Uncle Buddwin

“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.

Near 500 words: TW and the Scholar

Episode 22 of The Writer.

Dr. Christine Baxter looked up from her text, showing a face that did not like to be interrupted. “Yes?”

TW (aka The Writer) felt intimidated. Who was he to interrupt a scholar at her very important work? Then he remembered. He was someone who needed help with a puzzle. The puzzle being the ancient text on Sylvia’s postcards.

He introduced himself and apologized for missing his appointment that morning.

Dr. Baxter sighed a sigh that said, “If I have to be interrupted, I might as well give the interruption my attention. Otherwise I won’t be able to get back to the text.”

“Well, have a seat.” Her blue eyes seemed to say, “This had better be good.”

TW followed her instruction.

“Now,” Dr. Baxter said. “Tell me. What is it I can do for you?”

TW explained about the postcards he had received for some thirty years from Sylvia. He didn’t mention Sylvia walking from inside one postcard to the next when they were in order. “Below Sylvia’s signature is a strange text. I’ve looked through the library’s books but I can’t find anything like it. Other than Sanskrit. And it’s not Sanskrit. At first, I thought it was ancient Hebrew because the words move from right to left. But there are differentials.”

“Let me see the postcards.”

“I only have the one. The other twenty-nine were stolen.”

“Stolen? Why would anybody want to steal postcards?”

“I don’t know.” He pulled the most recent postcard out of his suit jacket. “But this is the latest.” He passed the card over to Dr. Baxter. As she took it, he noticed she had long fingers. His eyes glanced over at the bookshelf next to the desk. On the top of it was a photograph of a young woman at the piano. “Do you play the piano?”

She looked up from the card and smiled. “Not so much anymore. I used to. And some say I was quite good. But not good enough to pursue a career. I didn’t have the passion for it.” Her eyes returned to the postcard. “Are you trying to pull my leg? If you are, you might as well leave my office.”

“I’m sorry,” TW said, apologizing for what he wasn’t sure.

“There’s no ancient text on this card.” She passed the card back to TW. “Why don’t you just leave.”

She stood up and walked to the door and opened it and gestured. “Please. I don’t have time for nonsense. I get enough of that from my students. Now go.”

TW hesitantly stood up. “B-b-b-but.”

“Please,” she insisted.

He looked at the card. There was Sylvia’s latest message, ““The end of the rainbow. Shangri-la at last. Sylvia.” But the ancient script was gone. The script was gone. How could that be? He turned the card over. Sylvia was no longer in the picture. Only the older woman dressed in red.

“Wait,” TW pleaded. “You have to help me.”

Dr. Baxter went to her phone and picked up. “I’m calling security.”

“The script may have disappeared. But I can remember enough of it to write it out. If you’ll let me.”

“Security, can you come to Dr. Christine Baxter’s office? I have an intruder.” She gave the building and room number. Then she hung up the phone.

 

Near 500 words: TW and the Doorbell

Episode 20 of The Writer.

TW (aka The Writer) shook himself awake. The clock above the TV read 7 a.m. The doorbell rang a second time. More insistent than the first time.

“Alright, alright,” he called out and pulled himself out of his comfy chair. Who could be ringing my doorbell this early in the morning?

A dog barked. It sounded like the bark came from down the street.

He opened the front door. There was no one there. That’s strange.

His eyes searched the street and the neighbors’ yards. There wasn’t a motion anywhere. Except for a neighbor walking his cocker spaniel.

A silver Lexus pulled up into his driveway and stopped. The door opened and Helen stood up. As he watched her walk toward him, he realized how attractive she was. Not stunning but attractive. She’d put on a few extra pounds the way some women do after they’ve had children, but not that many.

Her hair had turned gray from the dark brown when they had first dated. But it was the smile she always wore that had made him want to date her. She wore that smile, and she was asking him to breakfast.

“I’d like that. Give me a few minutes.”

She followed him into the house.

On the way to the neighborhood diner, they discussed the weather and how the vet hospital was doing.

As she parked her car, she asked, “How’s your writing going?”

He stepped out of the car and said, “I’m still searching for a subject.”

They ordered their eggs and coffee, then Helen asked, “How are you doing?” Her green eyes were warm and concerned.

“I buried Cat last night, then I fell asleep in a chair. I can’t get over it. She’s gone, and life has to go on.”

“I was worried about you after you left. Some people take the loss of a pet hard. But I haven’t seen any take the death as hard as you have.”

“I’ll be okay.”

The waitress brought their food.

After she was gone, TW asked, “Did you see anyone leaving my house? When you drove up the street?”

“Can’t say that I did.” Helen took a bite of her egg.

“That’s weird.” TW sipped his coffee.

She finished chewing. “Weird?”

“Just before you drove up, someone rang my doorbell. When I answered the door, they were gone.”

“Are you sure you weren’t imagining things?” She dipped a slice of her toast into her coffee. “Or dreaming it?”

“That was what I thought at first. But no. When the bell rang again, I was wide awake. Darnedest thing.”

As the waitress refilled his coffee, TW could feel that he was getting nervous. But then he decided to go ahead with what was on his mind. “So you and Frank are getting a divorce.”

“Got a divorce. It’s over between us. Sonny’s death was just the last straw. He’d been having an affair. I knew it but I kept hoping. When Sonny died, Frank went crazy. So much so that I couldn’t deal with it. I have the girls to take of care. I don’t need another child.”

TW reached over and put his hand over hers. “I’m sorry.”

“Thanks. I haven’t gotten over Sonny’s death. That’s going to take a long long time. If ever. Me and the girls are starting to pick up the pieces and move on.”

She turned her palm upward, and he squeezed her hand.

TW’s words finally came out. “Would you like to go out sometime?”

She took back her hand and asked, “Have you let Sylvia go?”

Short Story Wednesday: The Blue Coat

Short Story Prompt: “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J. D. Salinger

It took her exactly three hours to get through to the FBI. She knew the length of time because she had a prepaid cell phone that ticked off the minutes.

“FBI,” the agent at the other end of the line said. “Carpenter here. How may I help you?”

“I know where Seymour is.”

“Everybody knows where Seymour is.” There was frustration and lack of sleep in the agent’s voice.

“Look,” she said, “if you want Seymour, you’ll listen.”

She sounded serious, not like one of those crank calls the Agency had received in the past forty-eight hours. What would it hurt to listen? Carpenter asked himself.

“I only saw him three times,” she told Agent Carpenter and his partner, Agent Glass, sitting on the sofa across from her “He bought me a blue coat. Really nice. Would you like to see it?”

“Yes, please,” Agent Carpenter said. His partner didn’t say anything after he introduced himself. She couldn’t remember his name.

She modeled the coat for the two agents. It fit her snugly.

“Nice coat,” Carpenter said.

Glass studied her. Made her feel uncomfortable, like she had done something wrong.

“Why did you accept the coat?” Carpenter asked.

“He said I needed a new coat.”

“Did you?” Carpenter asked.

“Well, yes. My old one had holes in it. I never can afford one on my waitress’ salary. Tips ain’t that good either. He thought it brought out my figure. What do you think?”

The two agents nodded yes, it did.

She slipped out of the coat and laid it carefully across the back of an empty chair, then she sat back down.

“So what happened to Seymour?” Carpenter asked.

“We had our fling, then he left. Said he was going west. I tried to get him to take me but he wouldn’t.”

“So you called us.” Carpenter said in that relaxed way of his. Glass leaned forward.

“Yes,” she said.

“Know what I think?” Glass finally broke his silence. “I think you killed him. You called us so we’d catch you. That’s what I think.”

Her jaw dropped. “Why would I think that?”

“To assuage your guilt,” Glass accused. “Only question is. Where did you put the body?”

Carpenter said, “You want to show us where you put the body?”

“It’s in the basement. How did you know?”

Glass again, “You were putting in way too much effort. And you treated that blue coat way too nice. Like you were still trying to impress him.”

Finally Muriel would get the adventure she had longed for all her twenty-eight years. It might not be the one she had hoped for. But prison was better than nothing.