Friday, March 25, 2022

2 Minutes. Go!

He watched the sunlight fall in bands through the forest canopy, heard the scratching of small animals in the mulch. He tracked birdsong through the branches, content that he was the only biped in the area. Setting down his pack, he breathed deeply of the pine-scented air and smiled. 

It was a smile born of pain. And it didn't last. 

From the pack, he took a rough heel of brown bread and the last of his cheese. With his barlow knife, he sliced the cheese as thinly as possible and paired it with the bread. He chewed methodically, turning the bread to paste in his mouth before swallowing. His canteen was full, but he took only small sips. 

He had been in these woods before. He remembered the subtle bend of the deer trail and the trickle of a stream that was hidden from view. Stream might be an overstatement, he thought. Trickle. It was a trickle, but it was life, and it was for this reason that the deer came. 

From his coat pocket, he palmed his father's pistol, a .38 Police Special that his old man had carried for years and never fired. He intended to fire it, but first he needed to think. 

If he had to pick one moment when things had gotten off track, when the train of his life had derailed, then it was this: heartbreak. He was aware that he had no monopoly on the feeling, but it didn't matter. If he was honest with himself, he allowed that his heartbreak had been something special. Something extra. You lose your wife and your son and heartbreak becomes chronic. Leaden.

There was nothing holding him to life anymore. This is what he thought as he stared at the ground in front of him. He saw stalks of chewed grass, droppings from various animals, and the scratch marks where a predator had sharpened its claws on a tree. He saw life and death before him, and, once again, decided that there was nothing left in the life part. Not for him. 

His heartache had claws that were unbelievably sharp. They were tearing him apart. 

He heard a hawk cry in the distance, and the sound was so forlorn and empty that it made his chest ache. He opened the pistol and checked the loads. Fresh, shiny cartridges that looked out of place in the old gun. Like it was putting on airs. He chuckled at the idea that he needed a fully loaded gun. He didn't. 

He needed one bullet. The rest would rust and decay and be buried by time. Or found by some intrepid woodsman. It didn't matter. Maybe a deer would learn how to shoot and become king of the forest. 

It didn't matter. Not anymore. 

He pulled a cigarette from his pack and lit it with the Zippo that had also belonged to his father. The gun and the Zippo had been all he wanted from the tornado of "stuff" his father had left behind. 

He smoked the cigarette down to the butt and put the butt in his pocket. He chuckled at this, too. His whole life was about to become litter. 

It didn't matter. Not really.

The sun was just dipping in the sky when he firmed up his resolution. It was the golden hour that he loved, and it was fitting. 

The gunshot stopped the birds singing, and it drowned out the sound of the trickling water. But only for a moment. Soon, the birds were chirping and lamenting. The forest returned to stasis, the way it had been before he came. From the edge of the clearing, a buck raised his head and scented the wind, smelled something it didn't like, and bounded back into the thickest part of the woods. The sun dropped, and the night animals came.

All was right in the forest again.


  1. Old Man Rant - #372

    Things I hate about getting old: every little bump and bruise hurts for fucking ever. I knocked my elbow on something yesterday and this morning it feels like I sprained my whole arm. My index finger, the top joint, has some kind of ligament dilemma, and it's been hurting for days, maybe weeks. Seriously. Fuck.

    Things I like about getting old: patience. I have a lot more patience. For instance, this morning I sat down at my computer and my mouse stopped working. I took out the little do-hickey thingy that plugs into the computer port, and plugged it back in - but it still didn't work. So I opened up the bottom of the mouse and fiddled with the battery. But it still didn't work. Then I plugged it into another computer, and it worked for a second, so I thought, maybe it will work on the first computer, the one I was trying to use, to look something up. So I plugged it back in to that computer, and it didn't work. Hmm, I still wasn't phased. Patience. I changed its battery (it's wireless in case you didn't get that from earlier). And it seemed to turn on, light turned on, and I plugged it back in. And it still didn't work. So I screamed a blood curdling scream and picked up the mouse and threw it down onto the hardwood floor beside by desk with a loud plastic crack. And I screamed again. Patience. I had a meeting in a few minutes online, and I was hoping to surf the interwebs a bit prior, but fuck all of that cause this stupid fucking mouse decided not to work.

    Getting old. Patience. I know I was supposed to write a story here, like fiction, but non-fiction is the best fiction, right? Or, from non-fiction comes fiction, or non-fiction is a story and that story is great fiction, something like that. I know there is a saying here somewhere. Did I tell you about how getting old you grow wiser? Maybe some young whipper snapper will come along and pull a saying out of this gibberish.

    1. We all invent our own fictions just by being aware. We spend every waking moment in our own narratives, telling our own stories from our own point of view. We are our own unreliable narrators too, lying and embellishing as we convince ourselves that ours is the only true version of the reality we watch unfolding before our eyes. You’ve done this ably here, sharing your thoughts as you negotiate your frustrations with your mortality and the ever-present technological foe we all struggle with. Excellent and very well written, Gabriel.

    2. I love this piece. The self-reflection and wry tone. And I agree, it's a mixed bag. And we pay for the somewhat increased patience with pain. I love this phrase: ligament dilemma

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  3. Fuck man. Powerful piece. I am actually really glad you didn't pull the punch at the end. One of my best friends ended his life this way, in the woods, a little over 16 years ago. I miss him so much. But I do my best not to judge him either. While he didn't have a monopoly on heartache either, how dare I assume I understood his pain or could bear it the way that he had. Thank you for sharing brother.

    1. God, this was dark and brilliant, each detail clear and meaningful. This line: "His heartache had claws that were unbelievably sharp. They were tearing him apart."

    2. I love the flow of the narrative in this; the way you alternate your descriptions between the woodland surroundings and the area close to the character. I find an empathy with him, with his almost dispassionate compartmentalisation of his grief. He seems to be resigned to his fate, and the way you’ve shown him calmly stepping through his ritual until it ends is so well written. It’s like a quiet mediation and I can see it unfolding vividly in front of me. I can only wonder why the narrator let this happen, having witnessed almost everything up to the end. Maybe we’re all a little culpable for this death.

  4. So dark. So dark I can't help myself from wondering if Mr. Mader is okay...

  5. My mother sent me my first Valentine’s Day card. We joked about it for years before she admitted it. She sent me my second, third and fourth, always denying it when I tackled her about it every year. It got to be something I looked forward to, the annual verbal sparring we engaged in. She had an arsenal of ruses and deceits, writing the message with her second hand, mailing the card from another town; there were no limits to her ingenuity. Even when my doubt was infinitesimally small, she used to smile, shake her head, shrugging like a Frenchwoman, pouting and coyly turning away.

    I grew older...and the cards still came. If anything, they got more elaborate, each wild with glitter and feathers jostling for attention. She used her lipstick and scent to mark them, pressing her lips against the envelope when she closed it, holding it to her breast as she spoke my name.

    But then they stopped when my world shattered and broke.

    It had been coming for years; her handwriting changed, the cards growing smaller. Her kisses changed to crosses, stripped of the passion I’d enjoyed. I’d dreamed of a woman draped in lace, her eyes lined with kohl, a distillation of sensuality and allure. I fell to earth heavily that year, knowing the lie for what it was. I’d wanted to write to her, for we now rarely met, our lives pulling us apart, mortality and geography dividing us. I had a career; she had her widowhood; she needed to redefine herself. She became elegant and austere, her hooded eyes lacking none of their fire.

    We buried her last year, the three of us who now remain. My sisters told me they’d known for quite some time, writing the cards to me on her behalf, sending her love to me in their individual ways. Edith and Jayne, both no-nonsense women, had perpetuated her charm for her when she couldn’t.

    I still don’t know how I feel about that. Being the baton that was passed. I question the conversations we had, siblings discussing the whimsical and bizarre.

    If only I'd known the whole of the truth before the end.

    1. Please note, this is a fictional piece written in the style of truth. Or something like that.

  6. With each shell that whistled through the night, the small boy who’d fallen asleep with his head in Yulia’s lap whimpered, and she stroked his hair and sang a soft lullaby. For him, for all the children holed up in her basement apartment, and for herself. Did she dare bring a child into this world, a child whose father might already have been killed in the war? But it served no purpose to ponder what the future held for her; all she dared focus on was getting through this night. Then, a blast landed so close she could hear glass shatter and rubble cascade to the ground. Marina, mother and grandmother to eight men and boys out fighting for their country, cried out and again cursed the devil who’d visited this hellscape upon them.

    Still, Yulia could not help but think about Maksym. Worry never kept anyone safe, but she hoped he had food and water and warm clothing and enough ammunition. And then she prayed. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the skies quieted, and those who were still awake eyed each other in the dim slit of light filtering through the dirty street-level windows. The question passed around the basement apartment was clear: Was it finally time to leave?

    The old man who lived on the fourth floor—once a soldier, now past the age to serve—met Yulia’s gaze with a nod. She gently eased the boy onto a folded blanket and rose, brushing the night from her eyes. The old man held out a hand and she took it, careful to step between the sleeping bodies and their possessions as they made their way toward the exit. He stopped her there and put a palm to the door. She understood it was to check for fire; with shuddering horror she recalled hearing about some of her neighbors trapped in their burning buildings. Apparently he deemed it safe, and soon they stumbled into the burgeoning daylight. There, on the sidewalk, Yulia’s heart damn near stopped beating. The old soldier cursed. The building had been hit. No. Not just hit. The eastern corner of the top two floors had been lopped off as if a giant had swept it off in a fit of pique. Bare rebar and splintered wood hung askew. Each breeze plumed concrete dust up into the air. Disbelief froze Yulia to the spot, then she burned with anger. She spun toward the old man, mouth open to vent her fury, but he stopped her.

    “It’s time,” he said. “Come. Let’s see to the others.”

    The denizens of the basement looked as if sleepwalking, when he first made the announcement, then they shook themselves back to reality and moved with greater purpose. “One bag per person,” the old man said, helping a frail woman to her feet.

    Yulia sighed. What she hadn’t already sold or given away wasn’t worth taking. The only possession that mattered was the leather portfolio her parents had presented her upon her art school graduation. Among other work, it contained sketches of the neighborhood children, and of course those of him. With his molten eyes and broad shoulders—across the room while she sketched him and later, many times later, above her. “Maksym, you rotten bastard,” she thought, with a secret smile and a press of her hand to her belly. “How could I have let you leave?”

    But she didn’t have the luxury to think about her own dramas. She found teddy bears and blankies and picture books; she dried tears and hugged mothers and cursed Russia. Then plucked her portfolio from the closet, and into its inside pocket, she tucked a change of clothing, and a gun.

  7. You write with such humanity and heart, Laurie. You express Yulia’s emotions and thoughts so well, touching lightly on the back story and the current events as you go, binding it with a stream of consciousness that draws us in and centres us on the lead character. Your use of detail is remarkable, creating this woman’s world with its grit and determination, making it so very real. As always, I want more: I need to know what happens next.

    1. I agree. You put us right there and we have to inhabit a place and a thought process we can't imagine. Super powerful


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