The big one; er, the big one in front, not the one who was holding my elbows behind my back, leaned in. He needed a breath mint. Or twelve.
“Look, wise guy, we can do this the easy way—”
“Wait, don’t tell me—or we can do it the hard way? Am I right?”
I think he pushed my solar plexus into my elbows, which, if you’ll recall, were behind my back.
I do so wish my mouth would check with me before taking the driver’s seat.
He looked down the cliff’s face to the water. It wasn’t the distance that concerned him; he’d gone into water from far higher than the 30 feet it looked to be.
It might mean shallow water with a dark bottom.
Even deep water could have jagged rocks, old tree trunks, any manner of solid sharp debris.
If you have no choice but to go in, it doesn’t matter whether the water is deep or shallow, or so he told himself. What matters is that you go in feet first. An injury to one or both legs could be survived. Head injuries, out here in the middle of nowhere, probably not.
The first arrow hit the dirt close enough behind him that he heard it, felt a tiny shock in his feet. They would wait until they were close enough before loosing any more.
And as he went over the edge feet first, one foot snagged in the tangle of a tree root sticking out, flipping him completely, holding for less than an instant before he dropped again.
Maggie knew her father hadn’t meant her to fall. When he pushed her into the room to pull her door closed she had stumbled over the rug, hitting her head against the corner of the oak armoire. The sound of his own heavy boots must have covered the noise of her fall, for why else would he have locked the door and walked away without first determining that she was unhurt?
Weak and wobbly, she pulled herself up by the massive knobbed handles on the doors of the armoire, then stumbled to her bed, more falling than sitting. Her head didn’t hurt, but the spinning wouldn’t stop. Closing her eyes helped. She rubbed her temples, which didn’t.
Her stomach reminded her that she was stuck here until supper. It seemed hours since she’d fallen, but since supper was promptly at six and her father’s quite unreasonable burst of anger had befallen her at five, she had not long to wait.
Normally comfortable, her boots pinched, as if she’d had them on too long. She drew her feet up on the bed one at a time to unlace them, dropping them on the floor. Another wave of dizziness lurched through her stomach. She rubbed her temples, eyes closed.
As the dizziness passed, she stopped rubbing and opened her eyes. Surely it must be near six.
Her clock read 4:15.
She must have forgotten to wind it this morning. It was her habit to wind it each day, but as is the case with habits, it had become unconscious, automatic, and so she didn’t remember winding it. May as well wind it now, estimating the correct time, and set it properly from the hall clock downstairs before bed tonight.
It was ticking. The clock was ticking when she picked it up. She had indeed wound it this morning. But why was the time wrong? It was not old. Her father had given it to her in the spring upon his return from the city. Surely it would keep better time than this.
Yet something was amiss. The ticking of the clock was clear in her ears and her fingers.
And now it pointed most definitely at 4:14.
Maggie returned the clock to its place on the table and felt behind her for the bed, climbing up to sit crosslegged, head bowed, face in her hands. She rubbed her temples, rubbed her eyes, shook her head, pinched her cheeks, tugged at the shorter hair in front of her ears.
Wiping her eyes, she looked again at the clock.
“The darker blue looks good with your eyes.” Jenna, back from checking the handbag sale, held a tie up with both hands, draping it across the bridge of my nose.
“Thank you. They’re not usually worn that close to the eyes but if it gets us out of here—”
The tip of the tie whipped my ear as my wife spun to see what nut was yelling behind us.
“This gentleman?” from the security guard standing next to Old Yeller (okay, young yeller, but that doesn’t flow the same.)
The guard took a step back and measured the guy with his eyes.
“Him. Right there. In the suit I know he didn’t buy here because we don’t sell anything that sharp.”
Jenna did semaphore with the tie. “What did my husband do?”
She shoved her wadded up sweats and t-shirt into her duffle bag. Down in the yard, a blue jay dove on a squirrel. Hand still in the bag, she imagined a mother bird risking all to protect her young. She’d never know the feeling.
The rest of the house was silent. These big wooden houses, if someone was moving you’d hear it. Sounds carried through the registers in the floor and up wide staircases, down spacious hallways to the small room in the tower at the front of the house.
They’d had a nice dinner at a picnic table in the backyard, her hostess and her 5 boys. Their dad was working late; he wouldn’t be home until after they’d all gone to bed. And now she was leaving before he was up.
She was more comfortable with men, so last night she’d chatted more with the boys than with their mother. The woman kept eyeing her oldest boy, a young man, really. Continue reading “Understaying Your Welcome”
Every person who signs up for my newsletter gets a personal welcome. Some, it’s just that: a welcome. Others, it’s an excerpt from something I’ve written. Most, though, get a vignette I compose on the spot.
Reviewing them just now, I realized I could rearrange them to make sense as the introduction of a story. Almost.
He’d said he’d leave his old life, settle down, marry her. She wanted to believe him, wanted to be his wife.
It had taken time. He’d said it over and over. As they walked in the meadow at the edge of town. As they sat by the fire at Mrs. Wilson’s cafe on damp days. As he’d walked her almost all the way home.
She’d finally believed that he’d changed, that she could marry him and be happy.
Her pa was another matter.
“Men like him don’t change, Lacey.”
“You did.” She didn’t make it a habit to challenge him, but since her mother’s death she’d grown bolder. Her pa pretended not to notice, just went on as if she hadn’t changed.
“I was never like him. And you’ll never marry him, I’ll see to that.”
She had wondered why her pa could change but wouldn’t allow it in another man.
And now, standing at the front of the little church where the town nearly spilled into the meadow, she wondered where he was; where they both were.
# # #
Meanwhile deep in the woods, two men stood, guns drawn, in a level place at the edge of the stream.
Their guns were not aimed at each other.
It’s been a couple years since I posted my very first short story (vignette, actually) here: Simplicity Itself.
I wrote it on my first computer, which would have been about 1990. Long before the days of the web. (A computer with no hard drive. Just two 5 1/4″ floppies.)
As soon as it was done, another sentence popped into my head:
It was one of those days when breakfast wanted to be cheap whiskey straight from the bottle.
And we know what that led to, don’t we?
Probably time for Simplicity Itself to turn into the book it never was.
Question is, will it be Phil Brennan’s book, or some completely new character?