The workshop objects especially to two things, here. The first is the story's claim that all Dave's self-conscious caution about fingerprints is for naught, because the whorls of his oil are already on the arrow anyway — he had fletched, held, fitted, nocked, and shot the special arrow three times in that day's competition. Since explicit and verisimilitudinous mention is made on Mark's mss. p. 8 of the skin-thin leather gloves all serious competitive archers wear, though, the believability of Dave's fingerprints being on the shaft depends on an awareness that an archer's glove covers only the wrist and palm (protecting them from the shaft's explosive reaction to the bow's leftward pressure): the nakedness of an archer's fingers, Dr. Ambrose argues reasonably, is not a piece of information Mark can expect the average reader to have in the arsenal average readers bring to bear on average stories. Basically what you're doing when you're writing fiction is telling a lie, he tells those of us in the seminar; and the psychology of reading dictates that we're willing to buy only what coheres, on some gut level, with what we already believe.
Weaker still, Ambrose claims (though with tact and cheer), is the story's claim that the Tidewater coroner's inquest reveals that the cause of L—'s death, as she lay horizontal with the wicked shaft protruding, was neither trauma to aspirate organ nor loss of bodily fluid, but rather. . old age. A collective"?!?" greets this move of Mark's. Though it's done lovingly.
Do some very simple cost-benefit analyses, Ambrose advises Nechtr, rubbing the red commas his glasses have imposed on his orange nose's bridge: Why compromise the tale's carefully crafted heart-felt feel and charming emotional realism with a sudden, gratuitous, and worst of all symbolic bit of surrealism like this?
Especially since the real meat of the story lies ahead, in the Maryland Facility for Correction, where a numbly shattered and even less healthy Dave awaits trial and a judicial retribution he cannot deny he deserves. The epistatic twist of the knife here is that Dave is Not Guilty, yet is at the same time guilty of being Not Guilty: his adult fear of the community's interpretation of his prints and shaft has caused him to abandon his arrow, to betray a lover, to violate his own human primal instinct toward honor. How ethically, craftedly clever is this double-bladed twist, Ambrose tells us as we take notes; and how charmingly unfashionable to hear honor actually used as a noun, today.
Meanwhile, inside the story we have all, as part of the class requirement, read and put copious comments in the margins of, we're told that exactly nothing in Dave's sheltered experience prepares him for the hellishness of the Facility where he awaits trial. He lives in a tight gray ghastly cell. And he is not Alone in there. He has a cellmate. His cellmate is horror embodied. A hardened career criminal awaiting sentencing on a counterfeiting conviction, the cellmate who licks his wet lips at Dave's arrival is a "Three-Time Loser," and under Maryland law can expect to receive the same Life Dave expects. The cellmate's body is loathsome, flabby, puke-white, fat-spider-like, flatulent, pocked, cystic, and carbolic. Dave finds him disgusting, and the evident fact that the counterfeiter, whose name is Mark, loathes his own body, resents the cell's two-thirds its confined storage requires, and is revolted by the sounds and odors that issue whenever he moves, breathes, or makes his unceasing use of the cell's elimination bucket — this Mark's self-loathing only increases the young archer's disgust. Plus horror. The cellmate is so cruel, bestial, hard, terrible, sadistic and depraved and repugnant (he actually sits on Dave's head, requiring that Dave play the part of bidet or else face the consequences) that Dave calmly considers suicide as maybe preferable to the possibility of Life in this cramped fetid cell with this hellish counterfeiter; but not for a moment, the story claims, does Dave feel ill-used by the universe in general, or doubt that he is not somehow precisely where he belongs: he cannot close his eyes without being subjected to the diplopic double image of his lover's steady, supplicating and aging (!?) eyes, and then his own eyes vertical above her, darting from side to side, more concerned with how he is seen than with what he sees. Yes, when he's not being savaged, violated, sat and shat upon, Dave has time to think; and he grows up all over again, in the Facility. He is, the story takes a risk by saying, "repentant" — which in its Franco-Latinate etymology, Ambrose reminds us from his station at the green blackboard, denotes a process, not a state. Dave accepts, numbly but not passively, his unacceptable confinement.
Yes but the counterfeiter, Mark, hates the tiny cell even more than Dave, though suicide never enters spider-minds unviolated by naïve romantic thoughts about things like honor or betrayal. But Mark does (does) have Ideas. He believes — and whispers, over and over, as Dave falls asleep brown-nosed and bloody in the violated bunk below — that if he, Mark, can just work out the kinks in his counterfeit key, can just escape, leave the tiny gray cell and the barbed, guarded Facility complex behind, return to the mythic and fertile Tidewater marshland he'd roamed as a ghastly child, he can be happy, whole, human. An idea man, he posits that the whole purpose of confinement in barred cells with tiny barred windows— the latter all the worse for the prisoner's ability to see a striped Outside which the bars render both visible and impossible to reach— the whole point is to "dehumanize," and that he, Mark, as minimally human (Dave, no idiot, holds his peace on this point), has a right to escape analogous to any attacked man's right to defend, to kill for what he must have or retain.
Data: Mark has spent most of the latter portion of his life behind bars, in the Facility, and presides over a whole predatory school of demoralized Lifers who are the whole Facility's basic mandate for erection. Mark has underground tentacles that extend into even the blackest markets. He and his school of followers do unspeakable things to Dave, force themselves on the weak sickly repentant archer in complexly depraved ways that Nechtr, quite frankly, hasn't the nerve or dark imagination yet really even to describe. This lack of facility, though, is interpreted by a sensitive instructor and loving workshop as disciplined restraint, and is duly applauded.