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Author Topic: Short: October  (Read 8830 times)
WarHorse
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« Topic Start: October 05, 2007, 08:28:31 pm »

One of the few things I've had published, October was written in (you guessed it) October of 2001.

Quote
   Striding along a concrete path from the parking lot to the deck, Margaret passed the “Tonto Lake Recreation Area” sign, the pavilion, the carved map of the hiking trail.  She couldn’t remember the last time she had been on that trail, didn’t try to make the recollection.  Her mind moved slowly, indifferent, in sync with the gentle thump-thump of her husband’s wheelchair crossing the expansion cracks in the walk.  There had been a time when feeling the thumps irritated her, but she’d grown used to them, then became reliant upon them to keep her thoughts at a snail’s pace.  She no longer wanted to think, but she couldn’t help herself, and the path of her thoughts was ever more down hill and darker, morbid and helpless.

   They arrived at the observation deck, the handles of the wheelchair wiggling back and forth as she pushed at an angle to the 2x4 floor.  There were some fishermen climbing into their jon-boat at the small dock joining the far end of the deck.  They ignored her, and she was glad; she’d graciously accepted all the sympathy that was given to her, but she didn’t want it.  Not from her friends, her family, her husband’s family, the doctors and therapists, the neighbors, or strangers at the mall or wherever she might take him.  The sympathy she’d received at church had been so overwhelming that she stopped going, which added regret to her burdens.

   Thoughtlessly Margaret had driven here this day, forgetting why she never came here anymore, only aware that it was October, and there would be few warm days left in the year.  She wanted a wide open space to provide clean air and quiet surroundings, and she’d found it, until the motor on the jon-boat was started, but the fishermen quickly motored away, their voices raised to be heard over the motor, something about going deeper because of the warm sun.  It was warm, she realized, warmer than she’d expected, so she set the brakes on the chair before bending over her husband to loosen his jacket.  There was drool on it.  She took a small towel from her purse and wiped it up, wiped his face, and closed his mouth.  After twenty-two months, it didn’t bother her anymore, the drool, or the snot, or the diaper changing and cleaning him like an infant.  What did bother her was his occasional erection, screaming out for the children they had never made, and when this happened she would close the blinds and weep in the darkness all day.

   As the john boat disappeared into a cove, Margaret slowly realized that they were utterly alone.  It was a beautiful autumn day, and this lovely park was deserted except for them.  No sailboats, no picnickers, no old men fishing from the dock.  It was the thought of an old man fishing from the dock that brought to mind why she didn’t visit this place anymore.

   Her husband had taken her there on a date seven years before; they ate some take-out fried chicken, walked along the trail, spooked some deer and rabbits.  Arriving back at the deck, they sat on a bench to watch the sun set, while an old man with a cane pole leaned on the railing and watched his bobber.  As the evening cooled, the mosquitoes had come out, so he, her husband, made his move, stuttered his proposal, showed her the ring, and she said yes, putting the ring on while swatting mosquitoes.  They hugged and kissed and made promises of love ever after with a rosy hue not unlike the sunset, while the old man withdrew his hook from the water and changed the bait.  The old man’s serenity seemed to make the moment perfect, establishing a lack of disruption, building a foundation of patience and faith that, one day, they would land a big fish.

   Then on one December afternoon some years later, her husband slipped on some ice while walking to his car after work.  He had never been awake since.  The doctors had done X-rays and CT scans, shunted some fluid, but only time would bring him back, they said.  It had been twenty-two months since then, and her husband was still in a coma.  She no longer trusted that anything would bring him back.

   She read to him, sang to him, given him body massages that the therapists taught her.  She did all of his therapy now, since the loss of his income had wrecked their finances.  The house was gone, the Lexus and the minivan sold, their savings and mutual funds cashed.  She got by on his insurance policy, but the claims adjuster warned her that the payments would be cut back or eliminated eventually.  She couldn’t believe it, but her lawyer assured her that trying to sue the insurance company would take so long that her husband would either be cured or dead before a settlement was reached.  She closed the blinds for two weeks after that.

   Margaret tried working part-time, but no matter what time she worked, getting someone to watch her husband was too expensive.  Guilt-ridden and exhausted, she returned to staying at home and whiling away the hours reading books from the public library, her weekly two-hour escape allowed by her mother who came to town to watch him for her.

   The shrieking call of a killdeer brought her attention partly to focus, the bird flying in loops and circles near the edge of a cornfield across the road.  She wondered what made the bird cry out like that – there was nothing around to endanger it, no predator for her to lead away from her nest, which would likely be empty at this time of year anyway.  She knew what an empty nest felt like.  But no, that wasn’t true – her nest wasn’t empty, it was occupied by an invalid, a vegetable, though no one ever used that term around her.  She lowered her head, wondering what in God’s name had driven her to come to this place, it was just a reminder of what would never be, of the loss of hope, trial of patience, where the fish didn’t bite and promises were rendered null and void.  The whole mess had started here, and he’d brought her here, and now he couldn’t hold up his end.  What was she supposed to do?  How could in sickness and in health apply to this?  When the insurance company pulled the rug out from under her, where would she turn?

   It wasn’t like there were no volunteers to help, but she couldn’t ask friends from church to come watch him every evening while she worked until he died or came out of it, which seemed more unlikely with each passing day, so the thing would go on for years, and she would never be able to repay the debts of gratitude accumulated in that time.

   It wasn’t fair.

   Hadn’t she been a good student, a good daughter, a good person?  Hadn’t she gone to church every Sunday for twenty-five years and taken communion and cooked for the dinners and sang in the choir?  How much more did she have to sacrifice?

   But there is always an out.

   They went over two hundred thousand dollars in debt the months before his accident, and she had never recovered all of it, because cars devaluate the second they leave the lot, and the house was a one-owner, so no one would pay the original construction cost, and they’d not even finished the landscaping or the basement.

   He still had a life insurance policy.

   Then she’d practically lived at the hospital for two weeks until they decided there was nothing they could do but wait, and the bills were over ten thousand dollars, which she’d only been able to pay once the house had been sold, holding off their lawyers all the while.  Wasn’t the purpose of a hospital to care for people?  Why hadn’t they cared for her?

   There was a ramp to the boat dock.

   What good was an insurance policy if there were hidden clauses that the purchaser couldn’t understand?  How could those people sleep at night knowing that they were throwing helpless people onto the streets?  Was the money so important that humanity was put aside for profit?  If she lost his benefits, they would be killing him.  Social Security would pay some, but not nearly as much as the insurance policy.

   The boat dock had no railings.

   How many people had offered their time, when what she needed was money?  In her library research, after she’d given up on studying the human brain and vegetative conditions, she looked for organizations that helped people in her situation.  There weren’t any.  It was as though once you passed age eighteen, you were capable of looking after yourself, even if you couldn’t walk or talk or control your bowels.

   The water would be deep at the end of the dock.

   So she used her mother once a week, and his parents came once a year for a few days, but they didn’t know how to do the therapy and had never really offered to give her some time off, anyway.  They were living on Social Security, and had enough troubles of their own to keep her from asking for help.  Her burdens were hers alone, and she was going to break someday, but she would never be accused of placing her burdens on the shoulders of others.

   She expertly tipped the wheelchair back and eased it down the ramp, turning it to the left, towards the lake.  She was now on the dock.  Her husband was now on the dock.  She paused to wipe her eyes, not realizing she had started crying, not aware, really, of what she was about to do.  She sniffed and gripped the handles, a slight tremor in her hands, her mind a blank, and leaned forward to start the chair to the end of the dock.

   “Hi.”

   She gasped and froze in her tracks, suddenly aware of where she was, her consciousness catching a fleeting glimpse of what thoughts had bubbled from the depths of her distress, a shocked guilt hunching her shoulders.  There had been no warning, no tires on the gravel parking area, no footfalls behind her.  She didn’t want an audience any more than she wanted sympathy, but she couldn’t be rude, could she?

   “Hello,” she replied towards the lake with as much composure as she could muster.

   “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

   Her head sagged a little, she examined the top of her husband’s head.  “I guess so.”

   “A little cool for a swim, though.”

   The comment gave her a slight rush of anger, how dare anyone insinuate such a thing, and she turned her head to make some snotty comment, anything to get rid of this man and his irritatingly pleasant voice, but stopped, seeing something she had never seen here before, something so odd that words failed her, and that was rare enough.

   He was a Park Ranger, smartly clad in a green woolen uniform, brass buttons shining in the afternoon sun.  His WWI campaign hat was level on his head, shading a handsomely chiseled face, which looked to be about twenty.  More surprising was that he was sitting astride a white horse, its ears pricked towards her, the eyes blue, which she thought strange, didn’t horses have brown eyes?  She looked to the Ranger again, and noticed that his eyes were also blue, a light, icy blue that seemed to look through her instead of at her.  His expression was pleasant, his posture regal, but those eyes bore in with a soft accusation behind them, a hint of knowing what you wanted no one to know.

   “Um, I just like to get him out for some fresh air, sometimes.  He’s my husband.”

   The Ranger nodded.  “I see.”

   “Well, you haven’t seen us here because we usually go to different places, but I’m tired of them, I wanted something different.  You know.”

   “Yes, I know.”  The Ranger looked around a little, sampling the panorama of the lake.  “It’s a lovely place, like from a happy memory.”

   Margaret breathed before answering.  “Yes.”  She really wanted him to go; her spell was broken now, she was ready to go home and watch TV while fixing dinner, and she had to get her husband on his feeding tube again.  But for some reason, she wouldn’t go until the Ranger did, perhaps because she wanted him to trust that she wasn’t about to do anything rash, like dumping her husband into the lake.

   The Ranger nodded once towards her husband.  “How long has be been like that?”

   “Almost two years.”  She didn’t elaborate, didn’t want to begin a long discussion on how it had happened, the problems that had come of it, she just wanted him to leave so she could gather her thoughts and go home.  That wasn’t really too much to ask, was it?

   “Hmm,” the Ranger said.  Without any visible cue, the horse stepped down the boat ramp until its head was even with her arm.

   Margaret grabbed at the handles again, ready to push her husband out of harm’s way.  “He doesn’t bite, does he?”

   “Who, Betty?” the Ranger smiled.  “No, she’s never hurt anyone.  She’s been hurt a time or two, but she’s a very forgiving animal.  Now, watch this.”  The Ranger was staring not at her or the horse, but at her husband.  He began to lean forward a little, and the horse stepped toward the wheelchair, ears pricked, nose out, sniffing, it seemed, at some new playmate.

   Margaret watched, a little impatient, just wanting this little show to be over and done with.  She wouldn’t even wait for the Ranger to leave, she would just go home and feed her husband and turn on the news.  She didn’t look away, though, because she knew that her husband had ridden his cousin’s horse as a kid, and he’d been bitten once, though he claimed that it had been an accident, the horse liked him, and that was how they expressed themselves.  She didn’t trust any horse, a relative’s or a Ranger’s, and watched closely, not catching the enhanced stillness around her, like the tilting of an ethereal plane.

   That was how she caught the change.  Betty was sniffing around her husband’s face, and he flinched, or blinked, or did something with his eyes that wasn’t just the normal blinking away dust or dryness.  He flinched.  She blinked in disbelief.  Betty touched her nose to his, and her husband opened his mouth.

   “Uhh.”

   It was so soft she almost didn’t hear it, couldn’t afford to believe it, waited for more while the horse sniffed and touched, her whiskers giving the softest caress to his skin, an angel’s touch, and he exhaled hard, a soft sound coming from his vocal chords, a new life coming into his vacant eyes.  Margaret bent down on his other side, competing with the animal for her husband’s face.

   “Honey?  Can you hear me?  Honey?”

   His eyes stared straight ahead, but he gave the soft moan again, and began a slight bobbing of his head that soon had the entire chair bobbing with him, the rhythm of the chair having become a part of him.

   “Paul?”

   The moan.

   “Can you see me?”

   Short moans, three or four, then a slight smile before his eyes looked around a little, never really finding her, but looking.  She pulled him to her, wrapped her arms around him, astounded and delighted and so full of relief and hope and love that she could not express herself, just held him, never wanting to let go, to be out of his sight, to forget this moment - miraculous, wondrous, and theirs.

   He had not used his vocal chords or tongue or facial muscles for twenty-two months, so his attempt at speech was little more than babble.  He said “I feel so weak,” and it took him a long try to get it out, but she understood, he wanted to hug her back, so she held him tighter so he would know she understood, and then she cried for all the lost time, cried for the hopelessness and despair, the lost promises that might be found again, realizing that now they had a goal, and a goal meant an end, and if there was an end, then she could ask for help, because she could give it back, and she could reason with the claims adjuster, and call his parents, and go to church and really be thankful for something.

   She held him until her back ached from hunching over, then she squatted down before him, asking if he could see her.  He looked right at her and smiled again, tried to say “Yes,” but it came out as “Yesh,” and he giggled, and she laughed through her tears, wondering how this had happened, what he would remember, how long it would take before he could be his whole self again.

   She looked away to thank the Ranger, but there was no Ranger, no white horse; only a killdeer walking along the gravel lot on some mission of its own.


Three weeks later.

   Ranger Captain Bill Thomas sorted through his stack of mail, as he had each working day for twelve years in this position of Lake Supervisor, noticing the hand-addressed envelope, grinning a little as he took it out, suspecting what it was, wondering when this phenomenon might end.

   His suspicion was correct, and he read it with deep satisfaction, though he’d had nothing to do with the occurrence at all.

Dear Sir:
   I apologize for not bringing my gratitude in person, but I must express myself as well as I can, and presently have no time to visit.
   My husband had been in a coma for 22 months before I took him in his wheelchair to your lake for some fresh air and sunshine about two weeks ago.  During our visit, we were approached by a young mounted Park Ranger (and I didn’t know you still had them, and now I am so glad that you do!).  The Ranger – I’m sorry I didn’t get his name – let his horse nuzzle my husband for a minute, and during that time, my husband came out of his coma.
   I know this sounds very surreal, but I assure you it happened.  The Ranger left before I could thank him, so if I can describe him, could you let him know that we owe endless gratitude to him.
   He looked about twenty, and I think he had light colored hair under his hat, and light blue eyes, the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen (after my husbands).  He was on a white horse.  They should both get a medal or something, I’ll help you with it when I can, but my husband is learning to walk again and catching up on the news from the last two years, so I’m pretty busy with my part-time job and all.
   My thanks to all of you for the wonderful job you do at the lake.  I’m sure we’ll be able to visit in the spring, and many times after.

With sincerest thanks,
Margaret Bacher


   Captain Thomas did not re-read it.  He called to one of the younger Rangers in the outer office.

   “Mike!”

   Mike came in, coffee in one hand, expectancy on his young face.  “Yeah?”

   The Captain held the letter across his desk.  “Another one for The Board.”

   “Really?  That’s three this year.  I still say we oughta have the paper come out and do a story on the guy.”

   “I’ve told you how much he hates crowds.”

   “Yeah, yeah, but still…”  Mike left the Captain’s office while reading the letter and sipping his coffee.  He blindly walked to the break room and paused before a four-foot by six-foot bulletin board while finishing reading.  He set his coffee on the break table, then looked for some place on the board to pin up the letter.  He placed it over some letters from generations past, yellowed and crisp with time and sun, pinning it there with dignity, level and smooth, then looked up to the top of the board, reading again the headline from the story that ran in the city paper in 1948: THE PHANTOM RANGER OF LAKE TONTO: Ghost of Mounty Slain During Prohibition Still Helps Those in Need.


That's about it.

Thanks for reading.

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Aisling
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« Reply #1: October 05, 2007, 08:58:32 pm »

One of the few things I've had published, October was written in (you guessed it) October of 2001.

That's about it.

Thanks for reading.



That's such a lovely story, Warhorse.  Thank you so much for sharing it!  Smiley
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« Reply #2: October 05, 2007, 10:57:59 pm »


Very nice.  Wink
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« Reply #3: October 06, 2007, 08:11:36 am »

Thanks for reading.

Very good story, Warhorse.
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WarHorse
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« Reply #4: October 06, 2007, 12:44:12 pm »



Thank you all. Wink  I never quite got the spine-tingle from the last line I was after, but it still comes together well.

Could you (collective you) "see" the autumn colors?

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« Reply #5: October 06, 2007, 03:17:00 pm »

One of the few things I've had published, October was written in (you guessed it) October of 2001.

Wow. Great story, WarHorse! I really enjoyed it.

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« Reply #6: October 06, 2007, 08:32:02 pm »

Wow. Great story, WarHorse! I really enjoyed it.

Shadowcat

Thank you!  I cannot really tell you the inspiration for that one.  It's an example of one of those stories that is "already there."

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« Reply #7: October 06, 2007, 08:37:02 pm »

Could you (collective you) "see" the autumn colors?

This collective you could.  Grin 
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« Reply #8: October 06, 2007, 09:17:28 pm »

Thank you all. Wink  I never quite got the spine-tingle from the last line I was after, but it still comes together well.

Could you (collective you) "see" the autumn colors?



Seeing the autumn colours... *moves curtains and looks outside* Yep looks the same. Cheesy

An endearing story, of love lost, love returned. Such sadness, hope lost. A buried fear, it could happened to anyone. The poor man trapped within himself and alone.
A rollercoaster of emotions the woman endures to the breaking point, trapped and alone.

The young ranger full of understanding and knowing.... saves the day. *smiles*
The twist on the ending was great.
Like one of those ghost from stories Locals tell, where ya just got to go Check out the place.
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« Reply #9: October 06, 2007, 11:48:27 pm »

One of the few things I've had published, October was written in (you guessed it) October of 2001.

Wow, WarHorse!  Thank you for sharing.  Smiley

I dunno bout you but *I* got tinglies from that last line.  Wink
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« Reply #10: October 07, 2007, 06:40:46 am »

This collective you could.  Grin 

Seeing the autumn colours... *moves curtains and looks outside* Yep looks the same. Cheesy

Interesting - they aren't mentioned.  Thanks for falling into my trap. Wink


The twist on the ending was great.

Thank you Cent! Smiley


I dunno bout you but *I* got tinglies from that last line.  Wink

Thank you Celtee! Smiley

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« Reply #11: October 07, 2007, 09:23:23 am »

Interesting - they aren't mentioned.  Thanks for falling into my trap. Wink

 Tongue It's a trap of my own brain... have highly vivid and visual imagination. Tell me the story is in autumn and my mind automatically goes there with a blaze of reds, yellows, oranges, and browns. 

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« Reply #12: October 07, 2007, 01:26:39 pm »

Tongue It's a trap of my own brain... have highly vivid and visual imagination. Tell me the story is in autumn and my mind automatically goes there with a blaze of reds, yellows, oranges, and browns. 



That's what I was counting on.

Without going back - what colors are mentioned?

Tongue

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« Reply #13: October 07, 2007, 01:30:37 pm »

That's what I was counting on.

Without going back - what colors are mentioned?

Tongue



You never said there would be a quiz.  Tongue Without going back, the only two I remember were white and blue (being the horse and its eyes). 
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« Reply #14: October 07, 2007, 04:23:48 pm »

You never said there would be a quiz.  Tongue Without going back, the only two I remember were white and blue (being the horse and its eyes). 

Ya forgot green....the color of the dude's uniform.  Wink
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