One Less Traveled – Fiction
“It’s not easy living as a fiction, to have a life drawn by thin lines and defined by the characters of others. To rip a soul from a wrinkled page trampled by the footnotes of others and transcribe it, giving it volume, is something only the truest achieve – A Brave New Word.”
Recently, these were the thoughts that occupied Ern. They were the wisps in his mind, formed from the fog of dreams. As he walked in the crispness of morning light, he pondered over life’s fictions.
He walked through the suburbs as the birds greeted their hatch-lings and the dew was broken by canine feet. He sensed the anticipation of a new day with the chill down his spine, and the tingle of his scalp. In cadence with his spirited step, the sun broke over the hills and flooded these quiet curves of houses with golden liquor.
He saw a man bring his trash to the curb. He was in a hurried foulness; and just as he went to place the bag, it busted, putting most of the litter inside the can. He swore at himself; then, seeing where a neighbor’s dog had spoiled his lawn, he kicked his can over, further scattering the trash. Under his breath, he muttered how he was going to take care of that dog.
Ten minutes later, he saw another man kiss his wife at the door. It wasn’t overly passionate, and she, with her raccoon eye, drew him to her. As he pulled out, Ern heard the words: “Finally” and “Soon Love”. As he hung up, he rolled up the window of the sports car that wasn’t made for marathons, but for sprints and chases.
The nicest house on the street was for sale. It had a new roof, nice window shutters, and a trim, though over-worn porch. The empty glass mocked and dared him to explore its secrets. In the taller grass, he spied a snake lazing in the sun and waiting for the easy prey of a buyer’s foot.
In the afternoon, he passed three boys swinging and pointing sticks as they played at war. The strategy seemed to be to gang up on the smallest. This proved the superiority of the two as the other was obviously meant to lose. The father of one bellowed out from his door, then shook his fist angrily. The boy ran, down the street and around the corner.
Ern stopped a bit as he watched a five year old girl drinking tea on a spread out towel with her dolls. She poured and talked to these, her only friends. Then, she talked some more. Often, a doll would slouch, and then be straightened up. Only Raggedy Ann was scolded with pointed finger for poor manners.
He passed a Catholic Church, well kept. One side of their sign read, “Don’t forget Friday Night Bingo!”. The other read, “Sunrise Easter Service.” He chuckled, fully seeing the contradiction squarely drawn with a thick black machete between them.
Mid-evening, Ern passed a man barbecuing, who upon seeing him, cried out, “Hey buddy! You hungry?” Sometimes, even he is surprised by the reaction of people. Ern’s wardrobe consisted of worn blue jeans with many holes, a sun-yellow t-shirt under a long-sleeved plaid , a pair of boots that had befriended too many pebbles, and a week old pair of socks. His pack had been resewn and gray-taped; but it looked better kept than his wild flourished hair and scraggly beard.
“Yes sir!”, Ern replied, as he stopped and turned to face the possible friend. He hadn’t eaten anything but a few wild plants for the past few days. A daily solid meal would do him good; but, his budget was as limited as a diabetic child in a candy store.
“What are you waiting for? Come back and have a beer and burger.”
Ern walked to the grill. He didn’t walk as a beggar to a buffet, or as a bum to the bottle. “Thanks,” he said, “but I’d prefer water over beer. Name’s Ern.”
“Nice to meet you. Max Harris. Pickles, tomatoes, onions?”
With a nod of his head, Ern received the best meal he’d eaten for a week. Next to a good night’s sleep, nothing kept the roads underfoot like having a full belly. As they ate, Ern learned that Max had lost his wife to lung cancer a few months before. Max needed to grieve, and although he was a friend to all men, he felt quite friendless.
Ern listened. He learned of the depression of diagnosis. He learned of their love, their determination to live in spite of the lingering months, the hope-tearing treatments, and the last few days at home. Max had spent them in the wooden chair next to her, his arm in her bed under the covers, their fingers woven together. As she took her last breath, he lay a rose across her chest and kissed her good-bye.
He understood the pain and the love; for he had lost his sister to leukemia years ago. To hear it brought the heavy past to his eyes. He hadn’t cried about it for ages; but it was always good to cry. It made no difference that his tears turned his dusty face into an earth streaked mirror of pain and peace. Max didn’t cry; but, he did tear up.
More than the pain, Ern understood how healing companionship could be. He knew that some burdens were best carried by the ears and tears of a not so perfect stranger. Ern was a trader, of sorts. He strove to deal fairly with all men, despite their standing or situation.
It was a good day for both men. They shook on their mutual understanding, then embraced. Ern had felt the empathy and compassion of brotherhood along with a meal solid enough to convey him through another week. Max had the shadow of loneliness lifted, the evening sun bringing back the warmth of his love, his zest for life, and the best damned beer he had ever tasted.