lost her father. At 20, failed to end her life. Not this time. Too much misery to go on. Melancholy consumed her life; no happiness to be found. She will not fail.

Line 8 ("We have come so far,/") was underlined, with this notation: 30 years, 20 w/o father. Line 8 ("it is over.") also underlined, with this notation: suicide/death

Lines 9-12

Should I take my children? Wouldn't be hard, just lock the door, a smidgen of sedative in the milk. I would feel no pain, but do they deserve it?

Lines 15-16

Turns on the gas, breathes deeply, inhaling the sickly sweet gas. She smiles...(top).

Lines 17-20

The moon, a silent onlooker. She has already seen much death. What is one more?


In order to fulfill the essay requirements for an exam (75 minutes total), Jennifer has written a fine derivative short story based on a poem; however, based on what I have seen here, I'm willing to bet that she could write her own original stories and do a very good job, indeed.


LIT160 Introduction to Literature--Spring 2008

Posted with permission

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