By definition a story must have a beginning, a middle and an end. I offer this bit of writing as an example of what is NOT a story.
A train whistle snaps me out of my trance, and I slow my run to a bouncing, stationary trot with my tennis shoes still pounding the dusty trail. Every day, nearly every day, I run the three mile circuit down the River Trail and back again. The short jog keeps the spare tire around my middle pared down to a flat donut. Most of the time I keep my head down and my mind on the physical act of moving muscles and tendons. This gets me from point A to point B, but I seldom stop to enjoy the scenery.
The trail through the woods rises, humping up like the white backbone of a large animal; it’s the rocky spine of mother earth, stripped of vegetation and pared down to her rusty skin. Many people run this trail, following the same path of least resistance, as I do.
Why everyone goes this way. Without making a conscious decision, I veer off to the right. Briars protest against my jeans and small animals scurry away. It’s a rough tramp through the weeds and fat kudzu leaves but a rewarding one. Its cooler here—a nice place to hid and think, and I got a lot to think about.
My wife, Mary, wants a new car. My secretary, Sue, wants a raise, for which she is willing to offer her ample favors. But I don’t know. Both ventures seem risky at this point in my life, and I’m not sure I want to do either one. Mary’s determined. Sue’s tempting, but I dream about other things.
I wonder why things can’t stay the same; I wonder why people are never satisfied with the status quo, including me. I sit down under a persimmon tree to ponder this very question.
The ground slants downward, forcing me to brace my legs against the slope. In the distance I can see the Chattahoochee, red from Georgia clay and wide enough to be barely rippling. The cool water reminds me of the empty canteen dangling from my belt. I wonder why my life can’t be more like a slow, meandering river, instead like a washing machine: churning, thrashing and scrubbing away all the good stuff.
Beyond the lake is the train depot and a few loaders are standing at the ready. A train must be close. I listen for it, but hear nothing yet. Workers, clad in denim overalls, holler back and forth at each other. I can tell by their hand gestures and their wide, open mouths that they are hollering, but I’m too far away to hear words. Doesn’t matter. I look away, consumed by my own thoughts.
My business partner wants to incorporate, but he tells me it can’t be 50-50. One of us must gobble up 51%, while the other must be satisfied with 48% and some lawyer, that I don’t even know gets 1%. If you ask me, the lawyers got the best deal: one percent for letting his secretary type up about ten pages. Humph. My grumble disturbs a mother mocking bird; she chides me.
My teenage daughter wants birth control—just in case. “In case of what,” I asked her. “In case abstinence gives way to acceptance, safety bursts through latex, judgment fails in a drunken haze?” I guess I should okay it, but I feel a sneaking sense of blackmailed there. Still, I guess it’s better than being a grandpa.
Thinking back, I wonder, how I came to this spot, and I don’t mean my canted seat under the persimmon tree. Tiny orbs of fruit lay all around me and probably under me too, but I really don’t care about my jeans; they’ve seen a lot worse. I pop a wild persimmon in my mouth and my tongue quivers under the sweet juice. Grandpa once told me that squirrels get high eating persimmons, and it’s easy to see why. Sweet and tart, all at once.
When I was younger I use to get high too. High on dreams. Oh, I tried the drug scene: smoked some M.J., snorted some coke and popped some speed. Once I even did a hit of LSD, but I never did see what the big hoopla was about. Illegal drugs just make me depressed, paranoid or sleepy. No, when I was young, I dreamt of sailing over the seas, seeing new lands and romancing foreign women. Where and when did my dreams and my reality part from each other?
Perhaps it was on that day that my wife proposed to me. What was my answer? I can’t remember. Not yes. Not no. Something between the two. I do remember riding a wave of approval from my family and friends, but even at the altar, moments before the change, I kept asking myself: Why am I sanding here? This woman standing next to me in a white dress doesn’t even like the water, much less sailing. How can she be part of my future?’
Children? I certainly don’t remember saying, ‘Let’s have kids.’ The first pregnancy, as with all the others, surprised me as much as anyone else, and with each child came another wave of approval. No, that’s wrong. It wasn’t a wave; it a tsunami. I remember my father slapping me on the back and saying, ‘Good job, boy.’
I build boats, instead of sailing on them. They’re beautiful things, sleek and tight and dry and made for someone else. My boats sail away, but I never do. How did that happen? Am I weak? Have I always been weak? Did I relinquish command long ago, and now all I have is apathy. What was my motto back then? It must have been really pathetic, something like: ‘Let someone else decide what happens next; I really don’t care. I haven’t installed a rudder yet.’
In the distance, a train whistle divides the air. Paradoxically, the whistles become more urgent as the train slows, clanking and lumbering to a leisurely stop. A hundred yards away from the station, a crack appears in one of the railroad cars. The door slides open—not wide open—about three feet. A head appears in the crack and then some shoulders, as a hobo prepares to unofficially disembark. He’s young with a head full of long dark hair. Lean muscular arms braced against the door. The wind flaps his shirt. He looks down at the ground and then flings his body into the air. He hits the ground on two feet, but momentum is faster than his agility and Mister Free-Rider’s right foot goes too far out for the left foot to compensate. He goes down, but in a flash he’s up again. He makes it look so easy. Ah, but he’s young. Forgiving bones. Easy and fast recuperation. When I was young, my wounds healed fast, too. Almost super hero fast.
I wonder…why can’t I just chuck it all and hop a freight car? Am I too old? Would I regret it? What would I leave behind? Would I find myself sleeping on the ground under a persimmon tree—not by choice—but out of necessity?
There’s one thing that I don’t have to wonder about. I know where I would go. The Sea, by God. There’s an old sea bag under my desk and a short list on a yellow memo sheet tucked inside. Just a few things that I might need on the road. I think about that list more than I think about the J.O.B. I’m continuously editing, revising, and updating the list.
There are only two things that I can’t fit into that bag, and that’s the past and the present. If every, I should take up that dusty old sea bag, there’d be nothing in it, except a few little necessities and the future. What would I leave behind? A great, big chunk of my life, that’s what.
And what if I don’t go? Do I keep throwing more chunks of precious time at this unplanned and unwanted existence? Are these bits of me like chum upon the ocean waves? Am I only feeding the sharks?
I’m a husband and a father. These are gifts, I’m told.
Author’s Note: I do not consider this to be a story. This is prose or; maybe, the beginning of an unfinished story. Even though, I take you through the guy’s entire life with lots of backstory, nothing really happens here, nothing gets resolved. Structurally, what do I have? A guy goes for a jog, sits under a tree and thinks about things.