On Writing ‘Fango in the Mire’
Tegan and Darryl are a young solitary couple who have lost in different aspects a sense of self-esteem. Their story is about responsibility towards loved ones and how it can shape us and limit us. It deals with the roles we adopt, duties we take on and the transformation of love into another household chore.
This is one of the first short stories I wrote. I sent it out once and got it back then I put it away for a while. I continued to work on it and trust it, hoping that like Fango the dog it would find its way.
The story begins with dialogue because it was becoming clearer as the scenes developed that the introductory context had to be immediately intimate and this was how the line about personal hygiene (‘How many days since you last showered?’) got pushed right to the top.
You come across the characters one evening in their house while they are watching television and there is a touch of impending struggle from Tegan, even though you are told you happen to catch her on a “good day”. She pretends to drink from her empty tea mug like a theatre actor performing on a stage. Their dog Fango plays the part of their child. He fills up their empty spaces with innocence and joy. The protagonist walks out with the dog and wonders whether or not to return.
It seems to be the calendar’s fault, which in its most basic symbolism is also a reminder of time. There are smiley faces there that summarise each day based on Tegan’s mood – good, bad, in-between – and they reflect the miscommunication between them; the main character chooses the best method to cope but in doing so and despite all the care, overlooks and generalises Tegan’s feelings, grouping them into only three categories as if it were that straightforward. Smiley faces transmit childishness which is later reminisced when meeting a little girl at a shop (‘Her eyes are grey and they make you think of a time when you smiled every day and jumped in puddles instead of dodging them, splashing about with stamping feet in bright blue wellies’).
Other matters at work in the story include the debilitating mundanities of everyday life, a couple at odds about how to have a baby, the consequences of shutting others out and a woman with chronic depression. After working on a longer project with a main character whose mental instability was a significant obstacle for him, I wanted to write about mental health from a different angle. By shifting the perspective to the character that would be considered the carer instead, it turned out to be a story about something else. At the heart of the plot are the burdens carried for others and at what point they might become ours. Since I enjoy writing in second person and use it as often as the third or first, I made the choice of second person here to create a main character without identity. We don’t learn what the character does for a living or whether it is he or she until halfway through the story. I aimed for this ambiguity to highlight the emotional draining and detachment from sexuality by means of the narrative viewpoint. The main character’s name, Darryl, is not mentioned but it was unisex just in case. Darryl can be seen as a guardian angel in jeans or simply a person in love.
While writers don’t always know the reasons behind images they incorporate as they are writing, I believe that in addition to being a metaphor for the characters’ internal conflict, the storm was built in because it triggers the answer Darryl is looking for. Essentially this is a human out alone in the storm seeking shelter and wanting home and this feeling raises doubts as to where home is.
During the early drafts and perhaps even before any words were written I had an idea of the character holding its blind dog and wishing, almost pleading, to be seen. Fango is the only one literally blind but Tegan, battling against her own mind, is blind to her partner’s misery and Darryl too is blinded by love, sharing the quality of unconditional loyalty for which we tend to favour dogs over other pets. The fact that Fango manages with more senses gives the main character hope in overcoming adversity, but the ultimate question is whether it would be put to better use by adapting to a change of life or finding peace in conformity. Not even I can be sure of everything Darryl is thinking in those seconds after the weight has been lifted – Darryl who is at all times ‘you’ in the story.
Derwen Morfayel is a fiction writer based in Wales with an MPhil in Writing. She has short stories in Halo Literary Magazine, the webzine Ink, Sweat & Tears and in the upcoming anthology A Furious Hope as well as poetry published online and in print. Visit her website for a selection of her work. She tweets about writing @DerwenMorfayel.
You can read ‘Fango in the Mire’ in Issue Six of The Lonely Crowd.
© Derwen Morfayel, 2017. Banner image © Jo Mazelis, 2017.