Anything But Science Fiction


Howard put the broom into the shed at the back of the diner and tossed the bag of leaves into the dumpster before heading for the IGA.  What the hell was Bitsy thinking, sending a man down to the store to buy plants?  Couldn’t she have sent Ellie?  Or did Bitsy believe, like many of the residents of Medford, that he’d gone soft in the head?  Howard frowned at the thought.  Just because a man didn’t talk didn’t make him stupid.  Bitsy of all people ought to have understood that. 
Inside the Laundromat, one of the Ransom boys stuck a finger into the coin door of the pay phone, looking for change.  His brother stuck a hanger inside the cigarette machine and worked it around furiously.  Their father Travis sat on the washing machine, looking exhausted and defeated.  Raising those boys would take the life out of anyone, Howard thought. 
Travis raised a hand in greeting, which Howard returned.   Many times Travis had sat beside Howard at the breakfast bar, chewing on tobacco and jawing about the difficulty of raising boys without a mother.  “Count yerself lucky, Howard Heacock,” Travis would always say, shaking his head.  But Howard would have given his eyeteeth for children of his own, even if they were like the Travis boys.
“Morning, Howard.”  Eloise Dimkowitcz stepped out of the pharmacy, clutching a lottery ticket in her left hand.  Howard nodded and continued down Main. That pharmacy had driven Tank Jones out of business.  When they were in high school, Tank’s reputation as a nose tackle spread throughout all of Ohio.  Tank went to college on a football scholarship, got his degree in pharmacy and set up shop.  Less than ten years later, one of the big guys came in and took him down.  Tank knew he couldn’t compete with that.  He sold the store and put on one of the company badges and put himself behind the counter, dolling out prescriptions but surrendering the day-to-day operations of the business to a young manager who apparently knew better.  Every day that Tank worked behind the counter of another man’s business, he appeared to get a little smaller.
Andee Miller better have those plants all picked out, that much was for certain, Howard thought, as he found himself standing at the entrance to the IGA.  The doors slid open and he stepped inside.
            “Hey, Howie.” Andee Miller looked up from the store’s sole cash register where she was ringing up Hank Delacroix, the town barber.  “You here for them plants?”
Howard nodded.
“I got them wrapped up.  Just bring your truck round back.” 
Truck?  How many plants was she expecting him to take?  No, Howard would just carry them up the hill and if he couldn’t carry all of them, he could just borrow a cart from Andee and wheel them there.
“You got your Bible verse memorized, Hank?”  Andee Miller firmly believed she was in charge of single-handedly saving all of the lost souls of Medford.
“You know I don’t, Andee.”
“Save ten percent, Hank, if you can just give me your verse.”
“I got my coupons, Andee.  That’ll save me just as much.”
“Hank, it’s right there on the sign.  Just read it aloud to me.”
Hank patted his shirt pocket.  “Damn.  Forgot my glasses again.”
“Oh for heaven’s sake, Hank.”  Andee closed her eyes and took a deep breath.  “’For wherever your treasure is, there also will your heart be.’” 
“I ain’t got no treasure, Andee.”  Hank thumped his chest.  “And my heart’s right here, where the doctor tells me it’s supposed to be.”
Andee frowned.  “I’ll give you the discount anyway.  But this is the last…”
“Thank you, Andee.”
Howard sighed and headed down an aisle to kill time.  He found himself in the baking aisle: flour, sugar, cocoa and chocolate chips and dusty jars of maraschino cherries lined up on the shelf.  There was a little display of Halloween cookie cutters and tubes of orange and black frosting.  Howard didn’t understand how people like Annie Fowler and Bitsy could take all these independent ingredients and combine them into something better than they were alone.  What was it they did that other women couldn’t do? 
“Now where did that Howard get to?  Did you see him leave the store?”  Andee said.
“No, ma’am,” Hank replied. 
“Well he sure ain’t here anymore.”
“Howard’s a strange one, that’s for sure.  Beam me up, Scotty,” Hank said.
“You hush yourself, Hank.  There ain’t nothing wrong with Howard.  ‘Sides,” she continued, “some of us like the silent type.”
The doors slid open   Another customer entered.  “Hey, Wally,” Hank called.  “I ain’t seen you in weeks.  What brings you to town?”
“Come to pay my respects to a dear friend.  Town’ll never see a teacher the likes of Wheezy Hart again.”
“It’s a real shame,” Andee said.  “No wife.  No family.” 
“Remember when he used to live outside of town?”  Hank said.  “Whatever happened to that property?”
“His daddy sold it to the Fowlers, after they learned about Wheezy’s asthma,” Wally said.
“And now,” Andee said, “someone’s trying to buy the farm off of Jonathan.” 
Howard was surprised by this news: He hadn’t heard it before.
“You ask me, he ought to sell out.  Lord knows we could use the influx of people.  On a good day I have eight clients,” Hank said.  “That’s not enough to keep a man in bread.”
“Jonathan loves that place,” Andee said.
“Yes,” Wally said.  “But we love this place too.  That farm is land we could build on.  The developer wants to put up thirty houses and a couple of nice stores, too.”
“Stores that will likely put me out of business.  Fancy houses bring fancy people who want prettified stores,” Andee said.  “Besides, what a man does with his own land is his own business.”
“Not when it affects more than the man.  Jonathan’s sitting on a gold mine,” Wally said.
“Jonathan Fowler never has two cents to rub together, Wally and you know it.”
“He sells that place and he’ll have more than two cents.  Hell, he doesn’t even pay Howard Heacock a decent wage.  Howard’s on the far side of thirty and he still can’t afford a place of his own.  And that girl what works down at Bitsy’s.  He’s got her working her fingers to the bone on the farm.  Probably doesn’t pay her a dime neither.”
“Jonathan’s a fair man, Wally.  And Howard…Where is Howard, anyhow?” Andee asked.  “He was supposed to take his truck out back and pick up those plants Bitsy ordered.  Oh, Lord.”  She walked to the window and peered out.  “I promised ‘em to Bitsy before the funeral.”
“Me and Wally will run ‘em up, Andee,” Hank said.  “It’s not as if I have any customers waiting for me back at the shop.”
“Thank you, Hank.  Could you help us load up, Wally?”
Howard watched while the three headed to the back of the store.  And after they’d left, their arms full of plants, he sneaked out the entrance.  He knew what Bitsy’s and Annie’s secret was: Both the women cooked the way they lived their lives: with love and not malice.  Howard swore he could taste the love in their food.  And Jonathan Fowler cared for the land in the same way—with a heart full of love; a love that no builder would extend to the farm, should he get his hands on it.  No.  Howard shook his head.  The only thing a builder would love about the farm is the money it would generate.  He hoped—for the sake of the Fowlers and Ellie and, yes, for himself—that Jonathan wouldn’t sell the farm that had been Howard’s true home for the past eighteen years.


For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Dili challenged me with "take a good quote you like from something sci-fi, and use it to make something that's anything but sci-fi" and I challenged Chaos Mandy with "The sun winked out and the skies went black. What happens next?"

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Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: Anything But Science Fiction

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Anything But Science Fiction


Howard put the broom into the shed at the back of the diner and tossed the bag of leaves into the dumpster before heading for the IGA.  What the hell was Bitsy thinking, sending a man down to the store to buy plants?  Couldn’t she have sent Ellie?  Or did Bitsy believe, like many of the residents of Medford, that he’d gone soft in the head?  Howard frowned at the thought.  Just because a man didn’t talk didn’t make him stupid.  Bitsy of all people ought to have understood that. 
Inside the Laundromat, one of the Ransom boys stuck a finger into the coin door of the pay phone, looking for change.  His brother stuck a hanger inside the cigarette machine and worked it around furiously.  Their father Travis sat on the washing machine, looking exhausted and defeated.  Raising those boys would take the life out of anyone, Howard thought. 
Travis raised a hand in greeting, which Howard returned.   Many times Travis had sat beside Howard at the breakfast bar, chewing on tobacco and jawing about the difficulty of raising boys without a mother.  “Count yerself lucky, Howard Heacock,” Travis would always say, shaking his head.  But Howard would have given his eyeteeth for children of his own, even if they were like the Travis boys.
“Morning, Howard.”  Eloise Dimkowitcz stepped out of the pharmacy, clutching a lottery ticket in her left hand.  Howard nodded and continued down Main. That pharmacy had driven Tank Jones out of business.  When they were in high school, Tank’s reputation as a nose tackle spread throughout all of Ohio.  Tank went to college on a football scholarship, got his degree in pharmacy and set up shop.  Less than ten years later, one of the big guys came in and took him down.  Tank knew he couldn’t compete with that.  He sold the store and put on one of the company badges and put himself behind the counter, dolling out prescriptions but surrendering the day-to-day operations of the business to a young manager who apparently knew better.  Every day that Tank worked behind the counter of another man’s business, he appeared to get a little smaller.
Andee Miller better have those plants all picked out, that much was for certain, Howard thought, as he found himself standing at the entrance to the IGA.  The doors slid open and he stepped inside.
            “Hey, Howie.” Andee Miller looked up from the store’s sole cash register where she was ringing up Hank Delacroix, the town barber.  “You here for them plants?”
Howard nodded.
“I got them wrapped up.  Just bring your truck round back.” 
Truck?  How many plants was she expecting him to take?  No, Howard would just carry them up the hill and if he couldn’t carry all of them, he could just borrow a cart from Andee and wheel them there.
“You got your Bible verse memorized, Hank?”  Andee Miller firmly believed she was in charge of single-handedly saving all of the lost souls of Medford.
“You know I don’t, Andee.”
“Save ten percent, Hank, if you can just give me your verse.”
“I got my coupons, Andee.  That’ll save me just as much.”
“Hank, it’s right there on the sign.  Just read it aloud to me.”
Hank patted his shirt pocket.  “Damn.  Forgot my glasses again.”
“Oh for heaven’s sake, Hank.”  Andee closed her eyes and took a deep breath.  “’For wherever your treasure is, there also will your heart be.’” 
“I ain’t got no treasure, Andee.”  Hank thumped his chest.  “And my heart’s right here, where the doctor tells me it’s supposed to be.”
Andee frowned.  “I’ll give you the discount anyway.  But this is the last…”
“Thank you, Andee.”
Howard sighed and headed down an aisle to kill time.  He found himself in the baking aisle: flour, sugar, cocoa and chocolate chips and dusty jars of maraschino cherries lined up on the shelf.  There was a little display of Halloween cookie cutters and tubes of orange and black frosting.  Howard didn’t understand how people like Annie Fowler and Bitsy could take all these independent ingredients and combine them into something better than they were alone.  What was it they did that other women couldn’t do? 
“Now where did that Howard get to?  Did you see him leave the store?”  Andee said.
“No, ma’am,” Hank replied. 
“Well he sure ain’t here anymore.”
“Howard’s a strange one, that’s for sure.  Beam me up, Scotty,” Hank said.
“You hush yourself, Hank.  There ain’t nothing wrong with Howard.  ‘Sides,” she continued, “some of us like the silent type.”
The doors slid open   Another customer entered.  “Hey, Wally,” Hank called.  “I ain’t seen you in weeks.  What brings you to town?”
“Come to pay my respects to a dear friend.  Town’ll never see a teacher the likes of Wheezy Hart again.”
“It’s a real shame,” Andee said.  “No wife.  No family.” 
“Remember when he used to live outside of town?”  Hank said.  “Whatever happened to that property?”
“His daddy sold it to the Fowlers, after they learned about Wheezy’s asthma,” Wally said.
“And now,” Andee said, “someone’s trying to buy the farm off of Jonathan.” 
Howard was surprised by this news: He hadn’t heard it before.
“You ask me, he ought to sell out.  Lord knows we could use the influx of people.  On a good day I have eight clients,” Hank said.  “That’s not enough to keep a man in bread.”
“Jonathan loves that place,” Andee said.
“Yes,” Wally said.  “But we love this place too.  That farm is land we could build on.  The developer wants to put up thirty houses and a couple of nice stores, too.”
“Stores that will likely put me out of business.  Fancy houses bring fancy people who want prettified stores,” Andee said.  “Besides, what a man does with his own land is his own business.”
“Not when it affects more than the man.  Jonathan’s sitting on a gold mine,” Wally said.
“Jonathan Fowler never has two cents to rub together, Wally and you know it.”
“He sells that place and he’ll have more than two cents.  Hell, he doesn’t even pay Howard Heacock a decent wage.  Howard’s on the far side of thirty and he still can’t afford a place of his own.  And that girl what works down at Bitsy’s.  He’s got her working her fingers to the bone on the farm.  Probably doesn’t pay her a dime neither.”
“Jonathan’s a fair man, Wally.  And Howard…Where is Howard, anyhow?” Andee asked.  “He was supposed to take his truck out back and pick up those plants Bitsy ordered.  Oh, Lord.”  She walked to the window and peered out.  “I promised ‘em to Bitsy before the funeral.”
“Me and Wally will run ‘em up, Andee,” Hank said.  “It’s not as if I have any customers waiting for me back at the shop.”
“Thank you, Hank.  Could you help us load up, Wally?”
Howard watched while the three headed to the back of the store.  And after they’d left, their arms full of plants, he sneaked out the entrance.  He knew what Bitsy’s and Annie’s secret was: Both the women cooked the way they lived their lives: with love and not malice.  Howard swore he could taste the love in their food.  And Jonathan Fowler cared for the land in the same way—with a heart full of love; a love that no builder would extend to the farm, should he get his hands on it.  No.  Howard shook his head.  The only thing a builder would love about the farm is the money it would generate.  He hoped—for the sake of the Fowlers and Ellie and, yes, for himself—that Jonathan wouldn’t sell the farm that had been Howard’s true home for the past eighteen years.


For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Dili challenged me with "take a good quote you like from something sci-fi, and use it to make something that's anything but sci-fi" and I challenged Chaos Mandy with "The sun winked out and the skies went black. What happens next?"

Labels: ,

11 Comments:

At January 22, 2012 at 6:12 PM , Anonymous TLanceB said...

I can't believe you pulled this off. This challenge would be impossible for me. I love sci fi and I wouldn't have been able to avoid it.

I like the simple nature of the story with the complex emotions. Teh names are really good.

You're on a roll Kelly....keep em coming

 
At January 23, 2012 at 6:01 AM , Anonymous Jaum said...

These people, existing ones and the new ones keep filling out till you feel you know them.... and a new plot. Will the land be sold?? What will happen to Howard and Ellie... For taking indiviual challanges and using them to broaden the story is great.

 
At January 23, 2012 at 8:48 AM , Anonymous Carrie said...

I love your little town. The people of Medford come alive with each segment.

A few critiques: there are a LOT of names in this piece. It's a bit difficult to keep them all straight if you aren't familiar with other pieces of the story.

Second: where Howard wanders into the store and is looking at baking stuff and then you hear Andee start talking to Hank, it's a very rough transition. I had to stop and re read it a few times before I figured out that he is overhearing them speak. Maybe add a sentence that identifies that?

 
At January 23, 2012 at 4:34 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thanks, Carrie. Going to have a look at that transition now. Always appreciate your comments.

 
At January 23, 2012 at 4:34 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thanks for reading - I'm glad to get back to these people.

 
At January 23, 2012 at 4:35 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thanks, Lance. I'm not a huge sci-fi fan, so it wasn't too hard for me.

 
At January 23, 2012 at 5:03 PM , Anonymous jesterqueen1 said...

That's absolutely beautiful, and I completely 'recognize' the town. I grew up in Southern Ohio. My Mom had to fight to buy her farm, and she was ROUNDLY criticized for refusing to give it up. There aren't many IGA's left, but the Owensville IGA was a staple of my childhood, so I imagined it set in there. (There's even a pharmacy out back - or was). Well done!!

 
At January 23, 2012 at 6:05 PM , Anonymous Kgwaite said...

I'm glad this worked for someone who's somewhat familiar with the area I'm trying to get across. What part of Ohio are you from?

 
At January 23, 2012 at 6:36 PM , Anonymous jesterqueen1 said...

Southern Ohio, about an hour east of Cincinnati, in between the towns of Fayetteville, Williamsburg, Marathon, and Mt. Orab. (We were in Sterling Township.) I see the name Medford here -- there's a Milford very close to that area, too. (It's kind of the upscale part of Clermont County.) I have no idea if this would play into your story or not, or how the developer angle is going to play out, but Ohio is broken down into townships within each county. (Brown county has Sterling Township and a bunch of others and so on). You've captured the area, both the attitudes and the small town geography beautifully.

 
At January 25, 2012 at 7:32 PM , Anonymous Dilina Amaruwan said...

I love this. Love the characters so much. It's awesome what you've done with the prompt. Much kudos. :) continuing?

 
At January 27, 2012 at 11:42 AM , Anonymous Susan Okaty said...

These characters seem so alive. They could be from Jan Karon's Mitford. Enjoyed reading this.

 

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