Saturday, October 5, 2013

Story #21

Dear Readers,

Thank you for visiting ‘Very short stories r us,’ where we are celebrating our twenty-first week with the twenty-first story in an ongoing series.

Best wishes,
Matthew Sharpe


Story #21

with thanks to AT

Susan had just been yelled at by her mother-in-law. This time it was about leaving the butter out on the kitchen counter after fixing a snack for Arnold, her three-year-old son. “I know it’s not your fault, dear, it’s the way you were raised. I only hope that, at 35, you’re not too old to develop some, how should I say it, coherency in your behavior.” When they had all rented this same vacation house together last summer, Myrna, the mother-in-law, had treated Susan similarly, and Susan had appealed to her husband, Rip, who had in turn appealed to Myrna, who wept bitterly, so Susan wasn’t going that route again. She went into the dark wood den and sat in one of the old musty armchairs. She looked out at the storm churning up the water of the harbor. Myrna was raising her voice to Rip in the kitchen. There would be no getting off the island today. On the small table next to Susan’s chair was one of those old fashioned land phones, black, with a big heavy receiver, to which someone had taped the handwritten message, “If you need help dial _____.” Susan dialed. A man answered. She explained the situation to him. “You’ve done the right thing by calling me,” he said. “Throw on a rain slicker and be on the dock in front of the house in five minutes.” Susan checked on Arnold, who was taking his nap, and then did as the man said. The air in the yard was warm but the wind was high, and the rain came down in thick waves. Susan’s legs, feet, face, and hands were soaked. He pulled up in his speedboat, she climbed in, and he roared off over the giant swells in the harbor, the boat rising and falling in stomach-turning swoops. He was old, about eighty, with a red, sun-weathered face and thick, callused hands. On the other side of the island, they approached a rocky cliff and he slowed down. He eased the boat into a little cave in the side of the cliff. It was dark and quiet and the water was calm. He maneuvered toward a narrow rock ledge, tied the boat to a protrusion, and helped Susan out onto the ledge. They stood on it and he pointed to the rock wall next to them, where someone years ago had used a sharp tool to scratch out the words “Jared loves Myrna.” He looked away toward the opening of the cave, his eyes bright. Susan said, “I’ve asked Rip about his father but there’s so much silence in my marriage.” “I did love Myrna,” he said, “but her unhappiness was gobbling me up, I had to get away. Rip has not been gobbled up. He is a strong young man, very inward. That must be hard for you. Keep an open heart. He will come to you slowly. We must go back now.” He rode her once again across the violent sea and deposited her on the dock. “I’m dying and you won’t see me again. No tears, my beauty.” She approached the house and saw Myrna at the window glowering out at her. Behind Myrna stood Rip, solid and vertical, as if holding up the roof.


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6 comments:

  1. Love how tight this is while still conveying the mood and the place; how we don't need to see Susan's reactions to Jared because we feel them, we enter fully into here situation from the moment of the butter incident and then while Myrna's not let off the hook, we find everyone has a backstory...you bring all these people to life even Rip who's left holding up the roof. Thanks!
    Tim

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    1. Tim, thanks for this close reading.
      Matt

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  2. David Murray JaffeOctober 5, 2013 at 8:43 AM

    Reminded me a bit of Murakami at first, but then you went another way. Hope you don't mind the comparison.

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    1. I love Murakami. Have you read his story "Super-Frog Saves Tokyo"?

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  3. Matt, I've been reading these religiously on Monday mornings as a personal reward for showing up at my desk job. But now I'm doing my seventh straight day in my mother's hospital room -- last night I drove home by an unusual route and saw a "room for rent" sign in front of a ratty tract home and thought about how nice it would be to disappear into that life for a few months -- so I figured it would be OK to cheat and read ahead. Now I won't have to rent that room, which would probably smell terrible and be full of sad colors. Thank you for this small escape, and all the others.

    They're little rotations, as Walker Percy wrote about -- the Shakespeare sonnet pinned to the lab table.

    -- Barbara Peters Smith

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    1. Barbara, I, too, am glad you chose short fiction over the room in the ratty tract home. According to the New York Times, reading literary fiction also makes you more attentive to social cues and more empathetic, not that you need help in that department. I am wishing you peace and strength as sit with your mother.

      Matt

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