MS. ED

Sunday, April 30, 2017


Surprise Story Endings


When I was a child we often gather in an area known as “The Flats.” There wasn’t much over there, but in the summer we play baseball on a makeshift diamond, and in the winter we used it for ice skating.  The city flooded The Flats every winter, and it would stay frozen until spring.



It has been decades since the winters in Iowa have been cold enough for ice rinks, but the city's ice skating rinks were once a major recreation draw.  One fall, several dads even got together and talked the city into building a warming shelter for The Flats, one of many winter ice rinks in the city. It stood for years in what is now Fairmount Park, and was torn down just last year.

On the south side of The Flats, a clay hill stood twenty feet high, lined with houses overlooking the diamond.  One evening in 1960, several of us gathered at one of the houses on Irene Street, just across from The Flats.  Irene Street fronted The Flats, and the house was the last on the street.  A friend lived there, and was entertaining his cousins, two sisters who were witty, fun, and I thought French.

I wasn’t very bright (they were from Texas), but I still thought I was pretty special, and in one tit-for-tat, I was laughing at them for not knowing who Sargeant Floyd was.

“He’s the only soldier who died on the Lewis and Clark Expedition,” I said.  “You guys don’t know history, huh?”

Their cousin, my friend, who had once made me beg for mercy on the pale, blond-dirt fields of The Flats, said nothing. He knew I didn't know what I was doing, but just watched.  He had been a real enemy once, and had dug his thumbs into the soft flesh behind my ears.  He had pinned me to the ground, and when I wouldn't stop fighting, he dug in deeper.  It hurt so bad, I gave up (ergo friend), and now asserted myself, albeit, foolishly.

“You look just like Ichabod Crane,” the brunette cousin said. She turned to her taller sister. Doesn't he look like Ichabod?” she asked.

“Turn your head,” her sister said.

I don’t remember much from that far back, but I do remember when they both decided I looked just like Ichabod Crane.  And when they found out I didn't know who that was, they had me right where they wanted me.

"You don't know much about literature, do you?" the tall, blond sister said.

As I tried talking my way out of the situation, the best I could manage was “Tales of Horror,” a book of vignettes in which slimy monsters in a cave of horrors, were actually in George Madison’s mouth. Ha!  Take that, sisters from Texas!

But the sisters were not impressed. Readers, who believed they were in a cave with “shinning black reptilian creatures,” only to find themselves inside Madison’s mouth, were not big in Texas.  I offered to go home and get the book, but the point had been made.

“Having finished brushing his teeth and rinsing his mouth with antiseptic mouthwash, George Madison patted his lips with a towel.  It was the first time George had used this particular mouthwash, and he liked it.  It left a clean, fresh taste.”

Florid prose revealed, upon further study, that the headless horseman in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was rival suitor, Brom Bones, and not a ghost.  A surprise ending, of sorts, although, it would not have been appreciated, or read by Ichabod Flats.  All he knew was that his friend’s cousins weren't French.  And that he couldn't care less about burghers, sleepy hollows or anything else that took so long to read.

But "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is worth reading, as is Alan Riefe's "Tales of Horror.  No matter what the length of prose, surprise, twisty endings will always have a place.  

Melody saw them every week. An odd couple, who casually walked together, often in the early morning gray of gentle rains falling from low-hanging clouds, dipping down to the ground in a fog. The two always walked together along a promenade in front of a brick and mortar strip-center mall. Traffic was sparse in the early morning hours, and the friends were always alone as they walked along looking in the windows, or glancing into the parking lot at the falling rain.

Where they walked was sheltered by a veranda, but only a few of the stores were occupied; the others were empty. The first store though, across the street from a Taco Haven was new, and had just opened.  A restaurant called The Dodge Inn had been packing them in for weeks, but this early the crowds were gone, the flat-screen TV's quiet and there was no one coming or going in and out the front door.  Just plenty of room to wander, relax and walk along the sidewalk.


Two empty spaces and a tan salon later, past the sandwich shop, the dawdling and relaxed couple, reached the vitamin store. The veranda ended at the end of a pet store, but even covered, they never ventured over to the pet store. Simply, the couple stopped at the vitamin shop, turned around and walked back the way they came.

Occasionally, of course, they’d stop at a store (some empty, some not), stop and look, and 
then continued on. This day they stopped to look in an empty store next to the submarine sandwich shop. Perhaps they were thinking about opening a shop; but no, this was silly. There was something else going on. Just a lazy stroll together.

Most of the empty stores were filled with leftover items from closed stores: furniture, fixtures, file cabinets and much more. One store had lampshades hanging from the ceiling, dusty white globes of finely crafted design. Light fixtures that had adored the stations of an old beauty salon. Melody Lang, who managed the vitamin store, had looked in many times. The globes hung from the ceiling in groups of three, and had been beautifully lit when the store was open. Melody admired them, and hoped to catch the landlord one day to see about buying some.

But always, the wandering couple just wandered.


They’d stared into the empty store, sometimes huddled against the cold, or they’d just walk by. It depended on the day. Sometimes Melody saw
their reflection in the glass as she drove by on her way to work.  She imagined she saw four sometimes, two couples standing there together, huddled under the veranda. Two at the window; two reflected in the glass storefront of a darkened store. They’d notice her driving by, and continue their walk.

Nor did they ever rest on the love seats built in-between the porch columns.  Nope, they just walked and widow-shopped.  She fancied they’d hold hands if they could.  The couple walking along in the early morning hours. Even in the worst of storms, summer, spring, winter or fall, there was always a dry place to enjoy.

And this is what they did: walk.  Sometimes they’d be close to one another, looking in a window, or standing outside the vitamin store, where they’d look at the endless rows of vitamins, or so Melody fancied. And off they’d go again, down the walkway until they’d step out into the street at The Dodge Inn.

On this morning, Melody had come to work in a downpour, and she didn’t see them at first. But running to the dry under the porch she heard a kind of yelp, and saw them standing there, again, at the empty store next to the sandwich shop.

“Hey there,” she said, you two thinking about opening a store?”

She laughed to herself as she unlocked the door as Mildred (for she had named them both), gobbled at her. She stopped short. She had never heard her gobble before. The wild turkey, Mildred, turned back to the window next to her friend, Betsy, where they were huddled together in front of the empty storefront.

As Melody stood there, she realized they were staring at their own reflections, looking at two other birds, much as Melody had done when she drove by, seeing four birds huddled together, not two.  A flock of wild turkeys, looking in a window at Harvey's Strip Center Mall on a chilly, rainy Iowa day. Mildred, Betsy (and she chuckled thinking about her friends), Susan and Sally. Birds of a feather, flocking together.

The Flats' shelter; next to the "ice rink."



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