What happens when a love story runs aground on the writer’s subconscious Freudian shoals? The answer is “The Hansom Dove.” When I first imagined Quince Humphrey, he was a lonely but successful author in need of a quiet place to write what he was sure was going to be a great novel. Obsessed with his work, Quince would not notice that he was falling in love, at least not until the beautiful Miss Dove had won his heart. The story was going to reveal the awaking of the artist’s sexuality and his deepest emotions. Love would awaken his emotional capacity, and Quince would escape from the chains of intellect and art.
But something went wrong. In my enthusiasm to celebrate love and to allow my characters to revel in their sexual desires, I had forgotten the other side of humans, the side that Freud called Thanatos. If Eros drives us to seek pleasure, it is Thanatos which compels us to avoid pain. It is dark force that urges us to take refuge from life’s storms, to hide our angst in the arms of Morpheus and ultimately in the even safer arms of death. Without my willing it, perhaps even without my awareness, “The Hansom Dove” moved into the world of darkness. Desire became not the vehicle for freeing Quince but for immuring him.
Then, as if to taunt me as author, a symbol forced its way into the story, the narwhal tusk. Often confused with the mythological horn of the unicorn, a well-known if nonexistent aphrodisiac, the narwhal tusk, which is in fact a tooth, is one of the most delightfully phallic appendages of any animal. If the tusk implies sexuality, then we have to also remember the species’ name; narwhal is derived from the term “corpse whale.” The creature also reminds us of the necrophilic part of the Freudian dichotomy. There we have it, libido and the death wish in one symbolic animal.
This having been explained I must, with all due embarrassment, say it was during a dream that I first imagined room 627 and its strange decoration. Yes, dear Dr. Freud must have been guiding my creative process. Once I understood that the story was not only about love and libido but also about death and imprisonment, the tale took rapid shape. In the end “The Hansom Dove” is one of my favorite short pieces even as it makes me want to flee my own words. But there I am, trapped—as trapped as Quince is from the very beginning of the tale, queasy, wretched and caught on that horrible ferry which will take him to the island and to his fate.
Hunched in his brown tweed suit, the one he had purchased to let the world know he was a true Bohemian, Quince Humphrey tried not to think about his queasiness. Never before had he understood what it meant to feel green. He tried to reassure himself that the lurching and swaying of the small ferry would someday provide him an idea for a story. That was his strength as a writer – turning misery into plot. It just hadn’t been his plan to be miserable this particular Thursday evening.
Isn’t this just the place you’d like to join us? If you would, Mr. Dove will be waiting:
The old man stared at Quince, and the younger man stared back. Never before had Quince seen such a pitted face – grooved and furrowed by time and no doubt the unpleasant island weather as well. Quince took in the paleness of the innkeeper’s complexion, the stringy white hair that hung beneath the ridiculous cap, the thinness of his wrists and angles as they emerged from his nightshirt, the boniness of his hands and bare feet.
“May I come in?” Quince asked reaching to pick up his suitcase. He was struck by the weariness in his own voice. “I could use a drink. Do hope you have a gin and tonic?” He tried to make the request sound light and friendly.
“Mugget sent you, did he?” The old man swayed but did not move from the doorway. The lantern, which he was carrying, swayed with him casting dancing shadows on the nearby walls.
There was another pause as the man seemed to study Quince’s words. Finally he said, “Didn’t expect you till morning. Not a night fit for ferrying.”
Be ready for a charming encounter, but watch out for the beautiful daughter.
In case you’re wondering, I should say, “Yes, I am trained as a shrink, a PhD in psychology.” That said, “Hansom Dove” is certainly one of the most Freudian pieces I’ve written.
A New Englander by birth and disposition and trained as a psychologist and minister, Ken Weene has worked as an educator and psychotherapist.
Besides writing, Ken's earlier interests included whitewater rafting, travel, and playing paintball.
Ken's poetry has appeared in numerous publications - most recently being featured in Sol. An anthology of his writings, Songs for my Father, was published by Inkwell Productions. Two of his short stories are soon appearing in Legendary. His short play, The Right Number, was recently workshopped with great laughter and success by Stage 55 in Phoenix.
Ken's novel, Widow's Walk, has just been published by All Things That Matter Press.
Now in semi-retirement, Ken and his wife live in Arizona. There Ken has been able to indulge his passion for writing and enjoying life.