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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Still Waters" Chapter 3

It has been a wonderfully busy family week with little time to write, but I was encouraged by my middle daughter the other day. She said she had begun reading this "Still Waters" story and liked it. She advised me, however,to add a caveat reminding readers who may know our family that this story is FICTION. It does not depict me or my family. As Kim put it: "And you're not as reclusive as that Sinclair guy."  I thanked her for pointing out the contrast and reminded her that fiction is more believable when the author draws upon the things he knows. In this case, I have a purpose in developing the Sinclair character as I have. I also informed her to look for the subtle recurring themes of rock and water. She recalls the unforgettable experience we shared four summers ago that triggered this plot, but honoring Kim's request, I'll add that there is a huge difference between reality and real events that may give birth to fiction. As they say in the movies, "any resemblance between my family and the characters of this story is purely coincidental."

I should also say that it is my practice to modify "chapters" long after they've been posted. One such change can be seen in Part One: 

"The rhythm of his daughter's flip flops was one of the many sounds of summer that he loved. The drums and noise of a neighborhood garage band was a sound he loathed, but fortunately they only practiced before gigs, which were rare and rightly so. Before and after the so-called music they forced upon all those in earshot came the ruckus of raucous voices and squealing of tires that impressed no one but themselves. He was less puzzled by the testosterone-driven behavior than he was that the parents had seemingly relinquished any say in matters of their home. Once the two Sinclair girls had asked if they could walk around to the other road to see the band practicing, and their father's emphatic NO triggered a list of reasons so disproportionate to the curiosity that prompted their request that they couldn't help but snicker at him. He snickered himself for having recited so thorough a treatise from thin air when he could have merely said, 'It is my goal in life to keep you from the company of such boys.'"

Part One-C

Dr. Sinclair and his youngest daughter trudged, with arms laden, to the tool shed in the shady corner of the yard. Chipmunks scampered in the holes around the shed as he opened the double barn-door. To his left was an assortment of snow shovels and a tangle of long-handled tools and they emptied their arms among them, standing them up as best they could and quickly shut the door. Dr. Sinclair snapped shut the padlock on the door, and dusted off his hands with two passing claps of his palms as if to officially signal an end to his morning's chores.  As they walked away from the shed, the chipmunks peeked out of their holes.

Kenzie ran up ahead as Anna, his oldest daughter, came down the gentle slope to meet her father for the first time that day.

“Well, I’m ready to shoot the raging rapids. Are you?” She laughed, taking his arm.

Her anticipation surprised him. After all, they were simply going tubing down the Muskegon River, and idea they had gotten from a brochure in a motel lobby the summer before. Still Water Rock was an inner-tube livery at the widest part of the river that ran through the town of Big Rapids. As the livery's name implied, the water there was ideal for entering the river just upstream from where current became swift enough to keep the small business afloat.

Big Rapids was a bit of a misnomer. There had been rapids a century or so before when water rushed around the boulders that had broke from the rocky banks as the river carved its way through time, but over the recent decades the boulders that made the river dangerous had been removed by various canoe rental businesses in an effort to extend the life of their fleet. The only rapids that remained were engineered for effect in the shady city park. Other than that, there were no longer rapids to speak of in Big Rapids but the large-font name made the motel brochures sound like high adventure was in store in spite of the serene picture below the words.

"I guess I'm as ready as I'll ever be to float down a river," he smiled.

"We should get a canoe or some kayaks. That would be even more fun."

"I've canoed or kayaked the best rivers in Michigan, and it is fun, but right now the thought of floating sounds wonderful. You don't have to think. Don't have to paddle. Don't have to steer. You just stick together and go with the flow..." He leaned his head back and smiled as if adrift in his own description.

"That's how I feel in a kayak except I'm more in control," Anna said.

"Control is highly overrated," her father suggested, not fully certain of what he meant, but we can go kayaking sometime--just the two of us. Not today, though. Today we're going with the flow."

"I can't wait!" Anna smiled, squeezing the crook of her father's arm.

Anna often missed out on these family day-trips. She was a barista at a local coffee shop that was doing everything possible to compete with Starbucks and for all practical purposes should have been called Wannabee's. It had everything but the long lines at the counter. Her schedule had become more demanding than what she had expected of a quaint sidewalk bistro. “After all,” she had reasoned a few days earlier, “the whole idea of a café is to be carefree and romantic. How can it feel that way if they work us so hard?”

As a father, he understood the illogic of her thinking, but he smiled as if in agreement because he knew she was a hopeless romantic who couldn’t help but see the places she was forced to be as if they belonged in the context of some story. There was something else behind her complaint of working too many hours. Her job—as all jobs do—had swept her from her carefree teen years to the duties of adulthood with little warning. Days like this one on the river were to be enjoyed not planned. They would soon pass, he knew, and found enormous pleasure in the fact that Anna had taken his arm to cross the yard.

As Anna cornered the garage, she heard a rattling noise near the gutter and jumped aside. A chipmunk had gotten half-caught in a box trap. It’s legs were bound in the door while his from feet were scratching frantically against the trap’s steel floor.

“Dad, do something! Look at him!” she screamed.

Kenzie came running, then stopped short when she saw the lifeless tail and hind legs hanging from the trap.

“Oh, oh, oh,” she stammered, prancing in place. “Oh,” was all she could say.

“Why do you even have these traps?” Anna scolded.

"Oh, oh, oh..." Kenzie said, her lower lip trembling.

“These are live traps. They catch them live. I’ve never seen one get stuck half-way like this. He'll be fine. I’ll be right back.”

He grimaced as he placed the box in the car and then drove a mile down the road to the woods beyond the bayou. As he lifted the sprung latch of the cage, the creature slowly pulled itself from the trap, using only his front legs, and hobbled into the thick ferns. His hind legs were not moving. He hoped this was merely due to lack of blood—like when his own limbs falls asleep and tingles until it regains life.

“Good luck,” the professor mumbled, pushing his glasses up his nose.

He felt the hypocrisy to wishing well a thing he actually wanted dead. He’d often thought, if it weren’t for the girls, he’d buy a pellet gun and shoot the countless chipmunks from the window of the house for sport. They were ruining the yard and possibly the foundation of the house itself. Sometimes they ran down into the borrows of the turtle garden, but they never shared the space for long. Still he wanted to free his yard of the ubiquitous rodents and could imagine shooting them one by one. So why not stomp the life out of the one that drug itself from the trap? Shooting was one thing. It was distant and metallic like a game on the carnival midway. Stepping on a chipmunk was a-whole-nother thing. He couldn’t do it. Killing was not in him, not the kind of killing one could feel.

He mocked his own mercy as he U-turned the car toward home and mumbled, “What a waste of gas.”

Waiting in the driveway were the girls, making dramatic gestures toward their wrists that wore no watches, but they were also smiling and acting up the way sisters eight years apart do, meeting somewhere in the middle of their shared ages.

“Did you let him go, Daddy?” Kenzie asked.

“Yep, he crawled off to bother someone else,” he laughed, and he knew he’d made the right choice not to kill it.

Clair came from the cool house where she’d been watching from the window.

“Here’s an extra bottle of water for each of us. It’s supposed to get hot. Can’t have too much water. I wrote our initials on the lids.”

Dr. Sinclair began rolling backward down the driveway as the garage door slowly closed then stopped with a jolt, hit the button to raise the door, and jogged up the driveway.

"Whatdja forget?" Clair said out the open door, but he did not reply. He came back with a black mesh laundry bag and a short length of rope.

"You'll be glad we have this to put the water bottles in. I'll tie it to my tube so our hands can be free. The river will help keep the water cold."

It struck Clair as a clever idea compared to the many other things he might have gone back to get--his wallet, his sunglasses, his towel. It showed the kind of creative forethought and problem solving that she had come to expect from her husband. She didn't say so, but James knew these were her thoughts when she took a deep breath, shook her head, and smiled.

The car backed down the driveway just past noon—three minutes behind schedule. There was no one waiting for them, of course, but his wife Clair believed that time well spent must first be contained and that living without fixed schedules was like carrying an armful of groceries in a torn paper sack. James had proven her theory right all too often. Without the target of a noon departure, he’d still be frittering away in the yard. Three minutes was a manageable rip.

According to his laptop’s Flash-Map program, it was a two-hour-and-thirteen minute drive to Big Rapids.


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