(Mt. Idaho in Heming-by-the-way country)
Good Evening, my illuminating Literati!
Best guess is we have had sixty entries for The First Annual Peggy Dobbs Write-of-Passage Contest. Many of the submissions are from those among us who had the pleasure of Peggy’s love and good nature on our website (has she really left us?)
But some entries are from people who know Peggy only by the legend this contest helps perpetuate. Our site, which Peggy dobbed–oops!–DUBBED– “our playground”, is really a place where new and used writers can share and develop their talents. So now I get to introduce a talent that I do hope sticks around. Elizabeth Sloan.
Back in July when I had first arrived, I was house hunting, and Elizabeth had an amazing house for sale where I poked in the closets and kicked the tires. Too soon for me to buy a house here (buy more The Boy with a Torn Hat, please!). But I explained that the towers that are A Word with You Press were about to resurrect in downtown Moscow, and I gave Elizabeth my card.
Last week I got this contest submission, and discover that she has completed a riveting historical novel that just may end up published by AWwYP.
This contest entry in under a thousand words demonstrates the gal has got talent. And it hints at the potential of Idaho, amazingly a state with much untouched wilderness. How I wish I could give you all a sense of this place, Hemingway country. Welcome to “our playground,” Elizabeth. (For those of you helping with the countdown, this is number 6 of 24 in our marathon posting)
On Mt Idaho Road
by Elizabeth Sloan
Some couples buy a new house, remodel the one they live in, or have a baby, as a subconscious effort to keep a marriage going. On Henry and Alice’s fifth anniversary, they bought two puppies. It was, looking back, a gesture to say, “Yes, we are still in this together; there is a future.”
Alice’s parents, Elinor and Chuck, traveled 1500 miles for a visit. Oh sure, they wanted to encourage their daughter and her husband to celebrate, perhaps get a feel for how things were going, have some relaxing time on the edge of Idaho wilderness where Alice and Henry had decided to share their artful lives together, but mostly they were eager to see Callie, their 2-year-old granddaughter.
Henry and Alice had talked about getting a dog, to grow up with Callie; to keep her safe, scare off cougar and coyote that sometimes passed through their corral at night; to be her Lassie. A pile of wriggling puppies in a box in the park was all it took. Alice made one look into the golden wolfish eyes of a male, and that was it. HE was going home with her. There was a sister they could take too, and just like that, their family practically doubled in five minutes’ time, joined now by two Shepherd Rottweiler mix pups, and just as quickly they were named: Satchmo and Billie.
Perhaps the whimpering of the pups that first night away from their pack entered Alice’s sleeping mind. The following morning she told her mother about a dream she’d had.
“I was stranded on a small spit of land in the middle of swirling water and tumbling river rocks. I could see Henry standing on the shore, just watching me, not moving to help. Suddenly Satchmo ran to the water and he leapt in, trying to reach me. And Henry still just stood there, watching.”
“Oh honey. It was a dream.”
“I know, I know! But still, Momma, I think it means something. Maybe it really is too late for us. Maybe dogs are a bad idea after all.”
“Now, dear. In spite of my earlier admonition, I do see how these two pups will be ideal companions for Callie. Please, don’t give up. I swear, it’s not too late. Life would be even harder if you had to go it on your own. Just hang in there.”
“Yes, Mother. As always, I suppose you’re right. Now, we’ve got an army to feed this morning. We better get going.”
* * * * *
The dogs were three when Alice and Callie moved to town, reluctantly leaving Satch and Billie in the country with Henry. Not long after, Henry took off for a few weeks and said he’d found a place for them to stay.
Satchmo didn’t make it through the month.
The sky was blue, streaked with jet contrails, but still, the roads were ice and snow-packed. Alice had to turn the jeep around and go back, searching, for she’d seen nothing the first time she drove past the place where he’d been hit; was it really just yesterday? There! Yes, a large splay of blood mixed into the gravel, and a skiff of red where his still warm body had either slid, or was dragged of the road and onto the snow bank in the ditch.
“I will be able to find this place easily, if I want, any time of year,” Alice thought.
On one side, the side where Satch was hit, a row of fence posts rose up over the field and met another row of fence posts, in perpendicular fashion, at the exact spot. On the other side was a driveway of sorts, the one Alice had pulled into, that once led to a thriving chicken farm. Thankfully, mercifully, Satchmo’s body was not still there.
“The life of every living creature is in the blood,” thought Alice.
“We do not often witness fresh blood of those we love,” she heard her voice hover in the icy air.
Except, she thought, in moments of trust, or intimacy: a loose tooth, childbirth, injury, death. And, in the case of death, it often comes from vulnerable places deep beneath layers of bone, muscle, skin, fur. Places we would wish never to know about, in such a personal, final way.
She crossed the road, stepping lightly on the stain of highway blood, until she was in the snow bank, on her knees, next to the imprint that Satchmo’s body left. Alice gently poked her finger into the red snow, curious. It seemed so fresh, as if just moments ago Satch’s blood had pulsed from the wound, the artery, the heart.
And then a little deeper. She was thinking it would be only on the surface, it would filter out, thin down, end. But it did not. Blood kept filling the space in the snow until Alice scooped out a handful, seeking its depth.
She remembered when Henry once walked into Callie’s room. It was strewn with toys, dolls, puzzles, dress-up clothes.
“How do you find anything in here, Callie?” he had asked.
“I just dig. I dig, just like a dog,” Callie instantly chirped.
And suddenly Alice was digging, digging just like a dog, into the icy red snow. She did not mind at all the cold ache she felt in her bones. She was weeping, yes, scooping and digging until finally she reached the limp winter grass buried at earth level.
But still, the flow did not end. It reached down, even into the frozen dirt. Her hands dripped with snow-blood; a hawk appeared, floating low. Alice raised a dome of crimson crystals in her cupped hands, giving thanks for the joy this dog had given.
When she drove back to town, back over the red stain on the road, magpies flew up and scattered, already having located this place of death.
All morning her hands smelled of iron, of blood.