On Tuesday, I entered NPR’s Three Minute Fiction contest. The rules of the contest were that all entries had to be six hundred words or less, my entry had 563 words and all stories must start with the sentence, “The nurse left work at five o’clock.” Partly because of the required opening sentence and partly because at least emotionally, I’m still at the Cabin, I chose elements of last week’s vacation. As I was writing fiction, I felt free to be fast and loose with the facts. My hope is that no one will be offended with what I wrote. If I have offended anyone, I apologize. The story follows:
The nurse left work at five o’clock. It had been a difficult day. She couldn’t get enough hours and when she did get work, it was only because the hospital was teetering on the brink. Plus, she had lost a patient. The woman had stopped intravenous nutrition and hydration, so her death was expected. In the last two weeks, her many friends and family members had paraded through, paying their respects, crying and occasionally laughing. She had seen it all before, but that still didn’t make it any easier. The woman had passed, just before five o’clock.
Driving west from the Soo, on Six Mile, she tried to look forward to the weekend. It was late August, but at this northern latitude, summer was already waning and fall and then winter were closing. She saw a flock of Sandhill Cranes grazing in a field of cut grass. The big birds looked small among the larger rolls of hay. She wondered what they ate, probably bugs, she decided. She turned off on to her own green tunnel road and pulled up to her cabin in the woods, on the shores of Gitchee Gumee.
She walked past the cabin that was first her grandfather’s, then her parent’s and now hers and walked down to the beach. Both the wind and the surf were up, perfect cabin weather. As she marched down the beach, a pair of juvenile gulls kept pace before her, first walking and then flying ahead to get some respite and then repeating the cycle. One of the gulls was gimped and more hopped then walked. He won’t make, she thought. Actually, neither of them will make it now. It is too late in the season.
Walking in the wet sand for better traction she thought back over the day, the summer, her life. She remembered walking this beach as a little girl, some times skipping ahead of her elders and splashing in the always cold water. She recalled chatting about boys and giggling with her cousins. She thought of the many similar walks with her husband and in a role reversal with their daughter, skipping and splashing ahead of her. She was alone now, all of the others were gone, some away to school, some never to return. Reaching the end of the beach she touched the rock there and turned around.
A lone sandpiper, ahead of her, was her company now. She walked and watched it dart in and out of the waves. She slowed her walk and it allowed her to get quite close, before it flew out over the water and circled around behind her. She turned briefly to watch it repeat its wave dancing and then she continued back. As she neared the cabin, she started to walk in the dry sand, to brush the wet sand off her feet. She elected to skip the other end of the beach and walked up to the cabin.
The cabin was cold, dark and quiet. She lit the laid fire in the stove and busied herself about dinner. With her mother’s death this afternoon, it was time to leave. She would stay through the funeral on Monday, close up the cabin and leave that day. The melancholy of this summer would chill the coming winter. It would be a long winter, but inevitably spring would come and then again summer.