Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Guest Writer: Jamie Hogan

Hope Finds Travis

Grey and rain, running down the plastic that covered the window in his room to spill onto the baseboard and the floor. Puddling there, furthering the rotting. Travis got up off the mattress and pushed at the baseboard with his toe. It gave a little, like a fresh loaf of bread.

He removed the tape and raised the plastic and looked out into the morning, the cool wet breeze against his face. Where his father’s truck should be there was nothing but a large brown puddle and something cold brushed against his back but he dismissed it. It certainly wasn’t the first time he’d risen to an empty house. They were most likely sleeping it off at Terry’s or Wanda’s or somebody they met last night’s house or in the truck on the side of the road or in a cell, depending on how ornery his father had gotten.

Tony had been in a good mood last night, and Travis had busted his ass mopping the diner’s floors, so he allowed him to take a couple of country ham biscuits for breakfast. He stood at the sink and gnawed them, looking out the window on the bare back yard and into the grim pewter quiet of the woods beyond. The rain was gentle but persistent, the kind his uncle John called a ‘good soakin rain.’ The kind that eases into the ground without running off. The kind that is medicinal for crops and restless souls.

He left through the back door and sidestepped the holes in the porch and squished through the yard and dissolved into the trees, a silver apparition enveloped by rain and fog and forest. The hood of his sweatshirt was quickly soaked. It was warm enough, but he shook anyway. He knew this wasn’t right but he also knew that he was tired of never having, of always wanting, always being the kid who borrowed or went without. Weaving through the woods along a path only he knew, deeper into the solemn flatlands, navigating a jumbled mess of pine and shepherd’s purse and sandwort crowding and looming. Rain ran into his eyes and he felt the thighs of his jeans clinging to his skin. He stopped to scan behind him, listening for footfalls through the numb pattering of the rain. Satisfied he was still alone, he pressed on.

The creek appeared soon enough, a thin crystal serpent sliding down a gradual slope toward his destination. The rain tickled its surface and Travis smiled the smile of a boy with a secret. This was his thing, scary and bubbling with dark promise and desperation. A dozen more soggy steps, and there it was. In a clearing no bigger than the barren kitchen he’d left half an hour ago grew the only hope Travis had ever known.

It had caused hell when the four plants had disappeared off of the back porch. His parents had gone at each other like wild starving dogs, each accusing the other of selling them off in hard growls through bared teeth. His mother being a sow and his father a reed, it was a fair match physically and they threw one another around the house and out the door and across the front yard scratching and screaming until his mother’s hand found a stray board and put it to the side of his father’s head. He lay in the front yard, blood crawling across his cheek and nose and lips to seep into the sand, as she roared away in the truck. The man remained prone in that spot for nearly a day, stumbling to his feet the following afternoon and achieving the front porch before collapsing again, a crusty crimson spider gripping the side of his face. Travis wiped the blood away without waking him. At some point during the evening, he listened from his room as his mother dragged him back into the house and dropped his gaunt, limp body onto the floor like so much kindling.

The plants hadn’t been sold. Yet. They were alive and well, thriving a half mile from the house under cover of other foliage, serenaded by the perpetual giggle of the stream he used to nourish them. He stared at them, four sentries, stalk straight and proud. He ran his hand over the leaves and wiped it on his jeans and did it again, like a father tousling his son’s hair. He bent and inspected their bases, working each gently to ensure they were still firmly entrenched, having no cause except that it felt like the right thing to do. Not knowing a healthy marijuana plant from a turkey sandwich, he still liked the look of them.

“What you got there Travis?” From behind him, across the creek.
He sucked air and wheeled, the hot blue wire of panic singing in his chest. A stocky, red haired man in grey pants and a brown shirt with a silver star on it, holding a wide brim hat in his hands instead of using it to shield away the rain.

“Plants, Sheriff Johnson.”

“Yep, looks like it. Plants.”

“How did you…

“I followed you, son. It wasn’t hard.”

“But your car wasn’t…”

“I pulled up as you were walking into the woods. You didn’t hear me with that hood on.”

The rain fell between them, slicing thin silver strips through that space and loosing whispers along the ground. Travis thought to run. He knew these woods and he was sure Sherriff Johnson didn’t. There was something about the man that held him, a reluctant and tender thing in his eyes, an austerity in the way he held his hat in front of him, squeezing the brim with both of his glistening hands, a sincerity in the slump of his shoulders.

“Am I in trouble?”

The lawman was slow and deliberate in twisting his hat on. He stepped over the stream and stood beside Travis for a moment, taking a deep breath and looking out into the trees like he expected a voice from their midst. Then he bent and pulled the plants from the ground, one by one, and tossed them in the water. Travis watched them ride away, their roots waving goodbye as they bobbed down toward the PeeDee River.

“No, you ain’t. Walk back up to the house with me. I need to talk to you about your mom and dad.”

By the time they reached the front porch of the old shack, Sherriff Johnson was done. Travis wasn’t surprised.

“How fast was he going when he hit the tree? Must’ve been rolling pretty good, if mama flew that far.”

“We reckon bout sixty. And that’s after rambling across thirty yards of pasture.”

Travis sat down on the steps. The rain had shriveled to something like dank cobwebs hanging in the air. He was shocked at the silence when he removed his hood, like the whole world was waiting to hear what he would say next. The clouds sat like a slab of slate over the trees and Travis tried to figure out why he was so hurt. They were abhorrent wastes of carbon who did literally nothing for him save show him how to enslave himself to substances and bury the institution of marriage in an avalanche of screams and booze and smoke and whirring fists. They had never given a moment toward earning his tears, but there they were, mingling with the remnants of the rain.

He wiped them away and cleared his throat hard and asked the only question there was to ask. “What happens to me?”

Johnson’s hat was back in his hands. He squatted to look Travis in the eyes. “Well, your Uncle John and Aunt Patrice are your godparents. They’re good folks, Travis. Don’t take offense, but you’d be a damn sight better off. If they will honor that commitment, you’ll go and live with them.”

© Jamie Hogan 2010

Jamie Hogan is a husband, father, and aspiring novelist who manages to hold down a Training and Quality position to pay for the necessities. He lives in central NC, and occasionally throws random thoughts out on his blog at the Six Sentences Social Network.

22 comments:

  1. Sustained perfection Jamie. I am damp and tear-stained and my knees hurt with crouching and my eyes are stinging and my throat is aching.
    And I've never read rain described so well.

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  2. In every one of your stories are some words I fall in love with. In this story they are "he was tired of never having, of always wanting, always being the kid who borrowed or went without." AND "show him how to enslave himself to substances and bury the institution of marriage in an avalanche of screams and booze and smoke and whirring fists." Some aspects of the plot remind me of the excellent movie Winter Bones. I also admire how you sustain the water and rain images. Most of the time I am oblivious to weather and focus on characters. In this case, the rain IS a character. Lovely.

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  3. "He ran his hand over the leaves and wiped it on his jeans and did it again, like a father tousling his son’s hair." This was the icing on the cake for me Jamie, as I felt tears well up inside of me. I cried for this forgotten soul you so vividly described. Wow

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  4. This pulled me outside into the rain with wonderful descriptions Jamie- "crusty crimson spider gripping the side of his face" nice!
    also such a waste in the end--the plants I mean.

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  5. Thoroughly enjoyed this story, Jamie. Makes me wonder when the kid actually became an orphan, when his parents died, or long before that night. I suppose too, that the lawman had to pull the plants, that's what lawmen do...Paul. geesh. Well done, Jamie!

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  6. A3G1
    I love the way of writting, it is awesome. Also teh story is very interesting; i love the ending part it is so well described.
    SILKE HOPPENSTEDT A01170908

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  7. A3G1
    Congratulations! It was a great story. I could imagine everything in the story perfectly by reading the descriptions you gave in it. I hope you keep doing stories :)

    A01170854

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  8. I should have known
    because rain is such a lonely event
    I should have realized
    it's not there for show
    I should have known
    when tears fall from the sky
    someone on Earth can no longer cry, they have to step up
    be a man
    now that das no longer fills that position.

    Wonderful imagery, wonderful descriptions like this -
    "looking out the window on the bare back yard and into the grim pewter quiet of the woods beyond" - bring me there, but I cannot console Travis, I can only tell his story. Nice write, Jamie!

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  9. jamie - this is amazing from the mood to the characters to the rain to the idea of growing pot to avoid the house like a fresh loaf of bread soft and molding. you really out-did yourself!

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  10. Well done. Beautifully visual with a nice, soft flow that carries the reader. Outstanding story.

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  11. It is a very interesting and creative story. For the ones that don’t have English as their native language like me. I love the way you described the things. It is almost like if you were there. I could imagine everything perfectly.

    Lucina Gordillo

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  12. Wonderful stuff here, Jamie. The story is superb to begin with, the characters (the two we don't meet included) are all very real. The description of the failing house was a brilliant beginning. Excellent top to bottom, bud!

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  13. i loved the way i could perfectly picture the scenes you so brightly described :) and i also loved this: "He was shocked at the silence when he removed his hood, like the whole world was waiting to hear what he would say next." congrats for the work !
    Valeria Armendariz

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  14. I like the story a lot because it is very descriptful so i could figure out how the escenary was. The part i liked the most was: He wiped them away and cleared his throat hard and asked the only question there was to ask. “What happens to me?” this question when things like that happen to you are very common, but people must not precipitate.
    Conrado De La Cruz

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  15. I like the details of this story, how well its describe. Poor kid, but life is hard for some people. The story is very deep but amusing in a owd way. It keeps in the mood of reading. Good Story

    Isabel Zuart Gris
    A01170999

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  16. Jamie, this spoke to me. Very descriptive and heartfelt.

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  17. Emotionally charged, and exceptionally well composed, Jamie! I do, however, agree with Paul...such a waste! (The plants)

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  18. Ana Torres Palacios A3G1
    Hope Find Travis
    Yesterday I read the story of Hope Find Travis ,the story was for me so difficult to read , I notice that it was so complicated, but after several times that I read it , I understand, is a really sad story because life sometimes is difficult and we have to jump all the obstacles to go and leave our life, after reading it I knew that I am really lucky to have what I have.

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  19. Aarrgghh ... I poured so much into a comment, and cyber goblins ate it. They ATE it and belched! Here's the gist (I'll try one more time before sending you a private message):
    If I ever come across a novel bearing your byline, I'd sell my blood to buy it. And this is it, man. Work it. It will launch your new life.

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  20. A story well told, so descriptive, alive and suffused with emotion. This is what you call starkly beautiful.

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  21. Hi folks, it's Jamie. Just wanted to say thank you for this tremendous response. I am touched and humbled.

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  22. Jamie,
    You deserved every positive comment that came your way on this piece. I think like a good wine it is going to age well. Each time I've read it, it takes me to a place I'd like to stay, not so much because I find the characters pleasant, no, indeed, they have their problems; it's for the music in your words in telling their story. You have a rare gift in being able to capture a moment, turning it into poetry, and leaving us with indelible memories of the atmosphere itself. I hope you'll revisit MuDJoB soon.

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