Beggar’s Road

“You’re rather saturnine this morning.”

“Don’t use big words with me today. I’m not in the mood.”

I smile and squint one eye. “I know the drizzle dampens your spirits, but the wet brings out the patterns.”

“We dug fossils last weekend. I’ve got a bucket full o’ ones I haven’t even touched.”

Dohlan loves cracking open loaf-sized stones to find the familiar yet stunning spirals of ammonites or the instantly recognizable skeletons of ancient vertebrates. “Of course we could trek the woods. The fiddleheads are sprouting, and the fungi are blooming.” It’s Saturday morning and I stand inside the kitchen of the boarding house where he lives. “Or we could catch a train into the city and have some of those cryptic letters of yours appraised.”

He sips his tea. I’ve had my fill and am anxious to get on with it and not waste another hour.

“Let me finish my meal before you shuffle me off to god knows where.”

I pull out a wooden chair, its legs squealing on the tiles, sit and motion for him to toss me a biscuit. Marn O’Laren’s cooking is half the reason my friend weighs three stone more than I. And she’s half the reason I’m trying to get him physically engaged.

I pocket the flaky offering. “Finish it on the way.” I return the chair to its tucked position.

“So, decided the punishment for today?” He stuffs his mouth and reaches for his gear. He struggles into his slicker, one that sweats but keeps him warm with its inner wool lining. He pats it into place.

“I’ve been saving this one.” I extract a folded page. “It’s a satellite view of a plot of land I’m convinced has an oddity to it.”

“The last time you found an oddity, they called the police on us.” He lifts his Wellies and queries me with a look. I nod. He leans into me as he tugs them on. “Tools then?”

I sense his dour mood lifting. If Dohlan has the chance to fiddle with his tools, he’ll become sanguine at the notion. “If you like,” I say without conviction.

“Tools it is, then. You can carry the torch and pry bar.”

We catch the hourly at the corner of Tinlop and Woosley. As we step aboard and drop our coins into the box we give the driver a commiserating glance, will it ever stop raining, we seem to say.

The driver knows us, or of us, if I’m to be accurate.

“You chaps off to mischief no doubt?” He eases the folding doors closed and we take seats near the front. “Gonna get the constable’s ire up again, if I’m to wager.”

“Just a misunderstanding.” I put on a wide, close-lipped grin. It turns sour as I catch his eye in the rear-view.

He takes my meaning. “Safety first, lads. Safety first,” is all he says.

“Lads, he calls us. Ha.” Dohlan sets his satchel on the floor. “Twice that man’s age, we are.”

I wrinkle my nose. “No harm, no foul.” The bus has few other occupants. Three hooded youth, all bunched together, passing what must be a sort of pipe between them. I can smell the faint odor of banana. There are two women in scarves, rain hats and brollies all mixed akimbo with bags from the market. And there’s one fellow, at the far back. He’s got on an American cowboy hat, dark gray, obviously soaked through. He wears some sort of trench coat or overcoat of a dusty tan, now splotched mud-brown with wet. He fingers the brim of the hat and nods my way. I lift two fingers to my temple and return the gesture.

Dohlan and I discus his theory that positions of control assume unearned credibility and a sense of power. “Like this driver thinking to call us lads,” Dohlan explains. “He’d never think to take such a tone to meet us on the street.”

The snickering youth drop off at Townsend. The women, who had obviously shopped together, but haven’t uttered a word the whole twenty minutes, depart at Tollburry.

I risk a glimpse at the stranger. He’s dipped his chin and spread his arms to embrace the entire back bench. I wonder if he hasn’t missed his stop.

“You lads destined somewhere, or just on for the tour?” The driver is slowing to take the right at Beggar’s Road.

“Fine day for a ride, I’ll admit.” I rise from my seat and grab a loop of leather, one of many that dangle like nooses from the ceiling. “But, if you could stop at the corner.”

I grab my green canvas bag, step off and hear Dohlan inform the driver that the man’s attempts at congeniality border on the rude. I reach in and extract my associate, suspending any additional correction of the poor fellow’s lack of etiquette.

“Many just haven’t had the training we’ve had.” Dohlan holds onto me as he takes the last step. “They lack vital understanding…” The bus pulls away in a cloud of diesel smoke. Dohlan waves away the fumes.

“Where’s your satchel?” I hold mine up as evidence.

“Damn.” Dohlan starts to jog after the bus, clunking his way in his tall boots, yelling into the bus’ oblivious rear end.

To his and my surprise, its break lights flash and it stops. From around the corner the hatted fellow strolls up to us carrying Dohlan’s bag. He waves the bus off and it leaves in another belch of noxious smoke.

The man, obviously an American, his hat shedding the drizzle, holds out the tools satchel. “Y’all off to do a bit of mining. Maybe some grave robbing?”

His laugh sounds as robust as his voice, deep like one of those canyons I imagine populate the State’s southwest. I notice he too has a rucksack hoisted over his shoulder. He leans forward, no doubt from the weight it carries.

Dohlan’s tongue seems confounded by the tall foreigner. I take the offered sack. “Thank you, sir. I’m not sure we’d have ever seen our possessions again had you not…”

“Not a trouble.” He pops the collar on his coat. “Kinda funny you two get off same spot as me.” He holds out his hand. “Keith Stoughton.”

I have to nudge my friend into action.

“Stoughton, you say?” Dohlan finally stirs from his daze and returns the shake. “That’s a name not unknown to us. You believe you have relations in the area?”

“I believe I do. In fact, I’m told this here road will take me to a piece of land, might of had my last name attached at sometime in the past”

He points down the narrow track, the flipped end of Beggar’s Road, the same direction where I’d hoped to find the oddity portrayed in the satellite image.

I quickly offer our services. “We’re somewhat familiar with the area. We’d be happy to join you in your explore.”


13 thoughts on “Beggar’s Road

  1. Polishing is discovering your flow. And that’s personal style. Some are as stiff as a fresh starched collar, others a 15 years old sweater. It’s a comfort thing with your product. Several moments in here did cause my homophone-obia to flare and word of the day radar to spike.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I think the -ine thing could get nasally if used more than once every 20,000 words. I can see them emanating from a character as a definer. In narration it would drive me nuts. The sad truth is way back thousands of years ago there was vocabulary where one word stood for a rhetorical device, writing device or tactic that now take the “expert” buffoons a couple of sentences. But we don;t get a classical education, or even a liberal arts education these days. I often mourn the lack of vocabulary but from Elmore to the writing bots, keep it simple, make it easy, make the story do the work. “Ah kin see all them high falootin’ fy dollah words bein a some good tah somebody but they doan cut no hay roun these parts.”

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi A. Mole,

    The description of people on the bus is what makes this piece for me. Of course, we dug fossils last weekend, is also a good one. The rain is important. Piece of a larger whole. Yes, that is the way of the world. We are only pieces making our way. I know a guy in a band called “The Fossils”. They sell t-shirts that say, “Fossil On”. It seems that all of us are trying to figure out how to put some sort of emotion or feeling into a group of words. That is it, I’m pretty sure. I am watching “The Great Beauty” for the second time tonight. It is two and one-half hours long. It is about a writer on HBO Max. I have this sense that you have had a life worth leading and so have I and this movie portrays that idea in all of its confusion. I’m leaving this cutting all over the internet. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YcC05nhbkI Many years ago, I sent you a cutting of “A Coffee in Berlin”. We didn’t know each other then, now we do, in our way. Anyway, it is a nice piece of writing and here we are late Sunday night. Still alive. Still writing. That’s good. There is no reality without language. I do believe that. Thanks. Duke

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Needs polishing — something that takes me many iterations.
      Fossils fascinate me. We’ve dug trilobites in Utah, geodes there too, they call them thundereggs here in Oregon. There are beaches in England that are littered with ammonite fossils.
      I have had somewhat of a life of interesting events. I fear my children won’t get to see and experience as much.

      “There is no reality without language” Amen.

      Like

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