Today hubby revisited the surgical suite. He received a pacemaker to stimulate his heart to beat when his heart rate drops below 40 beats per minute. The hospital monitors captured data during Hubby’s syncope events. The doctors learned my husband’s heart slows dangerously, bringing on a vasovagal response. It’s hoped the pacemaker will prevent his passing out in the future.
I picked the song prompt “The Good Life” by Three Days Grace a couple of weeks ago and scheduled the post for the future. Afterward, I heard about a man who was traveling through Cumberland, Maryland, on whose true tale this short story is based. The person who told me about him is the cook character in the piece.
It is amazing how well this story fits the sentiment of the prompt song. It was serendipitous I was told about this story just as the prompt song posted.
The Good Life
by Fay Moore © 2012
The stranger sidled up to the lunch counter and took a seat.
The cook, who also served as waiter at the rescue mission, didn’t recognize the man as having been there before. No matter. More and more, the faces were new, coming in for a meal or two before disappearing, not to be seen again. Yet something about this man piqued the cook’s curiosity.
“Would you like a bowl of soup?” the cook asked.
“Yes. Thank you,” said the stranger.
He dropped his knapsack on the floor beside the counter stool, took a seat, then swiveled around to survey the room. A half-dozen wizened-faced men peppered the room, sitting at tables in dark corners. Like fly specks on an otherwise clean kitchen counter top, they were an uncomfortable reminder that something unlikable was present in this city.
“I don’t think I’ve seen you here before,” remarked the cook.
“No. I’m only here for a day or two.”
“Where are you staying?”
“At the hobo camp by the railroad yard.” The man showed no embarrassment or shame.
Hobo. Until recently, it was an archaic word that conjured the depression era men who traveled with a bindle, riding in box cars, looking for the next place that promised a chance at a job.
Hobo. Here at the mission, modern hobos arrived daily, attracted to the hobo camp near the railroad hub, where trains converged for a re-shuffling of the cars into new configurations based on each car’s destination. Men traveling from southern or eastern cities came here to catch a western- or northern-bound train. And vice versa, depending on the season or the work available. Some were disheveled from countless days between using a bath or laundry facility.
The cook noticed this stranger was clean and cleanly dressed.
Hobo. A lifestyle of survival and of necessity exacerbated by bad economic times. Unlike bums, hobos traveled looking for work. A job yielded a good life. Modern hobos might or might not be penniless. The common characteristic hobos shared was using the railroads to travel – for free.
“Are you riding the train?” the cook asked.
“Hope to. I’m heading for Canada.”
“For vacation,” came the reply.
“You’re kidding me,” the cook gasped.
“No. I guess I should explain. I used to be a hobo, always traveling from place to place by rail, trying to find work. Finally, I was lucky and landed a good job. Someone took me under his wing to guide me. I went to law school. Now I am a lawyer. But every year, I take a vacation and ride the rails. For old time’s sake, I guess.”
The cook looked incredulous.
“It’s true. I have a hand written book given to me by an old man a long time ago that outlines every rail line, every yard, where the junctions are to change course, which yards to avoid because the bulls are mean sons of bitches. That kind of stuff. He collected it all by writing it down. Before he died, he gave it to me.”
“Have you ever been thrown off a train by a bull?” The cook was wide-eyed.
“Yes. It’s worse in the deep south. I got roughed up down there and taken to jail. But I paid my fine, and I went on my way.”
The cook shook his head. The man finished his soup and slapped a twenty dollar bill on the counter.
“The lunch is free,” said the cook. “The boss says to feed whoever walks through the door.”
“I know. This is a donation. It’s what I do now that I can. When I eat, I pay for myself,” he said, panning his arm across the room, “and for my friends. Thanks for being here to feed us. There was a time that without soup kitchens like this one, I would not have had a meal for days while I hunted work. It’s my way to give back.”
The stranger picked up his backpack, shouldered it, and walked out through the same door he entered earlier, without looking back. In his head, he thought about the cook. He thought each of them had found a little of the good life.
For those who are curious about what one does with a classical song prompt, you aren’t alone. I was curious, too. I was surprised where my imagination took me. I think I was as much influenced by the name of the Geminiani piece–La Foresta Incantata–as the music itself.
The genre of the story is a departure from anything I have written before. Is it a dream? You decide. So here goes:
An Enchanted Forest Ride
by Fay Moore © 2012
“I’ll be back for dinner,” the master called out to his manservant, as he rode his horse across the courtyard cobblestones, heading for open field. The master saw the servant’s reflection in the rippled glass of the manor house window, in his hand the ledger that he had been reviewing with the master for several hours. The reflection looked like a man dressed in a floating sheet.
From atop his horse, the master admired the finely chiseled ears on the head of his prize stallion; ears forward, the horse attended to the direction the lord of the manor was steering him. The woods loomed ahead. As the master recalled his steward’s ghostly specter in the window reflection, his neck hairs tingled.
The owner of the equine settled deep into the curve of the leather seat, relaxing his back, pelvis and legs to float upon the saddle in tune with the motion and gait of his mount. The tension that built up through the hours spent in accounting flowed down through his loosened frame and out the bottom of his stirrup-cradled soles, where breezes carried the bad energy off into space.
The day was magical. A cold front pushed all heat and humidity from the air. Neither man nor horse perspired as the sun beat upon their backs. Zephyrs blew both creatures’ hair, lifting and dropping tresses in waves, the same way ribbons flutter from the end of a lance.
Sensing the tempo playing in the air, man and horse began to move in union with it in a slow, deliberate canter. The rhythmical rocking of the rider crescendoed with the hoof beats of the stallion. By the time the pair entered the cutaway into the forest, they were galloping.
Once inside the shade of the forest canopy, the duo felt the air temperature drop. The freshness of the air and of the horse’s spirit urged the animal faster into a dead run. Birds flushed in droves from the bushes, but the pair ignored the feathered bursts. Dirt clods flew into the air, flung aloft by pounding hooves. The man loosened the reins to give the horse its head. Ahead in the path, a small tree was down. Horse and rider sailed effortlessly over the log in one motion, a union of body and spirit. Off to the left, a herd of deer, thrashing through the understory, scattered like a burst of fireworks. The horse dashed on.
Ahead the lord spied a shaded opening in the trees. He felt drawn toward the space. He slowed the horse to a walk, patting the animal’s powerful neck. The exhilaration of the run caused both man and horse to breathe deeply.
In the opening, the master dismounted. The air glittered, amazing the man. He rubbed his eyes. The horse yawned. Their breath took shape and sparkled in clouds before them. Overtaken with a sudden urge to sleep, the horse folded its legs beneath itself and dropped to the soft, cool earth. It stretched out its neck and rested its jaw bone on a mound of grass. The man followed suit, sitting on the ground and leaning back against the prostrate animal. As if cast under a spell, both were soon snoozing.
Out of fallen hollowed logs and half-standing snags at the edge of the opening, or descending by spider-silk from leafy bowers in the treetops, a troupe of ragtag phantoms and sprites appeared. A shade stood by the head of the horse and a shadow by the head of the man, each casting dream dust when the sleepers’ eyelids fluttered. The others poured over the prone bodies, emptying the man’s pockets of two gold coins and gleaning half-chewed corn from between the horse’s teeth. Six tiny hands grabbed a loose thread in the man’s woven vest and pulled, unwinding the wool. A team of specters wound the thread into skeins and whisked the rolls away. When their work was done, an apparition looking like a fairy waved a wand above the sleeping pair. The magical troupe disappeared in a flash.
The sun was falling fast toward the horizon, and shadows were growing long. The gentleman was confounded that he had slept. What earlier seemed an enchanted space, now grew chilled. He leaped to his feet as the horse surged up from the ground. Wasting no time, he hoisted his toe into the stirrup and pulled himself up into the saddle. Reins in hand, he spun the horse on its heels and spurred the steed. Shaking off its supernatural drowsiness, the animal plunged through the woodlands, racing for its barn.
Feeling cold, the horseman glanced down and spied his vest was missing. Only a wisp or two of the distinctive yarns remained, caught in his belt buckle. As the dusk deepened, there was no time to sound the depths of his confusion. He bent at the waist, tucked himself as close to the body and neck of the horse as he could, and rode for the manor as if ghosts were chasing him.
The song “Unwritten” could have taken me in so many different directions. My brain threw idea after idea in such fast succession, I was spinning. When I figuratively tumbled to the ground, I got up to this thought. So here you go: my response to the song prompt “Unwritten.”
by Fay Moore (c) 2012
“A free day,” she thinks aloud. “It’s mine. I can do as I wish.”
This day is a gift from her spouse. There is no one to answer to and no obligations to meet. Her husband has taken the kids to the water park. From there, they will go to his sister’s for hot dogs on the grill. The cousins will play until exhausted. Then, her husband promised all the children he would chaperone a backyard sleepover. He will pitch a tent and try to settle four children to get some sleep.
“Better him than me,” she says to herself.
What will she do? The private time is uncommon. She, the maker of lists and long-range plans, hasn’t considered a free day a possibility in her life; she finds herself without a schedule.
She stands at her bathroom window and looks out over her tiny private courtyard. It is surrounded by high hedges of forsythia and rose of Sharon so dense than no one can peer through it. Seized by inspiration, she strips off her clothing. She self-consciously slips out the back door.
It is a hot and muggy morning. Donning the pair of garden gloves she left on the back porch, she methodically weeds the flower beds planted in front of the hedgerow. Beyond the bushes, she hears the sounds of street traffic. She feels each wisp of breeze tickle the fine hairs on her skin. Small goosebumps rise and fall with each zephyr. The consciousness of her own integument amazes her.
Suddenly, a man’s voice startles her. Instinctively, she uses her gloved hands to cover her breasts and pubic area. Then she hears a woman answer the man. She follows their voices along the sidewalk outside of her sanctuary. She drops her hands to her sides, relieved, and laughs softly. She realizes she is, indeed, safe from prying eyes. Emboldened, she continues her naked gardening until the weeds are gone and she glistens with perspiration.
She pulls the sprinkler from its cubbyhole and attaches it to the end of the hose she has extended to the center of the courtyard. She turns on the spigot. Then, she dances in the water exuberantly to the music playing in her head. The music’s rhythms adjust to the oscillation of the sprinkler.
When her lips begin to turn blue, she shuts off the water and goes into the house. Her skin and hair are dripping, creating rivulets on the hardwood floor. In her spontaneity, she forgets to plan for drying herself. Soppy footprints punctuate her passage through the hall.
Dried and dressed, her hair wrapped atop her head in a towel, she is refreshed. She glances at the clock. It’s 9:52 A.M.
What is the agenda for the day? She doesn’t care that it is still unwritten.