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*Short* scene-- WWI hero Lawrence of Arabia meditates on a pivotal event in his life: his capture and torture in the Turkish city of Deraa.
[950 words]
Caitlin Conaway
Seventeen-year-old American girl who seeks definition through history. I like reading and, to a lesser extent, writing. Criticism valued more than praise; I might not appreciate the praise.
[May 2002]
[email protected]
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Missives (Short Stories) A few letters from Brother Rufus, 12th-century English monk, to his adoptive brother John Godwinson. [2,123 words] [History]
Caitlin Conaway

Ali paced the perimeter of my tent, giving cursory glances to the Swinburne, the Koran and the slim fin de siecle volumes of my Oxford days. "Do you write?"
I responded, "I've written letters, the odd college paper, nothing noteworthy. Countless field reports; those are dry. I am a reader, not a writer."
"You could be a great writer. When you look at things you see them, even in the desert. The men in my tribe don't see things in the desert, and they were raised there. It's a creative trait, the ability to pay attention."
"Your tribe is just desensitized, my good Sheikh Ali. I'd make a horrible writer; my letters are witty but empty. I package my words prettily, shockingly, but there's nothing behind them, no soul."
Ali shrugged. "The world likes to be shocked," he said. "This war would be over if public lost its taste for horror."
"If we stopped hacking Turks into pieces and I became a respectable Royal Air Force officer, would the public lose interest in this inane struggle? Could I end the War to end all Wars?"
I was only spinning an audible dream but silly bronzed Ali never could rise to a rhetorical question.
"They'll never leave you in peace, Lawrence. You've blown up too many trains, worn my Arab clothes too often. You're a public eccentricity, ripe with shock value. I expect you'l have to write a book about your desert adventures."
He tossed me a bag of water and left my tent with a curt bow. I had done nothing in the last few days to deserve water so I emptied it onto the sandy floor. In the desert it is not excess but deprivation that is a sign of power. Back in England they called me a fool for going without food and water and women. Here they call me a prophet. El Aurans, they say; the Bedouin cannot pronounce my my name. El Aurans sounds better than Colonel Lawrence, though, and at any rate it is better than 'English', which is what they called me before I became their butcher. My map lay on the ground before me, battered and sand-dulled. With Daud and Farraj dead, Feisal in Damascus and Ali a beautiful but empty vessel, there was no one worth talking to. I had resorted to ridiculing people; that soon lost its novelty. I suppose I could write. I could write of the cities I had captured. I could describe the beauty of a still desert to win the admiration of the housebound with my words. I could write of adventure but when I tried I could think of nothing but the Central Powers' military outpost in Deraa. My nose filled with the acrid smell of the Turkish village. I reached up under my white robe to touch the scar on my stomach, a reflexive gesture which always follows the thought of Deraa.
The Turks had captured me there. I had never been captured before. I had never even been wounded before, not a scratch upon my body. They brought me, bound in sharp ropes, to an evil place, to an interrogator. He had a shorn head and stronger arms than mine. I thought that I had enough power to withstand torture but I was wrong, I told him everything, the plans and secret strategy of my Arabian army. "You must realize, I know," he had said as he worked a splintered bayonet between my ribs. What was it that he knew? My name? Did he know that I was English, a tainted man from a decaying people? Did he see the oases of degradation in my soul, the fatal pools of whose depths the horror-loving public sees only the surface? They are deep and dark as midnight. Did he know that somewhere thinly veiled in me I enjoyed the ordeal? Battles have numbed my senses, worn then down to the point that only suffering reaches me for any length of time and nothing ever satisfies me. "It will be easier for you if you obey," he had told me as blood trickled down my white legs.
This war has scarred me in so many ways. This is what I wrote of: not adventure or the purity of the desert but the shameful incident of Deraa.
My life has not been a clean one. I have killed more than my share of men and enjoyed it out of the acceptable boundaries of war. I have knowingly harmed the innocent. I do it on purpose. The monthly massacres, where my shrill order of no-prisoners decimates entire villages: they teach me that much. Yet I have always kept my body pure and separate from my sullied mind. I have kept it clothed in one soft color, safe from bullets and metal and the disgrace of interpersonal relationships. Nothing touched me until Deraa. And now everything does. I am torn: everything hurts, but it is feeling.
Does the public want horror? A thousand corpses in a thousand acres of bloodsoaked sand are not as shocking as the torture of a single man. I wrote of Deraa for the damned public, not for any personal catharsis. Writing was as painful as a waterless day in the desert but no catharsis came; I was still unclean. At the end I wrote:
"In Deraa that night the citadel of my integrity was irrevocably lost."
If the public wants to prolong the war I can lead them on. I can supply them with an outrage at my dignity's expense. Let the public have their armchair thrill. I smile in cryptic satisfaction as the gaping slit on my stomach stains me brown and red.



"Much to like about this. It is encouraging to see an interest in history from one so young, unlike some of the other sci-fi, occult, and paranormal junk I see posted from others of your generation. I happen to be fascinated in particular, by the legendary exploits of Lawrence. Well done, but I'm afraid there aren't many browsing this site that will appreciate your efforts. Nevertheless, I want you to know that I do. " -- Dick Koss, OH.
"This is written remarkably well. And not just for a sixteen- year old, for any aspiring writer. Period. And while I'm not familiar with this particular character in history, your writing has made me want to be so. You say you don't like your writing, Ms. Caitlin? You're clearly being much too hard on yourself. " -- Michael.
"I agree with the previous reviewer, you have a very relaxed and accomplished style which draws me into the story and makes me want to read on. Lawrence is an oddball character and this comes across well in your story. All that I would say is that you should try to find your own characters and plots rather than delving into history, ideally from your own life or things/people that you know very well, and try to tell a story with a bit of an emotional bite that will get your readers involved. Personally I wouldn't recommend writing in the first person unless it is essential to what you are trying to do. You can and should write from the point of view of one particular character but if you do it in the first person every sentence tends to begin with "I" and the whole piece can become a bit claustrophobic. First person narrative is far more difficult to get right and more restricting than third-person narrative, and often spoils an otherwise good story. I liked this piece though, and look forward to reading more of your work." -- David Gardiner, London, England.
""I package my words prettily, shockingly, but there's nothing behind them, no soul." Stay with it, dear Caitlin. By now (2006) you've managed to find some. " -- dee.


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© 2000 Caitlin Conaway
July 2001

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