Write for the Jugular

The Qualities of Mercy

A woman I know came running up to me today with a flyswatter in her hand and said “I need a man.”

Quite the come-on.

But actually what she wanted was for me to kill a wasp. I don’t know why she needed me for that. She was armed to the teeth and in a killing mood. But when a woman wants you, you go.

I dumped out a cup full of paper clips and grabbed a piece of junk mail.

“What are you doing,” she asked.

“I’m going to get your wasp.”

“You’re not going to kill it?”

I answered as I always do whenever people ask me that: “I don’t kill things.”

I really don’t. I trapped the wasp (which, actually, was just a bee) and set it loose outside. It was bothering no one. It was minding its own business. Like I always try to do until some idiot with a flyswatter runs up on me.

To be fair, that rarely happens. But it used to happen all the time. I grew up in Trenton, NJ (pity accepted), where a little guy minding his own business, far removed from everyone else, became the sudden focus of people who needed to make a statement. You see, killers need to kill. Moreover, they need to control. And one lone person who is neither part of nor interested in the pack and its mentality, standing apart and being content with his own company, is not something killers can just let be.

Sadly, most people are killers, which explains a lot. In fiction it explains why bestsellers involve guns and death but never compassion. Well, not never, but certainly not often.

In terms of what insights such an incident as the wasp scene above offers to fiction writers, it’s a lesson in paying attention to details. What conflict does the scene represent? Irrationality (seriously, who doesn’t know the difference between a bee and a wasp?) vs. reason? Sure.

Mainstream, unchallenged, life-in-the-Matrix, programmed, ingrained thinking (there’s an insect loose, it must die) vs. you, know, not mainstream, unchallenged, life-in-the-Matrix, programmed, ingrained thinking? OK.

Compassion and personal conviction vs. reactionary panicky idiocy? Why not.

But what does it tell you about the deeper subtext? Maybe a guy who feels no need to hurt a little bee who’s minding his own business somewhere far removed from the flyswatters is a metaphor for a guy who himself prefers to be left alone and to not be approached by people who need to fuck up his shit.

Maybe it’s just one little bee’s attempt to remind people about the value of mercy. Which is having the power and the provocation to hurt and not hurting.

Maybe it’s a little bigger than just fiction.

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