Saturday, April 30, 2011
This week I'd like to share an excerpt from one of the stories included in my anthology of short fiction. I hope you enjoy it - and if you wish to read the rest, pick up a copy in either paperback or digital download by clicking here.
I first met Joey Conroy two years ago. I was taking the only official holiday I’d allowed myself since Brad’s death. Matt, my editor, insisted I use some of my vacation leave, complaining that the union would be on his back if I didn’t do it soon. So I packed a bag, tossed it into my old Ford Mustang and drove out of LA with no definite destination in mind.
I still wasn’t sure how I’d cope with traveling on my own. I’d shared every other holiday with Brad and it seemed there were few places I could go that didn’t hold memories.
Since his death, my work at the newspaper had kept me so blissfully busy that I’d been spared the excesses of grief. Now, as my car sped along the straight, unbroken Arizona highway, I began to worry that all that mind-numbing work had merely postponed the inevitable. Already I felt a hard black ball of misery well up inside as though just waiting for the right moment to envelope me.
I’d been on the road for only six hours when the fan belt broke and I had to pull up in a little one-horse town called Dry Bark. The mechanic at the cluttered little gas station informed me that the fan belt was not the only problem. My radiator had sprung a leak and needed welding. Of course, the fellow who did that type of work wouldn’t be in until Wednesday.
I ran a hand through my hair, stared at the steaming automobile, then turned to look up the street of the dusty town.
“There’s a pay phone at the Post Office.” Jim, the mechanic, said. “You might wanna call triple-A or something.”
I grimaced. My roadside cover had lapsed two months ago and I hadn’t bothered to renew it.
Seeing my chagrin, Jim added, “There’s always Ginny O’Dwyer’s rooming house. She could put you up for a while, I reckon.”
I smiled at him wearily. “Yes. Perhaps I’ll get a room. I’m in no hurry.”
He told me how to find the place and I trudged off through the shimmering heat with my suitcase in one hand and my purse slung over the opposite shoulder. At least Brad and I had not ambled this road hand in hand, I thought ruefully.
Besides the garage, post office and rooming house, the town consisted of a diner called Lulu’s, a two-lane bowling alley, a bar, a combination grocer-drugstore and a white weatherboard, single story building with a gold plaque on the front that said, Town Hall. There were a number of scraggly houses ranging down either side of the main street, all with sagging front porches and tin roofs. There was probably a school somewhere, since I noticed a number of children playing marbles in the dirt and I wondered why they weren’t in it on a Monday.
I wiped perspiration off my top lip and adjusted my sunglasses. I could see Ginny O’Dwyer’s ahead, a two-story house with a large sweeping veranda and a picket fence that badly needed painting. There was a wooden sign swinging from a post that said, Rooms to Rent. It did not pretend to offer too much in the way of comfort or congeniality, but I didn’t mind. I’d only be here two days.
I was just about to hoist my bag again when the door to the bar opened and a stooped old man stepped out. The sounds of clinking glasses, a baseball commentator, and raucous laughter spilled out after him. He stood there for some moments as though getting his bearings, then shuffled forward. He must not have seen the step, for the next thing I knew he was falling, grabbing weakly at the handrail as he went down.
I ran over and squatted down beside him.” Are you all right?”
He looked up at me, squinting against the bright sun. “’Becca?” he asked. His voice quavered.
“No. Not ‘Becca. I’m Stephanie – Stephanie Gilbert. Are you hurt?”
He continued to stare at me for a few moments, then finally shook his head. “Becca’s gone, Joey.” he said. He tried to struggle to his feet and I put a hand under his arm to help him.
Just then the door of the bar opened again and another man came out. He was younger, with sandy hair and brown overalls. He took in the situation at a glance and hurried down the steps.
“Is he all right?” he asked me.
“I think so.” I said, “He managed to catch the rail as he fell.”
“There, Joey, let’s get you up. How do you feel?” the young man pulled Joey to his feet and began to dust him down.
“Joey feels great!” the old man thumped his barrel chest exuberantly, then he looked at me and nodded solemnly, “But Joey got hurt, once.” he said.
I realized at that moment that he was probably not as old as I’d first thought – perhaps in his early sixties. He had a large, round head sparsely covered with strands of white-gray hair. His face resembled an irregular bread-loaf – full of pouches and sags, drooping jowls and thick lips, with a huge bulbous nose, splat in the middle that looked to have been flattened on more than one occasion. There was a white scar over his left eye and his ears jutted from his head like doorknobs. But, despite this battered, misshapen countenance, Joey had a pair of beautiful, sapphire-blue eyes that made the rest of him retreat in a blur once you were caught in their mesmerizing glow.
Posted by Maureen McMahon at 5:31 pm