The girls each grab a metal rail, slightly rusted and possibly moldy. Or maybe it’s just black grit. One is 15 years old, the other 12. Despite the difference in height, they unhook the bottom of each rail and push skyward. An old striped awning unfolds. I know it’s old because it first unfurled the year I graduated from high school. 1985. The year my husband exited the US Army as a Sgt. E-5, Ranger 1/75.
What do these numbers mean? Nothing, really. Not now. I try to focus on the rails and the “crabby” side the 15 year old wrestles with and advises me how to jimmy until it pops into place. For now, the rain has ceased. The awning is not needed but is nice to have. It’s attached to my new home; a home on wheels; a home that wasn’t my home the last time I tapped keys at Carrot Ranch.
Who am I? I don’t know I would answer that question the same way I would have in May of 2016. I feel like the crabby rail that needs shaking to work correctly. I feel rusty, moldy. I want my bed but I now sleep in a cubby where I can’t sit up for lack of space. I feel the need to urinate frequently only because I’m panicked over where I’m supposed to pee. I discover at age 49 that I have claustrophobia.
But family send me Facebook messages that my experience is fun. Evidently, I’m a pioneer.
Ah, at last, something to cling to. If this what it is to be a pioneer, I have a greater appreciation for the women who looked at the Conestoga wagons that clearly couldn’t fit their heirlooms, kitchens and children only to mouth, WTF to their husbands. Adventure, they’d mouth back, as if adventure made the loss worthwhile. So I think, did women respond to the call of adventure, or did they shrink under the weight of all they lost? Home matters more to women, I’m convinced.
Mary McCanles didn’t follow her husband, Cobb immediately to Rock Creek, Nebraska Territory. About the time he voiced his Grand Solution to the unraveling politics of antebellum North Carolina, Mary responded with two words: “I’m pregnant.” Yet, many wives gave birth on the emigrant trails to California or Oregon or the Promised Desert of the Mormons. Mary stayed behind until she gave birth. The child before was born blue of a difficult labor; the child would need special care all her life. As typical of the times, Mary could have let the babe die; failure to thrive was considered a merciful end to a dependent life. But she and Cobb raised that daughter. And Mary gave birth to their last child before she left her home.
Home. What is that?
Home is where the heart is.
Home sweet home.
Home is where your story begins.
Let me introduce you to Dr. Danni Gordon. She loves the comfort of her home. Danni is a historical archaeologist, working less and less each year in Idaho for the US Forest Service due to budget cuts. She makes her home with Ike, a former Army Ranger. He likes smelly things, like reloading bullets, tanning animal hides and hunting dogs. They do not exist in her home where she stores her Oregon Pinot Noir, vintage aprons and historic railroad maps. Her home smells of vanilla cream candles and home-cooking from recipes found in old cookbooks. Yet, home is threatened when Ike decides to re-enlist to help out in Iraq. She becomes responsible for the smelly things until he returns. But what if he doesn’t? What if a glitch in his pay creates a foreclosure situation her meager salary can’t recover. What if Ike goes missing and she and the dogs lose their home?
Welcome to the revision of Miracle of Ducks. Originally, my novel explored what it means to serve and how we all need community. Now the protagonist, Danni, faces losing her home after her husband goes missing on a mission in Iraq. It’s a book that explores what life is like for the spouses left behind when the home-front is threatened by capitalistic systems that fail the very families protecting the capitalistic nations. Why? Because women in the US have had to cope with loss of home throughout our history from the pioneers to the soldiers’ wives foreclosed upon. And it’s a topic I can adress with some experience.
For now, let’s suffice to say that I found a sliver of home in the two girls who showed me the quirks of my replacement — a camp trailer on wheels. They loved this trailer for family memories while camping. It’s all I have between me and the rain outside. I grieve the loss of my office. I want my bed like a toddler craving a special blanket. I have no idea how to cook in this tiny space despite bringing my best copper pan. Yet I forgot a spatula. I have no running water and I only have electricity if someone lets me plug in to theirs. Home is where the heart is? I’m not sure where my heart is at the moment, selfish as that sounds. Home sweet home? It stinks. Home is where my story begins? Sure.
Let the next chapter begin.
Carrot Ranch is a place for writers. It’s a community that holds more heart than anything else in my life at the moment. It’s meant to support, and support it will continue to do. While my home travels from place to place (I’m visiting friends with flushing toilets, wi-fi and electricity), I’ll be revising two novels. One is bones, the other muscle. I’ll also be finishing the skin of the first Carrot Ranch anthology. Bones, muscles, skin? An analogy shared with me by a former baby-sitter; a young girl who once loved my home and children who now is a fine woman with her own. She’s currently in Manchester, England working on a literary thesis. A position she worked hard to earn. From Montana to Minnesota to the UK.
We are all connected here through our words. Flash fiction is our common ground. And my home is held in the hands of a community while I transition through a time of homelessness. Thank you for your encouragement, support and contributions. We are ranchers. We are pioneers. We are writers. And this is our home.
June 22, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about home. What is it? How does it impact a character? Explore the idea of home from any spark that creates a story.
Respond by June 28, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
New Home by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)
“Blue skies of home!” Cobb swept arms outward and Sarah leaned back, soaking in every scudding white cloud she claimed.
They labored hard that summer. Sarah set up the books and store. At night Cobb fiddled for pioneers passing through, no matter how tired he was from constructing the bridge and outbuildings. He dug a new well and bought a second road ranch.
When Mary finally arrived with Cobb’s brother, all the children safe, including the new baby, Cobb greeted her with the same sweeping gesture and homage to the prairie sky.
Mary glowered. “Home’s what I left behind.”
Line Open, Nobody Listening by Charli Mills (from Miracle of Ducks)
“Look you son-of-a-bitch, just because you have an error in your system doesn’t make you right,” Danni yelled into the receiver of the phone, ignoring Michael’s silent indication to stop. No way. She was right and this bank jerk-off on the other end was wrong.
“Dr. Gordon, to you, asshole!”
“If you continue this harassing language, I’ll hang up.”
“Oh, scary. If you continue your harassing foreclosure letters without correcting YOUR error I will hang you like a vigilante.”
“Enough, Danni,” Michael whispered harshly.
She slammed the receiver, screamed at the wall in frustration. “It’s my home!”