Heh, I’ve sort of disappeared lately.
I promise there’ll be a picture post and some sort of recipe soon.
BUT for now, we have a short story based off of a song for a contest. And it’s actually not Blank Mastermind centered, so that’s a change from the norm.
Exactly 2,000 words, told from the point of view of an inventor character and set in the Great Depression, so that fills two long-time dreams of mine.
Here be the Proclaimers song it’s based on. (it doesn’t really apply until the end, but still.)
And, if you wanted more music for the occasion, have the Spotify playlist I made for writing it.
So, enjoy the story, guys.
It was a year I was gone from home. Riding the rails. Patching the same old coat so many times it was more patches than the original cloth. Having more coffee than food most days. Whistling more than any sane human should in the frail hope that it would raise my spirits. Sending letters full of assurances of my health back to my wife . . . even though I knew she could never respond to them.
After a thorough scouring of the states, I’ve decided that no one needs an inventor in this tough of times. They’re too busy trying to get their next meal on the table to take time to consider buying a dish-drying machine or an automatic laundry folder.
It was easy to blow off the first couple times as just people who just didn’t appreciate my genius.
A bit harder to blow off the whole country.
I feel more worthless than my stupid hammock that tore right down the center in the middle of the night.
I glare over at it . . . a crumpled heap in the lantern light . . . before focusing back down on my letter. My hands shake with the cold as I write. The paper crinkles as I press my pencil stub down, backing it against the one book I brought with me. Or rather, that Hannah made me bring.
Her favorite book of Tennyson’s poems. It amazes me that after this long, it still smells like her. The musty smell of the pages still holds that faint smell of roses and nutmeg.
“I’ll get you both back soon, I’m sure.” She wrapped her thin arms around me, burying her face in my then new coat. Her frizzy, orange halo of hair tickled my nose as I hugged her back.
I shake away the image and finish the line I’m writing.
I’m in California right now. Weather’s great, if a little cold. Who am I kidding? It’ s winter. It’s got me thinking, though. A sort of bed-warming invention would be swell, wouldn’t it? I’d sure go for one right about now.
I hope the money I left you with is still holding out. Sad to say I haven’t been able to collect too much more. I’m sorry, Hannah. I really did think this would be the best thing I could do for you.
What kind of husband am I? Running away and leaving my wife to chase some crazy scheme of getting rich . . . she doesn’t need me rich. I don’t need me rich.
After all this, I can just hope we can be happy.
I stop in my writing to flip up the collar of my coat. I rub at my nose, which feels numb, then tap my pencil stub against the paper as I think.
I feel like there’s some Bible verse that says something like that. Better to be eating coffee and paste-biscuits with someone you love than to be eating fancy grub like those folks that still had money and fighting about how to spend it.
Eh, something like that.
I was never really one for Bible reading.
The lantern flickers, making the shadows in the trees and brush around me jump like they’ve been scared. A gust of wind and the moon comes out from behind a cloud. A lot higher in the sky than when I set camp.
I look up at it, shake my head and hunch down to write the last few lines.
I’ve been away too long. If everything works out, I’ll reach you before this letter does.
I’m coming home, Hannah.
I love you,
I’ve been on some long train rides. But this one felt like it would go on for eternity.
And it probably didn’t help matters that I got myself kicked off twice along the way.
After the longest few days of my life, I made it. Back to home.
I chew my lip as I looked up and down the street. All the stores I thought for sure would keep it up long after the others . . . boarded up at the windows and doors. Closed for good.
I know that generally memories are more colorful than actual life, but the whole town looks like a photograph that had gotten left out in the sun. All the color and life bleached right out of it.
I still know where I can find one spot of color, though. A head of bright red, frizzy hair, poking out one of the windows in the little yellow house on Cherry Street. Hannah’s undying purple and white pansies, drooping their heads over the edges of the window boxes.
I grin just thinking of it. Hitching my bag up on my shoulder, I start scuffing my way through town towards my final destination. My hat shields my eyes against the dust blowing in the streets. I muffle a sneeze on my jacket sleeve, against the patch that used to be part of a red flannel shirt.
My hand rubs against the hot, rusted metal of the lamppost as I swing on it around the corner onto Cherry Street. I scuff up the dust in a neat arc and nearly break into a run down the street.
Landmarks I barely remember skim past. The tree with the knothole that looks like a heart. That lightning-shaped crack in the sidewalk. The pink house with the red curtains.
And finally . . . my home.
I skid to a stop and blink a couple of times, feeling my smile fade off my face.
The yellow paint is bleached nearly white. The pansies are shriveled and brown, as is most of the grass in the yard. Dust coats the porch and sits in the corners of the windows.
My heart beats faster, pumping icewater into my chest.
Hannah . . .?
I stride over and walk up the steps. My beat-up boots leave footprints in the dust. The only footprints on the porch.
I try the door, jiggling the dented, brass knob. “Hannah? Hannah, I’m home . . .” Where would she have gone? Is she okay?
I smack my palm against the splintery wood. “Hello?”
The house creaks and sighs helplessly in response.
I step back and let out my breath, putting my hands on top of my hat. I try to think clearly. Who would know? Who would know what had happened?
I look over to the grungy white house next door. Distant laughter and yelling of small children drifts out through the windows, mingling with the clanking of dishes.
Our neighbor . . . Mrs. Alston. She’ll know. She knows everything about everyone in this town. And this is the one time I won’t begrudge it of her.
I jump back down the steps and run over to the front of her house. A teddy bear lies abandoned on the steps, flopped to one side. I accidentally kick it down below as I get to the top.
Taking a moment to collect myself, I take in a deep breath. I pull off my cap and twist it in my hands. Quickly pat down my curly hair and hope it’s presentable. It never is, but I can hope. Another second to think of what to say, then I knock on the smooth, whitewashed wood of the Alston door.
The ruckus inside dies for a few seconds, then changes pitch.
“Children!” I hear that familiar gale of a voice yell. “Quiet down! Just a moment while I . . .” the door swings open and Mrs. Alston is looking at my midsection. Her gaze slowly travels up the long way to meet my eyes. Immediately, any contrived friendliness disappears from her face.
I half-nod, half-bow awkwardly. “Hi, Mrs. Alston. I was just wondering if you . . .”
“Well, I’ll be,” she drawls loudly, propping one hand on her portly hip. “Never though the great inventor Woodrow Wayne would deign to show his face around town again after all this time.”
I’m glad I have my cap in my hands, so there’s something I can dig my fingernails into. “Yes, I’m sorry about that, Mrs. Alston. I never thought it would be so long. But, I just wanted to ask . . .”
She shakes her head in disapproval and grey strands from her tired-looking bun escape to wisp around her face. “Marry a girl . . . tell her you love her . . . six months of happy, married life and then you up and take off. Chasing some crazy dream instead of caring for poor Hannah. I told her . . .” she waggled a finger as she spoke.
Heads start to poke out of a few of the other houses down the street.
“Ma’am,” I open my mouth again. “I went home and Hannah’s not . . .”
Mrs. Alston puts a hand over her heart. “ . . . and in the end the boy she loved so much wasn’t even there for her final moments . . .”
I feel like someone stabbed a knife through my chest. My hands clench tighter on my hat and I stare at Mrs. Alston, not hearing anything else she says.
“Wh-what did you say?” I whisper.
Please, God. This can’t be happening.
For once, Mrs. Alston listens to me. She stops and looks up to meet my eyes again, one of her eyebrows going up. “Hannah’s dead, Woodrow.”
I feel the blood drain from my face. “How . . . h-how . . .”
She’s gone. I left her and now she’s gone. Dead. I wasn’t here.
I’ll never see that bright, red mop again. Never that smiling face, grinning up and waiting for a kiss. I left her for nothing.
“ . . . hope you were able to make some many during all that time, after all it’s cost me.”
I realize Mrs. Alston is still talking and blink, pushing back the tight knot in my throat. I need to know as much as I can about what happened to Hannah. A sorry attempt to make up for not being here.
“S-sorry, what did you say?”
She sighs. “You really never listen to anyone, do you? I was saying I hope you have a few dimes to your name at least after all that. Your daughter’s got to have some sort of life, after all.”
Daughter? I just stare, uncomprehending.
Mrs. Alton rolled her eyes. “If you missed that too, Hannah died in childbirth. The baby lived, thank heaven above. And she’s got healthier lungs than any of my children ever had. I just hope I can trust her father to take care of her.”
I open and close my mouth, but no sound comes out. I feel numb all over.
She leans back into the house for a few seconds. “Jennie! Bring that baby here. Got her dad.”
A small, blonde girl comes over, holding a blanket bundle. Her eyes meet mine and she smiles. Jennie was the only Alston who ever liked me, honestly.
“Here, Mr. Woody.” She holds out the bundle to me.
I reach out, taking it from her arms. A small cry comes from inside. I hold it to my chest and pull aside the blanket.
A tiny face peers out at me from among the folds of grubby flannel. She has red hair that frizzes out on the top of her head, just like Hannah’s. She stops crying as she sees my face and reaches out, grabbing my dirty finger with her sticky little hand.
“Hey, kid,” I whisper, feeling barely able to speak.
She gives me a tiny, toothless smile.
The empty feeling in my chest fills in just a little bit. I guess I’ll have a redhead around after all.
“I hope you plan on taking care of her, Woodrow.”
I look up and nod, clapping my cap back on my head. “Yes, ma’am.”
Hope you guys enjoyed!
Please comment with thoughts and I’ll see you all later. -salutes-