*Unfortunately, to date, the following story has not made it into the literary pages. It is an old-fashioned story in feel, but a particular favorite of mine, so I thought I’d share. I hope you enjoy it too! While this one won’t be seen in the magazines, I do have three more that will. “The Forest Fire,” will appear in Edify Fiction on December 29, 2017. “No Parking,” will appear in Fiction on the Web on December 11th, and my new story ( a comedy), was just accepted by Defenestration Magazine. I’ll announce the date for that one as it gets closer. Also, my story, “The Falls,” is now available in print through Wild Women’s Medicine Circle Journal and you can find it on Amazon, if you are interested.
By Kristy Gherlone
There were cracks in the driveway. Deep, ugly grooves that marred the surface of the inky pavement.
Janice cried out in shock. It wasn’t so much the cracks that bothered her. It was that the cracks had weeds growing in them.
“Honey? Better get those paver fellows to come back. We have cracks…”
She set her purse and coffee down onto the top of her car, and plucked a lime green shoot from a crevice.
In disbelief, she held it up to her eyes, squinting as she rolled it back and forth between her fingers. “What in the Sam holy old hell? How is this even possible?” They’d only just had the driveway done a couple of days before.
She shook her head and threw it down. She crushed it under the heel of her shoe for good measure.
“Make sure you call them today, too! Those scamming little bastards are not going to get away with this. We paid good money for this driveway, and they’re going to fix it or we’ll sue!”
She opened the car door. “Did you hear me? I’ve got to get to work. I’m late!” She jumped in and tore away.
Later that afternoon when she arrived back home, nothing had been done about the driveway.
I bet Jack didn’t even call, she thought, fuming. That man is as useless as tits on a boar hog. If Tommy was home, he would have made sure they’d come right back over. Such a good kid, Tommy… nothing like his father.
She sat, holding the keys in her hand, and wondered about her son. She hadn’t heard from him since he’d left for his cross-country trip to college out in Utah. She was beginning to worry that something was wrong. It wasn’t like him not to call.
Suddenly, there was a rap on her window. She jumped and whirled around. The afternoon sun had dropped below the horizon! It was nightfall!
“Who’s out there?” she cried.
“It’s me, Mrs. Sanborn. Your neighbor, Ted Gatsby.”
“Ted Gatsby. Don’t you remember me? Is everything alright?”
Janice felt foolish. Relieved, but foolish. She rolled down the window. “Of course I remember you. How could I forget? You must think I’m some kind of nut, sitting out here like this. I was tired after work. I guess I must have dozed off for a minute.”
“I was surprised to see anyone over here this morning. I tried the front door when I saw a car in the driveway, just now. I knocked but no one answered. I was about to leave, but then I saw you sitting inside. You scared me half to death. I thought…” He didn’t finish the sentence.
“No, no. I’m fine. Everything’s fine.” She rolled up the window and opened the door, “Jack didn’t answer when you knocked?” She scoffed, struggling to get out of the seat. “That man, I swear to God! All he does is sit in that chair and watch television. I have to light a fire under his ass to get him to do anything.” She swung one of her legs out, but couldn’t go any further.
“Jack? You mean your husband, Mrs. Sanborn?” Ted asked, bewildered.
“Of course my husband! Who’d you think I was talking about?”
Ted’s mouth fell open. He didn’t know what to say.
“Never mind. Give me a hand, will you? I can’t seem to get out of this thing.” Janice laughed, embarrassed. “Imagine a forty-year-old woman having so much trouble.”
Ted chuckled awkwardly, but reached in to take her by the arm. Gently, he pulled and managed to get her out. Her legs quivered beneath her as she stood, clinging to his arm.
“Is there someone I should call for you?” he asked, his voice full of concern.
“Call? Heavens, no! Who in the hell would you call unless it’s those damn pavers? Did you see my driveway?” She didn’t wait for him to answer. “A kindergartener could have done a better job!”
“But…” Ted stammered.
She rolled her eyes and waved him away. “I’m fine. Just a little unsteady. I don’t know what’s gotten into me today, but I’m sure it will pass. Probably just a bug or something.” She started for the house, but stopped and turned back around. “What did you want, anyway?”
“Want, Mrs. Sanborn?”
“Yes, why did you come over?”
“Oh, yeah,” Ted said, suddenly remembering the reason for his visit. “I thought, maybe, since you were back, you could use some help fixing the old place up again. I could put a coat of sealant on that driveway for you. I have some left over from a job I did over in Chickory. It might keep the weeds from sprouting up.”
“So that’s why you’re here?” Janice cried, insulted. “There is nothing wrong with this house other than that blasted driveway. Old place, indeed! What a thing to say! Our house is the nicest one on this block and you know it! I bet you’re in cahoots with those pavers, aren’t you?”
“I…well, no! Of course, not,” Ted stammered.
“I’m not an idiot, so don’t take me for one,” she said, her eyes narrowing in suspicion. “I happen to know a thing or two about contractors. Never met a single one I could trust.”
“Mrs. Sanborn, please…I didn’t mean to offend you, it’s just that it’s been a while since anyone…you’ve been gone…”
“Well you can forget it,” she snapped, cutting him off. She turned on her heels, “I paid good money for that driveway not even a week ago, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay you too. They are just going to have to come back and fix it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a husband to attend to.” She stormed into the house and slammed the door behind her.
She threw her things down onto the table and stalked into the den. Jack was sitting in his chair. The television was blaring. Janice walked over and turned it down. “Can you imagine the nerve of some people? You’d think you could trust your own neighbors! Ted Gatsby thought he was going to con us into paying him for something that should have been done right in the first place. Well, I’ll tell you! It’s a good thing you’ve got me around. I set him straight. And where the hell were you when all of this was going on? Sitting right here, just like always. You know, I’m sick of doing everything by myself. I have a good mind to take Sal Eames up on his offer to run away with him.” She smiled smugly and went off to make dinner.
The next morning, when she stepped into the shower, she noticed the tiles right away. They were cracked. Not all of them, but quite a few. Splintery cracks feathered the delicate flowered porcelain.
It wasn’t the cracks that bothered her so much. It was the black mold peppering the rubbery grout that baffled her. She scraped some off with her fingernail. “Jeez Louise!” she muttered.
“Jack!” she hollered over the rush of running water. “What on earth happened up here? The tiles are cracked! I bet you busted them up when you were trying to replace that shower head, didn’t you? I told you to be careful. If water gets in behind those cracks, we’ll have a mess on our hands for sure. There’s already mold growing. Replace them today while I’m gone, will you?”
She finished with her shower, dressed, and grabbed her lunch out of the fridge. “Well, I’m off. Don’t forget about those chores,” she told Jack before stepping outside.
She started down the walk, but something on the side of the house caught her attention. She whirled around and froze. There were cracks in the foundation! Deep fissures ran all the way from the bottom edge of the siding to the ground. Gaping, jagged edges of concrete. Lush green moss clung tightly to the rough gray surface. It was unsightly. Horrified, she dropped her lunch.
“Jack? Jack! Get out here! We have real problems.” Stunned, she staggered over to the foundation and dropped to her knees. She began pulling the moss out in clumps. “Did we have an earthquake? Did you see anything about an earthquake on the news?”
When Jack didn’t answer, she got up and went back into the house. “Jack?” she yelled, going from room to room. “Jack?”
She found him in the den. “I’ve been shouting for you. I should have known you wouldn’t hear me over that stupid television.” Exasperated, she snapped it off. “Don’t you ever do anything else besides watch TV? Did you hear me? I think we’re going to have to call the insurance company. I think we’ve had an earthquake. I’ve got to get to work. Make sure you do it today and get an estimate.”
She hurried back outside.
“Mrs. Sanborn?” A voice called to her.
Janice’s head snapped up. She shielded her eyes from the morning sunlight.
“It’s just me, again, Mrs. Sanborn,” the voice said, getting closer.
Janice recognized the voice as Ted Gatsby’s. “I don’t want to talk to you,” she snapped. She hurried over to her car, opened the door, and threw her purse inside.
“Mrs. Sanborn, I called Gloria. Just sit tight, okay?”
“Gloria?” she croaked, her anger momentarily forgotten. “My Gloria? Whatever for?”
“Yes, your Gloria. Your daughter! She was glad to hear that you’re okay. She was very worried about you.”
“Worried? What on earth for? You didn’t drag her into our spat, did you? You had no right! She needs to be studying instead of worrying about what’s going on here. Why don’t you just mind your own business, Mr. Nosey.” She scowled and got into the car.
All the fuss and bickering made her tired. She leaned against the door and closed her eyes. A few minutes later, she felt herself falling and nearly toppled out of the car. “What on earth!” she bellowed.
“Mama! Oh, mama! You can’t imagine how sick I’ve been with worry,” Gloria wailed. She grasped her mother’s shoulders, and tried to right her again.
“What?” Janice demanded, confused. She looked up at the sky. The position of the sun told her it was late afternoon! She’d fallen asleep again! She shook her head, “Gloria! My God, girl, what are you doing here?”
“I’m sorry mama. I didn’t mean to frighten you. It’s just that when Ted called…” she began to cry, “I’m just so glad to see you.”
“For crying out loud! It’s only been a couple of weeks since daddy and I dropped you off at school. The way you’re carrying on, you’d think we hadn’t seen each other in years. Well, never mind. Give me a hug you foolish girl.” She rolled her eyes, but smiled as she let Gloria help her out of the car. “I can’t believe you let Ted Gatsby talk you into coming home from college for something so ridiculous. Well, daddy will be glad to see you anyway. Let’s go in and say hello.”
Gloria sniffled as she led her mother up the walkway. “Mama, I think we should talk,” she said, helping her mother inside and onto the couch in the foyer.
“You didn’t flunk out already did you?” Janice tsked. “Is that what all this blubbering is about?”
“No mama. I…”
“Something worse then,” she pursed her lips and frowned. “Well, go and get your father. Whatever you have to say, he should probably hear too. God! I hope you’re not pregnant,” she huffed, clutching her chest.
Gloria searched her mother’s eyes. “Please tell me you remember about daddy, mama. And Tommy. You do remember, don’t you?” She reached up to cup her mother’s cheek.
“Remember what? What has gotten into you today?” Janice said, pushing her hand away. “You just go and get your father, like you’re told.”
“Mama,” Gloria began gently, “Daddy isn’t here. He’s been gone since the week after Tommy left us.
“Gone? What are you talking about? He hasn’t gone anywhere. He’s right in the den.” She got up and started down the hall. “Jack! You get out here and see your daughter.”
“He isn’t here,” Gloria said again. She got up too, and hurried after her. “He couldn’t be.” She caught up and reached for her mother’s shoulder, trying to stop her. “Daddy’s been dead for nearly thirty years.”
“What?” Janice yelped, pulling away. Her face flushed scarlet. “Why would you say such a thing? Have you gone mad? He’s watching television, the old fool.” She made it to the entrance of the den. She stopped and thrust a finger towards her husband’s chair. “See?” she said. “He’s right there.”
Gloria followed her in. She walked over to the chair. She held her breath, and turned it around. Other than an old drop cloth, it was empty!
“What in the world?” Janice cried. Her eyes were frantic as she searched the room. She ran around, opening all the closets, and checking behind all the furniture. “Jack? Don’t play games now! Your daughter is here and wants to see you.”
“Mama, stop. Please, just stop. Daddy isn’t here. He’s gone. He died of a heart attack. And Tommy died in the accident on Route sixty-six on his way to college.”
Janice’s hand flew to her mouth. “No! That’s not true! You’re lying,” she rasped.
“I’m so sorry, but it is true. You have to believe it. You have to remember!”
Janice began to shake. A flood of horrible memories rushed into her brain, though she tried to push them out. “No!” she wept. “I don’t want to remember!”
“You have to. I need you! Your grandchildren need you”
“No, no, no,” Janice shook her head. Her legs gave out and she sat with a slump onto the couch.
Gloria went and sat next to her. “I thought when Ted called and told me that you were here, that you were starting to remember again. Was I wrong?” she asked.
“Here? This is my home. Where else would I be?”
“At the center, mama. We had to take you there after daddy died. You’ve been there all this time.”
“It can’t be,” Janice said with horror. “It just can’t be.”
“But it is. They called when they couldn’t find you yesterday. They didn’t know where you’d gone. We’ve all been so scared. You can’t imagine my relief when Ted called. I thought, then, that you were starting to come back to us.”
“Come back to you?”
“Come with me mama.” Gloria got up and held out her hand.
Janice hesitated, but finally took it and followed her out into the hallway. Grandma’s antique mirror still hung crookedly on the wall, next to the back door.
“Turn around, mama. I want you to see yourself.”
“See myself? I’ve seen myself a million times,” she said, but turned towards the mirror anyway. The woman she saw starring back at her was old. An old woman with crazy, deranged eyes!
Frightened, she took a step back. Her hands reached up to feel her face. Deep cracks and creases lined her cheeks and forehead. Her lips were dry and puckered. Crinkles erupted next to her eyes as she stood there grimacing. “I’m old,” she whispered. “I can’t be this old. I was just forty a few months ago…”
Gloria reached over to rub her mother’s back. “It’s been thirty years since you were forty, mama. You’ve been gone a long time, too.”
“Am I back now?”
“I hope so, mama. I really hope so.”