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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: River (08/31/06)

TITLE: Waiting on the Banana Train
By dub W


I probably would’ve missed ol’ River if he hadn’t spit on the floor.

It was a hot day in August; I was doing duty in some place I’d rather not been. The heavily weighted fly-strip in my un-air-conditioned office served as a metaphor for my life during those times. Both simply existed, a passive effort in an otherwise unforgiving world.

“Lost yer soul didn’t ya boy.” A wad of tobacco spit dripped off the edge of his paper cup.

I had only sat down at the bar for a bottle of horchata, something to clear my throat, and then I was going to meet the train, and probably my next assignment. “You spoke to me?”

He spit again into his cup. I was surprised at his English. “You lost yer soul that’s why yer here.”

I looked up at the bartender who only shrugged his shoulders. Either the bartender didn’t understand the philosophy or he couldn’t understand the English. “Do I know you?”

“You’ve always known me boy.”

His eyes were gray and tired, and the wrinkles beneath his stained ball cap seemed to extend down to his hands. Sure, like I should know this guy. “Oh, really.”

He coughed and spit again. “Let me tell ya how ya know me boy, they simply call me ol River, like that river out there, I just keep roll’n.”

“Well, Mr. River…”

“No mister to it, jest ol’River. Ah came here in fifty eight, like you, I was gonna make it work.”

I tried to smile at him. “Ol’ River, I am here on assignment, with a company.”

He laughed and coughed. “Assignment, ha, they sent you here to die. There’s no life here. Look around. Who’s gonna care about you here? No, boy, before long, you’ll sit here with me, jest watch’n the river roll.”

“Hmm, I don’t know about that.” I decided to indulge him; too hot to return to my office, my clothes hung on me like a dishrag, and the slow moving fan made my sweat feel a little cooler.

Ol’ River wiped his grizzled mouth. “Only, da truth, there’s no room for tales along this river.”
The horchata was bitter, but it didn’t matter. Hope they boiled the water. “Temporary here. You worked here too?”

He pulled on his ball cap. “Watch’d em’ load bananas for near fifteen years.” He spit again and missed the cup.

I thought for a moment. “Yeah, the company moved loading and processing down to Tegucigalpa. Why didn’t you go?”

“Too old, and I knew too much.” Ol River held up a beer glass to which the bartender ignored.

“So, you stayed here?”

Ol’ River let his glass slide down to the bar. “No place to go – you got some place?”

“Got a wife back East in the U.S.”

“Had a wife once – came here – she left.”

“That why you said I lost my soul?”

He shook his head. Thats when I noticed the scar. A deep white indention just below his skull line.

“Suppose. Here.” He reached in his back pocket; then tossed a worn New Testament on the bar. “Ever read that?”

I touched the warm soft leather covering. “Yeah, as a kid.”

“You didn’t read it, somebody read it to you.” He bit off an end of leaf and began chewing.

“I guess that’s right. Why?”

“I’m save’n yer soul boy. Read it.”

I pulled the book toward me.

“Now, never stop reading it, cause when you quit, the river catches you and you drown, right here in a burned out banana field.”

“Why don’t you read it?”

“Memorized, can’t see it no how. Shot in the head.” He coughed and pulled at the ball cap. “I'm just like the river, just roll’n along.”

I didn’t see ol’ River again until the day I hopped a train. He was standing on the siding as we slowly rolled by. I had the book in my backpack and scrambled to throw it back to him, but he turned and walked away.

The other day I found that Testament, and opened it for the first time. The old pages were frayed but held held hundreds of underlines. I began read and soon began to see ol’ River in my mind.

Someday I may return that steamy village. I think I will carry that Testament, find that same bar, and save the soul of some lost being – one waiting on a train.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Donna Haug09/07/06
This was very descriptive. Your weighted fly-strip hung in front of me, and I could almost feel the sweat dripping down. I had a bit of a hard time following who ol'River was. It confused me a little. I liked the message of passing on to others what we've received.
Kevin Kindrick09/07/06
Overall a good story - great descriptions, I could almost feel the heat bearing down on me. There were a few patchy bits of dialogue and description that seemed to jump around - but, again, overall, it was a good read.

Thanks, and God bless,

geoff anderson09/07/06
Absolutely top notch stuff. Brilliant. There are some outstanding lines that produce images of extraordinary vividness: the flypaper metaphor, the wrinkles, the dishrag clothes and the cooler sweat, all read like the finest literature.
The story wasn't crystal clear but I didn't mind (though some might) and it just may be that I'm dim! But I LIKE stories that wander in and out of my comprehension. For a start it makes me want to re-read them! Secondly, it makes me use my imagination, makes me ask 'OK, what COULD this story mean?' Is hero dead? Is Ol'River dead? Is Ol'River some kind of Last Chance Angel in the Last Chance Saloon? (Last Chance Saloon might be a good alt title?) What DID make Ol'River think our hero had lost his soul? Because Ol'River's wife left him? Strange. And why did the hero leave it so long before reading the Testament - though the length of time isn't specified, it SEEMS like it was a long time. Was Ol'River Jesus, since hero remembers him as he reads the book? You see what I mean about the story not being clear? But the PLOT was very clear: someone whose soul had been saved by the Gospel passed on that salvation to someone in need.
There were a few errors of punctuation which surprised me in such good writing but these Challenges can be somewhat rushed, I know! The most serious was the comma after 'eight' in 'ah came here in fifty-eight, like you, I was ..' This should be a semicolon or period. I read it firstly as 'I came here in 58, like you' and I had to stop and think about whether the hero could have come that long ago.
You had an unwanted 'to' (to which the bartender ignored) and two missing 'to's in the second and third lines from the bottom.
On a couple of occasions you included direct speech at the end of paragraphs that made me mistake who had spoken or to whom. Firstly, 'Do I know you?' being tagged on the end of a bartender paragraph made me think hero was asking this of the bartender (okay, dumb of me, but layout is intended to cater for the dumb!) and secondly, 'Temporary here. You worked here too?' I put into ol'River's mouth because he'd spoken last in the paragraph - though I know hero's thought immediately preceded the question. So again dumb of me, but speech tags exist to ensure absolute clarity.
But these are all techy points, and probably due to haste. Is 'spit' the past tense of 'spit' in US? In UK it's 'spat'. (Mind you, the past of 'hit' isn't 'hat' so what can you do?!)
Let me repeat that this is a marvellous piece of writing and I thank you for creating it! I wish I were a judge - though, to be fair, yours is only the third I've read so far!
Edy T Johnson 09/08/06
You do know how to hook a reader: your title, first sentence, the dialog, the unforgettable character, the emerging message so gently unfolding as the story progresses. Now I just have to wait to find out WHO WROTE THIS! More, please!
david grant09/08/06
What I was thinking has been said. Great first line. Some problems in tense here and there. Enjoyed it though!

Ann FitzHenry09/08/06
What a story! I felt like I was immersed in the scene. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I loved the dialogue!
dub W09/09/06
An important note for those interested. All of the tenses of "To Spit" allow for the formation of "spit" to be used in pluperfect, conditional, future, and indicative tenses. Only in past tense is the verb transformed to "spitted, or in some cases - second preferred "spat." Spat can be used interchangably in perfect, pluperfect and indicative tenses when the writer is writing in the past. But, never in the conditional or future. Note; the opening line of this essay is conditional.

My thoughts. dub
Joanne Sher 09/09/06
Amazing description and dialogue - and what compelling characters! Loved the last line, too! Great stuff!!
Marilyn Schnepp 09/09/06
Unique take on River...but an entertaining read. Enjoyed it (with the exception of the spitting (lol)) But, very well written and creative.
Jan Ackerson 09/10/06
Probably my favorite of yours, ever. You're a master of both dialog and dialect, and this piece was so atmospheric and real. Love it.
Betty Castleberry09/10/06
You absolutely took me there. I love River's character. He comes alive. I'm not quite sure how some of it fit in, but it's probably just me not quite "getting it." A very enjoyable read. Thanks!
Donna Powers 09/10/06
An engaging story. Great character portraits. I also loved the "pass it on" theme. Thanks for sharing this!
Phyllis Inniss09/12/06
Very interesting read. Characters and dialogue are realistic and the idea of returning some day to pass on the NT to save someone's soul fits in nicely with what went before.
Pat Guy 09/13/06
You are such a master of 'atmosphere' - the reader lives every line. Awesome Dub.
Brenda Craig09/13/06
Not only did you make me see it, you made me feel the atmosphere, the place and the dead end feeling of just making it one more day. Excellent and unique!!
Rita Garcia09/13/06
This is by far my favorite this week! I once knew a man name "Rivers" he was in his seventies, and carried a testament in his pocket with passages underlined. Your story made me feel like you knew him too!
Lynda Lee Schab 09/13/06
Lots of comments on feeling the heat. As for me, I saw the tobacco spit and it was gross! But, hey, I've written about gross things lots of time so I can handle that. LOL.
Excellent writing and voice, Dub. Your experience and expertice shines through brilliantly. Wonderful work!