Crossing Main by T J Therien
Coming Oct. 2017
Crossing Main by T J Therien
Coming Oct. 2017
(Again I attended my writing group on Wed. and the following little story that was written in ten minutes brought one of the members to tears when read back. Please remember when reading the story was written in ten minutes and remains unedited in any way.)
You’re the only person on a streetcar
3 am, the streetcar rolls along the tracks that stretch out across the city like the tracks on a Junkie’s arms. It’s been a rough couple of days without sleep and it’s hard to keep my eyes open. I begin to nod, but I fight it. I can’t miss my stop. She needs me and I promised I would always be there for her.
The motion of the streetcar rocks me in my seat like a baby in the crook of mother’s arm. I fight off the fatigue and wipe my eyes in an effort to stay awake. Just a few more stops to go.
I open the window as wide as it will open so the cool nighttime air will waken me. It only opens a mere crack, hardly enough to refresh me. I begin to fidget in my seat hoping the activity will keep me awake. Just three more stops to go.
She had been ill for quite some time, but took a turn for the worse this last week. She lost her ability to rise out of bed. We all knew that this day was coming, but it all progressed so quickly. None of us were ready.
She told me about the diagnosis a couple of weeks ago and asked me if I would aid and comfort her in her final hours and as much as it pained me I agreed. We may no longer be married, but I understand that there is a level of comfort between us that makes me the ideal candidate to be her care giver in her final hours to give her the dignity she deserves in life and in dying.
My stop is next. I get off the streetcar and walk down the empty street to the house we once shared.
T J Therien
(I attended my writing group again yesterday morning and here is another of my unedited prompt driven efforts. I had ten minutes to write and incorporate the following words; Jungle, Trunk, Lamb and Stank.)
The lamb was quite lost in the jungle. He couldn’t quite remember how he had gotten there. He had been put in a personal pen and for several days remained in the dark box. Several clusters of breathing holes that perforated the sides of the box were the box’s only source of light. The box had been jostled about quite a bit over the course of those days when with a sudden jolt it smashed open and left the dismayed creature in the thick foliage of tangled vines, strange trees and large broad leaves everywhere sprouting from the ground. What had happened to all the grass? The poor thing wondered.
It was damp and excessively hot beneath his woolen fleece, and the heat and humidity rose with a stank that offended his nostrils. The little lamb wondered around for quite a while crying “Mary, Mary?” to the trumpeting of elephant trunks sounding off in the distance. But Mary was no-where to be found.
T j Therien
(I have recently joined a writer’s group that meets Wednesday mornings. We write in ten minute segments on various prompts. This is one of my efforts (unedited) from yesterday
Prompt: Child, lost coin, river, ancient, argument.)
It was down by the bend in the river that wound through the green vales and through the thicket and rolling hills of the valley. There the water pooled deep and made a good swimming hole. The children of the nearby village would splash about in the cold water. It was one exceptionally warm summer day when one child, while diving the depths of the swimming hole came across an ancient coin on the sandy bottom. He brought it with him to surface and pulled himself upon the bank to examine it. It was old, in fact ancient and the lettering was some obscure language. It glinted gold in the high noon sun.
Another child seeing the shine in the palm of his friend’s hand came over to feed his curiosity, as children will do. “Let me see that,” the friend said to the boy holding the coin.
“No,” said the other.
“just let me see it for a second, I’ll give it back to you”
“No,” the boy with the coin repeated and closed his hand around the coin to better protect it.
The friend grabbed for the boy’s hand which tightly held the coin and the two boys began to wrestle on the bank. During the tussle the coin fell from the boys hand and back into the river where it was swept away by the current until it came to rest and be buried in silt, arriving in much the same fashion as it had so many years before.
“Look what you’ve done,” said the boy who had found and lost the coin.
“I’ve done nothing, I only wanted to look at it a moment. It was you who would not share.”
The boys continued to argue on the bank of the river for much of the day and there were many hard feeling between them afterward. Their friendship as was the coin was lost to them never to be retrieved. Beyond salvage the two boys went home that day never to speak kindly to one another ever again all because of silly argument over a coin neither could spend.
T J Therien
The night draws long and sucks wind.
Tom was back in the big city. He had moved away some time ago, but something instinctual had brought him back, like that innate characteristic of migratory birds. He hopped off the Greyhound and stretched his cramped up limbs after the long bus ride. He scratched the grey stubble on his chin and breathed in deep. He almost choked, his lungs no longer accustomed to the smog and car exhaust. He retrieved his weathered and worn duffle bag that contained his life from the storage compartment beneath the bus and dropped it between his feet. He took a long swig from the flask he wore on his hip and lit a cigarette before he slung the bag over his shoulder and made his way down the street with no particular place to go.
It was late and almost everything was closed. He had a few hours to kill until morning when he would be able to lookup a couple of old friends and find a place to crash. The neon lights hurt his eyes as he made his way down the main drag. He was about to light another cigarette when he came across a twenty-four hour coffee shop. He figured it was as good a place as any to kill a couple of hours, so he went inside. A few bums slept at a couple of the tables, but the place was otherwise empty. He ordered a coffee and sat down and planned out his next move.
There he sat and sipped on his coffee. Time dragged on infinitely slow and he found himself needing a smoke something fierce. He left his unfinished coffee and his duffle bag at the table where he would have a view of them from the window and he stepped outside.
Three youths in their early twenties had congregated just outside the coffee shop harassing the few people that walked by. Tom paid them no mind and lit his smoke. The youths spoke with bravado in raised voices. Tom continued to ignore them.
A guy on a bicycle rode up, hopped the curb and dismounted with a jerk. His clothing was worn and his dark hair greasy. Tom noticed how jittery the guy was. Probably in need of a fix, he thought to himself as he took a long haul on his cigarette.
“You holdin’?” The guy with the bicycle asked one of the three youths.
“How much you want?” The shortest youth asked back.
“How much you give me for the bike?” The guy with the greasy hair and shabby clothes asked as his eyes darted here, then there, resting a moment suspiciously on Tom, who ignored him.
“I’ll give you a forty-piece for the bike,” the short youth answered.
“Come on dude, it’s a fuckin’ Bianchi,” the greasy haired guy said as he fidgeted. “Check out how fuckin’ light it is.”
One by one the three youths proceeded to check out the bike, lifting it and examining it this way and that. The greasy haired guy grew anxious and began to fidget even more. Tom continued to ignore them and smoke his cigarette.
“Okay, I’ll give ya an eighty-piece,” the short one negotiated.
“It’s a fuckin’ Bianchi,” the greasy haired guy said obviously more aggravated.
“Fuck guy, you would sell your mother for a forty. Take the eighty-piece and shut the fuck up,” The tallest youth spoke up.
The short youth reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of white rock and handed it to the greasy haired guy, who in turn looked it over, rubbed it against his teeth to check the quality and then thought better of it. While he did this, the tall youth didn’t like the way the greasy haired guy looked at him, so he started a beef.
“Watch how you look at me, or I’ll smack you upside the head,” the tall one threatened.
The greasy haired guy quickly thrust the piece of white rock back into the hand of the short youth and quickly snatched the handlebars of the bike back. He ran and hopped on the bike and quickly rode away before any of the three youths had time to react. Without a target for his anger, the tall youth turned his attention to Tom, who was lighting a cigarette off his previous cigarette and looking through the window of the coffee shop to keep an eye on his things.
“So what’s your deal? You a crack-head too?” The tall gangly youth asked aggressively.
Tom ignored him and continued smoking his cigarette.
“I’m fuckin’ talkin’ to ya,” the tall youth pressed on.
“Fuck off and leave me the fuck alone!” Tom said as he flicked the ash on his cigarette.
“Talk to me like that old man and I’ll smack you upside the head,” the tall youth threatened.
“I’m warning you now boy, you better have some respect and leave me the fuck alone,” Tom said asserting himself in no uncertain terms as he flicked what remained of his cigarette on the road.
The tall youth took a clumsy swing at Tom, who was ready for it. In one fluid motion Tom ducked the punch, and stepped under the swinging arm to come up behind the youth. Tom grabbed the back of the tall youth’s head and used momentum to smash the tall youth’s face into the brick wall. Blood splattered everywhere as the tall youth collapsed and held his face screaming in pain. Another of the youths rushed Tom from behind, but ran into a quick sharp elbow. The youth reeled backward from the blow as Tom turned around. Before the youth was out of reach Tom grabbed him by the back of his head. Tom pulled the youth’s head down and met it full force with his knee which caused a large cracking sound and a geyser of blood to erupt from the youths face.
Two of the youths rolled on the ground and Tom turned his attention to the last youth standing, the short one. The youth was struggling to pull something from the pocket of his hoodie. Tom caught the glint of cold steel in the youth’s hand reflecting the streetlight. Tom casually slipped out of his denim jacket and twirled it a couple of time so one sleeve wrapped around his right hand. The youth jabbed and poked and slashed with the blade while Tom calmly stepped back out of range each time. The youth overstretched and Tom slapped his jean jacket across knife and knife-hand. With the blade covered, Tom quickly stepped in, grabbed the youth and threw him to the ground. Tom then came down with his boot and stomped on the head of the youth. The heel went thunk and the skull of the youth gave way to the force.
“Fuckin’ Punks!” Tom spit.
Tom slipped his jacket back on and took a long pull from his hipflask before going back into the coffee shop to retrieve his duffle bag. He slung it over his shoulder and left. As he walked down the street he could hear sirens approaching. He turned onto a side street as an ambulance and a couple of police cars raced toward where the three youths lay.
Tom made his way across town to an old friend’s place. Later that day he was watching the news at his friend’s apartment when he heard about the drug deal gone bad that left three youths in hospital in critical condition. Tom laughed as he lit a cigarette and looked at his friend who had asked Tom what his plans were.
“Think I’m gonna be leavin’ town again soon. This city ain’t nothing but trouble.”
T J Therien
The old woman had finished her examination and gestured at the younger woman, accompanied by a few guttural vocalizations. The old woman left them and the younger one had begun to carry out the instructions she had received. She tended to the boy’s cuts and bruises.
He gazed into all four of her eyes. Her eyes had changed. They no longer twinkled like the stars, but they had become like deep dark reflective pools of water. He felt something akin to being stabbed in the core of his being. He winced from a pain deep inside of him and not from the wounds he had received at the hand of the larger boy. The new information he processed about the girl had made him forget any physical pain he felt, the inner pain was much greater.
She touched his swollen face tenderly before she rose and left him lying in the mouth of the cave. The boy ignored the aches of his body which bemoaned every movement as he struggled to his feet. He felt dizzy and off balance, but still he followed her. He remained at a distance, out of view.
She followed the same path to the running water, but she did not gather roots, or nuts, or berries. She did not pick flowers for her hair. He watched her from his vantage point concealed in the bush and brush. She sat on a big flat rock that jutted out into the running water. The buzz of a bee distracted the boy. He swatted at the insect and just missed it. The motion sent pain radiating through his entire body. Rising and dropping in the air, the bee flew off.
The boy was struck with an idea and he left the young girl laying on the rock and followed the bumblebee’s flight. After some time the bee, going from flower to flower led him to his goal. Bees actively circled the entrance to the hive. The boy looked around and found what he was looking for, a large stick. With all the might he could muster he swung the fallen branch, but missed his target. Pain shot through every muscle of his body and he stumbled forward a little, carried by his own momentum. He braced himself with the branch as he gasped from the pain.
When he had caught his breath and sufficiently recovered from the pain he tried again. This time he made contact and sent the busted hive in an arc to the ground. Bees swarmed around the broken remains of the hive. The boy ignored the stings and the pains of his previous wounds and rushed in to reach into the broken hive to retrieve its sticky treasure. The boy, with several pieces of honeycomb began to run with the bees in hot pursuit. They stung him mercilessly. They stung every inch of his exposed flesh. They stung his eyes, inside his mouth and nose, they stung him all over.
His emergence from bush and brush in a full sprint startled the girl. He fell to his knees in front of her breathing heavily and holding the prize in his outstretched hands. She did not look at the boy, but at the ground between them. His hands remained outstretched proffering the chunks of wax with their precious contents. Her eyes rose slightly and she looked at his hands, bruised, scraped and covered in beestings. Her hand touched the welts on his arms as her gaze followed up his arms to his bee stung chest and shoulders before coming to rest on his cut, swollen, and stung face.
His features were almost unrecognizable. His eyes were nearly swollen shut. Her eyes grew misty. Her cheeks grew moist. She took the honeycombs from his hands and placed them upon the rock. She washed his wounds, both new and old with cool water. She collected the honey filled wax when she was done tending to his wounds. She led him back to the cave. She had to help him several times because he was extremely weak. With his arm draped around her shoulders the arrived at the cave of their clan.
She laid him down on some skins near the cave’s entrance. Their absence had not gone unnoticed. There was a great deal of activity about the cave, much more than normal. The young man the boy had fought with the night before glowered at the boy each time the young hunter passed the cave’s mouth.
T J Therien
He woke up feeling discombobulated. He sat up in his bed. His head felt fuzzy and everything looked grey. He felt strange, different somehow, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. He couldn’t remember going to bed, in fact he couldn’t even remember his name. He bent his mind on remembering, but nothing came.
He rose to his feet. He felt anxious about something, but what? He did not know. He felt like there was something he had to do, but what? He did not know. He looked around the room. It was a typical bedroom, furnished as most bedrooms are with a dresser, night table and a bed, although there seemed to be a lack of personal effects such as photos and pictures. He looked at the bed from which he had just risen and there he saw someone sleeping.
He studied the waxen, wrinkled complexion of the man that lay in the bed and he wondered why he was sharing a bed with this man. The man in the bed looked vaguely familiar, but he could not recall who the man was. He was confounded.
Who is this? Who am I? Maybe I will find something elsewhere in the house that can jog my memory, he thought to himself.
He decided to have a look around and see if he couldn’t discover something that might jog his memory and help solve the mystery he was confronted with. He walked slowly to the door, which was shut. The floorboards creaked beneath his feet. He reached out to open the door, but when he did his hand passed through the knob. He tried again with the same result. He tried a third time and again his hand passed through the handle.
He was perplexed, confused, this just wasn’t right. How would he open the door if he could not turn the knob? He stood for some time looking at the door, studying it. This was all very strange to him and he didn’t know what to make of it.
He was about to return to the bed when he could hear the approach of soft footsteps on the other side of the door. The knob slowly turned and the door squeaked on its hinges as it opened. A tall, slight dark haired woman wearing a blue nurse’s smock with a monkey print entered the room and flicked on the light.
“Time to get up for breakfast Mr. Wilson,” she said in a soft voice.
The man in the bed did not respond. The nurse repeated herself and still no response. She approached the bed and checked his vitals before rushing out of the room leaving the door wide open. Within a few minutes the staff of the old age home had converged on the room staring and gawking at the deceased man in the bed.
“Good riddance, he was such a foul man,” one of the staff said aloud and the others nodded the correctness of the statement.
The cook had left the kitchen to find out why no one in the dining room was being served and found the gaggle of staff in the deceased man’s room. The cook had overheard the comment made by one of the staff.
“You’re all a bunch of ghouls. There’s a time to pay your respects and this isn’t it, we still have residents that are very much alive and waiting on their breakfast. Get back to work,” the cook said; obviously aggravated by the way the staff was behaving.
He had watched all this and nobody had noticed him, it was as though he was invisible. Thank God for the cook, he found himself thinking. The staff filtered out of the room and left him alone with the corpse.
“I must be dead,” He said.
T J Therien
Tom Simpleton was the village idiot. He was a strapping young lad, strong as an ox, with dirty brown hair and deep blue eyes. Despite his deceptive strength Tom was a gentle soul and spent most of his time in nature. He would play with feral dogs and cats because the boys and girls of the village would not play with him. In fact, the other children ridiculed and ostracized him. The adults of the village perceived Tom as a nuisance and nothing more, hardly worth paying any attention to.
Tom was the only child of peasants who could not afford to give him an education. While the other children learned to read and write, Tom remained illiterate. When his parent passed away in an accident there was no body to take care of young Tom and he was left to fend for himself at the age of fourteen. He may not have had book smarts as did the other kids, but even at fourteen he was stronger than most men. A local landowner took pity on Tom and offered him a job chopping and stacking wood and maintaining the grounds of his estate.
Tom continued to live in the shack of his parents and would walk half an hour in each direction rain, or shine to and from the rich landowner’s estate. He would take the shortest route through a field of tall grasses and richweed, or horse balm as it was otherwise called. Every day regardless of the weather he would chop and stack a couple of cord. When he finished with the wood he would muck the stables and then tend to the flowerbeds and the grass. The landowner was very proud of his tract of land and preferred it when it was perfectly manicured, though he himself would never lift a manicured hand to do the work.
The landowner was not a hard man to work for. In truth he expected very little of Tom and Tom for his part worked tirelessly and the man appreciated that. Eventually the landowner began to care for Tom as he would a son. He had no son’s himself, only a daughter around Tom’s age. Not having a son of his own saddened the man because his wife was left barren after the birth of their daughter, due to complications with the delivery. It was all the doctors could do to ensure both mother and child survived.
At fourteen Isabelle was developing into a beautiful young lady and the landowner knew it wouldn’t be much longer before the suitors arrived at his door vying for her delicate hand. Isabelle had grown up opposite of Tom. She knew privilege and popularity and she had many friends. She wore the latest fashions and had even gotten a new pair of bobby socks which had taken New York by storm. Isabelle was rapidly growing into a younger version of her beautiful and socially conscious mother.
Isabelle’s mother pressed her husband to move back to the city. It was time to start introducing their daughter into society. It worried her that there was so little culture in the country. She feared her daughter would adopt the mannerisms of these bumpkins. If that were to happen they would have a difficult time finding a suitable husband for their daughter. Isabelle’s father was a stubborn man and his wife’s complaints fell on deaf ears. It wasn’t that he didn’t love his wife; he just thought she put too much stock in society.
Isabelle and Tom rarely came into contact with one another. She would see him around the grounds doing this and that, but she had only spoken to him once when he first started working for her father. She determined that he was not all there and she wondered why her father brought him on.
Each day, after her studies, Isabelle would go riding. The family had five horses, hers was a spotted filly and she loved the animal dearly, even if the horse was jittery and juddered at the slightest provocation. The horse was skittish and her father had begged her to choose another, but Isabelle would hear none of it. It was one day in May while riding in the adjoining woods that an animal scurried across the path and her horse reared, tossing her from the saddle. Isabelle struck her head on a root and was knocked unconscious.
Tom was mucking the stables that day as he always did and when he didn’t see the girl, or the horse he had a sinking sensation that he could not explain. Something inside him told him that Isabelle was in trouble. He had always had these gut feelings that turned out to be true. He never told anyone about them because they would have figured him mad. This extrasensory perception had served Tom well over the years keeping him safe and out of trouble.
Prodded on by that uneasy feeling in his stomach Tom went off in search of Isabelle. As he approached the forest at the edge of the property, he came across the horse saddled, but no rider. Tom ran into the woods along the riding trail and followed it until he came upon Isabelle. She was unconscious and lying upon the ground, dressed in tan jodhpurs, black riding boots and blazer, Her hair was loose and fell about her shoulders. Tom dropped to one knee and scooped her into his arms. He rose to his feet without effort and began to run, he ran back to the estate. He ran tirelessly and as fast as he could back the way he had come.
Tom was met before he reached the front porch of the estate by the girl’s father who was stretching his legs and getting some air, as he always did at that time of day. Surveying his property from his porch, he saw the boy running toward the house with his daughter in his arms. He ran out to meet them where upon he took the girls into his arms.
Isabelle’s father carried her into the house and up the stairs. Tom followed quietly behind. Her father laid her upon her bed. He listened to her chest and could hear a faint heartbeat. He left the room and came back with a wash basin and a cloth and proceeded to wash the drying blood from her hair and temples. All the while Tom stood silently in the corner. When the doctor arrived, Isabelle’s father placed his hand on Tom’s shoulder in a gesture of comfort. He led the boy from the room and left the girl with the doctor.
Isabelle had slipped into a coma. She lingered between life and death for seventeen days. For seventeen days Tom did not go far from her side. The first night he slept in the stables and when he arrived at the house the next morning smelling of manure Isabelle’s parents made him bathe before they would let him sit with her. The doctor had said that it would be better if someone sat with Isabelle and talked to her and her parents didn’t see any harm in letting Tom relieve them. Isabelle’s mother would fall into hysterics almost as soon as she entered the room and saw her daughter laying so near death, so in some ways Tom was a blessing.
Tom thought Isabelle looked like an angel. Her expression was one of peace, her features were so fair. His mother had told him all about angels. His mother told him there were different types of angels. She had told him there was something called a hierarchy of angels. There were little angels that did the little jobs, there were your average angels that did the average angel things and then there were the archangels, these were the angels that spoke to God. Tom thought Isabelle looked like one of those archangels as she slept.
On the eighteenth day after her fall Isabelle expired. Tom was in the room when she breathed her last breath. He saw Isabelle lying upon the bed and he saw another Isabelle. The other Isabelle was made of light and bathed in albescence. First she sat then she rose to her feet and she walked without touching the floor. She smiled upon Tom as she drew near, passed through him and then passed through the wall.
Isabelle’s father semi-adopted Tom after his daughter’s passing. Tom moved into the estate. He still did the jobs he always did, and was still given wage for them, but he did not need to pay rent and without much need of money he had accumulated a little nest egg. Isabelle’s father hired the best tutors for Tom and he learned his alphabet among other things. After her passing Isabelle watched over Tom for the rest of his days which were long and happy.
T J Therien