The Verdi L. Tripp Fiction Award: John P. Driscoll, M.D. for The Hook
Fiction Honorable Mention: John Leggett for Extract from The Outhouse
Margaret F. Tripp Poetry Award: Robert Breen for Beyond Cold
Poetry Honorable Mention: Wendy Knickerbocker for Back to the Land
Richard F. Snow Nonfiction Award: Sarah Fullilove for Journal 2014-2015
Nonfiction Honorable Mention: Deanna Baxter for Charlie
TPL Teen Scene Award: Arielle Leeman for Perpetual Waves
Teen Honorable Mention: Will Kinney for The Nightclub
Just Write Maine-related Nonfiction Award: Carolyn Clyfton Smith for Dust Motes
Maine-related Nonfiction Honorable Mention: Mary Freeman for Deliverance
Verdi L. Tripp Fiction Award
The Hook by John P. Driscoll, M.D.
Salaries were good in 1959. That year Jack Sawyer lost his job as an accountant. In looking at a new life Jack remembered his Father’s advice to discover a passion but Jack was passionless. He’d found his work boring and simply enjoyed a passionless marriage with Dora. Early on Dora and Jack’s parents supported him but after eight months that support collapsed. Dora asked him to leave that June. There were no children to be considered.
Dora gave Jack the Ford Fairlane and half of the savings account, two thousand and seventy five dollars. From Boston Jack decided to return home to Maine. There he thought life would be simpler and he could stretch the little money he had. He decided on an island life. He chose Islesboro, a small island in Penobscot Bay. There were two hundred year round residents, a road that split the island, a stark white, steepled church and a general store. The church heard prayers for the fishermen who fished for lobster and cod. Nine island men had been lost to the sea, three together when the island trawler, Mary Ann, was lost in an unpredictable storm. As was usual the bodies were never recovered.
From Boston it took two days for Jack to reach the island. The rain and wind made the ferry crossing difficult. Once on the island Jack discovered it to be flat. The houses were New England farmhouses painted a sinless white. Many looked out onto stonewalls and fields of lupine bending to the wind and rain.
He drove to Turtle Rock, the northern tip of the island. There he had arranged to rent a room by the week from Mary Eakins, a widow, after she lost her husband Rawley to a rogue wave off of North Haven to the east. Mary was in her forties, stout and strong minded. She sold hooked rugs and knitted for the islanders. To help her income Mary rented a single room on the second floor of the house with light from the sunsets. Mary’s companion was Sinner a large shepherd. It took time to get used to Sinner a renter would discover.
Laconically Mary showed Jack the room. He was pleased enough. It was bright and faced the west. There was a single table with two chairs and a hooked rug on the floor. Lace curtains were on the two windows. A wash bowl and pitcher stood on top of a single wooden dresser. The bed was a double and the bathroom was down the hall. There were two meals a day, breakfast and dinner. Meals provided for small talk. Mary mostly listened as she cooked with Sinner at her side.
Jack settled into an island routine. He arose at six-thirty for breakfast and small talk. Then a walk on Big Spruce Beach. On those walks he could hear the lobster boats on the bay. There was a low rumble of diesel engines as they crisscrossed the bay hauling pots. On clear days he could hear the chatter of the crude radios as the lobstermen talked to one another. Jack could make out the thick accents of the men as they spoke.
The beach itself was littered with the shells of lobster and urchin. Occasionally he would discover the carcass of a deer shot by one of the islanders. Usually only the head and legs remained, the rest having been harvested to feed an island family. Jack would be startled when he came across one of the carcasses. The eyes were always open in a sad way. That sadness Jack felt deeply. The feeling had a depth like passion.
After lunch he’d walk one of Mary’s fields where he’d nap in the wildflowers. Later he would drive the Fairlane to the southern tip of the island where he’d walk the beach. He could make out osprey and eagles in the tall fir trees. He’d then travel to the dock where the fishermen were unloading. At dinner there would be more small talk, then reading after dinner. Jack was trying to finish My Antonia. The next morning he’s repeat the routine.
One morning, while standing at the stove with her back to Jack, Mary said, “Hear Will Hansen is looking for a stern man. He’ll pay $20 a trip. You might want to speak to him. He’s usually at the dock by four in the am. He comes in around three. He’s a hard working guy. Wife and three kids. He’s from the southern end.”
Two days later Jack found Hansen unloading his catch. Hansen appeared successful. His boat Miss Molly was well maintained. He was a large man with thick forearms and a bull neck. Both forearms were tattooed. He was dressed in yellow waders, grey shirt and rubber boots. As Hansen climbed onto the dock Jack approached him. Jack extended his hand saying “Will Hansen? I’m Jack Sawyer.”
“I hear you’re hiring.”
“I’d like to sign on.”
“Where you from?”
“From the city. I’ve been on the island two weeks. Staying with Mary Eakins.”
“She doesn’t say that much. Does she? Ever since she lost Rawley kind of clammed up. You ever done anything like this before?”
“It’s not hard to learn but you need a strong back. Molly needs a firm hand on the wheel that makes hauling hard for one guy. Even me. I’ve been at it for 22 years. Never lost anybody.”
“I’m not frightened. I need the money.”
“I’ll take you on.”
“When should I start?”
“Saturday am. I’ll outfit you.”
“Great. See you then.”
“Bring your food. I’ll give you the coffee.”
That eve Jack told Mary that he’d signed on. She said, “Good. He’s a safe one. You’ll be okay.”
Saturday came soon enough. Not much time to think about it. For that Jack was grateful. The morning was clear and crisp. In the semidarkness Jack could still see the moon and stars. They were brilliances in the sky over the island. Dogs were barking and as he drove to the dock he could see the early lights in some of the homes. It seemed like the whole island lived according to the fishermen’s schedules. Jack found Hansen idling Miss Molly. Jack boarded realizing that he’d left his food at Mary’s. Hansen said nothing, untied and headed for the northern tip of the island. When they got there, on a flat bay, Hansen asked Jack, “See that ledge with the yellow buoys? That’s what we fish. That’s my spot. It’s been good to me. Get geared up and I’ll show you what to do.”
Jack put on the waders, boots and gloves. Hansen stopped by one of the buoys. He showed Jack how to haul while keeping his feet under him. Once the trap was on board, Jack was to open the trap and drop the catch in the holding tank. All lobsters were measured and thrown back if too small. Then he baited the trap and slid it over board. Hansen then steered to the next buoy. After the morning Jack’s hands and shoulders ached. His forearms were hard and his legs were shaking. When they docked at 4:30 Hansen offered Jack a beer. Then they unloaded. They were done at 6pm. Hansen told Jack that Sunday would be a day off and said he’d see Jack Monday. Hansen then climbed in an old red pickup truck and drove off. Jack drove to Mary’s.
The next day Jack could barely walk but he managed both the north and south ends. On the north end he could look out and see most of Hansen’s buoys and he thought about Monday. Monday came and went. Jack quickly adapted to the life of a stern man. He liked Hansen and felt safe with him.
September thirteenth started like all the other days. The skies were clear at four am. Hansen and Jack stayed at the tie up for an hour drinking coffee and talking in the early morning clarity. They were joking and talking about the fishing and the weather. At five-thirty Hansen and Jack started out. First through Gilkey’s Harbor and then the north end. Jack started hauling at six am. Even the morning sun was warm on his back and arms. The gulls were active and hovered above the stern plaintively squawking. The morning’s haul was good and they broke for lunch at eleven-thirty. Jack thought it strange that he’d become close to Hansen with so few words. There was a silent bond between the two forged from the work, weather and threat of peril. In the city, Jack thought, this closeness would be impossible without many more words.
Work resumed at twelve. The bay had become choppy as the wind picked up. Jack hauled with a wide stance. Molly pitched and rolled. Hansen moved deftly between buoys. The barometer was falling. The other lobstermen were talking of a late afternoon storm over their radios. Hansen wanted to get in early. As they were continuing to haul clouds, gray and full, began to gather.
At quarter to three Hansen slowed the engine. Then he idled as the waves buffeted Molly. She was rolling side to side. Hansen told Jack to stop hauling. Jack went to the wheelhouse.
“What’s up?” questioned Jack.
“A May Day,” said Hansen. “Will Leach’s boy is lost in the harbor. They found his skiff traveling in circles. No sign of the boy. Not a good sign. The fleet is returning to Gilkey’s.” Jack secured the traps in the stern while Hansen gave it full throttle. They returned along the eastside of the island where the ledges were deep. They sped through Jim Beal’s territory and arrived at the channel in twenty minutes. Hansen slowed the boat through the narrow channel. He sped up when they were in deeper water. Jack could see the fleet gathering at West Rock. It started to rain lightly. Soon they were tied up alongside Billy Westcott’s boat. His stern man was sitting quietly in the stern while the skippers met inside the wheelhouse. These weather beaten men had an icy look of concern. Jack had never seen that expression on Hansen’s face. It was an expression of grim resolve. It was if a conspiracy of chance, weather and sea had enveloped these men in a raw struggle, thought Jack. The rain became more constant. Jack could feel the droplets pounding his face.
Shortly Will Leach arrived on his boat, Rebel. Leach was traveling at full speed. The bow split the waves casting off a fine spray to either side. In its wake the other boats rolled and pitched. The men were wide legged but not holding on. All eyes were on Rebel as it approached.
Once along side, Leach tied up to Miss Molly. He cut the engine and with quick, sure steps hurried to the wheelhouse. The other skippers circled around him. They had a brief conversation. Leach did most of the talking. Then they broke up and all went to their boats. Jack could see people gathered on the shore. Small skiffs were crisscrossing the harbor. Hansen told Jack, “We’ve got the waters around the dock. You stay in the stern. Concentrate on the surface of the water. You’re looking for a head or an arm or leg. No matter what I do with the boat keep your eyes on the water. Do you understand Jack?”
The boats untied. Hansen maneuvered the Molly between the moored boats. All the radios were at high volume. Jack could hear the skippers talking. They were calm and organized in a puritanical style. Leach was to circle the channel. The tide was going out and if the boy had drifted it would be toward the channel. Leach wanted to find his boy himself so he took the channel. Jack wondered what it was like for Leach who was searching for his only child, a son born on the island, a true island man at the age of fifteen. Boys must grow up quickly on the island, Jack thought.
Deftly Hansen maneuvered the boat to the dock and ferry landing where large wooden pilings plunged into the depths of dark green water. The pilings were covered with barnacles. Traps littered the rocks below the lighthouse which stood defiantly in the rain and wind. Jack could hear the flag snapping in the gusts of wind. He kept his eye on the surface of the water. Someone had recovered the boy’s skip and tied it to the dock. Jack thought it looked abandoned and lonely. Only the skiff could tell the whole story but, thought Jack, a vessel never relinquishes its secrets. An orange preserver sat on the seat in the stern.
As they circled the ferry landing there was nothing seen on the surface. The other boats were moving quickly through the harbor. In the distance Rebel was moving methodically in the channel. It was as if the other skippers were giving Leach the best chance to recover his son.
Hansen kept his boat steady despite the wind and rain. Several times he slowed the engine. Jack thought he must have seen something but then he would accelerate. Darkness fell and Hansen turned the forward spotlights on. Jack and Hansen said nothing. It was like the boy had been swallowed by the sea, swallowed in the harbor where he had learned seamanship.
At one point the radio crackled again. The fleet was returning to their moorings. Only Leach stayed out. He returned forty-five minutes later. The men were gathered on the dock. Billy Day passed a flask. Jack took a gulp. It warmed his gut. He then said goodbye to Hansen as the men dispersed to their worn trucks.
Jack went to the Eakins place. Mary was cooling biscuits. He said, “Leach’s boy was lost today.”
“I know. The whole island knows. I’m bringing coffee and biscuits to the dock in the morning. Can you give me a ride?”
“Of course Mary.”
Jack ate and went upstairs. He slept fitfully. It rained and blew through the night. When he awoke it was only a light rain. He could hear Mary in the kitchen. He smelled coffee. He dressed, went to the kitchen and had several cups of coffee. Jack and Mary didn’t talk. They left for the dock at 3:30. Men and women were gathered there, they milled about drinking coffee. Hansen was talking to several of the skippers. Leach and his wife Maggie came early.
At 4:30 the men climbed into the skiffs and motored to the moorings. There was a light mist over the harbor as Hansen steered the skiff to Molly. He said, “Won’t be any sunshine today. Will have to use the hook. You’ll be on it.”
Once on the deck Jack could feel the slick under his feet. Hansen started the engine. Even in the darkness Jack could see and smell the diesel exhaust rising from the rusted pipe behind the wheelhouse. Hansen idled as he readied the radio. Despite the rain and fog the surface of the water was calm. Voices could be heard coming from the dock. The voices were amplified by the sea. Hansen radioed several of the skippers. When he was finished he told Jack, “Get the hook. It’s over there in the red box.”
Jack climbed into the wheelhouse and took the red box off the wall. Hansen then said, “I think one of us will find the boy today. Just have a feeling that’s all. I hope it ain’t Leach.”
As he opened the box Jack could see the hook. It was steel, cold. There were four barbed prongs. It had been sharpened.
“Attach it to the stern line. Use a slip knot. Make it secure,” ordered Hansen.
Then Hansen eased the boat off the mooring. It was day break. Fog and gray clouds blanketed the harbor. The water was cold and dark green. Hansen barked, “Put the hook over. Let it down to the bottom and keep it tight as we drag around the dock. If you feel something let me know right away. Just keep it tight, that’s all.”
Jack dropped the hook over the side. He tightened the line and stood on the port side. Jack could feel the hook strike and fall off rocks below. Hansen maneuvered Molly close to the pilings. The seaweed was thick. It covered the pilings and collected on the taut line as Hansen swept the area. All of this seemed like a dream to Jack. He felt it surreal. He was out of place, he thought. Yet there he was standing in an unreality. The bay was dark and ominous. It seemed like a sea with a black soul. Somehow Jack’s bond to the sea and its men had changed. Everything seemed different. An innocence had been lost.
For a instant Jack took his eyes off the line and looked at Hansen. His face was a grim reality. Jack wondered what was going through his mind. Was this hard man penetrated by sadness? Was it in his makeup, Jack questioned. Jack felt small atop a sea of dark motive. All of this tumbled in his mind in the split second that he looked at his captain.
At 9:30 the fog lifted, the rain stopped but the skies were heavily overcast. Jack could hear the voices from the dock and those of the solemn skippers as they talked over the radio. The boats were moving through the harbor and the channel. Leach was out there. Jack thought that he must be frantic inside yet he maneuvered Rebel with inbred skill. He showed little emotion.
At 10:15 Jack had another cup of coffee. As he watched the line he saw it tighten. He put his hand on it. He could feel it tugging. He yelled to Hansen. Hanson hurried to the stern. Molly idled and held her position. Hansen took the line. He tugged once and said, “That’s it.”
When Hansen said “it” Jack wondered did he mean the boy. Why would he say “it.” Was this just another object being surrendered by the sea? Jack hoped it wasn’t the boy, Leach’s boy. Where was Leach. Jack felt like an intruder on a privacy of sorts. This was an island nightmare. Why was he there, questioned Jack. Why him? It was the boy Jack didn’t want to see him.
Hansen said, “Take the line while I back her up. As I back up pull the line with steady pressure. Don’t let it off. Don’t let it get away from you. Understand?”
Again Jack thought about the word “it.” He couldn’t rid his mind of it as he tugged the line. Several times he could feel the weight shift. At one point he was pulling against the current. Then it became easier. It seemed like hours to Jack. He continued to pull despite fatigue in his arms and shoulders. Hansen stayed at the wheel watching Jack. Hansen merely said, “Steady, steady Jack.”
As Hansen moved the boat closer to the pilings Jack kept a steady pressure on the line. Then he felt it give and Jack saw “it.” It was an object glowing like moon below the surface as it ascended. He then saw two eyes staring. The stare was interrupted only by floating blond hair moving with the currents. The weight was bobbing. Jack fought to keep the line taut. His hands ached and his shoulder muscles twitched. His legs shook like when he had first started hauling traps. Jack pulled harder and the object rose to the surface. Now Jack understood why Hansen had used the word “it.” “It” was lifeless, cold and white. Seaweed was wrapped around the neck like a primitive necklace of charms. Several crabs crawled over the young chest. The plaid shirt was open at the neck. The blue jeans were muddied. Large boots covered the feet. Jack thought …. this thing is not human. There is no spirit here. But it was Leach’s boy, now a remnant of a life, a mere ornament harvested from the sea like a pearl.
Hansen rushed to the stern. Molly idled near the pilings. Hansen grabbed a leg and told Jack to take an arm. They lifted “it” into the boat. “It” smelled pungently and as they placed “it” on its back a gasp rasped from the throat and seawater came from the mouth. Jack jumped back. Then Hansen said, “Fold the arms on the chest, Jack.”
Jack could see that one of the barbed prongs had penetrated and exited in the right flank. There was no blood. Hansen rushed to the wheelhouse. For the first time Jack was left alone with the body. As he looked into the globes that were the eyes he thought of the sadness that he seen in the eyes of the deer slaughtered on the beach. There was a loneliness in the eyes of the boy, a sense of betrayal by life. At least the boy is whole, Jack thought. He had heard stories about what the fish and crabs do to the body of a fallen seaman.
After positioning Molly off of the pilings Hansen rushed to the stern. In his hand the hacksaw. He asked Jack to steady the body and then began to cut away the barb. After he finished he pulled the hook from the boy’s side. He said, “I don’t want Leach to see that.”
Hansen told Jack to return the hook and saw to the box. From the wheelhouse Jack watched Hansen. He was kneeling above the boy’s body. Jack thought that he heard Hansen quietly praying. Hansen returned to the wheelhouse and returned to the stern with a blanket labeled USMC. He placed the blanket over the boy, leaving the head exposed to what had begun as a light rain. Hansen then closed the boy’s eyes and with a gentleness that surprised Jack he brushed the boy’s blond hair to the side.
“You stay with the kid,” said Hansen.
“It” had now become the kid, thought Jack.
Jack sat with the boy in the stern as Hansen radioed the other boats that the search had ended. In hushed tones Hansen spoke to Leach directly and turned the boat for the dock. Once the people on the dock saw the boats returning they huddled in a large group, some still with coffee cups in their hands. In several minutes Molly was tied up. The crowd stayed away when they saw the blanket. Maggie Leach was surrounded by a group of women. Some of them hugged her.
Jack could see Leach’s Rebel at full throttle. The other boats were returning to their moorings avoiding congestion at the dock. Some of the boats followed in Rebel’s wake like a mournful train.
Leach reached the dock in a short time. Leach shut the engine down. His stern man remained seated in the stern as Leach climbed out of Rebel and walked slowly to Molly. Crying could be heard from the shore. Hansen stayed in the wheelhouse. Leach boarded and then knelt by his boy. He too brushed the blond hair to the side. The face was an innocent moon, thought Jack. Leach touched the boy’s cheek with his oily hand. He stayed like that for several minutes then asked for the board. It was brought from the shore by Leach’s stern man. Hansen, Jack, Leach and his stern man rolled the boy onto the board and then carried him to Leach’s open, flatbed truck. Leach then went to Maggie hugged. She put her head on Leach’s chest sobbing. Maggie was helped by several women into the front seat of the truck. Hansen stayed with the boy in the back of the truck. The pickup then left at a slow speed. Jack saw Mary Eakins in the crowd. The two hugged when they found each other. Jack was tired.
“Where are they going?”
“Home,” said Mary.
Jack worked the island boats for the next 27 years. He never saw the hook again except in his dreams.
John Driscoll is a former Cardiologist, a poet, a prose writer and a painter. While his poetry is published in five or six journals, this would be his first publication of his prose work. He lives in Falmouth, Maine.
Fiction Honorable Mention
Extract from The Outhouse by John Leggett
Chapter 1 ~ The Crowing of Roosters
Anthony Romano awoke to the crowing of roosters. It was a sound that echoed and swirled within the high-rise tenements. Most people living in Brooklyn never heard them but, for Anthony, the sound was as commonplace as it was to any farm boy. When he pushed aside his soiled curtain he could see them―two roosters. They sat in cages on Frankie’s eighth-floor fire escape across the alley. The wrought-iron platform was their home between cock fights and each morning they crowed their alarm. Neighbors rarely complained to Frankie because they were afraid of him. The few complaints the cops did respond to resulted in meaningless citations at best. Usually, the uniforms from the 79th told neighbors that, quite honestly, they had better things to do than give tickets to roosters.
Crowing aside, Anthony hadn’t slept well. His mother and new boyfriend made more noise than usual when they fumbled their way into the tiny flat a little past three. Anthony was only twelve, but had heard enough slurred talk and giggling in his short life to know they’d been drinking. He hoped they’d consumed enough to make it a safe night for his mother―no slapping around―no yelling or cursing―hopefully the new boyfriend was too drunk and too tired. Following the hushed words and laughing, he heard the bed springs squeak beneath the collapse of Salvatore’s body. The squeaks were followed by the sounds of his mother’s jewelry being tossed onto the night table―first the earrings, then the bracelets. Anthony’s mother told him she was a waitress but he knew waitresses didn’t dress like she did and waitresses didn’t wear jewelry like she did and waitresses didn’t bring customers home to wait on them.
The sounds of the bed springs and the jewelry were as familiar as the noises from the street below. The sirens, the shouts and hollers from neighboring windows, the squealing of tires, and the occasional gunshots. But his mother was home now . . . safe for the night. She and the new boyfriend would sleep until noon . . . well past the crowing of roosters.
Anthony slid out of bed and walked to the window. Other than a movie poster depicting James Dean as a Rebel Without A Cause, the walls in his room were bare. He had traded a cigarette lighter for the poster. He liked James Dean and he liked Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood. Mineo played a guy named Plato in the movie and James Dean protected him, as if he was his guardian angel. Since he’d seen the movie, Anthony had taken it upon himself to be a guardian angel to Juanita, the four-year-old across the hall. He had been too young to protect his sister, but now he would protect Juanita. He looked at the poster again knowing someday, when he had a girlfriend, she would look like Natalie Wood, but she wouldn’t be mean like she was to James Dean.
The spring in the window shade had broken long ago and Anthony rolled it up manually and then sandwiched it between two nails to hold it in place. He opened the window and took in the ever-present smells of neighborhood cooking. The aromas of dishes prepared by Greeks and Italians and Asians drifted upward from kitchens and blanketed an area of several square blocks.
He pushed the hooded part of his sweatshirt off his head. It was only needed for sleeping―a safety device, like the heavy corduroy pants and combat boots to protect him at night from the rats. The pant legs were tucked inside the boots and the double buckles on the tops were pulled tight to hold them in, the way baseball players tucked their pants into their socks.
In the street below, Bed-Stuy was just waking up. A solitary figure pawed through a trash can and a dog circled and sniffed in search of the right spot to lift his leg. In the distance, he heard the soft wail of a siren―not too far―Flushing Avenue maybe.
Anthony stretched his arms toward the ceiling as he walked past his mother’s room toward the kitchen. His boots were heavy and clunked along the floor. Unlike the old boyfriend, Salvatore didn’t hear the clunking. The old boyfriend, Billie, was a light sleeper. If Anthony woke him, he came out of the bedroom and taught him a lesson on how to be quiet. But Billie was gone now―he’d be sitting in Wallkill prison for six more months.
When he reached the windowless bathroom, he stopped. With his left hand on the light switch, he held his other hand high in the air in preparation to slap a few cockroaches. It was a game he played and when he flicked on the light he managed to get three before the others disappeared into the crack behind the sink. His record was five. Six if you counted the one that flipped to the floor that day and was crushed beneath a combat boot. A quick turn of the faucet sent the casualties down the drain. He stood and watched them swirl, caught in their watery tornado. He took a piss and continued toward the kitchen.
As he passed the door to the hallway, he heard a quiet knocking and knew it was Juanita. She was there most mornings, waiting to hear the flush of the toilet that signaled Anthony was out of bed. When he opened the door she stood in her tattered nightie sucking on two fingers, clutching a doll under her arm.
“So, come in if you’re coming,” he said. He knew she was waiting for him to step aside and, when he did so, she padded past him in bare feet and led the way to the kitchen.
“Where are your slippers?” he asked, but Juanita didn’t answer. She reached the kitchen and set her doll on the table before she climbed onto her chair. Anthony knew she expected breakfast. He lowered himself to a knee making him eye-level with his friend. “What have I told you about bare feet? You know when you walk around in the hall without your slippers you can get a lot of germs right?” Juanita, still with two fingers in her mouth, nodded. Her brown eyes were large and the crust of sleep remained in the corners of her lids.
“Okay then. The next time I see you in the hall, you better be wearing your slippers.” He wondered what James Dean might tell Sal Mineo in this situation. It would be easier when Juanita was older. For now, he settled on protecting her from simple things like germs. “I suppose you want some Cocoa Puffs,” he said as he rose and retrieved the box from a cabinet. Juanita nodded again.
He found a bowl among the dishes in the sink, ran some water over it, and wiped it dry with the towel that hung from the oven door. After filling the bowl, he sniffed the milk before pouring it. It seemed to smell okay but he declined any for himself. He searched the refrigerator which offered a scant menu of leftovers, some boasting a tinge of mold. The shelf on the door held a bottle of ketchup that displayed a hardened ring around its neck, a jar with remnants of a few pickles, and two cans of Budweiser. He spotted the recent addition of a carton from the Chinese take-out around the corner, perhaps brought in by his mother and Salvatore the night before. The flaps were closed but not interlocked and chopsticks protruded from the top. He took it to the table and poked at the lo-mein while he and Juanita shared their quiet breakfast.
She spoke for the first time since he’d let her in. “Are you going to school today?”
“Yeah, I’m going to school. What about you? What are you going to do today?”
“I think I’m going to play. Do you play at school Ant’ny?”
“Yeah,” Anthony said. “School’s a barrel of laughs.”
He watched as she ate her cereal. Other than his mother and Sarah, who had been taken away, Juanita was the only person he cared about. His adoption of his neighbor was perhaps the unconscious replacement for the loss of his sister. Juanita chased the last floating cocoa puff with her spoon and pushed it under the milk before eating it. She left the milk that remained in the bowl making Anthony question its freshness a second time. She wiped her mouth with the sleeve of her nightie and slid off the chair.
“Bye,” she said and she grabbed her doll by the arm and dragged it off the table.
Anthony lowered himself to a knee a second time. “How ’bout a hug?” he asked, and she wrapped her arms around his neck.
“My Plato,” he said.
“What’s a Plato?” she asked him.
“”You’re a Plato. Now go back home and play . . . and put your slippers on.”
After a few steps, she stopped and turned. She leaned forward from the waist making her tangled hair fall from her shoulders and hang like sphagnum moss. She seemed to have something important to tell him but too embarrassed to say it. Her little forehead filled with creases. “I don’t have any slippers,” she whispered.
Of course you don’t, Anthony told himself. “Wear some socks then, but no more bare feet.”
Before leaving the kitchen, he cleared off the table and washed the dishes. He returned to his room and in the safety of daylight he removed his protective clothing. The boots first. He started wearing them to bed over a year ago when he woke to a sharp pain one night and found a rat nibbling on his toe. The boots were already beginning to get tight and he planned to steal a new pair soon. To protect the rest of his body, he had commandeered a pair of heavy corduroy pants and the hooded sweatshirt. He pulled it tight around his face when he slept and left only his nose sticking out for air.
Anthony heard the rats while he waited for sleep―scurrying from one corner of his room to another. Some stepped in his traps and he heard them snap in the wee hours of the morning. There were plenty more where they came from so he continued to wear his armor.
He changed into his school clothes―a pair of jeans, a T-shirt, and sneakers. He’d stolen the sneakers the same way he’d stolen the boots. It had been easy―a subway ride to Flatbush where he wasn’t known, to a department store with a security guard who sat and watched teenage girls trying on new outfits. Anthony swapped the new sneakers for the pair he was wearing and walked around as if trying them out. He neared the exit and then . . . gone . . . out the door like a shot, thinking catch me if you can. His escape was easy―down an alley, over a fence, onto the next street, and a subway ride in his new sneakers back to Lafayette Avenue.
Anthony had some time to kill before leaving for school and he retrieved a cigar box from under his bed. He looked through his treasures: a monogrammed pen from the desk set the faculty had given the principal, two singles, some loose change, and a fishing knife that had two folding blades. A serrated blade for cleaning and a long, sharp blade that he assumed was for cutting off the head. He wasn’t sure because he had never gone fishing. He didn’t know how to fish, but he liked the knife―the feel of it, the power it put inside him. He slipped the two singles and loose change into his pocket, placed the knife back into the box, and returned it to its hiding place under the bed.
When Anthony left for school, he locked the deadbolt with the key that was kept on a lanyard. He then looped it over his head and tucked the key inside his T-shirt. The new ‘out of order’ sign had fallen off the elevator and was lying on the floor covered with footprints. Anthony had never ridden the elevator because it hadn’t worked since he and his mother moved in. The two of them had made trip after trip lugging their belongings to the sixth floor. Billie hadn’t been around that day but he sent two guys over to help with the bed frames and mattresses along with what little furniture they had. They smelled bad and were covered with tattoos. Billie only came around when he needed his mother to work and then he took most of the money.
He descended the stairs two at a time. The walls on both sides displayed gang insignias, random patterns of spray-painted curse words, and offers for sexual favors with phone numbers. The offers for sex were written by kids in the building who made-up the numbers without a thought of who the recipient might be.
It was good to get to the front door and enter the light of day. Anthony stood and looked up, allowing the morning sun to wash his face. He breathed the outside in. Summer was just around the corner and the fresh smell filled his lungs and replaced the stench from the hallway.
The walk to school wasn’t very long and he made it even shorter by cutting down the alley between his building and the next until he reached the chain-link fence. It had been put there to keep kids out. He pulled aside the area of fencing that allowed him to squeeze through. He had made it bigger after tearing one of his shirts when he first found the shortcut. A second alleyway ran behind Vinnie’s Grocery Store and appeared to dead-end at a wooden fence. Anthony knew two of the boards were loose on the bottom and, by separating them, he could squeeze through and step out onto Kingston Avenue. From there, it was a short walk to PS 24.
Just before he reached the boards, the owner of Vinnie’s Grocery emerged from the back door of the store. “You don’t cut through here no more,” he yelled to Anthony’s backside. “I tell you that every day. I’m gonna call the cops. They’ll be here tomorrow . . . waitin’ . . . you’ll see. You don’t come through here no more again.”
Without turning around, Anthony raised his arm high in the air and showed the man his middle finger. He knew there would be no cops tomorrow. There would never be any cops to catch a kid taking a short cut to school. The cops he knew couldn’t even make a couple of roosters stop crowing.
John Leggett grew up in upstate New York and moved to Maine with his wife and two daughters in 1980. He has authored numerous short stories that have been published in periodicals, literary journals, and serialized in Maine newspapers. He completed his first novel, The Five-Cent Gang, in 2014. He is currently working on his second book. His website is www.johnleggettbooks.com.
Margaret F. Tripp Poetry Award
Beyond Cold by Robert Breen
Christmas dawn lights Five Islands in Sheepscots Bay
clear sky off a blue-grey Atlantic gives up
mist, wisps, sheer spirit-sheets to fly in the wind.
Surprise this visit by not one but two herds
of deer. Stag doe hoof to and fro on frozen
snow; for the elusive northern spy, gaze here
inward see across the pond to Ireland.
Many a Coat of Arms two half-moons a blood- red
hand; bare thin mixing sand seaweed to make soil.
Bone-weak barnacle scraped in rags you place seeds
in this Irish barren jagged, creviced coast.
This race saved humanity from ignorance
through its darkest of age. Monks kept the words safe.
Still emerald fields sour betrays us now we leave
set sail thousands in flight. Rite of passage,
hunger fills the coffin ships, sailors’ role
die for a quick close of the lid to pass time.
Below Celtic souls caught between Life and Death
Shadows the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner
lament, down from the ribs of a lapsed vessel.
Beneath the chine tigers of the sea follow
feed on those tossed overboard freed of sorrows
the wooden ship lists in the wake and moves on.
Boat people, foreknown, uncured, unwanted, lame
bear up on shore live. Orchards flush here in mass.
Fawns stretch to feast, to breathe free against the tide.
Robert Breen was born in Boston, Massachusetts, graduating from University of Massachusetts. During his decade’s long career as a Boston firefighter, he attended the summer writing program at Harvard. His poem, “The Eighth Circle” was published in the 2000 Harvard Summer Review. Robert’s helmet is mentioned in Seamus Heaney’s poem, “Helmet”, in his book, District and Circles, about firefighters and their heroic deeds. He resides in Brunswick, Maine with his wife, Karen and is writing a book on his friendship/ letters with Seamus and his evolving poetry.
Poetry Honorable Mention
Back to the Land by Wendy Knickerbocker
Has a breezy grace,
Knowing and humble.
Anywhere the light is,
There roots renew.
Wind passes, grass stays.
Black Elk said,
Our ancestors are grass.
I can believe that.
Wendy Knickerbocker is a native of Bar Harbor, and she now lives in Castine with her husband, David Avery. She was an academic librarian for over 20 years, serving College of the Atlantic, Rhode Island College, and Maine Maritime Academy. She still does some (pro bono) cataloging for libraries, along with contract indexing and editing. She is the author of two books: Sunday at the Ballpark: Billy Sunday’s Professional Baseball Career, 1883-1890, and Bard of the Bethel: The Life and Times of Boston’s Father Taylor, 1793-1871. Along with other activities and afflictions, she is a serious Red Sox fan.
Richard F. Snow Nonfiction Award
Journal 2014-2015 by Sarah Fullilove
December 21, 2014
Solstice greetings to all! This is the event we start looking forward to in mid fall when the days grow noticeably shorter and the sun descends towards the horizon as it tracks across the sky each day. Today we turn the corner. Our planet miraculously begins to tilt in the opposite direction and we begin our gradual return to longer days, and eventually, to much anticipated warmth. The light at the end of the tunnel may be distant and a bit difficult to see from here, but today with a good set of binoculars and a large measure of hope, you can just spot that elusive equinox popping in and out of view like a far distant star. It always reminds me of a few lines I read years ago: “I heard a bird sing in the dark of December. We are closer to Spring than we were in September.” Happy Solstice everyone!
January 30, 2015
It’s a New England winter. That malevolent old devil of a season has thrown everything at us here in Maine this week. The blizzard on Tuesday quite literally buried us in snow. The wind was complimentary. Digging through the drifts on Tuesday night in order to free my imprisoned furnace vents from accumulating snow, all in conditions that would set a Polar bear to dreaming of Antigua, found me wondering if succumbing to carbon monoxide poisoning would be preferable to a frozen demise outdoors. Two days of relentless digging helped renew the illusion of control. Yet last night a new storm rolled in. The snow has been falling gently all day. Winter has blessed us with yet another foot of this frigid, picturesque moisture. At this point, despair begins to chip away at your emotional foundation as your aching back screams. “Uncle!” Then I recall a quote my dear friend Jeanne gave me years ago: “This life is a test. It is only a test. If it were a real life you would have been given better instructions about where to go and what to do.” So I grab my well used snow shovel, shake my fist at my determined adversary, Winter, and tell him that I will pass this test. Better yet, I know something he doesn’t: In a few months time, with a little luck, deity willing, I will still be here, and he will have succumbed to that magic of melting earth and spring flowers. Hang on everyone!
February 9, 2015
It’s snowing again here in Maine! Déjà vu can’t possibly be a French phrase. It has to have been devised by some poor Mainer who just shoveled the same path to the wood pile for the tenth time in three weeks. According to one of my exercise gurus, inactivity makes the brain go slack and exercise perks it up and keeps the aging brain youthful and alert. After weeks of steady shoveling, my brain must be so well nourished that I could give Steven Hawking a run for his money and I’m certain it has developed the youthful vigor of a two year old. Yet as I cleared paths today (for the tenth time) I realized that the dedicated business owners in Maine who rely on our legendary summers to make a buck have missed it completely. Ditto the spas that lure you to some halcyon climate for two weeks and ply you with vegan meals and yoga. I’m opening my own winter survival spa: Build upper body strength and emotional endurance by spending several winter weeks in picturesque Maine! (Don’t worry about having a flexible schedule. Winter runs well into late April here! )
February 28, 2015
I went snow shoeing today and trekked deep into the woods where I always find a sense of peace and order. Such treks are often spiritual journeys, searches for signs along the trail that this rather confusing life has purpose, meaning, and divine oversight. These walks are where I often ponder science versus spirituality. Having grown up in a culture of reductionism which seems to shrink everything in the observable world to a series of predictable formulas that exclude magic and miracles, I fumble towards a different truth, shrugging off the conventional beliefs I grew up with. I have a born again friend who condemns my particular pursuit telling me the doctrine her religion adheres to is the only true way to find the deity. Yet as I walk past stands of stately hemlocks creating cathedrals in their gathering, I think that all religions are merely tools we use to approach a higher power, and when focused on this pursuit and not on political, economic, or philosophical dominance, all are valid paths leading to the same destination. I learn so much by walking in woods and listening to trees. There is something comforting in being part of it all, and if the supreme being didn’t meet me with outstretched arms as my walk ended, the lessons of leaf litter and changing seasons always help to bring me one step closer.
March 10, 2015
I sat out on the deck today. Two short weeks ago I would have scurried across it in an attempt to stay one step ahead of the frigid air, absurdly clad in so many layers of clothing that I was forced to waddle. Yet today 45 degrees felt balmy and the sweet music of water dripping off the roof was a symphony in late afternoon when the sun worked its’ magic. Make no mistake. This is Maine and we remain surrounded by a sea of snow. I could still spot winter out of the corner of my eye, leering at me from behind the tall white pine that shades the ground and allows him a comfortably cool spot to plan his revenge in the form of spring storms. He’s such a poor loser. “Look” I told him, “See that bare patch of ground? It may be in a pathway that I cleared myself, but it means you will inevitably lose this battle.” Has time taught you nothing?” The ignorant villain twirled his moustache and the look in his eye told me in no uncertain terms that he was not yet finished here. You reach an age when you have witnessed his return for nearly 70 winters, and you wonder, as that first cold frost in autumn steals away life from the landscape, if this is the winter that will finally defeat you once and for all. Today was the first day when I felt that I had emerged victorious yet again. “Better luck next year” I shouted at old man winter. I’m here to stay for one more glorious spring and one more breathtaking summer. He shrugged, knowing that time is on his side as well. Some day he will have his way. But not this year.
It’s a magnificent, sun bright Sunday here in Maine. I abandoned chores and headed into the woods on snow shoe. Yes, dear friends in New Mexico, there remains enough snow cover here to require snow shoes. Winter has been persistently hanging out like an unwanted house guest who long ago overstayed his welcome. In spite of the best efforts of a sun that has ascended to heights only imagined in January, snow is still the dominant feature across our landscape. The record low temperatures last night left a new veneer of ice in small and isolated spots where meltoff water had appeared. Somewhat disgruntled by the failure of the equinox to send winter packing, I trudged on through favorite places we yearn to see clad in green rather than white. Then, quite suddenly, something silver flashed across the corner of my eye, and there they were: Pussy Willows. They may not be as showy as the daffodils. They certainly don’t bear the fragrance of lilacs. Gardeners tell me other plants show life before their arrival, but to me, they have always been a sure and certain sign that winter won’t have the last laugh after all. Unable to resist bringing just a few branches home, they are sitting in front of me now giving me their sweet yet admonishing glances. Patience is a virtue nature teaches us over and over again. Winter is giving way to spring and new growth. All we need do is wait a little longer. It must be true. The Pussy Willows are telling me so.
April 1, 2014
I was out in the woods adjacent to my yard today clearing away small Hemlocks in an ongoing effort to flood my garden spaces with enough sunlight to make those sun loving vegetables feel at home: brilliant sun, cobalt blue skies, and melting snow here in Maine. I felt the oddest rushing sensation in my veins and immediately started trying to recall the last article I read listing the symptoms women experience prior to a heart attack. Then I realized it was simply my blood thawing and moving a bit faster through my body in response to the relative warmth we are experiencing today. I smiled and leaned against my favorite tree. Does our blood respond to spring in the same way sap does in a tree? “You bet,” said the tree. At my age you face winter like a soldier going into battle. You don’t know if you will be going home or not. Winter, you old devil: I beat you again. It’s so darn good to be alive. I sat for awhile by the little pond near my house and discovered these mosses putting out new green growth. I had the most extraordinary conversation with a bird. We whistled back and forth for a good fifteen minutes. I felt some guilt as he would have been broken hearted to discover his whistles had been wasted on the wrong species of animal. Some folks wing away to distant destinations on vacation. Some folks live in fancy houses and surround themselves with a lot of elaborate stuff. Wealth: I’ll take a day like today to the bank when you realize the best things in life really are free and spring finds you no matter who you are or where you live. For sure: It’s so darn good to be alive!
April 4, 2014
Well, it has taken days of intense labor, bow saw in hand, to clear enough of the Hemlocks behind my house to let the sun shine through onto my garden spaces. Spring has been gently easing her way onto the landscape as I worked. There are patches of bare ground here and there, and I saw a Robin this morning. These harbingers of the changing seasons confirm that the earth continues her reliable tilt towards the sun here in the northern hemisphere. Maine may lag behind in welcoming the changing season, but we relish each small change with joy and anticipation…..Still, there is a haunting sadness at cutting down trees. I cut a large Birch the other day and the sap flowed so freely that I felt I had murdered a kindred spirit. I found myself in tears. I do apologize to each tree I cut down, but I’m not sure if this tips the spiritual scales in my favor. foolish human. Still, I think there should be tears when a tree falls.
April 12, 2014
Here in Maine, we wait all winter for a day like this: warm sun, brilliant blue skies ,and a few early risers from the insect world testing the waters. Much to my delight, the larger of my vegetable beds was ready to be turned. I love this task and pray my anatomy will be up to it for years to come. There is something primal and deeply comforting about turning garden soil in spring. It reminds me of the boundless generosity of the planet and fills me with remorse for the destructive way we often treat her. Good soil is a treasure far more valuable than gold. (an understatement!) Care for the soil and the soil will provide for you. It seems so simple. How do we miss it? With a joy I can’t quite describe, I turned my spade to the job at hand. Then there is that smell, that wonderful smell of decomposing matter and soil waking from its’ frozen slumber. You can have Chanel #5. I’ll take the smell of freshly turned soil in spring to any other exotic odor. Add to this the fact that a small seed snuggled into this beautiful earth grows to a plant that provides food. Want a miracle? Don’t look any further than your gardens.
April 15, 2014
For anyone living up north, words are probably unnecessary in the face of crocus in bloom. These are in my friend Suzie’s garden. She lives on top of our hill and the wind and sun usher spring in slightly earlier than it arrives for us in the wooded hollow at the end of our road. But spring sauntered down the lane today in her characteristically unhurried way. Try as we may, no one can convince her to move with a bit more speed or to arrive any earlier than she wants to. Human need simply doesn’t figure into her travel plans. Yet blessed by her benevolent warmth, the piles of snow are rapidly receding. To my overwhelming joy, the daffodils are pushing up everywhere I planted them. There are fresh green shoots among the Yarrow, Sedum, and Coral Bells. As I cleared away hay mulch and liberated the perennials from the effects of nine feet of snow, I considered balance. This is Maine and winter can depress the spirit under the massive weight of accumulated ice and snow. Yet come a day like this that battered spirit soars and sings in ways unknown to those who live in softer spots at lower latitudes. The see saw tilts us low in winter, but come spring we gain altitude in such a momentous way that you can see forever from this height. Balance. Is this an absurd rationalization,” I asked the crocus? “Why do you need to ask such a silly a rhetorical question?” they replied.
April 14, 2014
It’s a glorious day here in Maine. I took my favorite woods walk and discovered to my delight that the sun had worked its’ magic and all though those woods are expanding patches of bare ground expanding within the carpet of snow. Little streamlets of melting water all sang the same song: Spring is truly on its way. You can trek deep into the woods here and think you are far from the things of man, and then you come across an old stone wall. I love these walls and always try to see the lives of the folks who built them: They were far from even visualizing our modern age. They carved a livelihood out of this rocky, unforgiving land, and I can only imagine the difficulties they faced. Yet I suspect the folks who built this particular wall had an intimate knowledge of the land, the seasons, and their place in the revolving circles of nature. I’m one of those old folks who think kids are missing a lot these days by playing video games instead of building a tree house out in the woods. Has our modern technology taken away more than it has given? Have we traded away our intimate connection to the earth for gadgets that entertain and distract us? Have our accomplishments removed us from the soul soothing feeling one experiences in the natural world? I keep asking the old stone walls, but they just stare back at me, snuggle deeper into the land, sigh in frustration, and tell me I am foolish to even ask the question.
May 8, 2014
The nights are still cool here in Maine, but the benevolent sun warms the days to temperatures that soothe and comfort a winter weary population of flora and fauna, humans included. Pastures and open fields are turning a vibrant green that brings Ireland to mind. A world that was solidly and stubbornly frozen two months ago has miraculously had a change of heart and the softening earth gives birth to new growth. Then suddenly, there are the daffodils. They spent their winter buried under three feet of snow. Their location in colder months is lost as the landscape transforms to an artic snow scene. Yet there were those spiky leaf tips several weeks ago, awakened by the lengthening days, the warming sun, and I’d love to think a defiant streak that informs the lingering winter that his presence is no longer wanted. Now they bloom and bow gracefully in the breeze, ignore the chilly evenings, and inform us in brilliant yellow terms that the hard winter has succumbed. Poetry aside, they have a wordless way of saying that difficult times will pass, just as winter inevitably gives way to daffodils.
May 19, 2015
Maine is my argument for a benevolent deity this time of the year. She threw a winter at us that tested heart, soul, and lower back; yet like a repentant lover, she now tosses random bouquets of wildflowers to us by way of apology, and then there is spring green. Not to be confused with your run of the mill green, this shade speaks riotously of the determination of life to continue. When the sun shines through newly emerging spring leaves, there is a brilliance that puts anything lit by neon in Las Vegas to utter shame. These little Bluets are blooming everywhere now, reminding me that even after the harshest of seasons, there is fragile beauty that emerges unscathed. Nature remains my best teacher.
We’re a few days from the Solstice as I write. One can’t help but have mixed feelings on the day we bid farewell to Spring. We know it marks the start of the summer season, but it also whispers gently that the light bringing growth to gardens and forests alike will ever so slowly begin to recede.. Yet to dwell on this fact with so much life and beauty all around seems intrinsically counterproductive. The Iris are spectacular this year. To me way of thinking, these floral miracles make orchids pale in comparison. Their delicate beauty seems to stand in stark contrast to the rugged landscape that surrounds them. They hunker down in winter and gather strength from this quiet time when the ground is frozen and life itself seems to be in suspended animation. Come spring, they burst forth with a renewed vigor that expresses itself in the most fabulous of blossoms. They seem so very wise in this strategy of rest and rejuvenation. If there are other lifetimes to come, I wouldn’t mind returning as an Iris.
July 1, 2015
Summer, barely two weeks along, is still in her infancy. Yet with the skill and confidence of a prima ballerina, she has danced across the countryside and painted our corner of the world in deep, rich shades of green: backdrop for the profusion of color that flowers of every shape and hue bring to the party. Time has an odd way of passing too swiftly as we enjoy the show. The Daffodils have quickly given way to Delphiniums, and these in turn will yield the stage to Daylilies. Nothing we say or do can urge them to stay past their appointed time. There is a redeeming quality to this loss, of course. If the flowers lingered all year, their beauty might become commonplace, and that rush of joy one feels at the sight of the first rose in bloom would diminish and fade away. Our gratitude for summer color is even more pronounced here in Maine where summers so quickly give way to fall and winter takes your breath away not with flowers, but with biting cold: that thief who diligently tries to steal away the memory of summer in bloom. As I rushed past them the other day, intent on completing a number of tasks, the admonishing Delphiniums issued their emphatic warning: Slow down and enjoy the performance, you silly fool. What could possibly be more important than pausing to acknowledge and enjoy the beauty all around you? They are often such good teachers, my wise and wonderful Delphiniums. I need to listen to them much more often. Their time to teach is brief, but that’s as it should be they tell me. You have to pay attention when the time is right.
July 7, 2015
They appeared overnight, these sudden and unexpected visitors: a late blooming poppy whose seeds hitched a ride with a different plant given to me by my dear friend Susan. The delicate blossoms are a shade of pink that only flowers can wear successfully. Try to duplicate it on your wall or in your wardrobe and it would look garish and quite tasteless. Yet when a flower dons this hue, the result is unequaled beauty. Though their stand up show is meant to attract pollinators, I always take it personally. The flowers in my garden and all along the roadside call you back to life. Forget the evening news they say. There is good news out here about life, living, and a miraculous little planet that gives seeds and flowers a healthy nudge towards existence. If there is integrity in my soul at all, it comes from noticing the unexpected beauty of a summer flower.
July 30, 2014
It’s late July in Maine: The days are often warm and humid, and Summer takes on an indolent attitude. Her work is almost done after all. Her long days have left the gardens bursting with vegetables, the landscape rich with deep green hues, and the frantic growth of Spring long ago ceased. She can relax now and enjoy her moment in the sun. I spent the sultry afternoon gathering blueberries, batting away the insects that wanted to feast on me as I feasted on this gift from nature. (Insects are part of our barter system here in Maine: the price we pay for the moisture that gives us verdant green forests and rich garden soil.) I strolled home through the forest road and warned Summer that the obvious signs of her demise are all around: The days are noticeably shorter now, and the Goldenrod, that sure and certain harbinger of fall, bows its’ head all along the roadsides, humbly and colorfully reminding all of us that Autumn follows Summer with a certainty that nothing else in life provides. A cousin who lives in the mono-seasonal state of Florida once asked me why anyone would live in a place where winters demand so much of us. The answer is simple: Season gives way to season here, and each has its’ own characteristic face of beauty. As I approach the early winter of my own life, the changing seasons remind me to celebrate each day of life remaining, for me, and for summer.
August 27, 2015
As children we called them Black Eyed Susans, but in more sophisticated garden parlance they are named Rudbekia. They have taken to my perennial gardens with such glorious success that slower growing plants can only nod in admiration. They bloom quite late in our summer season and have thus become my partners in denial. The obvious signs are here: Daylight turns to darkness earlier each day. The tomatoes long ago escaped their wire cages and their branches hang like tired arms overburdened with ripening fruit. The crickets issue a warning in their persistent chorus: Make sure the firewood is dry and stacked they admonish. (Do they read the Farmer’s Almanac, these vocal insect companions? It predicts another bitter, snowy winter here in Maine.) But today I prefer to take counsel from the sunny, optimistic Rudebekia: my wise coconspirators. In our own way of knowing things we both realize summer warmth will give way to frost, and frost will subsequently yield to frozen ground. But not today. Today I walked barefoot across soft green grass and my stalwart little sunflowers spread thread like roots through soil recently nourished by falling rain. We have today they tell me. Don’t lose it while you wonder about snows to come.
September 6, 2015
Summer, in a whirl of youthful vigor, stole the show from Autumn today. He tried to hold his own, but the stage was hers alone. The Cicadas raucous voices drowned out the Crickets in the competition and the temperatures soared past 90. Our little pond wore the sleepy look she gets when heat drenched days still the thin veneer of pollen on her surface and the frogs keep low in shady places, only revealing the location of their hideouts when I approach to hear a sudden splash. In Maine we are hardly deceived by this burst of youthful energy. Summer wasn’t glancing at the calendar today, but Fall tossed a few falling leaves her way and pelted her with dropping acorns. He hates to be upstaged when September rolls around. Heedless of these tactics, she dodged the assault by riding one of those balmy breezes that always brings to mind the blast of heat your oven emits when you’re pulling out a loaf of fresh baked bread. Far be it from me to tell her to act her age. Her inevitable departure is at hand, but why not exit with a burst of enthusiasm? She’ll be a hard act to follow. I think I’d like to go this way too: turning cartwheels like a crazy kid and making people scratch their heads at this immature behavior so late in the game. Fall frowned at me for thinking this, but Summer laughed and said your final performance should be your best!
October 2, 2014
This diminutive hill is behind my house. We call it the ‘island’ and the neighborhood kids love to climb on the huge twin boulders that grace its’ peak. When I arrived here, the woods were so dense that the rocks were not visible. One day a month, a neighbor has been cutting Hemlocks and Maples a few trees at a time as I drag slash and move log chunks into orderly piles, thus creating garden spaces and allowing the sun to pour into the house and onto our island. (After living in New Mexico for twenty years I crave sun like some sort of solar addict.) We worked all day yesterday and I labored today to clear the hillside of leafy debris. Of course there is remorse over cutting down trees whose girth indicates their age may exceed my own, (and that’s going some!) What always amazes me is that folks cleared this same land centuries ago without benefit of chain saws or any of the mechanized devices that make the work relatively easy these days. I am similarly awed by their stone walls that meander deep into our New England woods and I marvel that these folks cleared this rugged land to grow the food they needed to survive. Sure, my vegetable gardens are incentive for this tree clearing frenzy, and I will surely do some canning next year when my garden spaces yield enough produce, but the people who lived here hundreds of years ago didn’t have the luxury of running down to Hannafords every time the pantry was bare. And I know they connected with the land and the changing seasons in a way we have mostly forgotten or have the luxury of ignoring. They wasted little and the word recycle was not part of their vocabulary, it was an intrinsic and necessary part of their lives. Few of us would choose to go back and live in the era that preceded antibiotics and the technological wonders we take for granted, but we have a lot to learn from those hardy humans. The tree stumps will always remind me of this.
October 30, 2014
Fall has passed by in slow motion this year. Though summer ended well over a month ago and her dazzling performance has ended, she keeps on returning to the stage to take another bow and grace our days with short encores. Many of my perennial flowers are blissfully ignoring the obvious signs of impending cold weather and continue to bloom. The apple trees I planted this year are sporting new green leaves. Although we have passed our peak foliage days according to the weather folk who dutifully report on this flamboyant autumnal show of color, many of the trees still shimmer in the afternoon sun with breathtaking hues. These Birch trees stand a short distance from my house and watching them today as the sun intermittently bathed them in a spotlight that turned them golden, I thought of Robert Frost’s poem….’Nature’s first green is gold. Her hardest hue to hold. Her early leaf’s a flower; But only for an hour.” Here in New England, the dramatically changing seasons always remind us of transience. Yet here and in the tropics, change is the only certainty in life. So today I thank this wise New England poet and the Birch trees near my home for reminding me to relish the beauty around me in whatever time I am allotted. It’s a good thing you know, this brevity. Eternal life would surely lead me to ignore the beauty in changing leaves or the astonishing realty of flowers blooming in October. “So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay.”
Sarah Fullilove has been fortunate enough to live in beautiful places: the Maine coast, the high desert of New Mexico. the Colorado Rockies, the red rock country of Arizona. In all these spots, nature has always been her mentor, her teacher and her pathway to a higher power. She returned to Maine after nearly two decades of teaching school on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico. She says she has been fortunate enough to connect with her New England roots, and with the beauty and integrity of this state. These journal entries were really written by the Maine seasons. Sarah simply copied.
Nonfiction Honorable Mention
Charlie by Deanna Baxter
Anthropomorphize is not a word in my general vocabulary. That changed when I met Charlie. I met Charlie and his friends when we moved to Carrolwood Lakes. Shortly after getting settled, Charlie, a run-of-the-mill farm goose; Sedgewick, a beautiful stripped goose; and the girls, plain white geese, appeared on our back patio which overlooks the lake. They were very young then. But from the start, Charlie was the leader. He did have a small flaw. Instead of honking, he would give out a loud squeaky noise. Sedgewick although smaller, possessed a very loud honking noise, something between a car horn and a bicycle whistle. Many a morning we would awaken with Sedgewick’s dramatic call for breakfast. I forgot to mention that we faithfully fed Charlie, Sedgewick, and the girls.
Sedgewick’s dramatic honk may have been the root of his demise. We came back from a vacation and only Charlie and the girls greeted us.
Charlie seemed to understand he was now solely responsible for himself and the girls. They had their rituals. Charlie would not eat corn until the girls had their fill. I thought he might starve so I would isolate a small pile laying it on a far corner of the patio. He would eye it, but not leave the girls. He was their protector. When they had finished eating he would lead the way to the lake. Always he jumped in first and the girls would follow. He then would take a big drink of the lake water and throw his long neck back and let it run down his throat. The girls would follow his example.
They had their daily route. The next stop was the other side of the lake. It was shallow there. Charlie would dive down in the water with his tail feathers sticking straight up and gather goodies from the mud and slime on the bottom of the lake. The girls would follow suit. This exercise took a good while and when they tired out they would climb to the bank and take a nap. Charlie would let the girls nap. Once they woke up, he would then rest and the girls would be on alert.
Charlie’s protective instincts sometimes got him into trouble. There was something about joggers that got his attention. Charlie and the girls would be feeding and napping on the common area beside the lake. If a jogger came running by, Charlie would chase them. If you were watching you couldn’t help but smile as you watched the heightened gait of the jogger.
If you are a casual observer, geese seem ungrateful when they are fed. If you come close, they put their head down, run toward you and hiss. Charlie could be very dramatic with his hiss if you came too close.
One Spring Charlie and the girls were very busy trying to start a family. Charlie was very industrious in doing his part, but the girls didn’t want to sit too long on the eggs. It took another Spring before a baby goose was born.
In the meantime, Charlie became impatient. One day four little ducks were aimlessly swimming in the lake. Evidently they had lost their Mother. Charlie took over and Charlie was fiercely protective. They did not leave his sight. The four little ducks even walked in a straight row behind him, and just like the girls, when they jumped into the water they held their necks back and took a drink of the lake water.
One afternoon we had a dramatic event. The little ducks began to fly. Charlie looked startled. He ran down the little hill toward the water and tried to fly. Charlie did get about three feet in the air, but it wasn’t enough. The little ducks took off across the lake. Charlie seemed subdued for a while, but he did continue to be faithful to the girls.
On a Spring day the following year Charlie and the girls came for breakfast with a new addition. I called him Charlie Jr. because he looked just like his Dad. One could not view the new family without observing the great care Charlie Jr. received. You would have to say he was spoiled. Even the girls waited till Charlie Jr. was fed.
For a few years they were one happy family. But when Charlie Jr. grew to maturity, he challenged Charlie Sr. to be the leader. It was painful to watch. A fight ensued and Charlie Sr. lost. He was no longer allowed to be a part of the family. He was expelled. Charlie Jr. and the girls would not let Charlie Sr. even feed close to them. If he came within eight feet of them, Charlie Jr. would put his head down, give a dramatic hiss and chase Charlie Sr. away. Charlie Sr. seemed to lose his will to fight or maybe he knew something we didn’t.
A short time later, Charlie Sr. just disappeared. I even went to the head of the lake looking for him. Other neighbors who had come to respect Charlie looked for him too. None of us could find him. We assumed the worse.
About three months later to my surprise I looked out my window and there was Charlie swimming in the lake with a severely crippled Canadian Goose. The goose had two broken wings with nothing left but jagged bone edges. Quickly I ran out and made a lot of noise opening the big can of corn. To my delight, I heard a weak squeaky honk. Charlie had come home! He came up slowly over our small hill with the crippled goose behind him. The crippled goose was reluctant to get too close. Charlie came within three feet of me. He looked me straight in the eye. One eye seemed a little cloudy and he had a slight limp. But there was no change in attitude. He lifted his long neck and looked at me again as if to say, “What are you waiting for? Pour the corn.” Quickly, I poured out the corn in a big pile. Then I decided to go in and watch from the window. Charlie puffed out his chest in his old guarding stance and stepped aside. Right away, the crippled goose came up and began eating corn. When she was finished Charlie had his fill. Then they slowly ambled off down to the water. As they swam off, they took a big drink of the lake water and threw their necks back and let it run down their throats.
That was the last time I saw Charlie. The movers came the next day and I left Carrolwood Lakes.
The puzzle for me is did I ascribe human attributes to a goose or did he show me by example that we held a lot in common?
Deanna Baxter grew up in Lexington, Kentucky. Her early years were filled with happy family memories and fun antics with a bevy of colorful and expressive friends. She married in her early twenties and she and her husband have shared good times in four different states and several communities within each of the four states. They have two children who have experienced a variety of cultural experiences and learned early the excitement of adventure. Both Deanna and her husband have worked in educational settings and have always been interested in helping others to achieve their goals. Writing has always an a vocation and a way for Deanna to express what she sees, feels and believes as she makes her journey through life.
TPL Teen Scene Award
Perpetual Waves by Arielle Leeman
Sitting on the sand in solitude, I trace my green eyes back and forth with every crash and tumble over the horizon. Golden beams of sun fall through the air to glisten the tips of my hair. Nature cut away the rocks to my right with sharp, jagged curves paving the way to the bottom of the sea, so vast and so endless. My heart pounds in my ears thinking of all the time and how limited it is in number.
Watching the crash of the waves sparks light and empowerment. The incredible force of each tumble stampedes its way to the coast in perpetual existence. Just as the way the waves never stop crashing, time never stops ticking. Life goes by with the light of joy and the glares of darkness. There are stumbling blocks in your path as there are rocks in the path of the waves. Just as I watch the waves tumble but continue on, so too in life I shall stumble but persevere.
The peaceful soothing sound of the sea and the sand between my toes brings true bliss. Though the company of others is wonderful at times, the company of oneself can be quite extraordinary. Being on your own can make you not only appreciate the people in your life, but all the gifts you are given and the experiences you have. As simple as watching the water trace back and forth along the coast makes you appreciate the beauty that lies before you at every glance. The cold air blowing through each strand of my curly, brown hair is a reminder. The safety of the state as well as the state of mind brings comfort and thankfulness. My teeth chatter in the breeze of late September in Maine. Watching the clouds, then watching the ways makes the sky and sea seem no longer two. Looking far enough in the distance, the horizon is the perfect blend of blue from the marvelous colors of nature.
In this moment, time is almost tangible. It drifts by me, providing coveted context to an otherwise infinite moment. Time itself is the winding river that erodes me, steadily chipping away at my ephemeral human form. 5 seconds becomes 5 minutes, rushing into 5 months, and falling into 5 years. My existence is defined by time.
I watch a tiny ant struggle across each grain of sand like a boulder, an immense obstacle to be crossed. This ant provides me with a sense of scale, for I am simultaneously massive and minuscule. In the eyes of the universe, I am but a grain of sand in the riverbed of time, pushed by waves and cast upon a beach. Yet to the ant fighting its way up my leg, I am all that exists in its moment. My legs are vast plains, stretching onward for scores of miles. That ant cannot grasp my proportion and from his context I am immense. This struggle of perspective is what I wrestle with now. I am to the ant as the universe is to me.
I take careful note of how minutes continue to drift by. The beauty of the ocean is of my absolute favorite scenes. I love to sit, listen to the waves and contemplate the incredible expanse before me. I could watch the endless waves indefinitely. The minutes, seconds, hours all feel the same, each a different measure of the same terribly beautiful medium. Much like the rocks that lay to my right. I now am drowning. Not in water but in that rushing river of time, because when you take away the bustle of the city, buzz of the text, and shouts of society, you’re left with solitude, time, and the contents of your heart.
Arielle Leeman is a junior at Morse High school in Bath. She enjoys writing, and would like to continue writing for enjoyment. She is involved in sports teams for Morse all three seasons (Soccer, Swimming and Tennis), and really enjoys all things musical too (band, Jazz band and a choir in Freeport). She likes to do activities in the community as well. She wishes there were more than 24 hours in the day.
Teen Honorable Mention
The Nightclub by Will Kinney
He arrived in the city at nine. He stepped off the train, a young man in his middle-twenties, dressed in a suit and tie and a hat, his father’s gray fedora. He walked down the street. It was a hot, humid day in June. Cars went by and people walked past him, no one talking.
This was nothing like Olson. You would see cars, but never this many, and never as nice as these. The ones he’d seen were all small-town jobs, dusty and clunking along to their destinations. He felt happy that he was where he wanted to be, sort of. He did not miss his home. He was in the big city! The place he had dreamed about for years!
His name was Daryl Bauer, and as he walked down the street to nowhere in particular, he was terrified.
Victor De Lino woke at his usual hour, eight o’clock, and rolled out of bed with a cough. He smoked too many cigarettes these days, he knew that, but he couldn’t seem to stop. He was only thirty-six, but he had aged quite a bit, his black hair having gray patches on the sides, his wrinkles, the cough he had developed, and his voice, the way he had of talking which seemed to say he had no hope or future.
Victor didn’t eat breakfast. He sat with a cup of coffee and looked out the window. He didn’t know why he stayed in Los Angeles. There was no money to be made there anymore. People were picking up and moving to Las Vegas. That desert town had become the center of gambling, the big time. Victor knew his club, Vick’s, was in a hole. He would just have to get it out of there, little by little, more
money, and he’d go up a couple inches. But meanwhile, the hole got deeper. He could never get ahead, get up even a few inches. He never could.
Daryl stayed at the Desmond Hotel, a small place that was fine, if a person didn’t have much money and nowhere to stay the night. It was cheap, but it was all he could afford. He took a long time to fall asleep that night. He had thought Los Angeles would have bright lights and people walking around, all happy that they were in the city. He was disappointed. All anyone seemed to do was drive around, and the people who did walk never spoke, but just went on their way. He needed a job. Where, though? He hadn’t gone to college. No one did in Olson. He hadn’t done too many jobs. Working for Mr. Till on his farm. At the local gas station. In a convenience store.
None of that was good enough to get a job in Los Angeles. He would have to look tomorrow. His mother had always said to worry about whatever it was you were worried about tomorrow. Always tomorrow. You did as much as you could in the day, and then it’s over.
His mother had said that all the time, even when it was 9:00 in the morning and she just wanted him and his brothers out of the way. He laughed a little at the memory then turned over and fell asleep.
“How much?” Victor was incredulous.
“I’d say fifteen thousand, ballpark,” the man said to him.
“Fifteen thousand? I’ll never have that kind of money.”
“If you so choose, you may sell your club,” the man from the bank said.
Victor walked him to the door. “Goodbye, Mr. De Lino,” he said. “Best of luck.” He walked off.
Victor sat at one of the tables and drank a triple scotch. Ollie, the bartender came over and sat down across from him.
“Bad?” he asked.
“Worse,” Victor said.
“Well, that’s quite a bit. How do we get it?”
“We can’t. I’m gonna have to sell this place. Get outta here.”
“Where will you go?”
“Las Vegas. Gamble a little, get lucky, then another nightclub.”
“How do you know if it’ll work out?”
“Do you ever shut up?” Victor snapped. “I’d just like some peace and quiet!”
“Sorry.” He got up and went off to another room.
Victor went into his office, set his scotch down, and opened the top drawer of the file cabinet. He pulled out a small pistol with a short barrel. He checked the cartridge. It was loaded.
He sat down, cocked it, set it on his desk. He took another sip. Looked at it.
What if he did it? No one would care. No one did care. No one would ever care. He threw his glass against the wall. He put his head down and cried for a long time.
“Sorry kid”, “I need someone with experience”, “Get outta here, sonny”. That was all Daryl had heard during the last five hours. He had gone at the job market with gusto and walked off back to the hotel with nothing. He went to his room and sat on the bed. The bedsprings creaked a little.
It was late afternoon. The sun was going down over the city. He decided to take a walk.
Daryl felt like he was nothing. He really was. A nothing. No future, little education. No woman had ever liked him or wanted to go out with him. In Olson, he’d had few friends. He walked with his head down, under the streetlights and with the people. The city was nothing like he’d imagined.
Daryl walked into a park and sat on a bench. A dirty man with ragged clothes sat there. He was lean and unshaven.
“Where’d you come from,” the man said. “No one ever sits with a bum on a bench. Not here.”
“Really?” Daryl said.
“Not unless it’s another bum. You got a lotta nerve.”
“Where I come from, people talk to other people.”
“Well, must be a long way from here.”
“Yeah.” They were silent. Daryl stared at the ground.
“You wouldn’t happen to have any change, would you?” he asked.
“Here.” Daryl handed him a couple quarters and some pennies.
“Thanks. You know, you shouldn’t sit in a park at night. It’s not safe.”
I won’t. Good night.” He walked away.
It was full night, now. He walked home.
Victor stood in the club and looked around. Not crowded, not many people. The gambling room was nearly empty. People didn’t come here to gamble, they came to get a drink, if they came here at all. He wasn’t drinking, but was smoking his third pack of Camels. He looked to the doors. A young man entered.
Daryl had seen the club while walking to his hotel. He had decided to get a drink. He didn’t drink much, and never had, except for a beer after a day of working. He wanted to try it, now that he was in the city. He walked in. It was a nice place he thought, as the host led him to a table. Dimly lit, not very crowded. The maitre ‘d came over. He ordered a Martini.
Victor got a scotch and soda from the bar and sat down across from the young man. He had no idea why he did this.
The young man looked up. “Hello,” he said.
Victor nodded. The man didn’t look like anyone he’d seen in the city. He didn’t look like he was from here or had lived here long.
“Nice night out,” Victor said. This was untrue. It was a typical night in L.A.
“Yeah, it’s good.”
“Good thing you came. This place won’t be around much more.”
“How come?” That seemed to make the man look up.
“It’s gonna be closed,” Victor said.
“Hm. I coulda gotten a job here. Too bad.” The young man looked sullen again.
“Why a job?” Victor asked.
“I need one. No one’s hiring.”
“Well, it’s hard to find one at first.”
“I’ve got no experience. I never went to college. No one wants that. Even if I did get a job, it wouldn’t be a good one. I could never keep it.”
“Why’re you telling me all this?”
The young man continued. “I want to get ahead. That’s why I came to the city. That was the whole purpose.”
“I’ve been in this city damn near twenty years,” Victor said. “I’ve learned one thing. You can never get ahead. The only one’s who get ahead are just lucky, I guess. I don’t know how they do it.” Victor stood up and left the table. He went out the door and into the night.
The next morning, Daryl took the last of his money and bought a train ticket. You can never get ahead. Those words rang through his head as he boarded the train. He was headed east. He was heading home.
Will Kinney has written two novels and a few short stories. He resides in Topsham and was the winner of last year’s TPL Teen Scene Award. He lives by the maxim: “A writer writes. Always.”
Just Write Maine-related Nonfiction Award
Dust Motes by Carolyn Clyfton Smith
The dirt and pebble driveway at the lake had always been covered with rusty pine needles. Shadows from trees that lined the drive would make it especially difficult to avoid potholes. My dad drove the station wagon slowly, carefully, trying to navigate around one crater and another and another. “Watch out, there’s another one over there,” my mother said in a frantic tone, as if it mattered if the undercarriage scraped. Loose gravel could be heard popping from under the tires, and the springs squeaked with the weight of our whole family inside the car—five children, two adults, one dog. My sister Anne and I bounced around in the third row, the rear-facing seat we called “the way-back.” We exaggerated our arms and flailed them like go-go dancers until a hand brushed against someone in the middle row—Nancy, Rich or Jim. Anne slumped down to push off with her feet, to make her head touch the ceiling as though the bumpy ride was causing her to be flopped around like a rag doll. I of course tried to mimic her. But too small to reach the ceiling, the back of my head collided with Nancy’s in the middle row.
“Cut it out,” she hollered as she turned around and gave me a scornful look.
Anne and I scooched to make ourselves small. We giggled uncontrollably in the way-back. We liked to antagonize our oldest sister.
“Ok, I think we’ve had enough of that,” Mum announced from the front seat of the car. Anne and I stopped our silly behavior.
The popping gravel must have signaled our arrival. When the car reached the bottom of the hill, our grandfather was standing in front of Phoenix Lodge, the larger of the two houses we called cottages. My brother Rich marveled at our grandfather’s reliability.
“There he is, waving and standing in the same spot, like he always does,” Rich said from the middle row.
A true New Englander, my grandfather wore an expression that would appear stoic even when he was smiling. His open palm and forearm moved back and forth like the pendulum on an old clock, but upside down. Grandpa’s wave was something we relied on. And here it was, greeting us again.
When Dad stopped the car, we flung open the doors before he could turn off the engine. Dolly, our black cocker spaniel leaped out first and the five of us kids poured out too. “Hi Grandpa!” We called out and surrounded him like disciples. He addressed each of us and said how pleased he was to see everyone. Dad shook his hand, Mum embraced him, seconds later my brothers and sisters and I were off in another direction. It was our grandmother’s birthday, a celebration that over the years had marked the beginning of summer for my siblings and me. We dashed inside to announce our arrival. After, we would put on bathing suits and go swimming in the lake.
Each summer my family would retreat to Ossipee Lake. The lake where my dad and his family spent summers during childhood, and where a generation before, both my dad’s parents, his mother and his father, had retreated during their youth. They gathered with their cousins and we gathered with ours. Sometimes our families overlapped with our cousins and sometimes we took turns using the smaller cottage, called The Shingle. My grandparents and a spinster aunt stayed in Phoenix Lodge all summer. Ossipee would be our familiar, a constant we could come home to as though it stood still in time.
My grandfather had an appreciation for nature and loved the outdoors. He loved to fish, go on nature walks, and maintain his gardens—vegetables for nourishment, flowers to attract birds and butterflies and to brighten one’s day. He had been a judge in the district court, but was retired now. In retirement he helped care for my grandmother more than before. A responsibility that would be too much for one person. I imagine he did a lot. It took its toll.
My grandmother was fond of the natural world too, but she had a disease that progressed and it forced her to stay indoors. She could no longer use her legs. No longer use her arms. No longer sit in a wheelchair. My grandmother had Multiple Sclerosis. She’d spent the last twenty years of her life in bed. We had always known our grandmother that way. Like a turtle in a shell, her bed became an extension of herself. She had a hospital bed at each home; one in Saco Maine, another at Ossipee Lake.
My brothers and sisters and I hurried inside Phoenix Lodge, named for the bird that rose from ashes. We raced through the kitchen, through living room where Aunt Bee, our great-aunt sat reading, and we hurried toward the next room. She was a voracious reader. Often surrounded with books, newspapers and magazines she could usually be found in the living room sitting near a window, where songbirds vied for seeds at the feeders that dangled from pine limbs, and a colorful flower garden beckoned hummingbirds and butterflies and bees nearby.
Each of my two brothers called out as they dashed through the living room; Hello Aunt Bee! Hello Aunt Bee! Nancy and Anne followed, Hi Aunt Bee! Hi Aunt Bee! The four of them, raced through to the porch to wish our grandmother “Happy Birthday.” I trotted behind like a caboose, but as I turned to see our great aunt, I noticed her eyes peering over a book to see the fury of action rushing by. I smiled, “Hi Aunt Bee!”
Despite her expression, stoic like her brother’s, I recognized a faint smile when I greeted her. She wore reading glasses that would otherwise hang down over her chest like a necklace. “Nice to see you Carolyn,” she nodded. Her tone was always formal, rendering me speechless. Sensing my unease, Aunt Bee continued the conversation. “How was the drive?” she asked. “From home?” she added, as though I didn’t understand what she meant.
“Good,” I mumbled while my hands fidgeted around my chin.
She asked if I had any “summer plans,” and I told her I would be going to day camp three times a week.
My mother used to say she didn’t want us “sitting around like bumps on logs,” so she busied us out of the house as much as possible. She signed us up for anything—day camps, overnight camps, sports and recreation programs. We lived near the beaches and belonged to a country club, but unscheduled time seemed to frighten her. Ossipee Lake felt like the only place we could relax and enjoy each day without a plan.
In the next room, my siblings were on the porch wishing our grandmother “Happy Birthday” and taking turns speaking with her. Phoenix Lodge had an enclosed porch that spanned the width of the cottage and looked out to the lake. Windows on three sides kept it well lit and welcoming. At one end of the room there was a seating area with wicker furniture. At the other end, floating like a white boat, my grandmother in her hospital bed, her anchorage. She could see gardens and the waterfront while we swam and water-skied. She could see the mountain on the other side of the lake, the one we hiked up every year, the one where the sun lulled slowly behind at the end of each day.
When I stepped onto the porch, I was struck by the golden beams of sunlight pouring through the windowpanes that cast to floor. Like obstacles, wood or steel beams but translucent, they were filled with tiny particles suspended in mid-air. Dust motes. I reached to try to capture one between my thumb and forefinger but when I checked, I saw nothing. I tried again. Still nothing. I waved my hand through the beams of sunlight and watched the particles scramble like air bubbles churning in stirred up water.
Rich, Jim, Nancy and Anne were standing by my grandmother alongside her bed, each waiting their turn to speak, to present something new and interesting and connect her with our lives, knowing that hers had become restricted. Her bed could be adjusted to many positions, and her head was tilted upright. My eyes met the landscape of white bedding covering her disabled body. I studied this range of hills and valleys, all crisp white as snow. Starting at the peak covering her toes that pointed to the heavens, past the white dome over her knees that mimicked the roundness of the mountain on the other side of the lake, the white covers continued up where the fabric folded neatly across her chest and under her arms. My grandmother’s pink face showed like a blooming flower, with her crystal-blue eyes focused on Nancy, who was talking about her summer plans. Telling that she would be going to camp well into July. “To sail and ride horses,” Nancy said. “And when I get home I’ll go with Mum and Dad to Montreal. We’re visiting the World’s Fair, Expo.”
Rich, the only one of us with light-light blue eyes like our grandmother’s, said he too was going to “Expo ’67,” but first he would go on a wilderness trip. “Hiking and canoeing down the Allagash River.”
Our grandmother nodded agreeably as she recognized the name of Maine’s rugged river in the North Woods. She seemed impressed by my brother’s sense of adventure. “You will benefit from this experience,” she told Rich, who was known for being high-spirited.
Jim was going to an overnight camp, “just for a week,” he said. It was easy to detect how much he was looking forward to returning home. “When I get back I’ll play Little League Baseball and tend to my vegetable garden,” Jim said. He loved growing vegetables as much as I loved playing with dolls. His reference to gardening caught our grandmother’s attention, knowing how much our grandfather enjoyed this hobby. She asked what he was going to plant. After listing the usual—carrots, tomatoes, lettuces and beans, she advised him;
“Don’t waste your tomatoes on your father. He doesn’t care for them,” and enunciated a long “ah” sound as she pronounced, tom-ah-toes.
Anne told that she would be going to a day camp most of the summer. “To make crafts, play games, and swim.” She and I were too young to go the World’s Fair, but we would be spending a week at our cousins’ house while the rest of our family went away. Anne’s face beamed with excitement as she explained to our grandmother that she would spend a whole week with her same-age cousin.
When I finally had a turn to speak, my grandmother could barely see my scrawny four-year old frame. “Come closer Dear,” she said, “so I can see you.”
With each step closer I became less visible, blocked by the angle of her white landscape between us. The only way I could get closer was to stand on the chrome side rails of her bed. “You want me to climb up?” I asked.
“If that’s what it takes,” she replied.
The side rails would keep her from falling out of bed, but allow me to get closer. As I hoisted myself up, mindful not to stand on the clear plastic tubing that carried beads of urine to an opaque bag under the foot of her bed, I could hear my oldest sister’s voice cautioning me. “Careful.” I scaled the lower rung and teetered on the middle one until I grasped the corner of the mattress and steadied myself. Knowing that Nancy and others were watching, I pointed one leg out and one arm up into the air, mocking a ballerina. Giggles from Anne and my brothers, along with Nancy’s tisk of disapproval were the responses I had hoped for. My grandmother waited patiently for me to start speaking, to tell her something about myself. I leaned in and told her about my birthday party two weeks before. The games we played and gifts I received—doll clothes, books and games.
My grandmother took us all in from her limited view of the world. After each of us spoke, we would pick out pieces of candy from a glass jar that sat on top of a bureau. After, we would run up to The Shingle, put on our bathing suits and go swimming. The water would feel very cold in early summer, but we always got used to it.
Aunts and Uncles arrived, cousins too. The adult men and a teenage cousin who saw himself as burly, teamed up to put things in place for summer season. My brothers offered to help. They held onto the big canoe as it was carried from “the barn” to the waterfront where it rested bottom side up. Next came the rowboat, oars and paddles. Docks were lifted and put in place in the water, where it was fastened with hardware to bolts in the stone steps. The goal every summer was to secure the docks so they wouldn’t break free during storms. The raft went in and it was moored to an anchor under water, one strong enough that wouldn’t get dragged in a storm. We swam around but tried to stay out of their way while they worked. When everything was set up, we jumped and dove and kicked and splashed churned bubbles in the water.
We changed out of our wet bathing suits and ate lunch on the porch where everyone gathered for our grandmother’s birthday. We sat on wicker furniture and chairs around the room, eating sandwiches and potato chips from plates on our laps. Adults discussed more chores, like fixing the flagpole, trimming lower limbs of a birch tree that might impede on the view. And while we’re at it, why not cut the pine boughs shading the boathouse? Conversation drifted to baseball. Red Sox. And for a long time I didn’t understand why my dad said the word “yes” so often. But he was referring to Carl Yastrzemski, his nickname, “Yaz.” Soon it was time for dessert and we celebrated with cake and ice cream.
Into the room walked my mother and her dutiful helper Nancy, carrying plates and the cake Mum made the night before. Here’s where this happiest of memories goes wrong. With candles glowing we sang, Happy Birthday to you… After everyone else finished singing the song, I added an extra verse.
“You look like a monkey and you act like one too!” I giggled and expected others to laugh with me, but silence filled the room instead. When I looked around, Nancy was glaring. Her eyes became narrow little crescents and I felt like I was in her crosshairs. Like she would shoot poison out of her pupils any second. My eldest sister’s mind was easy to read, How DARE you, you little twerp? Nancy took pleasure in these moments. This was where our sibling rivalry started and ended most days. She, the bossy oldest sister, persistently trying to keep everyone else in line, and I, the baby, who didn’t want to be corrected by anyone other than my passive parents. Rich’s face turned red while he contained his laughter, which actually made him look like a monkey. Others in the room half-smiled. My father and grandfather ignored the moment—they acted like nothing was unusual. But I could tell, I would hear about it later from someone. My grandmother held a steady gaze, her blue eyes stared at the air between us. Had she heard me? Was she was thinking about my funny song or just counting dust motes?
Aunt Bee saved the moment. “Let’s eat cake!” she said, reaching for the cake platter. She was the adult who would step in and cover. She carried the cake to a table where my mother sliced pieces and put them on plates, and Nancy scooped ice cream.
Once we were outside, Nancy couldn’t wait to scold me for singing the monkey verse at the end of the Happy Birthday song. “I can’t believe you sang that about the monkey. That was terrible. You hurt her feelings.”
“I didn’t know there was anything wrong with it. You sang it to me,” I said thinking she should have set a better example.
“That’s different. You are a monkey. You’re always showing off,” Nancy said.
I was sure Nancy just wanted to make me feel badly, since I didn’t see the harm in treating everyone the same way. This was what we’d always done in our family. It was how we ignored the obvious. Continue on as though nothing is different. Years later, I would learn a saying for this, “the elephant in the room.” Truth was, I felt badly that my grandmother had been confined so long and would remain that way for the rest of her life. She couldn’t do anything anymore, except read. But even then, someone else had to turn the pages for her. Otherwise she would be stuck on the same page, stuck in time. People shared stories about their experiences, but what about hers? Other peoples’ stories were as close as she could get to anything beyond her confinement. People would bring her flowers. Other than that, her connection to nature was limited to what she saw through windows. Grass, trees, birds, a mountain and its lake. Everything was beyond her reach. I didn’t want to admit it, but Nancy was right. My attempt at being funny had gone too far.
My brothers, Anne and I went with Dad and Grandpa to the mountain. Dad drove to the access road in the station wagon, a terrain only Jeeps could handle. The rocky road would be impassable for our car to drive all the way up the small mountain. He maneuvered the vehicle, just as he had along the driveway to Phoenix Lodge, carefully over the bumps, so we wouldn’t bottom-out. Instead of hearing the sound of gravel pop out from under the tires, we heard larger rocks the size of softballs grind and clunk underneath the car. Dad wanted to drive as far up as he could, to make it easier for us, so we wouldn’t get tired (so he wouldn’t have carry us).
“What’s that in the road?” Grandpa asked.
Dad stopped the car and Grandpa got out. He bent down to pick something up in the road. The boys leaped out while Anne and I watched from the middle row.
“What is it?” Anne asked.
It was shaped like a large rock but whatever it was Grandpa handled it very carefully. He studied the shape and looked underneath it.
“A painted turtle,” he said with amazement. My brothers took turns touching the hard leathery shell. The turtle’s head and feet retracted inside. Grandpa carried it with both hands toward the car so Anne and I could see it too. He held it up to the glass window. “See the pattern?”
We didn’t understand what he was talking about until Dad leaned in the car to explain, while Rich stood beside Grandpa, pointing to a pattern on the underside of the turtle’s shell.
“See?” Rich asked. The pattern was shaped like a leaf with lines that repeated like circles of trees that reveal its age. The turtle began to kick its hind legs, to squirm away. It had long sharp nails protruding out of its feet but Grandpa was careful to keep from dropping the turtle. He carried it to the other side of the rocky road, where he placed it gently on the ground. We watched it amble quickly into the long grass and disappear in the field.
“Females lay their eggs this time of year and bury them near water,” Grandpa said. He put his hand up to his ear and we all listened. “There’s a brook on the other side of the field.”
“I hear it,” Jim said of the sound of water cascading over rocks.
“That’s hard work. How would you like to lug a shell around all the time?” Dad asked, as he got back inside the car. I could see by the back and forth motion of his head that he wouldn’t want to be bound to a shell. He drove the car to a clearing up ahead to park it and we all walked up the trail together. I thought about what my dad said, about the turtle lugging its shell all the time. I thought about my grandmother in hers. Secured in sheets, guarded between chrome side rails with metal legs and casters. These accoutrements, her bed and its extensions, had become her armor. Whether she was in her home in Saco or on the porch at Phoenix Lodge, her bed provided protection and privacy. Had my silly song verse punctured that shell? I felt badly all over again, wondering whether I had offended my grandmother.
We stopped at a spring about half way up the mountain, a spring that fed into the rushing water where the turtle would lay her eggs. Each of us took turns kneeling down to cup our hands to fill with water. “Umm, delicious. Refreshing,” Dad said after he sipped. He relished in the notion that an important resource, pure and untainted water flowed freely.
A Ranger Station stood at the top of the mountain—a wood tower that stood on stilts where rangers could watch fires over the surrounding areas. The steps were steep and ladder-like. We went to the top where a hatch that would sometimes be secured with a padlock, which meant nobody was manning the station and we couldn’t go inside. Darn, maybe next time, we would say. But when it wasn’t locked, Dad would knock, rat-a-tat-tat-tat, and ask if we could come inside to have a look, “May we see the view?”
“Our lucky day today,” Grandpa said pointing to the open hatch.
On top of the lookout was a small room with radios and maps that consumed every surface. The floor space was minimal so we took turns, three at a time going inside. It was a clear day and we could see for miles in all directions. We looked and looked in each direction, but we didn’t see any fires. The ranger explained that the risk was low after such a rainy spring.
Viewing Ossipee Lake from a distance and seeing it as a whole body of water, a nameless shape, rather than sections and coves and islands, was captivating. We saw tiny images buzzing across the water—boats and the faint trails from engines churning up water behind. We could see our boathouse under the tall pines. Dad said facetiously; “Hey down there!” and he waved as if people in Phoenix Lodge could see us from such a distance.
Twenty-five miles to the east we could see the Atlantic Ocean and Cape Elizabeth, where we lived. But along the edge, where land met the sea, the coastline looked to be a hazy mirage. More than twice the distance to the northwest, the White Mountains were shades of green and purple against a turquoise sky. Dad identified peaks along the Presidential Range. Madison, Adams, Jefferson and the only one he referred with a title, “Mount” Washington. It would be part of their driving route going to Montreal, he said.
“How tall is Mt. Washington?” my brother, Jim asked.
“It’s about six times higher than the one we’re standing on,” the ranger answered.
“Maybe we’ll see this tower from the White Mountains when we drive to Montreal,” Jim said. But the ranger didn’t think so.
“We’ll wave to you,” my dad said, smiling.
At the end of the weekend when it was time to pack the car and leave, we said farewell to our grandmother, to Aunt Bee, uncles and aunt and cousins. Grandpa walked with us to the car and we said “Good-bye” to him, not knowing then how suddenly life would change. Rich and I sat in the way-back and watched out the rear window as Dad steered the car along the circular driveway that looped counter-clockwise past The Shingle, up to the main road.
“Is he? Yes, he’s doing it again! Watch, he’ll keep waving to us, the same way, just like he always does,” Rich said. “Watch, when we drive around the corner, he’ll still be waving to us. I wonder how long he will wave, even after we’re gone?” Rich’s voice was filled with amazement.
I watched our grandfather’s hand, the upside down pendulum of my grandfather clock, as he waved back to us in that time before time, when I was too young to realize that the cottage was a place where time turned upside down, but that time could not last. There, I saw two people; one stilled, the other moving, and the dust motes roiling in the light.
Schedules prevailed throughout June and July. Anne and I attended the day camp. We wove potholders and glued leaves onto construction paper. Rich went to wilderness camp; Jim tended his garden and played baseball on a Little League team; and soon after Nancy returned home, August arrived and it was time for my parents to drive to Montreal with my three older siblings. Anne and I went to our cousins’ house across town where we would stay, while our family was away.
The drive from Maine to Montreal would take about six hours. They stopped at a “scenic lookout” along the roadside in the White Mountains where the views might have spanned farther distances to include Ossipee Hill had it not been raining. Wet weather that had already passed through Montreal by the time they arrived. Rain was on its way to Cape Elizabeth. When my father checked into their hotel, there was an important message was waiting for him, from his brother, Jack. Call right away! The note read. My father went to his hotel room and dialed his brother in Maine.
“Dick, are you sitting down? I can wait for you to pull up a chair,” Jack said over the telephone. “I have some bad news.”
My father sat down right away. “OK, I’m seated.” He drew a deep breath. “What happened? What’s wrong?”
“It’s Dad,” Jack said of their father. “He’s had a stroke. He’s at Webber Hospital but… It may only be a day, or maybe two. He isn’t going to make it.”
I imagine my Dad was holding the telephone in one hand, and rubbing his forehead with the other one, as he wondered what he could possibly do to help. “I’m speechless, Jack,” he said to his brother.
“At this point there isn’t anything anyone can do,” Jack said. “Dad isn’t in any pain. We’re just waiting. He’ll already be gone by the time you get back. No need to turn around right away and come home. Stay where you are and please make the best of your time there. Enjoy being with your family.”
“Let me know if anything changes,” my father said.
“I will,” Jack assured.
My parents and my three siblings spent the next few days somberly. They stayed in Montreal for the most part. They attended Man and His World, the theme of the 1967 World’s Fair, and my grandfather passed on to another world before they would return home to Maine.
My grandfather’s death was a first for me. I was very young, so memories of this are more like snapshots than a rolling film. I remember how Anne and I carried on like nothing was different, our cousins too, but our aunt kept a clinched fist of tissues to dab her watery eyes and nose.
The day my parents returned to pick us up at our cousins’ house, the fog was so thick outside we could barely see the ocean or the end of the street. It felt surreal, like a mystery wrapping the world. My cousin and I were running around in the yard, through fog and mist that seemed more like translucent curtains, like the dust motes that had filled one end of the room inside Phoenix Lodge. Through the stillness, my parents’ car approached before we could see or hear it. My aunt came outside and met them in the driveway. They took turns embracing each other. I thought about the upside down pendulum of my grandfather’s hand waving left, right, left. How my brother wondered if our grandfather still waved to us after the station wagon rounded the corner at the lake, even after he lost sight of us. Where would he be waving from now? Ossipee Hill? Mt. Washington? Or from a higher elevation? From Heaven, I decided, but then the questions came. Who would greet us in front of the cottage the next time we arrived? Who would tend to my grandfather’s gardens, and snip flowers to give to my bedridden grandmother?
Suddenly the wind picked up. The tide was changing. Through the fog I could hear the steady rhythm of the ocean waves as they stretched out over the beach. Each wave began with a clamor as it unfurled and spread across the surface of pebbles and sand. What would follow was a whooshing sound every time the sea drew back, like a breath of air. Wind pulled at the mist in front of me and I tried to capture one of the tiny droplets between my fingers, just as I had done with the dust motes that floated in beams of sunlight inside the cottage. The tip of my finger felt damp from the misty air when I inspected it, and I wondered if that meant I had caught it this time, this drop of fog, a tear from the sky.
Carolyn Clyfton Smith grew up on the coast of Maine and somehow never left her hometown. A townie from Cape Elizabeth, she writes nonfiction. Her essays have been published in Cantilever, Calling Back the Sun, and The Maine Sunday Telegram. When Carolyn isn’t writing, she enjoys cooking and entertaining with her husband; playing golf and tennis with friends; and managing gardens around her yard along with her helpful chickens. Carolyn earned a Masters of Fine Arts degree in creative nonfiction from The Solstice Program at Pine Manor College, and she is working on a personal memoir about denial. She and her husband are empty nesters. Even their indoor pet menagerie has been reduced to one cat, Winnie, who she affectionately calls their love child.
Maine-related Nonfiction Honorable Mention
Deliverance by Mary Freeman
When I was in the Fourth Grade or so I remember reading the fiction, or fairytale part of my reading book, about this little comic character who wanted to get up a mountain; and he’s given two ways to get up it: the shortest or the fastest. He is told the fastest way is to go around and around and up the mountain gradually, but he doesn’t believe it and thinks the shortest way, straight up, will be quickest. Of course he is sorry later after trying to get up the mountain that way–that was the lesson and the moral of the story. So it was for me too, a moral and a lesson, after I changed my GPS navigation setting from “Quickest” to “Shortest”and headed home after visiting my daughter and grandchildren. I expected miles and miles of lovely roads through the beautiful Maine countryside and a quick arrival home. I was so wrong.
Of course it started out that way. Road led to road through the beautiful Maine countryside. I paid no attention to the little signs crossing town lines, I was too busy admiring the fields and trees and sky; and I had no idea what town I was in, I simply turned right or left as my GPS dictated. It said I’d be home in about an hour and a quarter and I believed it. It was just then, when I was feeling happiest, thinking how much fun it was seeing this particular part of Maine that I’d never seen before, that it happened. Not all at once of course, but almost.
“Turn right on such and such road” it said, so I prepared to turn. No road, however, appeared on the right that I could see, just a couple of unmarked dirt roads. (It couldn’t mean those could it?) Thinking I’d missed the road somehow (for I am very nearsighted) I continued on.
“Turn right on Wheeler Rd. and then turn right in 1.2 miles,” it said. This time I happily obeyed it because there it was, the sign for Wheeler Rd. on the right. It was a dirt road and this might have been a warning for some, but did not faze me in the least. Every town in Maine I knew of, and I knew plenty, had its dirt roads and they are all usually navigable, if sometimes a bit bumpy. This one appeared to me nothing different. I could see where it led on up over the little rise and past a farm house on the left, and so on I drove. It had had a sign after all.
I passed the farmhouse on the left and saw that the road, still broad and level and well graveled, led across his field into the woods, dipping down slightly. A little way into the trees at the edge of the woods, the road began to narrow slightly, but only slightly, and got bumpier. Still not alarmed, and ever the optimist, thinking the small rocks making the road bumpy were bound to be a temporary matter or at least not get worse, on I went. But then it did narrow, considerably! It was just about there I realized the road itself was too narrow for me to turn around in, and even if I wanted to go back I couldn’t because I was too far in! I was so far in, that is to say, that even if I did walk out and ask for help at the farmhouse, I knew a tow truck couldn’t get through the narrow passage to reach the car where it now was. These were my thoughts as I continued along, slowly now, for the gravel had disappeared, the rocks were turning into small boulders, and the spaces of clear level road between them were growing fewer and fewer. Yet there were tracks ahead of me made by somebody–somebody had gotten through here, and this thought kept me going, though my optimism was fading fast.
Then I started getting the horrible sound of car frame meeting boulders, no matter what direction I took through the maze of mud and stones ahead. I began to do that thing you do when you know you must keep going or you will get mired–speed up, slow down in what was now an extremely narrow mud-and-boulder road closed in on both sides by dense forest. I couldn’t stop, I couldn’t go back, I had to keep going. In my mind’s eye I saw myself as an eagle might see me far below, a tiny golden flash of metal which was my Honda Accord passing along an almost invisible thread of a road through a forest which was immense and unending, stretching far out into the distance on all sides. It had turned into a nightmare. I had a cell phone, yes, but if I reached anybody would I be able to say where I was calling from? No. I had absolutely no idea where I was, the name of the town, even what it was near. This part of Maine was unknown to me. Northeast of Lisbon Falls somewhere maybe? How far? Unknown. On I lurched, concentrating wholly upon getting through the next ten feet. It took the driving skill I had acquired since 1959 to do that. That came in handy.
When I reached the stream at the bottom of the hill I stopped. I had to, to study the best way across. The stream bed looked just like the road but with water flowing across it, shallow water and the stream not more than ten feet across, those tire tracks leading right across it as though this was no problem. No problem for a four wheel drive vehicle or a truck, which my car was not. I sat there gazing at the way through the stream, how I would go, when I would slow down, when I would speed up, when I would turn and when I would turn again. I rehearsed it over and over in my mind. There was no way even a helicopter could get in here. Finally I did it, I drove into the stream, across it–or rather through it–and to my utter amazement reached the other side. I kept on going of course, not to lose momentum in the mud, saying aloud as I went “please oh please,” and started up the hill on the other side. I was aware by now that I was shaking all over. If I could just keep going, and if it did not get worse, eventually I would get there, wherever that was, wouldn’t I? I hoped for this in a profound sort of way.
And for a while it did not get worse. I got used to the loud banging sound of the bottom of my car hitting small boulders which were just a little too high, and giving the accelerator a shove to make it over them anyway. I got used to the sliding which happened when the depth of the mud put a spin on my tires and made the whole car swerve and lurch in the wrong direction, usually into another rock. I was used to that now and all I could think was to keep going, which I did, slowly climbing the hill, driving across the top and then slowly coming down the other side again, still following the tracks in the mud ahead of me made by the strange super-vehicle which obviously had had no problem with this road whatsoever, who had gone before me and left tracks for me to follow. It was just about then that I spotted in the distance–maybe a hundred yards ahead where the road met the level again–a normal dirt road. I was going to make it!
I lurched and banged and swerved along with great hope now, my heart beating wildly, my entire body one with my hands on the wheel, tightly gripped for maybe another fifty yards and then….BANG! This was the one boulder too far, too high, too impervious to anything I could come up with to counter it. The car stopped, I stopped with it. There was no forward or back. This was it. Immediately I got out of the car into ankle deep mud and began walking toward the clear road ahead. Now I just wanted to get some help, though I still could not imagine how a tow vehicle could get up what looked like an abandoned stream bed to my car, stranded a hundred yards up the road on the hillside.
Within only twenty-five yards or so of picking my way through the mud and stones I came to a well-graveled driveway (it looked heavenly to me) leading back up to where I could see a building at the top. I walked up to the building, a barn, and it looked empty, but I knocked on the door anyway until I was sure no one would come, then headed back down the driveway and kept going on my road (my road) toward the normal sandy road ahead. And just as I got to that sandy road, I saw in the distance a large red truck coming toward me. Oh wonderful! I started waving both my arms and it slowly approached and then stopped. A man was inside and I pointed back toward my car. “I’m stuck!” I exclaimed and started telling him about the GPS.
As soon as I said the word “GPS” he made a face. “Oh no!” he said and then “If it makes you feel any better, you’re not the first to get stuck on that road. Don’t worry,” he said “I”ll take a look at it and see what we can do.” He told me he would go up to his barn (that barn was his) and see what he could find to help get me out. He told me, again, not to be worried, that if he hadn’t found me, someone else on this road would have. There are good people on this road he assured me. I had no reason, at this point, to think differently. All I needed was one, and I had him already. I was feeling better by the minute..
Did he drive or did he walk to his barn from there? I do not know. This man, my deliverer, was amazing. There was not one moment during the whole time the rescue itself was underway when he was not conscious of my feelings. Twice he expressed regret for the time it was taking him to do something. “Mostly,” he said, “I just have to think for a minute.” I was agog with the thoughtfulness of this man. One is never too old to be surprised at and appreciate anew how fine some human beings can be. They seem to redeem all the rest.
I walked back to my car and got in and waited. By now my shaking had subsided and I just sat there, awaiting his return, turning over in my mind all the ideas about providence I had ever encountered, still wondering if a tow truck could reach my car to get it out. I knew if I started reading something I would calm down even more, hopefully something with a complicated or interesting syntax like Proust or Henry James or Moby Dick. I was happy to spy Wolf Hall, lent me by my oldest daughter only yesterday, laying on the back seat. Happily I could reach it. I had just opened it when my deliverer appeared again, coming out of the bushes down the fern-covered bank from the direction of his barn with a large square of thick cardboard in his hands. Not once did he mention AAA or a tow truck.
He made me try to go forward or backwards. He affirmed it was indeed stuck. He expressed shock and amazement that I had come so far: “You came in from the (blank–forgotten the name) road???” A nod from me. Then realizing his cardboard would be of no help, he told me he’d go to his mom’s house and get a chain. He asked me if I had a place on my car to attach a chain and I nodded–but he had to reach down through the muck to find it. Then, in the midst of all this, he pointed to a strange-looking plant and said “Oh! Look at that! I’ve never seen that before! Do you know what it is?” No, I told him, but I bet my grandfather could, and mumbled something about my grandfather being a botanist. He went off to get his truck to drive to his mom’s house to get his chain.
In the time it took for him to go and return, a woman came by walking up the road toward me with her dog. I saw her appear in the distance, tall and spare with white hair, and I wondered if she was a man or a woman until it became evident–she must have been about my age. She asked me if I needed help and I told her Steve (the man’s name) was helping me, and she immediately said “Oh good! He’ll help you.” And after expressing shock and amazement: “You came in from the (blank–forgotten the name) road???”) asked me if I had AAA (no) and why I hadn’t turned around? I explained about the slippery slope of the road turning into a stream bed before I had time to, and she went on her way, wishing me well and again expressing optimism about the help I would receive. I began to read Wolf Hall, but couldn’t stay with it, complex as it was, for more than a few moments. Thoughts pervaded my consciousness about providence, what leads us into these situations, what gets us out of them. “The Line” chapter of Moby Dick came to mind, the chapter in which Melville points out that the proximity of death is always with us, like the line in the whale boat whipping along, ready to get wrapped around some rower’s foot and whip him overboard to his certain death; and this even when we are sitting by our firesides, pictures of domestic felicity. The problem, or the reward, depending on how you look at it, of doing a lot of reading of the classics–that is, books about big ideas which have endured for a long, long time–is that you think about them when the line, so to speak, whips by you and you can almost see it. That is to say, you can almost see it when you are lost deep in the woods, but then you go on and someone finds you, but still you are not completely out of the woods yet (I am alive: but will my car survive? Can I afford another one?). You think of things like this at moments like this. Or I do.
He came back with his truck and his shovel–or was the shovel in the truck and had he already backed it up that road from the smooth place where he had parked it after returning with his chain from his mom’s house? I do not know the sequence now of those events, they grow hazy. I did not ask if he thought I could help. I knew the answer to that and didn’t want to bother him with niceties (“No, you sit right there”)–I just sat right there and watched him work. He shoveled and shoveled, and pitched rocks, and shoveled again–and once again pointed to the strange plant, wondering what it was. Finally he backed his truck up to within ten feet of my car; he asked me to pop the hood and right away said “Good” when he looked down to where the chain would go–then I was hopeful. At last the chain was attached and he told me to put on the engine. I asked him if I should put it in neutral and he nodded. I did and once again gripped the wheel.
What ensued was as terrifying as anything I’ve ever endured. His truck pulled ahead and I was moving again, but this time with no control over the speed, just trying to keep the wheels straight. And yet the car would not stay straight, it bounced from rock to rock (bang! bang! bang!) and up the side of the slippery, muddy bank and onto more rocks–bang, bang, bang, bang! And finally, finally, rolled out onto the firm and level gravel road. I was shaking and gasping for breath.
He gave me careful instructions on how to get out to a paved road, I asked him for his address and his email address. I said “I owe you so much,” and he said don’t send me anything but a card. I said, thinking of the plant (which even now he was asking me about, wondering if it would survive if he tried to transplant it) and my grandfather’s books, “I know what I will send you.” I said this confidently, then said good-bye and thank you once again, and drove off. A mile or so later I found the paved road he had directed me to, and I thought I followed his directions well, but I must not have because, with my GPS on again (this time set on “quickest,” not “shortest”), I once again came upon….another dirt road!
Has anyone ever read George Quackenbush’s wonderful story Henry’s Awful Mistake? It’s about a duck who sees an ant in his kitchen, and tries to get rid of it, and ends up destroying his whole house in the process. At the end he sees another ant. This time Henry (the duck) looks the other way–and that is the end. When I saw that dirt road I did what Henry did, I turned right around and stayed on the paved and wide way until my GPS told me how to get out on the highway. It is a good thing I am well read.
The next morning I woke up with flashbacks–I was in my car and all I could hear and feel was the terrible sound of metal car bottom meeting granite, again and again and again…But I took my car to the garage and believe it or not, nothing was broken. Just a whole piece of the bumper was broken off, to remind me that it had happened at all.
Deliverance, despite what some movies suggest, can have happy endings. But whether this is due to providence, the result of the random workings of the Universe trying to recover equilibrium, or angels disguised as regular human beings with mothers, I can’t say with certainly. I’d argue in no time at all for the latter though.
Mary Freeman is a retired Maine teacher, born in 1943, originally from one of North Parsonsfield’s founding families, but currently living in Monroe. She has spent her life writing and studying, but has been too busy raising six daughters and three sons to find time to publish what she’s written over her lifetime. Poetry, stories, essays, and plays have formed the bulk of her work, and she has enjoyed the invisibility which has attended on her non-publication. Now that this piece has succeeded in finding publication after all, she supposes she shall miss that!