Introduction. There is a story behind every story. Here is the story behind this one, though there isn't that much to it. In early November, 2013, I attended my first meeting of a writers group in the hometown I had recently returned to after 30 years living away. The assignment (voluntary) provided for the next meeting as an impetus for getting the creative energies to flow was to write about anything "seasonal" (meaning the general time around the traditional Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday period, which of course on the calendar means something roughly from mid-November to early January, and which in the Twilight Zone of retail stores means approximately July to the next May).
I wondered if I would write anything. I wanted to. I needed to. But that sometimes doesn't mean much, especially if one is distracted by a recent heart-break, caught in the Fun House of Crazy Mirrors that has been my search for employment in my new-old hometown, and wondering how come when Dorothy left Kansas she ended up in OZ and when I left Kansas I ended up here (and where the hell are my ruby slippers anyway, cuz I sure have wanted to go back a few times).
Distractions aside, one night while driving from one side of town to the other, on a lonely ribbon of country road (beautiful Haywood Valley Road in Floyd County, Georgia, to be precise), suddenly this split-second image flashed through my mind of this grizzled older man catching a glimpse of himself in a bathroom mirror. Then he started talking to the man in the mirror (himself? me?) and he basically hasn't shut up since. One result of that beginning is this short scene - not really a story yet, even though I like these characters enough, and know enough of the backstory to easily see them populating other scenes or stories at some point. I'd like to know what you think, of course.
If you end up liking this, and are interested, you are also welcome to read a story I wrote in January, 2013, shortly after my grandmother ("Nanny") passed away, called "The Visit".
I hope you enjoy "The Phone Call". Love and peace to all who may one day read these words.
December 11, 2013
He was just about to exit the bathroom. Reaching for the light switch, he was arrested by a glimpse of some stranger in the mirror. Turning full-on so he could discern the stranger more clearly, the hand that had been originally headed for the light switch instead floated slowly up to stroke the stubble on his chin that meant nearly a week since he last shaved.
How long had it been since he had really looked at himself? He looked a lot older than he remembered, older than it seemed he should; his eyes held the same spark of youth they always had, but the rest of him looked like it was on its way to the recycle bin on the next pickup day. He smiled at this thought. At least he could still crack himself up.
The slight smile from the stranger in the mirror softened some of the edges on his face. He considered shaving for a second, then dismissed the thought with a grunt.
“Ain't like there's a lotta folks standin' in line outside the door that give a care whether I shave or not, and you don't mind do ya, Rip?”
In response, Ripley thumped his tail on the wooden floor sitting in his regular waiting spot across from the door's threshhold. It was the truth: he didn't much mind.
Ripley's name was technically “Ripley Believe It Or Not”, but most of the time, he was just “Ripley” or “Rip”. He was as beat up in dog-years as the man felt in people-years. He had been thrown out of the back of a moving pickup by some kids out for a post-binge drunken joyride a few years back on the road that ran in front of the man's house. And he had just stuck around because he had no other place to go – mostly the same reason the man stuck around.
The man named him “Ripley Believe It Or Not” as a private joke, because years ago, when he still had friends to drink with, one of them had told him, “Doc, your last name oughta be 'Believe-It-Or-Not', I swear,” because every time he told a story he started it off with “Believe it or not . . .”. It was his version of “once-upon-a-time”. And so, after the friends were all gone – when there was no one else to share the laugh because they knew the reason - he decided to call his beat-up dog “Ripley Believe It Or Not”.
Lauren had torn into the box looking for a recipe for a pie that had been her mother's. So soon after her mother's death, everything she had salvaged from her mother's house after the funeral was still scattered randomly all over the tiny apartment like pieces of her shattered heart.
She had hoped that finding that recipe and making a pie just like her mom used to do would help it feel more like Thanksgiving. And so, on this day before Thanksgiving, she sat on the floor looking through boxes of her mother's things and crying.
Then she found the picture – she didn't remember seeing it before – stuffed in an envelope that was among the things her mother had considered most important. It was the only picture her mother had had of them all together – Lauren, her mother, and the man her mom had said was her father. Lauren had been a few months old according to the date on back of the picture, where she also found the man's name – her father's name.
Her mother had told her about her father when she was a teenager because, as her mother had said, “Well, you just won't shut up about it will ya? I'll either have to tellya or put a gun to my head I reckon,” and she had laughed. And just now, the sound of her mother's laughter from so long ago running through her riven mind made her smile, even as fresh tears came, and she hugged that picture to herself, and gently rocked back and forth on the gentle-cruel-soft-harsh surf of memory.
So, finally, her mother had told her the truth: the man she had loved, the man she said was Lauren's father, had been married to another woman (ironically, she had said, a woman who couldn't have children – and back in those days, there wasn't a whole lot you could do about that kind of thing, she'd said). That man's wife had been paralyzed in a car accident, and he refused to leave her even when Lauren was on the way.
Her mother hadn't told her much more except that they had both done the best they could with the cards they had dealt themselves in a time and place less friendly to human foibles.
Also inside the envelope with the picture was a small scrap of newspaper with her mother's writing scrawled across the white spaces on the margins. “Padgett William Murdoch III” it began on the first line. And an address and phone number.
Her father. She wondered if he were still alive, if he would still be at the same place. Have the same number. She wondered.
Then she called the number.
Padgett William Murdoch III hung up the phone. He almost didn't believe it himself.
“Ripley Believe It Or Not, I'm gonna shave tomorrow. And for a woman I don't even know, too, even though she's my own girl, at least according to our blood. Been invited to Thanksgiving. Wonder what kind'a tale that'll end up bein'? Oh, and don't worry, Rip - I'll bring you somethin' back.”
Ripley didn't stir from his spot beside the old creaky chair except to thump his tail against the floor in reply.