“FICTION IN A FLASH CHALLENGE” WEEK #4

Welcome to my blog where today I am sharing a short story I wrote based on the photograph below. Author Suzanne Burke (@pursoot) has provided this challenge which is open to everyone. For full details, visit her website at https://sooozburkeauthor.wordpress.com/

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

My name is Willie Nelson Johnson. Obviously, I was named for the famous country-western singer and actor. He was my mother’s favorite singer and his music played all day, every day. I know by heart every song he ever recorded.

I cannot sing or play an instrument, my hair is short, there is no beard, I am not an activist, nor have I ever smoked marijuana. The only thing I have in common with Willie, besides my name, is the love of the open road. The day I got my first car was the first day of being on the road. Over the years I have driven to as many places as my wallet and time would allow.

I grew up and now live in Wilmington, Illinois along with about 6,000 other folks. It is called “The Island City” because it is bisected by the Kankakee River. As you can see, Route 66 goes right through Wilmington. 

 We have Route 66 Antiques, Rte. 66 Bar & Grill, and the famous (or infamous) Launching Pad Drive-In where you will see one of the many giant statues based on the Muffler Man along the famous highway. These statues of fiberglass were constructed for advertising or pure decoration. Here you will find “Gemini Giant”, a 28-foot spaceman commemorating the Gemini space missions.

On July 4, 1998, I took a three-week vacation and drove the entire 2,448 miles of Route 66, also known as Mother Road. I first drove north to Chicago where it begins (or ends depending on your starting point), and then headed south and west all the way to its final stop, the Santa Monica Pier in California.

Goin’ places that I’ve never been
             Seein’ things that I may never see again

In St. Louis, I saw Eads Bridge, the oldest steel bridge, the McKinley Bridge, New Chain of Rocks Bridge, and McArthur Bridge. They are all part of Route 66. Of course, I stopped at The Arch and took the ride to the top marveling at the vista below.

One of my fondest memories is spending two days in Lebanon, Missouri. I stayed at the Munger Moss Motel and visited the amazing Route 66 Museum.

Like a band of Gypsies, we go down the highway
        We’re the best of friends
.

I met many people from all over the U.S. and the world. They were of all ages, races, and religions, and some of us became friends and we have stayed in touch. Sometimes we caravanned looking like a band of Gypsies.  

I stopped in Catoosa, Oklahoma for only one reason: to see the “Blue Whale”, which is one of the statues along Route 66. I drove the additional 120 miles to have a delicious meal at “Ann’s Chicken Fry House Restaurant” in Oklahoma City.

Playing my Willie Nelson tapes, I sang my heart out while I drove across Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona making a few stops to see more of the Muffler Men statues including the two Paul Bunyan’s in Flagstaff, Arizona and in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I stopped at The Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo for a massive meal and visited the shooting range.

I finally crossed the California border into the very small town of Amboy. When I was there in 1998, the population was 5. It was up for sale on Ebay, but it never sold for the asking price of $1.9 million. A group of motorcyclists invited me to join them on their way to Santa Monica. They were a rough-and-tough looking group but as kind as the day is long.

The most famous place in Amboy is Roy’s Motel and Café. They refused to have their picture taken, so I snapped a photo of their motorcycles lined up.

We traveled from Amboy to the Santa Monica Pier, traveling the two-hundred miles in one day. The eight of us parked our seven motorcycles and one car. We walked to the very end of the 1909 pier. We cheered and broke out into the chorus singing On the Road Again.

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Thank you for taking the time to read this short story. I welcome your comments, and please know I appreciate your support.

THE PARK BENCH–FLASH FICTION

Here is my short story in response to the Flash-Fiction photo prompt provided by award-winning author, Suzanne Burke this week.

The Park Bench

The wooden slats creaked when Jim sat down on the park bench. He held a bouquet of red chrysanthemums. The cool air, warm sun, and the smell of autumn leaves brought peace to his tired body.

It was October 18, 2019, which marked the 30th year of meeting Julie Henderson every Friday afternoon at 1:00 pm.

“Hello, darling.”

In 1989, they were strangers sitting next to one another on this same bench. Julie was reading a book and Jim was eating a sandwich. They glanced at one another and soon struck up a conversation discovering similar interests and histories. They were both divorced, each had three children and careers. Julie was a nurse and Jim was caught up in the corporate world but had dreams to open up his own restaurant.

Jim looked up to see Julie standing there as beautiful as the first time they met. He gave her the bouquet saying, “Happy anniversary, my love.”

After an hour, Julie stood up. “Oh, my goodness. I must leave and get to the hospital for the evening shift. It was nice to meet you.”

“Wait. Do you come here often? I am being presumptuous, but I would like to see you again,” Jim stammered.

Trusting her instincts, she smiled and said, “I am here every Friday at one in the afternoon. I like to come here and enjoy nature, the quiet, and to gaze at the beautiful oak tree across from this bench.”

“Perhaps we could meet here next Friday. By the way, my name is Jim Agen.” He extended his hand.

Julie took his hand and replied, “I am Julie Henderson. I’ll be here.”

They both felt a special energy sweep through them when their hands touched.

For several months, they met each Friday, same time and place. The park bench knew when they held hands for the first time, each embrace and kiss, and heard their words of affection.

When the weather changed to winter, they just swept the snow off the bench and enjoyed the wintry beauty. In the spring, they breathed in the fragrant smells from the cherry blossoms. On a hot summer day, Jim proposed to Julie. They got married on October 19, 1990, standing in front of their favorite bench decorated with red chrysanthemums and red leaves from the oak tree. It had been a part of their lives from that first meeting and was proud to be at the center of the ceremony.

Over the first months of marriage, Julie encouraged her husband. “Follow your dream of having your own restaurant. Don’t let naysayers stop you.”

With his wife’s help, Jim opened his restaurant Autumn, serving soups, sandwiches, and homemade desserts. It was a successful business and soon he opened two more restaurants naming them Autumn Leaves and Autumn Waltz. The couple filled one wall of each restaurant with books available for the customers to enjoy. Soothing music playing Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, an orchestral rendition of Autumn Waltz, or Nat King Cole singing Autumn Leaves completed the ambiance. Julie quit her job at the hospital and became the manager of all the restaurants.

Despite their busy schedules and were married, they continued to spend every Friday afternoon together on the park bench. They talked about their week, hopes and dreams, growing family, and love for each other. Julie loved to say, “I think the angels were tripping over each other to find a way for us to meet. I am grateful that you decided to have lunch in the park that Friday.”

The years passed by, and one Friday only Julie came to the park. Once again, the board creaked as she sat down, letting out a sorrowful sigh. She spent her time talking out loud as if Jim were there. A tear fell on one wooden slat and Julie thought she heard a moaning sound.

Six months later, the October sky was cloudy and the last of the oak’s leaves had fallen. It was Friday, but the park bench was empty. It missed Jim and Julie who never sat on the park bench again.

The End

I hope you enjoyed my short story and I welcome your comments. Writing in a flash-fiction format is fun and challenging at the same time. If you would like to participate in this or any future Flash-Fiction opportunity, please click on this link https://sooozburkeauthor.com

Suzanne Burke is an outstanding and creative author.