(Written 10/30/17 -- Kate)
Creighton Packard maneuvers his Ford pickup through the mud of the Dorsett Drive-In Theater. He dodges speaker poles, fallen fence panels, refreshment building rubble, and the screen that lay face down, as ashamed as lies, on the playground. Empty swings sway over what long-gone children scuffed in dirt.
"Can we stop and play?" asks four-year old Amy who bounces happily with the ruts.
"Not now," Creighton says, "I'm looking for Mommy."
"Mommy is home, making cookies, " Amy says and claps her hands. "I get to put the frost on."
"That's how she tells it." Creighton's nose twitches. "See how good Daddy can drive with the lights out." He drives on a cow path, then stops against heavy brush about two hundred yards from a cabin where two lovey-dovey cars are parked.
Creighton reaches into the glove compartment. He takes something shiny from a leather pouch.
What is it, Amy wonders. A knife ? A gun? A flashlight?
"Wait here, Amy. I have to go and cut a canker out."
Amy cranes to watch Daddy get sucked into the dark ground. She watches green play and white play on heaven, then lies down.
A branch spreads over the truck like a big hand. The blooms are popcorn. The sound is crunchy. The smell is Mommy's perfume. Amy is not scared.
Amy trusts Daddy, trusts Mommy. She sucks her thumb and waits. Her eyes roll this way and that as she wonders about the cookies she will frost, and wonders what a canker is, and just how long it takes to cut one out.
LIVING WITH A MEAN DRUNK
Daisy sat at the corner of the room, in shadow-- as in a pool of sorrow. It was right where Jeff used to put the dog, before the dog had enough of it, and died.
Near Daisy were the splinters of a Tiffany lamp, a busted chair, and kick-and-punch holes in the wall. Daisy waited to be next.
The bibulous Jeff ranted, raved, then sideswiped her with Bible reference. Here and there, he drew conclusions on subjects not even spoken, and he grabbed her blouse into his fist and pushed himself into her blue orbs with his too-dark-to-show-an-iris eyes. Today he had a handgun that he treated like a toy, then pointed at her head. With his twisted mouth, he made the sound of it clicking.
Daisy dropped eyes onto the small, sharp, colorful pieces of her lamp, and life. So weary she was of his illness! So tired of suppressing fear and rage. But today-- a limit reached!
Her eyes slowly drifted to the door still open from when he staggered out to pee. The driveway was just beyond that, and beyond that, the street.
The car was filled with gas, her suitcase in the trunk, just as she had kept it now, for months.
She was as quiet as she could be, and smaller, smaller until she disappeared to him, and almost even to herself, and then she slipped by him into a space large enough, loose enough for her departure.
JUST ANOTHER ALL-NIGHT DINER
I'm big Jake. I own this place. It's one of those all-night interstate diners. You know the kind, a routine welcome through a neon vein, a market of comings and goings. Mine's five miles north of Omaha.
Lots of folks end up here. Some are on the way to somewhere. Others are on the way back. Some just got no other place to go, no place important anyway. That's tough in the Holiday Season.
Most nights, I sit here doing the books and not paying much attention. But tonight there's a guy in a Viet Nam Vet cap sitting at the end of the counter. He's staring at the big black buttons on Lill's waitress uniform as if they're bullet holes, and his knuckles whiten on the simple movement of drinking coffee. It' s not like I haven't seen it before. Pretty common from the "Go kill!" then "Damn you for killing!" bunch.
Four stools down there's a young girl, 16, if that, bedraggled, kind of pretty, but with ancient eyes. Somebody hurt her pretty bad. My guess-- parents, but I come biased from a bad-choice brood.
Then there's Lill, pretty old, but not too old for games. That woman's great for business, and an asset to the world. She's throwing smiles between the two customers, and holding out shiny globes to each, saying, "Ah, come on, help me."
Within minutes, the three stand together, a big smile here, a vague one there, and only fleeting eye contact from the other, with hands coming nearly close enough to touch as they hang ornaments on a nearly dead tree and wait for Christmas.
Hawk Danning was as big as a grizzly, but known to be a reasonable man. His wife Tootsie was a sweet-scented Magnolia, but not the loyal type. She was married to the ocean, to the wind, and once again was gone.
Hawk sat in a public place, the New Day Coffee Shop, and in this safe venue filled with friends, he geared up the cough, the hack of hate he used to steel himself against some desired form of mass destruction.
Many felt his mood, and though when he laughed, they joined him, when he growled, they stepped aside. His anger was a grinding thing like a chainsaw rutting on a knot until it lost its edge and full exertion.
After a while, the routine twenty-minute smoker, he was still angry, but able to take it out on simple things, so friends began to close in around him after he squashed his empty Marlboro pack, threw it, and cursed that "damned sign" that read, NO SMOKING.
THE CRAZY OLD LADY IN A LAWN CHAIR
Jodi was walking her mish-mash dog up Williams Street when Ruth Crockett beckoned her into her yard.
Pony-tailed, free-spirited Jodi obliged.
"Oak has generosity and pluck,"the old woman said. "It scrimps, saves in ragged cups, and shoves life through chiropractic dirt."
"Ok", Jodi said.
"It stands up to experimental Spring, the big push and sometimes Summer blunder, and counts years in rings, while man counts in cash from hands that covet furniture."
Jodi replied, "I guess." She rolled her eyes.
"Oak swells above and below the earth, perhaps hides more than it shows. Like everything else."
Jodi smiled, pet her dog, and tugged the leash to leave.
The old lady touched her arm. "On its journey, oak gives standing room to birds. It shields, shelters, nestles. It grows as it was meant to grow, whether in ballroom Spring attire, or stark black Winter suit. It participates, is provisional. It cheers, amuses the air with piano-fingers. There can never be too much music, enough laughter."
Jodi laughed musically.
"And it grows as it was told to grow. It gains strength from the boast and criticism of environment, makes mistakes, and sometimes comes apart. Like everything else."
"It does the best it can with what is given. And lives a dirt-bound, and dirt bound life, creating shade, raising scaffolding for nature's workers, and in some events is cut, and falls. Like everything else. And becomes chairs, a table, possibly a bureau."
"My mom has one of those."
"What is whole, is later ruins. All time is short in retrospect, but what was, lives in memory from what became of it. Everything still teaches."
"Were you a teacher?"
She smiled, a face full of rings, like the oak. "A teacher and a student. Just like everybody else."
"Gotta go now, "Jodi said, eager to escape, and not realizing as her dog tugged her away that she as learning something, something useful, if it, indeed, soaked in, but at the moment, she was more concerned with oblivion and distraction than processing a certain truth. Perhaps she'd mull it later, maybe even years later, and take a path, pretty much like everybody else.
NOT MUCH OF A STORY
Clayton Strum was a man who didn't say much. He was just a guy who sat alone at the end of the bar, drank too much and minded his own business. An occasional smile emerged and folks leaned in to hear what he might say, and prodded him. You know how pesky some folks can be. Try as they did though, they couldn 't get a rise out of him.
One day in July, Clayton didn't come to the bar, and three days later, the meter reader found him dead.
Despite what some said, still say, Clayton Strum didn't kill himself, at least not intentionally. Accident, that's what I call it.
Maybe his life didn't make much difference on the big scale of things. Maybe it did. Whose does and who's to say? According to most though, all Clayton Strum left was an empty bar stool, and a bloated corpse--- and just not much of a story.