The Verdi L. Tripp Fiction Award: Ted Closson for Obscura
Fiction Honorable Mention: Dale A. Bourassa for The Dragonflies of Monhegan
Margaret F. Tripp Poetry Award: Charles Brown for Red Eye
Poetry Honorable Mention: Gary Rainford for Nautica Pub, Across from the Citgo
Poetry Honorable Mention: Helene McGlauflin for Root Cellar
Richard F. Snow Nonfiction Award: Kim Wilson for A Legacy of Basic Black
Nonfiction Honorable Mention: Jennifer Balser for The River
TPL Teen Scene Award: Will Kinney for The October Boys
Verdi L. Tripp Fiction Award
Obscura by Ted Closson
The brothers rose together like silent spirits in the belly of the lush culvert. On their shoulders rested branches dressed out like rifles and hung with twine. They moved together down the embankment in mock caution, and ambled with care to the spot, midstream, where a corrugated steel sheet lay choked in the reedy streambed. It was crumpled and rusting, buried in the surrounding vegetation. As they approached, green rainwater twinkled gem-like in gray dents beneath the bright September sky. They paused, studying the wreck.
“Tore the roofing right off. That’s why we got those big nails,” said the eldest.
Benjamin, the younger, a towhead, spoke up, “But Kyle, we don’t gots any real wood.”
His words still stretched and sprung in the Alabama diction their father used. Kyle winced. He had lost the thickness of his own a year or so before except in moments of anger.
“We’ll rig it to the tree,” he said and started forward. Ben followed.
They stepped lightly across the cool black river mud and struggled for several moments in waist high ferns to free the roofing. Gripping at opposite edges, they twisted the length of it until it broke free with a dull rip from the sedge and rush. Water sluiced the surface as it tipped upright then level again. With accompanying groans they lifted it to chest height before walking with care across mud and rock to the umbral thickness of a stand of oak and maple marking the line of the forest. Gone were the clouds of midge and black fly that haunted this shade in the heat of early summer. In the Indian warmth, sweat beaded on their brows and their chests rose and fell in unison while stood catching their wind.
Ben looked across to his brother and shivered. Kyle stared up into the branches of a white oak. His rifle-stick slung crosswise, and his tight cropped brown hair lending him a martial air. He lifted the twine over his head with care and leaned the branch against the base of the tree. A ragged trail of boards nailed to the trunk rose up the side to an ad-hoc lattice of wooden strapping and shipping skids. It had been almost a year since they’d seen the fort. The cheap spruce had turned a brittle gray. Splintered wood stood in ragged contrast where the metal roof had sheared away during a squall.
“Told you,” Kyle said, craning his neck.
Ben blinked, “Told me wut?”
“That storm last spring, I told you and lookit,” he gestured towards the oak, “What a mess.”
The first beams of the tree fort were laid by their father. Carriage bolts and thick joists that he had dangled from to test their strength. But the remainder was cobbled from lazy afternoons picking over the Vassalboro landfill and a neighbor’s scrapyard half an hour’s walk from here. Each new piece culminating in excited bursts with ragged hammers and an eclectic array of nails scavenged from the garage floor. Their father had been deployed overseas late that summer and the fort had lain empty since then.
They talked with him via phone and through letters over the following fall and winter, but the last good memory in which he was present the boys could recall was of him kissing their mother’s hair on the porch, dress fatigues in a garment bag thrown over his shoulder, while Ben stood crying. Had he grinned at Kyle? Had he whispered something into their mother’s ear before walking out the door into a predawn light?
Don’t you listen to the news, kiddo. Don’t you believe a damn word they say.
Neither Kyle nor Ben could quite recall in the dimness of this shared memory.
Kyle scaled the makeshift ladder to the fort, while Ben waited below. At the top, an old wooden footlocker was secured to the planks and pallets. He lifted the lid of the trunk and began to empty things he had tucked into belt loops, pockets and beneath his shirttail into the interior: his father’s framing hammer, a small, crinkled paper bag twisted at the top and filled with a mix of nails, and a third thing he had refused to show his brother when they exited the garage at the house. This last, he placed on top with some care, before removing from the locker a length of old clothesline and a musty wool army blanket their mother had donated.
He unlooped the line and cast an end over the side of the fort, then leaned his head over the edge and called out.
“Tie the line through that hole in the corner like I showed you. Timber hitch. Then get out of the way. I don’t want you unner neath it if I drop it.”
“Kay,” Ben spoke from the ground after a moment.
“Tied?” Kyle called
“Tied!” was the cry from below and he began to hand over hand the sheet of metal into the branches of the oak. It bounced and rattled up the trunk, rippling occasionally in pale imitation thunder from the impacts as Kyle pulled blindly. When the roofing caught the lip of the deck he lashed the rope to a branch and grasped the rim of the metal, heaving with all his strength. A moment’s frustration, an instant where it looked like failure, and up it came over the lip. He braced it between the trunk of the tree and the remaining pieces of splintered framing. The springy steel warbled lightly as Kyle pushed it into place. It curved into a ‘U’ and held position.
The space was narrower, but he leaned out again and called to Ben. A few minutes later Kyle extended an arm to his brother as twilight was beginning to deepen the dome of the sky.
They nailed the roof into place, trading the hammer between them as they worked. Ben following his brother’s lead: pinning, bracing and lashing where Kyle gestured until they had exhausted the small bag of nails that had been brought. Now, where Ben struck weak with the hammer, flat heads of nails bristled and bent from the limbs. The roof was secure above them, held fast between the boughs and fresh strapping, culled from the shattered remains of the original. The brothers sat across from each other in this nest- the stillness of a gloaming sky upon them. The hammer lay at Kyle’s feet, but he plucked it up to dangle it from his fingers while he sat atop the locker. His forehead beaded with perspiration and his narrow cheeks were flush with exertion. He stared around at the branches, then through them to the burning horizon.
Benjamin, seated on the decking, looked down between his legs. They felt like wood. The comforter lay tangled there.
“Can we make the tent?” he asked.
“I think so,” Kyle said. He lifted a corner of the blanket, “Doesn’t look like anything got to it. Been up here more than a year in that foot locker and all its got is a little mildew. Not bad. Not at all.”
“We could nail it up,” Ben suggested.
“It’d tear. And besides we couldn’t take it down and do it again. I don’t think mama’d give us another.”
He looked around, setting eyes on a section of the tree above Ben’s shoulder and gestured with the hammer.
Kyle indicated a limb with a bent nail.
“-and that one,” He gestured again, this time over his shoulder, “Those’ll do. We’ll hang the blanket from ’em. It’ll get pretty dark in here.”
Ben bounced to his feet. Kyle was more careful, stooping beneath the new roof, as their father had. Setting the hammer down on the locker he snagged a corner of the comforter with one hand, then grabbed another edge and passed it to his brother. Ben stepped to the nail. Kyle merely leaned and stretched to reach his. A third and forth nail later and the brothers were swaddled in cool shadow, sheltered from the approaching end of day.
Kyle squatted atop the trunk, twisting the clothesline around his hand and elbow to coil it, while Ben sat on the floor, staring around at the blanket surrounding them now. Outside, the sun was settling against the horizon and pinpricks of warm light shuttled through the thin places in the wool, casting their embers like stars on the opposite wall. The boys’ eyes adjusted in the dimness and the knife edge of light became a flood as pupils dilated.
Ben lay back and closed his eyes, stretching until his feet touched his brother’s, feeling the sounds of the forest press in around him. Nearby a pheasant sounded in a flurry of wings, an owl hooted early and the last crickets chirruped as twilight grew outside their enclosure. A mosquito tickled his ear and he shifted his head to wave a hand at it. He heard his hair whisper across the boards beneath his head, felt the hardness of them against his scalp. The footlocker opened with a click of the hasp and the clothesline they used slithered faintly into the hollow interior, a soft thump and then a harder sound that was the lid closing.
Ben opened his eyes. In the fort, the light was dimmed so that it shown through a single hole in the comforter. He sat up and looked at the shadowed mass that was his brother, trying to focus his eyes in the growing dark. He was holding something. In the womb of the blanket he heard a soft, sliding click, perhaps the tension of a spring and guessed at what Kyle held.
“Daddy’s gun!” he exclaimed. Though he couldn’t quite see it yet, he knew it. Ben imagined he could see the ambient light reflecting on the nickel plating of the short action .45 his brother held.
“Daddy’s pistol,” Kyle corrected in the darkness. Their father always insisted on the specific terminology. Ben still struggled with it on occasion. Their father had many firearms. This was just one of them. Ben’s eyes were wide, his skin electric and prickly. He brushed at the downy hair of his forearms as though something crawled there, but he wasn’t frightened. He was excited. Like his brother, he too had hoped to handle the pistol their father had shown them one afternoon, the summer before he left.
“Now Ben, Kyle, what do you know about this safe?” he had said, referencing the green metal closet he was loading with several rifles.
“Mun’t tuch!” Ben had shouted, grinning beside his brother.
“That’s right! Good boy, Benji,” their father smiled back, “And why mustn’t we touch?”
Kyle responded, “Because we could get killed or worse.”
Worse was, dad had explained over a beer that summer, horrible gut wrenching agony to be followed by death. A common ailment with firearms wounds, he clarified.
The collection had grown for some years before Ben was born and Kyle was familiar with it. Prior to that summer it had remained in the master bedroom wardrobe with a pair of locked doors between the boys and its contents. But spillovers from the closet and an inability to get to clothing without dragging out a rifle, or finding a pair of shoes without searching amongst boxes of ammunition had eventually annoyed their mother. She insisted on the gun safe.
The pistol had been on the top shelf in a new plastic case the day Kyle first spotted it. Their father was elated by the boys’ excitement and often took them into the countryside, or to a makeshift range at a neighbor’s house, to shoot. They were fast becoming familiar with what he owned.
“Dad?” Kyle asked, “What’s that?”
“Oh ho!” their father had started up from his stool where he sat packing things away, “New. Wanna see?”
They signaled a positive and he plucked the case from the shelf and popped the plastic latch. The gun slid out into his hand. His sons watched as their father dumped the clip and cleared the breech. He checked it once more, leaving the slide in a locked and open position and held the pistol out to Kyle with its barrel pointed at the floor of the garage.
“Remember what I said?” he asked as he passed it.
“Don’t point it. Treat it like it’s loaded,” at this their father relinquished it to him.
Kyle held the piece in his hands and studied it, nudging at the shine of the finish with his index finger and being careful to keep his fingers off the trigger. If he lapsed in proper procedure, even unloaded, he would be chided and the gun taken away.
To Ben they had merely shown it, their father holding it palm out while his youngest son thumbed soft chubby fingers over the barrel, guards and grips. Kyle remembered looking down at this, thinking how odd the sight of his brother’s pink flesh against the steel was.
The plan had been to go out and shoot it together later in the summer, but this, for any number of reasons, slipped away into vapor like so many other things that year. Ben had nearly forgotten about the pistol until now. The warmth and longing he felt for his father at the dimmest sight of it, made his chest tight and his palms go cool with sweat.
“We didn’t never get to shoot it,” Kyle said from the darkness.
“Ah know,” Ben agreed, then added, “How’d you get it?”
He could hear the grin in his brother’s voice, “Took the keys from mama’s purse.”
Kyle paused, thinking, then said, “And don’t you go tellin’ her about this. This here’s between me an’ you, Ben. Got it?”
“Ah got it,” he growled back at his brother’s commanding tone, “So when we gonna shoot?”
“I figure tomorrow after school. Mama always takes her time coming back from work then.”
“Oh,” said Ben, sounding melancholic, “So you gonna sneak it back?”
“Hell no,” Kyle shot back, “We’ll get caught for sure doin’ that. Cripes! She’s nearly home ain’t she?”
Intonations of southern patois crept like wisps of smoke back into Kyle’s voice as his excitement grew.
“I dunno,” Ben said, looking around the space, “It’s too dark tuh tell in here.”
“It’ll be in the locker here. Brought a box uh shells too. She’s loaded so don’t you touch her lessen I’m around. Jus’ like with daddy.”
The words seemed like a mandate. Ben agreed. He heard the top of the locker being flipped open and the pistol laid to rest inside. His eyes darted back to a tiny hole at the threshold of the comforter. In the stillness of the interior, motes danced, tracing a line of fire from the widening ray to the opposite wall. He squinted. There was something strange about it now.
The blanket rippled in a breeze. Outside the makeshift tent, he heard leaves not yet turned make a sotto chorus in the branches around them. Ben realized with some surprise that he could also see this playing out in the gloaming light of the fort’s interior. Not in silhouette as his brother had been, but upturned and in translucent hues on the wall opposite the hole in the blanket. It was faint, but it was there. The pink autumn sunset stretched into darkness across the floor boards and ghostly trees extending down from the roofline, the base of their trunks rising into the sky. A crow flapped, inverted along the wall. Its croaking cry sounded from over his shoulder, moving counterpoint to the image before him.
Ben cried out in shock. Kyle looked up.
“Holy,” he whispered. The two of them stared a second more before Kyle reached to touch the comforter. The image rippled, vanished, reappeared. As they watched it was growing dimmer. Outside the sky was ablaze, inside it was the floor the sun had lit up.
“It’s a optical allusion,” Kyle spoke.
Ben looked at him, “How come it’s upside down?”
“It’s doin’ what spoons do with your reflection,” he said back, continuing to stare at the surface of the blanket, “We learnt about it in science class with Missus Daws.”
“Uh,” his brother extolled. The word was guttural, a kind of confused acknowledgment.
“We better go, mum’ll be calling us any second and I don’t wanna walk in the dark besides.”
Kyle crawled under the edge of the blanket. Light poured in. The illusion vanished.
Ben continued to sit, waiting for it to return. His eyes adjusted to see the undulation of tree limbs, creaking in intermittent gusts. They writhed serpentine across the floorboards. He heard his brother calling from the base of the tree now. On the wall a head appeared backlit by the sun, then the contours of a man’s upper body. The figure looked down as though measuring its steps on the ladder below. Sluggish, frozen, Ben waited. A silhouette in the fiery branch work, the lattice of leaves behind the form revealed the stiffness of shoulders, the close cropped hair. Its face in darkness, the figure looked up at him from the wall, a slight contortion of cheeks. A smile? Ben looked over his shoulder to the hole in the comforter.
In wonderment his mind drifted to his father and the letter he had last sent. He had been in Najaf, Kabul, somewhere bloodied and teeming. In his letter he had written of insects, the heat of the desert, love, fear and homesickness. Their mother had received her own letter in the same post. She had set the envelope aside.
Ben’s fingers brushed into the light of the blanket hole, blotting the image behind him. The figures smile vanished into shadow, then into daylight. The blanket was thrown to from the outside, silhouette burning into retina against the fierce twilight.
Kyle spoke, “Mama’ll tan your backside you don’t get hoppin’ right this minute.”
Ben saw his older brother now, in the retreating light. But this clarity only served to confirm absence and the surety with which he had sensed some lingering presence at the threshold of his awareness. Ben began to weep. His brother ceased growling and scaled the lip of the tree fort to where he could perch. Gentle arms. Youthful, but with a wiry strength, trembling at the fringes of adulthood. He enveloped Ben as he crouched.
Ben quieted, the half light of eventide falling upon them as they rested in the arms of the oak. For a moment the brothers huddled, then woke from stupor and separated. Kyle moved to the lip of the fort. Ben remained. He shook visibly. Then ceased in a single heaving exhalation. Crouching, he slid along the boards in his brother’s direction, watching as Kyle scaled the edge, looking down frequently, measuring his steps on the ladder below.
When the two reached the foot of the oak they crossed down the root covered embankment and through the copse of sugar fern at the stream bed. Shadow turned away into starlight as they walked. The wind picked up with the coolness of nightfall and made a whistling in the trees overhead.
As they broke the last rise before their mother’s lawn a voice called out from the backdoor towards them. Lights flicked on in the house and yard as they reached the grass.
“What are all these nails doing out here? Kyle? Ben!” she was calling louder now, unable to see them at the wood line the light had grown so dim, “Where the hell did they go?”
The boys halted.
It was not a question to empty air, but a figure, a man, resting comfortably against the door jam. The form shrugged. Their mother turned back out into the yard.
“Kyle! Ben! Get your-
Kyle burst from the shadow of the trees, eager. The man spoke, stepping forward into the porch light as he did so.
The stranger smiled, “He’s here!” gesturing to Kyle. He was a younger man than his father. Lanky, clean shaven, he walked off the porch and jammed his hand out at Kyle to shake. The strong odor of cologne permeated the night air as the man stood before him. Kyle couldn’t help breathing it in as he reached out, grasped the man’s palm and shook lightly, the man’s grin going wider at this. His eyes twinkling, he turned his head to the porch as if presenting it, then back again.
“Fine boy you’ve got here, Maggie,” he let his hand drop at the compliment.
“This is Mr. Greene, from work,” she said to Kyle, “He’s going to eat with us tonight.”
She frowned, then, “Hey, where’s your brother?”
Kyle looked about, expecting Ben to be beside him. The yard was empty. His eyes adjusted.
“Well?” there was agitation, weariness in her voice.
He felt a hand ruffle his hair from behind and the man said something. Kyle was silent. In the line of birch and evergreen, he could hear the crush of leaves and twigs underfoot, moving away.
Ted Closson is a writer and artist living in Maine. He graduated with an MFA from the University of Houston in 2012. His writing and visual work have been published at Black Warrior Review, The Rumpus, The Good Men Project, Splash of Red, Storychord, University of Houston Alumni Quarterly and The Tier One Anthology. His work is also forthcoming in the Beyond: Sci-fi and Fantasy Comics Anthology.
Fiction Honorable Mention
The Dragonflies of Monhegan by Dale A. Bourassa
Are you the kind of person who takes time to watch the moon rise over the ocean, discovers tiny red blooms in the center of Queen Anne’s lace, or listens to the soft flapping of Monarch butterfly wings while gently tiptoeing past fairy babies sleeping in the folds of the wind? If so, then join me on a journey to a Maine island twelve miles out to sea.
The journey begins on the mainland far from the ocean where a group of dragonflies live in peace and harmony in a world of warm, golden days and cool, dewy nights.
That world was drastically changing, however, and one brave, young dragonfly understood that most of all. Lisbeth resolved not to let her colony of dragonflies disappear forever.
Night had fallen like a thick warm blanket one July evening, and Lisbeth longed to join the elders around the navy blue pond. She could see by the light of the full, fat moon the other, younger dragonflies sleeping nearby on the tall marsh grasses. Never had she been so restless.
Practicing the best listening skills her father had taught her, “always be aware of your surroundings,” he’d say, and “never land on anything that moves,” – Lisbeth lay still and stretched her long skinny neck out from the giant grass as far as it would go. Lisbeth heard the heavy voice of her father. “We can’t stay here any longer. It is time for us to find a new home, but I honestly don’t know where.”
Lisbeth gasped! She wondered if what she was hearing was true, and the great sorrow in her father’s voice made her scared. Why would her father want their colony moved? This place was all she knew and loved. This was her home.
There were soft, sun-drenched fields with rainbow-colored flowers that attracted an abundance of insects. There was plenty of clean, cool water in the many small creeks, and soft breezes rocked Lisbeth to sleep each night on the cattails that surrounded the ponds. Lisbeth befriended the monarch butterflies who lived there, too. Their soft wings floated around her as they played together in the open meadows every day. Lisbeth felt safe here.
Lisbeth suddenly seemed alone and scared. She wanted to wake the others, but decided they’d be too upset. Better to just listen harder, she thought. She could explain to them later why her father sounded so serious and sad.
This time Lisbeth stuck her neck out even further and was surprised to hear her mother’s voice rise above the nervous buzzing of the elders. Her mother spoke softly, but calmly. “We have no choice, I’m afraid. The fresh water that once ran in our creeks to this very pond is polluted now. Our fragrant meadows have been covered with plastic bottles and trash. Now, our fields are being cleared for roads by big trucks, roaring through here. At night there are lights where we once had darkness.” She finished by saying, “I don’t feel safe raising my family here anymore.” No one spoke.
Lisbeth’s eyes were wet with tears. She wanted the comfort of her mother’s lap, but quietly huddled with her siblings in the dark.
Lisbeth remembered seeing the large metal wheels enter the sun-drenched fields and flatten them. She made the younger dragonflies go with her to another field, as this sight frightened them. Lisbeth told her parents about these noisy machines, and they warned her to stay away.
The dragonflies soon moved to a large grove of tall pine trees with a beautiful meadow and a small creek running through the center. Lisbeth continued to romp with her friends, the monarch butterflies, and to explore this new area. It wasn’t long, however, until she heard the loud machines moving along the creek. The air had the same sickly smell and a thick oily ribbon weaved along the creek’s bank, just like before. The tall pines were cut down, and before long, her new home was destroyed just like her other home. This made no sense to Lisbeth.
Now, surrounded by her sleeping sisters and brothers, Lisbeth understood what her parents had talked about. She wished with all her might that she could fold up into the safety of her parent’s wings, but they were still talking. Finally, after waiting patiently for them to finish, Lisbeth was soothed to sleep by the sound of their voices.
Morning came with all the beauty and pride nature had to offer. The sun’s rays painted a red glow over the horizon and woke Lisbeth up. Everyone else was still asleep as she nudged quietly against her father’s wings. He smiled softly and opened his large wings as well as his heart to his daughter. Still sleepy after going to bed so late, Lisbeth put her head on one of his wings and felt it flutter lightly to warm her. She felt herself relax instantly. After several quiet minutes Lisbeth spoke. “Father, I’ve been thinking.”
“Oh, have you,” her father replied. “That’s not surprising. My eldest daughter does a lot of that from time to time.”
“Oh, Dad, I am just trying to figure out how to help you and mother,” Lisbeth said.
“Help mother and me? In what way?” her father replied.
Lisbeth answered quickly, “With finding a new home, naturally.”
Suddenly, Lisbeth had her father’s full attention.
“Remember the story that Grandpa Wiggens told when you were my age? That island adventure he had experienced as a young dragonfly? I used to wonder if that story was real or something Grandpa Wiggens made up. We all knew him as a wonderful grandfather, but he could sure tell a tall tale. Remember how he would hold those crazy dragonfly races every summer and wanted everyone to enter, young or old? He would set up a funny obstacle course for the kids, and they’d fly around tufts of cattails and thorny burdock to get to the finish line. Then the older dragonflies would pair-up with the Monarch butterflies in a relay race. The funniest was the ‘ladybug tangle’ that you and mom won one summer. Remember how you had to balance your ladybug friend, Lucy, on your wing and fly together in a circle with mom on the other side of Lucy for balance? I remember everyone had such a good time, including Grandpa Wiggens.” Lizbeth laughed. “I loved him for being so spirited and full of life, and I loved hearing about his island adventure, too. Lately I thought about that island a lot.” Lisbeth asked her father again, “Do you think it was real?”
“Oh, Grandpa’s island adventure was real alright. He might have exaggerated some of the details, as Grandpa liked to do, but his ferry ride to the island was true enough.”
“Good!” Lisbeth was excited now. “Then why don’t we follow Grandpa Wiggen’s trip and have our own adventure to the same Maine island?” she said.
Lisbeth’s father’s hearty laugh made her wings vibrate as she rested next to him. “First of all, Lisbeth,” he mused, “that island is called Monhegan, and it is twelve miles out to sea. How do you plan for us to get there?”
“Same way Grandpa did!” Lisbeth beamed!
Lisbeth’s family recalled Grandpa’s adventure happening quite by accident that summer morning in Maine, and Lisbeth was forever grateful it had, but she also remembered her grandfather saying, “There are no accidents in life. We often have to go into the darkness to see the light.”
Well that’s just what Lisbeth intended to do!
The day of Grandpa Wiggens’ adventure had started like any other. It was a perfect summer day in Maine. Billowing white clouds floated in a bright blue sky that sank into deep blueberry-colored water. Cool breezes played tag with the sun’s warm rays that sparkled on the ocean’s surface like small stars. Grandpa Wiggens was anxious to get going that beautiful morning as he left the meadow in search of breakfast. He often wandered down by the seashore in hopes of finding insects hiding in the seaweed along the beach. As luck would have it, there were plenty, and Grandpa Wiggens was thoroughly enjoying his breakfast. Unfortunately, he was not paying attention to his surroundings which was one of the “golden rules” for dragonflies.
Suddenly, a young boy with a small butterfly net waved it across Grandpa’s path. Grandpa Wiggens frantically flew from side to side trying to get away from the net, but the boy persisted. Soon the boy’s sister joined in the pursuit, and Grandpa had to dart this way and that to avoid getting caught in either of their nets. If they think they’re going to catch me they are wrong, thought Grandpa as he raced down the beach. But he quickly tired and decided to land on what he thought was a large, pink, granite rock above the shore line. He was shocked when the rock actually moved!
A huge, hand cupped Grandpa’s tired, delicate body, and he heard a tremendous roar of laughter. “Here he is kids. I just caught your dragonfly. Come get him!”
Grandpa Wiggens’ heart sank.
All this time a beachcomber had been sitting nearby watching the children chase the dragonfly, and Grandpa Wiggens, in his confusion, had landed on the beachcomber’s large pink belly!
The children ran to the man, and within minutes the girl had Grandpa fully trapped in her net. This set off a panic. Grandpa was now frozen to a spot in the net, and the little boy was screaming that his net was empty.
“It was my dragonfly first!” the boy cried out to his sister. The man who had caught Grandpa Wiggens laughed out loud. “Now, now, young fellow, be a sport and run along and catch another dragonfly. There are plenty for everyone.”
The boy continued to cry. The boy’s sister just stared at her little brother and calmly gave her net over to the boy. Grabbing her brother’s net she said, “I am going to catch a butterfly. I like them better anyway. They are much more beautiful.” And with that the girl marched away with her younger brother trailing slowly behind, wondering if he’d rather have a colorful butterfly than a dumb old dragonfly.
Just then the childrens’ parents called out to them. They were ready to leave Port Clyde and set sail for Monhegan Island. The boy raced down the beach, kicking up sand in his sister’s direction. Running to catch up to him, the girl slowed down suddenly as she spotted the orange and black wings of two Monarch butterflies sitting on a wild rose bush. The girl stopped, held her breath and extended her arm over the pink petals. She steadied the net and scooped up two beautiful butterflies at once. Giggling with delight, she set off again with her “prize catch” to where her parents’ boat was docked. The girl heard someone behind her clapping their hands and yelling, “Good job, Sissy!” She didn’t turn around, but looked in the other direction and saw her mother waving at her. Her family was ready to sail out of the harbor. She must go quickly. A shore breeze caught her net as she headed in the direction of the dock and one of the butterflies escaped. “At least I still have one beautiful butterfly,” she said out loud.
Finally, she boarded the sailboat and showed the “prize catch” to her parents. Her little brother immediately started to sulk on the deck while the girl’s mother gently asked her daughter to consider letting the butterfly go. “It belongs on the mainland,” the mother explained. “It is her home.”
The girl looked sad. “What about the dragonfly’s home?” She asked, pointing to Grandpa Wiggens hovering nervously in a large glass jar by her brother’s feet.
The girl’s father looked at his wife and smiled. “Oh, Sweetie, there must be plenty of butterflies and dragonflies on the mainland. Let’s put them in the jar together. Who knows, maybe they’ll like island life as much as we do!”
Instantly the girl bent down, carefully opened the jar and gingerly put her butterfly inside before it had a chance to escape.
The children set the jar under a bench inside the cabin and sat beside it for a while, watching the two lifeless creatures inside. It wasn’t long before their father had the sailboat out on the open water where porpoises could be seen breaking over the water’s surface. Hearing their father’s voice, the children raced to the bow of the boat and watched the porpoises swim through the dark, choppy sea. The white-capped waves rocked the boat, and the glass jar with Grandpa and the butterfly began to roll. It crashed hard against the bench and broke, releasing both of its occupants. But the children had already forgotten about them.
About an hour later, the boy spotted Monhegan Island and told his parents. He ran to find his sister who was inside the cabin taking a nap. Soon the dock and pier were in full view, and both children were excited and ready to explore the Island, but the sea had been choppy, and the girl felt a little seasick as she made her way onto the dock. Slowly, she followed her mother and little brother down the ramp while their father moored the sailboat in the harbor for the night. Neither child remembered to bring their “prize” glass jar with them. If they had, the children would have seen the dragonfly and butterfly waiting very still under the bench, surrounded by broken glass and cold sea water.
A warm, golden sun shone on the deck, quickly drying the small puddle of ocean water near the broken glass. Muffled voices and heavy footsteps just missed the area where Grandpa Wiggens and the butterfly lay. During the rest of the afternoon warm air slowly dried their paper-thin wings. Eventually, life flowed back into their frail bodies. Gently nudging the butterfly awake, Grandpa Wiggens smiled at his colorful new friend and gently asked, “What is your name?”
She answered in a very soft voice, “Poppy”.
Grandpa noticed how young and scared the butterfly was, and although he himself had never been away from home before, let alone on an island out to sea, Grandpa felt bad for his new little friend.
“That’s a lovely name. I’m known back home as Grandpa Wiggens, but you can just call me Grandpa if you’d like. I’m afraid you and I have been thrown together on an island adventure, but don’t worry, Poppy, I’ll make sure we’re going to be alright.” Grandpa looked around and whispered to Poppy, “We need to go now.” And just like that, Poppy followed Grandpa’s directions, and they flew off the sailboat together.
They both felt very weak, so exploring the island would have to wait. They needed something to eat first.
With a warm summer breeze to lift them, Grandpa Wiggens and Poppy flew together over tall fir trees and dark, jagged rocks looking for tasty treats. Grandpa spotted a golden meadow above the cliffs on Blackhead, and flew down to investigate. Excited by what he saw, he signaled to Poppy, and they landed on a lacey green fern nearby.
The view was spectacular! Looking out over the open ocean, Grandpa saw white-capped waves crashing against the granite cliffs speckled gray and black along the shore. Grandpa and Poppy forgot their hunger for a moment. Instead, they looked around the little meadow high above the water and thick with colorful summer flowers. Insects were busy flying from one flower to another. And there was the sound of water flowing nearby. They watched as it cascaded over the cliff and into the ocean. A sense of delight and calm came over them as they realized what a beautiful place they had discovered.
After enjoying a plentiful supper of mosquitos and gnats, and finding a safe place among the fir branches, Grandpa settled down for a restful night. Poppy had wandered off to find her own resting place, but soon returned.
“Grandpa, Grandpa, come quickly! I’ve found a most unusual thing.“
“What is it, Poppy?” Grandpa answered.
Poppy pointed towards White Head Cliff and motioned for him to follow her there. Reluctantly, Grandpa pushed his sleepiness aside and took to the cool night sky with Poppy.
When they arrived, they found a group of other visitors having a meeting. Poppy fluttered down next to several other butterflies and invited Grandpa to join her. “Grandpa Wiggens…” Poppy said, “…I want you to meet my new friends.”
Grandpa looked around and saw not only butterflies, but dragonflies, lady bugs, fireflies, colorful birds, chipmunks, squirrels, a few night owls and even some tiny fairies that were no bigger than acorns. They were all sitting together in perfect harmony.
“They have been here all summer and have shared their stories with me about this place called Monhegan Island. They told me they always have plenty of fresh water, quiet time, clean air and lots of tasty things to eat. Stars fill the sky at night, and the moon brightens the paths for the deer and the other animals to walk on. During the day, the sun’s rays warm the meadows and help the plants and trees grow tall and strong. Fairies come from all over the world to live here.”
Grandpa Wiggens smiled as Poppy explained with much enthusiasm what she had learned from her new friends.
Poppy continued. “And the most amazing thing is about to happen. That is why everyone is gathered here. In a little while, the moon will rise slowly out of the water, way out there as far as you can see,” she said, pointing east.
“The moon?” Grandpa asked. “Out of the water?”
”Yup, if you wait at least 45minutes after the sun sets in the west, the full moon rises over the ocean in the east. It will be spectacular!” She said.
And it was! At first, a thin sliver of orange was etched into the black sky until it reached up over the horizon leaving a yellow globe to fill the night sky. When it was full the island was lit in the softest light Grandpa Wiggens had ever seen. Monhegan Island seemed a magical place that filled his heart with a peaceful calm. Grandpa felt more alive under that starry night than he had ever felt before. He looked around at the others and knew he wasn’t alone. It was the perfect ending to a long and exhausting day. Grandpa Wiggens was ready to rest his wings and sleep soundly. He and Poppy each found a good resting place and fell asleep to the rhythm of the waves washing against the shore.
The next morning the sun rose in the same spot that the moon had the evening before. As it rose slowly into the sky it bathed the island in rose-colored light and warm rays from the tree-tops down to the ground. The light continued down the tall cliffs to the jagged rocks along the shore and, finally, across the ocean itself. It warmed Grandpa Wiggens’ sleeping place, and he awoke rested and relaxed. Soon, Poppy greeted him and said she was ready to explore more of the Island.
They headed for the southern shore and flew over Lobster Cove and on to Christmas Cove where the waves crashed against the rocks and the skeleton of an old shipwreck. They visited Gulf Rock and Burnt Head, before following the steep cliffs to White Head, Squeaker Cove and finally to Black Head before deciding to weave back into the woods and away from the ocean in search of food. Following Fern Glen trail, Poppy and Grandpa arrived at a grassy meadow overlooking Pulpit Rock out in the ocean. Green Point meadow was already swarming with dragonflies and butterflies in search of breakfast. Poppy and Grandpa set out to find breakfast for themselves.
Grandpa landed near some honeysuckle bushes, next to a group of dragonflies. He watched them for a few moments as they settled in for their mid-day rest in the warm sunshine overlooking the ocean.
“Do you like living on this Island?” he asked them.
One of the younger dragonflies looked over at Grandpa.
”It’s a wonderful place to live! It has fresh water, clean air, rocky cliffs to explore and an amazing cathedral pine forest to escape into.”
“What’s more…” said one of the elders, “…the people of Monhegan love their island as much as we do and respect all the creatures living here.”
“That’s right!” Another dragonfly said. “They don’t drive machines that pollute our air or make loud noises to scare us or use bright lights to confuse us.”
“We all live in harmony on Monhegan Island,” said a fourth dragonfly. “The change of the tides is our clock and the change of seasons, our calendar. We rely on the moon, the stars and the sun to guide us. I can’t think of a more peaceful place to live!”
Grandpa had to agree. His short time on the island had filled him with a quiet peace. He was sure Poppy felt it too. It was hard to describe, but he felt the need to find a way to share it.
“I need to get back and tell my family about this place,” Grandpa said out loud.
One of the young dragonflies over heard him.
“Why would you risk going back across the ocean?” he asked Grandpa.
Grandpa didn’t answer. He was already heading for the dock.
Before he reached the edge of the meadow he remembered Poppy and turned back and found her playing a game of tag with her friends.
Poppy spotted Grandpa and landed on a branch nearby. “Hey, Grandpa, want to join the game?” she asked.
Grandpa laughed. “Oh, I’m much too old for games, Poppy, but it looks like you’re enjoying yourself.”
“Oh, yes!” answered Poppy. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had! And I owe it all to you. I never would have survived the boat ride to this island and found my new friends if not for you, Grandpa.
Grandpa smiled. “Well, I guess I already know the answer to a question I was going to ask you.”
“What was that?” Poppy asked.
“I need to go back to the mainland, and I wondered if you wanted to go with me?” Grandpa asked.
“Go back to the mainland? Why would you do a thing like that, Grandpa? Isn’t that dangerous?” Poppy said. “We barely survived the ferry ride over here. How will you get your entire family here?”
“I know the dangers, Poppy, but I want my family to enjoy all the special things that this island has to offer. They will not thrive where they are now. I know now that it wasn’t an accident that we ended up here. It’s one of those sign posts in life that one can’t ignore. I must reach out to my colony and bring them back to this magical place called Mohegan. I will return as soon as possible.”
And with that, Grandpa brushed Poppy’s cheek with his wing and was gone.
Poppy watched Grandpa disappear over the tall pines .She hoped with all her heart that she would see him again.
Grandpa Wiggens was in luck, the ferry was about to leave for Port Clyde. In the commotion of boarding passengers, Grandpa flew into the safety of the cabin and settled under a bench where he wouldn’t be seen and where the cold ocean spray wouldn’t get him wet.
The deep rumbling of the boat’s engine made him nervous, and for a moment he questioned whether he should leave the island at all.
Am I doing the right thing? He thought. Will I make it back to my family? Is it really possible to bring all of them here?
Suddenly, a small pair of boots stopped next to the bench, and a little boy knelt to look under. Grandpa stayed very still, but the boy must have seen him fly into the cabin and down under the bench.
“Look, Dad, a butterfly is hiding under here!” The boy said.
A larger face looked under.
“That’s not a butterfly, Son,” his father said. “That’s a dragonfly. I guess he’s getting a free ride on the ferry back to the mainland.”
“Will you help me catch him? Can I keep him?” The boy asked.
“Dragonflies don’t make good pets, Son. They need natural spaces with ponds and forests and lots of mosquitos to eat. He wouldn’t like living in a jar,” his father explained.
“Then what do we do with him, Dad?” The boy asked.
“Nothing much we can do right now, except make sure no one steps on him or swats him. He’ll fly off when he’s ready, maybe when the ferry docks at Port Clyde. Let’s leave him alone and let nature take its course.”
“But what does ‘let nature take its course’ mean?” the boy asked his father.
“Well sometimes people mean well, trying to help wild creatures, but they don’t always understand what these critters need to survive, and it often ends badly for them. So it is best to leave them alone and let nature run its course.” the father replied.
“I’ll just watch him then, to make sure no one hurts him, would nature be ok with that?” asked the boy.
“That sounds like a good idea,” his father answered with a smile.
As the Elizabeth Ann approached the dock in Port Clyde, folks made ready to unload. Grandpa Wiggens stayed very still while a flurry of feet passed his bench.
The young boy and his father waited, to make sure no one disturbed the dragonfly under their bench. Finally, all the passengers were gone.
Seeing them wait, the Captain asked, “Is anything wrong?”
The boy stood, bent down and showed the Captain the dragonfly.
“Oh, I see,” the Captain said. “And you were guarding him I take it?”
“He was afraid someone might injure it,” the boy’s father offered.
“I see,” said the Captain. “And a good job you did.” The captain looked over his shoulder toward the dock area. All the passengers were off the boat. “Let’s give the little fellow some room,” he said. The Captain opened all the windows and the cabin door.
The father took his son’s hand and followed the Captain to the bow of the boat.
In the quiet of the cabin, Grandpa Wiggens stretched his wings and flew out from under the bench. He caught a breeze through an open window and quickly flew over the dock toward the village and into the forest beyond.
The little boy spotted Grandpa Wiggens , “Look, Dad, there he is!”
“And there he goes!” The Captain said. “Back where he belongs.”
“It sure looks like that dragonfly knows where he’s going,” the father replied.
It didn’t take Grandpa Wiggens long to locate his bog and the colony of dragonflies he knew so well. One by one they asked a thousand questions, wanting to know where he had gone and why. Grandpa patiently explained, telling them of his wonderful adventure to Monhegan Island – how beautiful and clean and natural it was there.
“The perfect place to live,” he told them.
But try as he did, he couldn’t convince the others to return to the island with him.
“Too risky,” they mumbled among themselves.
“Not worth it,” they agreed.
“Let the youngsters go, we’re too old,” they muttered to themselves.
Grandpa Wiggens continued to encourage his fellow dragonflies to try something new and take a risk for the good of the whole colony. He was disappointed in their lack of adventure and free spirit, but they were his family, and he couldn’t return to Monhegan without them. He would miss Poppy, but knew she was happy and safe with her new friends on the island. Grandpa accepted the fact that few would be brave enough to adventure to Monhegan Island.
Not yet anyway.
Lizbeth never forgot the story of Grandpa’s adventure. The story had been passed from generation to generation by the elders.
She looked at her father and hoped he was thinking what she was thinking.
“You may be right, Lizbeth. This could be the perfect time to follow Grandpa Wiggens’ advice and leave the mainland for Monhegan,” he said.
A big smile spread across Lizbeth’s face.
Lizbeth’s mother agreed. “I feel we have no other choice.”
Soon the other dragonflies followed her parent’s advice.
They made their plans quickly. The younger dragonflies would leave first and be joined later by the others. Small groups would board the Laura B. or Elizabeth Ann at different times so as not to be noticed. Their plan was to meet on the north shore of Monhegan Island, at Green Point. Grandpa had described the beautiful meadow there, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, as the ideal place for their colony to live.
With the spirit of Grandpa Wiggens guiding her, Lizbeth led the first group of dragonflies to the ferry-landing early the next morning. There was a dense fog that shielded her group, but when Lisbeth spotted cobwebs she knew the sun would come out by noon. Grandpa Wiggens recorded such things for her colony and now she was sure he was watching over them. They waited along the shore in the tall sea grass until the Laura B. was loaded and moving slowly away from the dock. They found safety on the roof of the Laura B.’s cabin where they couldn’t be seen and the sun could keep them warm and dry for the 22-mile journey.
Lizbeth breathed a sigh of relief for the first time that morning; she knew the younger dragonflies were depending on her good judgment.
The 1-hour ride seemed endless with the Laura B. battling a sea breeze that threw waves at her hull. Lizbeth kept her friends as calm as she could with the assurance that their new home would be worth the journey.
Lisbeth didn’t wait for the Laura B. to reach the dock at Monhegan. She gave a shout to the others, and in a cloud of wings she and her friends lifted from the cabin’s roof and headed for shore. Passengers and dock-workers awaiting the ferry thought it was a puff of smoke from the Laura B.’s smoke stack and were surprised to realize it was a swarm of dragonflies, instead.
One little girl pointed and asked, “What are all those bugs, Mommy?”
“Dragonflies, Sweetie,” her mother answered. “I’ve never seen so many.”
“Why were they on the ferry?”
“I don’t know for sure. I guess they wanted a ride to Monhegan.”
Lisbeth wasted little time leading her friends along the north shore of the island. She was confident she would know Green Point Meadow when she saw it. The image in her mind, from Grandpa Wiggens’ adventure, was clear.
The water along the shore was blue-green and the air crystal clean. She could smell the scent of the tall pines. It was no wonder Grandpa Wiggens wanted to return to Monhegan. From the treetops, Lisbeth followed Blackhead Trail and banked a left onto Fern Glen Trail. She followed Fern Glen until it opened up into the most beautiful meadow she had ever seen. Without hesitation, she and her friends flew down and landed on the sweet meadow grass.
“We’re here,” she said to the others. “We’re home!”
Dale A. Bourassa is a retired elementary art teacher and a lifelong resident of Maine. She has visited many of the state’s beautiful areas including Monhegan Island, her favorite. During her last trip there, in 2010, she was inspired to write a children’s story about dragonflies on the island. Last winter, while recovering from breast cancer surgery, she finished the book. She currently lives in Topsham.
Margaret F. Tripp Poetry Award
Red Eye by Charles Brown
Everyone knows the red eye is the last
flight out before you’re stranded—the
all-night, sleepless travel that is better
somehow than bedding down, as people
sometimes do, on thin, industrial carpet
covering the concrete floors of airports.
But the red eye I saw at six o’clock
last evening as I stood on the pier
in South Thomaston, Maine watching
lobster boats bobbing in the sunset
was unscheduled—a merganser with rust-
colored feathers beneath a blood-red eye
looking like a girl crying away her bright
mascara popped up next to a hull,
taxied down river and took off, its wings
flapping so close to the water as it
shot south towards the bay it seemed
it could not break the surface tension
or perhaps the drag of wing tips
dipping into the tide. No passengers
were looking back when the auto-pilot
of instinct took the controls and its
long beak lifted and banked off towards
winter quarters somewhere beyond
the tree tops and I was left by myself
on the uneven planks wondering why
it always aches to be grounded, eyes
stinging as the magnified sun put on its own
orange mascara, dropped deep shadows
over the estuary and headed into night.
Charles Brown is a retired teacher with an interest in reading and, occasionally, writing poetry. He lives in Owls Head, Maine.
Poetry Honorable Mention
Nautica Pub, Across from the Citgo by Gary Grainford
“May I have milk for my cocoa?” my daughter grins
as Crazy Deb sets down a hummock of fries
on our table.
“I can do better than that, deyah,” Crazy Deb winks,
points a pen in her fingers like a cigarette. “You like whipped
Crazy Deb reminds me of my grandmother, a marked
down, irregular sales event at Reny’s and a wrinkled chain
“Get in the car!” Gram was desperate
after watching her stories, Days of our lives, One Life to Live,
All my Children, wig askew, one eyebrow penciled in
darker than the other.
“Gram! A red light!” I had to brace my Thom McAns
on the dashboard, but Gram didn’t crawfish–
she pumped the gas pedal fiercer, Chevyed Oyster Bay Rd.
speedier, and Bic-ed her last minty Newport
“Stop lights don’t,” Gram puffed, “count when
my cigarette store closes early.”
“Thanks again, Crazy Deb,” I shout over the radio. “And great
“What did I tell you, deyah,” she waves goodbye,
eyes as crazy as bear-bait, and I want to hug Crazy Deb
before we leave.
Gary Rainford lives on Swan’s Island year-round with his wife and daughter. His poetry, shaped by tides and saltwater, is published in a wide range of literary magazines and university journals. Salty Liquor, his first full-length collection of poems, is being published by North Country Press and will be available winter 2015.
Poetry Honorable Mention
Root Cellar by Helene McGlauflin
The smell of soil reaches you first as you descend,
face brushed by cobwebs, hand steadied on rail
even the musty darkness is a comfort in this
place dug by the strong, committed to
staving off starvation in a womb of earth. You keep
cheery company here with carrots, turnips, potatoes
pickles and in one corner, mason jars of light
You remember storing them that high summer day
when the sun shone without interruption on water
scattering small petals of light over the surface
twinklings multiplying the longer you looked and
the sun lay warmly on your uncovered face. Breathing in
you filled, then covered all the inner jars you could
sealed in this living luminosity, reassured it could be stored
for those dark days before solstice when every cell is keening
over the loss of light
Moth-drawn to corner you take jar in hand, eager for the pop
of broken seal, lift rim to mouth, pour the precious preserves
down, in and through every vein, feel them nourishing each cell
with a confidence that as cold and despair lurk outside
you will not starve if you can descend, return to your store
sit in a corner among jars in the gloaming, trust the
silent promise in the stillness of the root cellar
Helene McGlauflin is an educator, yoga teacher and writer of poetry, fiction and nonfiction. She holds a BA in English Literature, an MS in Counselor Education and is a certified Kripalu Yoga teacher. Helene’s numerous articles and stories have appeared in books, small presses, parenting magazines, newspapers, professional journals and online resources. Her poems have appeared in books and small presses and her first book of poetry Tiny Sabbath was published in 2010. Helene’s hope in all her writing is to help people understand themselves, their children and our world more deeply, and to be accessible enough that anyone can find comfort and reassurance in her poetry and prose.
Richard F. Snow Nonfiction Award
A Legacy of Basic Black by Kim Wilson
My mother loved a party. On Saturday nights, she shed her khaki-and-loafer guise, left my grandmother in charge of us kids and went out. Usually bound for the homes of their closest friends, a rotating roster of hosts, she and my dad nonetheless always dressed to the nines: cocktail dress and high heels; jacket and tie.
I sprawled on their double bed waiting for my mother to emerge from the tub. From this vantage point, I watched her prepare for the evening, accompanied by my commentary. When she descended into the walk-in closet in her slip and nylons, I’d try to guess which dress she’d choose for the evening. Out she’d come, a black cocktail dress dangling from a hanger. Black was her look.
“Another one?” I’d say, freshly disappointed each time. “Why don’t you wear the blue one?” I’d suggest. “Or the print?”
“Black is chic,” she explained every time, sitting on the edge of the bed to unfurl her rollers, the resulting curls bobbing around her face. “Some day, you’ll like it too.” I doubted that, unable to appreciate the dresses’ subtleties: spaghetti straps on one, flirty tiers on another. To my mind, they were all boring black.
After the dress selection, my interest waned, and turned to wondering what my beloved grandmother had in store for us that evening. But just as I was about to roll myself off the bed to go and find out, my mom would turn her back to me, in the dress now, and ask me to zip her up. I was thrilled to be called upon to perform this ritual—me responsible for the final, essential tweak to her outfit.
Once she was ready to go—clicking about the house in her high heels, a string of pearls swinging from her neck—I had to admit she knew what she was doing. Her glamour was humbling, and I secretly suspected that I would never be her equal.
She shopped for dresses often, sometimes selecting a black-and-white variation on the theme, and once she brought home a black sheath splashed with an enormous, hot-pink geranium print. For years, that one remained my favorite.
“Wear the black and pink one,” I’d suggest hopefully from my post on the bed, long after it had been demoted to the back of the closet. Despite my mother’s example, I still didn’t grasp the premise of basic black; my plan was to go with all flashy colors when my time came to dress up and go out.
One Saturday I was invited to attend a matinee of the Ice Capades with my friend Susan and her family. Susan was everything I wasn’t—tidy, teacher’s pet, and feminine in a quiet, centered way, like Meg in Little Women. She claimed her favorite act in the Ice Capades early on: the old-fashioned ladies, who twirled daintily on their skates while wearing hoop skirts and bonnets, toting parasols. I tried to like them best too, but later in the show I was swept away by the Gay Paree ensemble: flamboyant can-can dancers with laced-up bodices, long black stockings and layers of peek-a-boo petticoats. Their décolletage, feather plumes and the pulsing music were thrilling. As soon as their act started, Susan’s mother leaned across Susan and her little sister Becky to yell to me over the music, “I bet those are your favorites!” Well yes, they were, but the way she said it, with a big wink for emphasis, and in front of old-fashioned-girl-lover Susan, I was mortified.
“They’re pretty,” I mumbled, and I suddenly wanted nothing more than my mom to be there with me, seated by my side. I knew she would have eschewed the parasol girls’ charm and totally backed me up—she would have recognized style when she saw it.
Long after the era of parties and black dresses, my mother had to be moved, against her will, from her gracious but neglected home of 50 years into a safe, square studio apartment in an assisted-living facility. She was suffering from a debilitating dementia that had, among other things, stolen her instinct to bathe, wash her hair or change her clothes. We stocked her tidy new walk-in closet with stretch pants and sweatshirts that were stainproof, and easy to maneuver. Clothing which, in her right mind, she would loathe.
But she was oblivious to her wardrobe; she went to bed and got up the next morning in the same clothes, day after day, until a staff member could cajole her into giving them up for the laundry. She drew the line at handing over her underwear. Persuading her to take a shower was a battle of wills; sometimes weeks would go by without one, until she had to be forced under the water.
Her stunning white hair, which she’d always worn in a bouncy, timeless bob, now dangled limply past her shoulders, unwashed. She feared haircuts now, the touch of strangers, the snap of the scissors. In her heyday, my mom had her hair “done” every Friday at Leon’s, the swanky local salon in our town. Her long-time hairdresser, Tom, was so loyal to her that he made house calls if a hair emergency arose. The bouffant was his specialty, and my mom’s towered several inches off her head. To preserve it between appointments, she slept with her heavily hair-sprayed ’do encased in lengths of toilet paper that she swirled around her head like a turban.
On Sundays, she used to manicure her nails for the workweek ahead, for years wearing the same shade of hot pink. Now they grew long, like witches’ talons. I tried to cut them for her, but after I clipped off only two, before I could even smooth away the jagged edges, she insisted that it hurt, and pulled her hands away, folding them stubbornly in her lap. A podiatrist visited the facility each week to trim the toenails of residents who could no longer perform the task themselves, but my mother adamantly remained shod, insisting that she was capable of clipping her own toenails and even pantomiming the procedure. Still, they remained uncut, growing long, tough and yellow.
The two dental bridges she wore, “partials” that consisted of most of her upper and lower front teeth, disappeared one day, and a painstaking search of her apartment turned up nothing. She had no memory of losing them or having ever worn them.
“Where are your teeth, Mom?” I asked her pointlessly, but she just grinned toothlessly, unashamed, happy to see me. I hugged her tiny, stiff body, reduced now to a meager 80 pounds.
I often had to remind myself, as the dementia literature taught, that to be unwashed and disheveled was not a willful or conscious choice my mother made; rather, she suffered from a profound loss of the most basic instincts, including the one to groom herself. Black dresses and high heels no longer existed in her memory. On occasion, a glimmer of her former self returned in a twisted iteration: One evening she donned a jaunty cap of Kleenex as she left for the dining room, recalling from some impenetrable place a time when her dinner wardrobe had included a stylish hat.
Eventually, in the course of readying my mom’s house to be put on the market, the task of cleaning out her closet fell to me. My plan was to donate anything salvageable to Goodwill, although much of the clothing, shoes, handbags and hats had not been worn for 30 years or more. On the day I was upstairs, surrounded by empty cardboard boxes, one of my oldest friends, Janet, showed up at the front door unbidden, ready to help. She had sensed how much I needed someone by my side who could help me discard my mother’s wardrobe with dignity, but who could also remember, and reminisce, and even laugh.
The little black cocktail dresses were long gone, including the one with the pink geraniums, which I had hoped to see again. Her collection of party clothes from the ’60s hung in yellowed garment bags at the back of the closet; by then, she had embraced trendy colors: coral with a swirly chiffon skirt, emerald satin, bright, beaded orange, all ridiculously short. I remembered her in each of them, but none more than the black one she’d worn to my brother’s wedding rehearsal dinner: tiny allover pleats with an elegant, off-the-shoulder neckline. I had a photograph of her taken that night, her highlighted hair enhanced with an extension called a “fall,” and styled in a classy flip. Her face tilted toward the camera provocatively. She oozed sophistication. She was younger then than I was now.
Also stashed away in the closet were several ghastly bridesmaid dresses of mine, and the gown I wore to my senior prom. I could still see its appeal: a sexy halter with a low back. My mom’s best friend had sewn it for me, as nothing off the rack would do. The fabric I chose was a bold black-and-white print, which I accented with a white feather boa.
My mother relished the role of fashion plate at the office where she worked as the receptionist. She had shoes to match every outfit, which were still in the closet—pumps, spectators, sling-backs. Janet held up a pair of pointy-toed stilettos in sherbet-colored stripes that we both remembered. The punchy colors, the sharp clicking sound they made on the kitchen linoleum, the hot-pink sheath my mom had worn them with. The shoes, and she, were unforgettable.
The party dresses went into a pile for Goodwill, and I sadly imagined them being bought up as Halloween costumes. Many more were simply thrown away, too faded and discolored for even resurrection to vintage status. We worked our way through her closet, then her drawers, admiring, sorting and ultimately discarding all but a few lacy handkerchiefs that still smelled of her cologne. Those we tucked into our purses.
I never told my mom we’d gone through her clothes that day. She wouldn’t have remembered any of them, nor the closet and home where they were kept. The memory of them and the lessons they taught about style were mine now, the appeal of basic black my inheritance. I finally understand the classic yet bold statement it makes, the way it kicks an outfit up a notch. When I shop, more often than not, I settle on black, remembering my mom in her glory days, when she slept with her hair swathed in toilet paper, wowed her coworkers with her high heels and mini skirts and dressed for a night out in a signature black dress. The time before she lost the instinct to bathe and change her clothes. Before I had to pack up and throw away the clothes and shoes she loved, without telling her.
One morning I found her waiting for me in the oversized living room of the assisted-living facility where she lived. Her hair was freshly washed, white and poufy.
“Your hair looks pretty,” I told her. “Did you get it washed?” She searched my face for a clue.
“I don’t know,” she said finally, and I realized she had no memory of the morning just passed, nor of having been washed by strangers, spoken to like a child, or any of the empty, lonely afternoons she’d spent there. I felt almost grateful for her lack of memory—she felt no pain; she didn’t grieve for her past. She lived only in the present moment.
I looked around at the proliferation of couches filled with listless, elderly people in various stages of mental and physical decline. How many of them, who shuffled and trembled, stuttered and spilled, were dapper, elegant, even sexy, in their day? I hoped that each of them had someone to revere their memories and be the keeper of their legacies.
Later I kissed my mom good-bye on top of her soft, clean hair. “See you soon,” I promised.
“I hope so,” she said simply, and smiled at me, this kind stranger who came to visit. Then, cued by a spunky aide, she shambled off toward the dining room with the others, an old woman in baggy, unfashionable pants.
I’ll remember her halcyon days of little black dresses, perfume and parties. That’s what she would want, and I can still conjure up every detail: the exotic scent of her as she bent down to kiss us, the bright excitement in her eyes, the swish of her black dress, the one I had zipped for her, as she brushed past us toward the door. The kink of loneliness as I watched the car pull away, and how blandly the evening stretched ahead without her. How I lingered at the window, staring into the dark, sending out my silent plea: Come back.
Kim Wilson works by day as a copy editor, and writes in the early hours of the morning. She is currently working on a novel. Kim lives in Bath and has a daughter, Isabelle, who attends the University of Maine in Orono.
Nonfiction Honorable Mention
The River by Jennifer Balser
It was not normal for her to be the first to wake, and she waited to hear the sounds of her father rising. As she lay there, she remembered those summer mornings from so long ago when she woke to the sound of the woodstove door squeaking open, the crumpling of newspapers as kindling was laid on top of yesterday’s ashes, and her father lighting a match. He would close the door with a clank. That had been her alarm clock. This morning unfolded just as those from ages past, but now those sounds were a comfort. It did not escape her notice that the sounds were heard a little later than usual and that her father was moving a bit more slowly than any of them wanted to admit. She quietly made her way into the kitchen. He stood by the sink with his back to her; his shoulder blades poking out under his flannel shirt, and his dungarees, pant legs cuffed, hung loosely, the belt pulled as tight as it could be. It was difficult to reconcile his frail, thin frame with his once muscular form that dwelt in her memory. But the lightness was back, and his heaviness of spirit was gone. As always, a pistol hung from his hip.
“Morning, dad. Any fish?”
“Jenny, you’re up! Just getting the skillet ready.”
She walked over to the sink and saw the trout beheaded, cleaned and ready to fry. “How’d you sleep?” He asked while the butter melted.
“Good. I forget how loud the river is.”
Back home, she frequently thought about the river and, truth be told, longed for it. Every summer as a child her family had locked up their home in southern Maine and headed north to the camp her father had built in Allagash, his birthplace. This little one road village was tucked in a valley thick with trees bordered by land owned and operated by the big paper companies.
Back then it had been the daily routine, enforced by her mother and accompanied by her youngest brother Tim, to cross the road, scramble down the river bank, clamber to their rock and bathe. One year, her father tied a rope from one bank of the river to the other, and she and Tim clung to that rope with their fat little fingers as they traversed the great expanse. Sometimes the fierceness and power of that rushing water would keep her close to shore, but on calmer afternoons the rope gave her a courage she lacked.
As she grew, the river became a place to meet up with friends and to cool off in the heat of the day. Just a few miles downriver, there was a spot where they swung from a rope, yelling and kicking, before plunging into the water; upriver, just below Dickey, they swam to the float and baked in the sun. She aged on the banks of that ageless river.
The sounds of her children returned her to the present. “You’re up.” she said.
“Heard Grampie making a fire,” Caleb said as he checked out the food situation. Nessa made her way down the stairs, and Jared scurried for the bathroom.
“Fish are ready.”
The kids took their plates to the table. Her father tried to help, showing them where to grab the backbone so the fish skeleton could be pulled out, but he had no patience with their fumbling attempts. She recognized the frustration and scorn on her father’s face that he had shown to her when she was little and he had to teach her something that he thought everyone should be born knowing how to do.
“Do we have to eat the skin?” Jared asked.
“Just scrape it off with the side of your fork,” she whispered not wanting her father to think less of him. For kids who usually spooned cereal into their mouths or ate home cooked egg sandwiches with their hands, the fish seemed like work.
After breakfast and before the children got on his nerves, her father headed down the road to find Theron or to see Roy or to visit with Clark. She knew he was not comfortable with children being children and that made him irritable; she was relieved when he left. They didn’t live outside like he did; instead of a fishing pole in their hands, they held electronics, and the children’s delight at playing with these gadgets was foreign to him.
The morning before he had taken the kids fishing. They weren’t gone long. The children had questions, and comments, and more questions: Can I do that? Can I hold the rod? What does that do? Where are the fish? Why do I have to stay here? Nessa’s in my way! Why haven’t we caught any fish? I’m hungry! Her father returned from that fishing excursion with jaw set and lips thin and tight. The kids were oblivious to the effect they were having on their grampie, but she was unnerved knowing her father thought less of them for their childlike behavior.
Waiting for the sun to warm the damp air, they played SORRY. While setting up the board, Caleb and Nessa began negotiations that would impress any high level State Department official, and hammered out a binding agreement that would shame the United Nations. Jared thought their gibberish funny until their plan went into action. Unable to fend off two opponents, Jared surrendered.
The children changed into their bathing attire and found the old shoes used to protect their feet from the rocky riverbed. She gathered her things and they were off. The smudge pot, a necessity in this neck of the woods, was already stationed by the river; it was an old metal can that they would fill with twigs, broken branches and such. Once lit and a little fire burning, green grass would be thrown on the flames to make smoke, keeping the mosquitoes and black flies away.
Her Uncle Roy was known for his portable smudge pot. He had taken the motor out of his push lawn mower and set a smudge pot in its’ place. In the evening, Uncle Roy would push that pot over to his garden and he would tend his cucumbers, beets, tomatoes and carrots. Once he was satisfied with the state of the rows and vegetation, he would push the smoking pot over to his porch where he would sit and watch the river rolling on its way.
The riverbank was her paradise; a breeze always blew, the rocks were abundant, and the wildflowers that grew up through such hardship were delicate yet their strength she did not question. She dropped her stuff on the ground and headed for her rock. The cold, clear water made her ankles ache, and the power of the current, even in the shallows, could be felt. She clambered onto her rock and sat in the puddles her feet made. She breathed deeply the gentle wind. The noise of that water declared its strength, and the trickles heard over the roar always had something to say but never revealed their secrets.
As the kids floated downstream, her mind drifted to the stories her father fed her when she was growing up. There was the time her dad and Hunch headed up to Conliff’s Depot to get some deer; they ended up with one buck and three doe. At one point they thought Leonard Pelky, the local game warden, was on their tail, but that was just Cal and Hube O’Leary trying to scare daddy by yelling from the bank that Pelky was on his way. That was the same night Charlie Gardner’s boy was hit by the pulp truck.
Then there was the time her father shot Tunny’s horse thinking it was a deer. When he realized what he had done, he tracked Tunny down at the pool hall and asked Tunny to sell him his horse, but Tunny didn’t want to part with it. After a bit of her father’s persistent bargaining,
Tunny said, “Whadja do, go and shoot my horse?” Dad ended up buying it for fifty dollars, and as he said, “It was the only horse I ever bought, and it was dead.”
Her favorite story was when her father, just a young one, had gone to the one room schoolhouse early to light the fire so it would be warm when the others arrived. He found the kindling, but the newspapers used to start the fire were all gone. He had an idea. He went to the girls’ desks and took out their paper dolls. There was quite a ruckus that day.
Now she watched the river desperately looking for those ghosts. She wanted to meet these characters, most of whom were long dead. This place, this community, had a recklessness and yet a closeness and a sense of freedom that was absent in her life.
“Mom! Come in!!” Caleb shouted.
Nessa, hair forever in her eyes, clambered toward her, “Mom, is this where you would swim when you were a kid?”
“No. It was further up. I’m not even sure we could find the spot. The ice jam took a lot of that bank away a few years back.”
She waded into the frigid water, found a spot clear of boulders, inhaled and dove in. The water enclosed over her, and the cold brought her to life. The sound of a thousand quiet voices passing on sweet nothings filled her ears. She sprung out of the water, and looked for Jared. After spotting her, he would laugh, but until Jared knew she was ok, he watched the water expectantly. They played and splashed and performed tricks in the water. Then she situated herself back on her rock and felt the sun licking the water off her skin. Soon, the mooseflies tormented her to the riverbank where she got the smudge pot going and positioned it so she could sit and read without being overcome by the smoke. The children lost themselves in their play, and she lost herself in her book.
After a while, she headed back up to the camp to start lunch. When she crested the hill, she saw the truck.
“Now, which one are you?” He asked, rising from the porch steps. She gave him a big hug and said, “Jenny.”
“I never can tell you girls apart,” he said.
“Uncle Bonnie, I’m about to make lunch. Come in and sit down.” “Oh, now. Where’s your father?” He asked.
“He went on up the road looking for Theron. He was gonna stop at Roy’s too, I think. I’m making subs. Is that ok with you?”
“Sounds good to me. I’m not too picky when it comes to free food,” he replied. She had never seen him without that hat. The faded blue button up work shirt with dingy green work pants, pant legs cuffed, were also staples of his wardrobe.
As she handed him his plate, the kids charged in. “Oh, my lord,” he said, “look at ya’s!”
Jared scooted over to her side, “Which one is that?”
“It’s your Uncle Bonnie,” she whispered and then asked, “How’s the fishin’?”
“Well now, Perry was up last week and said it was no good et all, but you know, I just go up Little Black a bit and get my catch. I don’t know what he’s doin’ but it ain’t fishin’,” he said. “You’re father must’ve been?”
“He took the kids yesterday. They didn’t catch any, but we had trout this morning for breakfast.”
“Now kids,” he continued, “have you seen any moose, yit?” “No!”
Bonnie turned his gaze on her almost accusingly, “Have you been up behind Carney’s?” “We were up a few nights ago, and we plan on going again tonight,” she answered. The other evening they had driven up the road to Uncle Tom’s. They didn’t know where they were headed when they had started out, but on their way up the road they saw a crowd gathered at Uncle Tom’s, so they stopped in to see what was going on.
It was good to visit with family, and the kids were excited by the freedom of dropping in and meeting relatives. They gathered around the picnic table, and the kids came and went as they pleased. The sun was going down, just the first hints that dark was on its way. Next thing they knew her father and Uncle Tom were shooing them away from the table. Not sure what was happening, they all obeyed and watched the two men lift the table onto the back of a truck.
“Everyone sit back down,” her father ordered.
And they did. The kids were excited to be riding in the back of the truck, something they did not do down home. The adults clambered over each other and took their seats around the table, squeezing to make room for the kids. They headed for Carney’s.
Now Carney’s property is parted by a logging road; his house on one side, and his three bay garage filled with trucks and surrounded by skidders and other heavy machinery on the other side. As they passed the house, those inside waved to the mobile picnickers. Her children laughed and waved back as if they were part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
She watched her children, not for safety sake, but to read them. Caleb and Nessa stood unafraid, hands on the hood, wind slamming against their face and whipping through their hair. Jared stood too, but he was not as comfortable with the situation, his hands tightened on the wood railing as they went around corners or hit bumps. They were enjoying the freedom, but what she cherished was that they were growing in love with this place and her people.
She herself had only returned a few years ago. After spending summer after summer
here, one summer had been her last and she had been relieved by it. She had not been a child that enjoyed traipsing through the woods in the hot sticky air or standing, pole in hand, waiting for some fish that she didn’t want to eat while millions of black flies and mosquitoes made lunch of her, and because of the migratory nature of their arrivals and departures, she had never felt at home here. But her father was always leaving home and going north. He would take Tim and they would head for Allagash to hunt or fish or just because. She stayed behind. She knew this was where her father’s heart lived; this was where he had always wanted to be. This place had separated them.
But something had changed. She had children of her own, and as much as she didn’t understand why, she missed this little village and desired to hear the river and feel its coldness once again. She grasped for her memories of the place, but more so, she tried to remember the stories her father had told, and she couldn’t. It almost made her panic. She desperately wanted her children to know the stories. She didn’t want that little place, or the people and way of life forgot. So there, on the back of that truck, her children were infected by that precious piece of nowhere, and she wanted that infection to spread. But they hadn’t seen any moose that night.
“Well now, that’s no good! You got to go find yerself a moose!” Uncle Bonnie said. “Daddy wants to go out again tonight, so maybe we’ll see one or two.”
Bonnie finished his lunch, gave his thanks, and headed for his truck. “Tonight we’re having lasagna. You’re more than welcome.”
“Well, I may stop back in. See where I am when I’m hungry.”
They spent the afternoon back down by the river. The scene was much the same as the morning – water, wind, and moose flies. After a bit, she glanced up toward the camp and saw her father standing on the bank, watching.
She yelled to the kids that she was going back up and reminded Caleb and Nessa to keep an eye on Jared.
“He has to do what I say, right mom?” “Yes, Nessa.”
“Did you hear that, Jared?” Nessa yelled, her hand on her hip. She reached the top of the hill and made her way over to her dad. “What have you been up to?” she inquired.
“Oh, not much. Just seeing what everyone else is up to.” “Bonnie stopped by.”
“Saw him at Cindy’s.” “Mike and Cindy are up?”
“Got here late last night. Those kids – they’re just like fish in water,” her father said.
“I’d be freezing. Tim will be up tomorrow. Do you think Mom will change her mind and come?”
“No, she’s not gonna change her mind. Now, where’s everyone gonna sleep?” He asked. “We got that worked out. The kids can all sleep in the loft and there’s the couch as well.” She watched his eyes as they watched his grandchildren, but her father’s eyes always returned to look up river. She wondered what he saw there.
“You know, there used to be a house across the river, just there above that rock,” he said from a distant time. “Alph and Essie Hafford lived there. They had so many kids, I never knowed how many. But they would come to school over here. When the river weren’t froze, there was a rope from one side to the other and they would pull themselves over in a canoe. In the winter, they just walked over on the ice. Every few feet they’d poke a hole through the ice and stick a bush in it, so when it snowed it marked the trail. We used to play terrible tricks on them,” he chuckled, “we would yell to them it was Fourth of July, and they’d get halfway over in their canoe, and we’d yell ‘April Fools!’ and they’d yell and shake their fists at us, but we’d be gone long before they got to shore, and most times they’d just go back.”
They stood together like that for a long time, mostly silence between them, but occasionally another tale would make it to his tongue.
Soon the kids were scrambling up the hill toward the cabin. This was her favorite time of day. The children piled through the door and fussed and bickered until they changed and hung all the wet things on the clothesline. She sat on the rocking chair, and Jared slid onto her lap. She folded him in a blanket and wrapped her arms around him. She felt the cold from his legs and back seeping out of his body, and she put her nose to his head and breathed deeply; the smell of her son, mixed with the smell of the river soothed her.
The kids were exhausted. They all slumped together on the couch, Jared leaned his head on Nessa’s shoulder. And the bickering was over. It was a good exhaustion, not the type from a day at school or from playing XBOX while their brains shriveled slowly. This was an exhaustion the body thrived on and eagerly devoured waiting for more.
After supper, the kids piled into the back of the truck, and she sat in the cab with her dad. It was only them this time as they made their way back behind Carney’s. It wasn’t long before they came upon a cow moose. She was parked in the middle of the road about three hundred feet ahead of them. Her dad slowed down, and they all wondered what the moose would do. The kids stared in awe. When they had cut the distance between themselves and the moose by half, the moose turned her back on them and sauntered down the road.
“Becky, you must remember the time we came upon the moose in the ditch. I think Theron was with us.”
“Tim was with you that time, dad,” she said. “Oh, right,” he said and turned the truck around.
The kids were exuberant and returned to the camp victorious. “Bed,” she said and they went without argument.
She climbed the stairs to the loft and sat with them for a few moments recounting the events of the day, then she continued a ritual she feared would soon be dead and sang to them some of the tunes her father had sung to her:
Oh, I like high up in a tree to climb
and eat molasses cookies six or seven at a time. Swing and swing on the garden gate,
and when there’s company stay up late. I like to ride on a load of hay
and dance in the puddles on a rainy day. I like to do all the things I like best,
but I can’t find the time to do them all, can you?
She pulled the covers up around their chins, stroked their sleepy heads, and kissed each one. They were asleep before she reached the bottom of the stairs.
She read her book, and through the black night, her father watched the river. When she couldn’t fight the exhaustion any longer and with the sound of mice scurrying across the rafters, she slid between the scratchy sheets of her bed.
“Night, dad,” she called, “love you.”
“Night, Jenny. Love you too.”
She closed her eyes to the sound of her father rocking in his chair and the river roaring down its worn path.
Jennifer Balser was awarded the 2013 Richard W. Carbonneau, Jr. Scholarship for “active English majors who are non-traditional students with outstanding writing ability.” She used this scholarship to attend the Stonecoast Writers Conference where she was enrolled in the Memoir class under the guidance of Susan Conley. She lives in Topsham, Maine.
TPL Teen Scene Award
The October Boys by Will Kinney
He drove uphill on the dirt road leading up to his hometown. Matthew LaChance, a thirty-seven-year-old man with weak eyes, good teeth, but bad feet. He was headed for his hometown in his Volkswagen Jetta for two reasons: First, he was giving a reading at the school there to some fourth-graders who had probably never heard of him. Second, he wanted to stay with his parents for a while so he could sort out his life. The month of October was beautiful with its orange shades, its air, crisp and unyielding. Matt had just gone through a painful divorce with his wife, and though he lived in a stately Victorian house on an island, Matt just wanted the comforts of his old life right now. He drove a little faster through the streets, wanting not to see the poverty and unemployment that ensnared his former town.
Matt checked his watch. 9:30. He was a little early. He pulled to the side of the dirt road and stopped the car. He sat there feeling sad as he remembered his old life in Brewerville. He thought of 1989. October. The year he and Mike had stabbed the man. The man who had hurt him. The year everything had fallen apart.
9:45. He decided to drive in. Best to be early. When he pulled in, he saw the school he had gone to in the eighth grade. In that October. The school was big. Kindergarten through eighth grade. He had brought a story along with him. It was one he had published in college in a literary magazine. Matt thought the story was all right. Not much, his first novel being ‘much’. When We Ran had been met with huge acclaim. His next two were also great, and now the world was reading Matthew LaChance. He walked in the classroom, hoping to be on time.
Of course he had known someone was coming to the class. What Tom hadn’t known was who it was that was coming to his class. He had heard his teacher, Ms. Graves, who was young and very pretty, tell them it was a guy named Matthew LaChance. Ms. Graves also told them he was world-famous. Tom had never met anyone world-famous. This could be cool. Tom’s father worked at a super-market, while his mother worked as a seamstress, when she could find work.
“Class, this is Matthew LaChance,” Ms. Graves said in that voice that every boy in her class loved. A fairly tall man walked in. He was thin, bespectacled and wore a zip-up sweatshirt with jeans and Chuck Taylors.
“Hi,” he said. “I’m Matthew LaChance. You can call me Matt. I uh…I’m a writer. I wanted to talk to you about you know, being a writer. How I started. All that.”
Tom thought the guy looked pretty cool, but a writer? A guy who made a living writing books? Tom had never met a writer before. He didn’t think writing for work was real work. Shouldn’t it just be a hobby? Matthew sat down at Ms. Graves’s desk. Ms. Graves sat in a chair near her desk. Matthew looked at her for a moment. She smiled sweetly at him and he gave a smile back.
“So,” he said, looking at the class. “I started writing when I was twelve or so. I didn’t have enough money for a word processor, so I saved up and bought a typewriter. It wasn’t great, but it was all I had. I started writing little stories about stuff like monsters and scary things. It was fun for me, so I kept doing it. Then I started sending my stories off to magazines. I got rejected a lot, but I didn’t give up.”
Which was basically true, except he had thought about giving up several times. Now he was telling them shit about writing that barely any of them were listening to. Why? Because to them, writing wasn’t work. Trucking was work. Farming was work. But writing? Give them a break. That Ms. Graves, though. God, she was beautiful. Her hair was blond. She looked to be about thirty. She was slim and smiling. Matt didn’t want another wife. At least he wasn’t supposed to want one…
He went on.
“I wanted to read you guys a story I wrote.”
Tom listened to the story. It was all right. The story was about a kid Tom’s age who had empathetic powers. He felt what other people felt. The kid got lost in a mall with a bunch of people around him.
When it was over and the writer said it was time that you could ask questions, Tom knew there was no way he’d ask anything. But he wanted to know something. He was painfully shy. Just this once, though, he raised his hand.
A kid was raising his hand. Matt pointed to him. He nodded. The kid had short, brown hair and blue eyes.
“What was the biggest adventure you ever had?”
The question hit him like a .44 slug. Matt knew the answer.
Did he really want to talk about it?
He was just a kid.
“The biggest adventure of my life happened when I was fourteen.”
He told it.
Tom loved it.
Matt hated it.
At the same time, Tom felt sad too.
Matt was about to cry.
It was October.
An October country with an October sky and October leaves with October Boys walking through it all, smelling it all, feeling it all.
Will Kinney is from San Francisco and lives in Topsham, Maine. He writes fiction and has written one novel and several short stories. He is currently working on a second novel on the apocalypse and two short stories.