The Iron Writer
2014 Winter Solstice Open
The Paul Harding Bracket
A grieving boy
Growing up and growing old
An imprisoning life
An adventuresome journey
The small boy put his arm around the shoulders of his dog Jake. The black Labrador retriever turned and licked the drying tears on Sean’s face.
Sean knew that his grandmother wasn’t always the old woman that he knew now. He thought of all the stories she had told him.
As a young girl she ran the woods and explored the woodpiles and learned of the wildlife. She was a bit late in her interest in boys but that interest found her having his dad right after high school.
But what Sean didn’t know was that after his dad was born she had changed, becoming depressed and having anxiety. She hadn’t been a very good mom to his dad. She always thought to herself that she had time to change things, but her brain didn’t change despite all the medications thrown at her.
Finally came the day when she could not see herself as a mother at all. She left her son in the care of his father and set off to find a way to deal with her madness.
Celeste found herself at the home of a friend on the coast. She had only ever lived in view of the mountains so the flat land was a novelty.
She found that she felt good. She took walks in the sea spray and reconnected with people she hadn’t seen in ages. And then she let her medications run out.
At first the scary thoughts raced through her mind. “What if…”. Then her friend asked her, “Well, what will happen? So, you will have a panic attack, you’ve had them before. And if you become more depressed, there are doctors here, you know.”
What did happen was marvelous. She discovered that she could sail. And then, in the words of Jimmy Buffett, she “found her a captain, a mighty strong mon, and any direction he blows will be fine”.
Gordon was a tall British gentleman who was about ten years her senior, making him about forty. Their very first sail together was a journey to the British Virgin Islands.
During that trip they were becalmed for three days, with sharks circling the boat that was sitting three hundred miles offshore with no wind to move it. Then the wind came up with a vengeance and they had to sail through a storm that lasted two days. Through the adventure Celeste found that she could remain quite calm at sea – what would happen, would happen.
It was only after four years, when she decided to move back home to be closer to her growing boy, that she started feeling the walls closing in as before.
Sean’s mom called for him from inside the house. He braced for the bad news that meant that his grandma was no longer with them. Instead his mother came out on the porch and she was smiling! She told the boy that Celeste was coming home from the hospital.
He grinned from ear to ear.
K. A. DaVur
“When I was a child I spake like a child, I thought like a child, I understood like a child. When I became a man I put away childish things,” the preacher droned. That was me, giving up childish things, whether I wanted to or not. I don’t so much feel like I’m growing up so’s much as growing old. After all, I know how to lighten a bruise, but not how to dribble a basketball. I can talk to Ma’s doc ‘bout things like “respiratory distress” but cain’t remember my times tables. I shifted uncomfortably on the narrow wooden pews. Pa shot me a warning glance, his snakelike eyes flashing, and I knew if I didn’t quit squirmin’ I’d just get it worse when we got home. I shore didn’t want that, sore as I was from the day before.
I reckon when a boy turns 10 it’s ‘sposed to be the best birthday ever. That weren’t the case. Instead, Pa came in early and caught me sleeping. That was okay, but see, I was sleeping holdin’ Bear. I’d heard him fussing ‘bout that to Ma, and she’d told me to stow ‘em, but I’d been so excited that I plum forgot. Well, them ol’ storm clouds started brewin’, and Pa mumbled something about “ten years old and sleeping with a doll” afore his belt was off and I was holdin’ on to the bedframe and grittin’ my teeth. When it was over, “One lash for each year,” Pa stuck his finger in my face. “I catch you sleeping with that thing again and I’ll BURN it,” he snarled.
So, that afternoon I took my bear and an old box and I walked down to the creek. It was hard goin’, between the box ‘n the tears I was trippin’ nearly every step. Finally I made it, but when I got there I just couldn’t do it. I might could, if I hadn’t looked at Bear’s eyes. I’da swore he looked sad. So I sat on the bank with him and chatted a bit.
“Lissen, friend,” I said, “We ain’t safe here. I cain’t leave Ma, and Pa’d just hunt me down anyhow, but you can go, Bear. You don’t gotta stay in this cage like one’a Pa’s hounds; you can have an adventure.” I was cryin’ and snot was runnin’ down my lip, but I went on, pattin’ his fur.” It’ll be all right. You go an’ see the ocean, or maybe ride a real horse. You can see the mountains that have snow on ‘em all year round, or go up in a hot air balloon. But promise me,” I said, kissing the spot on his nose where the felt was all rubbed off, “ promise me when I’m grown and he cain’t hurt me no more that you’ll come find me, and we can have another adventure, together.”
I looked into his eyes again, and saw that this time he understood. So, I pushed the box into the water. Then I stood up and walked back home, to start the long wait until he came back.
Shaking, Ivan cups his ears with both hands hoping to muffle the thunderous explosions emanating from above. His mother used to hold him during the attacks, whispering a lullaby into his tiny ears, but she was gone now, her face but a fading memory.
Peering up from beneath a furrowed brow, he watches as chips of lime green subway tile flake from the ceiling. His eyes trace a large crack as it meanders from the peak of the arch down to the far side, terminating somewhere behind Dmitri. The elderly man squats against the wall peeling the lid from a can of sweetened pears. He first downs the juice then plucks the fleshy sections from the can one at time as though he was still at home resting in front of the Television.
There was plenty of food in Tunnel 17. The fallout Shelter with which it was connected had once held a thousand citizens. But its concrete ceiling had collapsed years ago sealing all but a “lucky” handful of souls in a tangled mass grave. Yes, “Food enough to last for decades” he’d heard someone say. Long enough for him to grow up and grow old in this hundred meter stretch of rail and cement.
How many years has it been? Seven? Eight? It didn’t matter. Even his memory of the sun seems distant now. That great orb hanging on the horizon as his mother had run through the closing gates, the bombs tumbling from the sky behind them.
A metallic groan draws Ivan’s attention back to the fissure in the ceiling. Rebar moans then snaps as the crack spreads like a wound across the breadth of the tunnel. Dmitri drops his pears, his legs shaking as he scrambles to his feet. “My God!” He shouts.
Ivan stares transfixed as the pale green gas wafts in from the opening, slowly entering the tunnel like an unwelcome guest. A moment later a conjoined scream rises up from those around him.
Another thunderclap opens the gash further still, allowing the vapor to intrude with a vengeance.
Ivan springs to his feet, running for the buckled south end of the tunnel. Behind him are the rest; the fog slowly consuming them as it pours unhindered into the chamber. As he huddles against the rubble, another volley of explosions erupts from above, shaking the foundation of the tunnel itself. The gas creeps toward him like a snake slithering through the underbrush.
Without warning a hand grasps him from behind, yanking him through a newly formed gap in the ruins.
“Come!” A man carrying a worn AK47 thrusts a gas mask toward him. “Come!” He yells again turning away to the south.
Ivan snatches the mask from his hand, donning it hurriedly.
The two sprint down the tracks. Ivan tries to keep pace as the man’s flashlight bobs violently, its glow briefly illuminating a large “#17” painted on the devastated subways tile surface.
As he runs Ivan looks back. He has not chosen this adventure, but at least on this day he won’t perish with the rest—his body entombed forever at the north end of Tunnel 17.
The only water in the wide area were the tears that trickled down his chafed cheeks, as he sat curled up against a collapsed shed, behind a water barrel full of sand. The dust bowls had wrecked the land and now, he supposed, his life. It hurt to cry this hard but still could never be loud enough to express the sorrow and pain of never seeing his brother again.
Growing up on the farm had been an imprisoning life of hard work with little in return. Enough to eat and make it through the day but little hope for change.
His father worked all day, as did his mother and all their children to keep things up and running, work was never over but at least they had each other. As the waters dried up, so did the farm. When the Great Depression sank the economy, all jobs drowned with it.
With nothing left to keep them there they went away with little more than some possessions wrapped in a bed sheet.
His parents had tried to make it all seem like an adventuresome journey. In a sense it was if travelling dust roads, sleeping under the open sky, fighting off other poverty struck families and doing humiliating work for pennies counted as such a thing. They had travelled to cities, large ones, where Zeppelins clouded the sky and cars smelled up the streets.
It was in one of the cities, in the wet and busy streets, that his brother had picked up a nasty, deep cough. It was just the fumes his father said and sent him back to work. His brother was old and strong enough to do a heavy job and they needed every penny. He admired him for his size and strength, for the way he had grown up. He seemed immortal.
His brother worked long shifts in the harbor with father by his side, till one day they came back, his brother weak and white.
So they took all their possessions and set out again for the dry, barren lands between, far away from pollution and gangs that ruled the city streets. But the cough never left, instead it ate from his brother’s adolescent physique a little every day.
Then, when a new morning came, his brother lay motionless still looking at stars that had already faded at sunrise, as mother and father sobbed quietly. There was a difference between growing up and growing old.
He ran off to a nearby shed to hide and cried his heart out. Then built a strength inside, as just that moment he had outgrown being a boy. Now he was determined, determined to grow old.