by Don O. Thorpe
O. Thorpe, Fiction Short Story
After the hard
climb up the steep trail in the late Fall afternoon, David felt a little
foolish about the trivial disagreement at home. Maybe the quiet mountains
would give him an opportunity for some undisturbed thinking and time to
recall some reassuring memories. The hillside was changing rapidly from
yellow orange to gray, and seemed to reflect his mood. He settled back
against the rocks, sighed, and closed his eyes. As he let his mind wander
through the past, he was surprised to find that the images seemed very
He shivered in the windy rain as
he stood in a doorway on the rue de la Opera in the center of Paris. Christine
was late. The gray fluttering wings of Parisian pigeons swayed back and
forth in a heavy colorless blur on the street. There was a wet telegram
in his hand. He looked down at the rain soaked paper, and vaguely sensed
the sea of faces on the street around him. The words were abrupt, “COME
HOME. FATHER DIED SUDDENLY. FUNERAL SATURDAY.” But the telegram had come
a week too late! The funeral was past. He was planning to ask Christine
to marry him today, that is, before he got the telegram. Now he didn't
know what to do.
His feelings were mixed -- sad, full
of regrets, angry, and strangely peaceful. He edged closer against the
building; but the misty rain followed him. Christine was almost an hour
late when she suddenly emerged from the crowd, her face wet and sparkling
in the rain, walking hurriedly as she always did. She looked stunning with
her short blond hair and radiant smile. “Paris traffic,” she called to
answer his forlorn expression. In spite of everything, he was glad to be
there, miserable in the rain waiting for her.
There was someone moving on the
trail below. Circling the brush in front of him, a lone fisherman hiked
down from the high mountain lake above the ridge. David watched him for
a minute, then wondered why the French girl's smile and hurried steps had
stayed in his memory all these years.
sagebrush flashed by in endless gray-blue streaks as he stood at the front
of the crowded Greyhound bus. He was heading home. He looked away from
the window and glanced down at his wrinkled uniform. Four days on the road
heading west from Fort Jackson, South Carolina hadn't done much for his
appearance. The tight fitting olive green army jacket still looked impressive
though, and he smiled to himself as he caught the half hidden glances from
several admiring girls at the back of the bus.
his eyes and stood up to look down the trail again. This time there was
only the rustle of a slight breeze, so he shivered and sat back down. Closing
his eyes, he thought of his teenage years.
He was almost
sixteen when he walked out of the darkened auditorium of the high school
and blinked at the hot Spring sun. The whole school had just watched a
feature length movie in the school auditorium -- the Principal’s reward
to the students for the last day of school. Tall and handsome, Tyrone Power
had surmounted all odds, and won the love of a beautiful girl, while supervising
the digging of the Suez Canal. David dreamed that someday he would be like
With what he felt were long strides,
he walked down the school’s front steps, feeling taller with each step
as he crossed the street to the new dairy-freeze shop. Then he walked slowly
home licking ice cream and dreaming.
Off in the distance
he heard the echo of an ax chopping wood, then there was only the sound
of the stirring wind and his own movement against the dirt and rocks on
the ledge. Always dreaming of the future, he thought. Then he reached down
and brushed a sharp rock from under his leg.
Now he was
only 12 as he sat in the rickety wooden chair in the doctor's small upstairs
office. David watched old Doc Macintosh thread the terrible long curved
suture needle. Hollow fear tugged in his stomach as the doctor lifted the
needle up to the glaring light of a single incandescent bulb. Then the
doctor thrust the needle into the tough skin of David’s heel -- he gritted
his teeth and almost cried out, but he felt his mother's hand tighten as
she looked into his eyes. She didn't say a word but he knew that she was
feeling his pain through the trembling touch of their hands.
Afterwards, mother and son went downstairs
to the town's only drugstore and perched on a couple of round green stools
and sipped rootbeer floats. The ice cream and rootbeer made a wonderful
flavor that seemed for a moment to strengthen his wobbly legs and fill
some of the emptiness inside of him. It was a mixture of happiness and
pain that he’d experience many times in the years to come.
It was getting
late, and time to leave the mountains and start down the trail to the road.
Before leaving, he thought for a minute about the ice cream and root beer,
and he wondered why it seemed to taste so much better when he was a boy.
his breath came in heavy gasps as he stumbled through the gathering dusk.
It was dark when the trail-head appeared and he hurriedly unlocked the
The head lights were mysterious dancing
cones of white cutting into the night and carrying his canyon memories
down to a jarring present. Along the road,
he kept seeing images of the young French girl with her short blond hair
and radiant smile in the rain. He wondered if it was possible to experience
that kind of magic ever again.
the horn to let his family know he was home, half expecting his wife to
come out to greet him in spite of their quarrel. Instead it was the children
who ran out.
“Where have you been, Dad?”
“I went for a walk in the canyon”
“Was it cold?”
Their questions rushed at him, and
he tried to answer most of them as he reached down to give the children
a hug. With the kids hanging on his arms, he struggled through the back
door into the kitchen. His wife was bending over the stove as he brushed
There was a brief uneasy moment, then
she turned and the radiant smile from France once again put magic into
his heart. He said, quietly, "I’m home, Christine."