Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘short story’

The False Cross (Part III)

In Adventure, Writing on June 3, 2012 at 6:00 am

The Southern Cross

Below is the ending to my story, The False Cross. Here is a link to part one. Here, part two.

All day it rained. The sky was a shade of concrete. Anne napped, cleaned the lodge, then napped again. As a child she had liked rain. It instilled in her a comforting calm, a forced relaxation. But as everything was other than before, so too the rain, which no longer relaxed her. Rather, it depressed her.

When Franz returned he was cold and, despite his rain gear, soaked through. He excused himself from dinner and crawled into bed shivering. He could not afford to get sick. His clients had come from far away and had spent significant money to fish the legendary rivers of Patagonia. One of his new arrivals, from South Africa, was a man named Reefer. Anne found his accent provocative and at dinner that night she joined the clients in Franz’s absence, sitting next to him. She was entertaining and laughing and full of life. Even to herself she appeared happy.

When she got into bed, Franz’s teeth were chattering, but his fever broke by morning.

The night sky of the southern hemisphere was familiar to Reffer and one clear night he pointed out the Southern Cross. Anne, for all her years in Patagonia, had never seen it and she hung on Reffer’s words as he explained that the Southern Cross is sometimes confused with the False Cross which is close by, less bright, and with stars more widely spaced. She relaxed her eyes and peered into the infinity. At one point she rested her hand on his shoulder. A week later he was gone and Anne wondered, if she’d asked, would he have taken her away with him?

* * *

The end of the Patagonian season is singularly dreary. Anne thought of Indiana where it was spring, remembering her youth on a street lined with oaks and a neighborhood brimming with kids on bikes. She pulled on a fleece and her rain-gear against the weather and left the lodge.

Bear sniffed the ground next to her. Franz had gone to Porto Monte to pick up the last clients of the season. He would also bring the supplies ordered on his trip two weeks previous. He would bring the mail and magazines and news of the world. From her bench on the island summit Anne watched his returning boat, its wake, a speeding V pointed at her heart. She tugged at her fleece and interlaced her gloved fingers. The south face precipice was sheer and she wondered were she to jump would she fall direct or possibly hit a crag? “There are a lot of ways of killing a woman,” she said to no one. Bear was tired and despite the cold and wind was curled up asleep under a sheltering tree.

She’d lost track of the seasons in Patagonia. Is this five, six? Each season had further isolated and diminished her, as if pulling her out of light and into deepening shades of grey. She used to be confident in her strength, but every day she grew weaker and feared a reckless sprint to the end. Yet, she was not lost entirely. Such was the nature of her condition: monitored.

Daily, sometimes twice, she fired up the satellite phone and watched the searching screen. Every day it failed to find a connection and she would turn it off and dutifully return it to the cradle. She slept during the day and at night she would lie awake fearing the return of the black diesel. Franz slept heavily and the dogs slept on the floor at their feet.

* * *

She rose. Bear turned and watched her as she slipped out of bed, then followed her out the door. In the morning, Franz found the dog at the end of the dock, looking to the water.

Two panic-stricken days followed until he realized that one of the seven boats was missing. Two years later he received a card, postmarked Paris. He recognized her handwriting. It simply read, Fish are our friends.

– the end –

The False Cross (Part II)

In Adventure, Writing on June 2, 2012 at 6:00 am


The second installment (of three) below. (If you’re just coming to this post, you should first read part one here.)

From the island summit the view was a magnificent three hundred and sixty degrees, bordered on the south by a 1500-foot granite cliff. Franz built Anne a bench at this spot and she often spent her afternoon here, sitting aimlessly. She tried to read but lacked concentration. Clients gave her books, perhaps sensing a need, and she would politely accept, but she was no longer a reader and the books accumulated on her shelf. This was a personal loss, for reading had once been a passion. The library reflected the corners of the earth from which a traveler will come to catch fish. She could read French and Italian, as well as converse in German and Spanish. As a child, she exhibited what her parents called a gift for language. But that was a long time ago.

Stone-like she sat on the bench and stared at the horizon. Frequently, an Andean condor would draft from below and linger suspended eye to eye. She wished at times that she was a photographer and could capture such things, but she’d grown used to being less than she wished, such that the notion never so much as settled on her, as hovered, like the bird, quiet and unflapping and with piercing vision. She started a journal two seasons ago, but it depressed her to read past entries, so she stopped.

* * *

When she greeted Franz at the dock he handed her a brown trout, a fish maybe seven or eight pounds, a large fish by any standard but not unusual for these parts. “Swallowed the fly,” he said. “Got it out and released him but he floated to the top.” Ironically, Franz hated to kill a fish. He said that fish where his friends. Anne thought this humorous and the only honest fight they ever had was upon hearing this the first time when she laughed at him. Anne said she would prepare a fish stew. He nodded.

The stew arrived at the client table in a large earthen pot, painted round with a mountain scene. Franz stood among the hungry clients with a ladle. He dipped but came short against the fish curled on the bottom, whole and intact. He lifted it from the stew, examined it, and removed the pot from the table to the kitchen. Maria caught his eye and nodded quietly toward Anne who was standing at the back door looking to the horizon. The night was overcast and the silhouette of the mountains was lost against the sky.

“Can you tell where the mountains stop and the sky begins?” she asked.

* * *

The next morning Anne realized that the phone no longer connectted to the satellite. She told Franz as he was loading the boat, holding the phone at arm’s length. “Dead,” she declared. He pursed his mouth and nodded. His clients sat fast and they soon were off across the water to the Land Rover waiting to transport them to the McKenzie boats. Anne watched them leave, petting Bear, the dog. The island was profoundly quiet and she imagined a mute satellite spinning far above.

– end, part two –

The False Cross (Part I)

In Adventure, Writing on June 1, 2012 at 6:00 am

In Patagonia, by Bruce Chatwin

I am going to do something different. I am going to tell you a story, in three parts.

Part one:

It was after discovering Chatwin that Anne decided on Chile. That landscape is littered with young people accordingly influenced, the naïve and the idealistic. It goes like this: They read In Patagonia, fancy themselves full-throated adventurers, ready a rucksack–as Chatwin called it–and head south. “Gone to Patagonia,” Chatwin wrote his boss. Anne was in New York, studying the culinary arts. She loved the city honestly for all the right reasons. Yet, her studies complete, she set out, full of cloudless spirit. That she met Franz, a fishing guide, and married and came to live in Patagonia is worth mentioning. Of greater interest, though, is how she unraveled on the isolated island they called home.

* * *

“We have a problem,” Anne said.

Franz looked up from the boat. He was burdened with gear. His client, Gino, stepped to the dock. “Boungiorno, Anne,” said Gino.

“Boungiorno, Gino,” she said. “And how was your day?”

“Buono. Extraordinary.” Gino smiled broadly. He had had a good day on the Rio Plano. He caught many fish, including a brown trout that was possibly the largest trout he had ever caught, including his record fish in New Zealand.

Anne said she was delighted for him. She patted his shoulder as he walked past, his waders chaffing. He waved to Giovanni who, having returned earlier, sat in front of the lodge smoking a black cigarette. Franz looked at Anne.

“We have a problem,” she repeated. He glanced at his client, now out of earshot. “Yes?” he asked. “Are the dogs okay?”

“The dogs are fine. I don’t think it is a serious problem, but it’s a problem, nonetheless.”

Franz handed her the fly rods and stepped onto the dock. It was an hour before sunset. The mountains were in shadow and the lake was calm, the sky a royal purple. The last boat was heading across the water to the lodge. The engine whined. The other boats were in.

“I got an email. Iridium is going out of business. We’re going to lose our connection.”

Anne and Franz had only a satellite phone with which to connect with the world beyond the mountains, to family, to the travel company that booked the fishing clients and arranged their arrival and departure, to the store in Porto Monte that filled their monthly orders for food and supplies. It was a link upon which Anne grew increasingly dependent as the weeks and months of fishing season stretched out.

“Like I said, it’s not a big problem.” She was calmer now that Franz was home. He studied her. Her companions during the day, the dogs, came over the hill to greet him. She slipped her arm through his and they walked toward the lodge. Franz looked at the sky. “No clouds,” he said. “Should be a good day tomorrow.”

* * *

One night Anne grew troubled in her sleep and fell from the bed, hitting her head on the table. Franz slept soundly through the incident, worn out from his struggles against the wild currents and eddies of his guided rivers. She told him she had rolled over in her sleep and fallen off the bed. But in truth she had had a bad dream in which a train came at her out of a night horizon, quiet until upon her, then rushing at her like a hungry thing alive, loud and earth-heavy. She threw herself to the side, out of its path. She did so just in time, the hot engine lurching past. But she fell from the bed and hit her head. She was embarrassed by the dream and did not tell Franz. Her bruise was noticeable in the morning, and she remained in the kitchen while Marie waited on the clients.

– end, part one-