Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Trying on Gumption

               This is my first attempt at Flash Fiction. The contest specifies the word count be 500 words or less and it must be based on this photo.    I'm at 499 including the title.                             

"Trying on Gumption"

“Just turn left.”

Aunt Betty was sure; she knew those roads like the back of her hand. Uncle Levi didn’t like riding in the back, but at 88 he couldn’t see well enough to find the way and I sure wasn’t going to let him drive. Besides, it wasn’t his Momma’s place. He’d spent a good deal of time there for sure; courting Betty, cleaning up counters and stocking shelves for Fannie, his widowed mother- in- law who’d never made it to California. Two miles down county road EE from the church where they were all baptized. The church his grand-daddy preached in til the day he died, literally – right behind the pulpit.

“Betty, did you bring the key?”

My Aunt fumbled through the purse that swallowed her frail lap.  Betty, who’d inherited the land and my grandmother’s tenacity. Gumption, that’s what the family called it, “That Fannie, she had gumption.” I’d heard a thousand times while roaming around family reunions.  I pulled in and went around to help my aunt out of the car. The uneven terrain made me nervous; if one of them fell we were out in the middle of Kansas, not quite to the Flint Hills but far enough from the last truck stop at Beto Junction that I was feeling  vulnerable,  gumptionless.  

“Steps held up nice.”

Uncle Levi accepted my arm as we entered. “Put those in not too long ago. Had Billy’s boy down from Emporia do the work. He owns a good business down there.” Not too long ago was 1986, the year my oldest daughter was born. She just turned 25. I watched my aunt run her crumpled hand across the old counter top; gnarled roots of an ancient tree breaking through their foundation, making room for new shoots.

“Do you think you’ll sell the place?” Aunt Betty looked past me out the window.  I could see Grandma Fannie’s pictures of the sunset in Malibu hanging in Aunt Betty’s kitchen, as they’d hung on these walls for generations. They’d inspired countless cousins and their offspring to move on, to break free of the endless miles of prairie and good morals and see the world. I was one of the few who’d stayed; the most logical keeper of the keys.

“You know Annie, Uncle Billy’s boy; he could help you out if you wanted to fix the place up. You know if they put that strip mall up by the highway, you might even be able to open her up again. Make a go of it.” Uncle Levi paused and we all looked out the window and mulled that thought over. He didn’t have to say ‘now that your kids are grown’. He knew better to throw in the ‘since Bill took off for a Harley and a better sex life’. No need to say it, I wore it, constantly, like a uniform.  My aunt looked directly at me, sizing me up. That uniform could be refitted, as an apron.