Friday, February 29, 2008

The Dirt Road


Wendell Hodge was an affable man who worked for the Hancock County Department of Roads for twenty-seven years. He raked gravel into level ribbons of highway before the paving crew came along with its steam-driven dreadnoughts to lay asphalt over his careful Zen-like strokes.

He retired at age sixty-six in the piney woods of Mississippi, taking long walks every morning so his feet could stay in touch with the idea of roads—of traveling, of seeing the world, of arriving. He had always regarded himself as a bit of a travel agent.

Every day for five years, his meandering took him down a dirt path to a log cabin, smoke curling up from the chimney and hanging in the air like a corkscrew miasma. Wendell finally knocked on the door one day, and a few times he had the gumption to peek inside, where he saw coffee on the stove, water running in the sink. Once he even heard a soft, lilting tune coming from a music box on the kitchen table, but no one was ever home. He started taking a different route on his constitutionals. The cabin scared him.

Wendell decided to revisit the dirt path five years later, but it was gone. Fifty-year-old pines and hundred-year-old oaks rose from the ground where the path had been. A robin engaged in soliloquy sat on the telephone wire above Wendell’s head.

“The world is full of windows,” the robin declared, interrupting his deep thoughts. “They open and close.”

“Do you mean the cabin wasn’t real?” Wendell asked the philosophical bird.

“The only thing that’s real is the road you’re standing on,” the robin replied. “Reality is always shifting, rearranging, evolving, but the journey never stops.”

Wendell realized that the robin was nothing less than feathered wisdom. Men were born to walk down roads, nothing more. He of all people should have known.

He walked on, but the lilting tune from the music box remained in his mind for the rest of his life.

Pic: public domain

20 comments:

Janice Thomson said...

Gosh I love this piece William. How many times has an opportunity risen and we walked by afraid to try it or worse yet didn't recognize it in the first place... and regretted it the rest of our lives.

Charles Gramlich said...

Good one. But it makes me think something different than Janice. Maybe we are not meant to stop. Maybe the road is the only thing that is real, the only thing that is life. Even if the road is metaphorical.

Scott from Oregon said...

Man, you make me feel like such a pragmatist...

Your writing is wonderfully engaging. You should see me here, fully engaged, arguing with the idea that a cabin disappears or a bird talks...

I'd look crazy to you...

Sandy Carlson said...

I sure do love this. Your flash fiction is inspiring me to stretch.

This line speaks to me:

Men were born to walk down roads, nothing more.

Billy said...

Janice, thanks for reading. Reality is very delicate, and we miss many moments because we don't realize their import ... or are blind to them altogether. Sometimes we partially see, which is what I think happens in this enigmatic piece.

Charles, your point is well taken. I left this piece elusive on purpose. Is the focus on the road or the mystery of the cabin or a lost opportunity? I think it can be interpreted in many ways. My own take, which isn't necessarily the right one mind you, is that the road is real and that our experiences along the way fade into selective memories which have reality if we choose to accord them that status. I guess it's a metaphysical sci-fi story. I think you and Janice are both correct. (See comment below, which might also shed some light on these quirky pieces.)

Scott, I like "crazy," and my fiction is often meant to turn the world upside down and make people start to say "huh"? The world is full of bizarre events, and I think one mission of a writer might be to convey this state of absurdity in the world by taking a plot and making it even crazier. I believe I got this from Kurt Vonnegut, whose outrageous plots tell us that something is fundamentally out of whack in modern times. Vonnegut started out pure sci-fi but got adopted by "literary" folks somewhere along the way. Sometimes, I think the people under lock and key see more clearly than the rest. Still, I hope I don't have to join them :)

Billy said...

Sandy, I haven't done these in a while, but I'm starting to really have fun with them. Most of this story owes its theme to the old saying that is is the journey and not the destination that's important. That's probably the backbone of the piece, although I have twisted it a bit into a sci-fi metaphysical conundrum open to intepretation.

Sarah Hina said...

Strange. I was just thinking about the "journey/destination" conundrum today.

Perhaps the tune is more haunting and beautiful to him for its mystery than if he had come to know it too well. I think we imbue so much more meaning into a glance than a stare.

I like the journey best. Destinations are too final.

Great story, Billy. :)

Billy said...

Sarah, I like the idea of the tune being more haunting to him than if he had ever discovered the larger mystery of the cabin. Thanks!!

writtenwyrdd said...

I like ambiguous stories like this one. I like having to ponder the ending and consider what's up next. And, I liked this story!

Billy said...

Thanks, Written. This was really different: Stephen King meets Deepak Chopra LOL

Lane said...

Your stories always leave me musing Billy.

Wendell's (great name) fear of the cabin interested me. Fear of the unknown? Staying on the safe path? Maybe a missed opportunity?

But the tune stayed with him. I like that.

Billy said...

Lane, for Wendell, I think it would be "all of the above." I don't think the reasons you cite are mutually exclusive. This piece kind of defies categorization :)

Bernita said...

Makes me think: truth or dare?

Billy said...

Bernita, that's a good way to put it :)

Crafty Green Poet said...

I thought I'd already commented on this, I like the multiple realities implicit in this story. I like the robin too

Billy said...

Thank you, Juliet. I think the idea of multiple realities appealed to me because of my interest in quantum physics.

Marja said...

Wowo Billy This is a great story that makes you thinking. I love the wise words that reality is always shifting, rearranging evolving. We just move on. Excellent

Lana Gramlich said...

Very nice, Billy. I like the philosophical bird, in particular. To the Celts, the bird was a messenger to & from the Otherworld, which works well here.

ChristineEldin said...

feathered wisdom Love that particular phrase!

I've read this a couple of times. I too wondered where the cabin went too, then I had to let go of my practical side and enjoy the imagination behind this piece.

Very lovely!!!

Billy said...

Marja, glad to see you again and glad you liked this quirky little piece!!!

Lana, thanks. Since my aim is not to be strictly rational in these short pieces, I thought a talking bird was just fine -:)

Christine, that's it!!--you've got to let go of your practical side with these nutty stories of mine (LOL), which intentionally twist reality a bit. Hope you've been well -:)