Don't the Great Tales Never End

Submitted into Contest #100 in response to: Start or end your story with two characters sitting down for a meal.... view prompt

19 comments

Creative Nonfiction

“I used to love this place, and it hasn’t changed a bit. When I was a teen, this booth was the smoking section. I don’t think they have those anywhere anymore. I always ordered mashed potatoes.”


You glance at my large plate of mashed potatoes and laugh, scraping the last bit of your meal off your plate. The teal vinyl on the seats is peeling, and the checkered floor is giving me a headache. But you don’t seem to mind the decor and mutter something unclear. We both laugh as a bit of food falls from your mouth.


“But I’m not here to talk about me. You wanted to hear about my dad.”


*****


“Where are we going?” Patty asked, her voice wavering a bit. She wasn’t sure she enjoyed traipsing through the woods in her dress. What if it got torn before prom?


“You’ll see!” he smiled, tugging her along. “It’s not far now.” 


The trees opened up ahead, and she could just make out a body of water in the distance. The heat of the day was cooling, and a chorus of frogs called in the distance. As the two reached the clearing, there was a small lean-to, reminiscent of a log cabin, and the roof shaded the area below. There was a large checkered blanket spread beneath, with a picnic basket on top of it.


“I’m sorry I couldn’t afford to take you for a fancy dinner, but this is my favorite place, and I wanted to share it with you.”


He reached into his jacket and pulled out a small pocketknife. Campers and hikers filled the back of the structure with names and dates written in black sharpie markers. 


“I think we are more permanent than markers,” he said, winking and proceeding to carve into the wood.


Fred loves Pat. 1974


*****

The server slides by with a coffeepot and fills both of our mugs with the hot liquid. I inhale and take a sip, staring out the giant window at a large pine tree.


“It’s hard to know what to tell you, when, all we amount to is the perceptions of the people that are left. My father was so much more than how I saw him.”


You frown, clearly sympathizing with grief that I am not feeling at the moment.  


“It’s okay. I don’t mean it sadly, it just puts the impermanence of it all into perspective. In reality, my dad knew how to live, and I am trying to emulate his ability. Did you know he and my mom would have celebrated their forty-third anniversary this year? ”


*****

A movie is playing in the background, but no one pays too much attention to it.  


“I can’t remember the last time it was just the four of us!” 


He shifts slightly and grimaces. 


“Do you need me to drain the bag for you?” Pat asks as she stands and heads towards the plush recliner.


He just waves her off. “I’ll be fine for another hour. We can do it before bed.”


His daughters share a glance. Their mother could overbear you when she was trying to be a caretaker. But he didn’t seem to be cranky about it.


“When are we going to have another opportunity like this?” He beams. It’s nice to see him feeling better. The treatments seem to help.


“I think you got sick on purpose,” Lynn giggles. “You just suck at retirement, and are bored.”


He chuckles, then clasps his stomach. “Stop making me laugh.”


“Once you are out of chemo and feeling better, we can get the whole crew up here again. Lynn can have the guest room here, and Mike, the Kiddo’s, and I can use the time-share.” Jessie says.


“I would like that. The last time we got together was just before they diagnosed me, and I wasn’t the best company.” He replies.


Everyone is quiet for a moment until he continues, “I actually feel more at peace than I ever have, you know. I never talked much about my childhood, and if you are curious, I am ready to open up.” 


Jessie finally spoke. “how did you feel when Richard died? You never talked about him much, when we were growing up.”


“I was the one that found him.” He sighs and doesn’t speak for a long time. “It was probably the lowest point in my life. I never got the abuse my brothers had. My father was in jail most of my childhood and Dick and Billy got the brunt of it. When Billy joined the Navy, Dick was alone with his demons.”


*****


“You want dessert? They have the best apple pie here!”


You nod and smile as I flag down the server. She looks frazzled but paints a smile on her face as she stands in front of us.  


“Two slices of apple pie, please, à la mode.”


She scratches some notes on her pad and wanders back to the kitchen.



******


“Don’t you think Tolkien is a bit long for them?” Pat asks as she tucks the girls into bed.


He just laughs. “They got through The Fellowship of the Ring just fine, and Jessie is picking out words while she tries to read over my shoulder.” He kisses his daughters on the head, and Pat follows him out of the bedroom, closing the door softly behind her.


“I got an interview!” He picks up his wife and swings her around. “It’s a private catholic school, and won’t pay as much as a public one, but it’s a start!”


He had been working retail for the past ten years, and Pat's job-shared with another mom so they could save on childcare. It was unfortunate that he made more in a job he hated than the one he went to school for.  


But they had been saving and tucking away every little bit they could, and once Lynn started kindergarten next year, he was going to take the plunge. Things would be tight, but he would be happy.


Her face lit up as they danced in circles. Their life was truly about to start!


*****


You smile at the tender moment and take a sip of your coffee. 


“They got married four years after that. It’s kind of romantic, marrying your high school sweetheart, don’t you think?” 


You just smile, and I am grateful for your silence. Few people want to hear my ramblings, but you do, and for that, I am grateful.


*****


“He ended up getting the job and worked there until he retired.”


Your eyes widen. No one stays at the same place that long anymore.


“Once he started teaching, we would take the last two months of June every year for the family road trip. We would do the whole east coast in two weeks, then he would start a summer job”


The server returns with our desserts, the ice cream already melting on the pie. 


*****


“Mooooomm, Jessie is hogging the back seat.”


“No, I am not. How can I, with a cooler between us?”


Pat turns around to see what the girls are bickering about. Lynn’s face is bright red, and she balls her hands into tiny fists. Jessie leans against the door, looking drowsy. They had been driving since 4:30 this morning. He liked to get an early start, to avoid traffic.  


“Can you girls just deal with it?” Pat snaps. 


“Yes, mom,” they say in unison. When she turns back, Jessie shoves the cooler over another inch, and Lynn just growls.


“We should be there in an hour.” He tells everyone. “Take a nap or something!”


 D.C was one of his favorite parts of their summer trips. He loved telling the girls about how the government works, and how every voice makes a difference. The girls loved it because they got to stay in a motel with a pool. At every other stop along the way, the family stayed with friends or relatives, but in D.C. They got to live it up at Motel 6! 


“What was your favorite part of New York?” He asks.



*****


You scoop the last luscious bite of the pie into your mouth, and I push the rest of mine towards you.


“You want? I can’t finish it.” I push my plate to you and continue.

“I think the thing that made my dad such an excellent teacher is that he had this innate understanding of what made people tick.”


*****


“Mr. G, Mr. G!!” Annie shouts. “Ryan won’t leave me alone!”


He watches as Ryan crumples up a piece of paper and throws it at Annie’s head.


“You know, Ryan, I am watching.”


“Whatever,” the boy scoffs as the lunch bell rings. 


“Everyone heads down to lunch. Ryan, I want to talk to you for a few minutes.”


The other students file out of the room, and Ryan makes his way to the teacher’s desk, standing in front of it, silently.


“Sorry,” the boy whispers, and his head hangs low.


“You know, if you need to chat, you don’t have to throw paper at Annie. I’m here.”


Ryan’s chain raises in defiance before his shoulders shake and silent tears stream down his face.


The teacher rises from his chair, walks around the desk to stand next to Ryan, and puts his arm around the boy’s shoulder. 


“You want to eat lunch up here today?”


*****


“Ryan ended up eating lunch with him every day that week. His parents had just gotten divorced, and things were a bit out of sorts for him at home.” 


You nod. 


“That’s what I like about you. You seem to have the same understanding of people that my dad did. And you’re a good listener. I am usually the listener, so it’s nice to just get it all out.”


*****


“Have some more cookies!” Mr. Bradley, the current principal, said.


At one point he had thought about going back to school and getting into administration, but he was ready to be done. It had been a wild ride, and all he could hope was that he had made a difference in someone’s life.


“How long did you teach here?” One of the newer teachers said while chewing on an oatmeal bar.


“This will be my thirty-fifth year.” All the teachers he had started with had moved on to other things by now, but he had loved the school and never felt the need to move on. There were no longer any nuns at the elementary level, and only one left at the high school.


This first principal he had worked for passed away about five-year prior. While it was bittersweet, there was no one left he would miss, aside from the students.  


“What do you plan to do with your retirement?” she asks.


“I’m headed to Florida!”


*****


“That next year and a half my parents were like teenagers again. They drove all around the US. and when they were home, spent every day going to theme parks and concerts. My dad had always been a cheerful person, but for once he was free. No obligations suited him well!”


The server comes by and drops the check off. We both go to snatch it up, but I win and quickly hand her my credit card.


“You can buy next time, okay? I want to hear one of your stories!”


******


“The soft beeping of the machines was now silent, and the room was quiet. 


A nurse had escorted the family back to the room after he was extubated, and the dialysis machine had been removed.  


Pat sits by him, holding one hand and Jessie holds the other, while Lynn stands at his feet, and reads. “ ‘I wonder,’ said Frodo. ‘But I don’t know. And that’s the way of a real tale.’ ”



*****


I wipe my eyes and blow my nose into a napkin. “Sorry, whenever I hear that passage, I can’t help but cry. But they are not tears of sadness, because those that are gone live on in us. My dad was a great one, and don’t the great tales never end?”



June 28, 2021 23:22

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19 comments

Blue Green
21:45 Jul 02, 2021

This is a great story, and very cleverly constructed. The POV changed worked for me, I didn't have any trouble following the plot. I love the way you kept switching to different times of his life. The little story of the two girls squabbling in the back seat over an inch of space is great, and so real life :-) I noticed one typo at the very end "... the dialysis machine had was removed" - I don't think you need the "had" there. Nice work, and hats off for trying something new! :-)

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Beth Connor
21:56 Jul 02, 2021

Got the typo fixed before the contest closed- YAY Thanks for the catch.

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Blue Green
07:42 Jul 03, 2021

Np - I think you can edit after the close date, btw :-) Just noticed the title - did you mean the double negative there?

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Beth Connor
16:08 Jul 03, 2021

It was intended. Samwise Gamgee said it to Frodo in “The Two Towers”.

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Beth Connor
16:09 Jul 03, 2021

But it was a title more for me, then expecting readers to get it!

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Blue Green
23:10 Jul 03, 2021

Ah, okay! Gosh, it's been years since I read that, so I didn't pick up on it!

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K. Antonio
01:45 Jul 01, 2021

I have to commend people when they try new things, so that's that first of all. Switching POV's is sooooo hard. I know because I never do it, but have tried it countless times. For me I was able to discern pretty well what was happening, but I do have a suggestion. Your story is going in a pattern, e.g. first person directed to third person omniscient, back to first person, back to omniscient. And sometimes patterns can be fun, sometimes I do present to past in that same structure, but sometimes I don't. I think this story might actually...

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Beth Connor
17:29 Jul 01, 2021

I love your suggestion- I even opened this up to play with the pattern some more and proceeded to close the editing page. I think I am too close to it right now. Then, I almost deleted it, but decided not to do that either- so I think for now it will sit here and marinate in front of whoever happens to read the story...

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K. Antonio
18:12 Jul 01, 2021

After writing for a couple of years now all I can say is that the hardest about about writing isn't even the act of putting things down, it's editing. Because once the piece is out there, it feels like a game of Jenga.

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N K
08:25 Jun 30, 2021

This was so so beautiful! I think the shifting perspectives works really really well in telling this story - I loved the sort of highlight reel. The characters are so wonderfully created and the personality of each comes through in the dialogue so clearly. I think the experimentation really paid off. Great job!

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Beth Connor
16:05 Jun 30, 2021

Thank you so much! Your story "The Pros and Cons of Murdering your Mother" was one of the inspirations for this one. https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/contests/94/submissions/68239/

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N K
09:07 Jul 01, 2021

Wow, that is a huge compliment! I really like that theme of our parents living through us

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Shea West
14:21 Jun 29, 2021

First of all Bravo for trying something new and hard!!!! This story was sweet and I can feel the tenderness of the daughter speaking of her father.

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H L Mc Quaid
10:39 Jun 29, 2021

Hi Beth, Well done with experimenting (I'm all for it!). There are some poignant and funny moments and overall the writing is good. You said you shifted POV mid-way through...but the cafe scenes are still first-person, and the flashbacks seem like the narrator is recalling memories of her father and they are told in third-person. So when did the perspective change and who is meant to be the first-person narrator when the POV changes? A few other random comments... I think the flashbacks/memories might work better if they were all writ...

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Beth Connor
18:58 Jun 29, 2021

My intention was the cafe parts were to be 1st person direct (Initially I was going to attempt 2nd but I gave up on that) and the other parts I intended to be 3rd person omniscient. Hopefully, I have time later to go back and make everything more clear! The heat has come down, and hopefully my head is more clear! I can't wait to read your new one!!

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Daniel R. Hayes
05:05 Jun 29, 2021

Wow Beth, this was truly amazing. I really enjoyed reading this story :) I read your author's note, and I think the flow works just fine. It was separated well enough that I don't think other readers would be confused. You did a great job with those different perspectives. I loved this line: "You just suck at retirement, and are bored.” - I know a lot of people who have gotten bored after they retired, so I loved this line. One typo I noticed at the end: "because those that are gone live one in us." - I think you meant on instead of on...

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Beth Connor
16:10 Jun 30, 2021

I'm so glad you enjoyed it. This one was about my actual dad and all stuff that really happened. I've been trying to figure out a short story to honor him (I have about 10 half-written ones, which I may yet finish someday). It was because of him, that I got back into writing.

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Daniel R. Hayes
17:09 Jun 30, 2021

I thought it was wonderful. I suspected it was about your dad. He would be very proud of this :) :)

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Beth Connor
03:57 Jun 29, 2021

Not sure if the flow of this one makes sense to anyone other than me. I wanted to experiment with shifting perspectives and POV mid-story.

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