Maple Hill – Part 1

I had the great pleasure of taking a Creative Writing class through Gotham Writers in Jan/Feb 2017. This story came out of one of our assignments and is one that I think I will explore and expand on. Here’s the first part.

Chris began to question the wisdom of this trip. He was nearing the final turn down Pioneer Lane. Soon he’d see the white fence, count 30 posts and turn down the driveway. He’d roll under the ranch gate, navigate through the giant field of rain-made potholes, as the sign that read Maple Hill welcomed him home.

He hadn’t seen his father in nine years. It was easier to tolerate his dad’s parental limitations when there were thousands of miles between them. Through each sporadic conversation they’d had over the years Chris always knew that at the end of each call he could say goodbye and return to his life.

Over a decade ago Chris had purposefully walked away, arm extended – finally breaking free from the gloom that had ruled his young life. He had worked so hard to change things for himself. Now, he found himself passing through mile after mile of pear orchards and it felt as if nothing had changed. Each intersection looked like he remembered it. As he passed his old bus stop on the corner of Johnson and Center Road, he was snapped out of his stroll down memory lane, “Why the hell am I doing this?”

Dusk was settling in. Chris realized he was straining to see the street signs and clicked his headlights on. The lights shined brightly on a road sign in the near distance that read Milford – 18 miles. Unexpectedly, his heart began to pound. He felt his breath settle high in the top of his chest. Without thinking, his foot slammed on the brake and he pulled to the side of the road, both hands gripping the steering wheel as he felt the break from pavement to gravel.

The pull out was host to Mabel’s Fruit Stand. A green and white structure with a hand painted sign hanging high above the opening to entice highway travelers to stop for a treat from the local orchards. He had often stopped there countless times on his walks home from the bus stop to help Miss Mabel in the late spring afternoons. He wished she was there.

He reached for his cell phone and started to dial his mom. He paused. When she found out what he was up to she’d come undone. Scratch that. He looked in the rearview mirror to make sure he was safe on the shoulder. No one was coming. Enveloped in darkness, beyond the beacon of his own headlights, he shifted into park and took his foot off the brake, exhaled and looked out at the burning sunset sky.

About one-hundred feet past the Milford sign he could see the road sign for Pioneer Lane. He leaned forward and put his head on the steering wheel. He could feel every muscle in his neck and between his shoulder blades gripping. He breathed in and out, “Get your shit together, man.” He lifted his chin and peered out the windshield, sat up and placed his hand on the shifter. Putting the car into gear, he took another deep breath, glanced fondly at Miss Mabel’s fruit shack, looked over his shoulder to make sure all was clear, pressed the gas and pulled onto the highway.

He turned left onto Pioneer Lane and within a few moments the white fence was in his sights. He counted the 30 posts and could feel his heart in his throat. The Maple Hill gate appeared like a gaping mouth, inhaling him down the throat of the driveway and delivering him to the house of his father.

The house looked frozen in time. Maybe a little more weathered and weary. He exhaled and placed the car in park and turned off the lights. The lights in the house windows flickered with firelight. He scanned to the right, across the porch, and saw the silhouette of the old man rising from his rocking chair. Surely he must have been waiting for Chris’ arrival. Chris inhaled and felt for the car handle, opening the door. He expected his father to descend the steps to greet him but by the time he stood up out of the car he saw the front door of the house swing shut, his father disappearing inside. He exhaled and peered down to his feet, placing both hands on top of the car. Of course, his father would never come to him, not to greet him, not for anything.