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The Dream Quest One Second Writing Prize

Winner Summer 2010


Dale Flowers

of Astoria, Oregon, USA





Table legs gave out a short screech. Kitchen chairs jostled. Lurching like stiff legged ponies, they galloped across the worn linoleum. What was the source of all the pent up frustration? From a long forgotten embattled band or tribe, or perhaps fleeing war torn Poland and Germany? The stampede was on, jumping forgotten hurdles over worn, chipped linoleum.


“Pop, calm down,” grimaced the teenager.


His hands held tightly to his father’s wrist, keeping the kitchen knife at bay. But the middle-aged man couldn’t calm down, not quite yet. The legs of a kitchen chair weren’t done rattling across another two feet of floor. Father and son continued their awkward dance. Hands to wrists, they did the two-step as another chair accompanied them, its wooden seat pressing against the hack of the man’s leg.


Was it really just another ancient rush from the deep past? Did it really matter?


His wife clutched her green apron tight to her waist. She used her only weapon; fear. She shot it at him with her wide-eyed look in need of being saved. The insult boiled him over. Her son Landy, to the rescue, his strong adolescent hands held tight to his father’s wrists. Now it was Landy’s turn to grip tight to his father’s past. Inheritance was like that. Rage was like that, beautiful, beautiful rage. Without it, his father would have been lost, unrecognizable. And for Landy, how else was he to bond with his father? With it they could soar away almost breaking free. But not quite before gravity dragged them back down. With one good shove, Landy plopped him unceremoniously into the chair, and dear ole Dad found his place, sitting beneath the glare of a dangling bare bulb. Exhaustion started its inevitable seep. Landy stood above the drunken, middle-aged man, still locked to his wrists.


~Just take it easy, Pop. Won’t ya?”




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It was an absurd request. And yet, an exhausted breath was slowly hoisting up the white flag.


Landy easily removed the serrated knife from his father’s hand and placed it on the kitchen table.


Landy had known by his father’s unshaven look and the smell of alcohol a rough night was ahead. He hated the look, rough and unkempt, bristling with aggravation. He detested it more than the smell of liquor. It was what he had noticed first, before the faint whiff of alcohol accompanied his father’s staggering entrance, the screen door banging. It was the bristles of his phalanx, which meant trouble when getting in close. Father and son’s ancient dance, in fact, had once been performed around campfires, before there were boots, before there were sandals, where bare feet stomped and flames licked the night sky with a frenzied presence. Now, with civilization, where else could it he performed hut around the kitchen table?


His father turned towards the table. He draped his arms over his head that came to rest on the table. Landy looked down at his father, but what could not be seem was the stampede coming right fur him. With each passing year their bond strengthened. From old campfires their hearts had been forged together.




Every Sunday Landy took his family on their traditional drive. He was clean-shaven with a crisp white shirt that fit loosely over his barrel chest. Driving through St. Louis County, he slowed for a stop. His thoughts surfaced with an irritation, his foot tapping the aging accelerator. The carburetor, eager to stall, was a constant source of aggravation. With each sputtering hesitation, the toe of his shoe provided a relentless tap. A billboard of a bottle of Southern Comfort, with its icy beads of condensation, irritated him like late night sweat. Booze, Landy thought, tapping the gas pedal to sustain the carburetor’s life. He never touched alcohol himself, even when offered a beer by friends. His family would never have to worry about a knife threatening drunk. Landy’s attacks




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were always verbal, harsh, slashing things that cut.


Landy’s car approached a red light. His right foot tapped again. The car trembled up the hill. His wife sat in the front with their six-year-old son, Dell in between. Charmy, their eight-year-old daughter sat in the back. Dell was staring out the driver’s side window. A metallic gray contraption that sat on the sidewalk by a traffic light fascinated him.


When Dell walked home from grade school a swirl of autumn leaves spun around his ankles. He shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his jacket, protecting his fingers from the autumn chill. On the corner of Gravois and Delores, Bevo Mill, a restaurant stood in the shape of a windmill. For an authentic look it was made of white masonry stones complete with huge wooden lattice blades permanently frozen in place. Dell’s older sister had explained how the wind made a windmill’s blades turn. This perplexed him; those blades never budged. He wondered how strong the wind had to he before they moved. That day the blades never caught his attention, but next to Bevo Mill on the sidewalk sat a strange sheet metal box. About the size of a small refrigerator, it was waist high with a tall stovepipe that ascended to eight feet. It seemed out of place with everything else on Gravois. The traffic made sense. The storefronts made sense. Even the windmill that never turned made more sense than this gray metal contraption. He watched it for almost a half a minute. It did nothing. The image played with his lack of understanding, but it’s meaning was pending....


Looking out the driver’s side window, Dell examined the metallic object. Smoke was funneling out of the stovepipe. A newspaper boy stood there warming himself as he fed another piece of cardboard into it through an open metal door. Suddenly, Dell, excited with the discovery, exclaimed, “Look! It’s for burning!”


‘SHUT UP,” roared Landy, still struggling with the Chevy.


“Landy!” scolded Dell’s mother, using the first name rarely used around the children. Her son leaned towards her, his head sinking into the protective nest of her lap. She placed her hand on his head, her fingers coming to rest on the curve of his forehead. 1-Ic lay there, staring at the Chevrolet insignia



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fastened over the car’s radio. His eyes traced the curves of the polished metal, his father’s reprimand, now a quiet glimmer.


The vehicle crossed the intersection, and the family resumed their Sunday outing. Landy enjoyed investigating the peripheral areas of St. Louis County. Moving down Chippewa Boulevard, the urban sprawl showed itself off with new construction, sprouting up along their meandering path.


“Look there, Mom,” remarked Landy, to his wife, Ginny, drawing her attention towards a new A&P grocery market. It stood there, inviting as a work of art. “Look at all that parking. That’s the way the go.”


Ginny looked with supportive interest. Her hand pressed against the blond cowlick of her son’s head. Landy had entered the grocery business in his own modest way. He had started with one small neighborhood store and would soon be opening a second. But it was the supermarket that made his eyes flash with envy, or as he put it: “That’s where it’s at, Mom.”


Dell surfaced from his mother’s lap in search of the parking lot. His head appeared above the passenger side window. A splash of sunlight stung his eyes, its warmth lapping over the side of his face. He squinted, viewing the panorama that danced by the window.


The family car, now warmed up, moved through St. Louis County no longer in need of coaxing by a nervous foot. The Chevy rolled smoothly through a Sunday of soft hills and deciduous trees.




On Monday morning Landy foot tapped nervously, the tension traveling down his leg and into traffic. A frenzied state possessed him as his foot beat out a primitive rhythm for every twist and turn of the Street. The residential limit of 25 MPH gave way to the 40 MPH dash to work. He understood the value of time. As owner and manager of a neighborhood grocery, using time efficiently as a commodity, like a stack of soup cans, nothing could be out of place. It was the driving force propelling him to the top of a residential hill on Hampton. He knew just how to avoid




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the morning congestion that lay in ambush.


Letting up on the gas, Landy arrived at the main intersection still ahead of the mob. He felt a sense of relief as he pulled into the intersection. Pushing the accelerator halfway down, he concentrated on the distant green light ahead. One block remained when it blinked out, replaced by yellow. 1-lis foot went to the floor; the car lurched towards the intersection. The red light blinked on, signaling a full minute lost while the intersecting hordes rolled by with indifference.


“Damn it... Damn it Joseph to Mary,” scorned Landy, braking to a stop. He always started with the lesser saints. “Thank You—God damn You!” Having reached the top of the list, he blasted his Creator. Running the rapids of the east bound lane left little time for introspection. Security always remained just out of reach. In his peripheral vision, traffic was piling up on the inside lane. He immediately adjusted the pressure of his foot. Turning his head slightly to the left, he tried to catch a hint of yellow on the opposing traffic light. It dangled from a thick black wire some twenty feet up, taunting him. He squinted, revving the engine. No morning competitor would rob him.


At work, Landy surrendered to efficient friendliness. The regulars appreciated his cheerful behind-the-meat counter look. From seven in the morning to five in the evening, not a tremor disturbed the discipline of a man who understood the value of good customer-relations. All of the day’s frustrations were held in check until reaching the Chevy. When the workday ended, money was placed in a cast iron safe, and a padlock snapped into place on the front door of Landy s Food Saver. There was nothing left to do but race home.


Ginny stood by the stove tending to the breaded pork chops that sizzled and popped in the frying pan. Landy’s car pulled to a quick stop in the driveway. She glanced out the kitchen window confirming his arrival. A snarling speck of hot grease struck her wrist. She tensed, rubbed the spot while watching Landy from the kitchen window. She focused on the pork chops as Landy opened the door. He blew through the kitchen bumping a chair out of the way with his hip.


I low was your day?” she asked, clutching her green apron tight to her waist.


# # #

By Dale Flowers