By way of intro to this short story, first I wish to say “thank you” for all the likes on the other stories, essays, etc. as they tumbled into this place.
I’ve been very busy lately on a volunteer job in the interior of B.C. (Canada), a place called “Rock Creek” where a wild fire roared through a year ago and burned down several homes. So I went with my friend Vic Janzen, who is with “Mennonite Disaster Services” to help complete a house the organization had taken on in conjunction with “Habitat for Humanity.” “We” (that is, MDS) supplied the labour and Habitat supplied the materials along with whatever the uninsured home owners could provide. So the house was built, and this is what it looked like when we left yesterday. A very pretty, basic, utilitarian house any family would be happy to live in. If you look closely you can see the scorched dead pines all around the property. (The pile of bags is insulation to be blown into the attic later.)
And now, the short story:
Take my Hand, Daddy! [a short story ~ by Sha’Tara]
Imagine a winter afternoon of this northern hemisphere, by a small town nestled almost silent among dark, brooding mountains. The sun slips behind a mountain top and a shadow covers the waters of a wide river rippled by a bitter east wind. A couple of golden eyes land and begin their usual systematic team hunt, diving, surfacing, diving. These little ducks know their world well, choosing areas near enough to shore to take advantage of gentler, swirling currents, allowing them to dive faster and capture their prey, small fish also using the constantly reforming whirlpools to find food.
The edge of the river is forming ice now, not deep nor wide, but the bite of winter frost is not only in the air: it penetrates into the dark, fast moving waters. The shore at this place, now cut through by the harsh shadow of a mountain, is made up of round rocks, large at the edge of the water, an edge normally under water – but this is winter solstice and the river is at its ebb. Further up the shore the rocks change to large round gravel, then up the banks, into smaller, looser gravel. Remnants of a recent snow fall tuck themselves behind and between the stones and form a dirty white blanket full of tears and holes among frost-burned grasses along the higher banks. Such a stage leaves no room for doubt as to the time of year being dramatized.
There is a small parking area here where I sometimes stop to eat my lunch, read, or just observe the passing of a time-slice and whatever event it may contain. I like the quiet of the place and on this day, the weather being bitterly cold with high clouds keeping the air moist, few people care to stay around. A couple of cars drive in but there is nothing exciting or colorful enough to keep anyone’s attention for long and the damp cold drives them away again. The pair of ducks, the male a ball of sharp black and white patterns, the female of a uniform brown, are a bit perturbed by the few onlookers and choose to be safe, moving their theater of operations farther away from the shoreline.
The sun has almost crossed the mountain top and the shadow slides across the river, revealing a lighter shade of water as the incessant chop refracts the slanted, weak, gold-tinged middle-afternoon sunlight. Far to the east however, no clouds have yet appeared and the sun has unlimited vistas to illuminate. The higher mountains throw off the glory-glow of their snow-covered spires to grace a clear icy-blue sky.
There is a wide gravelly path that leads from the parking area down to the river’s edge. While it remains in the gray shadow cast by the mountains, a very large man wearing a black woolen toque, a heavy dark-red mackinaw jacket and faded jeans tucked into unlaced brown work boots begins to descend along the center of the path. To his right walks a tiny girl child, wearing what looks like dark blue cord pants tucked into white boots. She has on a pink parka and a pair of pink mittens with small pompoms attached dangling from the coat’s sleeves. As the couple begins to walk over the loose gravel, the child gingerly extends her short arms to maintain balance. The heavy-set man, hands pushed deep into the folds of his mackinaw, seems totally unaware of his tiny companion, lost, it seems, in his own thoughts.
The little girl struggles to follow him, obviously with great effort. Finally, barely able to stand, she extends her left arm to the large man, the reddened fingers of her hand splayed to express her need for help.
In my mind, the image freezes there, as if someone had pressed the pause button on the TV’s remote.
The man ignores the child, the child holds out her hand, confident that the man will be moved to help her. In that slice of time, I sense a re-enactment of billions of such events over history. I feel the energies involved; the times when they worked and when they did not. The abandoned, and the re-united. The dead losers and the restored winners. I see mankind’s drama endlessly moving up and down, like the tides. I feel my own helplessness, kicked out of the drama to find my place among the spectators of which we are too many.
Does the man stop to take the child’s hand? Does he pick her up in his arms to carry her to an easier place where she can walk without help? Does he realize it is too cold to be walking there, at that time of day, with a child, and does he return to wherever they came from?
All I heard in my mind was the child’s extended arm saying: “Take my hand, daddy!”