The Great Gatsby” last line.
It always starts out easy because we aren’t paying attention to the currents, the winds, the tides, the phase of the moon. We are filled with the horizon and confident.
There are the whispers around the church as Hugo watches his serious little bride come down the aisle. With his father long gone and his mother fiercely facing down the gossips, Hugo serenely surveys the horizon and sees only a way out.
Miriam turns out to be a faulty escape vehicle, being pregnant more often than not. Hugo contemplates moving her and their growing family away to the city. He works as a clerk in the shipping office, work that he could certainly find in the city. But then the baby is born and they manage to cram the crib into the nook under the stairs and dinner is burned again. Hugo takes up with the church choir director’s daughter and Miriam is given a respite, but when that young lady begins making demands, it is finally time to make their move and it is off to the city with them all.
The city obscures all horizons and Hugo becomes confused. He does find work. He also puts Miriam in the other of the two bedrooms in their flat with the four daughters. Five children are enough. Then there are four as the first of the cholera epidemics sweep the city. Then three. Miriam, terrified and enraged, flees with their son and two remaining daughters. Alone, Hugo struggles to find his horizon and decides it lies across the continent. He buys his ticket, sells everything and sets out west.
We have read this story, seen this movie, heard this song. Bearing the brunt of foolish decisions children grow up to repeat the mistakes of their fathers. Does Hugo find his horizon? Do his children? Will you?
An old man sits by a window, looking out at a dirt road. No one has come down the road in weeks but he watches every day. This road runs out to the hard top which runs down to the main road which runs to the city which sits on the edge of the continent by the sea. Hugo lived in that city for many years. One of his children found him there and they had a meal together. Questions, questions. Back and forth. Miriam never remarried. The other two of Hugo’s children have done well for themselves and never ask about him. This son, this curious and hungry son seems to think he has found something, sitting across the table from the unknown father who is gazing past him.
The son did not find his answers with Hugo or with this city by the sea and has been gone many years. He sent one or two letters but that was all. Hugo found his son’s name on a novel and then another in the corner bookstore on rare visits back to the city. He leafed through, saw enough, bought it and deliberately left it on a bus. Twice. He sees dust rising behind an approaching car out on the dirt road. He sets aside his newspaper, ready for his horizon to come to him. The grimy old Studebaker never slows and rattles past, leaving the dust to slowly settle. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Published December 2016 as part of the “Two Stories Up!” Series (2016–2017).
Two Stories Up! was an ongoing project that had Tammy Remington and AleXander Hirka (The Anomalous Duo) each composing a new (extremely short) short story every two months which was then sent via postal mail to interested readers.