It always starts out easy because we aren’t paying attention to the currents, the winds, the tides, the phase of the moon. We are filled with the horizon and confident.
There are the whispers around the church as Hugo watches his serious little bride come down the aisle. With his father long gone and his mother fiercely facing down the gossips, Hugo serenely surveys the horizon and sees only a way out.
Miriam turns out to be a faulty escape vehicle being pregnant more often than not. Hugo contemplates moving her and their growing family away to the city. He works as a clerk in the shipping office; work that he could certainly find in the city. But then the baby is born and they manage to cram the crib into the nook under the stairs and dinner is burned again. Hugo takes up with the church choir director’s daughter and Miriam is given a respite but when that young lady begins making demands it is finally time to make their move and it is off to the city with them all.
The city obscures all horizons and Hugo becomes confused. He does find work. He also puts Miriam in the other of the two bedrooms in their flat with the daughters. Five children are enough. Then there are four as the first of the cholera epidemics sweep the city. Then three. Miriam, terrified and enraged, gathers her remaining children and flees. Alone, Hugo struggles to find his horizon and decides it lies across the continent.
He buys his ticket, sells everything and sets out west.
We all know the words to this old song. Bearing the brunt of foolish decisions, children grow up to perpetuate the mistakes. Does Hugo find his horizon? Do his children? Will you?
An old man sits by a window looking out at a dirt road. No one has come down the road in weeks but he watches every day. This road runs out to the hard top which runs down to the main road which runs to the city which sits on the edge of the continent by the sea. Hugo lived in that city for many years. One of his children found him there and they had a meal together. Questions, questions. Back and forth. Miriam never remarried. The other two of Hugo’s children have done well for themselves and never ask about him. This son, this curious and hungry son, seems to think he has found something, sitting across the table from the unknown father who is gazing past him.
The son did not find his answers with Hugo or with this city by the sea and has been gone many years.
He sent one or two letters but that was all. Hugo found his son’s name on a novel and then another in the corner bookstore on a rare visit back to the city. He leafed through, saw enough, bought it and deliberately left it on a bus.
He sees dust rising behind an approaching car out on the dirt road. He sets aside his newspaper ready for his horizon to come to him. The grimy old Studebaker never slows and rattles past leaving the dust to slowly settle. So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
This story was part of Two Stories Up, a series of one-page nuggets of fiction written by my partner and I which were then mailed out to a handful of interested readers bi-monthly. The theme this time was to begin/end a story using the first/last line of F.Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”.
Photo by Petr Kratochvil / Public Domain Pictures