Sometimes I think that if i could start over, I would be a film director. Not that I have any experience doing this, but for some reason I get very into learning about directors of films that I love. This short story is actually a scene that I had in my head for a long time. There are a few scenes like this in my head, mostly based on Appalachian themes.
Anyway, here it is. A story? A scene? Just crap? Maybe even all three, but at least its out there and now there will be room in my head for something else.
Matthew knew there was work to do when his father woke him up early Saturday, when usually he would normally sleep in. He wished he could stay in bed later but knew there was no need arguing with his dad. Slowly he got out of bed, got dressed and made his way to kitchen, moving faster when he heard cereal hitting an empty bowl. His little sister was sitting in her high-chair, a small bowl of orange something smeared on the tray in front of her.
“Hi.”, he said to his mom and dad, who didn’t respond. His dad, Randy, was leaning against the counter. His mom wiping orange from Amber’s face. He sat down and wiped his eyes.
“Morning, Bub.” his mom dropped the old towel on the table and poured milk on Matthew’s cereal. “Make sure you put on your heavy coat. There’s a frost on.”
“Ok mom.” he muttered back, paying more attention to the faint noise of cartoons playing in the living room, where Amber had been relocated to, and where mom was now folding laundry.
While Matthew ate breakfast, Randy was gathering tools and hoses that they would need for their work. He made several trips out the backdoor and to the shed, back through the house, and out the front door to the truck. Each time, the spring on the storm door pulled it closed with a crash Each time Matthew jumped. Still sleepy, but starting to wake, he shuffled to the living room and dropped onto the couch. As he leaned over to tie his shoes, he heard the truck start. Shortly after he heard his name being called from outside. Dad was ready to go.
The drive was quiet. Randy wasn’t much of a talker, so Matthew gazed out the truck window looking for turkey heading to the fields to eat. There was no traffic and the ground looked frozen. It was a light frost but was the first that winter which made it more exciting. They made their way up Smith Creek and turned up the old logging road that works its way up to the mine. They came to a stop in the middle of the road. Foot-high weeds around the tires showed that the road was rarely used.
Matthew sat on a toolbox, fidgeting with the peeling Batman patch on his shoe, while his dad gathered up their supplies.
“Dad, there’s nothing here. What are we doing?” he asked, as the Batman logo fell off his shoe and onto the ground.
“Gotta work. It won’t take long. You’re old enough to help now.”, his dad said, handing Matthew a backpack. The supplies were heavy. Randy took another backpack, the toolbox and a white tank. Carefully he stepped over the bank and out of view. Matthew could barely carry the backpack. The cold ground was slick, and the trail was more of a small break in the briers than an actual trail. His grey coat kept getting caught on the green briers. Little grey strings fell from the scratches. Luckily not enough damage to get him in trouble with mom.
“How’s school. Are you liking your teacher any better now?”
“She’s ok. She don’t like Jamie though. He talks too much, and she yells at him.”
“You do what she says.” Randy told him, making sure he understood it was an order.
Matthew gave him a slow, slightly sarcastic “I will.” Randy followed with a quick “That Jamie’s trouble.”
The weight of the backpack was getting the best of Matthew as he made his way down the slick bank. He held the pack in front of his face as he clumsily slid down the last few feet of the trail, using it to shield his face from stray branches and briers hanging over the trail. The trail met the train tracks above Price Creek and continued on over the hill. Matthew couldn’t see the next leg of the trail. He strained to make out the tiny white houses he could barely see through breaks in the brush, through wilted leaves brought on by the frost.
“Bring your backpack here.” Randy said as he unloaded a mass of hoses from his pack. “And go sit on those rocks over there by the redbud tree. Don’t look at the fire when I get this lit. OK?”
“OK. What do you want me to do?”
“Just go sit and wait for me.” Matthew returned to the spot he stared from earlier and looked out at the houses by the creek, noticing the backyards and what people had in them. It was interesting to see what people keep out back. Old campers, old cars, dogs and little triangle shaped houses with roosters sitting in front of and on top of them. He had only seen the houses from the viewpoint of the school bus – only the fronts of the houses and the small front yards. He heard his dad call his name, and automatically walked farther down the tracks and sat on a prominent rock by the redbud trees, where his dad had told him to go.
From here, he could see the white church where that his grandma attends and the road that cuts back to the coal mine his dad worked at. Behind him he heard a pop and the low hiss of his dads torch. He wanted to defy Randy, to turn and watch the work, but didn’t. He watched the tiny cars and trucks driving along the creek, which quickly became boring. He picked at the hole in his shoe and remembered that he had forgotten to pick up the Batman patch that fell off earlier. He turned to tell his dad that he forgot it, but quickly remembered not to turn toward the torch and stopped himself.
Two more cars stopped at the church, they pulled into the parking lot together. Out of each one stepped an old lady that Matthew couldn’t recognize. They followed the same routine, stepping out of the car, smoothing their dresses, then turning back to the car to grab their purses. Each then picked up a box from the backseat of the car and walked to the front of the white church while the cars pulled away in different directions. A few minutes later one of the old ladies walked out the front door and down the stairs where she tied three pale blue balloons to the railing by the stairs.
The consistent hiss of the torch followed by the clank of metal continued while Matthew daydreamt about the church, the Batman patch from his shoe, and the church again. He collected a few rocks that caught his attention and stuffed them into the pocket of his grey coat. He threw a few rocks at a poplar stump and tried his hand at making towers out of flat rocks. When the towers collapsed, he used the flat side of one to carve his initials on the rock he sat on. As he finished scratching “R” on the rock, Randy called out “Ready?”. Matthew quickly added a “J” to the initials. It was faint compared to the other letters, but he stood and admired his “MRJ”, then ran down to where his dad was working.
Randy was tired from having organized his work into scattered piles where the parallel tracks used to be. There was a pile for tools, a pile of track cut into long pieces, a pile of short pieces, and a small pile of spikes off to the side. He sat on the edge of the ribbon of rock that the tracks were built on, resting before the starting the next chore. Though there was a frost on, he sweated from leaning over the torch for so long. As Matthew reached the piles, Randy unscrewed the lid off of a blue plastic thermos and offered Matthew a drink of water. The thermos was too big, making it hard for Matthew to drink without spilling. He handed the cooler back to his dad, who took another drink and put the thermos back in the backpack.
“We’ll take the tools up last. I’ll take the big pieces, you take the small pieces.” Randy said. “Can you get it?”
Matthew jumped to the pile, excited to be doing anything other than sitting on a rock and struggled to pick up the I-shaped piece of steel almost as long as his arm. It was more stable once in his arms, and he responded to his dad with a “Yep.”.
“We need to carry them up to the truck. Be careful going up. There’s no need to hurry.”
Randy threw a backpack on his back and started to the trail with a larger piece of the track. Matthew walked ahead of him. Going up the hill was easier than coming down. The frost had melted, and the damp leaves gave better traction than damp and frozen leaves.
Matthew grew tired after a few trips carrying the track, then began carrying the backpacks up on his back, which freed his hands to grab saplings and logs to pull himself up the hill. Randy finished carrying the steel and went back for the tank, which he told Matthew to leave for him.
The backpacks were last to go into the bed of the truck. While Matthew looked for his Batman patch in the grass, Randy opened the thermos and took a drink.
“You ready?”, he asked Matthew, barely looking up from the back of the truck.
“I can’t find Batman.”
Randy shuffled backpacks and hoses around in the back of the truck. “Leave it. You need new shoes anyway.”
Matthew continued searching as if he didn’t hear his dads comment. The tailgate slammed shut.
“Hey!” Randy called with a stern, dry voice. “The leaves.”
“The tools were in the leaves when we got here because the grass was wet. You check there?” Matthews eye brows lifted as he realized he was searching the wrong area.
Matthew fiddled with the patch as they drove down the hill to the main road near the little white houses.
“What’re those tracks for, dad?”
“We’ll get a good price for them.
“What about the train? Doesn’t the train need them?”
“Trains don’t come through here anymore.”
“Is it stealing? Someone took Jamie’s 4-wheeler and his dad’s tool box.”
“It’s not stealing.”
“But what if the train wants to come through again and they need that track?”
“It’s not stealing.” Randy’s voice was tense. “It’s like…. like blackberries. You like blackberries. It’s like blackberries. The mountain has blackberries and the mountain has tracks and when you need them you pick them.”
Matthew thought for a few minutes about blackberries and train tracks. “Would we get into trouble if…” Matthew didn’t get the sentence before Randy smacked the steering wheel and releasing a defeated sigh.
“Matthew. You need shoes.”