It was the last hour of light on what had been a warm day when a middle-aged couple walked leisurely along a quiet gravel road that joined their home with a few others. Greg was pointing out a wildflower to Anne when they heard someone’s shoe scuff the crushed rock. They looked up to see a gaunt young man approaching them. He looked as if he’d been living in his clothes for a few days, like he hadn’t bathed either. His skin was dried and browned, bereft of any fullness.
“Sorry, I thought you were someone else,” the words came out apologetically, slurred.
“That’s okay. Could be anyone out taking a walk,” Greg replied congenially, wanting to put the younger man at ease.
“I thought you were the people who bought the Taylor place.”
“Well, we did buy property from him,” said Greg, “about twenty years ago—before he moved down into the valley.”
Anne regarded the red-eyed man who reeked of sweat and alcohol. “You mean his house?”
“Yeah. His house.”
“So, is he still living down there? In the trailer?” Anne asked.
“He got a new doublewide.”
“I wondered why he was pruning along the road,” Greg said, trying to mask his annoyance with his neighbor’s indiscriminate hacking.
“My sister used to rent the trailer,” the younger man said, “and my dad, he lived in the cottage down there. He just died.”
“Oh, I am so sorry,” said Anne. “I heard he wasn’t doing well.” Perhaps that explained the man’s drunken state, although she suspected not.
“Yeah, everyone is getting together. I just don’t want to be there.”
“I understand,” said Greg as they all resumed walking. “My father died a few years back, and all I wanted was to be alone.”
“I was just walking up the road to see if my friend Kenny was home. I’ve been using my dad’s truck, but there’s no gas.
“They’re all acting like my sister is some kinda hero,” the young man continued, “like she’s been the only one taking care of my dad. But I looked at the checkbook, and there’s $1,600 gone, and she says it was for Dad. Shit, there ain’t even any groceries in the house. And she’s living fine.
“Now I gotta go sort through everything. I don’t know what I’m gonna do with it.”
“Well, don’t be in a rush to throw things away,” Greg said. “There may be some things you really want to hold on to.”
Anne envisioned the cottage that Greg typically referred to as a shack. He doesn’t have that luxury, she thought.
They paused at the couple’s driveway.
“Yeah. There’s no gas in the truck.” The young man shook his head. “I’m just wondering where all the money went.”
“We’re really sorry to hear about your dad,” Anne said.
“Take care,” Greg said.
The spare man continued down the road, to a small home filled with his father’s worldly possessions, no food, no money, and a truck without gas.
I kept expecting Greg and Anne to give the guy some money, but they didn’t. All they offered was empty condolences. I suppose this is typical of a society that doesn’t really care about the down and out. If this was the point of the story, then Eva Silverfine did a good job with this piece.
Thank you for your comment. I was working more at a portrayal of rural poverty than an indictment of the couple.
Now I feel badly about my comment. Having spent most of my life in rural areas, I should have known better. Most people are like Greg and Anne, now that I think about it. I’m just the old softie who would give the man some money. Thank you for shedding light on your piece of country life.
I thought the descriptive elements and dialog were well crafted. The last sentence is unneeded “telling” when the final outcome had already been “shown” sufficiently by the interaction to that point. Less is more.
Thank you for your comment. It is always a balance to determine how much needs to be said/how much speaks for itself.
Reminiscent of a story I lived through when my wife and I bought acreage out in the country. Came outside on one of the first moonlit nights due to some roaring down by the pond. Turned out to be an emaciated drunk howling by the water with half a case of crushed beer cans strewn all around. He claimed the old owner let him hang out. I pointed him toward his trailer down the road and told him to take his cans with him. No Sandra, we didn’t give him money either. This story didn’t grab me however, not enough senses involved.
Very evocative, great sense of place. However, somehow it felt unfinished.
The story seems at first to go nowhere. But on further consideration, I think it could make a strong point, if that’s what was in the author’s mind. Here’s why I think this:
Today, i was leaving the city in my car when a youngish skinny fellow with a walk that indicated a medical issue of some kind was panhandling alongside the highway. I intended to give him 5 dollars, but pulled a one out of my wallet by mistake. So I drove around again (three traffic lights) and at the fourth light for the second time gave him a 5 and said i’d given him the wrong bill. He took it and while i sat waiting for the light to change, he must have looked at the 5. He rushed back to my car and asked to shake my hand, saying what a kind woman I am and how much he appreciated my generosity. I smiled, shook his hand and wished him good luck. A few miles down the road I realized he could have been my late brother and it made me tear up that he thanked me. I didn’t think much of Greg and Anne at first, but realize that since they live in the neighborhood they might fear that they could open themselves to an unwelcome burden if they offer anything at all to this particular young man.
Life experience certainly can affect the way a story strikes us.
It is a complete and satisfying work. Thank you!
I expected the young man to draw a gun or knife on the couple, and to follow them to their doorstep. I was relieved when that didn’t happen. A touching story that speaks to rural poverty. Very well done. Thank you.
Your story touches a nerve in my soul while it also brings a profound feeling of isolation to my memory. Very nice Eva!