The Shed by J Dan Francis
Where words became life stood a smoldering pile of charred wood, broken glass and scattered shingles. A garden hose lay on the ground nearby, water trickling from it. Nick Rodgers, wrapped in a tartan blanket sat on the concrete and flagstone deck adjoined to his late father's house he shared with his sister and brother in-law. He was in a state of shock. An old, battered Royal typewriter covered in soot with its ribbon pulled halfway out and blowing in the wind sat next to him; the only thing Nick had saved from the fire. He tripped running from the shed, the typewriter slipping from his hands and slamming onto a paver stone, breaking the carriage. Nick wondered if it was worth fixing, or if he even wanted to fix it. He stared, bewildered into the rising damp smoke. The smell reminded him of his grandfather's hickory smokehouse and the burnt wires of a radio he had once built haphazardly, from plans he had gotten from an old Popular Mechanics magazine. His sister Hazel came out the screen door onto the deck with a hot cup of coffee and put it down next to Nick. She picked up the cup she brought earlier. He hadn't touched it.|
Nick's brother in-law Tom, came out and sat by him. He shook his head in disbelief, then turned to Nick.
"Were you able to save anything?"
"Dad's typewriter." Nick looked down at the old Royal. For the first time in his life he hated that thing.
"That's not what I meant."
"I know what you meant. No, it all happened so fast. I didn't have time to think. I just grabbed the typewriter and ran out. I should have grabbed the wooden filing cabinet. The fire spread too swiftly before I could get anything else. It's all gone."
"Everything?" Tom asked.
"What are you going to do?"
Nick ignored Tom's question and kept looking at the smoldering pile of what only a few hours before had been the sum-total of Nick's existence. Tom stood up and walked over to where the tiny shed once stood and began to kick around the remains. He bent down and picked something up, looked at it then tossed it. He kicked some more and shook his head sadly at the destruction. Then he saw something. Tom bent and picked up a thick folder. It was soaking wet and charred around the edges. He opened it and there were about thirty or forty pages maybe more in it. They too were soaked and charred. He peeled a sheet from the top and held it up in the sun to read what was written upon it. Tom looked over at Nick and held it out for him to see. Nick stood up.
"Look familiar?" Tom asked.
"Bring it here."
Tom stepped gingerly through the debris carefully tracing his steps back to where Nick was standing. He handed Nick the folder with the pages in it. Nick studied one page after another. The paper had become translucent from being wet, but he was able to make it out.
"It's a bunch of poems and the first story I ever wrote," Nick said. "There should be another folder, with four or five more stories in it. It was with this folder."
"I didn't see anything else. That's all there was."
It was Nick's first writings from when he was a young man with dreams of the literary life he had struggled with since. It was stories and poems, he was convinced would be of interest to no one. He hardly remembered writing them. It was painfully embarrassing for Nick to look at those long-winded, poorly punctuated sentences, and smarmy-flowery prose of love and nature. He threw the folder to the ground.
"It's no good to me."
"It's a start, Nick."
"You don't understand."
"We can build you another shed."
Nick was numb. He disregarded Tom and all his sympathy, and kind gestures, and his wanting to help in some way. He wandered back and forth past where the shed once stood, and started to cry; he blubbered. Embarrassed, Nick turned away and hid his face. He bit his lip to make himself stop. Tom tried to console Nick. He reached out and put his hand on Nick's shoulder, but Nick pulled away. Tom backed off. Hazel came stomping out through the screen door again. She was carrying something that was much too heavy for her petite stature. It was another typewriter about the same size as the Royal, except it was much older. She dropped it hard and steady on the picnic table. Nick looked over at Hazel as she wiped the dust from her hands. She had an accomplished look on her face, as if she had just saved the day and solved all of Nick's problems. Nick's countenance fell. Tom rolled his eyes.
"What are you doing?" Tom asked his wife.
"It's daddy's first typewriter. I brought it down from the attic. Nick can make use of it while the Royal is being fixed."
There it sat, an Underwood No.5 made sometime in the 1920's almost one-hundred years ago. It was in mint condition except for the disintegrating dried out ribbon, and excessive dust that covered it. Nick looked at it with indifference. He had a romantic affinity for antique typewriters; just not this one.
"It's Grandpa's first typewriter," Nick said. "He gave it to dad when dad went to work for him at the Chronicle. Dad never liked it, and neither do I. The keys are too hard to push on."
"Well, I'm sorry," Hazel sniped. "Maybe if you had gotten off your high-horse and had rid yourself of that eccentric notion for daddy's old Royal and used a computer in the first place you would not be facing this dilemma. You could at least be a little more appreciative that Tom and I are only trying to help."
Nick glared at Hazel. She realized suddenly that she had stepped over the line. Hazel was never regarded for her timing. Those words hit Nick hard. Tom became incensed.
"Zip it, girl! And, I won't tell you again," Tom yelled, as he pointed directly at his diminutive feisty wife as though his next move might be violent. She turned from Tom in fear.
"Shut up! Both of you," said Nick.
Nick turned back to the smoldering charred pile and sat back down on the edge of the concrete deck. Hazel brushed her hands on her apron and walked back into the house slamming the screen door behind her. Tom went over and sat down next to Nick.
"It's not the end of the world," he said.
Nick looked over at Tom and smirked. "It's not the end of your world, Tom. What do you know? you only drive a truck."
Tom started kicking at the grass beneath his feet. Nick realized that wasn't a fair statement he had made and tried to backtrack.
"I didn't mean it that way, Tom. I just meant that..."
"It's ok, Nick. You're right. It's not the end of my world. I sometimes forget how much you have invested in this writing stuff. I can't imagine what you must be feeling right now."
"I'm not sure what I'm feeling," Nick said.
"I just don't want you to give it all up."
"I have nothing more in me. When that last flame died down and nothing was left of that wooden filing cabinet, well, nothing was left in me either."
"It will all come back to you."
"It's not like you think, Tom. Those stories did not come from me. I was a vessel; a tool. The stories I have written came from those mountains you see out there, from the valley below, the rivers and lakes. I heard them while walking in the woods talking to the trees; from church bells, and train whistles, and fire tower sirens. The crickets talked to me at night, and the loon in the morning. They told me things, beautiful things. I'm afraid, because I'm not hearing it now. I don't think I will ever hear those stories again. And, if I can't hear those stories, I can't write them."
Hazel appeared at the screen door. This time she did not come out. She told the men that lunch was ready and that they should wash-up. She seemed more agreeable and better natured than a few moments ago. Tom looked up at her and smiled. It was well between them, for they never let differences or disagreements rule the day. Tom always said it wasn't healthy, besides, it always ruined his appetite.
Tom slapped Nick on the back and got up to go inside. But, before he opened the screen door he turned back to Nick sitting on the concrete deck, wrapped in that old tartan blanket looking out on the smoldering remains of the shed. Tom reminded him that the life they know came from those mountains.
He said, "We will rebuild that shed, and you will again look out at those mountains, and the mountains will speak to you, and you will write their stories."
J Dan Francis
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