April 12, 2023
A month ago, each member of my writing group was asked to create a short story of 1,200 to 1,500 words and received two images. We were instructed to follow these rules:
- Come up with a character, setting, or event;
- Associate the character, setting, or event with a strong emotion;
- Create a main conflict for the character, setting, or event;
- Create an inciting incident or goal;
- Escalate the tension;
- Experiment with form and structure;
- Create a strong beginning with a strong action, insight, and opening line;
- Draft a middle focus to prevent that middle slog;
- Try not to edit until you’ve written the story, and only give backstory if it is necessary;
- Write a memorable ending.
The first photo showed an empty path in autumn. The second had an elderly couple walking a similar pathway in a green landscape along a river. Below is my historical fiction short story:
Confused, I woke to profound silence. The rain which had drummed a steady rhythm on the windows had stopped. I stood up from George’s desk and glanced outside. More fallen leaves lined the meandering pathway where we took our daily walks. Late afternoon sunlight filtered through the trees. I needed to return to the hospital. What time is it?
Plucking a tissue from the box, I cleared mucus from my nose. With a fresh one, I dabbed tears from my eyes. Our antique grandfather clock had stopped because George wasn’t there to wind it. After checking my cell phone, I reset the hour and minute hands, then inserted the key into its winding hole. Turning it, I prayed this wasn’t a bad omen. A wedding present, the clock had kept a steadfast pace through our lives.
Returning to his desk, I sank into the seat and fiddled with his journal, contemplating the words I’d found inside it. I wasn’t alone in keeping a secret. Maybe it was time for me to reveal mine. I thought about the comfortable life we’d shared.
George and I were high-school sweethearts. My parents refused to allow me to marry when he got his draft papers. I’ve never truly forgiven them. They had said, “You’re too young. You must finish school. If you’re still in love when he comes back, you’ll have our blessing.”
Later that night, we’d consummated our love in the back of his ’58 Star Chief. We got together as often as we could before he left for boot camp.
Angry with my parents, I wanted to be out from their rules. I spoke with my guidance counselor as soon as school began. By shifting two classes from spring to fall, I could graduate in December. She helped me complete the nursing school application to Ohio State University.
Paula slammed her textbook down and glared at me. “Miriam, what are you going to do about your pregnancy?”
Startled, my cheeks flushed. “How did you know?”
“Been there. Done that.” She smirked. “Why would you wear a girdle when everyone else wears pantyhose? Or eat so many saltines?” Paula approached and laid a hand on my shoulder. “Anyone who looks close will soon see it. They’ll kick you out of school, and I don’t want a new roommate. How far along are you?”
“About five months.”
She bit her lip. “That may be too far along, but I think I know of a man who can remedy it.”
Paula nursed me through his butchering. With her help, I kept my grades up and didn’t lose my scholarship. Not wanting to see my parents, I took a job at her uncle’s department store and stayed with her family over the summers.
George’s letters grew more sporadic and redacted. People protested the continuing war. Appalled, we watched the horrific TV broadcast in May of 1970 as our National Guard opened fire upon students at nearby Kent State.
George’s mom called me in early June. They had received news he was officially listed as MIA. I refused to believe he was dead. He had to be alive.
After we graduated, Paula and I shared an apartment and worked at the same hospital in Columbus. She soon fell in love with Harry who was an intern in the obstetrics program. He became a permanent fixture in our apartment. In January 1973, the three of us celebrated the judgment on Roe vs. Wade which legalized abortion. This was the only bright spot in my life. Every day I prayed for some news of George.
Paula married Harry when he completed his residency. He accepted a job at Chicago’s Michael Reese. I was helping them pack for their early April move when the phone rang.
“What? Can you repeat that? When? Yes, I’ll come.”
Harry approached with a box in his arms. “Miriam, what’s wrong? Are you all right?” He set the carton down. “Paula, come here.”
I opened my mouth. My legs crumbled. Wetness on my forehead. Hands being patted. Voices calling me. He picked me up from the floor and laid me on the sofa.
I took a deep breath, then rushed to get the words out. “I’m okay. That was Mrs. Wright who called. George will be home on Friday. They’re planning a celebration and want me there.” I brushed away tears. “I can’t believe it. Isn’t it wonderful?”
Paula wanted to remain with me a few more days, but I insisted that they shouldn’t change their plans. They needed to find an apartment before next Monday. After a brief argument, I did allow them to drive me to Zanesville.
George returned home with a leg injury. After surgery, he still needed to use a cane. Withdrawn, he refused to share his POW experiences. “There’s no way to change what’s past. Please leave it alone.”
We married in a simple ceremony as soon as he completed rehab. He moved into my apartment and enrolled in the university. “I think I’ll go into engineering. What our construction battalion accomplished was a marvel.”
We lived frugally on my wages for our first six years. After he earned his degree and was employed, we purchased our home in the Columbus suburbs. Our life together was happy, though we remained childless.
But, George’s behavior had been somewhat odd ever since his Seabee reunion two years ago. He would get up in the middle of the night to write. He’d said, “Oh, just jotting down some memories. Maybe I’ll write a book.”
I smiled. “Let me read it.”
He said, “Please wait until I finish. If I ever do.”
Glancing at the clock, I stuffed his journal in the drawer. I rushed to get scrubs for my midnight shift then drove to the hospital. He was dozing when I entered his room. After placing my bag on the windowsill, I leaned over and kissed his cheek.
George opened his eyes. “Ah, you’ve come. Was afraid you wouldn’t after reading my journal.” He pushed hair away from his forehead. “Do you want a divorce?”
I sighed. “No, don’t be silly.”
He frowned. “There’s more to tell you that’s not in there.” The IV beeped as he scratched his nose.
I adjusted its drip. “Go on.”
He remained silent looking at me for several seconds. “Maybe you should sit down.” He waited while I sat.
“My buddy Ralph brought a woman with him to our Navy reunion. She’s my daughter. Her name is Chimi.” George bit his lip. “I love you and wasn’t sure how to tell you I’d been unfaithful.”
“How do you know she’s yours?”
He fiddled with the bed sheet. “She looks a lot like her mother. Plus she had a photograph of us in Da Nang. It was taken about three months before I was captured. I had no idea there was a child.”
Not wanting him to have another heart attack, I grasped his hand to calm him. “Tell me more about Chimi.”
“She and her husband immigrated here in the early 90s. They live in Des Plaines and have two teenage children.” He gnawed his bottom lip. “I know you always wanted children, but I refused to adopt. Could you accept this child of mine into our family?”
I nodded. “We’ll invite them to spend the holidays with us.” I rubbed his hand. “I have a secret to tell you too.”
George smiled. “I know. Paula let it slip several years ago. She explained why she and Harry didn’t have children. A bit tipsy, she mentioned your ordeal too.”
While I worked my shift later that night, I decided to retire. This way I could devote constant care to my husband when he was released. I turned in my notice before I visited George the next morning.
As always when we took our daily stroll, George protectively cradled my left arm. Early morning sunlight lit the pathway. A nip in the May air from the river water made me glad we’d worn sweaters. We discussed the invitation we received yesterday. Chimi’s son Mike would graduate from DePaw at month’s end. We both agreed we should go. I thought we should fly into O’Hare then rent a car.
George expounded the merits of driving. “This way we wouldn’t have a deadline of when to return. We could see a Cubs game, go to the Museum of Science and Industry, take a walk on the Magnificent Mile, and spend several days with Paula and Harry,. There’s a lot we could do in Chicago. Wouldn’t you like to visit your best friend?”
I patted his right hand. “Yes, that’s fine dear.”