far too much writing, far too many photos

Excerpt #4 from a novel in progress (© 2002, 2005 by runswithscissors):

We arrived in Oberlin the next afternoon around 12:30, exiting a four-lane highway onto a two-lane that gave out onto local roads. Thin sunlight shone through high clouds as we drove into town; faint, slanting shadows from telephone poles and bare trees flickered across the windshield.

Faded green lawns. Houses, some older and gracious, some suburban, nondescript. Yards mostly raked clean, with leaves clustered under bushes and shrubbery. Some apartment buildings.

A small Ohio town.

We knew we’d reached Oberlin center when the park appeared ahead to our left, the kind of oversized town square that would be called a common back in Massachusetts — a few acres of grass, tall old trees, memorial statues, complete with gazebo/bandstand. Nice. Quaint.

Instead of turning left where Edith Ohls said the Inn would be, we continued on ahead and did a circuit around the park, past grand old buildings and large new ones, all apparently part of the college, past stores on the south side, finally arriving at the Inn. The Swift found its way into the small front parking lot and into a space. “We’re here,” I said, killing the engine.

“Thank God,” said my boy, sounding like one whose patience with life had grown prematurely thin. I looked back at him, saw a face wreathed with lines of unhappiness.

We’d gotten up and out in time to have a truck-stop breakfast at exactly the hour everyone else wanted to eat. Colin quickly burned out on peoplewatching — by the time our food materialized he’d become cranky and taciturn.

On the way back to the car I considered calling Steve again or trying my place to see who picked up, but Colin’s mood had remained dark enough that hitting the road seemed like a better idea. Oberlin would have telephones, Colin might be happier by that time. I could call then.

Before long we’d crossed from Pennsylvania into Ohio, where highway signs bore names like Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland. I played with the radio for a while, finding nothing of interest until a weather announcer started talking about the lake effect and possible flurries.

“What’s the lake ‘feck?” Colin asked.

“I think it means they get more snow and rain than they would otherwise because of all the moisture that comes off the lake.”

“What lake?” he said, looking around, sounding genuinely puzzled.

That stopped me. Lake Huron? Lake Ontario? Shit. There are five Great Lakes, right? Or is that the finger lakes? “Ehh, er, ahm,” I hemmed, “I’m not sure. The lake. Lake Erie maybe.” We’d just made it through Pennsylvania, I was pretty sure we’d passed highway signs mentioning Erie, Pennsylvania.

This is why I’d be roadkill on a game show. Ask me a question like Colin’s when you actually want the answer, my faculties seize up, squeezing out the informational equivalent of pocket lint and sawdust. But try to get me to quiet down when you’d like some blessed peace, that’s when the useless information gushes forth.

Oddly enough, snow began falling lightly right then, descending in sparse swirls, swept before a breeze. “Is that the lake ‘feck?” Colin asked.

“Could be,” I answered, masterfully vague.

“But it did this yesterday. Were we near a lake then?”

“Well, we were in the mountains yesterday. The air’s colder when you’re up in elevation.”

“Is the air colder near the lake?”

“Maybe. Lots of moisture, lots of wind. And it’s further north.”

“Uh-huh.” He stared out at the late autumn display, having gotten nothing of substance from me, his attention drifting somewhere internal and sad.

“Hey,” I said gently, “what’s going on, buddy?”

“Nothing.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah.” He showed no annoyance at my questions, also showed no pleasure or appreciation. Didn’t show much of anything. How the hell do I get on the short list for Father of the Year when I’m half the reason my son’s life is in a sinkhole?

We drove in silence after that, getting off the interstate southwest of Cleveland to head south. Sunlight broke through clouds, the sky showing patches of pale blue as the flurries tailed off.

After climbing out of the car in Oberlin, we stood for a moment, me scoping out the environs. A breeze blew, cold and disrespectful, riffling hair, making Colin fidget.

“Let’s go, Dad,” he mumbled.

I put a hand to his back and gently drew him along with me, moving toward the Inn’s entranceway. “Let’s go,” I agreed. The warm air inside enveloped us comfortably, the woman working the front desk — Melissa, according to her nametag — devoted smiling attention to Colin as we checked in, which he enjoyed shyly. During the process, I discovered we’d be paying a paltry $50 a night for a room — a BAH-gen, as they might say in Cambridge. Melissa, a hefty, mid-height, 20-something bruiser with a nice smile, said we looked tired, and booked us into a room on the third floor where we would supposedly be the sole tenants. The third floor turned out to be the top floor. Three whole floors — the big city.

[See entries of 5/24/02, 6/15/02, 8/13/02 and 12/28/02 for further excerpts, or use the links located in this page's right-hand column.]

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