A sharp curve on the road sent ten tons of the biggest straw bales onto our car, a broken arm and concussion and unable to write, wondering suddenly how little time we might have. To finish the story. I’ve been holding back the twist in Elizabeth’s road, as meeting the future on the bends and switch-backs is all about surprise. The unexpected. Here’s the gateway to another chapter, another story, another day. The professor’s assignment a month ago. Maybe I can write some more.
Our Story (2017)
“I want to go, too.” A thin voice from the living room. The two women stared at each other. Sudden silence. They had been talking, as Kathryn cleared dishes away from the table. Exchanging thoughts and memories. Elizabeth’s ideas. Kathryn’s advice. Nothing specific, just ideas. No plans on how to unlock the nagging story.
“I want to go with you,” he said again. Arthur Newcomb had been napping in Kathryn’s recliner. He had slept in the chair the two nights since he and Hollister returned from Pennsylvania. “Please let me go with you.” Elizabeth closed her eyes and shook her head. Imperceptible. No. Please no.
Kathryn’s sad smile. “Arthur. Come on out and get a cup of coffee. I’ve made a fresh pot. You need something to eat, too.”
“I’m tired,” he said, shuffling through the wide arch separating kitchen and living room. “I’m not hungry.”
“No, you’re not tired. Just worn out. And right, you’re not hungry. You’re just starved.” Kathryn placed a heavy ceramic mug on the table. She poured coffee. “Come on now. Let’s talk.”
Newcomb sat and Kathryn pushed a plate of cookies nearer to his reach. He exhaled through pursed lips, shaking his head. He looked at the two women and laughed. “I must look like hell.”
Elizabeth leaned forward, smiling. “You do, Arthur, but one thing. I see you’ve fixed up your fingernails.” She laughed. “Almost as slick as when we first met. On the train. I remember how unusual it seemed. For a guy.” She beamed. “Shiny nails, Arthur.”
“Well,” he began.
Elizabeth interrupted him. “No. It’s a good sign. When you showed up here with Hollister the first time, middle of the night, what a mess. Clothing, hair. Wild eyes. But the worst was your hands. Your fingernails. And when you two came back the other night. From the trip. Even worse. Nasty.”
Newcomb looked at his nails. “Well. I had to do something. So this morning, early, everyone was sleeping. Except Kathryn out in the garden. With the cat. I got out my clippers and found an old toothbrush in the tool drawer.” He shrugged. “Cleaned them up. Then I went back to sleep. But if you’re planning something, I could help. Really. Help find out.”
“We were just talking, Arthur.” Elizabeth softened. “There are some loose ends. I need to tie them up. While I can.” She swallowed. “My mother.”
Newcomb cupped the coffee mug, as if warming tired hands. “Elizabeth. It’s my story too. I’ve seen what Billy’s writing. The changes. The surprises. It’s my story, too. I was there. You know that. I was there.” He hesitated. “It was me.”
Elizabeth studied the man’s hands. “You once said I could maybe call you Art. Remember? On the train? So. If it ever felt right calling you that. Art.” She hesitated. “Instead of Newcomb. Or Arthur. Then maybe. Maybe we could.”
Newcomb nodded. “If it feels right. Then OK.”
“OK, Art.” Elizabeth reached across the table and took his hands in hers. “If it’s our story. Then OK.”