by Don O. Thorpe
  Don 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 near.

       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.

       The rural 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.

       David opened 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 him.
       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 car.
       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.
       David honked 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 by.
       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."




Photography Don O. Thorpe 2009