It’s time once again to get interactive with Linda G Hill and her Steam of Consciousness Saturday feature.
If you need to know more, GO HERE FOR THE RULES, if not then just read on…
This week’s prompt for SoCS was “almost”.
Famous Last Words.
“Hey Billy, you’re gonna get such a kick when you see what I found in dad’s old army trunk!”
Billy Mason sighed.
When the world consists mainly of desert and dust as far as your eight year old eyes can see and you can count your best (and only) friends on the fingers of one grubby hand, then anything new or even remotely interesting is capable of providing a “kick”, especially to a kid as excitable as Clyde Hinckley, so Billy wasn’t holding his breath.
But, with the town still awaiting the return of its menfolk from wherever the war had taken them, half the businesses yet to reopen and even the tiny church school closed for summer vacation, any distraction from the heat and a chance to get away from his mom (who had done barely anything but sleep and drink since the mailman delivered the “crying letter”, as Billy would forever think of it, sent by the government three months earlier) was a welcome respite, so he turned from the front door and shouted over his shoulder into the gloom of the living room, doubtful that his mom heard him but going through the motions nonetheless;
“Mom, I’m going over to Clyde’s, I’m taking the key.”
Stopping to lock the door on his way out, he followed his fidgeting, chattering friend down the dusty street until they reached the track that led to the sprawling Hinckley farmstead.
“You really are gonna flip when you see what I got,” Clyde could barely contain his excitement, “mom didn’t know I’d found it, we weren’t allowed to look in dad’s stuff after he didn’t come home, she locked it all up. But since…” he tried again, “since mum…since she went away..,” a shaky breath, “aunt Nadine doesn’t care, she lets me do what I like.”
(Clyde was another fully paid up member of the Dead Dads Club, which possibly accounted for the closeness of their friendship, his father having been shot down and killed by the Japanese a year before a torpedo took Billy senior. But Clyde had it worse, his mom had quietly hung herself in the hay barn last summer, didn’t even leave a note.)
Clyde led the way to the ramshackle buildings at the side of the main house and disappeared into the dim and cavernous interior, returning a moment later with a paper-wrapped bundle and motioning Billy to follow him round the end of the barn and into the bare fields beyond.
Smiling wryly and shaking his head, Billy followed a few paces behind the hurrying figure until he stopped by the field’s only tree, an old and twisted oak, squatted in the dry dirt and, with something approaching reverence, unwrapped his treasure, before sitting back and spreading his arms in a gesture of revelation.
Billy looked over Clyde’s shoulder and immediately froze.
Sitting in the crumpled nest of old newsprint was the dull and forbidding geometric shape of a live hand grenade.
“Clyde, what the hell are you doing with that?!”
His friend looked up at him, his face practically glowing with excitement.
“Isn’t it just too cool?” he said, “We have to set it off! Can we Billy, can we? Say we can Bill, nobody will know. Aunt Nadine is at the feed store, she won’t be back ’til sundown.”
Billy just stared.
“Are you crazy? D’you want to get us killed Clyde? Darn, you are one dumb kid sometimes.”
He instantly regretted his outburst. At the age of ten he was two years older than Clyde and was aware the younger boy looked up to him, so he felt bad as disappointment clouded the freckled, innocent face.
“But Billy, I know how to do it. We’ll be safe, honest we will.”
Billy looked skeptical, “I don’t think so Clyde, we’re bound to get into heaps of trouble, these things are meant for killing people.”
Clyde’s expression took on a devious look and, fishing in the pocket of his threadbare shorts for something, finally hauled out a tatty ball of twine.
“See, what we do, we tie one end to the pin and then hunker down behind the chicken shack way over there,” he waved in the direction of the barns over by the house, “and pull the other end. We’ll be ok, it’s easy far enough back.”
Billy had to admit that it sounded like a good enough plan, but he knew he should be the Voice Of Reason here.
“But what if the shrapnel goes right through the shack, it’s only shingles.”
“Oh I’ve thought of that, ” said Clyde, clearly pleased with himself at having considered every eventuality, “we roll the feed trough over there too, nothing will get through that.”
Billy looked at the old, wheeled iron trough and agreed that it appeared pretty solid.
“Ok then, but we gotta bury it some, just so we know it’ll stay where it’s put. Ok?”
“Oh yes Billy, anything!” said Clyde, all but bursting with excitement now.
So after heaving and straining for ten minutes, to get the heavy iron trough behind the wooden chicken house, Billy carefully tied the thin twine to the rusting pin of the half-buried grey-green pineapple (he thought this at least constituted being “responsible”) and supervised as Clyde gingerly unwound the twine across the dusty field, to their bunker behind the shack.
There was no way however, that Billy was going to get away with taking twine-pulling duties from Clyde, so when they were sufficiently protected he handed the business end to his friend and, with his heart thumping against his ribs, said, “I think we should have a countdown, don’t you?”
Clyde took the end Billy offered and solemnly intoned, “Five. Four.Three. Two.” he looked up at Billy and grinned,
He pulled the twine.
“Damn? Now what do we do?”
Clyde turned to his friend with a look of puzzlement.
“Why didn’t it go off?”
“I dunno, maybe it’s a dud. The pin came out, I saw it.”
“Well we can’t just leave it there, someone’ll find it.”
Billy thought for a moment.
“We’ll bury it,” he said, “that way, nobody will be able to say it was us.”
“Is it safe then?” asked Clyde.
“As long as we’re careful, we’ll dig a hole and just roll it in.”
After another quarter hour of discussion and courage-building bravado, Billy and Clyde left the safety of their shelter and walked cautiously across to where the now inert lump of metal lay in the dirt.
“Doesn’t look dangerous,” said Clyde, “s’not ticking or anything.”
“I don’t think they tick,” Billy replied, “but we best make sure we bury it deep enough that nobody’ll find it.”
They dug a hole with an old shovel Clyde found in the barn, getting nearly two foot down before they hit rock. Then, using a long pole, lay down and pushed the sleeping grenade until it rolled over the edge and disappeared.
There was no explosion, no sound at all in fact and when he was sure it was safe, Billy stood up and walked back to the spot, grabbed the shovel and quickly but carefully filled the hole with dirt.
“Right,” he said, “let’s go to the diner and get a soda, my treat. Mom left me some money to get lunch.” He began walking back up the farm track towards the road, “And not a word to anyone about this. This is our secret. Ok Clyde? Never tell anyone. Ever. Spit and shake.”
“Ok,” agreed Clyde, he spat on his palm and they shook on it, “it’s just a drag that it didn’t go off…”
The police had nearly all gone now, just the broken, trailing ends of the black and yellow incident tape, circling the ugly black scar in the middle of the yard to indicate they’d ever been there.
But earlier that day the scene had been so different.
Staring blankly out through the sliding glass doors of her family’s new home, no matter how hard she tried, Maria Mason still couldn’t get the vision of her husband’s torn and bleeding body from her mind.
How could this have happened?
“Unexploded ordnance”, that’s what the bomb disposal men had told the police, a few hours and a lifetime ago, but it still hadn’t sunk in.
They had only moved back to Marty’s parents’ old home town two weeks ago, taking an option on a new development that was part of the sudden expansion of the small backwater town, after the discovery of a huge seam of aluminium ore in the rock beneath the desert a couple of years back.
Maria remembered the look of childish nostalgia on Marty’s face as he told her about the area on the trip down from New York; “The new house is built on land that used to belong to the Hinckley family, one of dad’s childhood friends lived here, they had a farm back in the forties. The family sold it when old Clyde passed away three years ago. He was a mite senile towards the end there, refused to sell the place for years, poor old guy kept muttering about some family secret.”
Maria had wanted to move to Florida, to be nearer her folks, and she’d tried talking Marty into taking a job with the company’s operation down there, but since they’d arrived here in Texas, she was starting to realise she could be happy here.
The schools were good, the kids had made friends in the neighbourhood during the summer, she and a few other moms were already in and out of each other’s houses for coffee and cocktails and Marty’s job at the mine was going great.
Life was good.
Then this morning, because it was another perfectly glorious day in paradise and vacation was nearly done, Marty had decided to have some work buddies and their families over for a cook-out in the bare, yet-to-be-landscaped back yard.
She saw him rooting around in the back of the garage, eventually coming out holding a large hammer in one hand, a dangerous looking metal spike in the other and a big stupid grin on his face,
“Been a while since we had a horseshoe tournament,” he’d said, “I’ll teach the locals how you really play it.” and he laughed.
She’d gone inside to make coffee, taking him out a mug and sitting at the table on the deck, soaking up the sunshine as she watched him setting up the grill, filling the cooler with ice and taking the cover off their small pool.
He walked over to where she sat and drained his coffee, kissed her on the forehead and, picking up the spike and hammer from the table, said, “Want to have a few practice throws before the crowds get here?” and walked to the centre of the large space, empty except for the small but sculptural oak tree that had been there when they moved in, where he stopped and turned to face her.
“How about here, you think you can throw a shoe this far?”
She stuck out her tongue at him, “Hey, cheeky! You know I’ll beat you, you always drink too much.”
He laughed again and blew her a kiss, bowing extravagantly at the waist as he bent to pick up the hammer.
Then, just a few short hours ago, Marty had positioned the point of the spike in the dusty ground of their new back yard and took the first swing with the hammer, then another.
He paused and looked up as she called to him;
“I’m so content, I want you to know that, we’re going to be so happy here. And just think, we almost moved to Florida.”
Now his last words came back to haunt her, she knew that somehow, they always would; “Ha! Didn’t you know honey, “almost” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”
Then he hit the spike for the final time.
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[This story was all written today and was inspired by Linda’s prompt and my wife, Rhonda, who only introduced me to the phrase used in the punchline the other day. I hope it was worth it.]