Her eyes ran backwards and forwards over my face and she said: ‘Well, they buy up the houses for investments, don’t they, or they fit their relations in one place, cousins, aunts, uncles, all under one roof. It’s unhygienic and, frankly, it’s dangerous.’
“They”. Here in Australia, the “they” are often Asian families, usually Chinese. It’s fascinating. You’ll be having an ordinary conversation and then all of a sudden someone will start ranting – it’s definitely ranting, folks – about how Chinese people are invading suburbs and paying for houses in cash to then move in excessively large families and ‘take over’. The word choices aren’t accidental. The word ‘invasion’ always comes up. And ‘they’. Sometimes people will say ‘Chinese’, but it’s usually not necessary. Of course it’s assumed that everyone knows who ‘they’ is.
Tom Tomaszewski’s short story, Two of Us in Seaford, deals with, I expect, a different “they” than what we have in Australia, but the broad concept is the same. Small-town, small-minded individuals who wish to create connective tissue with other, similar-looking people by hating an outsider group. It’s so tiresome how often it happens.
In this story, two people, George and Tom, arrive at a bed and breakfast. The couple who own and run the place, Nigel and Betty, introduce themselves and welcome the two men into the building. Betty takes the lead, she shows them about, and while she does, she drops comments. Comments like the above. Comments about how people are animals. Comments about how it’s important to keep everything at an even keel and not disturb others.
We looked out and in the fading light saw some green fields through the rain and the mist. It was all lovely for November, the grass taller than maybe it would usually be, people striding through it with their dogs. Behind all that, yes there was a golf course. Men in Gore-Tex jackets pulling trolleys, etcetera.
Tomaszewski’s tone throughout is casual, as evidenced by the above. I like this, I like the way ‘etcetera’ is used, and phrases like ‘It was all lovely’. This grounds the story, keeps it human, and helps to create an immediate connection with the narrator without the author needing to put in a lot of effort. He’s chatty and friendly, and so it’s easy enough to forge a bond.
The bed and breakfast is completely unpleasant, of course, and it’s intended to be so. But who are George and Tom? We don’t really know, at least not until the end. It’s quite jarring how much of a shift the story takes, to the point where I read it twice to try to find hints of it. And they are there, but this is a surprising and satisfactory way to end such a story.
It’s a satisfying fantasy, but unfortunately that is all it is. There are no demonic judges visiting the houses of bigots to remove them from this world. Absolution will not arrive via souls being consumed by demons. It’s nice to think about, and it’s a nice way to end the story, but it’s also somewhat hopeless, too. Is that all we can hope for? Is there really no other way?
But Tomaszewski is not required to provide an answer to our social ills. He reflects an ugly part of it quite well, and is adept at conveying the satisfaction that would be felt from those kinds of people experiencing their comeuppance. And all of this is to the good. Two of Us in Seaford thankfully does not outstay its welcome – the last thing we need is a screed highlighting how awful the right is and how justified the left. That is, basically, just as aesthetically rotten as when a bigoted, racist middle-aged lady goes on about how horrible “they” is.
Instead the answer is given to us via a strong metaphor. To hate an individual because of some facet of the background is, I believe, an evil thing. There is no good in it, and it is something to be ashamed of. And yet today, in 2018, people are not ashamed to show their hate, to casually reveal their nastiness. Tomaszewski throwing this back at the reader by literally having such people infernally punished for their hatred is immensely satisfying. Which likely says something about me, too.
Two of Us in Seaford is a short story by British writer Tom Tomaszewski. You can read the story online at Minor Literatures.
|Author||Tom Tomaszewski (Twitter)|
|Title||Two of Us in Seaford|
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