March 4, 2015
Congratulations to Patricia Brooks, the third writer featured in Whidbey Writes. 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 congratulates Patricia and thanks 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.
True to Life
By Patricia Brooks
In the descending dusk, the tour bus lies broken against a sheer cliff, split into near- perfect halves by a boulder that seemed to drop straight from the sky. Now, some twenty minutes later, the initial tumult has stilled to an unnatural hush, the bodies of passengers strewn along the roadside like the contents of a spilled basket at an interrupted picnic.
Many lie motionless, their postures and expressions registering a kind of blank surprise. The rest huddle beside their belongings, hunched low as though not to incur more of Fate’s wrath. Some stare back down the road, from which help must surely come soon. No one looks anymore at the other passengers, living or dead.
It is a small slumped woman, her blue-white hair in disarray, bent sideways over one of the still forms.
“Please, anyone? A camera? His is gone. It was in the bag by his feet, and now…” Her hands flutter over the old man’s body like a mother bird hovering above the frail hatchlings in her nest.
“What the hell you want a camera for?”
The large black woman is on the shoulder of the road above, leaning against the trunk of a sapling bent by the wind. It doesn’t look strong enough to bear her weight. One of her white sandals is missing, the black sock on that foot crumpled to a raw ankle.
The old woman trembles as though from cold in the still, overheated air. Her pale blue eyes skim the mounds around her, resting on none. “He would want to see this,” she says. “All our vacations, he always brings his camera, and that bag full of film.”
She turns to look up at the face of the cliff, above the carcass of the fallen bus. “He would definitely want that,” she says. “He takes everything important. Slides, not prints; he says they’re sharper, more true to life. Then he watches them all by himself. In the family room. With the lights off.”
She tilts her head back, frowns at the darkening sky. A voice comes out deeper: “We’re losing the light.”
“Please?” she says again.
The large woman pushes away from the sapling and descends the slope toward her. The older woman’s head jerks to attention with the anxious expression of a small dog uncertain whether to expect a treat or a slap.
As she comes, the black woman is hauling from across her chest the strap of a large red leather purse, from which she draws a small pouch.
Tentatively, the old woman’s hand lifts to accept it from the wide outstretched palm. She unzips the pouch and examines the silver object inside. “This must be one of those digital things. I wonder how…”
The larger woman reaches for it, but the old one clasps it to her chest. “No, I need it.”
“Give it here,” the woman says and takes it, presses a button that makes the front grow out like an accordion, then gives it back and wanders off, her gaze unfocused.
The wide screen is lit now, and everything in it is sharp and clear. But the old woman looks again at the sky. Is it too dark? Has she waited too long?
“Just do it!” orders the deep bass from her throat.
She nods and quickly bends and swivels sideways, watching the screen as the ground travels emptily across it. Until the body is right there.
She jerks backwards, dropping the camera, her hands flown to her mouth. Her lips form a single word, but no sound comes out.
It is several moments before her fingers slow from shaking to trembling and she again picks up the camera. She leans to gently brush the dust from the man’s old army-tan shirt, straightens it a little on his narrow chest.
“There,” she whispers, and lifts the camera again to her eye.
Click on the body. “Okay. Okay now.” Click. Click.
She rotates her shoulders in a slow circle toward each of the other still forms. “See? See how many?” Click. Click. Click. Click.
At the broken bus. Click.
The huge hole above it where the boulder had been. Click. “It’s okay now,” she murmurs. “See?”
Patricia Brooks lives in Coupeville and is the author of two published novels (Dell) and short fiction and poetry in a variety of literary journals, print and online, including Whirlwind, Narrative Northeast, The Voices Project, New Verse News, and The Great American Literary Magazine. The last two may still be online with her work, the former the poem To James Baldwin from a Wearying Poet, the latter a satire on violence in our beloved culture titled Tuesdays at the Happy Family Restaurant. She is now at work 24/7 completing an historical novel in which she has already invested 11 years and counting. She is now looking for a publisher for this novel.
Photo at the top is courtesy of the writer.
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