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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

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Still Waters" Chapter 1

A long short story (or short novella) in progress

The man had turned his thoughts to stone. The shelter he had made the year before was little more than swaths of bark lashed to bent limbs, and the weight of snow had nearly flattened it.

Stone, he thought. Stone and rock could bear the winter weight and stand the test of time. A cave would be ideal. Such niches, he knew, could be made impervious to all but the life held deep inside. With the breeze of the nearby lake and the shade of the tall oaks overhead, a grotto of sorts is what he had in mind.

By mid-summer, the man had found a spot just beyond his previous claim, but properly executed, the site would go unnoticed by those who might accuse him of encroachment. He carved out the earth, and hauled stone slabs to mask the cave's mouth.

Earlier in the day, he had heard the sound of drums in the west, but they had stopped without notice, and the high-pitched hush of heat made him eager to finish his task.

He stood above the cave’s entrance, his back bowed by the weight the last large slab held between his outstretched feet. His brackish skin glistened in the sun. His bloodied knuckles nearly touched the ground.

His frame seemed made for such grunt-work. His mind was void of all but primal thoughts, those of mind and matter. This final slab was a capstone of sorts, chiseled and shaped to fit, and had to be precisely placed to hide what was below. Once let go, it would take two men to lift again. There was, however, no second man--at least none he trusted knowing of this place.

The arms and hands and fingers waited for a signal from the head, but just when all was ready for the drop—his eyesight blurred. This loss of vision had occurred before but never when his hands were indisposed.

From deep within, a groan grew into a frustrated growl as the man shook his head from side to side until his eyes could see again. He blinked hard at his mark on the ground. The signal from head to hands came, his arms pulled back just as his fingers gave way, and the slab dropped with a thud to its final resting place.

The man stood upright, turned his face toward the sun, and filled his lungs with air.

In the brief silence between breaths, a faint rhythm began in the distance. It was not the drums he'd heard before—that sound and those who made it meant nothing but trouble. This patter was a welcome whisper compared to the drums, a delicate flapping rhythm, coming closer with each beat and familiar as the touch of his own skin. Without looking, the man knew what it was....

“Daddy, Mom says to put your shirt on so you don’t get sun-burnt,” the little girl said above the patter of her flip-flops flopping against the soft skin of her feet.

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 Sincalir 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."

Dr. James Sinclair still stood staring at the sky. Since dawn, the Head of the English Department at Riverdale College, had been landscaping with heavy slabs of Kansas limestone. It was a sweltering day in late June, the perspiration that had soaked his discarded T-shirt was now dripping freely from his skin, and trickling from his scalp to his eyes. As he was putting the last and largest stone in place, his was head slightly lower than his arched back, and a steady stream of sweat began trickling from his gray hair to the crow’s feet of eyes, and was now dripping into both lenses of his horned-rimmed bifocals—like eye drops into teaspoons— until he couldn’t see a thing. It had happened twice that day, but never without a free hand to remove the useless specs. He had no choice but to shake his head until the glasses flew off, a feat more difficult than he had guessed. Thus the frustrated scream.

“I’m wearing my last-year’s swim suit;” his daughter jabbered, “‘cause Mom says the river might be muddy, but this is my new towel. See what’s on it? Turtles.”

She dramatically tossed the beach towel around her neck as if it were a feather boa.

“Don’t come any closer,” her father snapped.

Kenzie froze in her flip flops.

“My glasses are on the ground somewhere.”

“Where?” she asked.

“I don’t know, and I can’t look for them until I find ‘em.”

It was a tired line he used whenever he misplaced his glasses, which was often, but it always made his daughter smile.

“There they are—by the badminton net,” she said running to fetch them. “How’d they get way over here?”

He pretended not to hear his daughter’s question as he began putting on his soaked T-shirt. Pulling it over his head, he stopped inside the shirt as if somehow separated from the outside world. The damp cotton felt good against his face. He blotted his briny eyes and thought: How did the glasses get there? The answer would confirm that his red face was caused not by the noontide heat, nor by the burden of stone, but by rage, the most thoughtless of all human emotions. In fact, as he had often lectured, rage was not an emotion at all. It bypassed the brain and back-flushed the senses; it was an animal-like reaction rooted deep in depravity.

A wave of guilt washed over him in its aftermath, sapping what little strength was left in his arms as they emerged from the sleeves of the shirt. And for what? he rebuked himself. So what if your glasses were filling with sweat. So what if they were blinding you…so what if the stone was about to crush your fingers. What does it say of you if, given the cause, your voice give way to a godless scream? What does that say of you?

With his face still hidden in the shirt, he pressed the cool cotton again against his eyes and pondered his own questions, but in truth, it was the answers he ignored.

To be continued in installments once or twice a week as time permits...

Note: "Still Waters" is an experiment in third-person fiction.  The ideas for the story began simmering four summers ago and are based on an actual event but completely stretched beyond the first-person account and real characters. I know where I plan to take the plot, but I'm still wrestling with how to get there. It is quite a departure from my normal style and subject matter, and may even be a bit disturbing by the conclusion. When complete, it will be a long "short story" best read in one sitting, but as always, I'll blog it out here in four or five "parts," a process that helps motivate me to complete my "works in progress." Please bear with me.


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