Short Story

Boots

A short story by George Beavis.

From the author:

I have been trying, emphasis on trying, to write about my experiences in Vietnam in a way that I hoped would be more understandable to other people. I think, or hope, I have learned some ways to do that. 

If I have it has only been the result of each of my classmates and the way they have approached each of the tasks and the creativity each has shown plus the encouragement of Michael January, Samuel and the other CM people.

Without their encouragement I would have just left it hanging and not put the effort into it.  It is by no means a work of art, but I feel good that I rewrote it, reworked it and the ideas. The encouragement helped me to keep going on it and I feel very good about that. Who cares about the story. Not me. I do care that I was encouraged and “finished” it!!!!

Boots 

by George Beavis

Watching the news and the camera panned over a dead body covered by a tarp. A foot with a brand new boot sticking out. 

I remember my laces were being pulled tight and wrapped around my ankle twice and knotted. 

After that, we knocked about for a while and then went for a walk. I got pretty wet and muddy. By night time we were back where we started. I was taken off the foot and set on the ground. That didn’t always happen. Sometimes we were so tired we were never taken off and set on the floor. 

Days marched by like that in an endless line until one day when we were out walking and a big explosion knocked us down. 

I woke up in a dark closet. When the door was left open I could look around. My partner, who I considered “Left” wasn’t near me. It got dark again and I was scared. After a while, my eyes began to adjust to the dark in the closet. I looked around and saw other boots lined up. Some singles. Some pairs. 

I just sat there all day for maybe months, so I was able to study the other boots even in the darkish light in the closet. Some were brand new and never really got a chance to even have their soles broken in. Some were badly worn, their toes all scuffed and scared, with their soles worn thin. 

A few boots away was a pair that were all spit-shined and regulation-like. Probably never worked a day in his life, you know the type. I bet he was fragged. 

Mostly we just sat in here and no one paid any attention to us like we had outlived our usefulness. One time someone came and got one of the singles, threw it in the trash then slammed the door. 

** 

I hated that locker. It gave me the willies. If I saw a boot belonging to someone I knew had died, I would throw it out. I didn’t throw out pairs ‘cause it seemed a shame when there was still life in them. When I got ready to rotate back to the states I snagged a pair that looked pretty new and stuffed them in my bag. 

I didn’t try them on until I got back home. I thought they might be good for camping or hiking. I wasn’t trying to be a poser or anything. When I put them on I knew I had made a bad mistake. All the lumps and bumps of the original owner’s feet were still there on the inside. Just walking around in them they reminded me with every step that they weren’t mine. I took them off and set them in the garage for a few years. Every time I saw them they would remind me of that bloody closet and all the dead boots. I eventually threw them out. They were just like an albatross hung around a sailor’s neck to punish.

Poetry

Hummingbird Tongues

by Neysa Peterson
March 9, 2022

Beating wings thrum
Hummingbird tongue
Slender needle
Sipping nectar

Simply nourishing
Watching with wonder
Senses soothed
Spirit renewed

Image clings
When disquiet rings
Solace sought again
Where do I begin

With beating wings
Nourishing
Watching with wonder  
Hummingbird tongues

Short Story · Writing

Secrets

A Short Story by George Beavis, PWA Participant Artist & Veteran

Truth and Lies are both secrets.

The heat makes the black sticky stuff in the streets into little bubbles that I can pop with my finger. Sometimes the black stuff sticks to my finger. I wipe it on the grass or my pants. I was helpin’ my daddy fix our car. 

Daddy says it is a “Model A.” I like watching him work on our car. I know what a letter “A” looks like, but the car doesn’t look like that. It is black like the sticky stuff. 

I know my colors now.

It has a crank in front just like in the cartoons. 

Our car is the only one on my block that has a crank. Daddy says we don’t need the crank anymore because he added a battery. Not sure what that is, but Daddy showed it to me. It is under some boards by the front seat. Daddy lets me lift up the boards when we are drivin’ so I can watch the road go by. It is fun to kneel on the floor in front of the seat an look at the road. In the cartoons, people stick their feet down the hole to make the car stop, but their feet smoke an burn up. Daddy said never to do that. 

He showed me once how he could start it usin’ the crank, but he said he was afraid it would break his arm. I am really lucky because nobody else has a car like that or a Daddy that can do that.

I like to ride with Daddy in the car. He lets me stand on the seat next to him. If we have to stop suddenly, he reaches out with his arm to keep me from fallin’. I like that. 

He is all warm and smells like dirt an pipe tobacco. He smells good.

When we work on the car, Daddy lets me hold our hammer and other tools. He works on our car a lot when he is home. I can see the engine. Daddy tells me the names of all the parts. 

The “fuel filter” is the most fun to look at. It is glass an has liquid in it. Daddy said it was “gas.” If I climb up, I can see it. It is yellow, sort’a. 

I like to sit next to Daddy on the floor in the kitchen too. He smears black stuff on his boots an rubs it with a cloth until it is shiny. He spits on his shoe! I am not allowed to spit! But Daddy can. He said it was for work so his boots will be shiny.

While we were sittin’ on the floor, I could see a pretty red bottle. Daddy took one of his pencils out of his pocket an drew a very tiny line on the bottle an said “secret,” puttin’ his finger to his lips. It made me feel like a special big kid ‘cause Daddy told me a secret. 

Daddy had never told me a secret before.

I was sittin’ on the kitchen floor the next day when Mommy was gettin’ the red bottle out. I said “secret” an pointed to the line on the bottle. I was so proud to know a secret. I had never known a secret before. Mommy an Daddy talked about secrets sometimes but I never knew one.

Mommy laughed an said, “So your father thinks he is clever.” She filled the bottle with water so it was back even with the line. Mom laughs about a lot of things I don’t understand. They weren’t funny like in the cartoons.

It made me feel funny. I don’t know if Mommy is laughin’ at me or Daddy or what? 

*

We have a game where there is a plastic pot on a swivel. Daddy told me about swivels and showed me how they work. Daddy told me the idea is for each person to put a bean in the pot until the pot was full. The pot is black like our car.

Each bean I added makes the pot want to tip over an dump everythin’ out. I liked playin’ the game with Daddy, but Mommy never has time to play, even durin’ the day. 

Daddy helped me know where I could put my bean so that I wouldn’t make the pot tip over an dump everythin’ out. My hands were small an shaky, so it was hard for me. 

When the pot tips over you yell “you spilled the beans.” “Spilling the beans” means you lost the game. 

Most of the time Daddy has to go to work an isn’t home. I can walk up to the mailbox to meet Daddy when he is comin’ home… if Mommy says it is ok. 

The mailbox is across from my daddy’s bus stop. I can’t leave the block or cross the big street to the bus stop because I am too small,  but I can go to the mailbox. When I start school, I can walk by myself off the block to go school, but right now I can’t.

When Daddy walks to the store I go with him an he lets me cross the big street if I hold his hand. I always like to hold Daddy’s hand even though I am sort’a a big boy. I like it. His hands are big an nice.

Tom comes by my house durin’ the day. He doesn’t like to play any games like Daddy does. He likes to talk with Mommy. 

Sometimes Mommy gives me “workbooks” an a fat pencil to “keep me busy.” Mommy said I can’t have a pencil like Daddy’s skinny pencil until I am older, but I don’t know when that will be. 

I like the ones in the workbook where you are a mouse, an you try to find the cheese without crossin’ the lines. It is called a “puzzle.” Mommy likes for me to do a lot of work in the books. I sit on the floor where Daddy an I sit when we are makin’ his boots shiny. They have dot-to-dot things too, but I don’t always know the next right order to connect them. 

Tom drives a yellow truck for work. It has all kinds of doors on it. I like to open all the doors an see what is inside. Some have wires of different colors. Some have other things that I don’t know yet. I liked to look through them just to see. Some wires are black. Some are green. Red wires too. It is excitin’ to see all the things in the truck cupboards. The truck is brand new an doesn’t have a crank at all.

Tom told me if I was a good boy that I could go outside an spend as much time as I wanted lookin’ at the things behind the doors in the back of his truck. The doors each had a lock on it, but Tom unlocked them all before he went inside my house.

Tom came over to my house almost every day while Daddy was at work an I could play in his truck. Sometimes if I tried to go back into the house, the door was locked. 

One time Tom forgot to open all the little doors, so I went back into the house. The front door wasn’t locked that time, so I went in. I couldn’t find them until I went in Mommy’s room.

Mommy got really upset and yelled at me. She said to go outside. Tom left with his truck.

I don’t remember what I had said to Daddy. 

Daddy an Mommy started yellin’. It seemed like I had done somethin’ wrong. Daddy left the house an drove away.

Mommy said I had “spilled the beans,” she is very upset with me an yellin’ at me an cryin’. I hadn’t been playin’ that game so I couldn’t see how that could be. I thought maybe she wanted to play it, so I ran an got it out an set it up. Mommy kicked the game!

Mommy just kept cryin’ an repeatin’ somethin’ about “spilling the beans” an it bein’ my fault Daddy had left.

The next thing I remember was starin’ at the game. I was very confused.

I piled beans up until they dumped over. I said, “I spilled the beans.”

I piled beans up again part way an dumped them over, sayin’, “I spilled the beans.” 

Again I piled beans up an dumped them over, sayin’, “I spilled the beans.” 

I did that again an again. All I could see was the game. I knew I had done somethin’ very very wrong to do with the game an Mommy an Daddy. I couldn’t see anything except the game or hear anything except Mommy saying, “It’s your fault. You spilled the beans.”

I kept doin’ it anyway still sayin’, “I spilled the beans” over and over.

Mommy is layin’ on the bed cryin’, kickin’ her feet, and yellin’ at me to shut up. I just kept heapin’ the beans up until they spilled an sayin’, “I spilled the beans.” 

Maybe she is angry because I lost the game, but no one is even playin’ with me.

Mommy came in an’ grabbed the game and threw it in the trash. 

I don’t understand.

Mommy is really mad at me. She says it is all my fault, but I don’t know what is my fault.

Mommy said Daddy left. An’ Mommy says that I have to go find him. She screams not to come home until I find him. The last thing I remember before leavin’ the house was Mommy layin’ face down on the bed an cryin’.

I walk up an’ down the block but didn’t see Daddy. I’m not allowed to go past the corner by myself. Daddy says I am too young an not in school yet like the big boys. I keep goin’ anyway because Mom said. 

I walk to the grocery store. I have walked there with Mom before, an up to the liquor store. I have walked there with Mom before too. I think I know which way Daddy’s bus goes to work, so I start that way. I don’t know what Daddy’s work looks like. 

I don’t know where I am or how to get home anymore. I have never been this far by myself. I would feel like a big boy, but I can’t stop cryin’, and I don’t know how to find Daddy. I wish I could go home, but I don’t know where home is, an Mom said not to come home until I found Daddy.

I stand still cryin’. A stranger tries to talk to me, but Daddy said never talk to strangers, so I run.

I don’t know which way to go because I don’t know where I am. 

I don’t know where the grocery store is anymore, or the liquor store, or even the mailbox. 

I start walkin’, but I don’t know where I am goin’.

Writing

The “Have You Never Been Mellow” Jumble

Artist Statement
by Jason Larsen

Samuel Corales, the instructor of the current Interactive Creative Writing class, asked us to take a song and then jumble them up in spoken word form in a way that means something to us. This is mine.

Have you never been happy
Just to hear your song?
Have you never let someone else be strong?

Have you never been mellow?
Have you never tried
To find a comfort from inside you?

There was a time
When I was in a hurry as you are
I was like you
There was a day
When I just had to tell my point of view
I was like you

Running around as you do
With your head up in the clouds
I was like you
Never had time to lay back
Kick your shoes off, close your eyes
I was like you

Now I don’t mean to make you frown
No, I just want you to slow down

Now you’re not hard to understand
You need someone to take your hand, hey

Have you never been mellow?
Have you never tried
To find a comfort from inside you?

Have you never been happy
Just to hear your song?
Have you never let someone else be strong?

The song was originally sung by Olivia Newton-John on an album of the same name. Credit goes to John Farrar, who wrote it.

Writing

Hope for 2022

By Sarah L. Blum, Nurse and Vietnam Veteran

Content Warning: mentions of violence, mental health, suicide

The poem by Amanda Gorman, New Day’s Lyric, ends with a focus on coming together. I believe that is the key. There is so much hatred and violence which drives us apart from one another. In times of great pain whether from the pandemic, the insurrection, personal health issues, wartime memories, family stress, divorce, etc. we need connection and support. I know there are some young people right now suffering with depression and anxiety and their vision for themselves is bleak, so they focus on ending their lives. What if they had connections they could count on with people who care about them and can help them see beyond their pain? What if they had support available to themselves regularly, people who could hear them and hear their pain without judgement? What if we as a nation of people, all different kinds of people could come together and support each other rather than judge each other, unite rather than divide us from each other.

How do we save the best of our democracy together? I remember after the attacks in 2001, that we did come together in our collective response to being attacked from outside. Why is it we cannot join together in the same way after being attacked by our own? Think back to how our nation split apart over slavery. There was a member of Congress who literally attacked and beat up another member with a cane because the attacker wanted to keep his slaves and the victim wanted to free the slaves. That level of violence and viciousness is what we are dealing with today. It is all around us and growing in intensity.

Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mandela, and many other spiritual leaders have shown us the way to peace and how to stand in love in the face of all that. It takes commitment and courage to stand up and be brutally beaten to show our love for peace no matter what! The people I know who can do that are veterans. They are and have been showing the way for decades. We who have been through the worst on behalf of our country and have and are healing and growing from it may be the ones who lead the way to bringing all of us together. The only way we can restore peace and our democracy is through love and nonviolence. I say let us be the leaders for that and walk together forward to a new way of living and being in our society. Let us show that we are a multiracial community and society respecting each other, hearing each other and supporting each other and our shared values.

Poetry · Writing

The Color of Freedom

“The Color of Freedom” by Michael J. O’Connell
A Soldier’s Perspective on the American Revolution

Over us did break the April sun, warmth penetrating the depths of our cold, miserable existence.

Months have seemed to drift, no rush by like the great Father Time tossing sand into the gale.

The ache in me is still, having rationed our morning meal of biscuits, and, for a fortunate few, dried legumes.

My coat, in disrepair for lack of thread,
my boots, endless miles have they tread
until neither mind nor body could comprehend.

Wasn’t it just last year, or before
when I felt this same shining orb upon my back while nesting the precious harvest
into the warm Spring earth?

Time has erased these as well, as the keeper of all things has seen that it is only forward, where the sands still cling to the
fragile glass that my mortality lay.

No matter, I keep my mind at ease.
For it is more than I, or the thousands with me, for whom I lay down my existence.

And if I grow weak for the cause, or slip it from my mind
as the lead surrounds me.

I turn towards that rising sun, and over its brightest hue, least I ever forget, shines the Red, the White, and the Blue.

Copyright 2022 Michael J. O’Connell

From the artist: “I wrote this original poem upon learning that my wife has ancestors who fought in the American Revolutionary war. Having been a soldier, I wanted to express my thoughts and feelings on the sacrifices that they made to give us our own nation and homeland.”

Michael O’Connell is a Path with Art Ambassador and Veteran Participant Artist

Short Story · Writing

Yard Car

by James Thiele

I was walking through my neighborhood on a fine spring day and what I saw through a gap in some bushes made me stop in my tracks. Sitting in the yard was the unmistakable boxy shape of a classic Land Rover, star of many National Geographic TV specials from my youth. But instead of trekking through the Sahara or African jungle it was now parked on the grass in a residential neighborhood of Seattle. It was still covered in colored leaves from the previous fall. It had become something else I remembered from my younger days — a yard car.

As a teenager growing up in a farming region of Indiana, it seemed that every house in the countryside had a car sitting on blocks in the front yard. Not to pick on Indiana though — people from rural areas all across America talk about this. “Yard car” is a generic term for any non-working vehicle sitting in the yard. This includes pickup trucks, tractors, RVs and other more unusual specimens. Once in Washington state I saw a lifeboat from a World War 2 cargo ship in someone’s yard. It was pretty big and rather far from the ocean so it wasn’t there by accident.

No car starts out wanting to be yard car. Every car comes out of the factory shiny and new with a possibly bright future ahead of it. But one day the future yard car won’t start. If another working vehicle is available this one gets left home. Assuming it can’t be fixed quickly and affordably it will be pushed off of the driveway and onto the yard. For awhile the owners will glance at it and mutter “I really ought to get around to fixing that.” But as time passes it inevitably starts getting stripped for parts. Somebody needs a new battery or radio or whatever and the one in the car in the yard will fit. Eventually the tires get removed the car goes up on blocks.

The Land Rover was not the only yard car in my neighborhood. A Ford Mustang from the 1960s was surrounded by weeds which had grown to half the height of the tires. The Mustang’s body looked good and made me wonder why it was sitting in the overgrown grass.

Both the Land Rover and Mustang were out of their respective yards before I moved out of the neighborhood. I’m sure the Mustang sooner or later will make it into the hands of a car enthusiast who will buff it up and show it off on weekends. The Land Rover probably won’t make it back to the Sahara (if it was ever there) but may regain some self esteem four wheeling through the Pacific Northwest backcountry.

But the true yard cars, sitting on blocks in rural front yards, aren’t going anywhere soon. Maybe someday it will get sold for parts or the owner may simply get tired of looking at it and pay to have it hauled away.


I got the idea for this in a writing class at Sound Mental Health (Hi LT).  I wrote it in a Path With Artwriting class (Hi Scott) and recited it at a PWA Showcase (Hi Nikki). It was later published in a small local literary journal.