AMOS WATERS • by Errid Farland

There are things which Amos Waters knows. For example, he knows how to sew a button on a shirt, but more than that, he knows how to keep the button safe in the pocket until he gets in from work and sits down under the dangling bulb in his house, his back hunched to the task, his knees held straight, his feet, still burrowed into the worn and cracked leather of his boots, slightly pigeon-toed. His fingers are not nimble, but they know how to persevere. They know that if they persist, the thread will emerge through the eye of the needle. He’ll place the button and move the needle up and down through the four holes until it is secure. He’ll fold the shirt and place it with the other three, one of which he wears only to church.

Amos Waters knows, too, the angles of a prison cell. They’re not all that different from the angles of his room. There’s the sink and the toilet, a small mattress, a table, a chair, a light that was once adequate, when his eyes were young, before they’d been misted over by all the things Amos Waters knows. It’s white, the prison cell is, covered by years of filth, and it provides pasture to thousands of cockroaches, which Amos came to see as his charges. He was the good shepherd, tending to the build up of lard issued from sweaty pores, set down, layer upon layer, on the spot where he leaned against the wall, passing seconds and days and years among the tick of his charges as they ate his grease; his body given for them.

Amos Waters knows the flavor of injustice; how it tastes like a mouthful of blood on a hot summer night, how it wells up inside, and spills out over broken teeth and through bruised sinuses. It’s metallic and deep, nasty like the insides of a fresh-killed pullet that has to be dressed for someone else to eat. Amos drinks in that taste, and his eyes look out in the dimming light to the nothing that was supposed to be God.

There is something Amos Waters doesn’t know. He doesn’t know what went on up there in the heights of Babel, when men, united with power and purpose, came close to touching God. He didn’t see the faceoff because he was down on the bottom, the back upon which the one climbed and built, then another upon that one, and another, and yet another — thousands upon his back, as he stood strong on the bottom. It didn’t much matter which one emerged as victor, man or God, because, either way, he was still on the bottom, sweating under the weight of it all.

Amos Waters folds his shirt, and places it in the drawer, then he pulls the chain to cut off the light. He sits back in his chair, his hands on his thighs, his back straight, as seconds and minutes and hours go by. He says his prayers, there in the stillness of the dark. He says, “Lord, another day gone, another circle of the sun. Look on old Amos Waters, and old Amos Waters look on you. Amen.”


Errid Farland’s stories have appeared in The MacGuffin, Barrelhouse, Thieves Jargon, Word Riot, storySouth, Pindledyboz, GUD, and other great places. She owns www.ShowMeYourLits.com, a website which sponsors a weekly flash contest. She lives in a literary hyperbole: the Inland Empire, on an Estate.


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 average 4 stars • 2 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • I notice that this story is placed in the ‘Literary’ section. There’s something quite pretentious and possibly arrogant about declaring a story to be ‘literature’ when it’s only barely published – surely this is a matter to be decided over time, and many readings?

    That said, this story does have a literary feel to it, although whether this is because it genuinely counts as literature, or because the author has made a big effort to sound literary, I can’t say. Perhaps they’re the same thing, in the end.

    I have to confess that I’m not sure what the story was really about, which can sometimes in itself be a sign of literature. Occassionaly I tripped over some overly-long sentences that could have done with being split up, or at least structured in a more easily-scanned way.

    The setting and descriptions are very evocative, and I suppose it is a good attempt at ‘literature’ (whatever that might be) but I just didn’t find it particularly satisfying.

    I don’t like being mean, but if you’re going to put your work on a pedestal, then I’m going to be a bit more rigorous in my critique. Had the author chosen to place this in the Surreal or even Other section, I might have judged it differently.

    Two stars.

  • Rajdeep Pathak

    Good story. 2 stars.

  • Although the story rambled on a bit and as mentioned above had some overly long sentences, it held my interest, the voice was good and it gave me pause for thought.

  • Irena P.

    Beautiful writing, kept my interest till the very end.

  • CJdelaHaye

    Loved this — its spare starkness reminds me of Raymond Carver. I could see so clearly the long nothingness of this man’s life, one lived by so many amongst us. I gave it an unapologetic 5.

  • Jamie (#1), I think perhaps you’re confusing “literary” (genre) with “literature” (great works of cultural importance).

    In any case, I’d like to make it clear that the genre categories at EDF are simply intended as a convenience to our readers who may be seeking a particular genre, and that the placing of stories into genre categories is ultimately an editorial decision.

  • Sheila Cornelius

    Ghastly. I dislike this quasi-religious portentous style of writing.

  • Camille, surely by classing a piece as literary, you’re implying that it shares (or aspires to share) the characteristics of accepted literature?

    How would you make the distinction?

  • Rather than take away from the discussion of this particular story here, let’s address the “literary” question on our forums: http://www.everydayfiction.com/forums/index.php/topic,9219.0.html

  • I don’t usually mention how many stars I rate a piece, but this story got four from me. It was written beautifully – I truly felt compassion for your protagonist.

    EDF seems to be attracting a lot of mean spirited people lately.

  • fishlovesca

    I’ve been struggling with this one, but to be honest, I felt like I needed more information. Who is this person, why is he in jail, how long has he been there. Nicely written, but too obscure for me.

  • I don’t know Amos Waters, but I feel like I’ve seen him a thousand times. My compassion for him with his hard life and simple means almost brought me to tears.

    Because the typical “story arc” seems to be missing, I was tempted to give this story 4 stars. Then I took another look at Amos with his four shirts and his knowledge of how injustice tastes and suddenly I don’t care about plot. Errid and Amos get all five of my stars.

  • fishlovesca

    @5, Nothing about this piece evokes Carver. It does try to have a bit of Hemingway’s “Old Man And The Sea” about it, but too bombastic, really. Carver? No, sorry. Nothing of his is here.

  • This is very evocative; reminds me of my early days loving Faulkner. The Babel paragraph is perfect. I love that paragraph. As a whole, I too felt like I needed a little more information or at least a clear setting. Why was he in jail, where is he now. Not too much, just a tiny bit more.

  • Steve Ramey

    I really enjoyed this. I particularly like the unfolding of the second and third paragraphs and the way the final lines secure the button of the story’s theme. I look for narrative momentum in stories and this one managed to build that through the progression of Amos’ understanding of his (and our) world. I would certainly categorize it as literary rather than one of the more plot-driven flavors of genre available here, but I do prefer Duotrope’s approach, in which “literary” is a style rather than a genre (thus one can have literary SF or literary general fiction).

  • Rose Gardener

    The opening 3 paragraphs are absolutely superb. The way we are told so much about Amos as a character through the deceptively simple description of his sewing and his surroundings is awe-inspiring.

    Sadly the story then lost its way as it tried to tell us what Amos doesn’t know. It ended without really having a plot and I felt let down by the closing paragraphs.

    Nonetheless, this writer has talent and I hope to read more of her work. I’ll give this non-story an extra star for the quality of the beginning.

  • Like others, I was drawn in by the writing in the first part of this story. Yeah, there were a couple of places where the sentences run on and maybe the literary thrust overwhelmed in a couple of others, but this was still a pretty good piece of flash. I do think the writer really missed an opportunity with the ending. It didn’t live up to the standard she set up front.

  • Jen

    I’m afraid I missed what made this story enjoyable to so many. To me it seemed like it was just a scen in Amos’ life. Not that that would nescessarily be a bad thing by itself, but it didn’t seem to reveal anything about him.

  • I loved it! Don’t care about category distinctions myself, a story strikes me or it doesn’t. Something about it was poetic.

    A man on the bottom of society’s ladder his whole life…and always would be. A place where fate, and those in charge of life’s machinations, decided he should be. And yet, he takes on life’s smallest challenges with apparent grace and dignity no matter what his circumstance. In the end, simply asking only that God recognize his existence, as Amos did His.

    Did I say I loved it.

    5 big stars…

  • The characterization was good. There was a sharp tang to the final sentence which was quite satisfying.

    I think the line about “provides pasture to thousands of cockroaches, which Amos came to see as his charges” was out of place, because it makes him seem feebleminded; throughout the rest of the story, he is sharply observant.

    This is what is called a “sketch.” By the nature of the genre, it is too short to have much of a story arc. I wouldn’t say this was the greatest piece of work ever written, but it is solidly done for what it is.

    This feelings-heavy and impressions-heavy sort of work is more often seen in poetry.

  • G. K. Adams

    Beautiful and so poignant.

    True, it doesn’t tell us a lot about what has happened to Amos, but it tells volumes about who he is, and that is far more engaging than hearing what he did – well, except maybe the sewing of the button.

  • I loved the rhythym of this, and the layered emotional tone kept me thinking for quite a while after reading. There might not be much ‘onscreen’ plot but it still told a very large, very human story. Very well done.

  • John Im

    To me this was searing social commentary about a man who
    has been unjustly accused of a crime because he was poor
    or not white and convicted by the “Tower of Babel”
    power elite whom the story may imply will someday topple
    because of it. Maybe everyone in the United States should
    be required to visit, one of the solitary confinement
    cells in a super lock down prison so they could imagine
    what is like to be Amos Waters. Their tax money supports
    people kept in steel cages, ultimately for the crime of
    being born poor. Amos Water’s faith keeps him alive but
    he is no slave reconciled to his chains because of some
    promise of a better Afterlife. ‘Look on Amos Waters and
    Amos Waters look on you” implies he may be judging God
    as an equal for the wrong done to him. It may be, like
    Prometheus in Aeschylus, what sustains Amos and makes
    him spiritually superior to those who sentenced him to
    solitary is a belief in his eventual triumph and
    vindication. To me this was a very powerful story.

  • Kit

    I am of two minds after reading this story. I think the writing is beautiful – it unfolds slowly and it lingers, echoing the mood and setting of Amos’ existence. But I am in the camp that wanted it to build to something more tangible. So I guess I loved the characterization but just wanted a bit more plot. Still, I greatly admired the writing talent.

  • fishlovesca

    @23, well even in AmeriKKKa, even a black man has to be accused and convicted of at least a sham crime. The N has the capacity to know that he is in jail, then he ought also to know of what he was accused, even if wrongly and falsely accused. To set him down there and not give a hint about why is to ask us to feel for him based on nothing beyond a sense of decency and humanity. But that sense will always be limited because we don’t know why he’s there. I get that the references to God are asking us to be transcendentally compassionate. It is human nature to be more inclined to withhold or express sympathy based on knowledge. Like a dog locked up in a shelter, you can feel sorry for it, until you find out it was a biter, or that the dog was being abused, and then you bring your full judgement to bear one way or the other.

  • I’m a bit confused by the capital ‘N’ in post #25.

    Can anyone help me out on this one?

  • vondrakker

    Very mixed reaction to this read! For me!
    Can’t decide if I like it or not!!
    So it gets a middle of the road 2.5 stars
    will read the other comments now.

  • Amos Waters

    [removed by admin]

  • fishlovesca

    @26, Narrator, and I was wrong about that POV, as he isn’t narrating, thanks for calling it to my attention.

  • I hope we can all back away from a flame war on this one. Regardless of the story’s merits (or any comment’s merits), debating is only fun if we don’t make ad hominem attacks on each other. Anyone who is interested only in attacking others may leave EDF and go to this establishment instead:

  • Eric, I started a thread in the General Discussion form here on EDF about this very topic yesterday.

  • Oops! Form = forum

  • J Howard

    I love it when narrative printed on a page evokes such emotional reactions from readers! (I’m talking about all the intelligent and thoughtful responses I see here, not the mean-spirited stuff.) Kudos to the writer for having accomplished that with her words alone!

    As for the piece itself, I thought it was an enjoyable read. It was well written, and while it held no profound “message” for me personally, I still liked it quite a bit. Terrific word choices and sentence structure, with lots of beautiful imagery sprinkled throughout. What’s not to like about that? Nicely done!

  • Louise (#10)and J Howard (#33), I’m glad you enjoyed this, but really, when critique and genuinely held opinions are branded as ‘mean-spirited’ just because they’re not unerringly positive, it does a disservice to both the author, and to those who’ve taken the time to read the story and voice their opinions.

    ‘Negative’ does NOT necessarily equal ‘mean-spirited’. What serious writer hopes only to ilicit a page full of flattery and empty platitudes anyway? I’m sure this author is thick-skinned enough to handle some criticism.

  • Cezarija Abartis

    What dignity, endurance, and quiet heroism Amos Waters shows in getting through life.

  • fishlovesca

    Jamie, you sure are making yourself heard for someone who just got here. First trying to re-define the genre of lit fic, now defining the niceties of lit crit. Are you always this noisy when you come in a room?

    🙂

  • Jamie, didn’t you say in #1 ‘I don’t like being mean, but…’?

    If so, how can you now whine #34 about being ‘branded mean-spirited’?

  • Eli Cash

    It was well written, but I wonder if it was a character sketch rather than a story?

  • Errid Farland

    Thank you all so much for taking the time to read and comment on my little story. I enjoyed all of your thoughts and evaluations. I forget who said it, but I do have a thick skin. No worries. Ours is indeed a subjective business, as this very conversation attests.

    I do want to comment on a couple of the comments.

    #19 and #23, Jim and John. Interestingly, though you each had a different take on the story, you both described it exactly as my heart issued it.

    John–it’s interesting that you picked that last line because that’s one of the things I changed before submitting it. I’ve been wracking my brain to try to remember what it said in the initial version, but I changed the words to “look on” for the very reason that there could be that ambiguity there. One reader might make one conclusion, and another might make a different one. And in my mind….both are correct.

    Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict my self. I contain multitudes. (Somebody famous said that…I’m sure of it. :))

    One last thing then I will exit the thread. Thank you so much to the editors for taking a chance on this. I do believe you all suspected this might cause debate, and yet you had the courage to print it anyway. Thank you.

  • Paul (#37), I suppose I felt that ‘mean-spirited’ implied that I was a mean person in general, and simply trying to be unpleasant for the sake of it, which isn’t the case at all.

    Anyway, sorry if I’ve trodden on anyone’s toes, and that I’ve slightly hijacked the discussion – I didn’t mean to!

  • fishlovesca

    Good lord!

    (Last word.) 😛

  • vondrakker

    Good job Errid, you elicited many comments.
    Methinks, that’s the mark of a very good writer.

    More please !!

  • I really liked this piece. I’ve come back and read it several times. Don’t know why it captures me so much, and I don’t really care. I liked it. Alot. That is enough for me.

  • I really liked this piece. I’ve come back and read it several times. Don’t know why it captures me so much, and I don’t really care. I liked it. Alot. That is enough for me. ( And her website is a new fave now too.)

  • Sandra

    A good piece that took several readings to savour the full flavour of the prose. It deserved to rate higher than it has, in my opinion.