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Adult Writing Contest 2012

Fiction 1st Place: The Dance at Bougival by Jack Fay

The Dance at Bougival by Jack Fay

 

 

Marcus Wellman burst through my office door at 6 PM on Saturday. He was waving his arms and jumping from foot to foot in a demonstration of despair.

Marcus had been sent to me three years ago by his mother, the grand-daughter of Victor Wellman, the last textile baron of Lowell, Massachusetts. In early teens Marcus began developing an unbridled infatuation for the works of French impressionist painters. Today, at the age of 25, the infatuation is an acute emotional fixation, which in my line of business falls into the category of personality disorder. My patient is not dangerous, either to the public, to his mother or to himself. He does not harangue, pester or bother anyone. His every thought is internalized and except for yes, no, hello and good-bye, he talks to just one person—me.

In physical appearance Marcus is quite unremarkable except for one distinguishing characteristic. His nose is long and shaped like a cucumber, an affliction that in part accounts for the personality disorder. Other than the strange configuration of his nose, his overall appearance can be stated in a single word; “average.” Marcus is not handsome and yet not objectionable despite the nose. He is not tall yet not short; not heavy yet not thin. I have always regarded a person of this appearance to be invisible, like the man you pass on the sidewalk and five seconds later cannot recall having seen him.

After losing interest in studies at Harvard, Marcus took an apartment in a condominium on Huntington Avenue, one block from the Boston Museum of Art. From opening time to closing time, Tuesday through Sunday, Marcus is in the museum sitting on a marble bench in the broad, high-ceilinged room whose walls are graced by the creations of Monet, Renoir, de Toulouse Lautrec, Degas, Pissarro and other standouts of Impressionism. Wall lamps above each painting cast a glow that falls to the highly polished marble floor, imparting to the visitor an ethereal aura.

My office is on Newbury Street, not far from Fenway Park. It is my practice on Saturday afternoons to review and lock away notes and patient files. At 6:30 PM I leave for Jimmy’s Harborside where I meet my wife so that together we can enjoy the finest seafood in all of New England.

As I said, Marcus burst through my door at 6 PM, uninvited. I ushered him to the plush leather armchair reserved for patients and asked him to tell me what was going on. He gave a violent slap to his knee and uttered a single word, “Eloise.”

“Please calm down, Marcus. Who is Eloise?”

“She lives in a painting at the museum.” I lifted my eyebrows and waited for him to continue. “The Dance at Bougival, by Renoir. Eloise is dancing with a stranger, a bearded man in a yellow hat. I told her not to dance with him. He will hurt her.”

“You spoke into the painting?”

“No, I spoke to her after she came out of the painting.”

“She came out of the painting?”

“Yes. She pulled away from the bearded man and flew out of the frame and stood in front of me. I held her by the shoulders and warned her but she smiled and said I should not worry. I pleaded with her, ‘Don’t go back, Eloise. You will be in danger. Stay here with me. I will take care of you.’”

Psychiatrists are used to hearing strange things but this was different and I needed to hear more. “What happened next?”

“Eloise went back. Back into the painting. The bearded man is holding her again, leaning into her face, trying to kiss her. She is avoiding his kiss but for how long can she keep him at bay?”

I tapped the eraser of a pencil against my front teeth before saying, “Marcus, I want you to go back to your apartment, have something to eat, take a shower and relax. Tomorrow pay a visit to your mother. She will be glad to see you. Your regular appointment with me is at four on Monday. We can talk then.”

If it could be said that Marcus had been agitated on Saturday, he was frantic on Monday. His eyes were bulging out of their sockets, spittle ran from the sides of his mouth and his hair was a riot of tangles. The only feature of his face not changed was his cucumber-like nose. His first words were, “She won’t listen to me.”

“You met her again?”

“Do you think I would not? What do you take me for?”

I dared not tell him I thought he was looney-tunes, a remark totally inappropriate for a psychiatrist. Marcus was entitled to vent and my role was to encourage it--to help him let it all hang out, so to speak. So I said, “Please, go on.”

My patient composed himself and continued. “Yesterday I thought I had Eloise convinced. She saw the trepidation in my face and consoled me. She held my hands, and smiled like only she can smile.” Marcus quickly leaned forward. “Doctor, you must see her one day. You will understand why I so desperately love her.” He leaned back, drew in a breath and said, “I was sure that she would push herself away from the bearded stranger. To reject him for the cad that he is! But she did not. She went back into his arms. What am I to do?”

I ignored the question because it is the role of the psychiatrist to ask questions, not answer them. A genuinely skilled psychiatrist, as I am known to be, should help the patient discover the proper course of action. I gave Marcus an appropriate answer to his question: “What do you think you should do?”

“For God’s sake, you’re the doctor. You’re the one who is supposed to have all the answers.”

This was the first time Marcus had treated me rudely. I forgave him because he was under great pressure. I did not respond to his outburst and waited for him to continue.

“There is one thing I have not told you, doctor. I am running out of time.”

“What do you mean?”

“The Dance at Bougival is in a traveling exhibition. Next Saturday morning the exhibition moves to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. The painting will be packed in a box and loaded into a truck. Eloise will be alone, in the dark, with the bearded stranger. That will be the perfect time for him to violate her.”

I knew Marcus would ignore my counsel but I gave it anyway. “You need to decelerate, Marcus. Slow down. Think of something else. Think of…” I had to stop. He was not capable of thought that existed outside the boundaries of French Impressionism. The sentence went unfinished because Marcus rose from the leather armchair and trudged out of the office with his chin on his chest.

The next day was Tuesday. I called Marcus at his apartment. No answer. On Wednesday I called again. When he didn’t answer I called his mother. She said she had not heard from him in over a month, which was not unusual. On Thursday I called him. Again no answer, so I went to the condo where he lived. The concierge told me she had not seen him in several days and mail was in a pile outside his apartment door. She told me, “Feel free to check for if you like.” So I did; there was no answer. On Friday afternoon I went to the museum to look for Marcus.

A security officer in the museum lobby pointed me in the direction of the great hall where I expected to find Marcus on a marble bench staring at The Dance at Bougival. The bench was empty. I stood before the painting and looked at it up close because I was most curious about Eloise, the girl Marcus had fallen in love with. Yes, she was indeed beautiful. A young, coquettish face turned to one side, a red bonnet tied beneath her chin, a flowing white dress cinched at the waist with a ribbon that matched her bonnet. The man dancing with Eloise wore a yellow hat—but strange—he was beardless. Marcus had called him the stranger with the beard. But the man had no beard. I moved an inch closer to the painting to see the man’s face. It was partially hidden beneath the brim of the yellow hat but I was able to see one curious facial feature. The man had a nose that looked like a cucumber.

Fiction 2nd Place: Buck by Jack Fay

Buck by Jack Fay

 

 

Everything changed the day Daddy left us and went off with Tillie Dugan, the one that worked down at the Purina Feed Store. Grampa took us in right quick, and that’s when Mama’s bitterness began spilling out, never stoppin’ ‘til we put her in the ground back o’ the barn. Pretty soon Mary, sweet, sweet Mary, went away too. Topeka, some say, but I say Californy. That little sister of mine loved them movie stars. Her bedroom walls are filled with pitchers of Rock Hudson and Doris Day, and on the stand next to her bed is a record player that still works. A white teddy bear with a red ribbon ‘round the neck is sittin’ on her pillow. Been there since the day she left, more‘n twenty years ago.

It’s Mary I come back for onc’t a year, always on the day she left. I shouldda knew she’d leave. No future around here for a girl not yet twenty. Broke my heart when she left. But she’ll be back. I know she will. She’ll come back and find me workin’ this field, just like I was workin’ it the day she went away. Right now I can see it happenin’, see her in the driveway gettin’ outta one of them big cars. Cute as a butter bean, she’ll be, and next to her will be a passel o’ kids. Behind her will be a man holdin’ his hat in front of him, not knowin’ what to say.

Buck Pickens went back to work kicking the blunted blade of an old spade into brick-hard ground. A faded blue bandanna tied loosely around his neck was drenched with sweat, his trucker’s shirt was soaked down the back and denim overalls were stuck to his legs. For a man pushing fifty, Buck was in fine shape. Wrestling furniture into and out of trucks for close to thirty years kept his stomach flat and his arms corded like heavy rope.

Buck was digging a furrow that didn’t need to be dug. There’d be no planting in the furrow and no harvesting from it. It was stretching to half the length of a football field when the sun began to slide behind oak trees at the far end of the field. Buck did not want to quit but it was time. He ran the back of his hand across his brow and snapped sweat to the ground at his feet. He slung the handle of the spade onto his shoulder and walked toward the barn and the house. A hulk of rusted metal that used to be a John Deere tilted sadly among weeds on one side of the barn. On the other side of the barn and forward of it was Buck’s childhood home, once a handsome house with four columns in front and marble floors throughout. But now it was a sagging structure desperately in need of help. Half of the roof of the front porch had fallen in, shutters were hanging crookedly from windows, and the siding was split and rotten. Like last year, and years before that, Buck promised he’d come back and patch things up.

He hung the spade on two nails driven into a supporting beam inside the barn. He slipped off rubber boots and replaced them with Acme ropers. After swinging the barn doors closed he tied them shut with baling wire. He washed his hands and face with rainwater from a trough.

His ten-year-old Ford 150 was waiting for him off the side of the dirt driveway. He had left plenty of room for a large car to park and for Mary and her children and her husband to greet him. But on this day the large car did not pull up. Next year, Buck prayed.

Ten yards behind the barn was a waist-high wrought iron fence that formed a square with one open end. Buck rolled his trucker shirt sleeves down to his wrists and pushed the buttons into place. He ran both hands across the sides and top of his head. The land sloped behind the barn, so as Buck walked to the iron fence he dug his boot heels into the ground. He stepped into the open end of the fence and stopped. He templed his hands against his chest and bowed his head. A small tombstone tilted back from the hard scrabble. He said to it, “I’m leavin’ now, Mama. I’ll be back next year.”

Buck took a step to the right. Tears filled his eyes and a choke rose in his throat. A second tombstone was at his feet. The name on it said, “Mary Pickens, Beloved Sister.” 

Non-Fiction 2nd Place: Marble, Our Giant by Juanita T. Wilkie

Marble, Our Giant by Juanita T. Wilkie

 

Have you ever wondered what a giant is like?  Is it tall, thin, or just a spreading image?  Our giant in Jasper and Pickens County is marble and it spreads out through the whole area.  Before I tell you about it, let me tell you about our beautiful North Georgia Mountains that mean so much to me.

         The most beautiful place in the world is these mountains.  Their peaks are magnificent with the huge oak, pine, and maple trees spreading their branches to a calm, blue, sun drenched sky.  My heart never fails to skip a beat as I look with awe out over the vastness, watching the smoky haze floating above them.  How amazed the Indians must have been when they arrived here so many years ago.

      My favorite time of year is the fall season.  I love it.  I thrill to the sights and sounds of it as it settles over my land and my home.  No other season can match it for the beauty it bestows as the leaves gently change color and form rainbows as they burst forth.

  Tourists love this area also because lines of cars begin to form across the mountains, creeping and then drawing to a complete stop at the edge of the deep wooded ravines.  Picnic lunches appear as if from nowhere as people enjoy the sights and scenes.  Then suddenly as if by magic they remember why they have come and they make their journey on to Jasper for the Marble Festival.  It is a wonderful event and people have a great time. 

   Marble is our giant here and can be seen from almost any area.  One place that draws a lot of attention is the Cove Road area.  Marble formed for thousands of years is hidden deep within the mountains and huge cave openings can be seen from the curving road.  I am always happy to find an excuse to go that way so that I can enjoy the glorious scenery.

    Marble has always played a very important part in my life and in the life of every person in Pickens County.  It was for many years the life’s blood of our area.  My father worked for the company and I received a very important history lesson in listening to him talk about his work.  By cutting and shaping stone he came to know it in many respects.

     As I look around my home, I can see signs of the giant in almost every room.  My pink marble clock was carved by V.T, my uncle.  He was a stone cutter for many years.  As a visitor admires my marble ashtray I can see my uncle, W.H., as he presented it to me so many years ago.  With their deaths the mill lost dear and trusted friends.

    When I stop and sit on my porch and look out into my flower garden I can see two marble benches given to my husband by his grandfather.  Much work and pride went into these amazing items.  Sometimes as I travel down a long lonesome road, alone with my thoughts, the giant suddenly appears.  A cemetery by the side of the road will have many monuments of the stone to look at. Then I drive on and the Tate House comes into view with its amazing beauty and mystery.  I pass houses with marble items in the yard and feel that so many years have gone by.

   After some thought, I decide to drive back to Jasper.  There in all its glory is our courthouse with its gleaming marble front.  The years have been good to it and I know it will be there for a long time, maybe growing a little dimmer, but always there.

    I decide to make one more journey.  I go to Tate and Nelson to take a look at the marble mills.  They still stand as a monument to other places and other times, great to look upon as the memories come flooding back.  I can see my dad, uncles, and friends; I can even hear their laughter as they start to work.  They have all gone on to be with the Lord and they are greatly missed.

      Before my journey came to an end, I had to make one more trip.  Sunday morning dawned clear and sunny and it was set to be a beautiful day.  I arrived at my church early and looked out across the cemetery and I saw so many monuments shining in the sun.  As I looked something white caught my eye.  It was a piece of marble with the date on it when the church was founded.  What a joy to see it.  So you see marble will always be with us.  The years may go by; flowing softly in time, but the giant is here to stay. 

Non-Fiction 1st Place: Searching for Clayton Fain by Travis McDaniel

Searching for Clayton Fain by Travis McDaniel

 

 

        Three-quarters of a century separates Clayton Fain’s death from my birth, but I still feel I know this man.  Certainly I’m aware of documented facts such as his being a lawyer in the small mountain town of Morganton, Georgia; serving in the state legislature for two terms in the mid-1850’s; and that he was elected to serve as one of the two representatives Fannin County sent to the capital in Milledgeville to help determine if Georgia would secede from the Union, as several other Southern states had already done. 

        But I’m not referring to those kinds of facts.  I’m referring to the powerful empathy I developed for this man while researching his life and times for a planned magazine article.  A man referred to by some as a “firebrand.”  A man who had the intestinal fortitude to stand up for his belief that the Union should be preserved, and refused to sign the articles of secession once Georgia’s majority vote went against him.  A man whose gritty subversive activities, although ineffective in the overall scope of the war, were nevertheless a zealous statement of where he stood.  An ardent and blatant statement of defiance against a government he refused to recognize or condone.  A position that could have easily gotten him hung for treason by his good neighbors.  And I’m referring to his actions later in the war too, when he felt he could no longer stand helplessly on the sidelines and hope for the best.  His conscience dictated he take positive action, and he heeded that call. 

        Slipping off to Yankeedom in East Tennessee, he sought authority from a Union commander there to form a Union regiment from like-minded Unionist and Confederate deserters hiding out in the remote tri-state mountain area of Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina…a bold but rash action that ultimately led to his capture by a Confederate cavalry company, followed quickly by his execution in the middle of a lonely dirt road between Ducktown and Copperhill, Tennessee.  Henry Robinson, a recruit captured with Fain, was taken across the Ocoee River into Georgia, tied to a tree along the Ellijay Road, and also executed.     

 

        When I learned the small cemetery in which Clayton Fain was buried was abandoned and completely overgrown, I felt a strong need, a personal obligation if you will, to locate his gravestone and clear the site.  The gravesite of a man mostly forgotten with the passage of time.  Maybe that effort would help me span the years and better connect to him. 

        My eyes strained to locate the marker as I picked my way through an overgrown thicket of briers, vines and saplings.  After a long, fruitless search, and an increasing doubt I was at the right location, I finally saw the outline of what appeared to be the object of my quest, a gravestone dulled by age and neglect and almost obscured by vines and privet.  I scrambled the final twenty yards on hands and knees before reaching the upright white marble stone.  I felt a rush of emotions when I saw his name etched there, and placed my hand on the cold, algae-stained marble.  This government marker, erected by a descendant in the 1970’s, marked the place he was laid to rest more than seven-score years ago by his Masonic Lodge brothers from the tri-state area.  There alone with his marble memorial, I half expected some kind of transcendental emotion to overcome me, but that never happened.  Instead, a feeling of deep melancholia covered me like an engulfing cloud.

        The connection I sought would take more than the laying of hands on the Civil War marker furnished by the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Maybe my writing about the events that led to his tragic, untimely death, and correcting misinformation about the identity of his captors and how he died would give me the attachment I wanted to make with this man.  My story would not be the story of a traitor who went against the Confederacy, but of a patriot who stood for his country in the face of insurmountable odds.  A man who was my kinsman, my first cousin, four times removed.  Yes, that’s what I will do.  

 

***

Poetry 1st Place: The Latin Stone by Alexander Goble

 

The Latin Stone By Alex Goble

The cat paced by in a hurry to somewhere,

and I noticed the stone sitting there alone,

and I thought of those who have passed here before.

Yearning to diverge, I stopped to listen.

 

Remembering that in October I leaned over that pile

of broken marble, spreading out in white waves

with pink shards swimming under the foaming crests.

A Hellenic battle at sea, a contest to be discovered.

 

Searching meticulously, I found one

that I knew to be the most beautiful.

I took it home and housed it in my bedroom,

as if it was better than other stones.

 

Now it sits here among the rocks in the yard,

a white whale among a sea of brown ennui

speaking of sculpture and poetry to those who pass

but never stop to hear its classical calls.

 

So forgive me today

as I bow over this marble,

and forgive me tomorrow,

there is nothing more I need.

 

Give me the lonely marble any day,

with its dead language,

give me epics that stretch splendidly any time,

give me Horace, or maybe Virgil and a bit of Ovid.

 

Nobody knows this little piece of marble,

but oh, how I thought I knew,

looking down to a solitary and nameless stone

so very many years in the making.