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Posted on September 17, 2010 at 2:02 PM

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.


I wonder why everyone goes this way, and 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 hide 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 and 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 River, red from Georgia clay and wide enough to cast a lazy ripple. 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.  Clad in denim overalls, men 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 for my unhappiness with things.


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 got high on dreams, dreams of sailing over the seas, seeing new lands and romancing foreign women.  Where and when did my dreams and my reality part company?


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 standing here?  The woman next to me and wearing 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 was 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 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 and 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 brace 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 I can't  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.  I've held a long distance relationship with her for years.  There’s an old sea bag under my desk with 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 thanI 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; I think of it as an orphaned bit of prose.  Even though, I take you through the guy’s entire life, 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.  I suppose, to finish it I’d have to hop that train or, at least interview a hobo. 


Categories: Short Story, C.M. Marcum

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Reply George Spelvin
3:33 PM on September 17, 2010 
Well written, but like the river you describe, it's meandering. Better read my book RAILS. That way you might not have to get on a train...
Reply jipper
3:52 PM on September 17, 2010 
Yes, this does read as though it's a small chunk of the whole, but I could care less. I have often written pieces similar to this, and of course I got the normal, " No Conflict", or, " What is this a peice of?"

Sometimes it's what YOU get from writing that counts. Whether it meets the rules of thumbs and tried and true so-called Criteria, no, they never do but at least you got it down.
Nothing wrong with a little orphaned bit of prose, now or again.
I enjoyed it, and could relate to the MC dilemma.
Write On!
Reply C.M. Marcum
9:50 AM on September 18, 2010 
Thanks DO and Jipper. A better review than I thought. Just goes to show that I can't judge my own work. I will have to read Rails. And no, Jip, there's nothing wrong with prose. ( In fact, I prefer it over poetry, but don't tell anybody.) Everything doesn't have to have an ending. Some pieces are just written BECAUSE. BECAUSE. But I do think it's important to know the difference. I think a lot of times when readers are expecting a story and don't get one, they're disappointed. Maybe, the best thing to do is just say up-front this is prose. And how-come there isn't an on-line prose magazine? Prose is a much neglected art. Everyone knows what a short story is and what poetry is. But you say prose, and they go: 'Hun? Duh?'
Reply Christopher Law
3:14 PM on September 21, 2010 
I liked this too. If it had been much longer I'd have wanted something to happen but at this length it's a nice snapshot of one moment in the guy's life. It was also pleasant to read; strong images and strong emotions without any melodrama. You also conveyed the entirety of his life, or at least a sense of it, which I think was the point.

I've tried to write pieces like this but I'm never really happy unless there's a monster or somebody dying somewhere in everything I write, preferably both.

(I prefer prose to poetry too. You're not alone!)
Reply o
3:32 PM on September 21, 2010 
The descriptions are very good, CM. '...humping up like the white backbone of a large animal; it's the rocky spine of mother earth...' You made me feel a sense of place, and I had the trail beneath my feet.

But you have gone crazy with commas! Some sentences have two or three where none are necessary. I'm not good with commas myself, so these really stand out. I finally had to adopt a rule for myself-when in doubt, leave it out.

The narrative flowed well and I never felt like stopping. But as you admit, it is not really a story. It is either a possible first chapter or a writer flexing her muscles, a warm-up. There's nothing wrong with that. I have many snippets and sketches which as yet have not gone anywhere. But I keep them, because you never know.

I'll just have to say that I enjoyed your excercise. It was a fun jog.

Reply C.M. Marcum
7:29 PM on September 21, 2010 
Thanks Al. Course I don't know which comma (s) your talking about, and I much too lazy to go over the whole thing, but if I ever complete it, I'll keep all suggestions in mind. Thanks for reading. Another thing I like about MED is that I can print out comments.

Yo, Chris. Yeah, it's one of those lost pieces that I wrote one day when I was feeling glum. You're right about the monsters and aliens. I seldom write prose or even realistic stuff. I like things to pop, too. Ain't it wonderful to be abnormal?
Reply Christopher Law
6:16 PM on September 22, 2010 
It's the best! Sometimes I like it so much I smile and show my terrible teeth :)