Flash Fiction Friday: At the End of the Path

The key to any endeavor is consistency.

Moving on.

Resistance, a term of art coined my Steven Pressfield in his book The War of Art, is kicking my butt of late. I’m not “blocked.” (Which isn’t a thing anyway.) I’m not incapacitated. I’m just a bit whiny and on the wrong side of a crap-ton of circumstantial shenanigans. The result has been an aversion to anything that feels like “work.” And putting words together in complete sentences to convey meaning about anything at all has felt like work for the past few weeks.

However, despite these creative doldrums, I have exciting announcements forthcoming. Soon. Very soon.

In the meantime, I am Butt-In-Chair-Hands-On-Keyboarding today just for you fine folks.

Today’s flash fiction prompts are: where the road ends, delivery boy

Photo by Valeriia Miller on Pexels.com

When my dad told me, “You’re not a boy anymore,” and handed me the metal pipe I was proud. All the heart-swelling, chest-thumping feelings. What I didn’t realize was that he was saying a boy with a metal pipe is better than your older sister. She was too pretty and too valuable to send out on deliveries.

But I learned quick.

I learned that there was no negotiating with the bigger boys. That they would take the loaves I was supposed to deliver and never look back. I learned that my father would not accept those losses without consequences. I learned about hunger, which isn’t something a baker’s son usually does.

But I also learned that if I tossed a bun to Old Harvey down by the bridge he would walk me through his shortcut to the better side of town. I learned that it was better to run my bike up Gnarled Hill as fast as could, before the gang on the other side realized I was there, and then pedal as fast as I could down the other side. I learned that if I double wrapped the loaves I could keep the smell from wafting ahead of me and bringing out the thieves.

And then I learned about Nina.

Nina was the old woman who lived at the end of the path that broke off from the lane that connected to the road that ran past the forest and on to the next town. No one went to see Nina unless they needed something. Badly.

My parents never spoke of her, except in hushed tones. But from time to time my father would walk my mother to the end of the lane, just the lane mind you, never on to the path, and wait for her to visit Nina. And every month my mother would bake her sweet cinnamon buns and her zucchini spice muffins, load them up in a basket, and tell me, “Take these up the path to Nina’s house.

Don’t step onto the porch.

Don’t knock.

Don’t go around back.

Just leave the basket on the step and bring back the old one.

If the dog lets you pet it, fine, but don’t touch it unless it comes to you.”

I rode my bike up the road to where the lane turned up into the trees. I passed the tiny houses and garden patches. The lane got steep as it went deeper into the craggy foothills and their tall pines. The lane ended. Just ended.

You had to walk into the shadows of the trees before you found the path that turned away from everything else. It wasn’t a long walk. At least it never felt that way to me. But the basket was heavy and the shadows were deep.

I would walk up to the little house with the stone chimney. I thought maybe I should knock. She wouldn’t want her muffins sitting outside getting stale and cold.

But then i saw the dog. Dog is not a good word for what I saw. You might think of some tiny, four-legged friend who yips as the mailman comes by. No.

This was a beast. Silent. Watching. It didn’t need to yip. It sent a wet, red tongue licking over its slate gray muzzle. It didn’t even blink.

You couldn’t have paid me to put one toe on that porch with that huge beast guarding the door.

I was afraid I’d put the basket down and the dog would just leap on it. Then Nina would be mad and my mom would be mad and my dad would look at me with that ego-delating disappointment of his.

I put the basket down slowly, the dog’s golden eyes still starring. But it didn’t move. Just licked its chops again.

I took a couple steps back. I didn’t really want to turn my back to it, but when nothing happened I turned around and left. After that I wasn’t really scared to go on my deliveries. Anywhere.

I got jumped less and less. I gave as good as I got if I did. The day I came home with a broken wrist, but the loaf of bread still tucked under my arm, my father gave me extra helpings at supper and promised to walk with me to delver the bread after. I barely even cried when he reset it.

“How is it going with the deliveries up to Nina’s?” he asked. Something in his voice said he was curious, but also a little afraid.

“It’s fine,” I said. “Her dog is really wet trained. Never bothers me or the food. Just sits there.”

“Good, good.” He let out a little sigh, but I couldn’t tell if it was relief or disappointment.

And things were good for awhile.

Then Mom got sick. She couldn’t make her rolls or muffins. She couldn’t walk up the path to Nina’s. Finally, one night when all she could do was sob with the pain, Dad picked her up. I followed even though he told me to go home about a hundred times. When we marched through the dark, up the road, down the lane, right up to the path, he stopped.

“You must stay here. Right here, do you understand?”

I didn’t really. I wasn’t sure what he was afraid of, and I did not want to sit alone in the dark, but he needed me to stay, so I did.

I waited all night. I shivered, walked around to get my blood going, sat back down.

The sky was just going gray, the sun hinting that it might join us soon, when my dad walked out of the woods. He’d been crying, but not anymore.

“Mom?” I asked.

He shook his head. I turned to go, hollow with grief, but his hand on my shoulder stopped me.

“She wants to see you.”

“Nina?” I asked. He nodded.

“I’ll wait for you here,” he said, and sat down on the stump I’d just been occupying.

The walk up the path felt longer. A tree had fallen across it and I had to scrabble under and then over to get by.

She was waiting for me on the top step. She was old, but how old I couldn’t say. Her hair was slate gray and her eyes were golden.

She came down off the porch and hugged me. “You’ve been such a good help to your dear parents. Your mother especially. She had cancer, did you know?”

“No,” I said, too shocked to say anything else.

I helped her hide it, helped her hold it at bay, but sometimes ah…,” Nina sniffed. “When your mother would come to see me she would help me with things. Things I can’t do for myself. Will you come now that she’s gone?”

“I don’t know how to make her zucchini muffins,” I said.

Nina barked a laugh. “That’s alright. I understand your sister makes a lovely lemon tart. You could bring me some of those.”

“Okay,” I said. I didn’t realize I had just made an agreement. A binding one.

“Good. Come back one week after the funeral,” she said. And with that, she turned on her heel, transformed into massive dog with a red, wet tongue and took up her place on the porch.

A good weekend to everyone. A safe and abundant spring to all in the northern hemisphere. And I hope you all enjoyed this little piece. I hope to see your own soon, either in the comments or linked there.

~Anika

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