Sunday, January 25, 2009

Going Home-A work of fiction

Author's note: This is not my best story. A few weeks ago I found a website that offered two types of prompts for short story writers. One type of prompt actually generated a setting, theme, and object for a short story. That one generated a setting in a theater, a theme of sadness, and a chair for an object for me. The second type of prompt offered random pictures in which you built a story around. I took the former and ran with it and latter I left alone. That was until I found a picture of the Strand Theater located in my hometown and decided to use it in the story as well. After, once again, spending far more time on this story than I want to admit there was no way in hell I was going to let it just sit in my hard drive.

Anthony Taylor parked his rental car in front of the old theater early on a chilly Sunday morning. Looking through the windshield he stared at the old place amazed that at least the outside hadn’t changed like the rest of his hometown. The marquee he remembered as a child was still in place with the name of the theater, “Strand”, still mounted on top in big lighted letters. All that was missing were black letters that attached to the marquee telling what movie was playing that day. Instead it was blank with the letters now only displaying a simple phone number on it, apparently for contacting the current owners about renting.

Getting out of the car Anthony walked up to the doors trying to peer inside but was greeted with only gloomy darkness keeping the secrets of what changes the years had brought to the inside. The ticket booth still was tucked to the right side of the main entrance but instead of darkness an old swivel chair, illuminated by some dim light inside, seemed to be standing a lonely guard. Anthony looked at the tattered remains of bulletins and small posters in the display case mounted on the wall facing Front Street, most were unreadable but some spoke of the “Swamp Fox Players” and various performances they would be staging. He thought back to all the colorful and exciting movie posters that use to hang in that case years before always promising promised excitement and adventure.
“Can I help you sir, are you okay?” Seemly out of no where a young blond girl stood beside him. Concern and worry shown on the pretty face despite the large bundle she was carrying in a bag hanging from her shoulder.
Anthony, caught off guard, took a moment to collect his thoughts. “Oh”, he smiled, “I’m fine, it’s just I’ve been away from Georgetown for years and you caught me reliving the past. I spent many a weekend watching movies and eating popcorn here.” He noticed the young girl seemed to be appraising him and his words trying to determine if he was safe to be around.
Looking at the old man she saw something in those eyes that his smile couldn’t hide. Those eyes made him look lost and alone in search of a safe harbor from the outside world. After a second or two she shrugged and came to a decision. “Well, I help out with the Swamp Fox players and I need to drop off this stuff and collect some papers. Would you like to see the inside for a few minutes? I warn you though; it’s probably very different from the way you remember.”
“I’d greatly appreciate it, I haven’t been home in decades and the last time I was here I didn’t anytime just to look around”
The young girl eased her bag to the ground and fished out a collection of keys to unlock the doors. “I’m Erin by the way”, she said, “I’m sort of the gopher for the players, I do a lot of running around for the chance to have a few speaking lines in the productions. “ Inserting the keys and opening the door she looked him over once again. “And you sir, what brought you back here?”
“My name is Anthony Taylor; I’m traveling with my son, his wife, and grandchildren. We’re staying at Myrtle Beach right now. We had been down in Florida for the last week and we are on our way home back to Ohio. This is sort of a last hurrah vacation rest stop for them.”
What he didn’t tell her was that while they were still asleep he had slipped out of his room. Caught a taxi to the nearest place to rent a car and then drove south for what would probably me his last chance to see his hometown. He figured at any minute his son would be calling him on the cell phone that now rested in his jacket pocket. Anthony had wanted to come directly to Georgetown but his daughter-in-law refused saying she saw nothing of value listed in travel book she carried about the town she or the boys would be interested in. Anthony’s son, Michael, tried to compromise the two by suggesting a stop at Myrtle Beach for a few days. Barbara, his daughter-in-law, grudgingly agreed saying her and Michael could shop at the nearby outlet malls while Anthony looked after the boys.
Anthony understood the indifference his son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren felt about his need to see his old home town. Michael had been just a boy when they moved away from South Carolina in 1968. All Michael could remember of the place was the sulfurous smell of the paper mill located on the Sampit River and the hot and very humid summers. Michael and the rest of his family’s lives were rooted in Dayton, Ohio and they were eager to get home. Anthony knew he was a relic to his son and an outright inconvenience to his daughter-in-law, to his grandson’s he was like a pet dog. Nice to have around but something that was otherwise ignored until it got in the way.
As Erin opened the door Anthony helped her carry the bag back inside while she again used the keys to open the little office just to the left as they stepped in. It had been the same office that the manager used when he was child. Leaving Erin to her chores Anthony allowed his old eyes to adjust to the dim surroundings of the lobby. He imminently noticed the missing display case that sold popcorn, candy and soft drinks that had been positioned between two sets of large swinging doors leading to the theater auditorium. In place of display case was a bare table with simple wooden chairs on either side. The missing display case prompted a surreal feeling in him as if he had fallen into some other place after walking through the doors. It had been the place where people milled around chatting and generally passing the time waiting for the feature to start. As Erin could be heard unloading and organizing the stuff from her bag Anthony slowly entered the main part of the theater from the right side door.
Unlike the lobby the auditorium itself was fairly well lighted. Wooded folding chairs, much like he remembered from his childhood, were still there lined up and a graceful arch facing forward. The most obvious difference was the missing silver screen, it had been removed and its place was a large stage that had engulfed several rows of seats up front.
Taking a seat in the deserted theater it was easy to remember all the times he had been in here as a child and teenager with the lights lowered, holding a box of popcorn, and waiting for the previews of coming attractions to start. Often times Anthony came alone, the result of his mother having to help his father deal with the nightmares he had brought home from World War Two. But he did remember his mother coming with him a few times while his father was at work, the only time his father really felt in control of himself. And on very rare occasions both his parents would come during the periods his father was able to keep the images of death and cruelty he saw in Europe at bay in his mind. As the years passed Anthony could be found here with friends and later with girlfriends until the day he met the woman he would marry.
Anthony was a junior in high school in 1962 playing wide receiver for the Winyah High Gators. They were playing their rivals the Conway Tigers in Conway attempting to exact revenge for a last minute touchdown, and a related bad call by the referee that resulted in the Gators not going to the playoffs the year before. They were behind by a touchdown late in the fourth quarter when Anthony had turned just enough to see the ball flying down his way from the Gators’ quarterback who was twenty yards away. On the Tiger’s fifty yard line close to their sideline he jumped up with his fingertips barely making contact with the leather of the football. Anthony came down knowing the ball was firmly in his hands, running toward the opposing end zone as fast as possible. Focused on making it to the end zone Anthony didn’t hear much of the roar from the Winyah fans that began as he plucked a clearly overthrown ball from the air. And when one of the Conway boys dived into him like a runaway train driving him into the Tiger’s benches and the assorted benchwarmers occupying them he didn’t hear the roar die just as quickly as it began. The tackle had actually knocked him unconscious with the same referee from the year before making the call that he had lost possession of the ball before going out of bounds. As he was carried off the field the play was rerun but without the spectacular catch. The Tigers were able to run out the clock, winning again with a questionable call for the second time.
The nature of high school being what it is Anthony carried the blame for the loss even though everyone admitted the referee had screwed them again. Nothing was ever said directly but Anthony saw it in the eyes of his fellow students and teammates in both his classes and at practice. Making matters worse he blamed himself questioning whether he had actually had the ball completely under his control.
On a Saturday night a couple of weeks later that Anthony, in his quiet despair, had walked alone toward the theater to see a movie. Arriving much too early he had taken a seat on a nearby bench in front of the old closed pharmacy next door to the theater hoping that he would be left alone. The September night air was cool signaling an early arrival of fall weather and being wrapped up in his apparent failure he both went unnoticed by those passing him by and he wasn’t really aware of anyone around him. He probably would have stayed that way rerunning that play in his mind if he hadn’t felt the soft touch of a hand on his shoulder.
“As far as my dad is concerned you caught that ball”, the soft hand on his shoulder said.
Turning around Anthony saw that the hand was connected to a girl that even in the dim light cast by street lights he saw had blue eyes and long brown hair. Slightly shocked that anyone would speak to him Anthony said nothing as the girl came around and sat next to him on the bench.
“We were in the seats directly across from you and my dad was looking through his binoculars. He said that you had both hands on the ball before you were thrown out of bounds.” The clearly lovely young girls dressed in simple blue jeans and light sweater said moving closer to him.
Anthony finally found both his mind and tongue but still had trouble forming something complex to say. “Yeah, but you and your father appear to be the only ones.” He finally sputtered out some words feeling foolish for saying something he father would describe as whining.
“That may be the case, “the young girl said, “but in the end someone else in school will do something soon that will make them forget about you.”
Anthony found himself both relieved and somehow insulted that he could drop so quickly off the minds of his fellow students. With his mind now shocked into full function he finally collected enough of his wits to ask who the young lady sitting next to him was.
“Oh”, she grinned, “I’m Sara Lewis, I just started going to Winyah at the beginning of this school year. My dad works at the Republic Star textile plant over on Pennyroyal Road. We moved down from Ohio when he was transferred here.” Sara looked at Anthony playing with her long hair, Anthony in turn was happy that he had someone talking to him he felt didn’t blame him for the loss finally found the words Sara was hoping to hear.
“Say, would you like to go see the movie with me?” He asked.
“Yes”, she said jumping up from the bench grabbing his hand, “I’ll buy my own ticket but you will buy the popcorn and Cokes for both of us.”
From that night on it didn’t take long before Anthony and Sara became a couple. And a mere month from graduation in 1964 at the same spot they met Anthony asked Sara to marry him. Marriage came right after with his new father-in-law getting him hired on at the textile plant. The following years were the happiest in his life with Sara and later his son Michael being born. But being the big boss’s son-in-law only could open so many doors forcing him to look elsewhere for a chance at further advancement.
The answer came in the form of a position up in Ohio at an electronics manufacturing plant. With the help of his father-in-law he was able to get hired on as an assistant production manager and on a hot July day in 1968 he drove off from his hometown. He had no idea at the time but the demands of a family would prevent him from returning except of the death of his father and to move his mother up north to live with them afterward.
Sitting in the folding chair inside the empty theater auditorium Anthony felt the weariness of his long years slide off his shoulders. For all his years of working he had never felt he reached a point he and his family were safe. Anthony quickly found out that his new coworkers were always seeking an edge against each other looking to insert a knife in the back the minute someone made the slightest mistake. Sara quickly got lost in the allure material things she wanted and in the frustration of what was beyond her reach. This led her to always raise the bar in the lifestyle she felt she deserved. The arrival of their second child, Alicia, only accelerated Sara’s demands.
Adding to the strain was the need to jump from job to job not only to continue to provide the lifestyle they had become accustom to but to avoid the increasing pace of businesses moving jobs overseas. This continued even after Anthony had long since moved into the upper management levels. To the very day he retired he lived with the fear that he would receive a sudden notice that the jobs he and his workers depended on were being sent overseas to cheaper labor.
Just a few months after retirement Sara was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s which ended up draining much of the savings he was able to buildup after the children had finished college. Painfully he watched his wife slip away until nothing of her was left. The cost of caring for his wife had also taken a toll on his health resulting in two heart attacks that forced him to sell the house he and Sara raised the children in and move in with Michael to pay off the hospital bills and because his declining health made it hard for him to live by himself.
Feeling an overwhelming urge to rest Anthony closed his eyes and leaned back in the chair. The familiar firmness of the thin cushion on his back and the feel of the polished wood of the armrest transported him back to a time when movies still played in the building. In the shadows around him he began to feel the comforting presence of people from those years before so much responsibility had fallen to him. Anthony felt no fear as he recognized the faces of those that gathered around him as family and friends that had already passed away. They welcomed him home, saying how they had missed him and that it was his time to rest. As they began pulling him away from this world Anthony had no regrets as he felt himself slip away. He had done everything expected of him and he had finally come home to stay.
Erin’s visit to drop off some items and collect papers became more complicated after one of the items she needed to pick up, the script for the next performance, was not in the place it was suppose to be. After several quick calls trying to locate the missing script she gave up and began to collect what she had when she suddenly remembered the old man. She walked out of the office and into the auditorium to tell him it was time to leave.
“Mr. Taylor”, she called out to the still form sitting in one of the chairs, “I’ve got to go sir and lock up.”
Figuring his lack of response was due to him having fallen asleep in the chair Erin was unconcerned. She walked down next to him and laid her hand on his shoulder instantly seeing that he was not sleeping. Whatever reaction of fright or concern she might have normally had evaporated instantly after seeing the peaceful, happy look that the sad old man she met at the door now had on his face.


MadMike said...

Great little piece Beach. Whatever you are doing keep doing it. Your writing has improved immeasurably over the last year. It is a true pleasure reading your work.

Beach Bum said...

Frankly, I'm not happy with it. Especially the ending which I just couldn't get right. But I do admit to willingly inflicting it on my friends.

enigma4ever said...

it's really good...really...keep was a story that was in you and you found a way to tell it....good job...keep are a good story teller...

( loved that the Strand was woven into the story...)


Randal Graves said...

Despite your angry protestations, sir, I like it. I suppose one could say the final sentence is a bit awkward - as a master of awkward sentences, I would know - but I love the idea of that ending.

Beach Bum said...

Engima: Thanks may try to write a series of stories with my hometown woven in.

Randal: BINGO! I couldn't get the closing paragraph right to save my life. Awkward? It was like a dude with two left feet trying to do the Hustle, not a pretty sight. At some point I will rewrite it.

Keshi said...

I love it...especially the End. It touched me and spoke the truth abt Life.


Beach Bum said...

Keshi: Thanks! I'm still going to rewrite but not change the ending.

Anonymous said...

Really good.... good work...
thanks for sharing...

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