All Stories, General Fiction

Farewell Persephone by Virginia Revel

“I see her always as she was then, lit with lucent yellow from a jagged tear in the eternal cloud cover, eyes locked with mine, mutely but unmistakably saying farewell.”

            This is the first sentence of the novel ‘Farewell Persephone’ by my uncle Marcus Carradine. Below the title he inserted a quotation:

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold

The Second Coming

William Butler Yeats


I found the manuscript of ‘Persephone’ in my uncle’s house three weeks after he died. ‘Manuscript’ is a literal term in this instance; Marcus despised word processors and wrote his book in longhand. He used to tell me that the movements of his hand and arm made the creative juices flow. Literary composition was a physical thing. He said, too, that his aim was to ‘possess the world and make it gravid.’

In a critical essay on Marcus that I began when I was seventeen, I wrote that for him the pen was the equivalent of the begetting phallus. I labeled him an eroticist, although as far as I know, he never begot anything but his manuscript. I deferred all mention of his many and various bedmates until I could make their acquaintance, but at some point I planned to disclose his habit of referring to them by Greek-sounding pseudonyms—‘vexatious Chloe,’ ‘sweet, foolish Penelope’—and then draw insightful parallels with features of the novel. I never did this, for reasons that will become clear in due course.

I saw my college career as preparation for my future role as Marcus’ literary executor. My father, himself a CPA, would have preferred to see me study accounting, but I saw nothing impractical in my choice of comparative literature. I would one day write Marcus’ biography. I would edit and explicate his work. I would, moreover, collect his royalties; he had told me early on that I would be his heir. That the royalties would be substantial, I did not doubt. The editor-in-chief of one of the nation’s most prestigious publishing houses had been begging for The Novel for years. “Sam has been after me again,” Marcus would say.  “He’ll have to wait.  Nobody hurries me.”

According to my calculations, Sam waited for at least seven years. I felt he shouldn’t grumble. Compelling and seminal works of literature are not written in a day. Marcus was jealous of his literary reputation and he said that if he ever realized he would die before completing The Novel, he would give the manuscript a Viking’s funeral. I looked up this allusion, not a Greek one for a change, and discovered that he intended to burn ‘Persephone.’ Silently, I begged the Fates to spare the world this desecration. I reminded him that he was only fifty-one. He clapped me on the shoulder and said, “Richard, I’ve been living large. I’ve just about used myself up.  But it’s been worth it.” I vowed to make ‘Living Large’ my personal motto.

In the event, Marcus had no forewarning of his doom. A massive heart attack felled him on a Caribbean beach as he raised his hand to order his last piña colada. The postcard from him that reached me a week later bore only the message ‘Living L.’ above the signature.

My uncle’s funeral was less elaborate than ‘Persephone’s would have been. Besides my parents and me, the mourners included his lawyer, his cleaning lady, two fellow golfers, and the man who used to tune up his car. ‘Sam’ did not show up, nor did Chloe, Penelope, or any other inspirational women. They must have missed the announcement we had inserted in the local paper. Without telling anyone, I sent an obituary notice to the New York Times as well, but it was never printed.

When the estate was settled, I went to my uncle’s house to take possession of the precious manuscript. I was sure he had left a publishable draft. I couldn’t find it in his desk, or in the drawers and cupboards in his study. I did unearth six volumes of paperback porn, all by an author improbably named Todd Slash. I put them aside for later private delectation and continued my search. I found nothing to speak of on the ground floor, but I rejoiced when I entered the upstairs bedroom and saw another desk. The top drawer was empty, and the bottom one was locked. Feverishly, I sorted through my uncle’s keys. I guessed that I was within inches of ‘Persephone,’ and I was right. Hugging the thick pile of inky foolscap, I flung myself into a chair and started to read.

“I see her always as she was then, lit with lucent yellow from a jagged tear in the eternal cloud cover, eyes locked with mine, mutely but unmistakably saying farewell.”

“I see her lucent in the rays of a dying sun, eternally frozen in time, gesturing a mute farewell.”

“Lucent in eternal memory, she stands transfixed, mute and immobile, her dark eyes bidding me farewell.”

“Her lucent eyes….”

I scanned page two, then three, then all of them, more than a hundred. I found nothing but the opening sentence of ‘Persephone,’ mute, lucent, and eternally recasting itself.

Things fall apart. My uncle’s authorship, his loves, his whole philosophy of life had been a lie, an elaborate façade.  His center could not hold because he did not have one. No, that was wrong. He had one thing to fill the void: fear. Fear of failure.  No sentence he could write was ever good enough.

Was the quote from Yeats a kind of coded confession? I think so. I sat among the shattered fragments of his fragile self, and mourned him.

I have changed my college major to physics, even though it means redoing all my course work. The degree will cost a lot of money in the end, but to pay for it I’ll have the royalties from the pornographic novels of Todd Slash. I found the statements from the literary agent in my uncle’s safe deposit box.


Virginia Revel

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10 thoughts on “Farewell Persephone by Virginia Revel”

  1. I liked the excited enthusiasm of the character and how she (or he) held the Uncle in such high regard, with expectation of a great manuscript, a classic, waiting discovery. Of course how many writers have great manuscripts gathering dust in the bottom drawer. Locked of course, because the world is not ready for such genius until it has been regenerated by a dotting niece (or nephew). Only to discover that the great classic works by the uncle were a frustrated attempt to change his genre, from one that did earn money. The exact opposite of classical literature, popular slap dash. It was enough to put our narrator of a career in literature for life.
    Although not the desired outcome, there was a reward – and I wonder was it an inheritance well spent.
    Great story.


  2. Well done and brave because I don’t like the harshly judgemental character who told the story much. Anyone who had collected the penetrating canon of Todd Slash can’t be all bad.


  3. Hi Virginia,
    I always think there can be a snobbery within everything. Status is only in our own minds, others opinions don’t matter.
    If you make a living from picking up rubbish, labouring, writing porn or anything, it doesn’t matter, it is something to be proud of.
    If you enjoy cheap wine, then do so.
    The question is would we like to change? I suppose if this comes solely from us, then yes. But if we are trying something more acceptable for the sake of how others see us, then that is different.
    Your story makes me consider all these thoughts and ideas.


  4. Excellent.

    Two characters brought richly to life with a maximum economy, and a wry commentary on contemporary values.

    I wonder if uncle Marcus’ fear was less one of failing in serious literary composition, than of living up to an exalted but misplaced image of himself. It appears that a recognition of this kind is our narrator’s real, if less tangible, inheritance: instead of devoting his life to acquiring the tools of an august but frequently hollow vocation—he’d already bandied about fashionable literary terms in his teens, when he’d presumably never read anything of his uncle’s—and so in his own way replicating his uncle’s mistake, he realigned his goals in a less romantic, more pragmatic, but nevertheless autonomous manner. One could do worse, and still be living largely, after all, if one’s goal was (in the sonorously Miltonian phrase of the author) to ‘possess the world and make it gravid’, than to devote one’s life to the infinite mysteries of physics. Fertility has as much to do with the soil as with the fecundity of the seed itself. Know thyself!

    Any more work?


  5. I love the “voice” of the nephew/executor and they way he reminisces about his uncle and his own plans for his career and “living as large” as his uncle. And then I love how prosaically he re-frames his future using the unforeseen book royalties. It’s a tight story with a good twist at the end.


  6. Hi, Virginia!
    I enjoyed your story very much. I also would have loved to have read more of it. But I like your economy of language, the painting of the characters and, of course, the twist at the end. I always enjoyed reading your work! Write more stories and get them out there!


  7. It’s so tempting to subordinate one’s own life to someone else’s, especially if you feel that someone else is more brilliant or has something more to offer than you do. The way that this story examines and then pulls the rug out of the narrator’s entire world-view is as effective as it is clever.


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