Natural World Reflections Prose

This is the opening chapter of Togwotee Passage by L. G. Cullens.
The book is currently a work in progress, one of revamping and illustrating an earlier book, and is essentially a 1+1>2 literary [character centric and layered] eco-fiction work. 

Chapter 1: Early Trials

by L.G.Cullens 2018

"A common hindrance in life is our own thinking." ~ L. G. Cullens

The persistent drone might be mistaken for a peculiar effect of the unremitting Wyoming wind, but not to neighbors familiar with it. They recognized the sound of Calan humming, seemingly without catching a breath, and it brought to mind the seven year old playing in the dirt with his toy trucks, the sunlight haloing his wispy, straw colored hair. If they listened carefully though they might detect a higher pitch today, and investigating seen the scrunched up expression on his lean face. Was he trying to shut something out?


The house door slamming startles Calan, and he hides behind the hollyhocks as best he can, waiting there while his pa stomps to the rusting 1940 Dodge van and drives off. Only then, running into the house he'd been told to leave, he finds his mom comforting his younger sister.

"Did he hurt her?" Calan frantically asks.

"Your father was in a bad mood after a long day of work, and it upset Aileana. He's sorry and has gone out to cool off," Mom answered. It was his sister's response that reassured him, rubbing her eyes and shaking her head no.

Mom's answer didn't surprise Calan, but it increased his anxiety. He knew it meant Pa went out to booze, and usually got meaner doing so. Why does Mom always make excuses for Pa, was a reoccurring question on his mind. Calan had been told he took after his mom's looks, while his sister reflected more the darker complexion of their pa. An observation offered in an offhand manner, but it worried him, wondering in a child's way what other similarities they might share. 

"Let's play something Aly, your pick."

It made Calan angry that Pa was so mean to them, but he wasn't going to make it worse for Aly by going on about it. She still cried over Pa flinging her kitten out the door. Aly had laughed when it chased a toy she was pulling, which hadn't fit the old man's mood, as if anything did. Animals being smarter than humans in some ways, it never came back. Leastways that was the only thought he'd allow himself. 

Once, in childish anger while Pa was out, he'd asked Mom, "Why did you marry such a mean man?"

She'd hugged him and Aly saying, "We hadn't know each other long, and on one of your father's military leaves we got married. I thought he was my prince charming, and I have faith the man I married will work out his anger, just you wait and see." 

An earlier time, coming back from a visit to Uncle Euan's ranch, he'd asked what his older cousin Brent meant by shotgun wedding. Pa had said something nasty about Brent, and Mom, having put her hand on Pa's shoulder, answered, "You know boys, always coming up with crazy things. Who knows?"

Calan had heard stories of how the brutality of war affected soldiers, but they confused him. Mom once remarked they were lucky in Pa being a cook at a stateside training camp. Their neighbor Stan though, had lost an arm in the attack on Pearl Harbor. So why does Stan seem nice and Pa not? Are some people mean no matter? Nothing makes sense with grown-ups.

To Calan's relief, Pa came home so drunk he was hardly able to stand, and in no condition to strike out. Even so, Calan thought it hateful that Pa cursed Mom as she helped him to bed.

Not knowing some of Pa's words, or how bad they were, sometimes he'd repeat one in earshot of grown-ups. Usually the reaction was a horrified look, but their neighbor Stan would simply say, "Words like that aren't used by decent people, especially in mixed company."

Come morning, to avoid disturbing Pa's sleep off Calan and Aly quietly went out. Looking for some company, they first tried a friend's house that was close by, but found the family headed out for a day of fishing. Oh how Calan loved fishing, but his pa's fishing and hunting trips with drinking buddies didn't include children. Stan had once tried to console him with, “Just as well, because they go for the fun of killing. You'll understand better when you're older, and hopefully have a more respectful mindset without their influence.” Oh how that oft-used “when you get older” bit annoyed Calan.

Circling back they noticed Stan puttering around in all the plants he grew. Mom had a few flower beds and a small garden, but nothing like Stan. Calan had once asked why he grew so many different things, and Stan had answered something about the more variety the better for all life. It didn't make much sense to Calan, nor could he see where other creatures needed our help.

Stan could be an interesting guy, usually taking time to talk with Calan, and tell some of his Navy stories, so they stopped to chat. Besides, Stan had an early teen daughter that Calan had a crush on, all filled out as she was, but he didn't understand why. The crush despite the girl making him sick one time, feeding him rhubarb leaves as a salad while they were playing house. Aly wouldn't eat them, saying they tasted awful, but he'd wanted to please the girl.

Hardly into their visit Aly blurted out, "I have to pee," and Stan's wife nearby quickly took her into their house. Taking advantage of them being alone, Stan started asking more personal questions, which put Calan on guard. Mom had told him that most folks pretty much hold with what goes on in a man's house is the man's business, and might think something wrong with them if they talked about it. She'd said even the police didn't want to get involved. Stan seemed well meaning, but Calan was worried that things would get around, and maybe even get back to his pa.

When Aly came back out, she had a handful of cookies. Eager to sample their bounty, they said bye and headed off to a hiding spot of Calan's. 

With so much bad in his little world Calan worried over Aly. He'd learned there was no shortage of mean people, and what came at the hands of adults, especially men, hurt the most. The father of a school friend, a cop no less, had beat his friend for losing a fight. Hadn't his friend suffered enough with the other kids making fun of his black eye? His mistrust of grownups stood him well, such as the time coming home from school a man had offered him a whole dime to get in the car. He'd run as fast as his little legs would take him, hollering for help as loud as he could, and the car had sped off. Good thing, as no one in the houses nearby had answered his call. 

Coming back to the house at noontime, Mom must have been watching as she came out with sandwiches. "I hope you two are having fun, and have more things to do. It's probably best you don't come in till supper time. Your father isn't feeling well today." Fine by them. They knew it was no fun being in the house having to listen to Pa's crow and rants. Stan's wife, noticing Mom out, waved, but Mom only nodded and quickly went back in.

Some of Calan's school friends lived on the better-off side of town, but their parents weren't very friendly when he visited, so he and Aly set out to Juan's to see what he and his family were up to. Juan's parents didn't send him away when he said something bad. They simply explained that they didn't talk that way, and would appreciate he didn't. They even brought out milk and cookies some times. 

Returning at suppertime, the first thing Calan noticed were all the empty beer cans on the table. "A few minutes more," Mom said, "while I get the table set. You two go wash up."

Supper was a gloomy affair, more so than usual with Pa complaining about the food. "Why do these pork-chops taste like damn leather? Where in the hell did you learn to cook?" Lest Pa turn his attention on them, Calan and Aly kept quiet, trying to shrink out of sight. One of the pork-chops remained on the serving platter, and Calan would have liked to eat it. He didn't reach for it though, with Pa going on about how hard he worked to put food on the table. As soon as they could Calan and Aly went to his room where he read to her.

A thud and whimpering, nearly drowned out by Pa's vile bellowing, startled them. Rushing out of his room, Calan saw his mom up against the wall sobbing, with her arms up trying to ward off blows. In a rage he attacked Pa with his small fists flailing ineffectively. Turning on Calan, Pa knocked him to the floor and kicked him repeatedly. The last thing Calan remembered was Pa falling on the floor beside him. Mom's inner strength had surfaced in the form of an iron kettle. 

Calan could hear Aly and Mom sobbing, but couldn't see them. Struggling, he came a bit more conscious, and found them at his bedside. He was confused by his surroundings, and Mom looked strange wearing bandages, but they didn't look to be in danger so he started to slip off again — the blackness preferable to his throbbing pains. He was startled fully conscious though, hearing Stan's voice, "I think he's coming around," and someone pressing something cool where there was a shooting pain in his chest. Trying to brush away the foreign object, his mom grabbed his hand as she sobbed louder. 

More aware now, he began to recognize his surroundings as a hospital room, and the tormentor as the one wearing a white coat and red bow tie. "Try to take it easy young man. I'm Dr. MacGregor and I'm trying to help you." Calan wanted to tell him that the prodding wasn't helping, but couldn't talk because even his throat hurt.

His pain took a backseat though, when Pa entered the room with a bandaged head saying, "How's my boy doing?" Then turning to Mom angrily saying, "Why'd you attack me, causing me to fall on the boy?"

"You lying piece of shit," Stan bellowed starting towards Pa, "I'm going to show you what it feels like to get beat on!"

The doctor's voice rang out, "Orderlies," then continued coldly, "You two men, leave the room this instant." There was no need for the orderlies though, as Pa lit out with his tail between his legs. Seems even a slight, one armed man was more than he'd face up to. 

The next day Calan was surprised when Aunty May and Uncle Euan entered his room. "I called your Aunt May," Mom said, "because things have gotten out of hand, and she knows how to deal with your father, having helped her mother raise him and his brothers."

"Oh good God," Aunty May exclaimed, "I knew from what your mother told me that he'd gone too far this time, but seeing you like this is still a shock. Don't worry though, he's leaving the picture, and your mother and I are working out practical matters."

From brief visits to their ranch, Calan had formed the opinion that Aunty May was a no-nonsense woman, boardering on stern. Her help was appreciated, but he felt a bit anxious about how she might work out 'practical' matters, whatever they were.

Coming home from the hospital a few weeks later, Mom had explained some of those practical matters to him. Seems getting by now would be a lot harder, even with her finding what work she could, and it had been decided that he'd be living with Aunty May and Uncle Euan on their ranch. 

So it was he found himself on this long lonely stretch of highway, anxious about what life might hold in store, and feeling he was letting his sister down in not being with her.