Short Story Wednesday: A New Lease on Life

Short Story Prompt: “Everything that Rises Must Converge” by Flannery O’Connor.

Jackson came home from Iraq with one leg. He also came home with a changed attitude. He was happy. He was carefree. He and his brother sat in The Laughing Pony in a quiet corner booth, drinking their beers.

“It’s like the world has been lifted from my shoulders,” he told his brother. Montgomery was the older of the two. “I feel lighter than air.”

“What am I gonna do now?” Montgomery asked himself. Jackson was the responsible one. Now responsibility was in Monty’s hands. He didn’t like it. Finally, “When are you going to see Mom and Dad.”

“I’m not,” Jacks said. “At least, not anytime soon. I just can’t face the Night of the Sad-eyes.”

Monty’s face went red. “What?” He couldn’t believe what his brother was telling him.

“I just can’t face the Night of the Sad-eyes.” Then Jacks called out to the waitress for another pitcher of beer.

Monty poured the last of the beer from the pitcher on the table. “The Night of the Sad-eyes?” There was anger in his voice. He knew how much his parents’ had worried about Jacks. When they got the call that he was going to live, they were so relieved. Then they turned their relieve into worrying some more about how Jacks would get along with only one leg.

When Monty saw Jacks walk into the bar, he knew their concern was all for naught. The VA had fitted Jackson with a prosthesis. After six months of therapy, there was little reason to suspect that he had a fake right leg. His gait was a little stiff as he walked over to Monty’s booth. But it wasn’t noticeable if you weren’t watching the walk closely. Sure, Jacks leaned a little more on his left leg but most of us favor one leg over the other.

“Guess what?” Jacks said when he got to the booth and took his seat. “I grew a new leg.” A boyish grin appeared on his face. He stuck his right leg out and pulled his beige khakis up to show off his prosthetic leg.

The waitress brought a new pitcher over and took their empty one. Jacks smiled at the waitress and touched her hand. “Too bad you’re already taken,” he said.

“I’m not taken,” she said and smiled.

“What time do you get off?” Jacks asked.

“Around eleven,” the waitress answered and carried the empty pitcher back to the bar.

Turning to his brother, Jacks said, “I think she likes me. Think it will matter when she finds out.” He tapped his fake leg.

“What do you mean ‘the Night of the Sad-eyes’?” Monty asked, frustration in his voice. He downed his beer. Then he slammed the mug onto the table.

Filling his mug, the smile dropped from Jacks’ face. “Careful there, bro. You know, those looks people give you when they’re feeling sorry for you. I saw a lot of that when I was in the hospital. I swore I wasn’t going to let that happen to me.”

Monty grabbed Jacks wrist. “You have to go see Mom and Dad. At least, for a few hours. They will be so upset.”

Jacks pried his brother’s hand loose. “I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. And, I’m telling you, I am not going to see them. At least, not now. That’s why I asked you to meet me here. To tell them.” He dropped his brother’s hand onto the table.

“Are you kidding?” Monty’s hand hurt from his brother’s grip. “I can’t tell them.”

“Well, then they won’t be told. Now excuse me, I have to go take a whiz.”

Jackson stood up and made for the restrooms in the back, his slow waddle not calling attention to itself.

Monty stretched out the fingers of his hurt hand and massaged them to make the ache go away. “Shit,” he said and filled his mug again. He made up his mind to get drunk. When he received the call from his brother earlier that day, he hadn’t expected the meet to go this way. This just wasn’t like his brother. He kept telling himself that he was up to the responsibility his brother was handing him.

He looked up at his brother across from him. He was back in his seat and he was smiling again.

“Boy, you sure are changed,” he said to the stranger across the table from him.

“Yes, I know. For the better I hope.”

There was a lack of understanding on Monty’s face.

Jackson took a big gulp of beer, then sat the mug back on the table and his face went serious. “I got to Iraq and then they sent me to Fallujah. I was so lost. Very disoriented. Every day on pins and needles. Guess that is when I screwed up.”

“Screwed up?”

“Yeah, you let down your guard once and suddenly an IED is blowing the shit out of you. I lay in the dirt, unconscious. All the time I am laying there, I am hearing this voice and it’s singing, ‘Rejoice, rejoice. Live each day and love.’ It sounded just like that old Beatles tune. You know the one?”

Monty’s face was a question.

“You know the one. ‘Love is all you need.’ I remember Dad used to play it for us when we were kids. Only the words were different. You know what I did when I woke up?”

Monty couldn’t imagine. So he didn’t answer.

Jacks took a drink of his beer, then, “I was laughing. I must have laughed for at least an hour. I was alive. I could not believe it. Right then and there I decided I was going to live my life as full as I could. And I wasn’t going to hang out with no Frowning Nellies. No sirree. Not me.”

He took one final drink. Then he stood up. He looked down at the surprise on his brother’s face. “So tell Mom and Dad I will be in touch. In the meantime, I plan to get myself laid tonight. And who knows I might just marry that waitress.”

Jackson walked over to the waitress and said a few words to her. She shook her head, said something to the bartender and followed him out the door.

Monty called over to a second waitress, “Janice, another pitcher please.”

Next Wednesday’s Short Story Prompt: “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid

For the time being, I am skipping the next story, “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allen Poe, on the list. I will use it later this year as a prompt for my Halloween story. From time to time, I may do the stories out of order. This is one of those times.

I’m a man who likes poets … and poetry

April is National Poetry Month, so this one is for all ye poets out there, and all ye who read poetry.

I’ve been told that if you want to be a poet, you should support poets. And not just the old dead ones but the living breathing ones. By buying their books. Well, I have my share of poets on my book shelves. There’s a special place because I believe poets deserve better than they’ve gotten over the years. Don’t know any that make a living off of their poetry. Just talking, better known as lecturing, and teaching about poetry.

On my shelves, it starts with Old Man Gilgamesh himself. Compared to Gilgamesh, Homer was a modern. Then there’s the ultimate anti-war novel The Iliad and his partner The Odyssey. Both are by Robert Fagels. I like him. I like him a lot. Haven’t gotten his translation of The Aeneid yet. And then there’s those meds. The Divine Comedy is about a man who suddenly goes middle-aged crazy. That’s the male version of menopause. Some might blame it on Beatrice. I blame it on middle-age. You can tell that’s what the man is suffering from by those opening lines of The Inferno, Canto 1:

“When I had journeyed half of our life’s way,

I found myself within a shadowed forest,

for I had lost the path that does not stray.”

He couldn’t buy that new red Ferrari, so off he went on a journey, to hell and back so to speak. And right by his side is another fellow I like a lot, Jeff Chaucer. His journey begins in April and “When in April the sweet showers fall….” Elmore Leonard says don’t begin with the weather but it seems to work well for old Jeff. Of course, next door is the Poet Supreme, the House of the Bard. I’m talking Shakespeare here folks, and my version is the big fat volume of The Norton Shakespeare. A lot of Shakespeare in a lot of book. Not sure about what to say on Elmore’s advice about the weather cause here’s another writer starting off with the weather:

“Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this son of York….”

Guess these guys can break the rules. Beside these fellows is Alfred Lord with his Idylls of the King. Must admit that one of my favorites of his is “Ulysses”. Ulysses is Roman for Odysseus. In the poem, Odysseus is an old man and longing for the adventures of his youth. When you get old, you too will understand his meaning.

Now I am not partial to Walt Whitman and Emily D, though I have a volume of her stuff on my shelf. Though her poems don’t fit the form, I think you can call her the American haikuist. I’m sure Basho would be honored to have her in his company. They do fit the spirit. I even have a couple of T S’s volumes but he’s not someone I would call a friend. Too brainy for me. Nor do I care much for Robert Frost. I lose something of the meaning of the poem because he depends so much on rhyme. Oh, I know how hard it is to do what he did, but it gets a bit distracting.

No, it’s Basho, Elizabeth Bishop, Gary Snyder, Dylan Thomas, Pueblo Neruda, Jane Kenyon, Derek Walcott, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Anne Sexton, James Dickey, Seamus Heaney, Naomi Shahib Nye and Garcia Lorca for me. Some dead, some living. I tend to turn to these friends when I am looking for some good companionship. They all wear well on me. And I even have a local poet, Summer Rodman’s “A train came by and slow ed”. Reminds me a bit of John Ashbery. And these are just a few of the two or three shelves of poetry I have.

There was a time that I found e e cummings interesting. But I tired of his gimmickry, although I still pull out “On Being Brand New” for a good laugh.

I’ve always read and bought poetry. I’m not sure why. I just like having them around to whisper in my ear their secrets and their beauty. It took 9/11/01 to make me value their value. Afterwards I picked up Auden’s “September 1, 1939″, Anna Akhmatova’s “Reading Hamlet”, and the one Whitman I like. Though it is awfully wordy and seems to go on way too long, it is “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”. In it, Whitman mourns for Abraham LIncoln. There are moments in that poem that are intensely moving. As far as Akhmatova is concerned, I keep coming across those words,

“To the right, wasteland by the cemetery,

beyond it the river’s dull blue.”

That seemed to measure my feeling after 9/11. Guess I am a little bit strange to feel that but I did, and sometimes still do.

I don’t know how I came by this love of poets and their poetry. It certainly does not run in my family. No poets among my kin. Nary a one. Maybe it came from reading the King James Bible and the Psalms early on. I sure do like reading Jesus’ Blesseds and Psalm 23 in the KJB. Haven’t found a better translation. Maybe those were the sections Old Will worked on. I just know that poets give me great comfort and I wish there were a hell of a lot more of them. Perhaps if there were, we’d have a bit less war and injustice.

I’ve often wondered why I have watched and studied politics so much over the years. If Boris Pasternak and his Zhivago should have taught me anything, it is don’t give a damn about politics. It never solves anything. And often makes matters worse. Then there’s Yeats’ wonderful lines:

HOW can I, that girl standing there,

My attention fix

On Roman or on Russian

Or on Spanish politics?

Yet here’s a travelled man that knows

What he talks about,

And there’s a politician

That has read and thought,

And maybe what they say is true

Of war and war’s alarms,

But O that I were young again

And held her in my arms!

Again maybe I should have embraced Zhivago as a role model. Maybe I would have been much better off. I know politics gives me a headache these days, hearing arguments about things that most of us don’t take any comfort in. A lot of this and a lot of that. Mostly tweedledee and twiddledum. Why don’t they just get on with it? As the fellow said on Saturday Night Live a while back, “Just fix it.”

One of my favorite intros to poems and poets is Molly Peacock’s “How to read a poem … and start a poetry circle”. She introduced me to Jane Kenyon’s wonderful poem “Let evening come”, one of my favs these days. In all my poemer-writing years I have never come close to something so lovely, so beautiful. It reveals to me how much beauty there is in the world if we only look and see.

So here I am late on a Saturday night. I’ve finished my weekly chores and I find myself turning to a poem or two for comfort. Not sure what has gotten into me. But I raise my glass and toast them all everyone. Thanks for the poems that have been spoken and that are to be spoken.

Short Story Wednesday: Fine and Dandi

Short Story Prompt: “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker.

Two sisters.

One, the oldest, as pretty as a model, blonde hair, blue eyes, a killer of a smile, a waist that never puts on weight. She was the smart one, and the one who never talked ‘cause she was shy. Her thing was music. She ate, drank, slept music. She played a kick-butt cello. Her name was Anna Belle. Everybody called her Fine.

Her sister, two years younger, was Mary Belle, but she was known as Dandi. She was the popular one, a little bit on the chunky side and long, stringy hair, a washed-out blonde. She had no particular bent for any of the arts. She liked people and people liked her. She had such an infectious laugh. And she could tell a joke that would have the listener rolling on the floor.

Fine and Dandi were inseparable. As the two grew up, no one could remember them having a disagreement. If a guy wanted to date Dandi, he had to find a friend for Fine. The guys didn’t mind. After all, she was the attractive one. But her attitude toward them made them conclude she was stuck up. She just didn’t reciprocate their affection while Dandi did. So there came a time when Dandi no longer was asked out. The guy couldn’t find a date for Fine.

Fine waited to go off to college until Dandi graduated. During the two-year interval between high school and college, she gave cello lessons to bring in some money to pay for the rent her mother charged. “It’s time you paid your way,” she told her daughter. “Can’t stay around here and twiddle your thumbs.”

Dandi managed to get through high school with a B average with her sister’s help. But it was just barely a B. Then she and her sister took off to college. They had a dorm room together. They went to the same classes. Decided they would become teachers. They both liked kids.

Soon they had their degrees and were interning at one of the local elementary schools. Both waitressed at the same restaurant and made enough in tips to keep a roof over their heads. They moved several hundred miles away from the college and found jobs as teachers at the same elementary school. They found a two-story house and renovated it over the next three years.

When the sisters went home for Christmas, their parents noticed the two were looking more and more like each other. Fine had long, stringy hair, a washed out blonde. She gave up the cello. Now she played guitar. Dandi lost weight and now strummed a guitar. Both had become shy but they had Dandi’s infectious laugh.

Then there was something else. When Fine left a room, Dandi worried that she wouldn’t return. When Dandi went off to the store to pick up some groceries, Fine kept looking out the window. It was as if each expected something bad to happen to her sister.

Sure they had always been close, but this was ridiculous. At least, that was what the parents said to each other. “We’ve got to do something,” their mother said to their father as they laid in bed, worrying. “But what?” their father wanted to know. He’d always been a man in control, except when it came to his daughters. So the parents conspired. The parents decided that the closeness was unnatural. It reminded them of people in a cult. What they needed to do was an intervention.

The holidays came to an end and the girls returned to their life in the town three towns away from their parents’ home. Their mother went on the internet and found exactly what she was looking for. It was a Saturday when the de-programmer showed up on her porch. The mother invited him in, told him what she had in mind.

“You sure you want to do this?” he asked the parents. “Once we start on this road, there is no turning back.” He told several stories of what happened when parents backed down after the process began. It wasn’t pretty. “This is what we want,” both parents agreed.

The next Friday night two men sat in a van across from the sister’s house. They watched. Saturday passed and both the girls stayed indoors. And the same for Sunday. On Monday evening they came home from work and began their usual vegetarian dinner. While Dandi cooked in the kitchen, Fine set the table.

The doorbell rang. “I’ll get it,” Fine called out to her sister, happiness in her voice.

She opened the door. A man in a dark blue suit threw a hood over her head. She screamed but it was too late. The two men had her in their van and they were down the road.

Behind the van, Dandi in the sisters’ red mustang was a block away and gaining. On the seat beside her lay the .38 the girls kept in the house for protection. Just as she came up behind the van, it started to rain. She almost touched the van’s bumper. Crying, she tried to think of what to do. Then it came to her. She pulled around to the side of the van and slammed into it. The rain was pouring. She pushed harder against the van with her car. The van hit a telephone pole. Dandi stopped her car and jumped out and ran over to the van.

The driver opened the van door. He looked stunned. The other man was slumped over in his seat, unconscious.

“Get out.” He crawled out of the vehicle. “Now where’s my sister.” He pointed at the back of the van. Dandi stuck her gun into his gut and said, “Open the back door.” He unlocked the door.

Fine was on the floor, tied up. “Untie her,” Dandi urged. The man did as he was told. Fine crawled out of the van.

“Now turn around.”

The man did as he was told. Dandi said, “Hands behind you.” The man’s large hands went behind his body. “Get into the van and lay face down.” He did as he was told. Dandi handed the gun to her sister, then tied his feet and hands together with his belt. She slammed the door, went to the driver’s seat and took the keys and threw them over into a nearby yard. Down the street came a police car with a flashing light.

Fine and Dandi got into their car and slowly drove away. Dandi left the lights off the car and drove away. The police did not follow.

Their car disappeared into the night. That was the last anyone saw them. Ever.

In ancient Greece, there was a story of two brothers, Castor and Pollux. When Castor died, Pollux prayed to Zeus, the king of the gods, to let his twin share his divinity, so that they would never be separated. Zeus agreed and they were made into the constellation Gemini. Perhaps the next time you look up to the heavens with your telescope and see Gemini, you will think of Fine and Dandi. I know I do.

Next Wednesday’s Short Story Prompt: “Everything That Rises Must Converge” by Flannery O’Connor.

Hollywood’s New Blockbusters

Bible movies are hot these days. And I am not talking hellfire-and-brimstone hot either. I’m talking blockbuster hot. Hollywood has gone Bible ga-ga. Studios are trying to out-Cecil-B-DeMille each other. Movie producers are tripping over themselves to put the next Jesus epic up on the screen. Bumper stickers are showing up on the rear end of Porsches driving around L A with the letters: WMWJM. Loosely translated you can read that as What Movie Would Jesus Make. As Mel Gibson showed Hollywood, the Bible is a natural source for CGI movies. With a marketing campaign that made the iPhone one look amateur, he pulled them into the theaters in droves.

We’ve already had two of these movies this year. First there was “Son of God”, then “Noah”. Only this Noah doesn’t have God saying, “Noah, how long can you tred water?” Later this year “Mary, Mother of Jesus” and “Exodus” will be showing at a cinemaplex near you. There was even a TV series where the viewer got the whole Bible. Well, not the whole Bible. Its producers followed the Elmore Leonard Commandment: Thou shalt leave out the parts people don’t read.

Pretty soon we’ll be seeing the Crucifixion in 3D. Then the sequel, The Resurrection, will be in 4D. Joshua mowing down the walls of Jericho with the latest in CGI canon, then leading his motorcycle gang into the city for some righteous raping, pillaging and looting. There’s even an animated feature planned where Job gets to pull Satan’s tail.

And Samson is the new Incredible Hulk. He has this long hair, see. The longer it gets the more muscles the guy has. And the more muscles his muscles have. When he runs out of prozac, Samson’s muscles bulge and he pulls down a Philistine town or two. Samson’s strength depends on his hair. When it’s long, you’d better watch out. He’s been dating this blonde named Delilah. Thing is she just flunked out of cosmetology school. Her finals required her to cut someone’s hair. Who did she pick on? You got it. Before you can say, “The Philistines are coming,” Sammy is a bald dude, and his strength is sucked out of him.

But the big one everybody’s been waiting for is the new Moses movie. It’s not the Exodus film. In this one, Moses walks on water to the sound of Jay Z rapping, then he turns the water into wine so the Israelites can party hardy. I can see it now. Leonardo DiCaprio will play Moses and Martin Scorsesse gets to be that Big-Director-in-the-Sky Guy.

Here’s how the story goes. If you needed a lawyer in ancient Egypt, Moses was your man. That was why Pharaoh kept him on a retainer. In case after case, the court ruled in favor of The Mo’. He was called The Mo’ for good reason. Not because his name was Moses. No, it was because The Mo mowed down his opponents with his arguments.

Before you know it The Mo’ wins the Israelite’s freedom on appeal. Then they spend a bunch of years leaving. It’s amazing that it took forty years just to get out of Egypt. Then he finds a mountain and goes up to talk negotiations with the Big Guy. You ever wondered what Moses was doing up in that mountain for so long? So did his relatives down in the valley of the shadow. Maybe God was teaching The Mo’ how to make a good matzaball soup. Could happen. I mean, it could’ve happened. All that time on the road with only manna to eat, it must’ve been a real drag.

Actually the reason he went up on rocky top: The children of Israel were partying like it was 1999 and Y2K was on the way. Guess they figured they deserved a party. Forty years walking in circles and getting nowhere. Here’s where The Mo’ does the trick with the water. Wallah, they’ve got wine. And it’s pretty good stuff. Before you know it, the partying is giving The Mo’ one heck of a migraine. So he takes off for some peace and quiet with the Big Guy himself.

He gets to the peak of the mountain and he says to B. G., “I have a headache.” The Big Guy, always knowing what to do, says, “Take two tablets and see me in the morning.” Since The Mo’ is up there for a little R & R, B. G. thinks it’s about time he gave his people some rules. B. G. and The Mo’ put their heads together and before you know it, they’ve got 613 rules. They were trying to cover every little eventuality. Like don’t throw your gum on the ground so people will step on it. That was just one of the B.G.’s pet peeves. And Moses had a lot of pet peeves himself.

Now The Mo’ being the lawyer he was never saw a technicality he couldn’t get out of. But it sure looked like he and B.G. had them all covered, chiseling those rules into stone. Then The Mo’ realized that he was going to have to lug way too many stone tablets back down the hill. He would need a fleet of trucks. And this was way too many years before trucks were even thought of by Leonardo da Vinci. Finally he convinced B. G. to whittle all the rules down to ten. B. G. would put the other 603 in fine print.

The Mo’ gets the big Ten down to the party-hardyers. Being suspicious, they start reading the fine print. It had been the fine print that had gotten them into trouble with the Egyptians in the first place. One addendum particularly bothered them. “The Lord our God says we can’t have a cheeseburger. And even worse, a bacon cheeseburger. Just what was He thinking. If he didn’t want us to have a cheeseburger, why did he give us such a craving?” They did have a point. But The Mo’ had a great comeback. “Take it up with the union.” And that’s where the movie ends.

If you want to see the previews and know what else’s on its way, I recommend you get out your old King James Bible and start reading away. You never know. You might find some material in there for a movie you can make.

Happy reading.

Short Story Wednesday: Uncle Buddwin

Short Story Prompt: “The Death of Ivan Ilych” by Leo Tolstoy

“Damn,” my mother said. “Your uncle writes and all he has to say is that he wants you to come to see him. That’s it.”

She handed me the letter. I read its two paragraphs, one asking me to come to see him, one with directions. She continued, “I haven’t heard from my brother at all for seventeen years. He doesn’t have the courtesy to tell me how he’s been. Who the hell does he think he is?”

I had only met her brother once. He had come to stay with us when I was ten years old. All I could remember of that time was the arguments he and my mother had. When he left, Mom’s last words on the subject were “good riddance.” And that had been that. Until the letter.

I reread the letter. What it said was that it was time to get to know his nephew. I didn’t know what was expected of me.

“You’d better go,” she said. “Find out what he wants. You can take the truck. Otherwise you won’t be able to drive out to where he lives. It’s way off in the backwoods.”

I didn’t want to go, but Mom insisted. I said, “Oh, well,” and the next morning, drove the forty miles or so out into the country. Turned off onto the dirt road he’d given me and went another five miles or so through brush and trees on a road that could only be described as a trail, and barely one at that. Just when I was about to give up and back my way out, I came to what some might call a clearing. Mostly it was a break in the overgrowth I had been working my way through. Beside the dump of a shanty was an old, beat-up Harley. If nowhere had been a place, it would have been that shack of his.

I pushed the door of the truck open and got out and made my way through the bushes. I knocked on the door of the shanty several times, each time calling out, “Uncle Buddwin.” The door about fell off when I pulled on it. I went inside the one-room shanty

In the middle of the room was a wood burning stove. It wasn’t lit. The windows were broken, the glass held on by tape or replaced by a sheet or quilt. Over to the side was a chair and a table, then a small bed. Straight across from the door was what looked like a sink. It had no faucet. Then a wooden cabinet.

I thought to myself that whoever lived here must be a wretch. Certainly not my uncle. No one in my family would choose to live this way. We were too well-off. Though we weren’t rich, we did ourselves proud in the money department.

I went to leave. Standing in front of the door was a short man, bearded with long curly hair, and wearing a blue flannel shirt, dirty jeans and boots.

“Charles?” the man’s soft voice asked.

“Yes. You can call me Charlie, Uncle. Everybody does.”

He looked me up and down for a minute or so. “Charles.” He insisted on calling me Charles. “It’s good to see you.” He put out his hand, I took it, we shook. “Welcome to home sweet home.” Then, “Let me make you some coffee. You do drink coffee, don’t you? If not, I think I’ve got some other stuff around here you might like. One of my neighbors makes it.”

“Coffee will be fine.”

He offered me the chair by the table, threw some wood into the stove and got a fire going, then set a kettle of water on the stove. Soon he had both of us a mug of instant coffee. He took a seat on the floor and crossed his legs. He was ready to talk.

“Guess you want to know why I asked you to come out this way.”

“I’d like to know, yes.” I sipped my coffee.

“I’ve been thinking some. Thinking real hard about it. And for quite some time too.”

“About what?”

“About your mother and all. All the family.”

I let out my frustration. “Why did you disappear like you did?”

“Oh, that’s a long story.” His fingers stroked his beard.

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“You ever wonder about me? About what happened to me?”

“The family never says. I assumed that it was because you disappeared. Because you treated everybody in the family badly, so they would just as well not talk about you.”

“You assumed that, did you?” He did not raise his voice but there seemed to be an anger to his words. “It wasn’t that. The real reason is that I am plain bad luck. At least, that’s what they believe. And maybe I was once upon a time. But not anymore.”

Now there was a quizzical look on my face. Even in the dark of the room, he could tell. Finally I asked, “Bad luck?”

“Yep, bad luck. The kind of bad luck that led me to have three failed marriages. The kind of bad luck that cost my third wife to lose a child. The kind of bad luck that almost killed your Uncle Jamie. Didn’t matter that he’d been drinking that night he rammed into a tree and I tried to stop him from driving. I still got the blame. So much so that I believed a long time that I was responsible for everything bad that happened to any in the family, anyone close to me.”

It was like a dam bursting to hear his grief in the words he spoke. Seemed like those words had been waiting for years to break free. Words that revealed a lot of hurt and loneliness. “You know, any excuse my family had to hate me, they used it, Charles.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“They never talk about me. Your parents or your Uncle Jamie or your grandparents? Do they?”

“No, they don’t.”

“I used to wonder why I had such rotten luck myself. I was such a jinx. Just couldn’t figure it out. When you grow up and everybody is telling you that you’re no good, you tend to be no good. Didn’t want to be no good. But somehow I couldn’t stay out of trouble. Somehow I couldn’t figure out why they hated me so. Around the age of thirty, ‘bout the time I saw you last, I found out what it was.”

The darkness of the night outside was filling the room. But even in that darkness I could see my uncle’s face clear. I had finished off my coffee, but I wasn’t about to ask him for another cup. I was anxious to hear his story.

“I see you need another coffee.”

“Don’t go to any trouble.”

“No trouble.” He was up and putting the kettle onto the stove. I waited but the minutes ticked off as slow as could be. He took my mug, dunked a spoonful of instant into it, poured the hot water and stirred, then he handed it back to me. Then he was back on the floor, not looking at me but staring into the dark as if there was no one else in the room.

“I always thought I was living someone else’s life. It wasn’t like I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. I did. But it was like I was living a life I had no control over. Then I found out.”

“What?” I asked anxiously.

“One night I was at my parents. Your mother and your Uncle Jamie were there. There was a lot of yelling and screaming. You’ve heard the phrase knock-down-drag-out. That was it that night. I told them I was tired of being treated the awful way they had treated me as long as I could remember.

“My father turned to me, ‘I’m sorry you were the one that lived.’ It stopped me cold. ‘What?’

“‘No,’ my mother said, trying to get my father from saying what he was about to say.

“It didn’t stop my father. ‘Your older twin brother, Edwin, died. Or should I say you murdered him.’

“‘Don’t say that,’ my mother said. ‘It wasn’t his fault. You know that.’

“‘That’s not what the doctor said. He called it murder. While you both were in the womb.’

“That was when I realized I had been living Edwin’s life. The only way I could end that and live my own life was to get the hell out of there, leave the family for good. So that’s what I did. I moved out here and have been here since. Hidden from my family.”

Everything went quiet. The night. Uncle Buddwin’s breathing. My breathing.

Finally I said, “So what do you want of me?”

“Before it’s too late, I want you to find out where Edwin’s grave is. I know they buried the fetus. They are the kind of people what would bury a fetus. I just don’t know where. “

It was true. My grandparents were very religious. They would not have just flushed the fetus down the toilet and let that be that. They would have buried Edwin.

“They’re not going to tell me,” I said, pretty sure that it was true.

“Oh, yes they will. I know they will.”

“And if they tell me?” I asked. My coffee was getting cold but I didn’t move.

“I have something for you to take to the graveside.” Uncle Buddwin got up and walked over to the wardrobe where he kept his clothes. He opened it and took out a small bag. Then he handed it to me.

“This,” he said.

I looked at the small bag in the palm of my hand. “What is it?”

“Let’s just say he will know. And don’t you open it up. I will know.”

“Why are you trusting me with this?”

“I don’t have any choice. You’re the only one I can trust that I know will find out from my parents.”

I agreed to his demand. We shook hands and I left. It took me a month to get the place where the grave was. My grandmother let it out like it was some long, dark secret. Once she had, it looked like a great weight had dropped off her shoulders. I followed my uncle’s instruction to the letter.

The day after I visited Edwin’s gravesite, I drove out to see Uncle Buddwing. I couldn’t find his shack. It had disappeared. Now once a year I visit Edwin’s gravesite to make sure he isn’t forgotten. On my last visit there, I saw someone leaving as I got to the cemetery. I could have sworn that it was my uncle. When I tried to chase him down, he had disappeared.

Next Wednesday’s Short Story Prompt: “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker.