The Red Cross in the Orange Grove

at a birthday party in an ice cream parlor
at a birthday party in an ice cream parlor

The end of Overlook Drive was dark. First there were houses, 1970s split-level houses. But they stopped before the wide curve where an orange grove took over. At night, sitting beside my father in the car, it looked like the road ended in darkness. Then around the curve and a 7 Eleven lit the next curve, which was much sharper.

One day in the early 80s a church bought a strip of that first curve and built a log cabin church. In the steeple of the church they put a window in the shape of a cross. I didn’t know until we were coming home late one night that the glass was red.

There were no other lights, but the red cross floating in the dark between the curve and the orange grove.

Later they built an ark in the side yard as a gift shop. I assumed the worst about the church, and wondered about the family that later bought the church and turned it into a home.

You put symbols into your fiction you never know how a reader will take it. What inspires one soul may disturb another–like a cross or the color red. Do you find that you go back to the same symbols in your fiction? Or have you not yet noticed?

4 thoughts on “The Red Cross in the Orange Grove

  1. I’ve thought about this question from time to time. I don’t consciously manipulate symbols — I don’t think many writers do — but wouldn’t get all huffy if someone said they’d encountered something that might be one.

    Part of the problem is the language. If you say “this symbolizes” or “is emblematic of” or “represents,” you’re actually saying I know what the author intended. It’s a little show-offy for a reader to say that, and a little, well, condescending for a writer to say it — like pointing out something the reader is obviously not clever enough to figure out for him/herself.

    Was talking to a guy at work about maps. He told me he’d once done a map of all road projects being built by the City government at the time, and his boss had given the map back to him asking for one correction: get rid of all the red markers. Why? Because a citizen looking at such a map would see EXPENSE everywhere. I thought that was an astute observation, and it also shows that we have to be alert to the possibility that someone might read something flat-out wrong into our writing. Is it okay if s/he does so? Depends. That’s why I try not to touch on hot-button issues in print or on the blog; satire/sarcasm/irony is so easily misread!

    [Could have sworn I saw some earlier comments on this post before. Am I just imagining things???]

  2. [You must be imagining things, JES. No one seems to have much to say about symbols.]

    Maybe too many classes where they force you to find and explain symbolism gets in the way of being in a story. I don’t think my work has serious symbols in it, but I have thought about the importance of certain details. For example, in The Labyrinth House my main character eats a strawberry and it brings her a lot of grief. I knew she had to eat something and fruit seemed the most likely but an apple seemed, well, too obvious. Banana and the like just didn’t work. But I’m not sure that counts as symbolism exactly–even if I did put a lot of thought into it.

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