Watching the Knife: Pamela Rentz’s “Social Security”

If you were paying attention in your creative writing class, you learned about the principle of “Chekhov’s gun,” which states, essentially, that if you show a pistol on the mantel in act one, it had better be fired in act three. For a neat variation on that, how about we coin “Rentz’s knife”? That’s the principle that states if a knife is slipped into a pantleg, see to it that a potential revolution is at hand.

Now let’s throw in another maxim, something attributed to Ronald Reagan (and now often quoted by Ron Paul, the Internet’s favorite presidential candidate, though lately apparently usurped by—yikes!—Romney): The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: “I'm from the government and I'm here to help.”

Pamela Rentz’s story in The Wordstock Ten “Social Security,” then, may be the only short story in the universe inspired by both Anton Chekhov and Ronald Reagan (Hello REAGAN AND CHEKHOV googlers! Thank you for stopping by).

The setting for all this could not be more perfect; here is Lewis Cedar Creek, and American Indian, living in a godforsaken community—presumably a reservation—that offers no hope for the future or anything resembling The American Dream. Instead, hope is represented by the government officials who come through once or twice a month, announcing, I suppose, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” So it is that the natives overrun by the U.S. government are now at the mercy of that same government.

Lewis Cedar Creek’s frustration with trying to cash a social security check becomes the center of the story, but the appearance of a knife shoved into a pantleg creates the dramatic possibility of an on-the-spot uprising. You need to read the story to see how it all turns out.

The story of the American Indian everybody knows, but the real star of the story—in spite of my above ramblings—is Pamela Rentz’s prose and pitch-perfect dialogue. So let’s leave off with the opening of the story as a sampling of her talent:

ON THE FIRST OF EVERY MONTH, Lewis Cedar Creek, a gray-haired Karuk Indian with caterpillar eyebrows and deep creases in his forehead that formed a stern expression even when none was intended, stepped out onto what was left of his front porch. He shucked his sweatshirt and tossed it back inside before the screen door shut behind him. The morning was a sizzler and only going to get worse. The brown grass curled against the dirt in defeat.

He used a wire twist to fasten the screen door, bolted the trailer door, then slid a rusted sheet of metal from Gerry Charles’ smoke house in front of the door. He attached the metal to the door with a heavy chain and a large padlock he’d taken from an abandoned truck right at the time the world tilted and the looters became the fortunate ones. The padlock was busted, but the sight of it discouraged the curious.

Pamela Rentz’s “Social Security” was awarded 2nd prize in the competition. Congratulations to her.

No comments: