Short Stories 

 

 

 

Thursday
Jun302011

Short Stories by Jerry Rogers and Casey Dorman

The Tree - Is It Really Dead?

By Jerry Rogers

I was wandering through the dead forest and all the trees seemed lifeless. I was standing with my back against the trunk of a dead tree when I sensed a storm coming and I looked around and there was nowhere I could go for shelter. All at once I heard the squeak and crackle of dead limbs bending as they were pulling me up tight against the tree trunk. Are these trees haunted I ask myself? Then many of the thin dead branches covered around me from head to toe. There was not even a small space between them. I could hear the winds of the storm but I couldn’t feel them. I could hear the spatter of rain and hail all around me yet I felt no water. When the storm had passed the branches and limbs of the dead tree returned to their former places. Truly, to God, nothing is ever dead and God will use everything in the universe to protect us.

 

A Day in the Life of Rockville, Maine

 By Casey Dorman

 

The snow plow huffed behind him like a relentless pursuer in the pre-dawn darkness. He was pushing himself to his limit but he couldn’t move out of the way. Why wouldn’t the driver go around him?

Too late, he felt his foot catch on something. A searing pain shot through his ankle, then he lost his balance and fell heavily to the ground. His first thought was that he hoped the driver had seen him go down and would stop the truck before he was crushed by the yawning blade of the plow.

The driver was apologetic. “I was going to go around you in just a few more seconds Mr. Donnegal.”  David recognized him as Peter Murphy, a boy who’d graduated from Rockville High a few years before. He continued to address David as Mr. Donnegal, as if David was still his school counselor. Peter insisted on giving him a ride home and, in the cab of the truck, the young man talked incessantly.

“It’s not really such a good idea to be out running this early in the morning when it’s still dark, Mr. Donnegal. If I wasn’t t behind you, you mighta laid there in the road and someone woulda come along and run you over. You could even freeze. Ya know there’s gonna be another Nor’easter comin’ through later today. We’re trying to clear the roads as much as possible.”

The truck pulled up in front of his house. Peter offered to assist him to the front porch, but David waved him off.  He thinks I’m an old man, David thought to himself.

“Oh, my God, what happened?” Peggy, his wife, asked when he hobbled into the bedroom.

He knew his wife would think that his injury was his fault.

“I twisted my ankle. Peter Murphy – one of my students from a couple of years ago – was the driver of the plow and he brought me home.

Peggy frowned. “You don’t have to go running every morning. Not when the snow is so deep, not to mention that it’s barely above zero out there. If you’d have broken your ankle, you might have stayed out there until you’d frozen to death.”

I’m not an old man, he thought. I can still get my exercise in the morning. He didn’t want to end up like his wife. She’d been young and slim when they’d gotten married, a college cheerleader. Now she was fat. Her legs were no longer slender and her shoulders stretched the seams of her blouse. Her face had grown round and her jowls were starting to sag. She’d let herself go. He unconsciously straightened, then put his hand on his stomach, reassuring himself that it was still flat.

He took off his clothes and looked at his ankle. It was beginning to turn a deep purple and had started to swell. He limped toward the bathroom.

“You’re going to get old whether you stay in shape or not,” his wife called to him from the bedroom. “You’ll be forty on Saturday, and there’s no way of putting that off.”

He wondered for a moment if his mother had said the same thing to his father the week before his fortieth birthday? His father had shown them all- his mother and everyone else – by shooting himself the day before he turned forty.

The bath made his ankle feel better, although the swelling had increased. He found the gauze wrap in a drawer in the bathroom and wound it tightly around the swollen area. When he got back to the bedroom, Peggy was in the kitchen fixing breakfast. He sat down at the desk where he kept his files and his computer. Underneath the desk was the small black metal safe he’d inherited from his father. Methodically, he turned the combination lock until the door clicked open. Running his hand beneath the papers on the floor of the safe - the life insurance policy and the deed to the house - he felt the familiar metal barrel of his father’s pistol. He removed the gun and stared at it. Peggy didn’t like him keeping the gun. She said it was “morbid.” He told her he kept it for safety, in case anyone ever broke into the house. But it had always remained unloaded.

He found the box of bullets then removed six and inserted them in the gun’s clip and shoved the clip back into the handle. He felt a vague thrill, like butterflies before a big game. He returned the gun to the safe and locked it, then sat for a moment, breathing quietly, letting himself relax. He hadn’t touched his father’s gun for more than a year. His anxiety surprised him.    

“My parents will be here on Saturday,” Peggy said when he entered the kitchen. “They’re driving up from Boston in the morning. They’ll stay at the Greenlodge Inn. You know how Dad hates to stay in someone else’s house.”

David nodded. The truth was, their house was too small and too plain for her parents. They were used to their bigger, grander home in Boston. David didn’t like being around her father, anyway. It always meant listening to a lecture urging him to quit his job at the high school.

“Dad’s going to want to talk to you; he already told me so. He says now that you’re forty you need to make a decision about where you’re going with your life. I think he’s got some leads on jobs for you.”

“Here in Rockville?” Even if the jobs were in Rockville, he knew that he wouldn’t be interested. He enjoyed working at the high school. He liked coaching the girls’ basketball team and counseling students.

“Dad wants us back in Boston; he always has.”

“Rockville is my home. Except for college, I’ve always lived here.”

“Boston is my home. We’ve been doing things your way ever since we got married. Isn’t it time to try something different? You can’t be a girls’ basketball coach forever.” She stood staring at him, both hands on her hips, her legs spread apart. She was challenging him to disagree.

“We’ve got a good chance of winning the state championship this year,” he said. He hated the pleading tone he heard in his own voice.

“Hooray. What an accomplishment for a forty year old man. You’re not in high school any more; you’re supposed to be grown up. You’re supposed to be providing for your wife.”

 “I gotta go,” he said. “I’m supposed to meet with the principal first thing.”
            Her eyebrows raised in fear. “Are you in trouble?”

“What would I be in trouble for?” He knew she suspected that he sometimes took a drink during the day, but they never talked about it.

“I don’t know. What does he want to talk to you about?”

“Probably the regional finals this Friday. It’s a big deal for the school. We haven’t gone to a state tournament since when I was in school and we won the championship.”

“Your biggest glory,” she said, her voice filled with sarcasm.

He opened the door and left.

 

“I’m going to get right to the point, David,” Principal Fraley began. David felt as if he was being reprimanded whenever he was in the principal’s office.

“You’ve been seen going out to your car to take a drink,” the principal said. He held up one hand to ward off any forthcoming objections. “You’ve been seen by more than one person.”

Should he lie about it? Lying would make him feel like a child.  He waited for the principal to continue.

“It’s going to have to go before the School Board.” The principal heaved a loud sigh. “This kind of thing always does –especially since more than one person knows.”

“How soon?” David asked.

“If you can keep your nose clean, I can wait until after the state tournament. It wouldn’t be fair to those girls to lose their coach right now. Anyway, the Board may be more lenient if you have a championship under your belt.”

David nodded. “Thank you.”

The principal nodded back and David knew that he was being dismissed. “Remember, keep your nose clean.”

Back in his office he opened the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a bottle of whiskey. It was fortunate he’d decided to bring the bottle in from the car. He took two quick drinks and followed them with a swig of mouthwash from another bottle in his desk. He gargled the mouthwash then swallowed it. First period he had a break and then Sharon Davis had her counseling session with him.

His door was open and Sharon knocked softly on the door frame. She stood at the door, waiting hesitantly. She was almost excessively polite and respectful, a trait that, for some reason, made David feel protective toward her. Despite being only sixteen, Sharon was five feet eleven. She’d grown rapidly since last year, mostly in her legs, but also she was longer in the waist than she had been as a freshman. Her height accentuated her slimness, although her hips were just starting to widen in a more feminine shape than that of the tomboy, she had been when she was younger. Already her buttocks were firm and round.  In her basketball jersey David had noticed how well muscled her shoulders were for a young woman, even one who was an athlete. She had small breasts with prominent nipples, which David had tried, unsuccessfully to ignore when she was dressed in her practice outfit. Her skin was chocolate brown and unblemished, smooth and creamy, so far as David could tell, although he had never touched her – although he’d thought about it. When she entered, David stared at her face, her wide mouth and high cheekbones, her eyes that were exotically almond shaped. His stomach always felt a little queasy when he looked at her, as if something dangerous was about to happen. He tried not to let her see him staring.

Sharon got her looks from her mother, who had been in his class in high school. Because she was African-American, David had never gotten to know her well, although he’d noticed her enough to have had fantasies about her. She had been strikingly pretty herself, but that was an era when, especially in coastal Northern Maine, white boys never dated black girls. Things had changed and Sharon’s mother had divorced Sharon’s black father and remarried another of David’s classmates, Wilfrid Tully, a white, long-distance truck driver who had two teenage children of his own.

Sharon closed the door. She was holding back tears. Underneath her skirt she wore black leggings and she crossed one long leg over the other and held her books tightly on her lap. From where he sat he could see the long, curved line of her thigh. He felt butterflies in his stomach.

“What’s the matter?” he asked. He was her academic counselor and also, as with any of the other students, her counselor for personal issues if they had a bearing on her academic progress. He had been having regular, weekly appointments with her all year.

 “I hate my stepfather and my stepbrother and sister,” she said. When she looked up at him, her eyes were wide and trusting. He knew she told him things she didn’t tell anyone else.

“I know it’s hard for you now that your mother has remarried,” he said. He remembered Wilfrid Tully from school. Wilfrid wasn’t dumb, but he was a bully. He’d always been good at fixing cars and David knew he made good money at his trucking job. Other than the money, it was a mystery to David as to why Sharon’s mother had married him. His two kids, a boy and girl, fraternal twins, were always in trouble and it was well-known that they picked on Sharon because of her race.

“It’s not so bad when Wilfrid is on the road, except Billy and Tina are jerks toward me. But in the winter Wilfrid doesn’t drive as much and he’s home with nothing to do except work on his cars in the garage. He drinks all day and at night he yells at my mom. If she didn’t give in to him I think he’d hit her.” She hesitated and then lowered her gaze to the floor. “I don’t like the way he acts around me, either.”

David felt his stomach tighten. He leaned forward in his chair. “What is it that you don’t like?”

“Can I tell you and you won’t tell my mom?”

“If there’s a law being broken, I need to tell your mom… and the authorities also. I can’t keep it secret and it wouldn’t help you if I did. Tell me what he’s doing.”

She held one of her books up in front of her chest, as if she was protecting herself. “He hasn’t touched me or anything. It’s just the way he looks at me and some of the things he does, like whistle when I walk into the room in my nightgown. He’s knocked on the door when I was in the shower but I lock the bathroom door so he can’t come in. He always says he needs something like his razor or whatever, then he laughs and says, don’t worry I’ll shut my eyes.”

David felt his heart beating faster. He was angry, but he also felt himself aroused. “I don’t think you should be around him.”

“My mom’s married to him.”

David had a momentary picture of Sharon’s mother. She was still beautiful. If he married her, Sharon would be his stepdaughter. She would live in his house. He put the thoughts out of his head. Nothing like that could ever happen.

“Do you think I’m good enough at basketball to get a scholarship to a prep school?” She looked embarrassed after she’d said it.

“You mean leave Rockville High?” He felt a cold weight in his stomach. Meeting with Sharon was the high point of his week. And she was the star of his basketball team.

“I want to get away from my house. Aren’t there scholarships to private schools and can’t African-American girls with good grades who are good athletes get preference for them?”

His thoughts were swimming. He knew he should put her welfare first. She trusted him to do that. But he didn’t want to lose her. “You’ve got a better chance for a college scholarship if you stay here – especially if we win at State.”

She looked down at the floor. He hadn’t said what she’d wanted to hear. “You won’t help me?”

He felt her pulling away from him. He began to feel panicky. “I suppose I can make some inquiries into a couple of the good prep schools, ones that could give you a chance at a college scholarship.” He knew that she could get into a prep school if she wanted, but maybe if they won the state championship she’d forget the idea.

She raised her head, her eyes shining with relief. “I knew you’d help me. I’ve got an A average and I know I can get my teachers to write recommendations.” Her expression had changed from sadness to joy. “Oh, Mr. Donnegal, you’re wonderful.” She looked as if she wanted to give him a hug but she stayed in her chair.

He reached over and patted the back of her hand. He felt the weight in his stomach again. He was starting to feel nauseous. What would he do if she actually left? His thoughts went to the bottle in his desk.                                                     

 

Kevin Wright, the student teacher, was scrimmaging with the girls, helping them with their defense. They were having trouble stopping him from scoring and he was giving them a hard time by joking about their inability to guard him. He had both the red and the blue scrimmage teams in laughter. Kevin was African-American and athletic but David knew that the younger man’s game was no match for his, even with their difference in ages. David had played ball in both high school and college.

“You girls on the red team need some help,” David said, blowing his whistle to interrupt the scrimmage. “Mr. Wright is killing you.” He hobbled onto the court. “Let’s play half-court so I don’t have to run and I’ll give the red team a hand.” The red team was the first string and it was Sharon’s team.

David’s ankle was stiff and it hurt so much that almost as soon as he began he had to stop playing to let his body absorb the pain. He went to the sidelines and tightened the wrap.

Kevin Wright came over and asked him if he was OK.

“Don’t worry about me,” David answered, curtly.

Defense was impossible with his ankle stopping him from making any quick moves. Kevin Wright made three quick baskets by driving past him, then joked about his team being able to show the first stringers and the “old man” how to play. Everyone laughed, even Sharon. David felt himself getting angry.

Kevin was guarding him loosely and David stepped back beyond the three-point line and        launched a long set shot. It wasn’t a natural shot for him, but it went in.

“The old man’s not dead yet,” Kevin said, winking at the girls.

Everyone laughed.

David told Sharon to guard Kevin and asked another team mate to double him whenever he had the ball. Kevin continued to score.

“He’s too good for us,” Sharon said, looking admiringly toward the student teacher.

David asked for the ball. Kevin was guarding him closely and David knew he would have to drive around him to score, but his sore ankle wouldn‘t allow him to move quickly enough. There was no way David was going to get free to shoot. When Kevin reached in for the ball, David swung his elbow and caught the young man squarely in the face.

The student teacher stopped and grabbed his nose. “Shit!” He held his face in both hands and blood started to seep between his fingers. The play had stopped and the girls from both scrimmage teams had crowded around him, everyone silent.

“You broke my nose,” Kevin said, staring angrily at David over his cupped hands, which were still trying to stop the bleeding.

Three of the girls had brought towels. A few of them looked accusingly at David. The others just looked away, embarrassed, or stared sympathetically at Mr. Wright.

David was still angry. “You were guarding me too close,” he said, returning the young man’s stare.

No one said anything.

“Practice is over,” David said, quietly.

The girls walked off the court, their faces ashen. He walked over to the young man, who was holding a towel to his nose. “I’m sorry. You’d better go to see a doctor about that.”

The student teacher looked at him. Above the towel, which still covered his nose, his eyes showed his anger. “You did this on purpose. I’m going to talk to the principal. You have no business coaching.”

David walked away. He felt his anxiety rising. He was already in trouble with the principal. He didn’t bother to shower, just changed into his street clothes and walked back to his counselor’s office. When he got there, he opened the drawer of his desk and took out the bottle of whiskey. He drank a long drink, then another. The warmth of the alcohol made him feel better.

The telephone rang. He put the bottle away and answered the phone. It was the principal. Kevin Wright had already called him.

“I want a full report of this tomorrow,” the principal said. “Wright was one of those who saw you drinking in your car. I can’t stop him from going to the school board now. I may have to suspend you.”

“What about the tournament?” David felt trapped. Things were closing in on him too quickly.

“It’s out of my hands,” the principal answered. “Jesus, David. Why did you have to do this now?”

David didn’t answer. He just hung up the telephone and took out the bottle of whiskey and had another drink.

There was a knock on the door. When he opened it, it was Sharon Davis.

“Are you all right, Mr. Donnegal?” Sharon hesitated at the door. She was in her school clothes and her hair was wet from the shower. She looked as if she was afraid to enter the office.

He walked behind his desk and sat down. “Come on in.”

She entered slowly but left the door open and she sat in the chair as she had during her morning appointment. “Mr.Wright says he’s going to call the principal.”

David shrugged. “It was an accident. I’m sorry, but those things happen when you play hard. Mr. Wright needs to grow up.”

He saw that his words shocked her. She was looking at him as if she couldn’t understand why he was talking this way.

“I hope his nose isn’t broken,” he added, trying to soften his voice. He didn’t want to frighten her.

She looked at the floor, embarrassed. “I thought you were upset. I wanted to make sure you were OK.”

She really cares for me, he thought. He felt himself staring at her face and he looked away. “Thank you for your concern, Sharon. I’m OK.”

She kept looking at the floor. “There’s another reason I’m here.” She took a deep breath. “My mom is working late and Wilfrid is supposed to pick me up from school today. I called him and said I had a ride home with someone else, but I don’t. I don’t want to ride with him alone in the car.” She looked up at David with the same pleading look on her face she had had that morning when she had talked about wanting to leave home. “Can you take me home, Mr. Donnegal?”

“Of course.” He let his gaze take in her whole body. God, she’s beautiful, he thought, and she’s on my side. “Wait outside my office and I’ll get a few things, then we’ll go.” His thoughts were racing. What if they both left Rockville? He could enroll her in another school in another town. He could help her with her basketball and her studies. They’d be a family. He let his mind wander, thinking about her long legs, her small breasts. He tried to clear his thoughts. This was crazy. He opened the desk drawer and took out the bottle. He took another long drink, and then slipped the bottle into his briefcase.

He stepped outside the door of his office. “Ready?”

 

Peggy wasn’t home. He told Sharon to wait in the car and left it idling in his driveway with the heater running. The snow was coming down hard and the wind was beginning to howl. David went inside the house and pulled a suitcase from under his bed and stuffed it with clothing, then collected his toiletries from the bathroom. Quickly, he spun the combination lock of the safe and took out the gun. His head was buzzing. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion, but he couldn’t stop himself. He slid the pistol into his overcoat pocket.

“Where are we going?” Sharon asked in alarm. He had passed the street that would have taken them to her house. He was on the highway leading out of town, which continued up the coast for another thirty miles, then headed inland.

“I’m taking us away from Rockville.”

Her eyes widened in fear. “What do you mean?” Outside the wind was blowing the snow horizontally across the road in front of them.

“I want us to live together.” He was surprised that he wasn’t afraid to tell her his plan. He waited for her reaction.

“I have to go home.” She was breathing heavily. “You’re my counselor. You can’t do this.”

“I’ve thought about this a long time,” he said. It was true; he’d had fantasies about running away with her, although he’d never seriously thought about it. “I love you Sharon. I want to take care of you.”

“Mr. Donnegal!” she pleaded, “don’t joke with me. I’m scared. I want to go home.”

“You don’t need to be scared. I won’t hurt you. I just want you to be safe.” It was dark and he was having a hard time seeing the road and even with the snow tires on his SUV, he was sliding at every turn.

She took a deep breath, as if she was composing herself. “Can’t we go back to the school and talk? Or to my house?”

There was still time to turn around and go back. But he wouldn’t be able to think if he took her back. He needed to get away from Rockville to clear his mind. If he turned back now she’d probably report him to the police.

He pulled the gun from his pocket. “I can’t turn back”

She stared at the gun in his hand, her eyes wide. “Why do you have a gun? This is crazy, Mr. Donnegal. I want to go home.” Her lips began to tremble then she started to cry.

He put the gun back in his pocket. Why had he taken out the gun? That was stupid. He’d frightened her. He was becoming her enemy instead of her protector. He felt panicked. Outside nothing looked familiar. He wondered if he’d taken the wrong road. Suddenly, through the driving snow, he saw the neon lights of the Greenlodge Inn, less than thirty yards ahead. He pulled into the parking lot.

If he went in with a teenage black girl with him, they’d never let him take a room. If he left Sharon in the SUV she’d run away. He remembered the rope beneath his car seat. He’d used it to hold down a new mattress he’d carried on the top of the SUV.  He took out the rope and tied both of her hands to the door handle then tied her feet to the seat.

When he got back to the SUV, she wouldn’t look at him. He had gotten a room around back, not in the main building and she didn’t fight him when he led her to the room; she just held back, as if in dread. Once inside he took the whiskey bottle out of his briefcase.

“You’re just like my stepfather,” Sharon said. She was sitting as far away from him as possible on the other side of the bed and looking at him angrily.

“I won’t hurt you,” he said. None of this is going right, he thought.  “I’m trying to protect you.”

“You tied me up and threatened me with a gun.” There was still fear in her voice, but the anger was stronger.

“I thought we could go away together.”

“That’s crazy. What would we do? You’re my mother’s age and I’m a kid.” Her voice had softened.

“I thought you liked me.” He looked at her sitting forlornly on the edge of the bed. She looked like a little girl. What had he been thinking?

“I do like you. I admire you. I even thought you were my best friend. But I don’t want to go away with you. I want to go to school. I want to be with my mom.” She was blinking her eyes, holding back tears.

He picked up the whiskey bottle and took a drink. “I got mixed up. It’s not your fault. It’s my father - he never showed me how to live as a grownup.”

“Your father?” She didn’t sound frightened any more. “Mr. Donnegal, maybe you need help.”

There wasn’t anyone who could help, he thought to himself. He wished he was still in high school. He and Sharon could have dated. She’d be thrilled to go out with the star of the basketball team.

“Mr. Donnegal?” Sharon asked, her voice filled with concern. “Are you all right?”

“Go to the office and call your mom,” he said.

“I can call her from here,” she said, glancing at the telephone next to the bed. “I can wait with you until she gets here.”

He shook his head. “You need to go to the office.”

 “What are you going to do?” The fear had returned to her voice.

“After you go, I’m leaving Rockville.” He didn’t look her in the eyes.

“I think you should talk to someone.” She sounded worried.

He looked up at her. “I’ll be fine. You go now, before I get crazy again and change my mind.” He smiled weakly.

She got up and backed to the door. “Don’t do anything bad, please.” Her voice was ragged. “I really like you a lot, Mr. Donnegal. I want you to be OK.”

He smiled at her. ‘Everything will be fine. Think about the game on Friday. We’ll win it. Don’t worry.”

Her face brightened. “Yeah, the game on Friday. If we win it’s on to the state tournament. We need you, Mr. Donnegal; the whole team needs you.”

“I know,” he said. “Now go.”

Sharon opened the door. The air was frigid and the wind almost blew her back inside the motel room. She leaned into the wind and closed the door behind her. She saw the neon lights of the office off to the left and headed in that direction, staying under the protection of the roof that covered the walkway. She had only gone ten yards when she heard the report of the gun, sounding distant, muffled by the wind. She started to turn and go back, but she was afraid. She lowered her head, tears streaming from her eyes and freezing on her cheeks, and she continued to walk toward the office.

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