Friday, November 3, 2017

Friday Fiction for November 3, 2017

It’s the first Friday Fiction in November, which means, it’s NaNoWriMo! If you don’t know about NaNo, it’s an annual writing challenge, wherein participants seek to start and complete 50,000 words of a novel within the month of November. We don’t compete against each other. We compete against the deadline, against our own doubts, and against the distractions that would pull us away from the joy of creating.

My NaNoWriMo story this year is “Blue Fish, Red Fish.” The story begins about nine years after the close of “Marta’s Pod,” following Josh and Marta’s son as he heads off to public high school in small town, Texas. This story has been mulling about in my mind since I first mentioned this period in Marcel Cardan’s life in another story, and I decided it was time to finally write it.

We’re still running a slow start on Friday Fiction, but feel free to participate if you have a fiction piece you’d enjoy sharing. Just add your link to the Linkytool below.

Blue Fish, Red Fish

By Rick Higginson

Chapter 1

            The airliner taxied to the gate and eased to a stop. Many of the passengers immediately stood and retrieved their carry-on luggage from the overhead bins, only to wait in the jammed aisle for the door to open.

            The teen-aged boy in seat 29-E remained seated, earning him an annoyed look from the passenger in the window seat as she climbed over him to join the unmoving queue in the aisle. He gave her displeasure little thought, as he hadn’t seen her so much as crack a hint of a smile since she’d boarded the aircraft, nor extended even basic courtesies to the flight attendants or other passengers.

            As the line finally started to move, the man who had occupied the aisle seat next to him caught his eye one last time, and shot him a politician’s smile. “You think about what I told you, okay?”

            “Sure,” he replied, holding up the man’s business card. “I’ve got your number.” More important, I’ve got the number of just how big a scam your marketing scheme is, and I’m sure they don’t recruit fourteen-year-olds into the ranks, even if I wanted in on it.

            “There ya go,” the man said before heading for the exit.

            He continued to wait in his seat until the crowd thinned to allow ample room in the aisle, and only then did he rise. A tall woman gestured for him to go ahead, her smile as warm as the businessman’s had been phony.

            “Thanks, but I still need to get my bag,” he said.

            “This blue one?” she asked.


            She pulled it down and handed it to him. “Y’all go ahead. You’ve been so patient, waiting here, and I’m sure you’d rather be off’n this thing already.”

            “Thank you, though, really, I’m not in any hurry.”

            “I ain’t, either. I’ve got about five hours or so ‘till my connecting flight, so I’ve got plenty of time to kill.”

            He held the bag in front of him, making his way up the narrow aisle towards the exit. The flight crew smiled and extended the obligatory parting greetings as he turned towards the exit. The moment he entered the jetbridge, the heat and humidity of the late Texas summer hit him. As if I needed another reason to think this wasn’t such a great idea. His dark glasses slipped down his nose, and he pushed them back up with one finger.

            The air conditioned terminal was almost as much of a shock. Many of the other passengers seemed to relish the cold air, lamenting the upcoming moment when they would again step outside.

            He bypassed the baggage claim area, heading instead for the nearest area outside the security screening stations. An old man stood a short ways farther, watching the passing crowds with attentive interest. He waved to get the old man’s attention, dodging through the hurrying bodies to reach the man. “Hi Grandpa. Been waiting long?”

            His grandfather drew him into an embrace. “Not too long, really. I had some time for a cup of coffee and to read the paper. It’s good to see you, Mar- Paul.” He shook his head. “That’s gonna take some getting used to.”

            “Tell me about it.” He shifted his bag to his other shoulder. “Did my stuff reach you okay?”

            “Yeah, it got there on Tuesday. It’s still sitting in the entryway, since neither of us felt up to trying to carry it to your room.”

            “I’ll move it and get it all put away when we get there.”

            Grandpa turned and started walking. “We better get going. We got over a hundred miles of driving, once we get out of the airport traffic mess, and I’m not supposed to be driving after dark anymore.”

            Outside the terminal, the heat and humidity hit him again, and by the time they reached the car in the parking lot, he was wishing to be home again, where the sea breeze kept the days cool, and the air smelled of brine instead of jet exhaust.

            Paul slid into the passenger seat. “This is nice. I don’t think you had this the last time I visited.”

            Grandpa snorted. “I made the mistake of mentioning to your Uncle Mark that my truck needed some work. He and your mama decided we needed something new and reliable, and bought us this. It’s easier for your grandmother to get in and out of, and gets much better mileage than my truck ever did, so my early objections have kinda vanished.”

            “Where is Grandma? I thought she’d want to come out to meet me, too.”

            “She did, but she threw her back out yesterday, and when that happens, she needs to lay flat as much as possible for a few days.”

            Once they were finally away from the airport, his grandfather heaved a sigh of relief. “Well, at least that much is behind us. Are you hungry? It’s a couple of hours to home, and then it’ll be a little while ‘till dinner.”

            “Yeah. I had a late breakfast before getting on the plane, but that little bag of snacks they give you during the flight, doesn’t do much.”

            Grandpa pulled into a fast-food drive-through. “Know what you want?”

            He looked over the menu. “How about the Number 3, with coke for the drink.” He started to pull his wallet from his pocket.

            Grandpa waved him away. “Don’t worry about it. Your Dad’s sending us money to cover your expenses, and knowing him, it’s going to be more than needed. In the meantime, I can buy my grandson a hamburger and fries.”

            He ate carefully while they moved along the highway, doing his best to not drop anything on the clean car interior. When he finished, he put the trash back into the bag, and placed it between his feet on the floor. “So, how are you both liking the new place?”

            “It’s nice, so far. Rancho del Torito is just big enough to have what we need, but still small enough that it doesn’t have the big city problems. Small town problems, yeah, but not the big city ones. It’s mostly quiet at night, and folks tend to watch out for their neighbors.” He cut a quick sidelong glance towards Paul. “I was told to stress to you, though, that you need to be real careful to keep up your identity as Paul Lawton, and not let anyone know that it’s not your real name. One of the things that small towns tend to be real good at, is gossip. If someone finds out who your parents are, it won’t be long until the whole town knows it.”

            Paul grunted. “Maybe then, I could just go home.”

            “You need to think of this as home for a while.”

            “Sure, that’ll be real easy. What is it? Five hundred miles to the nearest ocean?” He stared out the window at the passing scenery. “I’ve never spent more than a couple of weeks away from the ocean before.”

            “It’s a bit under four hundred miles – I checked.”

            “Four hundred miles. I feel much better, then.”

            “You know, kiddo, if you give it a chance, you might just find that there will be things you like about living in Rancho del Torito.”

            “I might like it better if it’d been my idea and my choice. I was asked what I thought of the idea, but the decision wasn’t mine.”

            Grandpa let out a long sigh. “I know your parents discussed it with you, and explained their reasons. You need the chance to live like a normal kid for once, instead of always being the ‘Mermaid’s son.’ If you’re going to attend any kind of college or university, you also need to know what it’s like to attend a conventional school with typical classes, instead of the way Angela Williams handles things out there on the island.”

            “I like the way Mrs. Williams does her classes.”

            “I was told this was discussed before your sister was born. Your mother realized it was important for you to learn how to live like regular people, before you became so ingrained with how things are in the Pod, that you can’t function in the real world.”

            “I can function in the real world just fine.”

            Grandpa gave a wry smile. “Then you shouldn’t have any trouble proving it out here. Besides, you coming here isn’t just about you. Whether you want to admit it now or not, you did say you would be willing to come out here and help your grandmother and me with things we just can’t do as easily for ourselves these days.”

            He nodded, though the admission was reluctant. “It – just sounded easier when it was just discussed as a possibility.”

            “Don’t forget, either, the deal your Dad made with you. You graduate High School out here with reasonable grades, you’ll get your own sailboat.”

            “That’s another thing I’m going to miss. I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t go places on The Bitter Pill. I think Dad’s boat feels as much like home as the family room.” He looked at the land off the highway. “It doesn’t look like there’s much place to sail a boat around here.”

            “There are a few decent sized lakes nearby. It might not be exactly the same as ocean sailing, but I suspect the basics are the same.”

            “Not that I have a boat out here.”

            “Are you going to find something wrong with everything I suggest? Dang, I can’t believe I forgot just how negative a teen-ager can be. Did you talk that way around your Mama and Aunt Eva?”

            He chuckled. “Not very often.”

            “And you’re not thinking to yourself right now, just what they would say to this conversation?”

            As soon as Grandpa suggested it, his imagination went to the two matriarchs of the Pod. He could hear their voices in his mind, with his mother’s gentle, but unyielding, encouragement, and his aunt’s firm, no-nonsense admonitions. “Well, I was managing to avoid it, until you brought them up.”

            “You think about what they would say, and don’t give your grandmother or me any reason to call them up and bring them into any disagreements we have, and I think we’ll all get along just fine. Your mother told us to not hesitate to call if we started having any trouble with you, but I’d like to avoid that if we can.”

            “Me, too.”

            They were quiet for a while, and Grandpa turned on the car stereo. The station displayed as “Classic Rock,” which seemed like a nice way of saying, “moldy oldies.” Paul watched the Texas landscape pass by. He’d been to visit his grandparents before, when they still lived in a suburb of Dallas, but they’d never driven much outside of the city. It was one thing to look at a map and see how big Texas appeared, compared to the other lower forty-eight states. It was another to speed along a highway, and realize for the first time, they could drive at this speed for hours and hours, and still not leave Texas.

            He finally broke the silence. “Why did you and Grandma move to Texas, anyway? Didn’t you two live on the east coast before?”

            “We had a couple of reasons. One was the weather. The winters here don’t get quite as cold, which makes them easier on our arthritis, and two, the cost of living out here is lower than what we were paying before. Our retirement account stretches a lot farther here.”

            “Not that Mom and Dad would ever let you two go without.”

            “When we first moved to Texas, we didn’t know about your Mom.”

            “It’s hard for me to remember when the Pod was still secret. I vaguely remember when the secret broke, but I wonder sometimes if I’m actually remembering it, or if I think I remember it because I’ve heard the story so many times.”

            “Well, I remember it pretty clearly. Finding out you have a daughter you never knew about is pretty significant. Finding out that daughter is a mermaid? Mermaids have been real to you for your whole life, but for the rest of us, they were the stuff of fantasy and mythology up until ten years ago.”

            Grandpa steered the car down the off-ramp. “Back roads from here on out.”

            They rolled between cultivated fields and expanses of wild trees, far removed from the dense neighborhoods of the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolis. The air smelled different from either the urban areas or the island, and he wondered how long it would take for him to acclimate to the point of not noticing any longer.

            A few miles and a couple of turns later, they passed the sign marking the town limits for Rancho del Torito. Large, generously spaced houses lined the main street. At the third side street from the town limits, Grandpa turned right, drove three short blocks, and turned left. At the second house from the corner, he steered into the driveway, hit a button on the overhead console, and then waited while the garage door opened. “We looked at a nice two-story house here in town, but decided stairs might not be the best with our arthritis. Plus, if Mark comes out to visit, a single story will work better for him, too.” He parked in the garage, pushed the button again to close the door, and shut off the engine. “Though I might have been better not bothering to park in the garage yet. Unless your grandmother’s back is feeling a lot better than when I left, I’ll probably need to go get all of us some dinner somewhere.”

            Paul opened his door. “If you have food in the fridge, I can cook dinner.”

            Grandpa stopped halfway out of the car to look at him. “You can cook?”

            “Skip has been teaching me. I started hanging out in the kitchen to listen to his Navy stories, and started asking questions about what he was doing. He figured if I was going to spend so much time there anyway, I might as well learn a useful skill.”

            “So you like cooking?”

            He shrugged. “I like eating, and I gotta admit, it is kinda cool to actually cook something yourself and have it turn out great.”

            “Well, then, we’ll see how Grandma is feeling, and then see what’s available, and if it’s something you know how to cook.”

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