Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Winter (the season) (08/13/09)
By Jan Ackerson
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What better place to celebrate than the lake? No matter that it was January; Mom and Dad’s cottage held my most precious memories, and my parents had given me a set of keys. I packed thermal undies and Grandma’s crazy quilt, my coffee maker and an assortment of scarves.
My plan: a sheepish conversation with God in which I’d acknowledge that He’d been right all along (despite the flawless scenarios I’d laid out for His perusal), then a long session of thanksgiving. I hoped to write, and I tucked a dozen sharpened pencils and several legal pads into my bag. On the way out to my car, I noticed a few flakes in the air and went back for my down comforter.
A winter beach has a desolate beauty. On my first morning there, I filled a mug with dark roast coffee and clomped down toward the lake, wearing my father’s boots and swathed in scarves. Bits of driftwood dotted the sand, which crunched satisfyingly under Dad’s heavy boots. A lone seagull picked at a bit of litter. Beyond the shore, a few chunks of ice bobbed in the chilly waves.
And a man was walking toward me, his head bowed as if studying the sand. He looked to be on a collision course, and he obviously hadn’t seen me. I stifled an itch of annoyance—what was he doing on my beach?—and called out a greeting, muffled by layers of wool.
He stopped and looked at me as if I were the interloper. “I dropped my oddleg calipers. Have you seen them?”
I didn’t answer Mr. Oddleg Calipers right away for several reasons. First, I had no idea what oddleg calipers were. Second, I was too busy pulling out my “Why, God?” list. Despite his irritated expression, Odd Cal was…pleasant…to look at, with graying hair that curled out from a knitted cap, and a deeply cleft chin. Thirdly, a gust of wind penetrated the scarves and stole my breath.
By the time I sputtered out my denial, Caliper Guy had sidestepped me and continued his muttering survey of the wintery sands.
I finished my coffee, thinking.
Time to write—my editor expected a synopsis soon. I considered a new character: a scientist, perhaps, with graying hair and a cleft chin. What are oddleg calipers for? A niggling discontent took residence behind my left eye.
I woke early the next morning, with a sharp wind whistling around the lone bedroom window. As I sipped my coffee, I watched Cleft Chin gathering driftwood. He tapped the sparsely accumulated snow from each crooked branch, then tucked it into a bag slung over his shoulder. I think I’ll call him Flint.
For three days I watched The Guy I Called Flint. He whistled as he searched the beach, an unrecognizable tune that stayed with me even when Flint was gone. Once, I watched as he swiped his nose with the back of his hand, then brushed it on his parka. On the fourth day, cold and clear, he brought a little stool and placed it on the frozen sand, then began assembling a sculpture with driftwood, wire, feathers and shells. I didn’t recognize all of his tools—presumably, he’d found his oddleg calipers. As he worked, he glanced toward the cabin. I ducked away from the window and rubbed my temples. Why won’t this headache go away?
I brewed more coffee and took out a fresh pencil.
An hour later, the legal pad was still blank, save for a game of solitaire hangman in the corner. I grinned; I’d lost a game of hangman—to myself. The word was zymurgy—no wonder.
A knock on the cottage door—Flint was there, holding a driftwood monstrosity with a goofy look on his face, a puppy dog begging for approval.
I burst out laughing as the tumblers fell into place again. Thunk…this guy was a bad artist with an annoying personality…thunk…I’d just wasted several days…thunk…I liked being single.
A January breeze blew in and shivered my shoulders. “Sorry, Flint,” I said, and I closed the cottage door.
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