Afternoon Nap: A Study of Suspense and Trauma

            The story this week after returning from the 4th of July break, is Afternoon Nap by Rai Ahmed-Green.  It was printed in Periphery 54 and can be found under the story of the Week tab.  The Periphery Blog is a blog about writing, narrative, art, and everything in between.

            The first story I ever read from Periphery was Afternoon Nap by Rai Ahmed-Green.  It is a story that ran in Periphery 54 and it shocked and awed me.  Upon returning to it, I found myself feeling the same way.  What sells the story for me, however, is not the gruesome imagery, nor the palpable sense of anguish and unfairness, but how Ahmed-Green frames the story, and how he builds suspense. 

            It’s funny looking back in this story to realize that it starts with a young girl building a budget for student council and ends with her vengeful spirit killing a family.  The distance traveled between those to points is incredible.  The shock that comes from the initial murder is all the more potent because Ahmed-Green takes time to misdirect the reader away from what is going to happen.  The first paragraph of Afternoon Nap, with its worries about a Trigonometry test and prom, could easily fit into an entirely different story.  Taking the time to fill the girl’s world makes the stories disregard for those concerns even more shocking.  Just as the girl never gets to experience those things that once filled her life, neither does the reader.  They are presented only to be taken away.  Those very first things the reader learns about the girl’s world are ripped from them, just as they are the girl.  Afternoon Nap could have easily started long after the girl’s death, but it would have lost what makes it stand out. 

            An interesting way that Afternoon Nap creates suspense is by focusing on specific details when something horrible is happening.  After the girl ‘wakes up’ and discovers the murder of her family, she spends a great deal of time discussing her mother’s sewing. 

The stitching is immaculate, patterned to resemble butterflies and flowers; a perfect dress for a beautiful spring day. The girl always loved to watch her mother sew.  (Ahmed-Green)

As a reader I was on the edge of my seat this entire paragraph.  I didn’t care about the detailed stitching or the pattern of the dress.  I care about the mother who was just murdered.  The girl takes her time to examine every detail of the situation before finally looking directly at her mother.  One can imagine her trying not to look, trying not to comprehend how her life has been irrevocably altered.  Not only does that specificity create suspense, it sets up the theme of lost scraps of fabric, while also showing how hesitant the girl is to accept the fate of her family. 

            The same pattern can be found with the Benise family at the end of the story.  All of the details about the commission on the house, and the lack of haggling keep the reader from what they really want to know: what the girl is going to do.  How is she going to react to these intruders into her home?  By the time the reader gets an answer to this question suspense has been built throughout the entire conversation. 

            More than its violence what stands out to me about Afternoon Nap is the pain that both causes and stems from it.  The girl’s frustration with being forgotten, the unfairness of a life cut short, and the inability of others to understand how she feels are all very human emotions.  Underscoring all of these points is the need for others to understand how one feels.  The reader can understand the girl’s pain, can understand why does what she does even while they are horrified at it.  This was a story that shocked me, and continues to do so, but more than that makes me sympathize with a scared young girl who can’t find relief.  Who is so angry about the end of her life, how quickly it was forgotten, and how little any of it mattered, she forces that same horrific experience on others. 

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