Original short fiction by Kelseyville High School’s Joseph Gentle.
We were unmasked then and I was at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, waiting for a connecting flight. Jostling through the lunch line, I found a place to sit with my sandwich and hefted up my carry-on bag for a table. The chair beside me was empty, but as I smeared mustard across the soggy bread, three people arrived.
One of them, an attractive woman pulling her own small bag, sat down. With her was a woman, younger, I thought, in a wheelchair. She was accompanied by a tall man with sandy hair and wearing a light blue Aloha shirt, who eased her chair forward so that the women were almost touching knees. The wheelchair was sleek and looked new.
The women bowed their heads in muted conversation, and I found myself leaning back into my chair, trying to give them space they obviously did not need.
They started crying.
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She wrote him letters. About the time he read Neruda’s poetry to her when she was ill, the time he ran outside in the rain to fetch the chapstick from her car, the time he brought her daisies after driving to three florists in his search, only to discover they grew wild behind an abandoned farmhouse two miles from their home. She trusted their past. The memories in her letters steadied him, and with her words, his life felt more vibrant.
For a year, he returned her letters with postcards, writing nothing except his next address. He moved often, life snaking through back-country roads, as elliptical as her handwriting. Her words would find him wherever he went.
A letter had arrived that October morning.
When I was four, my father gave me a crystal rabbit. Translucent yet cloudy, the figure symbolized mystery to me, though at such a young age, I could not begin to give the rabbit a story. Instead, I gave words to my father’s gift, words that described how I felt: Hope. Pretty. Dream.
Today, Madeline Sharpton told everyone at school that I had herpes. She’s a mean girl, practically six feet tall, and that tall-ness gives her a weird authority in the world of middle school. All the other students believed her–including my so-called friends. I’m only thirteen, but it must be the worst day in my life forever.
Once I had my hair down to my waist, a gap between my teeth. I believed in the power of music, that it could change the world. My name is Charlotte by the way. My father used to say that I was too big for my britches. Who uses the word “britches” these days? Though Dad said that a long time ago–we’re talking the 70s. I’m an old(er) lady now, and Dad’s long gone.
Rose’s hip stabbed her at seven. She stretched her legs under the quilt, finding a position her pelvis liked, and then she waited for her bladder to wake up and force her out of bed. In her mind she clicked through her schedule for another Monday: KRON news until nine, then New York Crime Sceneon cable 53, then over to cable 56 for its fraternal sibling, Miami Forensics, followed by the Judges: Ray Brown, and Jody. During lunch she’d watch KTVU news, and then another New York Crime Scene on cable 25. In the evening, she switched over to Las Vegas Crime Scene and then, after her nap, the five o’clock KRON news followed by two of the national news broadcasts: ABC and CBS. Rose loved Dan Rather; was heartsick for a week after his retirement. Then dinner and Tuesday’s prime time reality shows beginning with Police Call, over to channel five and Real Life Forensics, followed by Challenge of Fear, which she watched about half of, with sideways glances at the disgusting parts. Her day would end with the eleven o’clock news on KRON, creating a neat KRON symmetry, the channel already set to start the next day.