J. Turner Masland is back with another prize-worthy story. Thanks to all who came out this week, and congratulations, Turner!
Character: A mechanic
Action: Listening to Bruce Springsteen on NPR on Fresh Air
Phrase: “It’s just locker room talk”
by J. Turner Masland
The sun danced down through the sugar maple tree leaves already yellowing on an October afternoon and now seemed to be saturated with the late afternoon light.
Jerry was walking up his five mile driveway, which wound through some backwood hills. He was walking back from the mainroad and his mailbox. Checking the post was how he justified his afternoon walks to his family: but in reality they were his afternoon devotions, his ritual to commune with the spirit. He replaced life with an institution with this mountain acreage, which has been his sanctuary for many decades now.
His greasy hands carried a few bills and some seed catalogs. Toby the golden retriever raced ahead, on the scent of some woodland creature. He hitched up his sagging jeans and shuffled some pebbles out of his way. The cool mountain air and the breeze through the tree boughs brought him peace.
He crested a hill and rounded a corner and paused to take in the sight before him. Some cleared land, a full two acres of gardens, his garage, and an ancient farmhouse. His home: his pride and joy. Today it looked glorious bathed in the afternoon light with the trees in the distance just starting to turn. He left life as a minister, too fed up with the hypocrisies of the church and the faced paced speed of modern life, to start his life as a mountain man. His children at the time were just toddlers and loved their new life of homeschool and exploring the woods. But after years of hard work and farm chores, their enthusiasm vanished and they all ran away as soon as they could. His sweet wife, Gertrude, though, has stood by his side through tough winters and bountiful harvests.
As he approached the house, he could hear Terry Gross’ voice float across the homestead. Gertie insisted on the radio, one of the few connections to the modern world. It reassured her, while they lived their life off the grid, to have an umbilical cord of radio waves to know that the rest of humanity hadn’t totally imploded.
Jerry threw the mail down on the porch, let Toby into the kitchen, and made his way to the garage. He rolled up his sleeves, and started tinkering with the motor of his ford pickup. With a little ingenuity and a few old manuals, he managed to keep the old piece of shit running.
“How was your walk, hun?” He heard Gertie approach the garage.
“Just fine, my darling. Who is Terry talking to today?”
“Oh, she is interviewing that Bruce Springsteen. Can you imagine? Seventy-five years old and just released another album. This one protesting Trump’s second term. He called it ‘Locker Room Talk.’ Silly business, if you ask me.”
“Silly, maybe. If Bruce ain’t careful, he gonna wind up under one of Chris Christie’s secret tribunals. God damn, how did this shit get so fucked up….”
“I know, Jerry, I know. Any word from the kids…?”
Jerry looked up from the motor and shook his head. Gertie knows not to get her hopes up, but she just can’t help it.
Starting before the 2016 election, when things started to get real ugly, Jerry and Gertie began their preparations. Stockpiling seeds. Teaching themselves how to install solar panels. Expanding their root cellars. Talking about getting some horses and donkeys to help with plowing the fields.
When the unthinkable happened, and Trump took advantage of the missing Supreme Court Justice to weasel his way into office through a contested election, they gave up on all electronic communication. Their kids thought they had finally lost it. They indulged their parents’ letter writing at first, but turned down their invitations to return to the farm. Soon the letters just stopped.
But Gertie and Jerry knew: the increased oil drilling, the alliance with Russia, the centralization of power, the mass deportations, the increased militarization, the occupation of latin america were all signs of the end of times. Jerry may no longer be a minister, but he was still expecting the four horseman to appear any day now.
“Come on, hun,” Gertie prodded Jerry, “The sun tea is done brewing and I have a new batch of mint balm for your shoulder…”
Jerry wiped his greasy hands on the back of his jeans and followed his wife to the house. The smell of smoke from the woodstove put some worries out his mind, for the moment.
Jerry and Gertie spent the afternoon on the porch. He was helping her ball up skeins of wool, and Terry Gross’ voice lulled him to sleep.
“Jerry…. Jerry…” Gertie shook him awake.
“What, dear, what is it?”
“Listen,” She said.
He looked out over the field, now blazed with pink and reds as the sun set behind the hills.
“Gertie, all I hear are the evening swallows chirping in the trees. It’s a mighty peaceful sound.”
“Exactly, Jerry. The radio went silent.”
“You check the batteries?”
“We’ve been using the solar one and it was fully charged.”
Grunting, he got up and got the emergency radio down from the cupboard. He cranked it three, four, five time. Static. He walked over to the other radio, moved the dial up and down. Static. The radio has been on constantly, for years. Radio silence could only mean one thing…
Gertties eyes pierced him. “It’s time, Jerry. It’s happening.”
“I think you’re right, hun…. Let’s get out the guns. Pray to the lord we aren’t going to need them. And pray to the lord our children fiend their way back to us.”
© 2016 J. Turner Masland
J. Turner Masland is a librarian, currently working at Portland State University as the Access Services Assistant Manager. Originally from new Hampshire, he has lived in Portland since 2006. When not in the library, he enjoys hiking, swimming, trips to the coast, and working on his writing. You can learn more about him at masland.weebly.com or follow him on twitter @deweysnotdead.