I have all sorts of excuses for not posting a blog on Monday and for not posting one earlier today. Some are interesting and some are not, but the real reason is a little embarrassing. One of my fellow AKA Literary authors mentioned a writing contest, and I decided to give it a shot. It was fiction only, so I took a deep breath and wrote my first work of fiction since I was a sophomore in high school. After tweaking it to my satisfaction, I went to the contest site to check out the submission procedures. The first thing I saw was “OPEN ONLY TO LEGAL RESIDENTS OF PENNSYLVANIA WHO ARE AT LEAST 18 YEARS OLD AS OF THE DATE OF ENTRY.” Well, duh! The name of the contest is “The 2013 Central PA Magazine Writing Contest.” So, I have a story that’s all dressed up with no place to go. I know it’s not my usual genre, but give it a read and let me know what you think.
New Beginnings | by Linda Brendle
I was sitting in the waiting room of the dentist’s office the day it began – a typical waiting room with nondescript furniture, bland wall prints, the faint smell of lemon-scented cleaning products and antiseptic, the distant sound of a drill. I was looking at a magazine article titled “New Year, New Beginnings” – looking but not reading. I was in the season of endings. My marriage ended after twenty years, and a couple of ill-advised relationships ended much more quickly. My career ended in a corporate downsizing, and my stint as a caregiver ended with the death of my mother, taking half my retirement savings with it. The rest of my plans for a semi-luxurious retirement ended when the stock market and the housing market crashed at about the same time. All my new beginnings had faded, and I’d resolved to make do with what was left.
What was left wasn’t all that bad. I had a small cabin on a couple of acres outside a tiny town in East Texas. I’d found new beginnings of a sort in the green shoots of new growth in my scraggly little garden. And I’d found an outlet for my writing ambitions by putting pithy, somewhat spiritual sayings on the billboard in front of the picturesque country church down the road. I also submitted an occasional article to the local weekly about the city girl learning to live in the country. And then there was Aunt Sadie.
I don’t believe in luck, but I do believe in divine coincidence, and I believe that’s what brought me to settle within a half-hour drive of Aunt Sadie’s farm. She’s been a widow for a decade and is closer to her 90th birthday than she likes to admit, but she’s still young and vigorous enough to keep up a 200-acre homestead by herself. She mows and plants and harvests, and woe be unto the critters that get into her garden. She has a shotgun and an axe and isn’t afraid to use either one. In fact, she’s not afraid of much except the dentist. She’s more likely to ask if I need anything than to ask for help, but when she has a dental appointment, she asks me to play chauffeur so she can trip out on nitrous oxide. That’s why I was sitting in the dentist’s office, not reading about new beginnings.
When she first went into the examining room, I heard the doctor confirming the diagnosis and getting the money part straight. While I eavesdropped, the gentleman who preceded her in the chair came to the desk to settle up and make his next appointment. As a would-be writer who is always on the lookout for an interesting character, and since I was sitting directly behind him so he couldn’t see me staring, I gave up all pretense of reading and sized him up.
He was very tall with steely gray hair, and he had the slim figure of a man who keeps in shape, not by pumping iron at the gym but by baling hay and taking care of all the other farm chores. He had on a short-sleeved white dress shirt that was still starch-stiff in spite of the wrinkles in the back from lying in the torture chair for a couple of hours. He wore a nice brown belt with enough braided trim to give it a western flavor without looking like a Saturday-night cowboy. It was threaded through the belt loops of a new pair of boot-cut Wranglers that were still stiff enough to bunch up between his knees and ankles, foreshadowing the soft puddle of denim that would form around his instep after a few dozen trips through the washer and dryer. He was either dressed in his Sunday best or he really was dressed for a night at Gilly’s. When he pulled out his smart phone to find a time in his schedule for his follow up appointment, I almost decided on the latter, but then I noticed his boots. They were made of dark-brown leather that hadn’t seen a coat of polish in a while, and the heels were beginning to wear down just a little. There was a thin layer of dust or mud on the edges of the soles. I could picture him on Sunday morning, striding out to the corral to saddle up and ride to cowboy church. When he turned from the counter to retrieve his Stetson from table where he had left it, I caught a glimpse of his silver belt buckle. It was a simple oval with a cross engraved in the center – definitely a cowboy church man. As he settled his hat into its familiar angle, he glanced in my direction. He had smiling blue eyes, and they lingered a moment, not in a singles-bar appraisal but in more of a tentative recognition. He nodded his head slightly, touched the knuckle of his forefinger to the brim of his hat and flashed a smile that showed the quality of the dentist’s work.
“Mornin’, ma’am,” he said in a Sam Elliot voice.
He walked out the door to the parking lot, and I wanted look to see what his mode of transportation was, but I didn’t. He probably didn’t ride his horse to town, but I’d bet money he drove a huge truck with a trailer hitch on the back.
I turned back to the magazine but soon gave up on it and pulled out my own smart phone to check my email and scroll through Facebook for a while. I had resorted to Bejeweled Blitz by the time the dentist escorted Aunt Sadie to the reception area, steadying her as the last of the laughing gas wore off.
“She’ll need to eat soft foods for a few days,” he said to me, “and I’ve called in a prescription for pain pills in case she needs them.”
Walmart was just down the street, so I made a quick stop before I took her home. It was one of those warm January days that Texans remember fondly when the summer temperatures hit triple digits.
“I’m going to pick up your prescription and a few groceries for you,” I said to Aunt Sadie. “Will you be okay in the car for a few minutes?”
“Sure,” she said. “I’ll probably just drift off.”
Drift was right. She was still pretty woozy. I went to the pharmacy first, and then I made a quick sweep, picking up pudding, Jell-o, yogurt, broth, ice cream. I found an empty check-out line and unloaded my cart. As I put the last of the yogurt on the conveyor belt, I returned the cashier’s greeting.
“Yes,” I said. “I found everything I needed. Are you having a good day?”
Still chatting with her, I picked up one of the blue separator bars and was setting it down behind my purchases when my hand collided with the hand of the customer behind me.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said, turning to look at my offending hand as if it were somehow not a part of me. Then I saw it, that brown braided belt with the silver cross on the buckle. I raised my head and looked into those blue eyes.
“Mornin’, cowboy,” I said.
He flashed that smile again and said, “Don’t I know you from somewhere.”
This time he said it with words, and I felt the tiny spark of a new beginning.