Praying for Rain

“Do you think today will be the day, Pa?” Ephraim Holliday asked his father as the both stared west.

“Eph, I been praying it would be so,” said Ephraim’s father Eleazar. He reached down and gouged out a handful of the dry crust that covered what was supposed to be his cornfield like a scab. He crushed it in his hand and watched as the wind carried it eastward, as if saying, “You should go, too.”

“So you think those clouds gathering out by the mountains might be real rain clouds that’ll come our way?” Ephraim asked, since his father was the most learned man he knew out there on the Colorado prairie.

“I can’t really say just yet, Eph. A farmer’s just at the mercy of nature anywhere he lives. Out here on the shortgrass prairie, where water’s gotten scarce and we have to rely on nature’s own irrigation from the sky, mercy looks like it’s hard to come by,” Eleazar said. “Sometimes a farmer isn’t much more than a gambler, ‘cept the stakes are a whole lot higher than a few Gold Eagles.”

“Heard a man in Sterling say Hell would freeze over before we saw any rain that’d make a damn…oh, sorry…a difference for any dirt farmers out here,” Ephraim said.

“Go,” Eleazar said as placed his hand on his son’s shoulder and turned him back toward the house and barn. Ephraim knew that was his cue to do his morning chores, though they had become less laborious as his father was forced to sell off a few more head of his cattle and a mule just last week to the fellow running the mercantile in Sterling.

“Ephraim, could you fetch me a pail of water, please?” he heard his mother, Cora, call from their house, an unpainted cabin of sod and dry pine his father built with help from the Daley family. They had come west from Illinois with the Hollidays not two years before. They had made a life on the Illinois prairie for generations, according to Mr. Daley.

“Figured to make a go of it somewhere the land was open, free and wasn’t so crowded with lawyers, liars and politicians,” Daley had told his father the day they laid the first lumber.

But the Daley’s hadn’t counted on some Pawnee children who would ride onto their farm from time to time. Fewer of them a week after little Leah Daley got the measles and died. They hadn’t counted on some of the Pawnee boys telling their fathers about the sick little white girl who went to the Creator with the spotted sickness. They hadn’t counted on the Pawnee all catching measles and begin dying and deciding to nip the source of their curse in the bud by burning down the Daley’s place with the Daley’s inside. And then all but a handful of that band of Pawnee just disappeared like they had been caught inside the Daley’s blazing end, which Ephraim’s father said they might as well have.

Eleazar took possession of the seven scattered beeves and two mules the Pawnee hadn’t stolen or killed. Except now they were gone in trade to folks between his place and Sterling.

“Fire’s a terrible thing,” Ephraim said as he hauled a bucket up from the well his father had sunk near a small spring in a copse of trees nearby. The only trees for thirty miles in any direction, Ephraim reckoned. And from the way their shadows had begun to wake up from their western leisure, he also reckoned it was going on nine o’clock or so.

“Pour some of that into the big pot there, Ephraim,” his mother said. “Have you had anything to drink out there?”

“Not yet, Mother. Gotta see to the stock first.”

“If it doesn’t rain soon, you’ll be able to do that with a thimble, I’m afraid,” she said as she hefted the pot onto the hearth.

As Cora brushed back a strand of hair from her face, Ephraim stopped and realized how much his mother had changed in the past two years out here on the edge of the world. The hair she’d pulled back was gray and her eyes had taken on cracks like the ones along the lines of furrows out back.

“I’m going back to work, Mother,” Ephraim said. and the gave her a hug.

“Oh, my. You caught me by surprise, Eph. Almost dropped a plate. What brought that on?”

“Just ‘cause, Mother.”

“Well thank you, Eph. You’ve made my day. Now you better scoot before it gets too hot out there.”

Ephraim left the house and joined his father, who had begun digging a trench to somehow connect one end of his cornfield with the spring.

“Shovel’s right there, Ephraim. Let’s see if we can get another eighty or ninety feet today before your mother shoos you back in the shade,” his father said.

“Clouds are building, Pa. Look at that.”

Eleazar picked his head up from his digging and peered through the shimmering air at the far mountains, where the clouds were indeed rising like heavenly mountains themselves. Only they were beginning to crawl east.

“Hmmph, maybe the mountain’s gonna come to Muhammad today.”

“What? Who?”

“Oh, just something from old saying, Eph. ‘If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain.’ Means if one’s will doesn’t prevail, one must submit to an alternative. Like if it won’t rain on our field, then we have to bring rain to the field. Now pick up that shovel, boy and let’s move a mountain,” Eleazar said.

Ephraim grabbed for his shovel, but once more looked at the rising peaks of white and gray and made another little prayer for any rain the Lord saw fit to give the Hollidays.

“Even a thimbleful,” he whispered.

“Ephraim!”

“Yessir, Pa.” And the sound of two deep scraping shovelsful, punctuated by a shallower one, began a chain that lasted through noontime, lunch and until the clouds and sun met somewhere between Ephraim’s labors and the mountains, and when a cool wind brought a chill to the sodden backs of the Holliday men.

While they had labored, the sun had fired morning into a cumulonimbus alloy of power and potential crouching above the eastern Rockies. They looked up at the cloud tops and saw summer had forged an anvil upon which it might clang out sparks and pound down thunderclaps upon the prairies.

“Clouds are getting sorta dark aren’t they, Pa?” Ephraim said.

“Yeah, they actually are. Say you prayers, Eph. This could be the one, just like you asked for this morning,“ Eleazar said.

Out in the distance a jagged rip of white tore down from the sooty bottom of the cloud mass moving swiftly eastward.

“Shhh… Count, Eph. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi… When they finally heard the rumble of thunder, Eleazar said, “I’ll be damned. Twenty miles.”

“How’d you know…?”

“Tell you later. Gather what stock you can into the barn and tell your mother I went to fetch what I can of the cattle. I’ll be back before anything happens. If anything IS gonna happen.”

They both scrambled from the ditch and carried their shovels toward the house, where Eleazar peeled off and saddled and mounted his bay and rode northwest to herd what beeves he could find and drive them nearer the house.

“Mother, did you see? Did you see the lightning? Hear the thunder?” Ephraim said as he rushed through the door.

“Only heard the rumble, Ephraim. Where’s your father?”

“He just went to gather some of the cattle. Said he’d be back directly. I gotta tie down the goats and milk cow and get the horses inside the barn. I’ll be back.”

As he headed outside, Ephraim saw the clouds had become a slate ceiling across the sky and he whispered again another prayer that his family’s farm would no longer thirst for relief from this drought. He jumped when he saw another flash of lightning and counted Mississippis until he heard the thunder, though he didn’t know how his father figured out the distance. Ephraim wondered if the thunder was God’s way of telling him salvation was on its way or only another empty test of faith, a weaving of wind and water with want.

His father was closing the corral just as he finished tethering the stock in the barn. Both Eleazar and his bay mount were panting and slicked with sweat.

“I’ll take care of Red here. You go in and help your mother with the other children,” Eleazar said as he uncinched his saddle and removed the bit from his horse’s mouth. “Scoot, I’ll be right behind you.”

Behind him, Ephraim could hear the wind blowing louder now and a flash of light burst through every gap in the boards of the barn walls. Then before he could get to “One Mississip…” a sound like the Apocalypse exploded all around.

“Is this it, Pa? This must be what we’re waiting for,” he shouted over his shoulder as he ran toward the house. Inside, his baby sister Lucy was wailing in his mother’s embrace and his two-year-old brother Edwin sat on the floor clutching Cora’s leg.

“Is your father back?” she said, fear widening those wear and sun crinkled eyes.

“Yes, Mother. He’s coming right behind…”

“Shut the door, Ephraim,” Cora said. The wind was blowing dust from what remained of a dream all through the front room.

And then came the hammering on the roof.

“Rain, Mother,” Ephraim shouted, which startled the baby even more. The clattering above was so loud, he didn’t hear his father enter, only felt the chill air that raised the hairs on the back of his neck. As he turned, he saw his father standing in the doorway. He was shaking small white balls off his shoulders and hat brim.

“Hail, Cora. Very little rain yet. And that wind’s blowing up something fierce,” Eleazar said, his own eyes projecting something Ephraim had never seen in them before. He’d seen his father angry enough to level a man twice his size. He’d seen him weep over the grave of little sister Susan back in Missouri. He’d seen their joy at Lucy’s birth. But he’d never even thought of the wide and confused look he saw at that moment in his father’s eyes.

“Ephraim, come here,” Eleazar shouted above the din on the roof and the roar of the wind, which, if anything, had grown louder. Eleazar knelt next to Cora and held his boys in front of him, as close to Cora as they could get without usurping little Lucy’s place in her arms.

“Let’s pray now. Let’s pray that we are saved from whatever has beset us out here on the edge of the world. Let’s pray, boys, as the Lord has ordained. “Our Father, which art in Heaven…” And the voices of Cora and her sons carried on with the Lord’s Prayer as Eleazar listened to how the wind had changed. It now reminded him of the trains that ran from Chicago to St. Louis. And he knew Hell had frozen over and his world had just turned upside down.

Outside, something looking like Satan’s tail dropped from the heavens, it’s tip a whirling skein of Colorado dirt, dust and short grass. And as the boys, their eyes tightly closed in prayer, recited “…now and at the hour of our death. For Thine is the Kingdom and the Power…” Satan scooped up their bone-dry souls, when the only sin they had committed was to pray for rain in this little portion of the frontier between his kingdom and the Creator’s.

First story of any length in a long time. A Western, I guess. It was prompted last week by Story A Day’s Julie Duffy, who asked for a solstice story. Then so much hard life fell down on me. So today, I just started writing a summer story. Can’t say if tornadoes his the Colorado prairie in late June or not. For once, I didn’t burn too much time researching as much as I normally do. Didn’t know what might come along to stop my writing and I wasn’t waiting to find out. So here’s a first draft, rough, dust-laden and jumbled as the Hollidays’ farm the day after this Summer Solstice sometime in the 1860s. And, yes, I know most early farmers on Colorado’s Eastern Plains lived in soddies, but I needed something that’d burn and made a racket when rain and hail hit the roof. 😉

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My Tragicomic Work in Progress

“Everyone is trying to read the last page of the book.”
~ Chuck Todd, Meet The Press Daily, June 20, 2017

When I was a kid, I’d often sit
and wonder how my life would turn out,
the whole epic saga of Joe Hesch.
Would it be a thick volume or two,
full of adventures and notable acts
of merit or valor? Or perhaps
a pamphlet of failure and sadness?
And thus far, I have found,
as I reach the climax of this tale
full of sound and fury,
but mostly quiet and solitude,
it’s been told by an idiot,
an actor scuffling across his stage
forgetting his lines. Or, more likely,
his lines being forgotten.

I’ve had my entrances and exits,
my hour upon the stage, and then
I’ll likely be heard no more.
And that’s all right, I guess.
I just hope that I’m able to write it
to its denouement, penning a satisfied
Finis to its last page.
And I still dream. Dream that, like
younger me, older me, current me,
not necessarily everyone, just you,
someday have a yen to find
where my pen took it. Even if
only to see your part in what’s still
my tragicomic work in progress.

My somewhat poetic free-written take on this week’s Writing Outside the Lines challenge presented by my friend Annie Fuller. This week it’s prompted by that quote from NBS News’ political editor and moderator of its venerable Meet the Press Sunday morning show.

Wishing Upon a Star (Another Day)

Deflated-football

I checked my teeth and tie in the bathroom mirror, something I always do before a gig.

I next took a step backward from the row of white sinks in this hotel men’s room, I scoped the front of my pants. I always wanted to be sure there was no stain or something hanging out of them after using the john. After all, I am a professional.

Giving my zipper one last security tug, I stared intently, confidently, at the guy on the other side of the glass — the guy who the crowd in the ballroom across the hall came to hear. I give a wink big enough for the back row to see and say, “It’s Showtime, baby.”

Reflected in the mirror, I saw the fellow walking out of the stall directly behind me stop dead, blink, and return to the comforting warmth of the chamber he just left. I turned just in time to hear him slide of the lock and see him lift his feet from view of anyone outside the stall door.

“Whoooo,” I yell. That howl psyched me up every time, whether I turned it loose before one of these speaking engagements or walked out of the stadium tunnel when I played for the Gamecocks at the University of South Carolina.

I stepped out into the maroon-carpeted second floor hallway of the St. Elmo’s Inn. I could hear my audience-to-be’s hum of conversation and clinking of tableware behind the large double door across the hall.

Hmmm, that’s an awful lot of noise for fifty people, I thought. But they always were a talkative bunch.

This afternoon, I once again would be addressing the Low Country chapter of Goose & Gander: The Society for the Preservation of First Wives and First Husbands. Actually four out of every five of the attendees were first wives, a sad, Book of Lamentations-quoting, and often bitter lot of church ladies from up and down the Grand Strand. But when they got a few cocktails in them, they more often than not turned into a prowling, pawing mob of howler monkeys in heat.

“Larry, how are yoooooo-eww?” I had heard that greeting sing-sung to me by maybe ten different women in the bar the last time I addressed this group. One of them, Audrey Whiteapple of nearby Florence, found out how I was…better than her ex, Claude. Or so she claimed as she wept to me in the uncomfortably long, but fair’s-fair post-coital quid pro quo cuddle.

Claude told her she was less than he had expected after eight years of marriage.

“That’s eight years of mopping up his muddy floors after coming in drunk from hunting – he said–and eight years of scouring the skid marks out of his saggy-ass boxers and ten years of doing every vile, terrible thing he asked me to do, too, Larry,” Audrey said.

Yeah, vile, terrible things like what she next suggested we do. Next morning, those vile, terrible things required me to steal a set of sheets from a housekeeping cart and surreptitiously swap them for the percale Jackson Pollack she left behind.

I limped and my lips were numb for a week after that.

I wonder if Audrey’s here this afternoon.

I’m not in this business for any real money. That was what the NFL was supposed to be for. So I guess I don’t feel too badly about the perks of the speechifying business. Being Larry Jenkins–one-time Second Team All-Southeast Conference quarterback–and ONLY being Larry Jenkins, has left me with few career options. Especially after I wrecked my throwing shoulder my first training camp with the Browns. But I knew the truth. Five-foot-eleven free agent quarterbacks who can’t throw the deep out pattern, even before they blow out their labrum, aren’t going to make it in the NFL. Even in Cleveland. The injury gave me cover back here in the Carolinas.

I wasn’t too good at math—I had tutors and a couple of exam-taking stand-ins back in college—but even I could add two and two and come up with an answer to my post-athletic career. I decided to trade on my erstwhile fame and program-cover looks for a living. I learned to use words like “erstwhile” from the Dale Carnegie course my agent made me take while I was rehabbing my shoulder. He knew a loser when he saw one, too.

So here I am, twelve years after throwing my last ruptured duck incompletion in a meaningless scrimmage someplace called Berea, Ohio. I have become a Toyota/Chevy sales associate for my Uncle Lamar and a mid-rung, well lower mid-rung, motivational speaker for myself.

So if I can catch a little affection from some woman who used to kiss the image of my face inside her locker and in her teenaged dreams, well, maybe we both are getting what we need out of life. At least for that moment.

“Larry! Larry! Oh good, I caught you before you went into the ballroom. ”

Vern Tarwater, the Brigantine’s events director, trots down the hall toward me from his office next to the hotel’s business center. One of those chubby guys whose pants always looked too short and too tight whether he stood up or sat down, Vern’s a good egg who always takes good care of me when I visit his hotel.

“Look, Larry, um, we realized during set-up this morning there’s been a teeny, tiny infinitesimally minor oversight on our part. We weren’t able to get hold of you until just now,” he wheezed.

I put my hands out to ease Vern to a rolling stop in front of me.

“C’mon, Vern, you know me. I’m usually prepared for any speaking emergency. What is it? Brought my own microphone, extra batteries, three different projection bulb sizes and makes, a MacBook, a laptop running both Windows and Linux, an extra tie in case I’m too matchy-matchy with the emcee…..”

“We double-booked the ballroom,” Vern said.

He tucked his head down and looked like a little sea turtle in his green uniform blazer.
“What do you mean, ‘double-booked’?”

“I mean I booked the GGSPFWFH. But Felicia Flores, my former assistant as of this morning, booked a different group for the room at the same time. And they paid cash,” Vern said.

“What’s the other group,” I asked.

“Oh, they’re a terrific group of ladies and…um, some gentlemen. The NGWTWCS. All those Gs and Ws you can see how we had this little slip-up,” he said.

“NGW…uh,W…”

“NGWTWCS. The New Gone With The Wind Collectors Society,” Vern recited, his eyes rolling back in his head as if reading the letters and words off his eyebrows.
“New Gone With The…”

“Wind Collectors Society. Yes, they’re getting very big here in South Carolina after catching fire in Georgia and Florida. Ooh, ‘catching fire,’ ‘Gone With the Wind,’ ‘catching fire,’ did say that? Anyway, we can’t have Georgia and Florida steal potential business from the Grand Strand now, can we, Larry?”

My mind suddenly a scene in Technicolor of Audrey Whiteapple in a big picture-frame straw hat and pantaloons. Shaking my head, I tried to process all Vern had told me.

“Okay, give me a few minutes to make a few notes and I’ll do the best I can. You know me, Vern. I’m a professional,” I said.

Vern took my hand in his sweaty paws and pumped it vigorously. The pulled a soggy flyer from inside his jacket and pushed it against my chest.

“Here’s the background on the NGWW…”

“NGWTWCS.”

“Oh, who knows? Thank you so much, Larry. You’ve got maybe ten minutes. They’re in the middle of the dessert service right now.”
Vern turned and trundled away.

“Whoa, Vernon,” I called.

“Yes, Larry? I’ve got to reset the Magnolia Room for something called a bris tonight and it’s still wearing all its ribbons and crosses from this morning’s Young Republican prayer breakfast.”

“And, Vern,” I called, “two audiences equals two fees, right?”

He stopped, turned and giggled.

“Of course, Larry. You’re a professional.”

Goose, gander and Gone With the Wind. Now how can I massage one of my standard speeches to satisfy the interests of that audience?

Actually, I had a clip of maybe eight speeches, all drawn from literature and coaches’ talks I’d heard in my career as an athlete. And coaches themselves stole from literature, history and literature professors, or each other.

But suddenly I felt so tired of it all. I didn’t want to have to weave a potholder of stretchy insincerity. I needed quiet and privacy to figure out what I was going to do. I reentered my tile-walled office suite across the hall.

As I swung open the door, I saw the man who I’d scared into hiding not three minutes before. He had just finished washing his hands and he was staring into the mirror, not too much unlike I had been. He saw me enter and straightened up with a snap.

“Relax, friend,” I said. “I didn’t mean to startle you, even before. Just a bad habit of mine, how I cope with the job, with life sometimes.”

“Oh,” he said. “That’s okay, you just startled me. I was just kinda deep in thought there. Seems like a funny place to think, but…”

“Yeah, I know what you mean. I do it all the time myself. In fact, I was just about to take a seat and work out a problem I’ve got right now. And yeah, that sounds weird out loud, doesn’t it?”

“Well…”

“‘That’s okay, really.”

“Not to sound too, well, queer, but you look familiar. You somebody?”

“Not really, maybe once, in a small little world. Name’s Larry Jenkins,” I said. I reached out my hand, but realizing his were still a little wet and we were standing in a public men’s room, I pulled it back.

“Now why do I know that name.”

“Well, I was a football player of some renown, once,” I said.

“No, that’s not it. I don’t follow football,” he said.

“I give speeches now, maybe you’ve heard me give a presentation,” I said.

“No, I don’t think so. Haven’t seen anything like that. Nope,” he said.

“Ever buy a used Toyota?”. I laughed.

He gave me a quizzical look, nervously laughed and shook his head No.

“Guess I’m mistaken,” he said. “By the way, my name’s Whiteapple, Claude Whiteapple. Work for the beverage distributorship out of Florence. Used to own my own, but I got messed up in a nasty divorce and had to sell out. Ex-wife, backstabbing girlfriend and all. But I get by now. Found Jesus, you might say.”

“Uh, pleased to meet you, Claude,” I said. I tried not to look too startled, like I was looking off a safety to hit a post pattern. “I hang out in a lot of hotel bars in my travels. Maybe we crossed paths in one of them.”

“Yeah, maybe that’s it,” Claude said.

“Well, anyway, I’m sorry I startled you. I should think more about disturbing people when I do that.”

“That’s okay. By the way, what was it you said you do again?” He asked.

“Well, all those things. At least one time or another. These days, mostly I give little talks. Try to help people make sense of their lives. Feel better about themselves,” I said.

“Maybe I should catch one of your speeches. I sure as hell would like to feel better about myself, too,” Claude said.

“You know, Claude, maybe I should listen to myself once in a while, too,” I said.

“Well, I got to get to work. Offload some kegs and such. Put the empties back on board. Looks like I’ll even have time to have lunch today,” he said.

It was then that I figured out my speech. I kinda knew what I was going to do.

“Say, Claude, if you don’t mind, once you get done with your delivery, I’d appreciate it if you’d let an old quarterback sit down and buy you lunch,” I said. “Really, it’s the least I can do.”

“Oh, that’s okay. you’ve got your own business to take care of,” he said.

“Yeah, I do. And that’s one of the reasons I’d like to buy you lunch. It really, really is the least I can do. I’d feel a lot better if you’d say yes,” I said.

“Well, okay. Sure, where you want to eat? There’s a Shonee’s down the road,” he said.
“I was thinking the hotel restaurant,” I said.

“But I’m all sweaty and in my uniform and all,” he said.

“Don’t worry about that. They like me here and you’re my special guest today. Helped me make my presentation, figure out something,” I said.

“Okay, gimme about 30 minutes,” Claude said. “Appreciate it, uh, Larry.”

This time he extended his hand. I gripped it and gave it a good shake.

“Great. What I have to do won’t take all that long. Meet you outside the restaurant,” I said.

Claude left and then it was my turn to look in the mirror. I gave that guy in there a weak smile.

“Curtain down, curtain up,” I said, tugging my zipper.

I walked across the hall and stood in the back of the hall. I spotted Audrey Whiteapple and a couple of other familiar faces in the audience. I found this kind of interesting because they had all begun to look alike. Mostly white faces looking for someone to tell them they’re okay and everything’s going to all right. I never really believed that, but I had to do something to make a living. To stay in the arena, too.

Clarissa Beauregard, the woman who booked me for today, waved from the front of the room. I smiled, waved back, and walked up the side and stood while she introduced me. Old friend Larry Jenkins, blah-blah, University of South Carolina, blah-blah, same old same old.

Amid clinking teaspoons splattering terrible hotel coffee on white tablecloths and a smattering of indifferent applause, I approached the microphone, put on my confident face and took a deep breath. It felt just like it would in a huddle when everything could fall apart if I did. Confidence, smarts and BS, my stock in trade.

“Thank you for that lovely intro and greeting,” I said.

“You know, I was prepared to give a different talk today when I arrived here. Well, not too different since I only have a few that I give. Been giving them for years now. Gotten pretty tired of them, actually. Whatever.”

The clinking stopped and there was silence in the room.

“And when Vern Tarwater told me I’d be speaking to two different groups at once today–two way different groups–I figured I could slide something past you all. It’s what I do. Been doing it since college.”

I could hear whispers.

“So, what can I tell you all that fits this wacky combination of organizations? That was a real quandary for me. By the way, Rhett over there, if you were straight, there’s a real Scarlet over here just made for you and you for her,” I said, gesturing in Audrey’s general direction.

Murmurs. And some indignant gasps. One from the guy in the Rhett Butler costume.

“Now where the was I? Oh, yeah. Something you all can bring home today and give some thought and meaning to your day. Maybe even your lives.”

Quiet again.

“Okay, let’s make this short and sweet. I got some things I really got to do today and for my tomorrows and I don’t want to waste our time gassing about beating Florida or self-reliance or lying to you or ourselves. That’s what I’ve been doing for something like ten or so years. The years as empty as the message,” I said.

Clarrisa stood up and began walking over toward me, a concerned look on her face. I put up my hand like a traffic cop and mouthed “It’s okay, hon.”

“So, what can old Larry say to you all? What can I say to you the divorcee and your sometimes sad colleagues? And how about you, the dude with the shiny hair, and all your antebellum loving friends? Is there something to be said even for the washed up football player who never grew up feel like life is worth the effort of getting up in the morning, facing all those slings and arrows that may be huge but probably are just little annoyance piled one on top of the other?”

“Get with it, Larry,” I heard from the back.

“Right, once again I’ve put off the big decision, the big moment, until it’s almost too late. And that’s today’s message, boys and girls. No matter how bad or stupid or upsetting your life is, life goes on. More than likely, you’ll get over it. You may not see that now, because you’ve got your head up in some clouds or down on your chest. I know that because I’ve had my head in both places. Up my ass, too, I guess.

“There’s an old football coach over in Dalzell who taught me everything I know about the game and about life. He’s forgotten more about football than I’ll ever know. I just forgot all of that other stuff because I thought I knew it all already. I’ve been pretty sad about most of the decisions I’ve made and the way I thought life had shit all over me. Loser, huh? But he’s never given up on me because he knows that tomorrow’s always gonna be there. There’s always gonna be another chance to get off the turf, to make things right, to feel better if you want to, make someone happy, maybe even yourself.”

Things got quiet again.

“So, kind people, this will be my last little speech of this type. And it will probably be the first one I actually believed, myself. Um, what’s the thing I want you to think about when you leave here? Hmmm, thought about that and couldn’t come up with anything too profound. Most profound people and their profound statements are just more bullshit,” I said.

I was losing it for sure. Rambling but learning something with every crazy word. It was like I was looking in that mirror and seeing myself as something more than a fallen jock and loser car seller and a gas bag salesman of Larry Jenkins, defective product. A different guy but the same one at the same time.

“So what thought can ol’ Larry leave you with today? I wish I had more time to think of something really cool, but, like I said, I got some things I gotta do. I owe it to you nice folks who had to put up with my silliness. You’re an interesting crowd, my last one. So he goes,” I said.

Shamelessly, I smiled at the combined groups and said, “Tomorrow is another day.” And then I walked out of the room. I thought I heard some applause when I reached the hallway.

I pulled my cellphone from my pocket as I squinted across the street at the big hotel where the restaurant was. Claude was standing outside, looking a little nervous, not knowing what to expect next. That made two of us.

I punched in the numbers and after four rings I heard, “Hello, Coach Jenkins.”

“Hi, Dad, it’s Larry. You still looking for an offensive coordinator/QB coach? I can be there tomorrow.”

Okay, here’s story #9 of the Story-A-Day slog. Today’s was supposed to be an Ugly Duckling story, which this may be if you squint really hard. But not really completing the Cinderella Story job yesterday bothered me. So here’s the story of a guy who was a swan/prince, tried and failed a few times and ended up a loser and ugly duckling in his own mind, only to eventually figure out he was supposed to be a different bird, but still a prince, all the time.

Deadline

7035-journalistsorbloggers

Um, good afternoon, I’d like to speak to Jason Lafleur, please. Oh, hi, Mr. Fletcher, this is John Berdar from the Press-Republican. Heh, yeah, the Republican Press. I hear that a lot.

Anyway, I was hoping you had a minute to talk to me about…. No, nothing to do with that. I never heard about any DWI. Not anything with your name attached. I just was kinda wondering if you’ve heard about the State Police looking for your cousin, Loyal.

No? Okay, thanks. Oh, wait a second, please. You don’t know anything about Loyal’s disappearance, but maybe you can help me fill in some blanks the troopers won’t. I won’t have to use your name or nothing. You could be what we call a source close to the family. Funny, huh? Someone in the family being called close to the family. I’ve got only one brother left and I don’t think I’d want him to be that kind of a source, close to the family. He’s a real dick.

Oh, oh, I’m sorry, you don’t need to hear my sorry story. Let’s get back to Loyal. You two grew up together, right? Uh huh. Sure, up in Chateaugay. Love how you local folks say that, shadda-gee. Sorry, I’m from Albany. I’m sure you think I’ve got my own weird accent.

So, you and Loyal grew up in Chateaugay. Would you say he was a quiet kid, kinda a loner? You know, like how the neighbors always describe their neighbor who chopped up his mother and fed her to the cats or sprinkled her on his salad or whatever.

Oh, yeah, sorry. You were saying he was a hell raiser then? I hear you kinda ran together back in the day. Were you the quiet one in your dynamic duo? Kind of a balance thing. Funny how nature likes that balance. Human nature too, I guess.

Anyway, the troopers tell me, what little that is anyway, that Loyal once got caught outside your Mom’s house holding something they later connected to a beating he must’ve given a guy named, ummm…Steve Yaddeau? Yeah, he must’ve been a tough kid. You didn’t see that did you? Him beating up Yaddeau? You two always together and all, I figured. Yeah. Yeah, No, of course not. Not you. He ever put a whupping on you? Oh, sorry.

Just a few more minutes. You’re being a great help. My editor, Teddy, he wants all this background stuff and he’ll cuss me out something fierce if I don’t come up with something. Hate to lose my job over just a conversation between two guys, couple of poor kids who grew up with some rough guys around our family. Ya know?

Thanks, I appreciate it. Now, you say you were around when Loyal put that whuppin’ on Yaddeau? Uh huh. What about the time he got caught joy-riding in your dad’s Chevy? Oh? You tried to stop him? Rode with him so he wouldn’t get in any more trouble. Your a good friend, Jason. Sorry, can I call you Jason? You can call me John. How’s that?

I guess having the under-sheriff as an uncle helps in times like that. Oh, no, I wasn’t saying that. Of course not. That’s just how my silly mind works. No filter, as they say. Just BLURGH, out it comes. Sorry.

So you and Loyal were caught joyriding in your dad’s car. Glad he didn’t press charges. Woulda been a terrible thing. Family and all. And I know how families are, believe me. You can be going along your whole life like brothers, even closer, and BANG something happens between you two and it’s over. Happened to me and my brother. Don’t speak anymore.

I’m not prying or anything, you know, but were you and Loyal still on speaking terms lately? Just as background, mind you. My editor Teddy will be asking how credible my source is. And who could be more credible than the cousin and one-time best friend of the deceased.

Oh, I’m truly, truly sorry. Did I say deceased? I meant missing person. I’m sorry, you’ve been a great help to me for the story, talking to me all the way from Watertown and all. You moved away after your grandfather died, right? About six months ago? Was that when you and Loyal had your falling out? Man, I know how those tough guys can be about personal stuff like that. Emotions always close to the surface. Sorry for your loss, Jason. I’ll bet you were your grandpa’s favorite weren’t you. The good grandson.

Oh? Go figure. You two being his only living kin and all. I figured, you know, that balance thing again.

Oh, yeah, I’m sorry, taking up so much of your time. I really really thank you. My editor will skin me with a pica ruler if I don’t get a couple more facts. I promise.

Anyway, I’ve got this friend over in the probate court. You know how it is, young reporter from the Big City, Albany, and a sweet girl originally from Rouses Point. Sweet girl. Yeah. Anyway, she told me that your grandpa left most of his estate to Loyal, with you as secondary heir. That can’t be right, can it? I didn’t believe that.

No, no, strictly on deep background. Just so I understand how Loyal ticked. A bad kid who connived his way into his grandfather’s good graces, an Eddie Haskell-type sucking up to his elders while being a creep to the younger kids. You ever see Leave It To Beaver? Sorry if the analogy is… Oh, you knew about that. No Kidding. Must’ve been a real ball breaker, you’ll pardon my French.

Anyway, I want to thank you for your time, Jason, Mr. Lafleur. You’ve been a big help. My editor will only have to skin me from the waist down now, ya know? Heh…

So thanks again. You have a….

Oh, one more thing. I’m so freaking stupid. You said you saw Loyal at your grandfather’s wake, right? Oh, you didn’t? I would have sworn you did. Must have been that funeral guy I talked to from Brown’s. Said he saw you guys in the parking lot that night. All those Elks and Knights Pythias herding around, I don’t know how he could, but there ya go.

Said you two were having words, but he coulda been mistaken. Coulda been an Elk and a Knight or a Rotarian arguing about the Habs or Democrats or something like that.

So I want to thank you for your time. I’ve gotta make another call to get a second source. Yeah that’s the rules around here. Yeah, ain’t rules a bitch. No, I won’t use your name in this story. Not today, nope. Hey, and you have a great day, okay? If I hear anything from the troopers or sheriff I’ll be sure to give you a call if you like. No? Okay, you’ve been a great help anyhow. My editor… Yeah. Yeah. You too. Yeah, have a great…

Ouch. That was a loud one. Must’ve hung up with a baseball bat.

Hey, Ted! You might want to look at my notes here, but first I got one more call to make. Yeah, troopers. Want to go over my notes with them, too. Think I might be able to wrap this story up for ya with a big bow by 10:00. Just hold another seven inches on A-1. No, I’m not shitting you. No. Then come on over while I call Troop G.

Sheesh. What a grouch. Wish he’d stop calling me Li’l J-Bird. Demeaning shit. Oh, hi, sorry, good afternoon. This is John Berdar from the Press-Republican. Hah, Republican Press. Never heard that one before. Anyway, I’d like to speak to inspector Gallo? Yeah about the Loyal Lafleur murder. I got some new questions, shouldn’t take more than a couple of… Sure I can hold, but tell him I’m on deadline.

Story #7 of Story-A-Day may. One week in the bag. Wouldn’t you know it, the day after I wrote a story using practically all dialog, the prompt from Julie Duffy is for a story written…you guessed it. All dialog. So I decided to write one that’s all-dialog, just only with the reader hearing one side of it. I hope it works. Drew from my nascent reporter days for the setting and character(s). This is, as are all of my Story-A-Day postings, a first draft. It’ll change quite a bit should I decide to revise it into something more palatable for editors and discerning readers.