A House on Sand

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Silver
Jim Walke


I woke to the sound of a sinking house. The wind off the lake crushed the foundation deeper into the sand as the whitecaps chewed the beach. You built on rock where you could—basalt poked through the thin soil like bones—but our land was dune.

I threw back the blankets and stuck my feet into moccasins. A spray of frost clouded the window. March is still fiercely winter here.

The house settled as the wind drew a breath. My mother had preceded the sun for all of her sixty years, but I heard no kitchen murmurings. The clocks weren’t ticking. My aunt had stilled them when she draped the mirrors in black. Traditions die hard.

In the short hall, I shied away from the walls, filled with family photos in rough frames. Her bed was made.

There was silence and wind, until the stairs creaked under my weight.

The unfamiliar casseroles in her refrigerator were a sign of trouble, the required offerings of Midwestern grief.

Her car hunched in the driveway. Dad’s truck was still in the parking lot at the restaurant where he died. He fled to the bathroom to avoid a scene when he choked on a piece of gristle. He was found twisted on the tile floor.

I arrived yesterday in time for his funeral, exchanging the desert’s fire for the silver and pine emptiness of northern Michigan. The rest of the family lived within forty miles of where I stood.

Plastic sheeting sealing the sun porch off for the winter had been torn aside. It hung in the doorway like a broken wing. The floor was covered with stacks of paper. Clippings, letters, favorite books: all of my mother’s mementos covered the rug. She must have been up all night.

The first pile consisted of a primer from grade school and a card from her fifth birthday, addressed to ‘my dearest Ginny’. I counted the piles of paper. There were fifty-five.

I moved down the line. She grew older in the pictures of each stack. The sun broke through the windows, washing her youth in gold. The thin girl sitting on horseback became a beauty accepting an elocution prize. Society columns whispered her maiden name. The dance cards had no blanks. A third of the way across the floor he appeared. My father was a rough young fellow, looking like he had stolen his tuxedo.

Nineteen held dried flowers, live-forevers in a faded pink. Letters swore the young man was in love. He used her full name: my Ginger. In one many-folded scrap he described her body, completely. The wedding was in the next pile.

I shuffled faster, blurring the neat stacks together. My sister appeared, then me. The stacks were tall with childish paintings and report cards, but also held love notes from my father. Some were romantic, some racy. The best were both.

Two decades passed as I crawled, and although I could see my mother before me I could not hear her in the house. I pawed faster.

The papers thinned into an empty nest. They were alone together again. Still, he courted her.

The final stack was by the front door. It was a single piece of paper: the program from his funeral. I looked back. The sun had reached the wedding. My passage through her life had caused a disturbance but had not changed the overall shape. She was a girl, and then she was with him. The rest of us were beloved spectators.

A scattering of snow had blown in when she opened the front door. It hadn’t melted, but would when the sun reached it.

I left my coat on the rack, as she had done, and followed her outside. The wind was dying.

The drifts held traces of her footprints. The trees shed their coat of ice in the sunshine, flicking me with droplets. I broke through the crust in spots where she had floated over the top.

Under a white pine that had grown in a clear-cut the ground was bare, yet if I turned over a rock I would find ice. A woman sat beneath the tree, leaning against the trunk in a silk gown. She was no longer my mother, but had returned to being a young lady in love somewhere in a warm springtime.
pencil

J. Walke is an actor, writer and cubicle monkey in the mountains of Virginia. In his copious spare time he enjoys lying in a hammock and lying. E-mail: jimwalke[at]jimwalke.com.

Driving Directions

A Midsummer Tale ~ Honorable Mention
Jim Walke


An Excerpt from “Driving Directions”

Eastern Wyoming sloped. Sheer granite in the distance was a reminder of the true vertical crossed, but the highway unrolled across plains tilting east and down. The sun rose over the hood, blinding us to the expanse. We were lulled by the gentle descent, stupefied.

Twenty-four hours gone, the time spent along thirteen hundred miles.

Wham! Wham! Wham! The truck whipped across both lanes, both of us snapping awake. The hitchhiker banged on the back window again, the wind stealing his shouts. He pointed with one frozen claw at an exit sign: Spearfish. He hopped out after we slid to a halt, knees buckling when he hit the ground. He muttered thanks and trudged shakily up the exit.

“Nice guy.”

“I should have asked him if he’d seen the moose.”

“Hour to Rushmore.”

“Gonna be early.”

“Breakfast.”

Keystone, South Dakota was not yet awake. The signs promised the pleasures of a thousand family vacations, but most of the lights were off… most, but not all.

“Mini-golf?”

“No.”

“Ye Olde-Timey Photographs?”

“No.”

“Gun museum?”

“Oh, yes.”

Of course the gun museum was open at seven in the morning. It had a coffee shop. Either that or the coffee shop had a gun museum. I had blueberry waffles beneath a phalanx of bayoneted rifles. The salt and pepper shakers were shaped like little derringers, and were for sale.

“When is Mom’s birthday?” Sandy asked.

“Don’t even think about it.”

We paid our fee at the gates of the park and joined the pack of RVs and buses hunting the elusive parking space. A loose mob of senior citizens walked to the viewing platform and we trailed along, the youngest by fifty years.

A woman with Cheeto-orange hair clawed onto my arm as we walked up the slightest of slopes. She picked up a conversation we had never started.

“Of course we always went to Branson. Before my Glen died, we went every year. In the fall we went.”

“That’s nice ma’am.” I tried to get my arm free.

“I didn’t want to come on this one. My friend made me. Of course she just plays bridge on the bus, so what does she care? The restroom smells poopy. The Branson bus is much better. We sing.”

“Sounds awful, ma’am,” I said automatically. She had a grip like a gorilla. She barely came up to my shoulder and I could see Sandy over her head. He rooted in his rucksack and offered the panty rose to me. I mouthed bad words.

We reached the viewing platform. The four stone heads hung on the mountainside, poised to speak. A hush fell over the group.

“I thought they’d be bigger,” said Glen’s widow.

“Me too,” I said. The answer was echoed by others, but an elderly vet in his W.W. II cap focused his glare on me. Commenting on the former Presidents’ head size was unappreciated.

“Good likeness, though,” she added. “I saw Roosevelt when I was a little girl.” She repeated herself, louder. The white heads nodded in approval, and she released my arm to work her way to forward. They were listening to her now.

“I usually go to Branson,” she told them.

Sandy and I drifted away.

“What’d you think?”

“I’ve seen it. I don’t have to come back.”

“Really moved you?”

“It’s your turn to drive.”


pencil

Jim Walke is an actor, writer, and cubicle monkey. He lives in Virginia with his wife and two canine children. In his spare time he wanders the Appalachian Trail. E-mail: jaywalke[at]yahoo.com.