A Short Story: “TAKE MY HAND”

By Gail Gentry

“Oh! Please, you can have a seat right here beside me.  Plenty of room.  It tends to get a little crowded in here on Friday nights.”

“Thanks.”

“I’m Roger, by the way.”

“Tabrina.”

“Tabrina.  That’s a very pretty name.”

“Thank you. This seems like a nice place. You come here a lot?”

“I practically live here.”

“Whoa. These benches could use some cushions. They’re a little worn, don’t you think?”

“Ha! I’ve heard that before. Maybe I’ll say something to the manager.”

“Oh. You know him, or, her?”

“Him.  And, yes, you could say that.”

“Well, tell him I said that even though there’s near splinters in these seats, I do like the music – I don’t like to put no negative without a positive. Why there’s this place back home where we go hang out on Saturday nights – you can’t hear what someone’s saying even if they’re right next to you! Gotta yell in their ear just to get heard.”

“We like to keep the music at a comfortable level.  We enjoy talking – and, being heard.”

“Yea, I can tell the way everybody’s huddled together.”

“Tell me about yourself, Tabrina. To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?”

“Hmm, actually, I just got to town a few days ago. I’m from Liberty, West Virginia.”

“Quite a ways from home.”

“Yea but I wanted to see the ocean. Hopin’ to find a place somewhere close to live. You from Miami?”

“Not originally, no.  My home is pretty much wherever I’m at.”

“Hi.”

“You know that woman?”

“No. But she keeps looking at me and smiling. Anyway, never been anywhere outside Liberty until a couple a weeks ago.”

“What do you think about the world outside Liberty so far?”

“I love it that you can see just as far as you want.  Where I come from there’s always some mountain ahead of you, behind you, or beside you. We’ve seen some real pretty sights too. Stopped at this one farm in North Carolina. They grow cotton.  Did you know that grew on plants? I thought it was made.”

“Did you know that before that cotton bursts out of it’s pod, the flowers that make that seed, bloom in all different colors?”

“But the cotton we saw was all white.”

“That’s right.”

“Well, ain’t that something. We rode across a river on a ferry last weekend! Drove the car right onto this boat and rode across the river.  That was awesome. The boat captain, he even let me steer the boat a little bit. Folks been friendly – like you.”

“Thanks. Got to be careful, though. Not all folks are friendly.”

“Oh, I know. Plenty of those kind where I come from. My mama, she calls ’em Buzzards.”

“Buzzards?! Ha.  Why is that?”

“She says it’s cuz they feed off other people’s pain.”

“Hmm.  Never heard it put that way before. That’s a good analogy. Your mother sounds like a wise woman.”

“I went to Six Flags, too. You been there?”

“Yes. I have. It’s a fun place.”

“You ride the roller coasters?”

“Nooo. I’m not big on those.”

“Oh wow. They are SO MUCH FUN! Eric and I, that was one of the places we knew we had to go.  I mean they’ve got amusement rides and stuff that come to fairs in our county. The most they got is a ferris wheel, though. It’s NOTHING like Six Flags. The roller coasters?  Wow! They’re taller than any building I’ve ever seen. They looped, turned us upside down, went round and round.”

“Sounds like you had a good time.”

“I did!  I threw up.  But I did!”

“So, who’s Eric?”

“Oh, he’s my boyfriend. Listen! I know this song. It’s one of my favorites. My Mom use to sing it.  No I won’t be afraid, oh, I won’t be afraid; Just as long as you stand, stand by me; So darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, Oh stand …. 

“You alright, Tabrina?”

“Yea. I miss her – my Mom.  My Dad.  Even my little brother who is the biggest pest ever. I didn’t think I’d ever miss him but I do. — Whew.  Sorry. Don’t mean to go all pity-pot on you. You got a girlfriend?”

“Not right now.  It’s been a while.”

“You got a nice smile; nice eyes. I’m sure you’ll find one soon.”

“Have you and Eric known each other for a while?”

“Since 3rd grade.”

“That’s a long time.”

“Yea. After we met we just seemed to click and ever since then, we’ve just always been there and taken care of each other. It’s funny, we use to always go back and forth on who noticed who first. It was me – I noticed him first. I never told him, but I’d been watching him. You see he’d stopped bringing his lunch to school but I’d hear his stomach growling up a storm in class. So, one day during lunch period I went looking for him and found him outside on the bleachers. Course, I pretended not to notice him right away, give him a chance to say hi first. And, then when he did I sat down beside him and shared my lunch. We met every day on the bleachers after that. I’d have my mama pack an extra sandwich. Come to find out Eric’s mom had left his Dad, and his Dad – well, he worked in the coal mines and the union would go on strike every once in a while. It was for their own good, better pay and all, or to make it safer to work but still, when that happened he wouldn’t get paid and it made it kinda hard to buy groceries and pay for lights too.”

“How’d Eric end up taking care of you?”

“Well, I have asthma. It’s not too bad now but it was real bad when I was a kid.  Anytime I’d run too hard or somebody had on perfume or smoking, I’d have an asthma attack and I’d panic which made it even worse. I’d always be forgetting my inhaler but he never did. He’d always carry a spare in his pocket so when it happened, he’d give me a good dose and rub my back till it was over. He’s my best friend. We’re gonna get married when I turn 18 next March.”

“Oh….And what do your parents think about that, getting married so young?”

“Tsk.  They’re not crazy about the idea. They want to send me off to the state college next year which, there’s nothing wrong with that, but Eric’s Dad doesn’t have the money to send him to college. I’ve been fighting with my mom and dad a lot about it and they just don’t care what I want. Me and Eric don’t want to be separated. But, they keep saying I need to get away and meet other people before I make up my mind. We had a big fight a couple of weeks ago. After that, I told Eric we just needed to run away. Live our own life. I’m thinking now, though, it was a stupid idea.”

“Are you looking for something?”

“You know, I’m just noticing the people in here – I keep seeing more come in but I’m not seeing anybody leave. Like that lady smiling at me earlier? I don’t see her anywhere. Hmm. Want to hear something else strange?”

“Sure, tell me.”

“I don’t remember how I got here.  I just remember coming through that door.”

“That does seem odd. Tell me. What have you been doing since you and Eric got to Miami?”

“Oh, well we just got here day before yesterday.  First thing we did was find a cheap hotel.  Took us forever but we finally found one off of Biscayne Boulevard.  Then yesterday Eric and me went around looking for a job.”

“Did you find one?”

“Eric did.  I didn’t.  Everywhere I went they wanted my social security number and I worried if I gave it to them, my parents, or Eric’s Dad, they’ll find me.  Eric took a construction job starting Monday. They’re gonna pay him in cash each day.”

“It must make Eric feel very proud that he’s providing for the two of you.”

“Oh, it does! We stayed up talking about what we’re going to do with the money. We want to save up and get an apartment. Before we knew it we’d talked all night and the sun was coming up, so we drove to the beach and watched the sunrise.  It was beautiful.  Just like you see in the movies.”

“I know.  That’s my favorite time of the day.  Every new day a do-over.”

“That’s exactly how I’ve always thought of it.”

“I thought this morning’s sunrise was particularly spectacular. The oranges mixing in with the blues.”

“I love the colors. Sunsets are even better! I can draw pretty good. Eric says I should be an artist. That’s something I think I got from my mom.  She would make the coolest posters for our pep rallies at school.”

“What do you want to become?”

“I really don’t know. Now my parents on the other hand, they want me to go in the medical field. The thing is, though, nothing’s hit me yet. It might be the medical field but I want to choose.”

“Free will.”

“Yes! I might even want to be a lifeguard. Who knows? They were already out on the beach this morning when Eric and I got there. That would be a cool job to have, seeing the sunrise every morning and then they were going down the beach putting these cute little red flags on all the signs.”

“What were the signs?”

“Eric said all he saw was something about a RIP current. We didn’t read them. We wanted to hurry up before the sun got up.”

“Do you know what that is, a RIP current?”

“No. We figured it meant something like ‘resting in peace’. And it was peaceful.  After the sun came up, while Eric went looking for shells, I took my shoes off and got in the water. It was so warm. Just as warm as any shower. I didn’t go too far past my knees. I didn’t want to get my clothes wet. Plus, I can’t swim anyway.”

“Tabrina.  A RIP Current means that there’s a strong current in the water. It can pull you out to sea if you’re not careful. Those red flags were warning you, not beckoning you.”

“Ain’t that pretty over there – the sun coming through those colored windows. It’s making little rainbows in peoples’ hair. Betcha it looks just like those cotton flowers you were telling me about. ——-”

“Tabrina? Why so quiet?”

——

“Tabrina?”

“He left me.”

“Who left you?”

Eric!  When I woke up, Eric was leaning over me, stroking my back and crying.  His hair was dripping wet and he was yelling for help.  I, I..couldn’t move. All I could do was stare at him.”

“You’re okay – Go on.”

“One of those lifeguards came up and started pushing on my chest.  Eric – I could tell he was scared – his voice was shaking. The lifeguard kept yelling at him, asking him questions and then some policeman ran up. While everybody was looking at me, he ran. He ran so hard.  He never even looked back.”

“Then what?”

“Next thing I know, I’m here. ———————– Oh, geez. Shooot. That’s it, isn’t it? I’m dead. Right? That right!?”

“Yes, Tabrina.”

“Aww, man. Aren’t people supposed to see white lights or something?”

“Some do, yes.  Others, they come here. The ones that carry a heavy burden on their heart – they can’t cross over until it’s lifted.”

“I remember you now, before here.  When I was under the water, I was so scared and…then you were there and I wasn’t scared anymore.”

“That’s right.  I’ve always been by your side. Even when you weren’t looking for me, I’ve always been there.”

“Is Eric okay?”

“He will be. In time.  He’s going to make a few mistakes but once he forgives himself he’ll be able to move forward and become the man he’s meant to be.  You deserve a lot of credit for that.  You were a big influence on him and gave him a good start.”

“This wasn’t Eric’s fault.  He told me not to get in the water and then this huge wave came up and I lost my balance and panicked. Then my asthma…I couldn’t catch my breath. Water was everywhere.”

“I know. It wasn’t your fault and it wasn’t Eric’s fault. Eric knows it too but it’s going to be some time before he accepts it.”

“This is gonna break my parents’ heart. There was a girl back when I was in middle school; I didn’t know her but something happened. One day she didn’t come home from school. I see her mom and dad every now and then and they look so old.  I don’t want that to happen to my mom and dad. You gotta help me.”

“Hi, Mama.”

TABRINA! Oh my God, honey.  Where are you?”

“I’m in Florida, by the ocean.”

“Baby, please come home.  It doesn’t matter, nothing matters, we’re not mad. We just want you home, honey, please.”

“Tabrina?!”

“Daddy? Daddy, I miss you so much.  You and mama.”

“Tabrina, did Eric make you do this?”

“No.  That’s why I needed to talk to you; to let you know I’m okay and that Eric didn’t .. he hasn’t hurt me or made me do anything I didn’t want to do.  He’s a good person and I love him. All this was my idea and my doing.”

“Tabby, Tabrina – sorry, I know you hate it when I call you that. Is Eric ….”

“Daddy, you can call me Tabby all you want.  I’ve always liked that name. I just thought it made me sound like a baby sometimes.”

“I know you’re getting so grown up.  I don’t always see that. I use to call you Kitten, my little Tabby kitten, remember?”

“Yea, I do.”

“Oh, honey. Tell us where you are and me and Daddy will hop in the car or take a plane right this minute. It doesn’t matter. We’d go to the ends of the earth to bring you back home.”

“No.  I’m okay.  I’m not ready to come home. I don’t know if I ever will but I don’t want you to worry.  Mama, don’t cry.”

“I can’t help it. I miss my daughter. Whatever we did to make you leave – just come back.  We’ll talk it all out and fix it.”

“Listen. It’s important for you to know that you haven’t done anything wrong and you didn’t do anything that made me want to leave. I left because I wasn’t thinking and I was being immature. No matter what happens, you have to know you’re great parents and I love you with all my heart.” 

“Tabby, let us talk to Eric.  Is he there?”

“No.  He’s not here right now. I’ve got to go, though.”

“No, don’t, honey.”

“Tabby…”

“I don’t know when I’ll be able to talk to you again.  I love you guys forever and ever.  Give Bobby a kiss for me and tell him – well, first, tell him to stay out of my room, and then .. tell him not to grow up like his sister, okay?”

“Thank you for letting me use your phone, Roger.”

“You’re welcome.  Do you feel better?”

“Yea, I do. I don’t know if I made them feel better, though.  I never heard my Dad cry before.”

“In time they’ll come to cherish that conversation.”

“Is Roger your real name?”

“I go by whatever name makes you feel comfortable.”

“Well, Roger, I feel like I need to go somewhere but I’m not sure how to get there.”

“I’m here to ease your way and bring you home.”

“My parents. They going to be okay now?”

“Yes, they will. They’re talking to me right now, as we speak, and I’m there with them, holding them close.”

“Will I see them again?  And, Eric?”

“One day, my child, you’ll all be together again. My house is home to all my children.  —   Here, take my hand.”

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7 Responses to A Short Story: “TAKE MY HAND”

  1. R.S. Guthrie says:

    A beautiful story made even more perfect by using only dialogue; showing through conversation, not telling with adverbs and adjectives and too many words. My favorite of your stories so far. Beats the pants off bloggers just wanting to hate and rage—this was a gorgeous, well-written, comforting tale. Bravo, Trish!!

  2. Amazing story, so heart-wrenching. I love it when people write stories using only dialogue. It reminds me of Hemingway. You did a great job here. I love the story. Well done!

  3. That was sweet and tragic all at the same time. Nice job Trish. It gave me chills.

  4. Jane McAdams says:

    What an excellent example of a story told through dialogue only!

  5. Chickletslit? Fascinating name. I rather thought I had invented the term “chicklet-lit”. (PhD thesis 2007, University of Wales, Bangor. “Peace Child: Towards a Global Definition of the Young Adult Novel”)
    Nice story! I think we speak the same language.

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