Paul ‘Sam’ Stostko (1977 – 2014) had written one unpublished novel and then successfully divorced his first wife of three years. He had been sorting manuscripts for free at a small press and just turned twenty-four. He had run into a woman, physically, as she carried boxes of donated clothes: Anne Gurdy, a professor of linguistics at the University of Toronto. This excerpt was written in an unpublished short story Paul read to me ten years ago as we waited for the bus in a February snowstorm:

I could have pinned her to the bed. Made her think. She was the right one for me, and for that she would have to pay. The beds were tough but she loved the way they felt under her back.

Paul was not a writer that had much support. He was influenced by Hank Williams, and he attacked you verbally if you criticised: “I could out run you,” he would say. I ran ten kilometre races on track in my early twenties. “Your work is a mangled mess,” he said. He always declared the word ‘mangled.’

I heard of his death from Anne when she was working municipally for the Government of Ontario in Toronto. We had spotted each other in a grocery store as she was telling her son to put down a knife:

Paul had been working in the small town of Innisfil selling antiques from home. He had stopped writing fiction. He emailed Anne almost every week for a month then would stop for a year. He drank, even after their marriage ended. In the last three years his mother was diagnosed with emphysema. She needed a man to live in house. January, 2014 he walked into a blizzard, drunk, and disappeared. Anne said that Paul mentioned two occasions he and I shared: The time that he loaned me fifty dollars and I never paid him, and the other of his lifting a scene from a short story I wrote. Anne mentioned the title. On my now retired laptop I found the story. On careful reading, the above paragraph was typed verbatim with red lines through their centres. Paul’s initials marked at each end.




Tuesday, August 14, 1985. Leonard Krzemien (1944-1985) kidnaps his three children. His second wife chases him four blocks, on foot, screaming to leave the oldest to help with the bills.

Krzemien had written four novels: Perrusia (1964), Unbelievable Actions (1972), Flowers of Time (1977) and his thousand page post modern tome Vagueries (1980). With ten chapbooks, collections of poetry and published rants he was epic in the Polish community. Krzemien witnessed the Gdansk Shipyard of the Polish Trade Union Solidarity. He fought for civil liberties, lower food prices and free elections. He never won the Order of the White Eagle.

Running with a four year old girl under his arm, both boys held each others hands obedient to their father. On the first night Krzemien fed his children sausage and bread at a café in the town of Zielonka an hour by train east of Warsaw. For three days he walked with his children, speaking to them quickly without much of a break in each sentence. His daughter mentioned his Tourette’s Syndrome was at his worst, swearing under his breath, tapping his feet, counting on his fingers from ten to one. He wrote letters to his first wife about his affairs, his religious disaffiliation being torturous. His second wife received the bill for the hotel.

I discovered on page 255 of his last novel Vagueries (1980), the Donald Moore translation of 1982, a section reminiscent of this future moment. In the novel an a event is described of Prokovka the protagonist, kidnapping his sister to run from the police who have already taken their mother into custody:

Prokovka arrived with his sister as if by the hand of God. A train lay waiting for them at four o’clock in the morning, the first of thirty. The weekly trial run had gone swiftly without problems. Yet, here he was, a shoelace causing him to trip into the sitting benches newly painted. His sister in tears asking where their mother was, as if the prison she was being shuffled into could take in those voices, he heard the whistles and the engines. The train rolled forward with slow trepidations. Tickets in his hand his identification card in the other he yelled at Anja, “Your name is Pavla, remember!” Stamping of the ticket, they entered and sat in the darkest corner. “We meet the man in Zielonka in an hour,” he said shaking.

Was it by accident that this section was a future recollection of kidnapping his own children? At the time of the writing, Krzemien had researched the area and in his unpublished diaries mentioned this town having, “A wealth of community,” (c.1979) He always wrote about the willingness of people, close to each other, especially family. He had visited the town before with his first wife as his car broke down and they needed a replacement tire. In other research, he has mentioned Zielonka five other times in some poetry and short fiction. The part of history in Vagueries, or Part 2 is about greed, helplessness and anger. Five years later he felt all those emotions accumulating to the moment of Tuesday, August 14, 1985.

A week later the police found the children in a hotel with enough cooked chickens and bread to last a week. Leonard Krzemien was found in a small apartment by the train station for two dollars a night hanging from a rope in the bathroom. No other works of his were published posthumously.

Vintage Green River Knife

What about conflict? Conflict is of course the way to butt heads, to scream, run a hand through your hair and show that the character is upset, happy, hurt, or in tears. What about the look, a pause? Here is an example from Henry Slots (1934-2005) 1978 fictional biography, Vintage Green River Knife, account of his wife leaving him in front of their son:

Marques pushes the lamp to the side leaning her shoulder to the window. There is a click from the hinge. Her voice trails as Martin throws one of his plastic trucks towards her feet. “I wanted to say,” she says. “I’m just about to head to the lot,” Anton says. “But, if you wanted to,” she says. Martin takes another swing of the truck without standing. “You don’t want to try again,” he says. Marques pulls her fingers from the corner of the bed and closes her fist.

In the above Slots inferences the moment of the relationship coming to an end. When conflict is shown the author uses his wife’s clutch of her fist as a way of exposing the conflict between the two without dialogue getting in the way of action. The best way Slots himself has done, even in novels such as his first Divinity (1968), Mocking the Way of Life (1975) and his Barthelme inspired novel Idaho (1992) where he creates characters that develop without isolating the conflict, where throwing a frying pan or swearing is better left to the author not able to understand the characters they have carefully developed.