Thousand Words Project

Find out what a picture is worth.

Showing stories by Rachel. Show all stories.

Last Summer

Mark only looks at the photograph when the air outside has grown cold and it has become difficult to breathe. He keeps it carefully tucked between the pages of a book he’s never read. After all, he was never the one who enjoyed words on a page. The book is one of Charlie’s, and the pages of it are nearly the same color as the photograph masquerading as a bookmark.

Charlie read a great deal in those days, when they would escape to the lake to spend hours drifting across the placid surface of the water. Mark had taken these moments to pretend to fish. In truth he’d never really been focusing on the reel. His eyes, of their own accord, would always shift to Charlie, stretched out on his back, whatever book of the moment resting on his chest. Not often, but occasionally, their eyes would meet across the boat and Charlie would smile, wide and boyish. Mark was never much for smiling either, but alone with the sun in his eyes, the corners of his mouth would lift just slightly. Afterwards he would put the reel aside and leap from the boat into the warm water. It made his skin tingle and he could lose himself for a time while Charlie watched him over the top of his book.

Today, Mark has a job at a factory where they make parts for something that is itself likely just a part for something else. The job is not difficult and merely requires that Mark pull certain levers at the right moments. He finds this relaxing, there being a kind of reassurance mixed in with the monotony. There are only occasional moments when he will feel that unfamiliar twinge that he has no name for. When this happens he will request an extra shift. If there is no room for the extra shift, he will stop by the Beer & Wine shop on the corner for a six pack. He sleeps better after a few, and the buzzing in his brain is something verging on soothing. The twinge goes away nearly always.

It is late November when he starts having the dreams. They start with just a feeling, like waves rocking a boat. He wakes in the night surprised to be in his own bed, chilled and alone. The twinge is alive in his heart.

A week later it becomes something more. He can feel heat beating down on him from a sun high in the sky. A line of sweat works its way down his back leaving a slick trail in its wake. There is the sound of laughing and water. Under his palms he can feel rough wooden planks, slightly moist. When he opens his eyes and only the broken ceiling fan in his bedroom is hanging above him. He experiences disappointment for the first time in many years.

On his walk home from the factory the next day it begins to snow. He has trouble breathing through the cold seeping into his bones. He watches the crystals as they cling to the sleeves of his coat and thinks about the photograph inside the book resting on its shelf. He stops at that Beer & Wine before he goes home. He drinks four of the six from the pack and goes to bed with his mind numb and buzzing.

The dream is different again. There is still the gentle rocking, the rough wood, sounds of water and laughter. He can see now though, leaning back against the motor and smiling, Charlie. He is young as always and his eyes are kind and teasing. The laughter is his and he is pointing at something behind Mark. A soft breeze causes the fabric of his loose fitting shirt to rustle, just a little. He is close enough to touch.

“Turn around Mark”

Charlie’s voice, by shades rough and warm, light like the breeze. Mark turns around.

His head is heavy and his chest tight when he wakes. For a disconcerting moment he can still hear laughter from somewhere.

In a daze half borne of cheap beer and half of sleepiness, he makes his way to the living room. Next to the couch is his humble bookshelf. He fumbles blindly for what he needs, but his hands are true. He never forgets where the book is. In the dim light the streetlight throws into his apartment he opens it and the photograph falls into his lap. The twinge has grown to something nearing unbearable.

Charlie smiles up at Mark, eternally youthful aside from the fading edges of the photograph. There, next to Charlie, is another Mark. This one younger, shirtless and scowling, just a little, at someone on the dock. They are a study in contrasts as they always were. Mark and Charlie, on the lake, during that last summer. He cradles the reminder of this in his palms before smoothing a thumb across the scene as if he could bring it to life or maybe erase it. He is not sure anymore which would be better or easier.

Outside it is still snowing, the flakes swirling in the hazy light before falling to blanket to street in perfect whiteness. Mark closes his eyes and leans his head back against the wall and allows himself just this moment to remember.

Wednesday Morning Rides

There is a very long list of things Mike does not like. There is a considerably shorter list of things he does. At fifty he feels certain of the truth of the two lists and if asked would be strongly opposed to making any changes at this juncture.

A sampling of things Mike Does Not Like:

1. People
2. Muddy Boots
3. Yard Work
4. Sandals
5. People Who Own Dogs
6. Dogs

It should be duly noted, this is a brief excerpt.

A sampling of things Mike Does Like:

1. His Motorbike
2. Riding His Motorbike
3. Cleaning and Maintaining his Motorbike
4. Kraft Brand Single Slices of Cheese

He also looks favorably on white Wonder Bread, lightly toasted.

The motorbike in question is a Tomos from the mid 1980s. While it is old, Mike is diligent and fastidious about keeping it in prime working condition. The paint is still pristine, the tires always properly inflated, and the gas tank never below 34 of a tank full. Mike takes it out for the following purposes:

1. Monday Afternoon, To Buy Groceries, mostly bread and Kraft Single Slices
2. Wednesday Morning, To Drive Around the Lake
3. Friday Evening, To the Bar
4. Sunday Morning, To Church

When Mike is not involved in one of these activities, he is likely to be found in the garage, tending to the Tomos as other people might tend to a garden or favored pet. This is what he is doing when he hears the strange sound from the bushes lining the front of his little house. The sound is a high pitched little wail. Soft and pleading and, Mike realizes with a shudder, in pain. He studiously ignores it for as long as possible, but the little voice continues and, improbably, seems to get more and more urgent.

Mike doesn’t like this.

With an exaggerated grunt of frustration, he throws the rag he was using to clean the Tomos aside and marches out the door intent on silencing the sound. His face, if there were someone around to see it, would be the very picture of long-suffering. His boots make a vaguely annoying crunching sound as he investigates the bushes, the branches of which catch on the sleeves of his shirt leaving small pills in the fabric as they come loose. Mike notes this as particularly irritating. Somewhere around the third bush the sound seems to have reached a maximum volume. Mike carefully maneuvers himself to peer behind it to see exactly what such a sound could be emanating from.

It is a puppy.

Tiny, shuddering, whining and looking utterly pathetic is a puppy curled up in the safety between a brambly bush and the side of Mike’s house. Mike’s first thought is of his list. He frowns deeply at the puppy who in turn, faces Mike with wide puppy-eyes and whimpers. For a long moment they regard each other, studying and wondering. Mike is certain this is the most inconvenient thing that has happened to him in some years. This thought is furthered when he notes that the puppy’s left leg is bent at something of an unnatural angle. What is necessary becomes clear in an instant, and Mike, with a sigh, reaches for the little animal and lifts him up with a care natural to a man who has practice in caring for something, even if it is a motorbike.

It is a Tuesday morning, which is not a usual day for a ride, but Mike knows that occasionally, adjustments do have to be made. He takes a towel from the garage and carefully wraps the now silent but still shivering puppy up and places the little guy in the basket normally reserved for the weekly groceries. There is only one vet in town that he knows of, and with another plaintive sigh, he swings himself on to the Tomos, and he and the puppy ride off together towards the town.

The vet tells Mike a few things that he does not like.

1. It will cost some money to fix the puppy’s leg.
2. The local animal shelter does not exactly keep dogs for long, if you know what I mean.

Mike leaves with his wallet lighter, and a puppy that he is apparently going to bring home.

That evening he sits at his kitchen table and the puppy sits in front of him. Mike has learned that he is apparently a Pug. Mike wonders is this means he will always look sad.

“What do Pugs eat?” Mike asks the puppy, who merely stares back forlornly with his tongue hanging out.

Eventually, Mike settles on some slices of ham cut up to puppy size. He places them in a small bowl in front of the pug and waits and watches. The puppy sniffs the food, his little broken leg now done up in a bright white cast, gets slightly in the way. A moment passes, and then, the puppy launches himself into the meal with what could only be described as gusto. Mike smiles despite himself.

He would never tell anyone, but he allows the puppy to curl up at the end of his bed that night. He tells himself it is only because the puppy has an injury, that tomorrow he will find a more suitable owner, and that he does not even like dogs or people who own them.

Three weeks later, the puppy is still sleeping at the end of his bed. Mike has not even started to look for a suitable owner. He tells himself this is because he doesn’t like people, particularly people who own dogs.

On Wednesday mornings, if you are enjoying a pleasant jaunt around the lake just outside of town, you might catch sight of a man on a motorbike. You will probably find it charming that he rides with his little dog sitting in the basket that might normally be used for groceries. The man is probably smiling, though if he were to notice you watching, he might turn away. The dog, the dog will always look happy.