The road was dry and dusty, with barely a living thing in view, save some scrubby low level brush, and in the far distance, miles away, what appeared to be a small herd of cattle grazing on whatever scrubby grass they could find. Across the plain, mountains jutted out of the earth, with no warning. … Continue reading
The bag was well-traveled, and well cared for, it was obvious. It carried the patina of old heavy leather, and grip marks had worn into the thick handle on the top. He carried that bag with him everywhere. It was always in his car when he drove, even doing some mundane task like grocery shopping, … Continue reading
A couple of months ago I published the first part of a short story ( https://learningtolivelikewaterblog.com/2018/02/17/fiction-what-lies-beyond/ ) I wrote using a writing prompt, an exercise assigned by my small local writers groups. After we did those we decided to continue our stories, and use a new prompt. Of course in order to make the previous story gel with the new prompt, I have written this second chapter to connect the two. I’m not quite finished with the third (and I hope final) chapter, but will publish it when I finish it. Hope you enjoy my second foray into fiction writing.
We walked in about 10 yards, where the cave took a bend to the left. As we went around the bend, the cave opened up a bit. There laying on an old, dirty blanket was Eli’s friend Archie. Buster sat next to him. After a Eli made few attempts to wake him, his eyes opened. He looked startled to see me, and in an agitated raspy voice began to angrily ask Eli who I was and why I was there. Eli assured him that I was “ok.”
“This is the attorney I told you about yesterday. She’s going to help you. She’s one of the good guys….” Archie didn’t seem to take much comfort in Eli’s words. As he talked he reached between he and buster, and put his hand on an old brown leather bag, the kind of bag sometimes known as a “go bag”. Kind of yesterday’s duffel bag. He looked at Eli, asking “Did you tell him….?”
Eli shook his head. “No, Arch. She doesn’t know anything but you’re going to have to tell her now. We need to get you help, and we need to deal with the bag.” Eli motioned for me to sit down, on an old crate that I hoped would not fall apart under me.
“Well,” Archie began, “I was in the alley behind 53rd St and 4th,, you know, dumpster diving, 3 nights ago. Looking for cans, or anything else. I heard a couple of guys out in the alley, close by. Froze up silent…didn’t want anyone horning in on my cans. They were talking and kinda laughing about conning some mob guys out of a bunch of money. Then I heard a car diving down the alley. Next thing I know the bag is landing on top of my head. I grabbed it and flung it into the corner, shut off my flashlight, just as a guy followed the bag and fell in! Guns were firing! Bullets hitting the dumpster! I was scared shitless, man. But finally the car drove off. Left me fuckin’ shakin.”
It was kinda nasty in that dumpster”, he continued. “Probably stunk to high heaven, though I lost my sense of smell years ago. I didn’t move. The guy started retching, and he was holding his arm, cut over his eye, I guess from the fall. Next thing I know, I hear his buddy calling to him to come out and bring the bag. He felt around trying to find it, but couldn’t and managed not to find me either! He finally told his buddy they could come back in daylight to find it. His buddy reached down to give him a hand to get out and they left.”
Archie paused. He asked Eli if he had any water, and Eli gave him a bottle. His voice was getting raspy and I could tell he was getting worn out by the telling of the story. But after a few minutes he went on.
“After about an hour, I made my way out of the dumpster, with the bag. I forgot my cans though, damn it, with all that damn excitement. I was walking out of the alley with the bag when I ran into Eli. I told him the story, and he said he’d headed this way because he heard the gunshots. I knew those were bad guys and I didn’t want to be seen….we needed to hide. We went to the bus stop, waited for the next bus and just as we got on, we saw a couple guys running and heard them yelling for the bus to stop, to wait, but the driver didn’t hear them, and shut the door and drove away.
Me and Eli sat in the back of the bus. There weren’t many people on it, it was late, like maybe 2 AM. We opened the bag and found it full of money and some bags of powder. I’m not stupid, I got myself in the middle of a drug heist. They saw me get on the bus, and know what I look like. Me and Eli got off at a stop about a half mile from the river and he brought me up here. He’s lived here on and off when the weather is bad, he said. No one else seems to know about the place or it would be full of people with no place to go.”
He stopped again, for a drink and his breathing was heavy and raspy. “I’ve got that COPD thing,” he said. “I can’t run like that. I’m out of my meds, scared shitless that they will find me if I show my face in town. I don’t know what to do with the money or the powder….the last thing I want, next to having them find me, is to have the law on my ass because I’ve got a couple of keys of coke or whatever it is in this bag.”
I sat silently for a few minutes, trying to consider the options of these destitute but decent old men. They wanted to do the right thing, just so they could continue to live a somewhat peaceful life, but obviously knew the risks involved with having that bag. The choices only three:
1. The obvious. Giving the bag to the police with the story, using me as an intermediary.
2. Leaving the bag somewhere, where those who were looking for it might find it.
3. Keeping the bag, splitting the money, leaving the drugs in the cave for the time being.
Option 1, handing the bag over to the authorities sounded like a good idea, until they realized they might implicate themselves somehow, and that it might open them to some danger if somehow word got out into the press, and they were seen.
Option 2, leaving the bag for them to find had it’s drawbacks too. The main one is being sure that the person who found it was the one looking for it. If it wasn’t, and got into someone else’s hands it could be a disaster.
Option 3, keeping the loot, gave me pause. If ever there were 2 men who needed that kind of financial boon, it was these guys. But it seemed to me it might go against their grain to keep illegal drug money for their own gain.
My only option was to tell them what the options were, explain the ramifications of them all, and let them choose. It wasn’t my call to make, it was theirs. So that’s exactly what I did. About an hour later, Eli, Archie and Buster were going down the path from the cave with me.
Twenty minutes later I was stopped in the alley by my rear office door to let them out, with instructions to go inside. My secretary knew they were coming and would greet them and show them the way to my office.
I have another writing prompt for my writer’s group. The prompt is in italics, and what follows is my imagination. I hope you enjoy this 2nd work of fiction. This one required more thought on my part, but honestly, a lot of people told me to just start writing and where it goes. That’s pretty much what I did this time.
My options were dwindling by the minute. Right or wrong, I had to do something. I couldn’t just wait this one out. I told my secretary to cancel all my appointments for the afternoon and slipped out the back door into the alley. And, sure enough, waiting for me there was the old, unkept man named Eli with the docile yellow lab he called Buster who had come to my office yesterday to tell me his woeful tale.
I told him to follow me as I briskly headed for the parking lot and my car. I hesitated when I got there, about putting both the man and his dog in my well-kept Lexus SUV. I only had a nano-second’s hesitation though, before I realized there was no choice if I was going to do something to help him and his friends in their plight.
“You give me directions, Eli,” I instructed him. We wove along the city streets, to the river bank, where the roads led to the city park. He instructed me to go down an obviously little used utility road and park the car. Buster, in the back of the SUV, was pacing anxiously as I pushed the button to lift the hatchback and let him out. He ran ahead of Eli, and we followed at as fast a pace as the old man could walk. I was grateful I had worn slacks to work that day, not a dress.
Our path wove down to the river’s edge. Still, I saw nothing but river and its banks. I was beginning to think Eli had made it all up, when, a short way down the riverbank, we started climbing back up. As he moved some brush out of the way, the opening of a cave appeared about 5 feet beyond. As I walked through the brush he’d cleared, toward the mouth of the cave, Eli replaced the brush back into position to hide the cave. I stopped at the entrance, and waited for him. I wasn’t sure what to expect. My claustrophobia was setting in, and I had visions of bats flying into my hair, and was fighting the urge to tell him forget it.
But I couldn’t do that now. I was committed. There was no one else to help and there was a tragedy in the making. He urged me on, telling me we didn’t have to go too far in. Buster ran ahead, and Eli took my hand and led me into the cave.
I may continue this story, and then again, I might leave it where it is. Thanks for reading!
Sunday at my writers group meeting, one of the women showed us a book her daughter had given her called “The Complete Story.” In it are about 200 pages of prompts for short stories, and the rest of the page is for you to complete the story. I thought, out loud, what a big help that would be in my quest to attempt fiction. We decided as a group to pass the book around, each of us could take a turn perusing the book and writing based on one of the prompts. Since I clearly needed it the most, I got it first.
I’ve been reading the prompts and marking the ones I think I could do something with by putting a little scrap of paper in the page. I have about 5 marked, so now I have to pick one! What I’m going to do is publish whatever I come up with below, and put the prompt portion in italics. I guess I’m about to see if I can actually write fiction.
Growing Up in the Garden
I didn’t cry when she died, or at the funeral, or at the reception. It wasn’t until the next morning when I went into the pantry and saw row upon row of canned vegetables and fruits and jams she had prepared for the long winter ahead. The shelves were filled with memories, memories of my grandmother’s garden, memories of her laughter, and her stories as we weeded, and picked and watered. One story though, bubbled up to the surface standing in that pantry. One that only I knew, and had stuffed into the recesses of my heart.
Gramma had an acre of land just on the city limits. It had been her family’s homestead, and she had lived there all her life. At one time, it had been a farm in the country, but the town had spread out to her place in the last couple decades and she and my grandfather had sold off the other acreage they owned, so that they could keep the homestead, a rambling old farm house and gardens, and a big shed out back, full of gardening tools, composting bins, wheelbarrows, mowers and wagons etc. She kept a big vegetable garden, a berry patch and some fruit trees. There was a hedge of current berries running along one border of her yard.
As I looked on her shelf at the jars of current berry jelly, with their neatly waxed tops, I was transported back to a memory that changed my life forever.
The berries produced by these bushes were prolific. Gramma usually picked them with me, and she’d always stop before the end of the hedge. If she sent me out there by myself, she’d tell me exactly where to stop. As I got old enough to pick them on my own, I began to idly wonder why we never went all the way down the hedge. I asked her once, and she told me she just liked to keep close to the house, and that the berries on that end of the hedge weren’t as good because the soil was not as good as the soil closer to the house.
I never really believed that story, because there were obviously good berries down there, I could SEE them. So one day when I was 10 or 12, she lay down to take a nap, which became her practice as she got older. As soon as she fell asleep, I wandered out to the end of the hedge. Berries shining in the sunlight, and leaves green and healthy. I pushed aside branches, and climbed into the hedge a little, making a little fort around myself. Seated on the ground, I surveyed my little domain under the branches of the current berry bush.
The branches made a canopy over my head, and a floor of twigs and leaves. I looked off toward the end of the hedge, which also marked one border of her yard. I thought I saw a red ribbon hanging from a branch. It piqued my curiosity. It had to have been put there purposefully by someone who was, like me, hanging out under the berries.
I slowly crawled toward it, intrigued. As I approached on my hands and knees, swatting bugs from my face and arms, I could see the ground had been disturbed underneath the branch where the ribbon hung. Maybe not too recently, but recently enough to have no bed of leaves or twigs around it. I started to dig in the exposed dirt, with my bare hands.
A few inches below the surface my fingers scraped a flat surface, which clearly was not a rock, or a root of the current berries, or even the tree which was about 10 ft away from the hedge. I began furiously to dig the dirt off of whatever it was. My hands were covered, and my clothes, as I flung handfuls of dirt to the side. The form of a metal box began to take shape in the dirt. I found a heavy twig, strong enough to dig down the sides of the box. Finally, I had dug deep enough to be able to lift the box out of the dirt, unlatch the top and open it.
As I reached down to unclasp the latch, I stopped my self. Did I really want to know what was in here? Someone had taken a lot of care to bury this, to hide it from the world. And obviously, it was Gramma who hid it, because she never wanted us to go picking on this far end of the hedge. But my 11 year old’s curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to go for it.
The box, once I cleared some of the dirt off was a rusty black color. I took a deep breath and gently unclasped the latch. I raised the cover and found a stack of old letters, and below them, a pair of yellow baby booties. I gently picked them up and felt the soft yarn, and the satin ribbon around the top. Whose were they? And why were they buried in the current berry hedge?
As I contemplated the answers, I realized the answers may be in the stack of letters tied up with a thick piece of twine. I began to slowly untie the twine, being deliberately careful not to pull it apart. All the letters were postmarked in the 1930’s. I took one off the top and opened it.
I began to read the letter. It was from someone named Dewey Thornton, written to my grandmother who would have been about 15 or 16 at the time.
I promise this will be my last letter to you. I don’t want to make your life any harder. I just want to make sure you know how sorry I am for how things worked out for you and I. I can’t imagine how hard this has been for you, because it’s been hard enough for me to have you torn away from me and sent away, and to know there is a baby out there I will never know.
Please don’t hate me. If you ever want to write to me, I would be happy to hear from you. But since my other letters have gone unanswered, I’m guessing you would rather I butted out of your life, and the last thing I want to do is make it harder for you. Please know I love you. I’m sorry, for everything.
As I sat there, in the bushes, completely engrossed in my reading I felt a hand on my shoulder, and my grandmother’s soft voice calling my name. I looked up at her, through the current bushes, completely disoriented, as if seeing her at that moment was seeing someone I’d never seen before. “Gramma? I choked out her name. She gently asked me to bring the metal box up to the house. I did as she asked. What else could I do?
At the house she sat me down at the kitchen table, one of those old laminated tables with a metal frame around it, and poured me a glass of lemonade. “I see you’ve been digging up some of my old memories,” she said. I began to apologize to her, I’d not meant to intrude. It was just my curiosity got the better of me.
She hushed me and began a long, quiet, sweet talk with me. I learned secrets that no one else knew about my grandmother that day. I guess by then, 50 years later, she was wanting to tell someone. It was a story of young love, culminating in a teen pregnancy and the delivery of a stillborn baby. Her eyes misted as she told me, and her voice was low and a few times, she stopped for a few seconds to breathe.
It was understood that what she told me that day should never be repeated, that it was a sacred trust she’d given to me. We’d not spoken of it again, though it hung between us for the rest of our lives. From that moment on, there was context in everything she did to show her love for her family.
Today, standing in her pantry, with shelves lined with all the fruit and vegetables she had put up from her garden for the winter, I slid down the wall, onto the floor. My head in my hands, deep gutteral sobs bubbled up my throat and into the air. I could finally cry for this tender, sweet woman.
She woke up to the gentle rocking of the boat as it lay at anchor in New Harbor, Block Island. It was still quiet, and the early morning daylight made silhouettes of the portholes on the sheer cloth blinds in the forward cabin. She was always the first one up, because she loved to sit in the cockpit with her coffee and immerse herself in the sounds, sights, and scents as the day broke at sea.
This morning a human sound was added to that of the gulls, and waves breaking. At first she thought she imagined it, but no, it was the sound of children’s voices calling “Help!” She looked out the porthole and there were two very young boys, maybe 6 and 4, in an inflatable dinghy floating toward the channel on the outgoing tide. They were using their hands to try to get back to their boat, obviously unaware that two small pairs of hands are no match for an ebbing tide
She woke her husband from his sound sleep. “You have to go get these kids! They’re floating toward the channel in a dinghy!” He sat up, and looked out the porthole, and quickly got up and pulled on a bathing suit. He unlocked the dinghy from the swim platform, got in and started up the motor. In no time he was on his way to the wayward boys.
When he got to them, he tied their dinghy to his and as he did he said to the boys, “Don’t you guys know how to row?” After all there were oars on the dinghy as well as a small outboard motor.
“No…..” they answered in unison, casting their eyes downward in embarrassment.
“Don’t either of you know how to start the motor?” he asked.
The older boy looked up at him and explained. “Our daddy won’t teach us until we learn how to row.”
Note: This is a third person account of an true incident that happened to my ex and I about 30 years ago. I wonder if the boys ever learned to row. Or if the father learned to lock the dinghy to the transom of the boat.