Sunday, June 14, 2020

Award-Winning Story 2020

On May 15, 2020 a story of mine won an Honorable Mention in the 2020 Trumbull Library Competition.
It was published, along with the other winners, in PenWorks. This is the silly story I wrote (I've included a photo-illustration):

Comedy of Nature
by
Tom Kidd

This story begins in a time before phones did magic tricks, telling us how well we sleep, how far we walk, how much more we have to travel to lose weight, where we were, how to get elsewhere, what the weather is, reading us stories, handling our finances, doing our laundry (okay, not yet, but soon), and, most relevant to this story, depositing checks.
“It’s a nice day, let’s walk into town and deposit our tax refund,” I say to my wife, Andrea. It’s warm, the snow is melting, the world is greening, bugs are buzzing, and we prefer walking over driving. For breezy days like this, you need a jacket. And, if you have hair like mine, you need a hat, or you’ll end up looking like a wild man or Albert Einstein or, more to the point, Professor Irwin Corey.
Off we go into town, down the hill from the house towards the brook. Once past our shed, disaster strikes. Ahead of Andrea, carefully choosing my steps, leaving furrows in the mud, I hear her scream and jerk around. Nature is attacking. She stands with arms extending out like she’s pretending to fly, balancing on one foot. The hungry sludge has sucked a boot from her left foot. And it covets the sock hanging from her toe too — if not all of Andrea, should she fall. 
A most comical sight.
Andrea isn’t laughing, she needs my help. Here is my chance to be gallant. 
Instead, I cock my head to the side and ask, “What’s wrong?” as if her situation is hard to decipher. It’s shameful to admit, but this is what smart-asses do. They pretend not to see the patently obvious. Andrea looks at me with a face caught between anger and incredulity. Is my husband this big an asshole or is he more stupid than I imagine?
However, feeling a touch of sympathy, I work my way back through the muck to Andrea, steady her, pull up her lolling sock, then reach over to her boot to tug it out of the muck that ravenously struggles to consume it. The ground fights against my efforts, but I slowly work it loose. The ooze gurgles in disappointment. Then I untie the boot, place it back on her foot, and retie it tightly for her. This is all very difficult to do while I laugh and laugh and laugh; I shake with it so much, I nearly topple us both over. Andrea finds none of this funny. And, jerk that I am, I’m laughing as I write this.
Once we reach higher ground, we take some time to wipe off our shoes. It seems as if we survived the incident with little harm. What we don’t know, is that this is only a distraction. By shaking up Andrea a bit, Nature has set in motion a more dastardly plan.
We head to the crossing that will take us over the brook. I’d built it myself, and I was unduly proud of this structure, its twenty-foot span that I’d tied to piers on either side and then tied to trees to keep it in place during floods. There, disrespecting my triumph of engineering is a turd. Damn raccoons. We’re prepared, though. Next to our bridge sits a collection of branches and twigs we collect for removing fecal matter. Andrea calls them shit-sticks. I pick up one and use it to flick the offensive poop aside. Then I toss the soiled stick into the water and watch it float away to join the river, and I imagine it eventually going out to sea.
We cross, go up the hill, and into a field that leads into the cemetery. Contemplating what I’ve cleaned off the platform, I think back to the times I’ve seen teenagers using it for sex. Had those kids any idea what they were laying in, it might have given them pause. Once I saw a Great Blue Heron cover the surface with its white slurry as it flew over. What about my bridge makes it a toilet for wild animals? What about it causes such arousal in people and poop in animals? Sure, it’s hidden by trees and thick shrubs, but it’s part of a pathway. There’s a good chance people will come to cross it.
Here’s our routine when we see naked people on the bridge as we approach: 
Andrea yells out, “Is that a Peculated Auburn Shehawk?”
“No,” I yell back, “I think it’s a Gross-Beaked Booger-Flicker. Hand me my binoculars, I want to get a closer look.”
This loud behavior gives the couple time to cover up and move to the edge of the bridge to let us walk by. We pretend not to have seen anything. I’ve considered putting up a sign there that would say, “Crossing Only. Please, No Fucking.” My guess is that it’d have the opposite effect, and attract more couples who’d then pose next to the sign while acting out something from the Kama Sutra.
It’s more breezy than I prepared for. I wish I’d thought to wear a scarf like Andrea has. As I pull my collar tight, the wind nearly steals my favorite hat away.
Our walk in is uneventful: No foxes, no coyotes, no Scarlet tanagers, no Snow buntings, no turkeys, none of the usual hawks soar over us, only a few bluebirds that eat fat grubs.
We pass the hospital where Andrea works as a medical transcriptionist and head for the bank. Once in the bank, I get directly in line. Andrea is fumbling around in her purse behind me. As she does this, we move up in the line, move up again and again.
“Tom, I can’t find it. It’s not here.”
“The deposit slip or the check?”
“The check — it’s gone.”
We get out of line and go over to a table where Andrea dumps everything out of her purse. The refund definitely isn’t there. “I must’ve left it at home,” she says. 
I see a speck of mud on the pocketbook and think, maybe the zipper came open when Andrea flailed around in the backyard, and a gust plucked the check out? On a windy day like today, it could’ve blown miles away by now. Nature steals our days away, our eyesight, our memories, our loved ones, our dignity, and now our refund?
All we can do is leave and retrace our steps. Our overriding hope is to find that check forgotten on the kitchen island. I wonder how much trouble it’ll be to get the government to issue us a new one. It’s got to be a pain.
As we walk, I scan the ground. My vision was extraordinary back then. Nothing escapes me. Pale leaves and bits of paper trash blow about like money in the wind, but they don’t fool me, make me give chase. We cross over into the cemetery, repeating our earlier path. 
“That’s it!” I exclaim and point, “there, in the thorn bushes.” And it is there. It’s fluttering about, trying to pull free of its captor. I have only a second or two to reach it — and it takes me three. Off in the wind it goes. It flies towards the Civil War tombstones, then it jumps to the World War One group, and finally over to the World War Two stones. As the check wends and winds its way among them, the tiny American flags placed among the gravestones are flapping their chastisement. The absconding refund offends their sense of fairness. The evil wind ignores them and lifts the check beyond my reach, and carries it to the grassy center of a circular road. I chase after it. It’s clearly enjoying this game.
As I run for the fugitive refund, startled crows squawk and scatter from me. A squirrel darts across the lawn — and heads right towards my prize. Would I soon be chasing it as it leaps from tree to tree taunting me with my property in its mouth, showing off with its aerial acrobatics as I yell obscenities at it? In my mind, I can see people laughing at the story about the poor fellow who’d fallen from a tree while trying to catch a squirrel who’d run off with a tax refund. Ha-ha-ha, so glad my broken bones amuse you. But, no, the gray rodent passes right by it. Soon, it will be in my hand.
And then another flurry grabs the darn thing and carries it down to the Oranges. No, not the fruit, but tombstones with that rare name on them. At some point, our town had not one but two Oranges living here, and these are not the oddest first names in the cemetery. Headstones, worn and cracking with age, sing out their archaic names to me seductively, introducing themselves, beckoning me to join them, like they know something I don’t:

We’re Ina and Affa and Einar and Dianthia
Urania, Petrea, Analia, Athalia
With Beuel and Geuel and Herkuel and Eziequel
Next to Mindwell and Deuel and Fanuel and Lemuel

Eerily, the voices continue:

We’re Alondra, Amelia, Almira, Adalia 
Noadiah, Obadiah, Viviana, Malia
Vesta and Electa and Mayletta and Permelia
With Jabez and Jehiel and Jeruel and Abreonia

And continue, threatening to break my concentration:

We’re Urana and Jerusa and Alpha and Bathsheba
Orinda and Serina and Lemira and Renata
With Almon, Aurellia, Amazia, Livonia
Salvin, Sabella, Sophronia, Parthenia

The damn check rolls past the Oranges and onto the road, directing all my concentration back to it. Oh no, oh God no, it’s heading for the brook, to swim away from me. If it makes it there, it has won and will float off to join the shit-sticks in the sea.
I speed down the hill, leaping over headstones like I'm in a steeple race. The wind steals the hat from my head, but I give it no mind. Fully fixed on my prey, I run. Piercing out to me comes Andrea’s screaming voice with one word.
“STOP!”
Momentum carries me two more steps. My right foot reaches the road. All I have now is one final thought.
I’m dead.
There’s no time for introspection or retrospection, only the knowledge that at the end of that thought I’ll no longer exist as I sense a speeding vehicle reaching me — and blurring past me leaving only dust and not my mangled body.
That infernally devious piece of paper tried to kill me.
I push aside thoughts of mortality and revenge and concentrate on how to stop the would-be assassin from getting away. Like a racehorse bursting from the gate, I shoot forward, galloping past the check. I spin around and stop to act as a barrier to it and the brook. Then I dive forward with a right feint and go left. This ruse deceives my quarry, and I catch it and hold it in the air, my heart pumping in triumph. Andrea comes down the hill, holding my hat. “Ha, your hair looks funny,” she says and hugs me. “You scared the crap out of me. How did you not see that truck?” My knees go wobbly at the mention of it.
As I hug Andrea back, I look down at what’s in my hand. “Andrea, this refund check isn’t ours,” I hold it up, a look of horror on my face and say with disbelief, “it’s someone else’s.”
“No, it can’t be, not after all that trouble, no.” Andrea’s face is one of defeat, so I show her the check and her expression changes to outrage. “You asshole, that is our check.” When she sees my smile, she gives me a good push.

She’s right though, only an asshole would play a terrible joke on a wife who’d just saved his life. I’m worse than Nature herself.


1 Comments:

Blogger LavronYor said...

I loved the building excitement! I also love the effluvient vocabulary of the enlightened asshole. The self evident nature and the need to torment those we love as if their patience reinforces what a great choice we made.

6:38 PM  

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