"They are in hell. Deservedly so I may add. That said, given the darkness of hell how can I not reflect a bit of light into that darkest of places when afforded the opportunity? What sort of person would I be if I simply looked away, or worse, took pleasure in another's suffering?"
Whenever he explains the motive for his donation, Morgan speaks about his own encounters with being in a "dark place," and this is a recurring motif in "I Know This Place."
This story begins with a pariah known only as the "slender man" languishing in an undisclosed location when he receives a donation of "70 or so" books.
At first blush, the "slender man" appears to be a detainee amid imagery of Caribbean sand, an island, corrugated metal, sniper netting and a gate guarded by young people "trained to kill," but there is no mention of "prison," "soldiers" or even "Guantanamo." The man speaks mostly Arabic, but he has learned a few words of English in captivity. He "goads" his captors and has a "stained beard," an unmistakable reference to the scraggly reddish facial hair of KSM.
"Here, in this place, he is revolting; an animal worthy of touching only through Latex," the narrator describes.
In a phone interview, Morgan confirmed that these allusions were intentional, but he added that he left the slender man's identity deliberately vague. This becomes apparent as the slender man twice imagines himself outside the prison: first, inside his mother's "white walled kitchen" and later, at a picnic bench with an "older man" who is depicted as a father figure.
"My son," the older man says in the story, "until the chosen time, we must escape in our own private ways; in private moments of our own construction.
"To live we must dream.
"To leave we must dream."
The pastoral settings and images of family could have been pulled out of a Norman Rockwell painting, and they leave the reader with a quintessentially American sentiment all the more jarring because of their juxtaposition.
It becomes unclear during these moments whether the character is a Guantanamo detainee literally confined in a prison or a man figuratively held in a place of anguish, darkness and isolation - and longing for escape.
Of all the books in the donation, the slender man's eyes turn toward one title symbolizing this breaking away: "Seabiscuit," based on a racehorse whose unlikely Triple Crown victory inspired millions of Americans during the time of the Great Depression.
The slender man and the older man discuss the book in Arabic, a scene that the author said was made possible through Internet translation.
In real life, "Seabiscuit" was the only nonfiction work in Morgan's donation. In the story, it carries the perfume of the bookseller: a mother whose son was a soldier killed in the Iraq War.
Morgan said that he remembers the perfume of the woman who actually suffered that loss. She is depicted as having a "battle" raging inside her when she learns of the intended recipients of the books.
"'Help them?' she asks softly. 'You want to help them?'" (Italics in original)
Out of respect for her privacy, Morgan did not want to give her name, and he requested that the name of the popular chain bookstore where he found her not appear in print.
The Miami Herald's article noted that Morgan had spoke "mostly cryptically and with the condition that he not be identified" because the reporter pressed him for an explanation.
Morgan explained that his then-desire for anonymity stemmed from his belief that a "gift loses its sense of wonder" if the giver is accused of seeking publicity.
He finally agreed - reluctantly - to step forward because the story has blown his cover. He explained that identifying himself through his Kinkade persona also served as a sort of escape hatch.
"I'm a big fan of plausible deniability as kind of a Reagan Republican," Morgan quipped.
Indeed, Morgan has described Kinkade as a mask he wears to gain control over experiences that society constantly reminds him to "Never Forget."
"With 9/11, you don't have any control," he said, speaking of the bumper stickers and "Law & Order" episodes triggering his memories. "If I don this mask of this fake world, and say I can go back and think about things that happen, then I get a bit of control. This process, what I've done is hiding in plain sight."
As elusive in his politics as in his fiction, Morgan prefers paradox to polemics, and he said he has supported both major U.S. political parties throughout his life.
During his screening for entry into VFM program, for instance, Morgan said an interviewer asked him what punishment he thought would be appropriate for the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks.
His answer, inspired by his mother, would fit into neither party platform. "Just put them in the general population at Rikers Island because that'll be more painful than death, and that will be good enough for us," Morgan remembered saying.
On a few occasions, Morgan has signed his own name to essays on the Beasley Daniel Kinkade website: recently publishing "An Open Letter to the Grand Old Party (or is it Grand Antiquated Party)" and "Bless Me Father for I Have Sinned," a letter praising Pope Francis for building a more inclusive Catholic Church.
Both pieces appeared under a cheeky disclaimer that Kinkade has felt "compelled to share a letter penned by the person responsible for reviewing, editing and posting Beasley Stories."
Morgan said he recently mailed a hard copy his letter to the new pontiff.
"It cost me $1.10," Morgan said. "The guy at the post office was like, 'Vatican City! This is my first one ever. I've been here 20 years'"
The influence that he seeks, however, appears more intimate in nature.
About a week before this story reached publication, Morgan spoke of his plan to share "I Know This Place" with the Iraq War mom who eventually signed up as his "helper" for the "Seabiscuit" purchase. "Of course, I'm terrified," he confided over the phone. "I send the stories, or I share the stories with people who have touched me or I admire."
Morgan sent an email about her feedback a few days later.
"She read it this morning and she just reached me," he wrote. "She cried. And she shared some beautiful words and thoughts.
"My heart is soaring.
"There is no other reason to write."
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