The Holden Stone

Reflections of a Fantasy Writer

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Home Other Works by Susan Shell Winston Governor Edward's House is For Sale



(published in the anthology Three Naked Ladies Playing Cello)




Grandpa Edwards


Life after death is pure hell. Believe you me.

You think you got it bad? Taxes past due? Crops a failure? Shoot the damn revenuer. He ain't nothing compared to this.

Or them aches in your joints, the right toe a-freezing up each time it rains or the wind's about to change? Hell, I remember them. Or about them. Ain't got no feeling here. And you call pain sufferin? Least ways rheumatiz gives you something to concern yourself about yourself for a change.

Got a son? I did. Do. Cussedest durned mule-brained fool I ever knew. Never listened to a word I said. You think he does now? Hell! Got hisself all doozied up into those books of his, as if they could tell him a thing or two. Moved to the dad-burned city, become one of them high falutin' lawyers. Might as well be damn revenuer, s'all I gotta say.

He's got a wife. Pretty. That'll change. Like the rheumatiz. It comes in time. Just no get yourself up, take the garbage out, fix the sink. Not yet. He'll see.

And the babe? There's the one. Little Julie. Cute as a bug's ear, I would've said. Face of an angel, if there were such a thing.

She don't listen to me either. Or see me. That's the worst of it.

Take yesterday. Touched the hot skillet when her mother wasn't looking. Burnt her little hand in two places. Couldn't stop her. She didn't listen to me, didn't see me. Hell, I knew about it an hour before it happened, and I couldn't stop her.

And seventeen years from now? five months, eleven days? Julie's got this apartment, you see. Pretty little place, going off to school, all on her own. --It's night. Two men break in, not even wearing masks. They open drawers, they take her purse, cards, my wife's old ring. Her clothes are flung about. A lamp crashes, breaks, and she awakes. They see her, she screams, they have a knife, and they...they...

What they do to her! What they do to her.

I can't tell her.

What's the use of knowing, if I can't tell her?

I would take back the wife, the rheumatiz, taxes, life, hell, it all, if I could warn her.




"Watch the birdie!" Dad said, and we laughed. Years ago when I was very, very young, I believed him. I'd stare at the lens as the shutter opened, hoping this time I'd get a peak at the bird inside. Dad promised there was one. But the shutter always closed again before I saw it and Dad would have his picture.

This time the bird would be coming out.

Robby was on the other side of the cage, Mom behind me, Dad armed with his new Leica. "Whenever you're ready, Julie," Dad said.

I slid down the bar to the cage door, and Mom lifted the rear end of the cage slightly, coaxing the hawk out.

It stood a moment on the lawn, blinking in the sun, not knowing yet it was free. Dad had his perfect picture. Then the hawk ruffled its feathers, and shook its red tail. "Shoo!" Robby said, impatient as always. The hawk squawked, it lifted its wings, I held my breath, the right wing lifted from its shoulder as straight, as high as the left. Early this summer, I never thought it would fly again when I found it in the garden, under our broken window.

Dad came over, hugged my shoulder, as we watched the hawk pause on the lamp post over the street. "We always have to let them go, Julie," Dad said. I shielded my eyes from the sun as the hawk rose into the clouds, and I nodded.

I was glad its wing had healed as the vet had said. And I'm glad I didn't miss seeing it fly away. Next week, I'll be going off to college.



His Mother Viewing


Honest to God, I never expected this. Twenty years ago, I remember it clear, the doctor, he handed him to me. "A fine, black-haired boy," he said. Jesse'd go with me every Sunday to the Meetings, his little white jacket starched and pressed. Lord knows, I tried to raise him right. But he had his father in him. And a-sassing me always? he learned that right quick from the start. But no, I never expected it to come to this. He hit a home run when he was seven, he was so proud of that. You'd have thought the world was his that night. You should've seen his face. A smile stretching from -- no, I daren't touch you. Jesse, Jesse, why'd you do it? My God, you killed a girl! I don't know how you could have done it.

Rose stood staring at her son. The pine box he was laid in was simple and unadorned with one small spray of white roses on top, the only flowers in the room. It was not much, but it was the most she could afford and she had wanted at least to do what was right for him. The funeral home had done a fair job cleaning him up. His face looked actually good. Peaceful, innocent, the way he might have looked had he chosen differently. His black hair was combed to the right, making him look more like his father than ever. Jesse had had the blackest hair even as a baby. He had always looked so angelic, she had thought. She stretched her hand out slowly to his lips, snatched it back quick before she touched him. She dug her fingers once again into the black shawl around her neck, pulling it tighter. Her lower jaw moved silently. But her eyes were black and stern. She had never shed a tear for him. She hadn't, not since she'd heard the news of what he did, robbed a young woman's apartment. A Miss Edwards. A judge's daughter. When she woke up, Jesse raped and killed her. They shot him before he escaped her apartment building.

Rose stood staring at Jesse a second longer, then she turned away and walked out of the room.


Porch Swing


The old chain creaked comfortingly. Sara Edwards closed her eyes, felt Sam beside her, his arm around her, the night of their first kiss. The chain creaked as the swing swung forward again, and Sara heard the children laughing, shooting marbles against the wooden steps while Sam paced back and forth in front of her swing, practicing his closing arguments in those early days. Another swing, and Sara remembered the lights, the reporters pressing right up the steps, the night of Sam's first election. And then the day, years later, when they came back home when Sam first got sick.

Sara planted her feet firmly, pulled herself up on the heavy chain, nodded to the young family waiting. "One last time," she said.

She wandered through the house. The living room, little Robby's room, Julie's... Hers and Sam's. Sara touched the markings on the kitchen wall, each one a promise as the children grew that getting older was a happy thing to do.

She hurried back to the front door and locked it behind her. She handed the keys over to the new owners.



[author's note:   with a little re-arranging, four shorts were merged together to make a whole greater than the parts in this short story.   Those four shorts in their original form can be found in the "Hope Chest and other Shorts" file.]