Howling wind strafed the runway, rang the steeple bells, edged into every crease in the glass filled every nose and eyelash with grit. We stood to sing, knelt to pray, and pounded our breasts when the communion bells rang. How our heads ached.
Santa came while we were out.
50 word story 6/16/17
A way long time ago before even I was born, so you know that was quite a while ago, three sisters, Magda, Ruth and Gilda, were left at home to watch their baby brother while their mother and father took the wagon and rode into town to buy coffee, flour, sugar and salt at the Anderson store. Enough flour, sugar and salt to mix with the dozen eggs laid by the hens last week, and the pound of butter churned from the milk gathered from Flora, their gentle brown cow, to make a luscious cake for Magda’s thirteenth Name Day cake. It would be a glorious cake! Thirteen layers of golden nutmeg cake filled with thick, sweet, whipped cream and topped with melted bitter sweet chocolate frosting speckled with flakes of real gold. Each layer of the cake would hold a secret surprise…a copper coin, perhaps, or a tiny carved bird, or a silver thimble…and whoever was lucky enough to find the surprise would also be assured of good cheer for the whole coming year. Magda would surely remember this cake her entire life, no doubt about it.
But enough of the cake. I’m here to tell you what happened to Magda, Ruth and Gilda while watching their baby brother whose name was Albert. His three sisters thought Albert seemed a rather serious name for a small baby, so amongst themselves they called him Beanie.
As soon as Mother and Dad had ridden around the boulder at the edge of the creek, the three girls went to work. Magda stoked the wood stove with a fresh oak log, and put a pot of water on to boil. Ruth made up the beds, singing at the top of her voice and laughing hysterically at nothing in particular. Gilda swept the floor and out the door to finish on the front porch. When the water was boiled, and the tin bathtub filled about half full of hot and cold water, Magda called the girls together. They all pinned thick bath towels to the front of their house dresses, the Ruth ran to the crib and gently lifted Beanie out of his cradle and pulled his soft nightshirt up over his head. The shock of the cool air sent goose bumps racing across his fat tummy, and he almost began to holler, but he saw the tub filled with warm water waiting for him and he gave a baby giggle and clapped his hands.
Beanie loved to take a bath. He loved to splash, and kick, and screech, and whoever was bathing him soon become soaked through, hence the thick towels pinned to his sister’s dresses while the all worked to bathe him. Magda, Ruth and Gilda laughed along with Beanie, and danced and sang around the tub while he splashed. They all carried with glee for almost a full hour, then finally the girls pulled Beanie out of the tub, dried him until his skin shown and dressed him in his soft leggings, little leather boots and a warm red tunic. They parted his shining hair on the side and smoothed it all nice and neat. Gilda spread a bright quilt on the front porch and set Beanie in the middle of it to play with three pots while she and her sisters hung the wet towels on the clothesline. Magda and Ruth carried out the tub and poured out the bath water on the tomato plants full of smooth, green globes promising jars of tasty spaghetti sauce in two-three weeks’ time. They hung the tub on the side of the shed next to the house. All three girls stood a moment looking around the yard, then the kitchen, making sure all was neat and tidy, then headed to the porch to gather up Beanie into the wood sided wagon for a walk down to the lake to feed the ducks.
It had been a beautiful, easy morning, filled with song and laughter and Beanie’s giggles. The sisters walked arm in arm around the front of the house, tripping each other as they went.
“Beanie boy! It’s time for a walk!” they sang out, and started up the steps. “Beanie! Beanie? Baby? Oh!” They all covered their mouths with their hands, they’re sparkling eyes wide with shock.
Marith and her children came twenty three miles the day before. Twenty three miles across the dusty, dry, scrub covered prairie, dragging their feet only the last hour, only after the captain had sent word down the line of wagons that they’d be stopping shortly, all lifting their eyes beyond the trail in front of them and searching the near horizon for willow bushes or tall cottonwoods promising shade, fresh water, and a deep rest.
There was no evidence of water, no shade, just stunted, twisted sagebrush, and occasional yucca plants with large ant mounds between. Their hearts sunk. They would rest in the shade of their wagon, take careful sips from their water barrel, chew some pemmican and dried apricots, then sleep the sleep of the dead until the captain called start in the morning.
Marith had five living children. She had begun this trek with six. Her baby, Lura, had died in the third week, only two months old. Marith’s milk had dried up with the arduous march, and though her dairy cow held up and produced buckets of milk each day, Lura’s tiny stomach could not digest it. She sucked and sucked on the milk soaked tea towel Marith offered her during the day, only to vomit it up. It was painful and slow, the death of this beautiful, starving child, and Marith’s mind shifted from great enthusiasm for a new life in Oregon to a dread that all the promises had been lies.
She was tired and heart sick; her soul depleted. She fed the children, looked long into her husband’s eyes, then lay down to sleep, determined that tomorrow would be better.
SPRING TO ETERNITY
A Somewhat Fictional Tribute to My Cousin, Bob Anderson
Thank God Spring had come. Bob had much to get done now that the days were sweeter and longer. Tulips were pushing their way towards the sun, and needed weeding. His beloved espaliered peach was budding along the scalloped brick wall he built out back, but errant branches were threatening to destroy its symmetry. He would trim it first thing in the morning. The Bombay chest he was fashioning from plans from Winterthur could be finished with about ten hours of focused effort, so he scheduled to have it done and in place in the dining room for Easter dinner. The gilded, coved ceiling in the foyer needed one last coat of varnish, and the bead board ceiling on the back porch could use a fresh coat of forest green paint once the water damaged corner was sealed and patched. Piece of cake, It would all be completed by the end of May, then he would take Doll to Paris for a month of croissants and coffee on the patio of their favorite café.
Life was an extravaganza for Bob and his Doll. They did not simply plant gardens, they planted knot gardens, in historically significant shapes, coordinated colors and shrubs with just the appropriate hued leaves. There was not just a fence around the yard. There was a sculpted privet hedge with an archway tall enough for Bob’s six foot three inch frame to pass without stooping. Doll,much shorter, strolled through easily from the beginning. Pots of red geraniums lined the brick wall he’d built along the driveway. Tomatoes were encased with walls o’water and early plantings of spinach promised fresh quiche Florentine for Doll’s birthday breakfast.
Bob and Doll started each day sharing cups of freshly ground coffee in the back garden, looking through cookbooks for the perfect recipe for their evening meal, chuckling together remembering this flat souffle or that burned pie. One or the other of them would stop at the organic grocer’s on the way home to pick up the ingredients for the recipe of the day, and they would cook dinner together with plenty of wine and cheese, Vivaldi on the stereo. After dinner they would sit on the back porch reading each other the daily paper, or chatting with their girls, or hollering at the neighbors as they passed walking their dogs. Sometimes Bob would sneak into the master bedroom, turn down the sheets and leave a chocolate on Doll’s pillow just to be sweet, pretending they were spending the evening in Paris, or Munich, or Beijing. They had traveled to all those places together, under cover, for at one time they had been spies together, but you must forget I said that, and must never ask for details.
They built a cabin on the Shenandoah, and weekends they would drive out for relief from the city. There, after a day of planting trees or mending fences, the tractor awaited his giggling, drunken hand at mowing the tall grass after a fine Jagerfleisch mit Spaetzle dinner and a good number of toasts to the Republic, helloooooing the neighbors as he swung around the edge of the field.
Bob was a soldier, a corporate executive, a Renaissance man who gloried in planning his gardens, cooking his gourmet meals, hooking rugs with Doll, practicing his woodworking skills, telling silly jokes that sent him into hilarious laughter–he cracked himself up immensely. Bob had many fascinating projects to complete, and it did not matter how much time was required, nor how intricate the details, he would complete them perfectly in the required time. He did not listen to the impatient voices of his wife and daughters. He did not allow the disdain of experts to distract him from working at the proper pace to complete his projects well. Guests learned to walk around a work in progress, barely noticing anything remained to be done. It was perfect in the getting there; would be perfect upon arrival.
So began one of Bob’s vibrant spring days with all its freshness. Bob was ready for it, had watched Doll set out the seedlings for the Beefsteak Tomatoes, had completed the first pruning of the privet and his peach. He had waved Doll off to work, planning to surprise her with a chocolate torte for the evening’s dessert. He showered, shaved, put the morning dishes in the dishwasher, poured the last bit of coffee. Then he sat down and died.
He died… right when everything was new, just when he had so much to do, just when he had the entire Spring months activities planned. He died, and all the planning seemed for naught, all his dreams lost, all his stories stifled, and Doll’s summer, fall and coming winter loomed long and empty.
But at some point about mid July, Doll noticed things getting done just as Bob had planned them. A man who had met Bob and discussed with him the gilded foyer ceiling, stopped by and finished it. A carpenter from Winterthur shellacked the Bombay chest. Neighbors and girls from the grocery stopped by with delicious, perfect meals for Doll and whomever might be visiting. The tomatoes grew tall and full of fruit. The tall grass at the cabin was regularly mowed by some unknown angel, and once, on an especially dark, lonesome night, Doll found her bed turned down and a chocolate on her pillow, and felt Bob’s arms around her as her wracking sobs filled the empty house.
Bob died, but all his work, his love, his personal projects continued to be completed just as he had planned, and the joy of knowing him filled the spaces in Doll’s heart and head. She began to travel once again. She plucked juicy peaches from that espaliered tree, ate fresh croissants, and laughed hysterically with her daughters and her grandsons when they remembered Bob’s corny jokes.
Bob died in the spring of the year, just when living was all the rage, but we know, just as Doll knows, that that was not the end of Bob.
It no longer stayed under the bed. As soon as Elliott’s mother tucked him in and shut the door, it pulled its twisted body up to the headboard and trailed its gnarled fingers across Elliott’s tender cheek, whispered into his sweet, quivering ear, “Shh, boy. I’m here,” and Elliott screamed into his pillow, rocking back and forth, his eyes squeezed tightly shut until he finally sobbed himself to sleep. It gently stroked his hair back off his forehead and watched him until dawn, then slithered down under the dust ruffle, missing him even before he was up and gone for the day.
It was born amongst the tangled roots of a twisted river birch. Its parents taught it to pick up the seeds that fell from the tree to plant farther along the creek. That was what its kind did, planted the wild trees along the rivers and creeks of the valley in the quiet nights. Its parents warned it to never go near the house on the ridge where people lived and children shrieked with laughter. It wondered what its parents would do, if they knew that not only had it been inside the house, but had found a shining boy to be its friend. None of its kind made friends with children.
It loved the nights when the Elliott’s mother sat on the edge of the bed reading stories from a big book with a bright, red and gold cover. While she read of dragons and knights and Elliott sat quietly listening, it gazed lovingly at its boy from the headboard. Elliott never looked at it, just leaned into his mother and stared at the pages, pointing at the pictures. When his mother finished a story, the Elliott would beg her to read another. Some nights she read two or three, but always she stopped, put away the book and told him it was time to sleep. Elliott would cry and beg her to please not leave him alone.
“It is right there, Mom, on the headboard! Please!”
“We have discussed this before, Elliott, there is nothing there. Now close your eyes and get some sleep.” Then she turned out the light, shut the door, and it would whisper, and Elliott would scream.
It had no concept of time. Oh, it knew there was daylight and night darkness, and it waited for the dark to be with Elliott, but it had no a clue that with days and nights time passed. Elliott grew and learned, went out each day, laughing, talking with other boys, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner and stretching tall. He went to school and learned to read, to think and wonder, all while it sat beneath the bed ruffle, wringing its hands and waiting to see him come night. It saw only day and night, but Elliott moved through days, then weeks, then years, growing up.
One night, many years after it had first come to visit, though it did not know it had been many years, it was startled to realize that Elliott was looking directly into its eyes without flinching. It stared back in wonder. Elliott’s eyes were bright and shining. They held its gaze as he reached up from his pillow as if to touch its head. It cringed slightly, trembling uncontrollably. But Elliott shuddered, closed his eyes and rocked himself to sleep. It wondered what to make of this? It had prayed to the stars and the moon that its boy would come to love it. Was that happening? It slithered down under the dust ruffle, overcome with confusion and fear. Something was changing.
A few nights later, long after the light was turned off, Elliott whispered, “I have always seen you, you know. They say you are just my imagination, but I know you are really there.”
It could not breathe, let alone reply.
“You used to scare me. I used to be so scared that sometimes I threw up, and Mom would let me sleep in her room. She would tell me not to be afraid, but she couldn’t see you, so she didn’t know.”
It wanted to say something perfect and right, but could not find its voice
“I have been reading about things like you,” said Elliott. “Some books say that things like you are only real to those who believe. Mom does not believe in you, so that would explain why she cannot see you.”
“Perhaps, “it rasped.
“I guess I believe in you because I can see you.”
“Perhaps,” it rasped again, shivering.
“So, if one day I cannot see you anymore, will you still be there?”
“Perhaps,” it rasped, weeping at the thought that Elliott might no longer see it.
The boy gazed at it for a long moment, then rolled over and went to sleep. It slithered under the dust ruffle, shuddering violently.
Many nights passed without Elliott coming to bed. It crawled to the headboard, but the door never opened, no one came in. Each night it waited, hugging itself tighter and tighter, becoming smaller and smaller. It stopped slithering under the dust ruffle, hiding from the day. It missed Elliott so much, it did not care that the sunlight blinded it. It just sat there on its perch, shrinking into itself. Finally, one bright afternoon, Elliott stumbled into the bedroom making a big ruckus, throwing down a wrinkled knapsack and kicking off his smelly shoes.
“I’ll be right down, Mom!”
He sprawled across the bed, stretching and sighing, then rolled over and looked surprised to see it sitting on the headboard.
“You are here?” he whispered. “In the daylight?”
“I am,” it croaked from deep in its parched throat. “I have been waiting for you.”
“I was at camp. We slept on the ground in sleeping bags under the moon and the stars. It was great!”
“I have been here waiting.”
“Sorry. I didn’t think to tell ya. I gotta go down for lunch.”
It shivered and shook and hugged itself so tightly it felt like it would crush its own bones. When the night fell, it heard Elliott tell his mother that she did not need to read him a stories anymore. He was too big for that now. His mother gave him a quick kiss on the forehead, and after she shut the door, Elliott rubbed it off.
Elliott sat up and gave it a long, clear look
“She still thinks I am a baby, “ he told it. “ but I am ten years old. I am not her baby anymore.”
It blinked back with fear-filled wide eyes.
“I am not a baby anymore, and you do not scare me. Why are you here?”
“I live here — for you”
“But why? I have never liked you. What have you ever done for me?”
A horrible pain ripped through its heart.
“I stay close to comfort you.”
“But you don’t comfort me. You use to scare me, and now you just annoy me.”
Its heart cracked, bleeding into its belly. It pulled its arms tighter and tighter around itself for fear it would explode.
“I love you. You are my friend. You are my boy. ”
“We are not friends! Friends laugh and talk together. Friends play games and tell each other secrets. You are not my friend, and I am not your boy.”
It cried out with agony and sadness; rocked back and forth, wailing and sobbing. Its crusty thin fingers locked around its shrinking body. Then it fell from the headboard where it had sat so many nights loving its boy. It fell, and hit its head, and with the last blink of its eyes, it raised one hand and whispered, “My boy.”
It left no trace of its existence on the floor or under the dust ruffle. It simply vanished, and Elliott never saw, or thought about it again.
Elliott pulled the covers up to his son’s chin, tucking him in with a smile.
“Dad! Please do not leave me alone! It is sitting right there on the headboard.”
Elliott looked at the headboard that had been his as a child. He searched his son’s sweet face.
“We have talked about this, Michael. There is nothing there. “
“But, Dad! It’s..”
“That’s enough!. Go to sleep!”
And he shut the door.
Published in a charitable anthology SHADES OF FEAR (2014) available on Amazon
Lynne couldn’t see the face that went with the voice, but heard rustling through the willows lining the river, coming closer. She sighed, reeled in her line and turned to see who was interrupting her perfect morning. He was no one she knew, but he looked pleasant enough; close -cut hair, metal rimmed glasses, new, creased blue jeans and one of those expensive REI jackets that really don’t help much against the wind; definitely not a local. His right pant leg was ripped, and it looked like he had gashed his hand. She sensed him checking out her old waders, faded tank top and freckled nose, and shuffled uneasily.
“Looks like you banged up your hand, there.”
“Yeah, I got clumsy and slid down the embankment a ways back. I’m writing an article about fishing on the Pan, and decided I needed to scope out some good holes for myself. You have any spots you’re particularly fond of? ”
“Of course, but I’m not telling you. Law of the river, y’know?” She grinned.
He grinned back – blue eyes twinkling behind his glasses.
“Can’t blame a man for trying. I’ll leave you to your peace and quiet, and see what I can find on my own, but you be careful out here, Sweetie. I heard some psycho killer’s escaped from the Pitkin County jail just like old Ted Bundy did. Idiot jailers still haven’t learned a thing. You go home early. Be safe! “ He winked, then walked past her, and gave a wave over his shoulder. Lynne watched him trip over the rocks for a minute, then went back to her fishing.
“Scoping out holes, Sweetie? not even carrying a pole,” she muttered, disgusted.
She spent the day moving along the river, casting Blue Duns into the slow swirls where the hatch frenzied just above the surface, and snagging some beauties almost before the flies hit the water. One trout, perfect for dinner, hung from her belt in a small, insulated bag. The rest, she caught and released.
She worked her way down to the Emma Bridge over the Roaring Fork, making her last stand of the day in the lovely deep pool beneath the trestle. She pulled her hair back, tied on a fresh fly and cast out with a satisfied sigh.
“Perfect end to a perfect day,” she said aloud to herself, lazily watching the fly drift slowly across the hole.
The dude from earlier in the day waved and called from the far bank. “Hi, Sweetie! Looks like you had a good day!”
“Hope you head home soon! That psycho-killer is still out here! ”
She chuckled, waded across the stream towards him, keeping her line taut. She winked at him, shoved her filet knife into his gut and grinned. “Yeah, Sweetie, I know. I’ll be here all week.”
“Enter when you will, take what you need, leave something of yourself when you go”
I have a friend I met over a bottle of scotch in a Brandywine Valley bed & breakfast some odd years ago who travels constantly and widely, sending me bits and pieces of the world as he goes. Each picture contains a sense of mystery, or surprising humor, and/or most likely the bicycle he rode in on.
I forget where he said he shot this wide planked shack. It is intriguing, don’t you agree? The sun and scattered leaves promise it is a bright, brisk day, yet, I wonder what musty odor fills your nose when you poke your head through the door, what scurrying varmint lives in the corners, what fingers grab your ankle once you cross the threshold and the heavy door slowly shuts out the light, the long, strong boards slide through the door handle locking you inside…
… you go first…I am right behind you…