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You ever sit outside and listen to the wind? To crickets? The sound of nothing at all?
Used to every summer night with Jeanie. We didn’t need anything or anyone else, and I’m being honest when I say it. We’d stay out on the porch for hours, talking. Well, she did most of it—I did the listening. But that’s the way we liked it. That’s how things worked for forty-three years.
This is my second summer without her. Sometimes at night, I pray to God, the grass beneath my feet, the stars above—whoever, whatever will listen—to reverse time. To take me back to the moment she asked if I wanted to go to the grocery store and I told her no. I took a nap instead. . . can you believe it? If I’d known that son of a bitch planned on shooting up the place, I’d have been there by her side.
I’d be with her now.
I don’t sit on the porch anymore.
Instead, I go out to the garage and open the door wide. Some nights I sit in silence under the overhang. Others I turn on the radio.
Tonight, Johnny Cash joins me—sings about his empire of dirt.
I look around at my own: overgrown weeds sprout out of Jeanie’s flowerbeds, grassy lawn six inches high, house half-painted. The brushes and rollers are right where we left them in the shed, still covered in paint and hard as river rocks.
Hard as tombstones.
I take a sip of my whiskey and listen to the silence.
It doesn’t last long. It’s broken by the unmistakable clicking of bicycle spokes speeding down the hill. This person, whoever it is, is flying like hell.
I glance toward the end of the driveway. A helmetless kid—eight or nine, maybe—comes screaming into view. He loses control, hits a pothole, and flips over his handlebars, faceplanting into the asphalt. He tumbles end over end like a little rag doll.
“Shit,” I say on instinct, pushing myself out of the chair. I lose grip on my glass of whiskey. It smashes onto the driveway as I stumble forward, rushing toward the scene.
The bike is a twisted heap of metal down in the ditch. The kid’s lying sideways in the road, face-down. His right arm’s bent to holy hell, and a piece of bone sticks out of his forearm. He’s scraped up everywhere.
“Christ almighty,” I let out as I approach him. Gently, by the shoulders, I roll the kid onto his back. His face is a mess. There’s a huge gouge in his chin two fingers wide spouting blood, and his nose must be broken due to the steady stream pouring out of it.
If Jeanie were here, she’d know what to do.
“Kid, what’s your name? You hear me?” I say to him. But he’s out like a light.
I look around in a panic.
I’ve got to get him off the road, first and foremost. There are too many blind corners, too many jackasses who like to speed these backroads.
It takes some effort, but I lift him from underneath his armpits and guide him toward my driveway. I ease him down and run as fast as my legs will carry me to the house.
I grab an old blanket from my bedroom closet, then snatch my keys from the table in the front hallway. I lay the blanket down flat in the bed of my truck, hop in the cab, and come to a stop before the boy.
“Gonna lift you gently, okay, kid?” I say to the battered boy, who is still unresponsive. I lift him with everything I’ve got and manage to slide him up onto the blanket. His head lolls to the side. My back’s on fire as I close the tailgate.
I get in and drive up the hill, scanning the few scattered houses along the way. Maybe he’s one of the Hutchinson boys? I sometimes see them out playing ball, but it’s always from a distance. I only know “Hutchinson” from the name on the mailbox.
When I reach the crest of the hill and start to come down the other side, I’ve no doubt any longer. The boy’s a Hutchinson, or perhaps a relative or friend of the family.
Six or seven cars line the driveway, and I can see the commotion of an early summer party. Kids are out playing in the yard and the grownups are either gathered on the deck on the side of the house or on the front porch. A great waft of grilled vegetables and barbecued chicken hits me before I start laying on the horn. It gets everyone’s attention. I swerve into the driveway.
“Got your kid here!” I holler at the adults. “He’s hurt!” I wave them in my direction. Two of the men run out to meet me, anxious looks on their faces. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice two other bicycles on the lawn.
“He took a nasty spill,” I say to the men, wiping my brow.
“Fuck,” the taller man says upon seeing the boy. “Trent, call 9-1-1.” The other man does so immediately.
It’s all a bit of a blur from there.
The kid wakes up when his daddy climbs into the truck with him. He’s quiet, at first, maybe in shock. But then he’s hysterical.
Laura, the boy’s mother, is sobbing. The kids are all crying, all upset. And I’m stuck right in the middle of it all, standing off to the side, wondering how the hell I ended up in such a predicament—and how the hell I ended up ruining such a good party, for that matter.
Within fifteen minutes, the boy is shifted from my truck to a stretcher to the ambulance. Then he’s gone.
And so am I.
I get home, turn off the radio, set my whiskey bottle back on the shelf, and go to bed.
In the morning, I put the coffee on and walk out to get the paper. The boy’s bike is still in the ditch, mangled but not unrepairable.
“Hmm.” I wheel it back to the garage. I don’t know what compels me to do it, but I turn on the radio and get to work.
Later that night, right around 6:00, I load the bicycle into my truck and drive up the hill. I pull into the same driveway. No party tonight.
I ease the bike down from the tailgate and walk it to the front door. I don’t knock, don’t ring the bell. I do, however, look over the note I left the kid. It’s taped to his seat:
Hope you get back on someday.
You can tell the bike went through some shit, but you know what, the handlebars are straight again, and the thing is at least serviceable.
I go home and toss and turn all night thinking about the kid.
I sleep in late. Wake up, slip on my slippers. Head outside to get the paper.
And you know what’s on the porch?
A tray of cookies with a little note:
Here’s a little something for all your help. Thank you for everything.
- Laura Hutchinson
PS – Would you like to come over this evening for a cup of coffee, say around 5:00? Will’s home, and he’s feeling much better. We’ll be on the porch if you decide to join us.
I don’t remember sitting down, but I find myself rocking in the chair—Jeanie’s chair. It’s like she’s here with me. I feel her all around.
“You think I should go, honey?” I ask her, voice cracking.
The tall grass out on the front lawn sways—probably just the wind. But I guess there’s no way to really tell.
I open the box and munch on a chocolate chip cookie.
Maybe I’ll go—see how the kid’s doing.
And maybe I’ll start to weed Jeanie’s flowerbeds, too.
Thank you so much for reading “Porch” and for being a subscriber here at Along the Hudson. I’m humbled to have you here!
The inspiration for this piece came about two weeks ago when I was out for an evening bike ride. I had taken a different route while exploring the countryside. While cruising down a hill, I heard some blues blasting through the woods. I eventually passed a house with a detached, single-stall garage. An elderly gentleman was sitting alone beneath the awning, sipping on something, a somber expression on his face. We nodded at one another as I zipped by. I knew at that moment I needed to write his story.
The main question that nagged me the whole ride home: why the hell wasn’t he sitting on his front porch?
He’ll never read this story, but this one’s for him.
Thanks again for reading. As always, I’d love to hear your feedback. Please feel free to share “Porch” with a fellow fiction reader.
On a separate note, there will be a “pop-up” fire this Friday, July 7, at 3:00 PM EST. We had a lot of new faces and returning writers for Fifties by the Fire. If you aren’t too busy, feel free to stop by to read and write some fifty-word stories. All are welcome. Bring a friend and your beverage of choice!
Have a great week, everyone, and to my friends and readers in the States, I wish you a happy Fourth of July.
Oh, and Happy Birthday, Mom!
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