As promised in last week’s post, here is my own writing exercise in honor of James Thurber’s short story, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
It took quite a dig through my writing box to find this as back when this was written, things were mighty different. First, we had one computer in the house that had dial-up modem, and it was in a part of the house that wasn’t heated. I recall bundling up to go upstairs to the office, shut the door, and turn on the space heater to complete my writing assignment for class. Now, I would have three copies of this backed up to several different cloud storage sites. As it is, I’m typing this from the only paper copy I have.
So here you go. Enjoy.
“I’ve been dead now for ten years, Goerge. I think I’ve gotten the hang of this thing,” the girl stood beside the tall man in the throng of anxious on-lookers.
“Remember, time doesn’t exist once you’re dead, Annie,” Goerge reminded the girl, “You could have been dead for a thousand years; it still wouldn’t make a difference.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Annie murmured.
The sun beat down on Dallas that November day in 1963. The sides of the streets were crowded with people hoping to get a glimpse of the president of the United States. Some were carrying signs; others carried banners or streamers. The first car in the presidential procession came around the corner.
“Okay, kiddo, we’re on.”
George stepped off the sidewalk. Annie followed obediently. The pair moved unseen amongst the many cars and motorcycles and Secret Service men. Annie watched the many guards.
“Why are we here when all of these guys could do it?” she asked.
“Because we’re guardians. It’s what we do,” George answered.
The president’s car came into view. President Kennedy and his wife sat in the back of the black convertible waving to the cheering crowd.
“All right, now remember Jackie dies in the original history. So your job is-”
“To make sure the stray bullet doesn’t hit Jackie,” Annie interrupted.
“Good girl,” George patted her playfully on the head.
George moved to stand beside the president. Annie jumped over the door and sat next to Mrs. Kennedy in the back seat. She waited calmly for George to give the signal.
The car moved up the small incline and around the corner. The people on the streets saw the president for the first time. They cheered wildly. The first shot rang through the air. Annie saw the president jerk forward then fall back against the seat. George rested his hand on the president’s shoulder. He looked at Annie. Annie placed her hand on Jackie’s arm. A second shot rang out. Jackie clutched at her husband and began to sob.
“Why, George?” Annie asked.
“Annie? Annie? Annabel!?!”
Annie jerked back into reality.
“Yes, Mr. Beckett?”
Her eighth period history teacher loomed over her. His hair more mussed than usual stuck out from behind his ears like mottled wings.
“Who killed President Kennedy?” Mr. Beckett asked calmly, his words lisping at the end as if his teeth once held braces.
“Thank you, Ms. Hawthorne. Do try to stay with us please.”
Annabel Hawthorne scanned the room and the rest of the victims of Mr. Beckett’s history class. Bobby Gile sat in the back, head down, drooling on his book. Herb Gibbons sat with his legs extended, feet crossed at the ankles, and thumbs hooked in his belt loops. His eyes held a faraway look, and she wondered where he was. Sissy herman attempted to balance her pen on the tip of her finger. And Twiggy Vaughn, well, no one could really ever tell what he was doing.
“And where is Zimbabwe?” Mr. Beckett asked.
Robin Stricter, the Einstein in the front row, raised her hand and waved it frantically about in the air as if she were drowning in the ocean.
“Yes. Ms. Stricter.”
“Zimbabwe, formerly known as Rhodesia, is in Africa,” she answered.
“Very good, Ms. Stricter.”
Africa. How far away is Africa? Annie thought.
The sun scorched the sandy earth of the jungle floor. The reeds of the huts crackled as the woman came out of it. She carried a clay pot filled with water and wove her way in and out of the maze of huts in the center of the village. Finding the small lad waiting at the edge of the jungle, she spoke quickly in Swahili and sent the boy running to Simbayo to fetch the white woman.
The boy returned at dusk, the moment right before the sun sank suddenly behind the horizon. It plunged the village into darkness almost immediately. The white woman followed the boy to one of the huts. He ducked inside and the white people followed. A native rose from the floor and spoke to the white woman. The native peered uncertainly over the white woman’s shoulder at a strange man lurking in the doorway. The white woman saw her cautious gaze and spoke in Swahili to reassure the native that he was a friend.
The native nodded and stepped inside. A woman laid on her back on the earthen floor of the hut. The white woman dropped to her knees. The man knelt beside her a little more slowly.
“What, what is happening?” he asked slowly.
“She’s giving birth, George.”
“I know that much, Annie, but what’s wrong?”
“That’s what I have to find out.”
Annie began to message the woman’s extended stomach. The native woman cried out.
“It’s a transverse.”
“What’s that?” George asked.
“The baby is sideways. That’s why it isn’t coming out.”
“And you are going to do what?”
“I’m going to reach in and turn it around.”
“Excuse me?” his voice cracked slightly.
Annie separated the woman’s bent legs and reached. She felt for the baby’s head, her fingers sliding around the soft round shape. She grasped it at the base of the skull to make sure the neck didn’t snap. Pulling gently, the baby moved. Annie urged the baby to the opening; the top of the head was visible. Coaxing even more gently, the baby began to slide out. The head fully emerged. Annie freed the shoulders, and in one sudden rush, the baby slid free.
Annie cradled the silent baby in her arms. It didn’t fuss or cry. It just laid very still like it was sleeping. Only it wasn’t. It was stillborn.
She looked down at the dead baby, blue and serene.
George rested his hand on her arm.
Annie snapped into reality. Mr. Beckett loomed over her once more, his face a stern mask of red, jaw clenched, and gaze lethal as a knife. He was furious.
“Ms. Hawthorne, I have had about enough of your inattentiveness. You show me you have no respect for me or your fellow classmates when you are constantly daydreaming. You are going to make it no where in life with your kind of attitude. Ten years from now you are going to be lying in a filthy gutter on the dark, sinister streets of the city.
Dark and sinister?
The lights from the billboards, the buzz of neon signs, car horns, people shouting, music blasting from open windows, all mixed to create the symphony of the city. People crowded together on the small sidewalks, bumping and pushing into each other. The crowd suddenly parted. A tall man emerged pulling a young girl behind him. The young girl carried a small boy on her hip. The terrified boy clung to the girl with all the strength he could gather. Tears streamed down his face making tracks in the filth that covered his cheeks.
The man pulled the girl into an alley, dodging a homeless man that guarded its entrance. He moved with ease and familiarity through the maze of cardboard boxes and sleeping bodies. Rounding the corner at the end of the alley, he stopped at the back of the building. A green, rusted metal door was hidden in shadow under the old fire escape that was barely attached to the condemned building. He let go of the girl’s hand and braced his shoulder against the door to give a tremendous shove. The door opened reluctantly, its hinges protesting loudly. He grabbed the girl’s hand once more and pulled them into the building.
They found themselves plunged into utter darkness. The girl heard the man moving around in the blackness that engulfed them. Suddenly, a light flared to life. The man set a lantern on one of several ancient wooden crates in the middle of the room while he bent to retrieve a small box from another. Straightening, he reached for the boy. The girl willingly gave up her precious charge, and the man laid the boy carefully on a makeshift bed of old newspapers and cardboard. he set the small box next to him and went to work bandaging the enormous gash in the boy’s abdomen.
The girl noticed the small lad wasn’t breathing as heavily anymore. He looked almost calm and serene, as if he were at peace.
“Talk to him, Annie.”
The girl jumped at the man’s voice.
“Hi, I’m Annie,” she said, “And this is George.”
She struggled to keep her voice steady.
“It’s all right. You are going to be just fine now. George will take care of you.”
Annie clutched at herself to keep from shaking because of the bitter cold that lingered in the stale air.
George finished his task and looked up into the boy’s face. The light from the lantern cast a shadow over the child’s eyes, creating a ghostly effect. The boy had stopped crying and laid horribly still on the floor. George looked into the innocent’s lifeless eyes before reaching up and pulling the little boy’s eyelids gently over them.
Annie felt tears burning her eyes.
The clang of the final bell erupted in Annie’s ears. She slowly responded to its beckoning, rising stiffly from her chair. She walked with torpidity to her locker, placed her books inside the tiny cell, wrapped her scarf around her neck, and while pulling on her coat and warm, white mittens, she grabbed up her bag. Slinging it on her back, she closed her locker door, turning for the stairs.
George walked dutifully behind her, always on guard to protect her from life.