He was waiting for the birds. Every year around this time they flew over his land with their squawks and chirps or silently, only the perturbation of their wings a sign to look up.
So few people looked up anymore, he mused. So concerned about staying on the sidewalk, not veering off the path, not tripping over a root or rock. They never looked up unless told to, and then reluctantly, squinting as if they only half wanted to look.
Duke, his loyal hound, almost never looked up. His neck wasn’t built like that, not when he was walking. He could look when he was sitting, when his spine was closer to being perpendicular to the earth that he loved to sniff and dig at. But even he would stop and take a glance at a gander or a goose when it honked its hello from on high.
It was a sign, he’d learned after all these years of living alone in the woods, that it was time to decide whether to hunker down or move on. Maine in the winter wasn’t easy for someone even in their 40s, and Earl had passed that decades ago. If the geese were high, he’d stay. If low, time to go south to his sister’s house for the season. Maybe she’d let him in if he apologized and meant it this time.
False sincerity can come from a fear of frostbite, and she knew it. It wasn’t any use letting him in if his words weren’t from the heart. Otherwise, it would be a long winter, regardless of the weather. If things weren’t right between them, the coldness outside would be nothing to the coldness in the house between them.
Notes on the story –
This short story was inspired by a card left in a book by a patron. Her name is Peach McComb, and she is a professional artist. She makes cards of her artwork to use as business cards. Since I was through with the “Short and Strange” series, I decided to write something inspired by her card. I taped it in my journal and chose to only use one page, forcing me to limit what I wrote to just the essentials.
This story is like a sketch instead of a full rendering. I chose to leave the rest up to the reader. Consider these questions – Why are the brother and sister estranged? Why does he live alone in the woods in Maine, far from family? How long will he keep going back to the woods once the weather improves? What did he do before moving there? Is it significant that his name is Earl and his dog is named Duke? Feel free to write the rest of the story and post it here.