Barry and the Burning Dog

Submitted into Contest #92 in response to: Set your story in a countryside house that’s filled with shadows.... view prompt

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Fiction Romance Sad

The sun beaming in through the window lays so still on the wooden floor that it’s hard to walk without feeling like I’m going to wake up the sun. Like I’m tiptoeing around fire. A glance out the window are green hills rolling into the horizon, like green ocean waves covered in wildflowers. It’s hard to believe in sadness with a view so beautiful.

The house is full of antique farm equipment and knick-knacks and the kind of junk that only a lifetime worth of love and passion could ever hope to appreciate. The areas where the sun cuts through the still windows are hot, so hot that I feel it through my clothes. In the corners without light it’s cold, like I could almost see my breath if I tried hard enough. Like those areas don’t know what it’s like to be warm.

The floors creak as I walk from room to room, careful not to wake the sun sleeping on the floor like a burning dog. Sunlight in solitude seems wilder than the tame sunlight of the city. No buildings to block its power or cars to clog its beams. This is where it thrives, like a wild animal let free for the first time. Maybe that’s how we would all be, if given the chance.

Everything has a shadow, from the hills outside to the specks of dust flowing through the beams of sunlight. It’s so quiet that it feels like sound even has a shadow.

The floors are wood, the walls are wood, the ceiling is wood, and it’s like the entire house got skipped as the world around it progressed. Like it was stuck in some year from over a century ago. The shadows probably got stuck in time, too. If the sun hasn’t touched them yet, then it never will. It’s like for centuries they’ve been so close to each other, yet they’ve never met. Maybe the sun and the shadows love each other, but their destinies will never allow them to be together. Or maybe they hate each other, and one is always trying to consume the other. Standing in the area between the shadows and sunlight is overwhelming and I don’t know if it’s because there’s a war waging between them or if it’s the way love might feel. In some ways there’s probably not much of a difference. War and love, it’s all the same form of passion.

The old woman, she died in the living room. There was a teal couch, probably as old as everything else. Probably as old as she was. That’s where that old lady that used to live here died, sitting right on that teal couch. I didn’t know her, but in a way, I feel like the shadows and the sunlight knew her and in that way they’ll never let me forget her.

One room, what probably used to be a bedroom, sits facing east and through the window I can see the shadows of the clouds spotting the hills as they roll over each other like a pin full of playful puppies. There’s a small table by the window that I brought up last week, with a brown leather chair pushed in beneath it. A small shadow stretches from the legs of the table all the way to the bedroom door. Like carrying a small boulder, I lug my 1921 Royal Model 10 typewriter and place it gently on the table. With a few small scuffs I push it to the center and adjust it so it’s facing me just right.

I pull the chair out and sit in it, pull it to the perfect spot in front of the typewriter, and for a moment I take a big breath. Through the window I can see the spotted shadows slowly gliding over the hills and wildflowers as if they were sailboats on a calm sea.

I grab a piece of parchment and place it into the roller, twisting it up so it’s just peeking up toward me. The platen is smooth. A black ribbon, shiny with fresh ink, stretches through the type guide resting just in front of the parchment.

It’s been ten years since I’ve written my latest novel. It’s like living in the city has blocked me the way it blocked the sun. The woman who lived here, her son put the property up for auction. I saw it when I was sitting in a coffee shop. I don’t drink coffee and usually I don’t frequent coffee shops, but I was looking for anything to write again.

For thirty years, only one thing motivated me to write above all else. It’s probably because everything I wrote, I wrote to impress her. She was my reader. When I lost her to a long battle of bone cancer, I wrote only one novel. In thirty years, I wrote twenty-eight novels, all bestsellers and each one better than the last. It wasn’t because I was a good writer, it’s because with each novel she would tell me what she loved, what she hated, and what didn’t matter. My last novel didn’t have that. I lost my wife, and with it I lost my heart, my soul, and my favorite reader.

When I saw the loneliness of the house up for auction, it was like she was calling out to me, like if I went there, she would be able to read my stories again. I did a walkthrough a few days later and I noticed the way the shadows and the sunlight yearned for each other. The couch was still in the living room at the time, but the old woman was long gone, buried in the ground somewhere. Or maybe burned and packed into an urn on a mantle somewhere else. Her son took out all of the big furniture, the tables, the bed, the couch, all that stuff. He asked me if I wanted him to take all of the little things, too.

“No, leave them,” I said. “They hold the house up.”

So, he left them, and with them he left every shadow that reminisced on their owner. Each shadow that yearned for the love of the sunlight.

I feel the pressure of the keys beneath my fingers and raise the typebars just before the slugs strike the paper. I feel like I’m the sunlight and she’s the shadow, like I’m so close to hearing her, to feeling her, yet we’re just out of reach of each other.

I start typing, each clap of the slugs against the parchment growing louder and louder. As the sun falls the shadows in the room get longer and longer, until there’s nothing left but a lantern in the corner of this small wooden table, a small whisker of a flame bouncing from side to side. As the wick burns down and I type faster and faster, the ringing of the carriage return dinging every few minutes, the shadows dance around the room as if she’s dancing to the tune of my writing. One piece of parchment, then the next, then the next, until eventually I have the beginning of a small stack to the left of the large, bulky machine.

My wrists hurt, my fingers ache, and when the smacking of the slugs against the parchment stop it feels like when the last song has played at a local concert and everybody prepares to go home. Even my elbows are tired and each ligament from my fingernails to my shoulder are aching on each arm screaming out in pain.

The sun begins to rise on the other side of the house and morning sunlight makes the dew on the hills glisten like a midnight sky. The lantern has burned out and the smoke has dissipated, the shadows have gone to sleep in their corners and tucked behind knick-knacks on the walls, and the party is over.

It was two weeks after that when I called my publisher. I didn’t have service at the farmhouse, and I was in no hurry to run back to the city.

“I have a manuscript,” I said to him over the telephone. I was at a hotel I was renting in Tampa.

“What do you mean you have a manuscript?”

“It’s all typed up. I wrote it a few weeks ago on a vintage typewriter.”

“Jesus, Barry. A typewriter? It’s the twenty-first-fucking-century. Nobody’s going to want to transcribe an entire novel onto the computer.” Dale always has a way to include some form of cursing into a sentence, even in the middle of words where it doesn’t make sense. “It’s just going to be more money to get some other shit to do it.”

“I’ll do it,” I said.

“Halle-fucking-lujah, Barry,” he said this sarcastically. “Listen,” he said, his voice growing a little lower, “it’s been a long time since your last novel, and that one sucked. I was afraid of pushing it through anyway, but I feel like I owed you that for all you’ve done for me. But my career can’t take another one like that.”

“Just read it,” I said. I was standing on the top floor overlooking the ocean, the blue one with white waves, and people were scattered everywhere like little bugs.

He didn’t say anything for a long time after that, and all the while I held the phone up to my ear looking out at the people and the ocean and the seagulls and the sand. I could hear him inhaling and exhaling a cigarette through the phone. He only smoked when he talked to people, and he was always talking to somebody.

After a few long hits he finally said, “God damn it, Barry. If you tank my career, I’m suing you for everything you’ve got.” He let out a long exhale of smoke, I could hear it through the phone.

I didn’t say anything to him, I just put the phone back on the receiver. My hands still ached, and my arms struggled to hold themselves up.

It was there in the hotel that I transcribed my entire novel and I didn’t feel the need to change a single word. I typed it word for word, punctuation mark for punctuation mark. It took me another two days to put it into the computer and by the end of it my hands were locked into a curled position so that anybody could place a keyboard under my fingers and they’d line up perfectly with ASDF and JKL:. Like I was a robot and that’s what I had been meant to do my entire life.

I attached it to an email and sent it to him with a small note that read, “It’s all yours, Dale. I don’t want any of it. Just make sure it gets published. Take a break from cigarettes and people for a while.” Then I signed it at the bottom, “-Barry”.

Six months later, my hands had finally relaxed. I was walking through the hills; a few deer were jumping through the trees. I saw a mail carrier pulling down the road, a small plume of smoke behind him. I didn’t hurry back, and I didn’t yell for him when I got close enough. I just waived as he pulled down the road. there was a package on my doorstep with an envelope attached on top of it. It was from Dale.

I carried it in, it wasn’t terribly heavy, but certainly had some weight to it. I pulled the envelope from the top and tore open the top of it. It was a note that read this:

Barry,

Jesus, it was hard to find an address for you. I don’t even want to know how you made it all the way out there. Anyway, your book is a hit! An instant bestseller! I’m already getting movie deals coming in. These are your royalties from the first two months.

Talk soon,

Dale

I took the note and placed it up against the wall behind the typewriter, right next to the window, and shoved a thumbtack straight through it. I didn’t even open the box, just put it on a shelf next to an old basket and a few rusted gardening tools, it was just a knick-knack that required a lifetime of love and passion to appreciate, and I needed it the same way I needed everything else in the house.

May 05, 2021 18:03

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2 comments

Amel Parvez
06:46 May 19, 2021

Woahhhhh! loved every part of it:)

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Echo Sundar
16:50 May 11, 2021

Wow. Amazing story!

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