Nov. 5, 2015
Congratulations to Claire Gebben, our “Whidbey Writes” featured writer for November. We’re pleased to be able to share her work of short fiction with you.
Whidbey Writes is a collaboration between the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts (NILA) and Whidbey Life Magazine (WLM). Its purpose is to give WLM readers an opportunity to enjoy short fiction and poetry by writers who have a connection to Whidbey Island.
We look forward to publishing the original work of selected winners at the beginning of each month as part of Whidbey Writes. NILA and WLM congratulate Claire and thank volunteer editors Heather Anderson, Mureall Hebert and Chris Spencer, who review submissions on solstices and equinoxes and pass on the work they enjoy most to Whidbey Life Magazine for publication online and in print.
By Claire Gebben
They weren’t ahead of the curve, but they weren’t behind it, either. Dominick and Agnes retired on schedule, booking their ocean cruise, something that seemed expected, if not required. As far as Dominick and Agnes could tell, anyone who could afford to did the same.
Agnes had been annoyingly mournful as they locked up the house, her eyes misting over as she stood on the apron of lawn in front of their white clapboard home.
“Good-bye, little house. If we could stay, we would,” she said in sorrowful tones. She stood a while longer, watching the swallows flit in and out of the garage eaves. “Little birds, whatever will you do?”
Dominick felt like honking the horn to give them one last startle. All those bird droppings and the repeated nests. He couldn’t permit sentiment. Every creature had to adapt, or perish.
Even this far north, they could no longer escape the flood. Dominick said not one word of reproach to Agnes, enduring her tears as they drove past the patchwork of asphalt parking lots and neon business signs, the billboards that carved rectangles in the sun-blazed sky.
By Dominick’s reckoning, this end-of-life cruise had been steering toward them for decades. Long ago, he’d given up the notion he could choose. Nonetheless, he’d counted on retiring in style. He’d lived modestly all these years, determined to save up against future misfortunes, proud of what he’d sacrificed for both of them.
So it hurt Dominick, it really did, how, on their first night at sea, the ship plowing toward deeper waters, Agnes stood at the entrance to the casino, pocketbook in hand. He tugged on her arm to get her attention. She shrugged him off. He begged her to join him in their cramped cabin berth, smaller than he’d imagined, but not all that claustrophobic. Agnes acted as if he hadn’t spoken, her eyes peering into the dimly lit rooms toward the glowing slots.
Dominick entered the casino with Agnes. His presence, he could tell, meant nothing to her, but still. For an hour or so, he watched the strawberries, bells, and lucky 7’s rattle by. Agnes gambled like a woman gone mad. Eventually, Dominick fled the casino to pace the upper deck in one complete circuit, then another. Pausing at the stern’s railing, melancholy and alone, Dominick tipped his head skyward at the dome of night. Stars bubbled across it like spilled champagne.
Much later, just before night turned to day, Agnes entered their room and collapsed across the narrow berth. Dominick held his breath, his head and stomach stirring with nausea as the room rose and fell.
“Why, Agnes?” he said.
“We gambled and lost,” she said in a tired, flat voice. Moments later, her breath whispered in and out of a deep sleep.
Dominick got up, dressed, and climbed back on deck to watch the dawn. Their ship had reached the last of the glaciers by now, a destination just like before, so for all appearances it could have been a cruise of old, out on a holiday. Blue-gray snow calved into the saltwater depths, pushing wave after wave toward their ocean liner.
Dominick pictured their house, the water by now lapping ever so gently through the front door. Far below him in the ocean waves, a sea lion poked out its head and stared up at him with black, glistening eyes.
Claire Gebben holds an MFA in Creative Writing through the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. Her historical novel “The Last of the Blacksmiths” (Coffeetown Press, 2014) tells the moving story of a German immigrant blacksmith who pursues the American dream. More at http://clairegebben.com.
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